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A Bullfighting Drink -- The Matador

Bullfighting is a brutally elegant spectacle of human versus animal. A matador is the man or woman (or rabbit, if you're like me and enjoy the Bugs Bunny cartoon Bully for Bugs) in the ring with the bull.  While there's a rich history of bullfighting on both sides of the Atlantic, particularly in Spain and Mexico, the history of the Matador is murky. The earliest reference to it I could find dates back to 1937. There are many similar versions of the Matador, and this is the one I prefer.

Matador2 ounces blanco or reposado tequila
1 ounce pineapple juice
.5 ounces Cointreau or other triple sec
Juice from 1/2 lime

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake as if you're a bull charging the you know who, and strain into a chilled glass. Lime garnish optional.

My preferred Matador isn't far removed from a Margarita. Almost all versions of the Matador include tequila, pineapple juice, and lime juice.  For me adding a triple sec (orange liqueur) enhances the drink. The same goes for using a reposado tequila, although using a blanco tequila certainly is fine.

Matador 2One thing I definitely recommend is using fresh pineapple juice. If the resulting drink is too citrusy tart for you, add half an ounce of super simple syrup. You don't want your taste buds to end up like the matador in the movie Blood and Sand, which led to the drink of the same name.

Let's say you realize too late you shoulda taken that left toin at Albukoikee (it's a great line from the cartoon). Stand in the ring. Take a deep breath. Steady your nerves. Have the confidence of a matador as you drink a Matador. And most importantly -- enjoy!


Solving The Cocktail Case In Edinburgh -- Bryant & Mack Private Detectives

Bryant & Mack 1Here's a mystery -- where in Edinburgh can you find a top notch bar that's also fun and unpretentious?  This one is easy to solve.  Simply go to Bryant & Mack Private Detectives.  Ms. Cocktail Den and I did when we attended Tales on Tour earlier this year. 

Behind a humble exterior lies a small, dark bar with great drinks and great people. To me the interior evokes the intimate atmosphere of somewhere Humphrey Bogart, who played private detectives in classic films such as The Big Sleep and The Maltese Falcon, might have a drink or two as he contemplated his next move. Neither Bogart nor films like those were the inspiration for the bar's theme.  The inspiration was the deceptively effective television detective Columbo, played by Peter Falk.

Bryant & Mack 2Bryant & Mack Private Detectives is the brainchild of Ross Bryant and Jason Cormack. We happened to have a great conversation with Jason our first time there; we also met Alexandra Barstalker, a kindred cocktail spirit.  We briefly met Ross on a different night during a memorable Tales on Tour event with Buffalo Trace and Fratelli Branca (premium bourbon and vintage Fernet Branca at low prices ... need I say more?). While they are both very proud of what they have accomplished (and they should be), they are very modest.

The drinks are flavorful, creative, and well executed. Ms. Cocktail Den really liked the On Green Acres, and I particularly enjoyed the Perla Nera and the Bijou. Something else I enjoyed is the no standing policy.  If you're not sitting at the bar (something we always prefer) or one of the tables, you're not having a drink. It's a counterintuitively brilliant move.  Even though the policy sacrifices potential revenue for the bar, it enhances the customer's experience because it won't get crowded.  Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade would approve.

So here's a new mystery -- when are you going to Bryant & Mack Private Detectives?


A Sesame Street Cocktail -- The Negroni

The Negroni is a quintessential classic cocktail. What does it have to do with Sesame Street, the popular long running American educational television show for kids? As a proud Sesame Street "graduate," I can tell you the Count was one of my favorite characters on the show. The Negroni's history also involves a Count. In 1919 Count Camillo Negroni, an Italian nobleman (unlike the Count, he was not modeled off of Bela Lugosi's interpretation of Count Dracula in the movies) asked Franco Scarselli, his bartender, to strengthen his favorite cocktail.  The result became famous around the world.

Negroni1 ounce gin (I used the Botanist)
1 ounce Campari
1 ounce sweet vermouth (ciao Carpano Antica)

Combine in a shaker with ice, stir with Italian flair and grace (or the Count's deliberate cadence), and strain into a chilled glass or a glass with ice. Orange peel garnish optional.

The Negroni is a great gateway cocktail for people who haven't experienced gin or an amaro (bitter liqueur).  Campari, an indispensable ingredient, is a widely available amaro with a vague orange taste. One of the great features of the traditional Negroni is how easy it is to make.  Three ingredients, equal proportions. If you like one ingredient more than the others, you always can adjust the ratio. Although in modern times one typically serves the Negroni in a rocks glass, at the time of its creation it's more likely one would serve it in a smaller, more delicate glass. Unfortunately for Scarselli, Negroni got the credit.

