The World's Greatest Beer-jito

The following all actually happened.

I was watching TV a few days ago when on came a commercial for the new Bud Light Lime Mojito. My first reaction was to groan, and to recall the cases of Coors Light Iced T that have been stacked near the checkout lines at my local supermarket for weeks; those also make me groan, anew, each time I must sidle by them to pay for my thrice-weekly pint of ice cream habit groceries.

But my second reaction to the mojito beer was, shockingly (shocking I say!), this: That sounds pretty good, actually.

I've tasted the various Miller Chills and other fruit-flavored swills that have hit the market in recent years. The problem is obviously not the citrus-lager pairing; we've all been thumbing lime wedges down our Corona longnecks since we were kids (unless we're Irish, in which case we've been mixing beer and lemonade) and it's still a flavor combo that hits the spot on a sweltering day. The problem is how it tastes when it's not an actual lime being used as a flavor agent; that artificialime nonsense is gag-worthy (that goes for you, too, Diet Coke Lime).

But you think about a mojito, it's just a little light sweetness (rum, spoonful of sugar) playing along with mint and lime. And then you think about a light beer -- it's as barely-there as Bacardi. I wanted to give it a shot.

And what I found is that it was so good (so good, I tell you!) that, more than any other cocktail that's passed my lips during my pregnancy (and yes, I've still got my one-sip rule in place) it was damn near torture to keep myself from sucking down the whole thing. Turns out that all along, a mojito's never realized how much it misses the hoppy-yeasty whateverness of a lager.

Of course, it does take a few extra f lairs to make a beer-jito the World's Greatest Beer-Jito. It needs a shot-ish of booze, because with beer alone as the source of alcohol, the drink is kickless. It could stand for a tall, handsome sort of glass just to dress/mature it up a bit. And it needs a lager more respectable than an actual Bud Light, because come on, what am I in high school? (I am not in high school.)

The World's Greatest Beer-jito

1 ounce Akvinta Vodka

5 ounces Red Stripe

2 lime wedges

6-8 mint leaves

Pinch of sugar

Lime wedge and/or mint sprig, to garnish

Muddle lime, mint and sugar in the bottom of a Collins glass. Fill glass with ice. Add vodka, then beer. Garnish.

Tasting Notes

Why I use vodka? Why I no use rum? The honest answer is, rum didn't even occur to me (didn't even occur, I say!) and Akvinta was on my mind because a bottle had recently been sent to me. (This my blogger's confession of things I get sent for free, is that sufficient, FCC?) I would slightly hesitate to suggest rum, obvs though it may be, because I wouldn't want to tip over from crisp into saccharine on the overall flavor profile. I also bet tequila rocks in this.

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The Maple Mint Fizz

How did I never manage to invent the Maple Mint Fizz myself? Why did I have to move to Montreal to discover it?

The answer to the first question is: I did come close with the Martelorre (Maker's, lemon, mint, ginger beer). To answer my second question: Because Le LAB is where everything wonderful, like Maple Mint Fizzes, happens, and also because only in Canada would "our variation of the mojito" include maple syrup.

As a north-of-the-border mojito substitute, the Maple Mint Fizz (I love saying those three words together!) was rotated off LAB's menu with the onset of autumn. But as a south-of-the-border expat, I find fall to be the perfect time to indulge in maple-flavored treats, even if they also call for summertime-y limes and mint leaves.

The lime, in fact, is what makes this cocktail for me, imparting a great, sourtastic, unexpected twist of je-ne-say-wha? If I had ever thought to invent this drink, I'm not sure I would've come up with the lime part. Damn it, LAB, you've done it again.

The Maple Mint Fizz

(Adapted from Le LAB)

2 ounces Maker's Mark bourbon

7-Up

A small handful of mint leaves

A splash or two of lime juice

A splash or two of maple syrup

Take several mint leaves, tear once, and drop into the bottom of a Collins glass. Pour splash of lime juice on top, then cover the whole thing with just-enough maple syrup. Muddle. Fill glass with ice, add Maker's Mark and fill with 7-Up.

