The Clifton Heights

Gonk1 (1)

Hey, bourbon face! Are you as cray-cray in love with bourbon as this blotto besotted bourbonperson is? Do you eat, drink dream drink and sleep drink bourbon? Have you considered naming a pet and/or child Bourbon?

Then have I got a cocktail for you! Like me, you're probably always on the hunt for yet another way to enjoy your bourbon. After all, just because you can't spell "Manhattans" without "man" doesn't mean man should live on Manhattans alone! So here's what you're gonna do. You're gonna add pineapple juice to your Manhattan.

I'll wait a moment for you to finish going pppppppppppffffffffttttttttttttttttt... wuhhhhhh?

Gonk2 (1)

A bourbon Manhattan with pineapple juice is what we at The Royale Food & Spirits (my old muddling ground) used to call The Clifton Heights. The Royale's cocktail menu named a drink for each of the city's 28 wards, and I liked Clifton Heights the drink so much, I even went in my car once and hunted down Clifton Heights, the tucked-away, little-known nabe. Just as it was described in its bit of verbiage on The Royale's original cocktail menu (beautifully penned by Tim O'Connell, truly the Gateway City's greatest nonprofessional cocktailian), Clifton Heights is leafy and reclusive; Clifton Heights the cocktail was  similarly the perfect potable for contemplation.

Now, when I say "we" at The Royale called it the Clifton Heights, who I'm really talking about is me and those puzzled patrons who listened politely as this wackadoo, way-over-enthused barmaid tried to sell them on the rounded, mellow wondrousness of this cocktail. I get it; it sounds weird at best, icky at worst. But please, do give it a try. I have loved this cocktail every time I've had it, and I've had it at home dozens of times (as well as at many bars where I've asked the bartender to mix it up for me).

Gonk4 (1)

I know that you hear pineapple juice and you think of something very tart, perhaps too sugary, maybe even a silly-tiki-tini sort of thing. But the pineapple juice here does not overpower the other three ingredients. In fact, it's one of those cocktails that becomes more than the sum of its parts. If I'd had my first Clifton Heights while blindfolded, I would have done a very bad job of guessing what was in it. (The sign of a good recipe, no?)

If it helps make it sound more palatable, the Clifton Heights is really just an other-side-of-the-Rorschach-test cousin to The Algonquin, with bourbon instead of rye and sweet instead of dry vermouth.

So what are you waiting for? Order now!

The Clifton Heights

(Based on how I remember making it at The Royale Food & Spirits in St. Louis)

2 ounces Buffalo Trace

3/4 ounce Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth

2 dashes Angostura Bitters

1 ounce pineapple juice, preferably freshly squeezed

Maraschino cherry, to garnish (optional)

Combine all ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously for about 20 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add garnish if so desired.

Tasting Notes

I've had a Clifton Heights made with both fresh pineapple juice and canned. Obviously fresh is always best, but the one-ounce measurement I suggest here will work with either.

If you look at the first pic in this post, you'll see lotsa little ice floes. I love ice-floes drinks! (That means ones where you shake 'em so hard, your ice cubes break down a bit and some floes are freed through the strainer and into the drink.) I think ice floes are so much fun and a good indicator that you've shaken your drink strenuously enough.

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The Pineapple Gimlet

I've been wanting to make this cocktail for months, ever since I scheduled my Midwestern roundabout (Mtl -->StL -->CHI -->TOR -->Mtl) for late April and knew I'd get the chance to revisit The Matchbox, that sliver of a Chicago watering hole that is basically the greatest bar on Earth. To sate myself in the weeks prior, I read through Matchbox's Yelp reviews and saw that, time and again, opiners were recommending the pineapple gimlet. Doesn't that sound ah-mah-zing? A pineapple gimlet!

And then the PhoBlograpHusband and I finally went to The Matchbox and got the last two seats at the bar during happy hour. It seemed foolish for me to order and pay for an entire cocktail that I could only take one sip of (per my own pregnancy rules) so I asked Sean to order himself a pineapple gimlet and he said no. He was in the mood for a Manhattan. I suppose I could choose to call my husband a big, fat jerk at this point but it's really OK. I pouted for a moment and then moved on.

Except not entirely, because I still just knew that I had to try making a pineapple gimlet of my own, at home, for you, me, the blog and that selfish hubs o'mine. And in fact, when that finally happened, it was Sean who took the wheel and hammered this recipe out (because every now and then in my 30-something weeks of pregnancy I just hit a wall and have to go sit comatosely for a while).

Sean did everything right with this pineapple gimlet recipe, and the cocktail is quite divine: light in body yet full and round in flavor. You taste the lime juice first, its citrus tang bullish out of the gate, and then for an aftertaste you get the comparatively soft and lilting taste of pineapple.

Sean used less egg white than I probably would have, resulting in a drink with more visual clarity (and probably more clarity on the palate as well). Usually, out of sheer laziness, I just plop the entire, raw white of an egg into my shaker, but here Sean carefully portioned out just half of the white. Adding raw egg white to a cocktail, as well as complementing the drink with a rim of confectioner's sugar, are two tricks I learned years ago thanks to The Matchbox.

The Pineapple Gimlet

(inspired by the offering on the menu at Matchbox, but I have no idea how similar our recipes may be)

2 ounces Akvinta Vodka

1/2 ounce triple sec

3/4 ounces freshly squeezed pineapple juice

1/2 ounce lime juice

1/2 of the raw white of a large egg

Confectioner's sugar, for the rim

Lime slice, to garnish

Rim a cocktail glass with confectioner's sugar and set aside. Pour all liquid ingredients into a shaker and shake vigorously for about 30 seconds (aka, a dry shake). Then fill with ice and do so again. Strain into your glass and add garnish.

Tasting Notes

Yeah, I made this a vodka pineapple gimlet rather than a gin one. Again, thought it might result in a flavor with more clarity, plus it gave me the chance to use our gifted Akvinta Vodka, which is clear-tasting in all those good vodka ways to say the least.

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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.