The Strawberry-Basil-Grappa Thing

Guest post by the PhoBlograpHusband

Seriously, summer!?! Three days of suck-it-Trebeck humidity and thunderstorms, capped off by a 67-degree Friday and foggy in the middle of the day, that’s your idea of a grand entrance? Rose and and I have been looking forward to debuting these fantastic-for-summer, mouthwatering concoctions for months and this is what you give us?

(Yes, we’re bitching about the weather two days in a row, but it has really sucked...)

So long as you allow me a half-hour of relative sunlight on Saturday mornings so I can hit the farmer's market in peace, I won’t let you spoil my fun. The Strawberry-Basil-Grappa Thing is perhaps the perfect seasonal cocktail for the first week of summer, when farmer’s-market strawberries and basil are at their ripest and most abundant.

I’ve seen a few strawberry and basil cocktails out there before, but they are generally vodka-based and come off as little more than a slightly boozy summer salad. Our way around this was grappa. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with grappa my whole drinking life. I want to love it but I usually end up hating it. Though I’m not one to shy away from straight liquor, the burn of grappa is just a little too aggressive, the finish a little too long. Turns out that grappa’s in-your-faceness was just the thing to give what could have been an all too saccharine and ethereal cocktail real substance.

The Strawberry-Basil-Grappa Thing

1 ¼ ounces Finger Lakes Distillery Grappa

¾ ounce Grand Marnier

1 ¼ ounces club soda

4-5 basil leaves

2 strawberries

¼ teaspoon Colonel De’s Mint Julep sugar

Muddle strawberries, basil and sugar (regular sugar will work if you can’t get some from the Colonel) at the bottom of a highball glass. Fill glass with ice and add grappa, Grand Marnier and soda and stir or lightly toss back and forth into a tumbler.

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The World's Greatest Shandygaff

Folks, I couldn't care less that it's St. Patrick's Day -- and as you're all high-functioning alcoholics experienced drinkers like me, I know you feel the same way. It's amateur night out there, and we're all contentedly holed up in our respective abodes, our home bars pressed into service.

'Tis nothing wrong, of course, with tipping a glass towards the Irish in mature fashion. And as we're cocktailers first and foremost, the glass to tip is a Pilsner, in which you've crafted the World's Greatest Shandygaff.

For the longest time, I thought a Shandygaff (nickname: Shandy) was just beer and lemonade, or beer and Sprite, or beer and fizzy lemonade. But once I started doing my research, a whole world of Shandy possibilities opened up to me, so much so that I feel quite good about sharing this relatively intricate recipe under the auspices of a cocktail blog.

One caveat drinktor: If you fix yourself a Shandygaff, what you'll have in common with the green-puke spewers clogging the sidewalks tonight is that you won't notice how drunk you can get off a Shandygaff (or three) until it's too late. This Shandygaff is eminently quaffable, which is code for goes down way too easy. Erin Go *Burp*!

The World's Greatest Shandygaff

6 ounces Samuel Adams Noble Pils

6 ounces Fresh Ginger Ginger Ale by Bruce Cost

1 tablespoon Grand Marnier

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 dash Angostura Bitters

Begin with about 3 or 4 generically-sized ice cubes in a Pilsner glass. Pour into the glass, in sequential order, the Grand Marnier, the lemon juice, the beer and the ginger ale. Top with a dash of bitters. Give a quick stir if you like.

Tasting Notes:

I wouldn't say that the Noble Pils was my first choice of beer; it was just the best of what my neighborhood bodegas had to offer. Having said that, its medium body and especially its hoppiness (for a Pils) served me well. Having now said that, I must add that I'm dying to try making this drink with a black lager.

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The Golden Gate

If you want to drink at Death & Company, you talk to the guy standing outside with the pad and pen. In winter, he'll be the one donning a puffy coat as big as a monster-truck tire. You give him your name, your cell's digits and the number of people in your party -- a number which should always be exactly two. (Seven's the max, but take a moment to picture seven liquored friends trying to divvy up a tab of several $13 cocktails.)

He'll then instruct you to go somewhere else (try Tile Bar or the McDonald's on the corner) until you get a call from him that your table's ready. This is when you kindly inform him that you'd actually prefer seats at the bar. This is how you will insure having the time of your life at Death & Co. -- and getting your money's worth.

No offense to the cocktail waitresses, but I don't drink away my monthly car-insurance premium to chitchat with them tableside once every 20 minutes. I'm looking for dinner and a show, which is what the bartenders put on nightly. These guys (and one woman that I've seen so far) are rock stars, brandishing their shakers the way guitarists thrash at their Fenders. (Given their pre-Prohibition ties, vests and shirtsleeves, I'm guessing the band they'd be in is The Decemberists.) You will soak up more cocktail knowledge from them in an hour than you will watching Cocktail 297 times; I may not remember where I left my cell phone this weekend, but I remember the name of the first-ever bartender I had there (Alex Day).

