Red Wine and Coke (aka Kalimotxo, Cocavino)

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The first time I ever drank alcohol (Mom, stop reading now) was at a party at Jeff Dakin's house. I was 16, I think, and there was Budweiser in cans. As I couldn't stand the taste of the champagne of beers, I emptied a can into an oversized, plastic cup and mixed it with OJ, which was all I could find in the Dakin family fridge that struck me as even plausible to combine with pissy lager. And so my career in mixology began .

I remember being so embarrassed by this that I only did my mixing when nobody else was in the kitchen, but I also remember coming up with a name for my concoction -- the Rosebud -- which means I must've talked to other kids there about it, or at least that I saw the humor in what I was doing.

If I'd known then about red wine and Coke, think 0f how boldly I could've plundered Mr. and Mrs. Dakin's wine stash instead of making do with OJ'd-down, mass-produced swill. Imagine my rapt, pimple-pocked audience as I explained that rendering cheap booze palatable for consumption was a noted hallmark of youth across the seas! Think about what a precocious, pretentious ass I would've sounded like, expounding upon my own multiculti self-awareness. (Why, I may as well have checked my humility at the door and enrolled as one of Suri Cruise's classmates at Avenues!)

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In Spain, red wine and Coke -- sometimes known as Kalimotxo or Cocavino -- are often mixed together to drink at parties or street festivals. It's kinda considered a kids' drink (as in "these crazy kids today," not "my kid just turned 9 months old") because, as my behavior chez Dakin evidences, an adolescent's bank account mandates the purchase of cheap, less-than-desirable-tasting bilge, just as a teenage mindset is a prerequisite for believing that mixing dolla hooch with Coke sounds like an awesome idea.

Myriad suggested ways to prepare/guzzle red wine and Coke: Sometimes Kalimotxo is served in a short, glass tumbler; other times it's served in a "tall" glass, except for those other, other times when a "one liter, plastic drinking glass" is what's called for. Then there's that thing where you half-empty a two-liter of cola, pour your one-liter bottle of vino in, and voila! You've just bartended up a party-sized batch that comes in its own, cooties-friendly, communal chug jug.

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Likewise, varying flavorings abound. I've read that ouzo, blackberry liqueur and a lime twist are all good ideas (not all at the same time). So when I decided it was time to try my hand at red wine and Coke -- grownsed-up style, mind you -- I systematically worked my way through the options. My findings:

- I started with just red wine, Coke and a healthy-sized lime twist. Getting that hit of citrus up the nostrils before diving in was palate-confusing, but in a good, refreshing, smile-inducing way.

- Instead of blackberry liqueur, I did a 15ml of creme de cassis, as that was the closest facsimile I had on hand. This combo tasted like a good imitation of bad wine. It was like church wine, really -- very heady and juice-like in the way cheap, sugary booze often is.

- I will admit, I did not try doing a dash, nor a splash, nay, nary a drop of ouzo. That just sounded nasty.

- Ultimately, straight-up, equal parts red wine and Coke was what I liked best. The drink was pleasingly crisp rather than syrupy sweet. Still a curious bugger, to be sure, but one I could easily envision myself enjoying around adults my own age, which is probably how old Mr. and Mrs. Dakin were at the time, now that I think about it.

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The Kalimotxo

4 ounces red wine

4 ounces cola

Lime twist (optional), to garnish

Pour red wine, then cola into a large, ice-filled tumbler or stemless wine glass. Garnish with lime twist if desired.

Tasting Notes

Ice is key here. I simply cannot recommend this beverage at room temperature, even though I'm sure it's often consumed that way, what with its bottle-swigged-at-street-fests rep. Don't. Use lots of ice! (Pre-chill your red, in fact.)

I made this using a Spanish Garnacha. It is literally the cheapest red wine they sell at my nearest SAQ (about $10), but it's not bad at all. (We drink it at dinner all the time.)

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The Alexander the Great

MmmmmMMMMmmmmm nom nom NOM NOM NOM NOM

Now, I have never started a post with such gustatorial, guttural nonsense. So you must realize, people, me reeeeeally likey this cocktail.

And how could I not, as it contains the greatest food known to man: Mint. Chocolate. Chip. Ice. Cream. Zomg. (Mark Bittman would argue it's not a "food" at all. Mark Bittman can suck it.) Srsly, I could live on mint chocolate chip ice cream, in either of its two glorious hues: au naturel white or 50s-sci fi green. It's my ambrosia and my manna rolled into one. It's my manbrosia!

So here's the backstory on the Alexander the Great. I'm still working on my weeks-old reader challenge to come up with cocktails suitable for showcasing -- or at least, for palatably drinking down one's stash of -- ouzo, that tricky and troublesome anise-flavored Greek liqueur that's oh-so-hard to get along with when you're any other possible cocktail ingredient. So far I've done up the Greek Tiger, aka the screwdriver of Greece, and a raspberry mint lemonade concoction that manages to throw enough up against ouzo's bomastic licoriceness to tame it nicely.

