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A Unique Cocktail Lady -- The Donna Maria

If you want to show respect to an Italian lady, call her Donna.  It's the feminine equivalent of Don, e.g. Don Corleone in The Godfather (my favorite movie) or Don Giovanni (one of the two operas I like).  I did not discover the Donna Maria in Italy, but in Ireland.  It is one of many original creations from Ilario Alberto Capraro, the 2017 Irish National Cocktail Champion who plies his craft at Waterford Castle.  Ilario himself made me a Donna Maria. This is my home adaptation.

Donna Maria2 ounces dark rum
1 ounce Benedictine DOM
.5 ounces allspice dram
2 dashes aromatic or Angostura bitters

Combine in a shaker with ice, stir as if you're a lady con forza e grazia, and strain into a chilled glass.  Serving options include putting sugar on the rim of the glass and/or orange peel garnish.

The Donna Maria has a rich taste and is deceptively powerful (sort of like a real lady).  While I'm not as discerning about which dark rum to use as Ilario is, I agree the Benedictine DOM (a herbal liqueur in cocktails such as the Royalist) and allspice dram (a rum based liqueur) are indispensable.  You can find both in many liquor stores and/or online.   Allspice dram is also known as pimento dram, as the allspice berry comes from the pimento tree.  Think of it as autumn in a glass.

Are you a donna?  Do you want to impress a donna?  Then make a Donna Maria.


The Magnificent Seven Of Cocktails

The Magnificent Seven (the original starring Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen; I haven't seen the remake with Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt) is my favorite Western movie.  Everyone who loves movies should know about this film.   Carrie Allan, a cocktail columnist for the Washington Post, just wrote a great article about the 7 essential cocktails every drinker should know how to make.  Carrie is smart and hilarious, and my wife and I had the pleasure of meeting her at the Tales of the Cocktail conference in 2016.  She surveyed a number of acquaintances (full disclosure -- I participated in the survey) about classic cocktails before distilling (pun intended) the responses.

So what are these Magnificent Seven cocktails?  The Martini, Manhattan, Negroni, Old-Fashioned, Daiquiri, Margarita, and Gin and Tonic.   In addition, the article has links to related cocktails, e.g. the Sazerac and Hemingway Daiquiri.

All of these drinks are classics for good reason.  That doesn't mean you have to like all of them.  But if you're not familiar with some of them, try them.  You might be in for a pleasant surprise.       

To paraphrase Steve McQueen's character in The Magnificent Seven -- we deal in cocktails friend.


Tama What? -- The Tamarind Fizz

Tamarind is the fruit from the tamarind tree, which is common in South Asia and Mexico.  It is tart and sweet.  I discovered tamarind when I had it in sauces on food in Thailand.  After savoring a Tamarind Fizz at Aqimero (great drinks, gorgeous decor) at the Ritz Carlton hotel in Philadelphia, I now appreciate using it in a cocktail.  This is the adaptation I made at home.

Tamarind Fizz2 ounces cachaça or light rum (see below)
1.5 ounces tamarind juice or soda
.5 ounces agave syrup or nectar
Juice from 1/4 lime
1 egg white

With tamarind juice, combine everything in a shaker with ice, shake as if you have a tart and sweet nature, and strain into a chilled glass.  Want a challenge?  Use a reverse dry shake to shake shake shake your egg whites. With tamarind soda, put the soda in a chilled glass (not the shaker; I know this is obvious but I figure I'd say it anyway), put everything else in a shaker with ice, and follow the same process.

The Tamarind Fizz has a lot of unusual ingredients.  You can get them pretty easily.  Cachaça is a clear liquor from Brazil.  It's similar to rum, but cachaça is distilled from fresh sugar cane juice and most rum is distilled from molasses (basically boiled sugar cane juice). You can find tamarind juice or soda in Asian and Latino grocery stores.  Agave nectar, an ingredient in the Kentucky Sunshine, is in many grocery stores.  Depending on how sweet the tamarind juice or soda is, you might want to cut back or cut out the agave nectar.

In a way the Tamarind Fizz is reminiscent of a Pisco Sour. Both have clear base spirits, and they include egg white and lime juice.  Of course, the big difference is pisco comes from torched Dutch grapes, and cachaça or rum comes from sugar cane.

Sometimes a little effort can lead to a big reward.  Making a Tamarind Fizz is one of those times.


L'Intensite De L'Amour -- The Intense Ginger Love

Do you like Valentine's Day?  Do you think it's a Hallmark holiday?  Regardless of your answers, the Intense Ginger Love will hit your liver like Cupid's arrow hits a person's heart.  This holiday themed cocktail isn't vaguely contrarian like the Amaro Amore, but it is just as tasty.  The Intense Ginger Love comes from my friends at Barrow's Intense (full disclosure -- I am a small investor).

