The Grasshopper

Grasshopper 1

Have I really never discussed with you peeps my love for mint chocolate chip ice cream? Let me rephrase more accurately -- my looooove, my looovvvvvelurrrrrvemmmmnomonomnomnomohmommymygoddammmnnn for mint chocolate chip ice cream? That's just not possible. Is that possible?

[Point of information, as I've just now bothered to fact-check my own query: It is indeed not possible. I blogged about my mint-chocolate fetish last June when I made up the Alexander the Great, my mint chip-arak concoction. Yum.]

What's really not possible, then, is that it's taken me this long to talk about the Grasshopper.

grasshopper 11

It is no mistake that in his book How's Your Drink?: Cocktails, Culture and the Art of Drinking Well, my cocktail-historian crush, Eric Felten, chooses to discuss the Grasshopper, an all-liqueur dessert cocktail, immediately following the Pink Lady and preceding the Smith and Curran (aka the electric egg cream). Of those three, actually, the Pink Lady could wipe the floor with the other two, because at least the Pink Lady contains gin (as well as applejack brandy, which is no joke, and raw egg white, which has its certain Rocky connotations even as it does lend a cocktail a cap of frilly froth).

According to Felten, the Grasshopper was "a fad cooked up by marketing johnnies around 1949. The Leroux Liqueurs Company of Philadelphia only made cordials, so what better drink for them to promote than one anchored by a pair of liqueurs... Sweet, creamy and pretty, the Grasshopper quickly became an iconic girly drink."

And then he goes on to cite various postwar scribes who damned the drink with faint praise ("so-called cocktail," "something of learned vulgarity") in a way that reminds me of how current-day critics love to jump on the Girls hate-wagon in what basically amounts to condescending woman-bashing codespeak.

(Yes, dammit, I am making a link between a dessert cocktail and HBO's latest zeitgeist-rattler. My husband is a Ph.D. student, I binged on the first season of Girls as if it were a bag of York Peppermint Patties (which is exactly what the Grasshopper tastes like YES IT TASTES LIKE THE WHOLE BAG) and I dream about cocktails constantly so... yeah.)

Grasshopper 2

When I was watching the PhoBlograpHusband edit these gorg Grasshopper pics he shot, I asked him, "Is that really just cream and creme de menthe and creme de cacao? Is that really all we put in there?" And he looked at me funny and I said, "I just can't believe -- it just doesn't seem like those are three ingredients that would really coalesce together as well as they do. I just can't believe how good this cocktail looks."

Grasshopper 4

See, I internalized the girly-bashing just a bit, when what I really need to internalize is another Grasshopper. In my belly. That's what she said!

The Grasshopper

(A classic; this recipe is based on my own from The Big Book of Martins for Moms)

1 ounce green creme de menthe

1 ounce white creme de cacao

1 to 2 ounces cream

Mint leaves or chocolate shavings, to garnish

Combine the three liquid ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously for about 20 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail or martini glass. Top with mint leaves or chocolate shavings.

Tasting Notes

Obviously, the stiffer you like your drink, the closer you want to hold to that 1:1:1 ratio. Add that extra ounce of cream for your cousin who just turned 21.

What kind of cream? Half-and-half will work just fine if that's what you've got. Otherwise it's just what your tastebuds prefer. (Speaking of, I read in the New York Times' recent review of Salt Sugar Fat that there is no known point at which a creamy drink becomes too creamy for the average set of tastebuds. Too sweet is a measurable, reachable endpoint but not too fatty/creamy. Just a little cocktail-party factoid for you... and which I guess you could interpret to mean that your tastebuds would prefer melted butter. Gah. Stick to heavy or whipping cream at most.)

Felten says you can use either light (i.e. clear) or dark creme de cacao. I'd play it safe and stick with the light as I would not want to risk a swampy-hued Grasshopper. Felten, for what it's worth, describes the resulting shade as sage green. Revenge of the Sage Thing!!!

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The Vieux Carre

I can feel another Eric Felten rager coming on -- my curious condition wherein I just want to make cocktails from his book, How's Your Drink? -- and as this one coincides with the advent of the new season of Mad Men, I give you the Vieux Carre.

