A Puerto Rican Beauty -- The Pina Colada

Pina Colada -- 2019 (1)The Pina Colada is the premier cocktail of Puerto Rico. It evokes fond memories of a trip Ms. Cocktail Den and I took to this American island for a Tales on Tour conference. Meaning "strained pineapple," the modern Pina Colada came about in San Juan either in the early 1950s or early 1960s.  Regardless of who created the Pina Colada and when they created it, like the Margarita or the Daiquiri, it is a wonderful and simple drink that's easy to make.

1.25 ounces light rum (I prefer Don Q Cristal)
1.25 ounces fresh pineapple juice
1 ounce cream of coconut

Combine in a shaker or blender with ice, shake or blend with the energy of the La Placita area in San Juan (when we were there, the place was rockin' on a Sunday night), and strain into a chilled glass. Pineapple wedge garnish optional.

Pina Colada -- 2019 (2)
Condado Beach, San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Use Puerto Rican rum if you can. Bacardi is the most famous. Don Q's profile is increasing, and my informal survey indicated it is the rum most Puerto Ricans prefer. For the pineapple juice, fresh is key. Cream of coconut, which is not hard to find, is not the same as coconut milk. Although both come from shredded coconut, cream of coconut has less water and is sweeter. If you have to use coconut milk, make sure it is sweetened. Some variations of the Pina Colada add lime juice into the mix.  This makes the cocktail vaguely reminiscent of a Cuban drink with the same name in the 1920s.  However, that Pina Colada didn't contain coconut, so it essentially was a pineapple Daiquiri.

Like the resurgence of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, I like to think the Pina Colada is making a comeback. Pina Colada se levanta.


Colorful French Monks -- Chartreuse

Char what? Chartreuse is an indispensable ingredient in famous drinks such as the Last Word, or lesser known but equally amazing drinks such as the Widow's Kiss, the Bijou, and the Diamondback. But what exactly is it? Chartreuse is an herbal liqueur made by the Carthusians, a small order of Catholic monks many of whom live in the French Alps.

ChartreuseThere are two types of Chartreuse -- yellow and green. Liqueurs have a higher sugar content, but that doesn't mean they're weak. Au contraire, as the French would say.  Yellow Chartreuse is 40% alcohol by volume (80 proof), which puts in on par with unflavored vodkas and lower end (in terms of strength, not quality) whiskies.  Green Chartreuse clocks in at a whopping 55% alcohol by volume (110 proof), which is stronger than all but a handful of whiskies.

So why is May 16 Chartreuse Day?  In 1605 a high ranking French military officer gave the Carthusians a manuscript containing a recipe for an elixir that became Chartreuse.  In the United States the shorthand for May 16 is 05/16, but in France, and much of the rest of the world, it is 16/05.

Yellow Chartreuse is slightly sweeter, and some say it has a bit of a honey flavor. Green Chartreuse has a more pronounced herbal taste to me. The colors are natural. Chartreuse's recipe is secret like any other herbal liqueur or amaro, as well as non-alcoholic libations such as Coca-Cola. Legend has it Chartreuse consists of a blend of 130 different ingredients, and at any one time only two monks know the entire recipe. So when should you use yellow Chartreuse or green Chartreuse?  It depends on your mood, what you're making, and even the background music (perhaps Chartreuse by ZZ Top?).  Or you could follow the advice I got from a guy working the door at an event at the great Jack Rose bar in Washington, D.C. -- yellow by day, green at night.

Just as Chartreuse doesn't pull any punches on your liver, I'm not going to pull a punch about its price.  It is expensive, at least in the United States. That being said, it is worth every penny, pound, euro, or whatever currency you use. A little bit of Chartreuse goes a long way. These French monks aren't wrong.


A Sexy Cocktail In The City (Or Anywhere) -- The Cosmopolitan

Many people think pink drinks are weak. Wrong. This misguided notion happens with cocktails such as the Cosmopolitan. Commonly associated with the Sex and the City series on HBO in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Cosmopolitan actually dates to the mid 1980s, and possibly the 1970s. It became ubiquitous on cocktail menus, and unfortunately too often it was a sickly sweet hot mess. A good cocktail should give you a pleasant drinking experience, not diabetes. When executed well, the Cosmopolitan is a sexy and powerful drink.