Intense Ginger Love1.5 ounces light rum
1 ounce Barrow's Intense ginger liqueur
1.5 or 2 strawberries cut in half
Sparkling wine

Combine everything except the sparkling wine in a shaker, muddle the strawberries, add ice, shake as if you're with the one you love (like I am now), strain into a chilled champagne flute, and top off with the sparkling wine.

The original Intense Ginger Love specifically calls for Caliche rum, which comes from Puerto Rico. I'm not familiar with Caliche, so I used Don Q, which is my favorite Puerto Rican rum.  As far as I'm concerned, just use your favorite light rum.  If, like me, you're more into cocktails than sparkling wine, use more Barrow's Intense and/or rum in the cocktail.

Even if you think Valentine's Day is a Hallmark holiday (I do), the Intense Ginger Love pairs nicely with music from artists such as Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Louis Armstrong. And if your Valentine's Day is going really well, play some Marvin Gaye or Barry White while you make an Intense Ginger Sutra.  You're welcome.


No Pain, No Gain -- The Painkiller

This is about rum, not the mantra of old school coaches and gym teachers.  The Painkiller originated in the British Virgin Islands, a beautiful area my wife and I recently visited, in the 1970s.  Pusser's Rum later trademarked it (yes, companies can do this).  A few years ago Pusser's even sued a New York City bar named Painkiller that used a different rum in the drink (Pusser's won but caught a lot of flak).  Put aside the Painkiller's occasionally contentious history and savor my version of it.

Painkiller2 ounces dark rum (no legal advice about which one to use)
2 ounces fresh pineapple juice
Juice from 1/4 orange
1 ounce unsweetened coconut milk

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake with the joy of making all of your pain go away, and strain into a ice filled glass.  Garnish with nutmeg (grated or powder).

Most recipes for the Painkiller call for more pineapple juice.  However, I prefer drinks in the Den to be more "alcohol forward." Similarly, the original Painkiller uses cream of coconut, but I use coconut milk because I prefer the taste.  The nutmeg garnish definitely enhances the drink. If you let a Painkiller sit it will become watered down, so consider being a contrarian and serving it neat in a chilled glass.

True to its name, the Painkiller is wonderfully effective and evokes memories of beautiful beaches.  If you want a tropical drink without a tropical vibe, just play House of Pain (either the 1990 song by Faster Pussycat, or the hip hop band that sang "Jump Around" in 1992).  Either way your pain will rest in peace.


America's Sweetheart -- The Mary Pickford

Mary who?  Mary Pickford was Hollywood's first popular female star.  Nicknamed "America's Sweetheart," after acting in numerous films in the first decades of the 20th century she became a co-founder of United Artists film studio.  She also was one of the founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences -- you know, the people who give out the Oscars.  A bartender in Havana created the Mary Pickford in the 1920s when she shot a movie there.

Mary Pickford2 ounces light rum
1 ounce fresh pineapple juice
.25 Luxardo maraschino liqueur
.25 ounces glorious grenadine

Combine into a shaker with ice, shake with the tenacity of a lady who succeeded in early Hollywood, and strain into a martini or coupe glass (for some movie star glamour).  Luxardo maraschino cherry garnish optional.

My version of the Mary Pickford gives you a great balance of booze, citrus, and sweetness.  I can't emphasize enough the importance of using fresh pineapple juice.  Juice from a few chunks or a couple of rings should be enough. 

According to Imbibe magazine, the Mary Pickford is a creation from Eddie Woelke, who is credited with creating the El Presidente.  Woelke was an American who plied his craft in Cuba during Prohibition.  Along with the Daiquiri and the El Presidente, the Mary Pickford shows there's a fascinating history of Americans creating cocktails in Cuba.  

Like the actress for whom it is named, if you want a cocktail that's sweet, glamorous, and strong, have a Mary Pickford.


Tiki Mystery -- The Mai Tai

The Mai Tai evokes Hawaii and tiki glory except ....... it doesn't come from Hawaii.   The origins of the Mai Tai are murky and a subject of great debate.

Mai Tai 2So where is it from?  California.  Some sources point to Don the Beachcomber creating it in Los Angeles in the 1930s, while other sources point to Victor Bergeron (the founder of Trader Vic's restaurant chain) creating it in Oakland in the 1940s. Most everything about the Mai Tai is debatable, including how one makes it.  I slightly adapted this version from the great Employees Only bar in New York City.  

2 ounces dark rum (I used Appleton Estate 12 year old)
.75 ounces Cointreau
Juice from 1/2 lime
1 ounce orgeat syrup

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake with the polar opposite of the laid back tiki vibe, and strain into a chilled glass.

Are you thinking "where's the pineapple juice?"   Many versions of the Mai Tai have it. I prefer this version because it only contains four ingredients and you get that great balance of sweet and sour.  Also, neither of the likely original Mai Tais used pineapple juice.  If you want a tiki drink with pineapple juice, which I like, try something such as the Jungle Bird.