First, please allow me to quote liberally from Felten's prose regarding the Vieux Carre's New Orleans origins (New Orligins?):

"Then there's the Hotel Monteleone's Carousel Bar, where the circular bar revolves slowly under a whimsical carnival canopy of carved wood, mirrors, and bare bulbs. The barstools don't go up and down, thankfully, but the experience can still be a little disorienting; get caught up in a conversation, and the next thing you know, you're on the other side of the room. Ask bartender Marvin Allen to mix you up a Vieux Carre, a terrific drink invented by the Carousel's barman in the 1930s, and unknown to most mixologists outside of the Hotel Monteleone."

He goes on to talk about the Crescent City's rightful place in history as the birthplace and current-day cultural keeper of the cocktail, and that's kind of where Mad Men comes in. One could make the argument that, as of the zeigeist-y right-now, Mad Men is carrying the mostwater for cocktail culture. The mustachioed, suspendered, arm-gartered, vested, tattooed mixologist, we're all tired of him and his haberdashery tropes, no? But we still can't get enough Mad Men, and when we watch Don Draper mix himself an Old Fashioned, zomg it looks so good. (Don would also chafe at the obligatory fawning that often seems expected from the modern-day barkeep.)

The only problem with Don is, he drinks Old Fashioneds! The man needs to evolve his whiskey-based cocktail repertoire, and I believe the Vieux Carre would be the perfect potable for the job. The Benedictine gives that needed sweetness (srsly, Don, you pussy) while the bitters likewise add a familiar component to a cocktail that otherwise offers something different.

Also, "vieux carre" translates to "old square," which is probably what Megan thinks of Don these days...

The Vieux Carre

(Adapted very little from How's Your Drink?: Cocktails, Culture and the Art of Drinking Well)

1 1/2 ounces St.-Remy Brandy

1/2 ounce Bulleit Rye Whiskey

1/2 ounce Stock Sweet Vermouth

1/2 teaspoon Benedictine

1 dash Peychaud's Bitters

1 dash Angostura Bitters

Lemon twist, to garnish

Mix all liquid ingredients over ice in a short glass. Garnish with twist of lemon.

Tasting Notes

Aside from noting the specific brands I used, the only change I made to Felten's recipe was using brandy instead of cognac. This is a swap we always make around here for spending-cap reasons.

Also, the Felten/Carousel Bar recipe calls for all ingredients to be mixed "over ice in a short glass." Meaning, build it in the glass rather than pre-stirring it in a shaker or mixing glass. This goes against today's conventional wisdom, which would probably dictate a vigorous mixing on its own in a separate vessel before pouring it over fresh ice in your drinking glass. But really, what would Don Draper do?

The Raspberry Rum Shrub Swizzle

I am writing to you from on a cocktail high. It's almost noon yet I'm still riding my 3 a.m. buzz. Last night, I competed alongside 11 of the city's best bartenders in the first-ever Montreal Bar vs. Chef competition. It was like PROM FOR COCKTAIL NERDS!!!

The contest was held at Le LAB, my maison away from maison here in Montreal. (The first night Sean and I went there, I got just pickled enough that I started blabbing about my cocktail blog, and next thing I know the LAB staff and the PhoBlograpHusband had conspired against me to sign me up for the contest, despite my being neither a French-fluent nor an actually-employed bartender.) It was sponsored by Appleton Estate and consisted of three parts:

1) A written test: In what year did Christopher Columbus plant the Caribbean's first sugar cane crops? (1493.) In what year were the first Appleton rums introduced? (1749.) Did your fair blogtender ace the shiz out of this test -- she who was chided as "The A Girl" in middle school and spent her Sunday night cramming? Mais oui, mothafuckas! (Actually they never told us our scores, but I'm pretty sure I did well.)

2) A cocktail of your own creation which you produced on site for the panel of five judges and, as much as feasible, for the crowd at large. We had about a month to come up with our recipes. You needed to use at least one ounce of Appleton Estate Reserve, and the drink in total could only contain two ounces of alcohol, max. That was hard. Usually two ounces of alcohol is what I call "Step 1."