Cosmopolitan2 ounces vodka (I like Zyr)
.75 ounces triple sec (I prefer Cointreau)
Juice from 1/4 lime
.25 ounces cranberry juice
.25 ounces super simple syrup (optional, see below)

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake with the intensity of (look at the second word of this post's title and use your imagination), and strain into a chilled glass. Lime twist garnish optional.

Many versions of the Cosmopolitan call for citrus flavored vodka, but I think that's unnecessary. The Cointreau and lime juice give you all the citrus flavors you need. Cointreau is a brand of triple sec. Triple sec is a general and somewhat misleading term for orange liqueurs. Some people understandably think glorious grenadine makes the Cosmopolitan sweet and pink. The pink color comes from the tiny splash of cranberry juice. If you use unsweetened cranberry juice, I suggest adding super simple syrup unless you want a tart drink.  If you want a sweeter drink, rim the edge of the glass with sugar, add the super simple syrup even if you're using sweetened cranberry juice, or both. For the cranberry juice, less is more. Ideally the Cosmopolitan should be a lighter pink like the El Presidente.

Don't let the color fool you and have a Cosmopolitan or two. Carrie and the ladies would approve.


Tales of La Isla Del Encanto, Part One

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Paseo de las Sombrillas, Calle Fortaleza, San Juan

"La Isla del Encanto" (Spanish for "the island of enchantment") is a nickname for Puerto Rico. Earlier this year Ms. Cocktail Den and I had the opportunity to spend time in San Juan, the capital of this American island. I mention this because many people are not aware that Puerto Rico is part of the United States and its people are American citizens. I suspect this lack of awareness is because Puerto Rico is not a state and the vast majority of its people speak Spanish as their primary language.

So why were we in San Juan?  Three words -- Tales on Tour. This is the international and smaller scale version of the Tales of the Cocktail conference that takes place in New Orleans every summer.  In 2018 Ms. Cocktail Den and I attended Tales on Tour in Edinburgh.  We had many wonderful experiences there, so when we learned this year's Tales on Tour would be in San Juan, we jumped at the chance to attend.

I know what you might be thinking ... if Tales on Tour is an international conference, why was it in a different part of the the United States? There is a certain kinship between the cities of New Orleans and San Juan.  It is a kinship borne of tragic circumstance. Hurricanes smashed both of them (Katrina in 2005, Maria in 2017) and forced them to rebuild and rejuvenate. There definitely was an emotional connection between the organizers of Tales on Tour, the attendees, and the citizens of San Juan.  You could see it in eyes and hear it in voices. For me and Ms. Cocktail Den, although neither hurricane affected us personally, that connection made this Tales on Tour even more rewarding.

Tales on Tour isn't just about drinking and bars, although there's certainly plenty of both (I will talk about San Juan bars in Tales of La Isla Del Encanto, Part Two).  First and foremost it is about the people.  This Tales was no exception.  Ms. Cocktail Den and I got to see old friends and make new ones. This Tales on Tour gave us many wonderful experiences involving other people.  I will share a few examples.

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"Life is about creating beautiful moments" -- Roberto Serralles

One nice aspect of Tales on Tour is that because fewer people are there, you're more likely to have meaningful interactions with people in the cocktail community. For example, one morning after the welcome toast I introduced myself to Roberto Serrallés, a scion of the family behind Don Q rum. I told him how a Puerto Rican co-worker of mine enthusiastically recommended Don Q rum to me (ironically, she doesn't drink).  Later in the conference, Serrallés was part of a panel on a really interesting presentation at the lovely Hotel El Convento about the past, present, and future of rum. That night Ms. Cocktail Den and I ran into him at an event. Amidst a tightly packed crowd dancing to upbeat music that pulsed through their collective veins, we thanked him for his presentation and told him how much we enjoyed one rum in the Don Q portfolio that isn't yet in our local market. Serrallés could have brushed us off. He didn't.  His eyes lit up as he told us to wait two minutes and find some glasses. After disappearing into a sea of tipsy humanity, two minutes minutes later he reappeared, a bottle in hand.  His toast -- "life is about creating beautiful moments." While the moment may have been fleeting for Serrallés, it was a beautiful moment, one Ms. Cocktail Den and I will remember.