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The Gin Julep

In the movie of my life, juleps might play the role of the piano in Shine, the spinning top in Inception, Pulp Fiction's glowing briefcase or Jerry Maguire's mission statement. They have given me pleasure personally and purpose professionally. During my lowest lows, when bartending was all I had going on and I was beginning to wonder what the hell had happened to me, I could fix a customer a damn good mint julep, watch his or her expression change for the better and know there was at least one thing I still did right enough to merit my getting out of bed. I'd also spent a birthday or two at the bar as a customer, cashing in on the staff's golden rule: You can only order a mint julep for yourself when it is the day of your birth.

Any time we were busy, a single julep order could send the bar staff (usually one bartender and one barback, but two bartenders on weekend nights) into the weeds. First ice had to be crushed with our one, hand-cranked crusher, which the back would usually do while a tender began stemming mint leaves and dropping them into a Collins glass. The leaves then needed to be muddled under a coating of mint-steeped simple syrup, after which the crushed ice would be dumped into the glass and a draw of Maker's Mark would be poured.

Now, at this point, I suspect some bartenders considered this the end of their julep-making duties -- crushed ice, check; mint, check; bourbon, check -- and would send the drink out, but I was very particular about my juleps. If there wasn't enough crushed ice in the glass to sort of create one, weighty mass, the chips toward the top of the glass would float, which would make it look like half-melted and sloppy. I also insisted upon getting the bourbon and mint flavors in a finely balanced equilibrium (I'm one of those bartenders who taste-test their creations with a quick dip of a straw) and I'd always build the drink in the glass with at least a second round of ice, syrup and bourbon. The whole thing could take three minutes, which, when you consider how long it takes to pop open a can of Old Style, might even be a loss leader. In fact, our juleps were definitely a loss leader, because inevitably while I was making one, someone seated at the bar would become fascinated by my whole, painstaking process and order one more.

Truth is, I was always happy to oblige. Julep-making was in my bones, if not my muscle memory: Pull mint container out of cooler spin drop leaves into glass spin grab mint syrup from cooler spin pour reach get muddler muddle muddle lunge pull Maker's off shelf pour bubble two three four five six. And so on.

For those of you unaware, the Kentucky Derby is on Saturday. It's an all-hands-on-deck day at The Royale. The julep making is insane (we eventually learned our lesson and pre-ordered crushed ice) and the hats are fabulous (did you know that a Derby hat is the same thing as a black lady's churchgoing Sunday-best hat?). I miss it.

I am especially missing it today, not only because today begins the blog's Three Days of Juleps, but also because today I made myself a Gin Julep. I found the recipe in the Old Mr. Boston Official Bartender's Guide that our friend Alex recently bestowed upon us, and it sounded good. Actually what it sounded like was, why don't people mix mint and gin more often? Doesn't that seem like obvious deliciousness? And it is.

What's also obvious: This is your new gin and tonic. Gin and tonics, we've no need for you any further. Summertime, in fact, will be just the same -- if not way better -- without you.

The Gin Julep

(Adapted from Old Mr. Boston Official Bartenders Guide)

About two or three ounces Marlow's London Dry Gin

About a dozen fresh mint sprigs

About two heaping tablespoons of confectioner's sugar

Crushed ice

(I've lifted these directions directly from the book.) Put 12 mint sprigs of fresh mint into a bowl and cover with powdered sugar. Add just enough water to dissolve the sugar and then muddle well. Place half the crushed mint and liquid into a Tom Collins glass. Fill glass half full of shaved ice and then add rest of crushed mint and fill the glass with shaved ice. Add Old Mr. Boston Dry Gin [Ed. note: which I did not use; does it still exist?] and place in a refrigerator for about 30 minutes. Before serving, decorate with sprigs covered with powdered sugar. Serve with a straw.

Tasting Notes:

I was originally considering using my Bulldog London Dry Gin in this recipe, but the truth is, when you're bludgeoning (albeit beautifully, traditionally and happily) a liquor with mint and sugar, you can go cheap. So Marlow's it was.