3) Five minutes before you were up (I went 9th out of 12), you got to open your "mystery box" of ingredients, so you had to make a second drink off the top of your head using Appleton Reserve plus everything that was in your box (that's what she said -- they do get that joke in French Canada, by the by). As soon as I get a chance to recreate it, I will blog that recipe of mine, which was AWESOME! Srsly, of myself I have rarely been prouder. My mystery ingredients were a pineapple, a bunch of carrots, rosemary, agave syrup and some weird wild carrot essential oil. I muddled the rosemary and the carrot greens (oh yes I did!) with Appleton and Hendrick's, then shook that on ice with the agave syrup, some lemon juice and some Cynar. I used a slice of pineapple to coat the inside of my cocktail glass Sazerac-style, treated the rim with the carrot oil, strained my shaker contents into the glass, and lastly garnished with two thin carrot peels laid across one another like an X. I used up every second of my allotted time, which was very exciting. Honestly, the cocktail was great and tasted like nothing I'd ever had before. I was asked to name it on the spot and I said, "The Carrot Top!" (This is doubly funny because I am a redhead.) I got very lucky.

But back to #2, the recipe I made up in advance and brought with me -- with that, I was not particularly lucky.

I wanted to make a swizzle because I've had experience with them and I'd never seen one up here; in fact, I'd polled the LAB bartenders beforehand and they'd never heard of it. A swizzle seemed like a cocktail that I could do with the right amount of bells and whistles. Meaning, you definitely want to show off a bit, do something different, be clever, yada yada, but not to the point where you're serving up a Rube Goldberg machine on the rocks.

Guess what the guy who went 8th made? A swizzle! In a coconut shell!! omg, I was ready to crawl back to my hovel of shame. Sean and Gabrielle -- the first LAB bartender we met, who also competed last night and is just sweet and adorable -- had to psych me back up.

Then I actually got behind the bar and I... messed up. See, you had only half a bar to work with (on the other side, real bartenders were serving actual customers), no barback, and you were behind a bar you've never been behind before. (And I'd never been behind any bar for almost three years. And I'm doing all of this in Frenglish.) My mise en place was royally scattershot, as was I. There were numerous jiggers at my disposal and I must have picked up the wrong one at some point. So I wound up with too much drink, but since you build a swizzle in the glass (as opposed to a shaker, say) I couldn't just leave some liquid behind in my hypothetical shaker to correct this. My Pilsener glass runnethed over, is what I'm saying.

Second, only after all that did I then realize that I forgot to put my lemon juice in entirely! Ay yi yi.

But I was pretty lucky in the end because the swizzle stood up well despite all this. So now let's talk in more positive terms (someone on my Facebook feed just informed me that today is "Positive Thinking Day") about this lovely drink I done invented.

Shrub syrup is something I read about in cocktail Yoda Eric Felten's book How's Your Drink? It dates back to colonial times, when refrigeration was scarce and cocktails were made from a liquor, sugar, water and a flavoring agent. It's basically simple syrup cooked down with a fruit or other flavoring, plus white wine vinegar, which gives the syrup a good shelf life. Traditionally, a shrub as a drink is liquor, shrub syrup and club soda on the rocks, so my concept was to combine a shrub and a swizzle. (I decided to go with the utilitarian name of The Raspberry Rum Shrub Swizzle just because there was enough going on in the drink that I thought the name should serve to shed light on it all. Also, the name is both alliterative and assonant. When I was called "The A Girl" in middle school, mostly it happened in English class.)

Thanks to the Robert Johnson Swizzle, I know that I really like bourbons in swizzles, and as Sean said a few days ago, "This is you. You cannot enter this contest without some bourbon." The cilantro syrup brought out the spicy/tart/fizzy qualities of the shrub syrup. The raspberry garnish just gives your nose something fun to waft while the drink's going down.