The Negroni lends itself to all sorts of variations.  Substitute bourbon for the gin?  Now you have a Boulevardier.  Reduce and switch the Campari for Fernet Branca?  Now you have a Hanky Panky.  The cocktail can be like what I imagine the Count (the one from Florence, not Sesame Street) was like in real life -- sophisticated, elegant, and powerful.

So how many Negronis will you have? Start counting like the Count from Sesame Street ... one ... two ... ha ha ha ha.


Drinking Like Jersey Boys and Girls -- The Newark

I've never been to Newark (only through it), but I've repeatedly heard it is not one of New Jersey's highlights.  That didn't stop Jim Meehan and John Deragon at PDT in New York City from creating a cocktail in its honor. The Newark is not far removed from a Manhattan or a Brooklyn.  Tony Soprano would like the Newark because most or all of its ingredients come from New Jersey and Italy.  Am I good with that?  Fuggedaboudit.

Newark2 ounces Laird's apple brandy or applejack
1 ounce sweet vermouth
.25 ounces Fernet Branca
.25 ounces Luxardo maraschino liqueur

Combine in a shaker with ice, stir with the resoluteness of being Jersey tough, and strain into a chilled glass (preferably a coupe).

Laird's, which originated in New Jersey, makes apple brandy and applejack.  The two spirits aren't very different.  When you compare apples to apples, it's about exploiting different boiling and freezing points. In modern times Laird's applejack is a mix of apple brandy and other spirits. Add the sweet vermouth (most of which comes from Italy) and the Fernet Branca and Luxardo maraschino liqueur (both of which come from Italy), and you have one great cocktail. Want some accompanying music from some real Jersey boys?  I suggest Frank Sinatra (you might associate him with New York, but he was born and raised in New Jersey) or Bon Jovi.

As anyone who's seen the musical or movie Jersey Boys would tell you, big girls (and boys) don't cry.  They drink Newarks.


Stranger Things In Austin

Floppy Disk Repair in AustinIf you're a child of the 1980s like me, you'll probably like the Netflix series Stranger Things. You'll definitely appreciate period details such as the floppy disk.  I thought about the show as Ms. Wulf Cocktail Den and I recently savored cocktails at the Floppy Disk Repair Company in Austin.  Courtesy of Chris, who remembered us when he worked and we drank at a different watering hole, we imbibed a number of cocktails.  The Racketeer is spectacular, especially if you think you're a Whiskey Queen, and other standouts included unusual libations such as the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club and familiar ones like the Vieux Carre.

The atmosphere is funky (in a good way).  You can get high quality cocktails in a beer and a shot environment. A quick word of advice -- you can't just walk in.  Even though the fake speakeasy trend peaked awhile ago, the Floppy Disk Repair Company insists you message it beforehand, and then you get clues for the passcode.  It doesn't take much effort (just 24 hours advance planning) and the cocktails are worth it.

Like the speakers in Spinal Tap and one of the main characters in Stranger Things, the Floppy Disk Repair Company goes to 11.


Tasty, Political, and Timely -- The Nasty Woman

Do you know a nasty woman? Donald Trump called Hillary Clinton a "nasty woman" during the last Presidential debate. I did not watch any of the debates (deliberately vague full disclosure -- I dislike one candidate and despise the other). However, I did watch the very funny Saturday Night Live sketches of the debates, including the last one that spawned Trump's comment and ultimately this cocktail. Many thanks to Jenni Avins who created this drink and posted it on the Quartz website.

 

Nasty Woman1.5 ounces blanco or reposado tequila (hola Herradura)
1 ounce cherry juice (like Avins, I use Trader Joe's brand)
Juice from 1/2 lime

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake with (I could go 10 ways with this considering the drink name and the political climate), and strain into a chilled glass.  Lime garnish optional.

Pairing cherry juice, which is a key component in the National, with tequila seems odd, but the Nasty Woman makes it work (that sounds bad, doesn't it?).  This cocktail takes the Cointreau or Grand Marnier out of a Margarita and brings in cherry juice.  The result is a little sweet, a little tart, and very powerful.

If you're not in the mood to watch or discuss politics, I suggest watching Cleveland from Family Guy ("that's naaaasty") or listening to some tunes from Janet Jackson (Ms. Jackson if you're nasty).  And when the election ends and/or you're out of tequila  -- have an El Presidente.

 


The Other Sweet Science -- Pugilecello

"Sweet science" refers to boxing, a sport of brutal elegance.  Although the genesis of the term is unclear, it pays homage to the simultaneous focus on objective "science" (e.g. physics, leverage, power) and subjective "sweet" art (e.g. timing, finesse, drama).  The closest I get to boxing is going a couple of rounds on the heavy bag at the gym.  I do this with all the grace and ferocity of the Tasmanian Devil (the cartoon character, not the animal) having a seizure.