But I still wasn't done; one of my teacher's-pet neurons did some extra credit work and fired off a message to me: Do an Alexander! A couple winters ago, I'd rolled out an entire week of Alexander posts, reveling in the creamy decadence of this most aristocratic of dessert cocktails. (I say "aristocratic" because the Brandy Alexander, the most well-known Alexander to date, was invented for a royal wedding in the 1920s.) Another historical triv bit I'd mentioned was that the original Alexander, i.e. the one just known as "an Alexander," was made with gin as its base liquor, followed by the all-Alexanders ingredient template of creme de cacao and cream or ice cream.

When I'd blogged that one, I'd gone with a mint-chip gelato, and when I thought about an ouzo-tinged take on an Alexander, it all just came together. I'd learned from the lemonade cocktail that mint's a good sparring partner for ouzo, which could simply be swapped in for the creme de cacao. Gin, mint and ouzo all have that herbaceous thing going that I always love to play with. The cocktail's called an Alexander, and this one's got Greece's national liqueur in it, and Alexander the Great was Greek!

As one of my 1980s primetime heroes would say, I love it when a plan comes together.

The Alexander the Great

1 1/4 ounces Bombay Dry Gin

3/4 ounces Arak Razzouk*

3/4 ounces Haagen-Dazs Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

Fennel seeds or ground nutmeg or sesame seeds, to garnish

Combine gin, arak/ouzo, and ice cream in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously for at least 20 seconds. Strain into a well-chilled cocktail or coupe glass. Garnish as desired.

Tasting Notes

*For those would have just joined us, arak is basically Lebanon's own anise-flavored liqueur and can be used interchangeably with ouzo in whatever recipe. I happen to have a bottle of arak I'm trying to kill of so that's why I used that.

Which garnish to use? Sesame seeds if you want some salty-sweet action going on in your glass. Ground nutmeg if you'd rather play up the straightforward sweet. Fennel if you like the herbal-green flavor of it all.

A mint sprig is always a nice garnish, too.

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Lemon Raspberry Mint Ouzo-Ade

Last week:

PhoBlograpHusband: "What do you want to do for our [second] anniversary [on June 5]?"

Blogtender: "Let's, like -- let's go out and see Montreal, some part of the city we keep saying we should see but haven't yet. Not anything too crazy, obvs [because I'm seven months pregnant] but something different."

PhoBlograpHusband: "Yeah, we need to get off our couch this summer."

Two nights ago:

Blogtender: "You know what I really want to do for our anniversary? I want to make cocktails and eat junk food and watch TV. On our couch."

Ah, yes, while I believe the traditional second-anniversary gift is something like clocks or coffee or leather, chez Lorre it was a much more sublime trifecta. Smiley face-shaped chicken tenders and Mad Men (we just subscribed to this season on iTunes, NO SPOILERS LA LA LA LA) and, among other libations, this Lemon Raspberry Mint Ouzo-Ade.

This is my second in what will hopefully turn out to be a long and languid series of posts about what to do with ouzo. I swear, Jesus sneaks into my liquor cabinet when I'm not looking and blesses my ouzo stash, because no matter how much I pour the stuff I can't seem to make a dent in it. And as I've said before, my natural inclination is to not want to make a dent in it. It's not my favorite liqueur.

But I had pulled a recipe from Martha Stewart for Lemon Ouzo-Ade, which necessitated making your own lemon simple syrup (steeping with zest) in addition to freshly squeezed lemon juice. We tried cheating this with an organic lemonade Sean had picked up on sale at the supermarket (it's really good and light and not syrupy; I've been drinking it straight all day), first going with equal parts arak* and lemonade.

Blech. See, this is what I can't stand about ouzo (arak, whatever), it's sooo overpowering. It takes over a glass like nobody's business. It's not necessarily strong in alcohol-y-ness but it's way too much  flavor-wise. Where does ouzo get off?

Luckily, raspberries were also on sale this week, and we're back to buying (hopefully soon growing) mint now that it's summer again. All that in addition to the lemon put up enough of a fight against the ouzo flavor that it finally backed down and agreed to play nice. The resulting ade possessed a nice, rounded coalition of tastes. All the flavors came through on their own, distinct merits while meshing at the same time.

We also got one more thing "accomplished" yesterday: Finished our little happy-hour patio in the backyard. Another traditional second-anniversary gift is his-and-hers green and blue spray paint...

Lemon Raspberry Mint Ouzo-Ade

(Loosely inspired by this Martha Stewart recipe)

2 ounces Arak Razzouk

At least 4 ounces Santa Cruz Organic Lemonade

Small handful of fresh mint leaves, plus a sprig for garnish

About 3 large raspberries

Pinch of granulated sugar

Muddle mint and raspberry in the bottom of a Mason jar, first sprinkling sugar on them to act as an abrasive. Fill with ice cubes and add arak (or ouzo; see Tasting Notes); fill with lemonade. Garnish with a fresh mint sprig.

Tasting Notes

*The Ouzo/Arak Refresher Course: Ouzo is a Greek aperitif flavored with anise. Arak is basically the Lebanese name for the same liqueur. I use them interchangeably in cocktail-making. Arak's usually a little cheaper, if harder to find.