In the end, Gabrielle won the contest (Congrats, m'amie!) with a fantastic apple-y cocktail. I'll see if I can get the recipe from her. In fact, in the coming days I'll get as many of the recipes as I can, as well as better pics. (Sean couldn't get close enough last night to shoot my swizzle.) I met lots of wonderful people last night, not including that one guy who was clearly just trying to get an up-close view of my cleavage but thankfully he was not one of the bartenders and finally retreated after I blatantly played with my wedding ring long enough. I finally have Facebook friends in Montreal! I hope some of them are reading. Smile!

The Raspberry Rum Shrub Swizzle

1 ounce Appleton Estate Reserve rum

1/2 ounce Evan Williams Single Barrel bourbon

1/2 ounce Pimm's

1/2 ounce raspberry shrub syrup

1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 dashes Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters

Splash of cilantro-steeped simple syrup

Crushed ice

Fresh raspberries, to garnish

Combine rum, bourbon, Pimm's and bitters in a mixing glass. (No need to stir or shake, you'll swizzle later.) Fill a Pilsener glass with crushed ice. Pour contents of mixing glass into Pilsener. Add lemon juice and syrups into glass. Swizzle. Serve with a slender straw that's been skewered with fresh raspberries.

The Moscow Mule

There are plenty of reasons to drink, but only two good ones:

1. To achieve that flush of heady, giddy, tingly optimism that comes quick on the heels of the day's first tipple. (All successive swigs are nothing but guileless attempts at holding onto this fleet feeling, although I still over-partake all the time.)

2. To imagine being in another time and place, preferably involving fedoras, topcoats, garters, nylons, evening gloves, watch fobs, spats, held doors, cigarette holders, cigarette cases and the right to make use of all this enchanting cigarette paraphernalia indoors. (I'm not anti-smoking bans; I'm just saying there's nothing romantic about going outside to smoke. Besides, I quit smoking, although I still over-partake all the time.)

I love (love, love, love) The Moscow Mule -- vodka mixed with ginger beer and lime juice, on the rocks -- for conjuring both of these moods so effortlessly.

The story of how the Moscow Mule came to be (no matter which version you choose to believe; I go by former WSJ cocktail columnist Eric Felten's account, as I do with most things booze-related) is in itself a perfect little piece of throwback Americana: Invented in Hollywood (of all places!) by an enterprising bartender who was simply looking for a way to move some dead stock; christened hip by Tinseltown's postwar bevy of celebrities; marketed through copper mugs, engraved with the likeness of a mule, by the bar's proprietor and the man behind a then-flailing Smirnoff brand. Luck and hustle.

Also by pure luck, this weekend my fridge happened to be stocked with both ginger beer and fresh limes, and the thrill of fashioning myself a Moscow Mule for the first time in ages was eclipsed only by the spicy bliss of the cocktail itself. The Moscow Mule surprises me every time I have one. So few ingredients, but such a multifaceted flavor!

The only way to improve upon my positive associations with this drink was to go by the recipe offered online at the Mad Men Cocktail Guide. Barkeep, another round of three-piece suits and pillbox hats for everyone!

The Moscow Mule

(Adapted, with little changed, from the Mad Men Cocktail Guide at amctv.com)

1 1/4 ounces Ketel One vodka

3 ounces Fresh Ginger Ginger Ale by Bruce Cost

1/4 ounce fresh lime juice

1 teaspoon simple syrup

1 drop Old Honey Barn Kentucky Mint Julep Mixer

Mint sprig and/or lime, for garnish

Combine all ingredients in an ice-filled highball or Collins glass -- or a copper mug, if you wish to go all-the-way old-school. Stir briskly for a few seconds. Garnish to your liking with mint sprig and/or lime wheel/peel/etc.

Tasting Notes:

OK, so I lied. What we had in the fridge that I thought was ginger beer turned out to be ginger ale. The hubs picked it up and, because this is an unfiltered ginger ale, it looked to me more like ginger beer. And, I would say, tastes an awful lot like it, too. I mean, if my choices were ginger beer by Goya or ginger ale by Bruce Cost, ain't no choice at all.