PugilecelloFortunately I'm much better at making cocktails and liqueurs.  "Pugile" is the Italian word for boxer.  Pugilecello is a combination of moracello (blackberry liqueur) and mirtillocello (blueberry liqueur).  Here was my thought process in naming it: "black and blue" --"bruiser" -- "boxer."  Making it is a lot easier than going a round with iconic American boxers such as Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, and Floyd Mayweather.

Round One -- Combine 12 ounces of blackberries (preferably organic), 12 ounces of blueberries (preferably organic), and one liter of 190 proof grain alcohol, e.g. Everclear, in a container.  Wait one week. 

Round Two -- Make super simple syrup with four cups of water and three cups of sugar.  Wait until it cools to room temperature.  Strain the berries from the Round One mixture and combine with the super simple syrup.   Store in a cool, dark place for four weeks.

Round Three -- Savor this sweet science while watching a boxing match, clips of classic fights such as the Thrilla in Manila, or a movie such as Rocky (the first one is a great film, and like any good sports movie, it's only about the sport on its most superficial level).

Before you step into the ring with pugilecello, here's some advice -- it may float like a butterfly, but it can sting like a bee.


Great Scot! -- The Bobby Burns

Robert Burns was an 18th century Scottish poet and a big deal in the Romantic movement.  Even if you're like me and don't know much about poetry, you probably have heard his most famous poem -- Auld Lang Syne.  It's the song everyone massacres on New Year's Eve because they don't know the  words and/or have had too many cocktails (the title roughly translates as "days gone by" or "old times"). 

2 ounces scotch (I used Monkey Shoulder)
1 ounce sweet vermouth (I love Carpano Antica)
.5 ounces Benedictine

Combine in a shaker with ice, stir with the grace and passion of creating your own liquid poetry, and strain into a chilled glass.

Combining these ingredients may look odd, but they complement each other nicely.  You can adjust the ratios depending on the taste of the scotch you use, or how sweet you want the drink to be.  I suggest scotch constitute at least half of the Bobby Burns.

The Bobby Burns is one of many Scottish things and/or people that I like.  Others include the actor Sean Connery and bagpipe music.  Yes, bagpipe music.   If hearing a bagpipe rendition of Amazing Grace (click on the above link) doesn't move you, you have no soul.

Whether your cultural tastes run towards Robert Burns from Scotland or Montgomery Burns from The Simpsons, you'll like the Bobby Burns.  But unless you have Scottish blood in you, please don't start singing Auld Lang Syne.


What's In Your Bourbon?

It's all about the mash bill.  This isn't the name of a rock band (although it could be).  The mash bill is the specific grain recipe for a whiskey.  If you read the Den post about bourbon being an alcoholic example of American Exceptionalism, you learned its mash bill must contain at least 51% corn.  

What happens once a bourbon distiller meets the 51% threshold?  In theory, almost anything. I recently found this article on the Bourbon Of The Day website.  The article provides an excellent overview of the four standard grains (corn,  barley, rye, and wheat) and the three general recipes (traditional, high rye, and wheat) distillers use to create their bourbons. As the article astutely notes, there can be a lot of variations not just with the proportions of the grains, but also with the grains themselves.

So, with apologies to the Capital One ad with Samuel L. Jackson, what's in your bourbon?


Repeal Day

Betty Boop wishes you a happy Repeal Day boop-oop-a-doop.
Betty Boop wishes you a happy Repeal Day boop-oop-a-doop.

Repeal Day is important to so many Americans who know nothing about it.  On December 5, 1933 the state of Utah became the final state needed to ratify the 21st Amendment to the Constitution.  The 21st Amendment repealed the 18th Amendment -- Prohibition.

The 21st Amendment ended what was a disastrous attempt at social engineering, as well as an unfortunate example of unintended consequences. If you want to read more about this important period of American history, I highly recommend Last Call by Daniel Okrent. If you want something less intellectual, watch The Untouchables, listen to music from great Prohibition era artists such as Louis Armstrong or Billie Holiday, or look at the photo of Betty Boop (whose cartoon character first came onto the scene during the tail end of Prohibition).

Want to celebrate Repeal Day with style?  Have a cocktail that someone created in the U.S. during Prohibition, e.g. the Scofflaw or the 12 Mile Limit, or have a cocktail that an American created outside of the U.S. during Prohibition, e.g. the Boulevardier or the El Presidente. Hell, just have something to drink.

If there ever was a day of celebration for Americans who choose to imbibe, Repeal Day is it.  A toast to the 21st Amendment!