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Home / Articles / Food / Food Writing /  HIGH SPIRITS
cocktail
Cool off with crisp summer cocktails.

HIGH SPIRITS

Cocktails offer one way to shake things up on a summer evening.

July 15, 2008, 12:00 am

The Intoxicologist and the Inebriatrix, cocktail masters par excellence, changed the way I cook, dine and think about food. I’ll never forget the first drink my mentors mixed for me. It was a heroic attempt to quash my hesitations about Green Chartreuse and turn me on to its mysterious charms: They gave me the Last Word, a verdant potion of equal parts gin, maraschino liqueur, Green Chartreuse and lime juice, shaken with ice and strained into a cocktail glass. Within three sips, I was in love.

Despite Americans’ continuing obsession with wine, the mixed drink—and the exuberance it delivers at the end of a long day—is no stranger to happy hour bar tops, though it is underserved.

For instance, the beginning of summer has seen a treasure trove of libations new, old and made up on the spot: peach mojitos to sip with smoked mussels; Emily Luchetti’s jewel-like frozen Kir Royale, an aperitif of malty Black Velvet (equal parts Champagne and chilled stout) alongside salted nuts; a Kir Imperial (Kir Royale with Chambord instead of Crème de Cassis); and an Amalfi Dream, (a dreamy elixir of limoncello, lemon juice, vodka and mint) into which our host had tumbled a few blackberries, to good effect.

The toast “Champagne for our real friends and real pain for our sham friends” has shown longevity through the years. The same, however, cannot be said of the classic Champagne Cocktail, pleasant enough but pedestrian in this era of global fetishes that have resulted in hybrid concoctions like the saketini and the lemongrass mojito.

For crowd-friendly imbibing, nothing kicks off a dinner party like a little fizz. It’s hard to improve on a French 75, but Champagne cocktails can be readily improvised, and are easy as punch to serve to a crowd. Bases can be made by blitzing fresh or frozen fruit in a food processor with aromatics, herbs, simple syrup and/or liqueurs, then straining them through a chinois and freezing them until they are ready to use. Think of it as an adult version of the fizzy lifting drink—minus the levitation.

One of the great classic cocktails, the Sidecar, with its likeability, is a testament to how a well-made drink is greater than the sum of its parts. Most recipes simply call for unspecified brandy, triple sec and lemon juice; but with so few ingredients, an extra something special makes all the difference. Use quality liquor, or don’t come crying to me. I say yay over nay to the optional sugar rim, which melts warmly into a rich glow of the cognac as it is sipped, but I like to add plenty of freshly grated citrus to the sugar, making it nubbly with zest. How is it that this drink has not make a dashing comeback as winter’s equivalent to summer’s ubiquitous mojito?

If you haven’t tried it yet, Damiana liqueur, in a bottle reminiscent to that of Venus of Willendorf, adds aphrodisiac languor to margaritas. Bitters lovers, try the artichoke-based digestif Cynar over ice with a twist of lemon, or add a dash of Campari or Angostura bitters to a gin and tonic, to dry out the drink and add a splash of color. Other pleasure-seekers may find dionysan delight in a potent, sunset-stained Titians Temptation, composed of equal parts Campari, sambuca (preferably Molinari) and lemon juice. As the Inebriatrix says,“What makes it so satisfying is its layers of flavor, and the taste of sweet, sour and bitter in each sip.”

The Inebriatrix, as usual, is onto something. What really makes my toes curl is an engaging, balanced interplay between taste sensations. The current favorite at my dinners is a bracing, boozy quencher that embodies all the brightness and acidity of a summer refresher without any of the flimsiness. Served with a twist, my hastily named Poor Survivor is a variation of the ambrosial Corpse Reviver II which, with its assertive anise notes, is not for everyone.

Poor Survivor
    2 oz. Lillet Blond
    1 oz. gin
    1 oz. Cointreau
    1 oz. lemon or lime juice
    1 oz. pear liqueur (I use Mathilde), or a combination of pear-flavored vodka/brandy and simple syrup to taste

Shake. Strain. Serve up.

Saturday Night Sidecar
    1½ oz. Cognac or Armagnac
    ½ oz. Calvados (or an extra ½ oz. of brandy instead)
    1 oz. Cointreau
    ¾ oz. lemon juice (or lime, if you’re feeling deviant)

Shake. Strain. Serve up.
Note: I rim the glasses with cane sugar into which fresh citrus zest (whatever you’re juicing) has been grated and rubbed.

Toby Maloney, head mixologist and partner at The Violet Hour in Chicago, was kind enough to share this recipe with us:

Yellow Rose of Texas
    2 oz. Sauza Plata Tequila
    ¾ oz. lemon juice
    ½ oz. simple syrup
    ¼ oz. Yellow Chartreuse

Glass: Coupe
Garnish: 3 drops rose water
Shake. Strain. Serve up.

 

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