Having said all that, this cocktail may be one of the easiest on Death & Co.'s menu that even us mere mortals can successfully fashion. Have it with brunch, and use any leftover Grandma on your French toast.

 

The Golden Gate

(Adapted from Death & Company)

2 ounces Grand Marnier

3/4 ounce grapefruit juice

1/2 ounce lime juice

1/2 ounce B & B

2 teaspoons Campari

Combine all ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake it like a rock star. Strain into snifter.

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The Tequila Alejandro

Upholding my week-long commitment to exploring the far reaches of Alexandria, today I find myself a bit of a stranger in a strange land -- that land being Tequilaville.

I have never cottoned to tequila, and I’ve never felt like I’ve missed out on much as a consequence, except perhaps further burdening my trove of already-embarrassing-enough drunken tales/tally of inexplicable scars (two; one just south of my lower lip, the other craggy across the top of one foot). If bourbon tastes like adult fun, then tequila tastes like legal troubles. It’s antagonistic-tasting. It’s too in-my-face, and even when I’m doing nothing more innocent than enjoying a margarita, I often believe that tequila’s devilish essence is asseverating itself from beneath its blanket of lime, sugar and salt, rather than just commingling nicey-nice in the glass like a base liquor is supposed to.

But when I started thinking about how to retrofit the basic Alexander recipe (liquor, creme de cacao, cream) around tequila, a few choices became clear. One was that the creme de cacao should be swapped out for Patron XO Cafe. A “coffee liqueur made with tequila,” as it’s described on the bottle (“Coffee Patron,” as I often call it), it was a big hit at The Royale when I worked there -- as a shot, a sipper or as one half of an admittedly puerile shooter I devised one night with a jovial, half-sauced regular that we dubbed the Irish Taco: Patron XO and Bailey’s. Since then, I’ve insisted of having it as a member of the at-home bar and have aimed to devise more subtle and clever uses for it.

A recurring challenge with Patron XO is that it’s quite syrupy in texture and trenchant in taste -- it's got an appealing warmth and a nice linger as a standalone digestif, but can be tricky for mixing -- so for this cocktail I reduced my Alexanders’ usual creme de cacao measurement by a quarter-ounce. The next part of the equation was to decide upon a cream variation, for which nothing sounded as right as chocolate. Actually, since chocolate is a taste I usually don’t enjoy in an alcoholic context, I had a hunch this would be a case of two wrongs making a right.

Tequila and chocolate are geographically/agriculturally simpatico, and both revel in an added kick of heat. Upon that realization, the rest of the recipe fell together in an instant. We had the bitters just sitting there on the shelf (hello -- Aztec!) and the dark chocolate-chili bar was a Christmas gift from Sean’s Aunt Meggie, who had actually given it to me as an in-joke, based on a Facebook comment she’d left me suggesting a spicy grace note for a previously blogged-about cocktail.

The Tequila Alejandro

1 ¼ ounces Sauza Anejo Conmemorativo Tequila

½ ounce Patron XO Cafe

¼ ounce Grand Marnier

3 dashes Fee Brothers Aztec Chocolate Bitters

1 ¼ ounces Baskin-Robbins or homemade* chocolate ice cream, plus a little more for the float

Lindt Excellence Chili Dark Chocolate bar and cayenne pepper, for garnish

Grate chocolate bar (with Microplane?) until you've got just a pinch or two of shavings. Mix shavings with a few shakes of cayenne pepper to taste. Set aside.

Combine Sauza, Patron XO, Grand Marnier and bitters in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Add 1 1/4 ounces of chocolate ice cream. Cap and shake vigorously until ice cream has melted.

Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Add a small float of chocolate ice cream. Garnish with chocolate-cayenne mix.

Tasting Notes:

*OK, about the Baskin-Robbins: Me battling a recent cold + needing but a couple small scoops of ice cream + Sean getting a Dunkin' Donuts gift card for Xmas + a Baskin-Robbins located inside the Dunkin' Donuts that's located three doors down from our apartment building = yes, I used Baskin Robbins chocolate ice cream. (How's that for honesty?) However, I am a HUGE advocate for homemade ice cream. Even when I cheat (which is all the time) by using evaporated or condensed milk or by using raw eggs without cooking the mixture first, it's 1000 times better than store-bought.

The Sauza Anejo Conmemorativo is one of two tequilas we have in the house, the other being a blanco. This Sauza is aged in used bourbon barrels, so I think we lucked out as far as using a tequila with choco-friendly notes.

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