A new feature at this year's Tales on Tour was the Day of Service.  Optional for attendees and mandatory for media such as me and Ms. Cocktail Den, the idea behind the Day of Service was to get people out of the relative confines of the conference and into the larger community. It was an excellent idea. Projects included cleaning beaches, planting gardens, or rebuilding houses. Even though my idea of a power tool is a blender (I must give my father-in-law credit for that hilarious and accurate line), Ms. Cocktail Den and I ended up helping rebuild a house in Loiza. In addition to a couple of Puerto Ricans, our crew consisted of people from Pittsburgh, Miami, and the two of us from Northern Virginia. Instead of bonding over booze (pun intended for you whisk(e)y lovers), we bonded over building. And don't worry, I got nowhere near the nail gun or table saw.

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No photo filter needed in Old San Juan.

When you're in Puerto Rico, rum is ubiquitous. Bacardi is the most famous. A behind the scenes trip to Casa Bacardi gave us a chance to hang out more with Russ, Sarah, and Sam. We first met them at a great dive bar across the street from the Hotel El Convento, and given the relatively small size of the conference we kept running into them.  We had mutual friends, people we  met at Tales on Tour in Edinburgh (Michele) and Tales last year in New Orleans (Nicole). It wasn't until our trip to Casa Bacardi where we got to learn how and why they became part of the cocktail community. I'm always curious about people's back stories. The three of them indulged me as we explored things such as the lab, the fermentation tanks, and the aging warehouse. And Russ, who makes his own rum, was particularly excited when he got to speak with some Bacardi master blenders as we all blended our own rums during a brief class. I was just pleased the rum we created along with a Pittsburgh bartender was reasonably drinkable.

Of course, we also got to meet other Puerto Ricans.  After the conference we stayed in San Juan for a couple of days to get some beach time, turn a darker shade of pale, detox (sort of), etc. One night we were having a quiet drink or two at one of the bars that made up the award winning La Factoria. We began chatting with Celso, our bartender. As usual, I inquired about his back story. We learned he really was a local guy, as he grew up in a neighborhood mere blocks from where I was sitting. He shared with us his personal post-Hurricane Maria story that led him to La Factoria. Through Celso we learned about the building's history and some Puerto Rican and Latin American drinking habits while we sampled some great drinks, at least one of which I will feature in a future post.

Although the conference was centered in Old San Juan (I really enjoyed the neighborhood, particularly when it was not overrun with cruise ship day trippers), there were events all over the city, as well as some in other parts of the island. This forced you to go to neighborhoods slightly off the beaten path that I might not have seen on my own. For example, the La Placita area on a Sunday night was rocking, and the vibrant atmosphere definitely could give the French Quarter in New Orleans a run for its money. From the perspective of a mainland American (at least this one) San Juan is similar enough that you know you're not in a foreign country, but it's definitely different so you know you're not in a standard, cookie cutter city that could be many places on the mainland.

Want to see the drinks, colors, and sights from our time in San Juan? Click on the links below.

San Juan
Tales on Tour
Casa Bacardi Distillery San Juan

Was our time in San Juan enchanting? Si. After a week there, I can tell you the people and cocktail scene there embody the slogan Puerto Rico se levanta (Puerto Rico rises).


A Cocktail Offer You Can't Refuse -- The Godfather

The Godfather is a cinematic masterpiece and my favorite movie.  Based on a popular novel, the movie has so many resonant scenes, so many classic lines, and so many indelible visual images that describing it here would not do it justice. Marlon Brando, who played the titular character (real name Vito Corleone, born Vito Andolini) reputedly created the Godfather during filming.  The Reina family behind Disaronno amaretto backs this claim.  For those of you who might question the origin story, are you really going to challenge Don Corleone? I didn't think so.

Godfather1.5 ounces blended Scotch (I used Monkey Shoulder)
1.5 ounces amaretto (ciao Disaronno)

Combine in a mixing glass or shaker with ice, stir with some Corleone family style confidence (excluding Fredo of course), and strain into a chilled glass.

Like the first and second movies in the franchise (relatively speaking to its predecessors, I think the third movie sleeps with the fishes), the Godfather is an elegantly powerful drink. The Scotch cuts the inherent sweetness of the amaretto.  Using a blended Scotch in the Godfather is better because any nuance in a single malt would get lost in the amaretto. Some people think the Godfather may have paved the way for the Amaretto Sour.  If you're not a big fan of Scotch, try a Godmother, which combines vodka and amaretto.  If you want to try other Godfather inspired drinks, go for a Lupara or a Sicilian Manhattan the way Michael went after the heads of the other families.