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The Greek Tiger

"Suggestions for ouzo?... I don't love it, and online drink searches reveal Coke, coffee liqueur, Jagermeister (OMG), neon blue additions (I hate), and lemonade as flavor pairings." -- Blog commenter clstal, 02 May 2012

Thanks for asking, clstal! And double thanks for your awesome (even if unintentional) reference to one of my favorite Patton Oswalt bits.

Thanks not just because I love being asked for hooch help (R U listening entire blogosphere?) but because I happen to find myself with a huh-how'd-that-happen? ouzo backlog clogging my liquor cabinet: One practically full bottle of ouzo, gifted from a friend's girlfriend who attended one of our Sunday cocktailing seshes (I suspect she was in the same boat and just wanted to get the ouzo out of her house); one half-ish full bottle of arak, aka Lebanese ouzo (aka "It's bettah than ouzo!") which we've had for maybe two years, because that's how slowly we drink this stuff.

What I don't have: a particular affinity for ouzo/arak/whatevzo you call it. Licorice has just never been my favorite flavor, starting with black licorcie on Halloween -- make mine strawberry Twizzler pleezze! -- and continuing through my inevitable Jager-shooting phase in my 20s because I didn't know any better. (Re: clstal's list of possible mixers above, ouzo and Jager? Comment dit-on overkill, blargh?) Licorice (if you think of it as the candied version of anise, which I do like at certain times/amounts) was clearly invented in an alternate universe that exists only in shades of gray.

'Tis a tricky flavor to mix with others, and I fully admit that this first attempt of mine to do so might strike clstal and her ilk as on par with the sad-alcoholic-clown list of mixers above. But from what I've researched, the Greek Tiger, simple as it is, is a common quaff in Greece, a populist fave intended for easy drinking; I picture a lot of azure waters and pristine white patios where people sip this. And I can actually picture myself doing so, even in my paved, Montreal backyard, albeit slowly and while noshing on some pre-dinner olives to counterbalance the drink's sweetness while playing nicely with its tartness.

The Greek Tiger

1 ounce Arak Razzouk

4 ounces Tropicana orange juice

Combine both liquids in an ice-filled tumbler. Stir briskly. If desired, add a garnish such as a clementine-peel twist (pictured).

Tasting Notes

OK, so I totally low-shelf'd the ingredients here. I went with my arak instead of my ouzo, purely for shelf-clearing purposes, and I supplemented with Tropicana because we had some in the house from when my Mom had visited... so in other words, also for shelf-clearing purposes.

Does anyone else drink Tropicana so rarely now, in adulthood, that when you taste some you almost trick your body into thinking it must have a cold, because why else would you be feeding it Tropicana?

Also, I must say I recommend the clementine-peel twist. It'll help convince you you're drinking something bettah than a Greek screwdriver!

Finally, I wonder if the Greeks call this a Greek Tiger? Or just a Tiger?

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The Mayor

There are two ways I feel like starting today's post:

Way #1: Hey, gang! Guess what? It's Royale Week at the blog! That means lots of tall tales, behind-the-bar secrets, and in-depth analysis of the cherished St. Louis public house that made me everything I am, bartender-wise, today. Oh, the places we'll go! The potions we'll get to know!

Way #2: Hey, guys. I am frigging beat right now. Yesterday I had a 12-hour drive from my college reunion in North Carolina to my parents' house in Fake Retirement Town, Florida (aka Cocoon-meets-The Truman Show-meets-Edward Scissorhands-Ville). I'm going on like three-and-a-half hours' sleep, and as much as I'd like to gin up my own enthusiasm for your reading pleasure (see: Way #1), it's like I'm too mentally stunted to even type good. I mean, well.

Luckily, what these two ways have in common is, the first installment of Royale Week is an easy-peasy, get-in-get-out, dos-ingredientos mixer that's curious and cute.

The Mayor has been on The Royale's cocktail menu since Day One -- which, best Royale proprietor Steve Smith and I can remember, was one day this week, six years ago; happy bday Royale! The Mayor is made by mixing arak and water; if you can, do the mixing in front of the drink's recipient (arak already in the glass, adding a slow, steady stream of water and stirring all the while) because water changes the (physical? chemical?) properties of arak, turning a clear liquid cloudy, white and opaque.

Some of you may know this as "the ouzo effect," and as I've mentioned before, arak is basically the Lebanese word for what the Greek call ouzo. There's a significant Lebanese cartel woven into the fabric of St. Louis politics. On The Royale's menu, this nebulous cadre of movers and shakers was quoted en masse for their oft-expressed sentiment re: arak. "It's bettah than ouzo!" I suppose such fervent loyalty towards a native land's liquor might be called the arak effect.

The Mayor

(Adapted from The Royale Food & Spirits)

2 ounces Arak Razzouk

About the same amount of water

Pour your arak into some sort of glass receptacle that offers good sight lines for all to see your ouzo-effect magic trick. (You'll see in the pics here that I used a Riedel stemless wineglass.) Slowly pour in the water with one hand while you swirl the glass (or stir a bar spoon in the glass) with the other. Amazement! Now add a big-ass ice cube.

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