Now, about that mint julep mixer. I want to say that when I was at The Royale, Tonya and I tried making Moscow Mules with mint-steeped simple syrup. As my fridge this weekend contained no fresh mint, but still wanting a bit of mintyness in the glass, I added exactly one drop of that syrup (which is all kinds of artificial and ridiculous, but we bought it at the Buffalo Trace gift shop in Kentucky, so...). I believe it added a little something to the drink -- but again, with a cocktail this dizzyingly complex, who knows?

 

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The Smith and Curran

For as much as I love booze, there is one virgin elixir I just might adore even more than all the liquor in the world, and that is a chocolate egg cream.

Oh, how I could rhapsodize about an egg cream, its gloriously proportioned trifecta of chocolate syrup, milk and seltzer (neither eggs nor cream). When you’re this crazy about egg creams, you know that they must be made with Fox’s U-Bet Chocolate Syrup if they’re worth a damn, and you purchase specially marked pint glasses from Junior’s in Brooklyn that indicate how much of each ingredient to use, and you hunt online for genuine, old-fashioned seltzer bottles (which must be refilled regularly with carbon-dioxide cartridges, at no small expense), because you can’t get a good, fizzy head on a homemade egg cream with seltzer from a silly twist-cap bottle.

Now, several years ago in St. Louis, I read in one of the local rags about a cocktail called something like Smith and Kearns, which was basically an alcoholic egg cream: seltzer, some sort of light cream and Kahlua. I refused to trust this, first and foremost because Smith and Kearns sounds like the name of a steakhouse, not a chocolaty cocktail. Second, I usually don’t care for the taste of chocolate in my liquor-ful libations. And third, Kahlua? Give me a break.

Recently, on one of my many flips through Eric Felten’s book How’s Your Drink?, I came across the Smith and Curran. It turns out, according to Felten’s meticulous research, that “Kearns” is how the latter half of the cocktail’s moniker got bastardized over the years, and that Misters Smith and Curran were oilmen in North Dakota who once asked their favorite bartender to whip up a mixer that might soothe their nasty hangovers. (It’s a pretty good story; you can read it here.) Also, it should be made with creme de cacao, not Kahlua. At that, the only thing left for me to do was to try it, and hopefully, finally remedy my disconnect between nonalcoholic and alcoholic egg creams.

I have sucked down hundreds of egg creams in my day, usually lacking the self-restraint to time it well with the completion of my accompanying sandwich (tuna salad on whole wheat toast with lettuce and tomato, thank you very much -- pickle on the side, please). At first taste of the Smith and Curran, I declared that I really liked it but wouldn’t care to drink a whole one because doing so would be a bit too dessert-y for me. (See: Schlafly Pumpkin Ale.) Then Sean tried it and corrected me: “I want to drink this entire glass right now,” he stated. Then I realized he was, of course, right. It wasn't that I didn't want to enjoy the entire thing; it was that I didn't want to have to enjoy the entire thing in any sort of proper, time-meted, decorum-concerned way.

The Smith and Curran

(Adapted from How’s Your Drink?)

2 1/4 ounces dark creme de cacao

1 ounce half and half

A little bit of seltzer

Build ingredients in a highball, over ice, in the order given. Stir briskly for just about five seconds -- says Felten, "just enough to mix the ingredients, but not so much as to dissipate the soda."

Tasting Notes:

Felten's published recipe does not denote whether to use light or dark creme de cacao. We actually did a first pass using light, which seemed to produce quite a frothy head (that's what she said) but, in turn, a not-heavy-enough body. On a second take, we switched to the dark creme de cacao and added a dash more than the two ounces he calls for. This measurement gave the drink its desired heft, with a more chocolate-forward flavor profile, although you do lose quite a bit on the head (that's what she said).

As much as I advocate owning a seltzer bottle, I do not endorse using it to make a Smith and Curran. The reason being, those puppies are stur-rong, and chances are trying to add just a quick hit of seltzer into a highball glass that's already half-full with liquid will only result in that liquid being blown out of the glass and onto your tabletop. However, do always try to use a never-been-opened bottle or can of seltzer so that your cocktail's as fizzy as possible.

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