Is the Godfather not personal but strictly business? When it comes to your cocktail enjoyment, why not both? Make your taste buds and liver an offer they can't refuse.


A Shamrock Drink -- The Luck Of The Irish

The expression "luck of the Irish" didn't originate in Ireland, but in the United States.  Its origin is based on Irish miners who struck it rich in the 19th century. The Luck of the Irish will make your taste buds and liver feel quite lucky. Thanks to John O'Connell of West Cork Distillers and Liquor.com for introducing me to this smooth and powerful cocktail.

Luck of the Irish1 ounce Irish whiskey
1 ounce green Chartreuse
1 ounce sweet vermouth

Combine in a shaker or mixing glass with ice, stir with the satisfaction of having good fortune smile on you, and strain into a chilled glass (the original has you pour the drink over a large ice cube).

A true Luck of the Irish must include Irish whiskey. The Liquor.com version specifically calls for West Cork Distillers 10 year old single malt. That is a very good whiskey (I have a bottle), but similar Irish whiskies will work well. If you like Irish themed drinks, you might try the Good Cork, the Intense Irish, and Irish Coffee. While I'm not of Irish descent, I did travel to Ireland once and had a great time. And of course I like a good cocktail.

Liquor.com describes the Luck of the Irish as a variation on a Manhattan. In one respect that's correct because the drink contains whiskey and sweet vermouth.  You could say the same thing about other drinks like the Derby. It's also similar to a Bijou (which is basically a Luck of the Irish with gin), Negroni, Boulevardier, or Corpse Reviver #1 in that the drink contains equal proportions of three spirits. However, I think the characterization is inaccurate because the Luck of the Irish is significantly stronger than a Manhattan. One uses a couple dashes of bitters, and the other uses a full ounce of green Chartreuse.  Big difference. Green Chartreuse, a key ingredient in the Last Word and variations such as the Final Rye, is 110 proof (55% alcohol by volume).

Even though Daft Punk and Pharrell Williams aren't Irish (they're French, he's American), I'm sure they would encourage you to Get Lucky -- and have a Luck of the Irish.


Konichiwa Cocktail -- The Japanese Maple

Konichiwa is the Japanese word for "hello." You can't get maple syrup in Japan, but you can use Japanese whiskey and maple syrup to make a tasty drink.  I discovered the Japanese Maple, a creation from bartender Damian Windsor, in Chilled magazine, and this is my minimally adapted version.

Japanese Maple2 ounces Japanese whiskey (I used Yamazaki 12 year old single malt)
.5 ounces maple syrup (see below)
Juice from 1/4 lemon
1 egg white

Reverse dry shake (see Shake, Shake, Shake ... Shake Your Egg Whites), or combine in a shaker with ice, shake with the dynamic atmosphere on the streets of Tokyo, and strain into a chilled glass.

The Japanese Maple is a nicely balanced drink, and it gives you ample room to experiment.  For example, you could switch the whiskey's origin and make a Scotch Maple. As the whiskey is the main star of the show, you want one strong enough to stand up to the citrus and sweet flavors, but not so strong that it overpowers everything else. Use 100% maple syrup if you can. Most maple syrup on the market is either Grade A (lighter color and flavor) or Grade B (darker color and more intense flavor). Generally speaking, when using maple syrup less is more, especially if you're using Grade B.

After you have a Japanese Maple, your taste buds and liver will use a phrase that's familiar to everyone who has heard a very specific Styx song -- domo arigato!


A Jewel Of A Drink -- The Bijou

Bijou is the French word for jewel, and this drink is the equivalent of a precious gem in the cocktail world. The Bijou dates to the late 19th century and is attributed to bartender and author Harry Johnson. Its name comes from the colors of its three spirits, which represent diamonds, emeralds, and rubies.

Bijou1 ounce gin (j'aime The Botanist)
1 ounce green Chartreuse (c'est magnifique)
1 ounce sweet vermouth (bonjour Carpano Antica)
1 dash orange bitters (Embitterment est très bon)

Combine in a mixing glass or shaker with ice, stir with the beautiful precision of a flawless gem, and strain into a chilled glass.  Luxardo or amarena cherry garnish optional.