Use a little less sugar than you might think necessary to cover the mint leaves (the point is not to just snow-plow over them; you should still be able to see them a bit) and way less water than you think you'll need. A paste is better than a soup here.

I don't know why you're supposed to give it a half-hour in the fridge, but I think it's so neat to say (if only to yourself), "Oh, I'm just letting my cocktail rest a bit" that I don't care.

To do a sugar-covered mint sprig, don't try to actually cover a sprig with sugar. Instead, dip the sprig into the sugar.

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The Presbyterian

Why did it take thirty-nevermind years of life for me to discover the Presbyterian?

A few months ago, a gaggle of us went to Little Branch, one of the elder statesmen of the New York/pre-Prohibition style/pay-$14-for-a-cocktail-and-beg-for-more temples of cocktailing. Little Branch's menu does things a little differently that other bars of its ilk -- in fact, let's diverge for a paragraph or two and talk a bit about that, the organization of cocktail menus. (God, what a cocktail dork I am; this stuff actually excites me.)

Death & Co.'s menu, for example, is primarily categorized by cocktails' base liquors: gin, rum, whiskey, etc. (No vodka, of course, as 't'wasn't what Americans drank way back when.) Those groupings are subdivided into shaken cocktails and stirred ones. I like this because 1) today we're largely conditioned to think about drinks by base liquor, making this menu accessible at first glance; 2) subdividing into shaken and stirred, the menu still gives customers something new to think about, the idea that proper cocktail making includes how you physically amalgamate your ingredients.

Clover Club in Brooklyn (which I just went to for the first time last weekend and ooh! Lots to share with y'all soon!) pays greater attention to the type of cocktail rather than what's the base liquor, like I talked about the other week -- "Collins & Fizzes," "Sours & Daisies" -- and then has a catchall "Cocktails" list and, curiously, one for "Rye" but no other liquors. It's fascinating and full of helpfully written, witty bits of copy, but still takes more digesting.

And then there's Little Branch's menu, which I stole and have read over and over and still find sort of opaque. The best way I can describe its organization is to literally spell it out:

I. Standard Cocktails

A. Tart & Mildly Sweet

1. Lime Drinks

a. Daiquiri

b. Gimlet

c. Brandy Shake

d. Gin or Rum Rickey

2. Lemon Drinks

a. Sour

b. Tom Collins

c. Rye Fizz

d. Fix

3. House Ginger Beer

a. Hiball

b. Dark & Stormy

c. Moscow Mule

d. Presbyterian

B. Spirit Forward

1. Martini

a. Oliver Twist

b. Gibson

2. Manhattan

a. Brooklyn

b. Rob Roy

c. Tipperary

3. Sazerac

4. Old Fashioned

Where's my mixologist's decoder ring?! It's a bit all over the place, a bit hard to wrap your mind around, and I feel bad for the cocktail waitresses there, because my guess is that they have to spend a lot of time answering questions.

I don't think any of us ordered a Presbyterian that night, but I was intrigued, and actually all the more so when I read how basic and simple, and thereby sort of refreshingly elegant, a Presbyterian is: It's just bourbon, ginger ale and club soda. It's crisp, it's light, it's a bit WASPy, and it's exactly what I'd want to quaff at the family cocktail hour, after a round of tennis with Mumsy.

I hope this is one y'all can add to your at-home arsenal, 'cuz seriously, you can't ask for more supermarket-friendly ingredients, and sometimes the last thing I want to do is to bother to make myself a Manhattan.

The Presbyterian

2 ounces Buffalo Trace Bourbon

Equal parts ginger ale and club soda

Fill a Collins glass (the nice, tall, slender ones) with lovely and perfect, prep-school ice cubes. Pour in the bourbon, followed by your equal parts ginger ale and club soda to fill. Garnish with lemon slice or twist. If you've got a nice, slender ice tea spoon -- you know, like you keep at the Nantucket summer home -- give it a few gentle stirs. Discuss the stock market and the poors.

Tasting Notes:

Can you use ginger beer instead of ginger ale? Can you do unequal parts of the ginger-whatever and club? Surely.

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