So what about the phrase "mai tai?" It's probably not from the Chinese language, where it literally means "sell a desk."  The more accepted understanding is that it comes from a Polynesian dialect and roughly translates as "the best."  

Let this new knowledge soak into your brain like the Mai Tai soaks into your soul.


Sawadeekhap New York City -- The Mekhong Manhattan

One can see a lot of beautiful things in Thailand such as this Buddhist temple in Chiang Mai.
One can see a lot of beautiful things in Thailand such as this Buddhist temple in Chiang Mai.

Southeast Asia meets the Northeast United States.  Mekhong is a liquor from Thailand, a country that I've had the privilege of visiting (sawadeekhap means "hello" in Thai).  Thais refer to Mekhong as a "whiskey" because of its brown color, but it's actually an infused rum.  95% of the distilled product comes from sugar cane before the distillery adds herbs, spices, and caramel.  You can get Mekhong online and in some liquor stores. Thanks to what used to be the Four Seasons Hotel in Bangkok for introducing me to this wonderful variation on a classic Manhattan.

2.5 ounces Mekhong
1 ounce sweet vermouth (I love Carpano Antica)
1 dash Bangkok Betty bitters from Bitter Queens
or 2 dashes Angostura bitters

Mural on the grand staircase of what used to be the Four Seasons Hotel in Bangkok.
Mural on the grand staircase of what used to be the Four Seasons Hotel in Bangkok.

Combine in a shaker with ice, stir with the dynamic grace of the Thai people, and strain into a chilled glass.

I discovered Bitter Queens at last year's Tales of the Cocktail conference.  The people are delightful and the products are top notch.  If you get the Bangkok Betty bitters, use them sparingly, as they are quite potent.

Before making a Mekhong Manhattan, try Mekhong on its own.  It is good.  I'm still convinced that I'm the only foreigner who's ever ordered it neat in a particular upscale Bangkok bar.  Thai people have a lot of respect for someone who speaks a little bit of the language, knows what Mekhong is, and is willing to drink it. 

Can't get your hands on Mekhong?  Use dark rum instead. Want to try other variations on a Manhattan?  Check out the Good Morning Manhattan or the Maple Manhattan.  Whatever you do, the resulting cocktail will be aroy mahk (delicious)!

 


Old School Colonial Style -- The St. Augustine

The Bridge of Lions at sunrise, St. Augustine, Florida.
The Bridge of Lions at sunrise, St. Augustine, Florida.

When I say old school, I mean really old school.  As in 1565.  That is the year in which St. Augustine became a settlement, and the small Florida city has the distinction of being the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the United States.  As I learned during a recent vacation, the city is home to a couple of fine cocktail bars and a good distillery.  Thanks to the SheKnows website for introducing me to this drink, the proportions of which I slightly adapted.

2 ounces rum (see below)
.5 ounces Cointreau
Juice from 1/8 grapefruit

A colorful citizen of the Fountain of Youth.
A colorful citizen of the Fountain of Youth park.

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake with the determination of the Spanish admiral who established the city (it wasn't the British who founded it) or the early Christian theologian for whom it is named, and strain into a chilled glass.  Lemon peel garnish optional.

The original St. Augustine calls for light rum, which gives it a pleasant and vaguely tart taste. For a more robust flavor use dark rum.  If you want a sweeter libation, cut back on the grapefruit juice and/or add more Cointreau.

Indulge in some relaxation and history, and have a St. Augustine!


Hail to the Cocktail Chief -- The El Presidente

El Presidente 1Even though the U.S. Presidential election is 11 months away (don't you wish the campaign was over now?), there's never a bad time to have this liquid tribute to a commander in chief. 

The El Presidente comes from Cuba.  An American bartender in Havana created it during Prohibition in honor of the Cuban president at the time (obviously this occurred well before Fidel Castro took over).  In terms of its genesis, the El Presidente is like the Daiquiri, which a different American created in Cuba. In addition, both cocktails share the same base spirit, but the similarities end there.

El Presidente 21.5 ounces light rum (Cuban if you have it)
.75 ounces dry vermouth
.75 ounces Cointreau
1 dash of glorious grenadine

Combine in a shaker with ice, stir with the pomp and circumstance of a state dinner, and strain into a chilled glass.  Orange peel garnish optional.

Technically this recipe is for the El Presidente #2.  Originally it consisted of equal parts light rum and a particular vermouth, but the recipe evolved over time.  If the cocktail is too sweet for you, add more vermouth and/or cut back on the Cointreau.  In comparison, the El Presidente #1, which pertains to a prior Cuban president, essentially is a Manhattan that substitutes dark rum for bourbon or rye.  Thankfully, neither version of the El Presidente has any connection to the Dominican beer with the same name.

Now that you have the proper cocktail, raise your glass and toast your favorite President!