The Bijou is a deceptively lovely drink.  It is deceptive because like many jewels, its beauty belies its strength.  Roughly two thirds of it consists of gin and green Chartreuse, which is 110 proof. The Bijou is lovely because it combines herbal and subtly sweet flavors. The traditional 1:1:1 ratio is reminiscent of other gin based cocktails such as the Negroni.  Some modern versions of the Bijou have more gin compared to the green Chartreuse and sweet vermouth. Similarly, Péché in Austin makes a fascinating twist on a Bijou using Ransom Old Tom style gin and adding Amaro Montenegro.

If the combination of gin and green Chartreuse intrigues you, try a Last Word.  If the combination of gin and sweet vermouth intrigues you, try a Hanky Panky or a Don't Give Up The Ship. Whether or not you think diamonds are a girl's best friend as Marilyn Monroe and Janet Jackson sang (obviously at different times), or whether or not you think diamonds are forever (in my opinion, a lesser film in the James Bond franchise), the Bijou is worth your time and liver.  À votre santé (that's cheers in French)!


A Strong Asian Bond Girl -- The Jade Vesper

James Bond's adventures take him around the world. In Skyfall he travels to China, and in Tomorrow Never Dies he works with a Chinese agent played by Michelle Yeoh, a great actress who's been in phenomenal films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Cheongsam is an American company that hand makes unique tea liqueurs in China from locally sourced tea. The Jade Vesper, an original creation of mine, uses its Jade Oolong liqueur in a variation on the Vesper, an original creation from James Bond (seriously).

Jade Vesper2 ounces vodka
1 ounce gin
1 ounce Cheongsam Jade Oolong liqueur
Rose bitters (optional)

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake with the power and grace of Michelle Yeoh fighting (watch Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), and strain into a chilled glass.

The Jade Vesper substitutes Jade Oolong for the Kina Lillet (now Lillet Blanc) or dry vermouth in a Vesper. The Jade Oolong liqueur injects a subtle sweetness into the drink. The result is a cocktail that's pleasantly strong without becoming a blunt instrument of drunkenness. Technically you should stir the Jade Vesper because it doesn't contain citrus or egg whites. Shaking it pays tribute to how 007 ordered the Vesper, and how he likes his vodka martinis. Rose bitters (I used some from Portland Bitters Project) aren't common, but like many things in today's world you can find them online.

Want to channel James Bond or your favorite Bond girl? The Jade Vesper is a great way to do it.


10 Valentine's Day Cocktails

A great drink with the one you love is a perfect way to celebrate Valentine's Day.  Even though I think Valentine's Day is a Hallmark holiday, Ms. Cocktail Den likes it so that's what counts.  After combing through the Den archives for a drink to make her, I found these 10 themed cocktails.  Enjoy!

Intense Ginger LoveIntense Ginger Love -- rum, Barrow's Intense ginger liqueur, strawberries, and sparkling wine or champagne. Lovely and intense.

Passion -- tequila, Cointreau or other triple sec, cranberry juice, and lime juice. It will blind you (metaphorically) with ... you know. 

Amaro Amore -- Averna, Campari, lemon juice, super simple syrup, and egg white.  A rich, tasty, and contrarian choice.

Champagne Cocktail -- sparkling wine or champagne, sugar, and Angostura bitters.  Who says you only can drink this on New Year's Eve?

Naked and Famous --  mezcal, yellow Chartreuse, Aperol, and lime juice. This drink combines the fun of these two things without the risk of ending up on the Internet forever.

Intense Ginger Sutra -- vodka, Barrow's Intense ginger liqueur, and glorious grenadine. A little sweet, a little spicy, all ecstasy. 

Between The Sheets -- rum, brandy, Cointreau or other triple sec, and lemon juice. Have enough of these and the two of you might end up there.

Hanky Panky -- gin, sweet vermouth, and Fernet Branca. Even though the original meaning of the phrase had nothing to do with sex, this is one sexy drink.

Widow's Kiss --  apple brandy, yellow Chartreuse, Benedictine DOM, and Angostura bitters. She loved once, and your liver will love her (try saying that 10 times fast).

Part-Time Lover -- tequila, Aperol, elderflower liqueur or super simple syrup, lemon juice, and Angostura bitters.  The name may say part time, but the drink is full time delicious.