Celebratory and Solemn -- The Ray's 619

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865 (some Americans would write the date as 6/19). On that day enslaved people became legally free in Texas, so slavery became outlawed throughout the United States (permanently banning slavery, the 13th Amendment was ratified later). My close friend Doug asked me to create a Juneteenth cocktail in memory of his late colleague Ray, whom I did not know.

Ray's 6191.5 ounces bourbon
.75 ounces Aperol
.75 ounces glorious grenadine
Juice from 1/4 lemon (.5 ounces)

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake with the excitement you would feel as if you learned you were finally free, and strain into a chilled glass. Strawberry or other red fruit garnish optional.

Think of the Ray's 619 as an enhanced Whiskey Sour. Bourbon is the base because it is legally an American spirit. I used Aperol, which pairs nicely with bourbon in cocktails such as the Paper Plane, for two reasons. First, it is red. So what? Like many Americans, I largely was ignorant about Juneteenth until relatively recently. Among other things, I learned red is a big color for Juneteenth related food and drinks. It symbolizes the blood spilled during slavery, as well as African crops such as hibiscus. Second, Aperol's bittersweet taste fits right in with what the day is all about. Grenadine, which is dark red, brings some sweetness to the Ray's 619, and the lemon juice adds some tartness.

Raise a Ray's 619, and honor what (and who, if you knew the man) it represents.


Sazerac Cocktail Week

Can you devote a week to the Sazerac, a liquid national treasure from New Orleans? Of course (and you can drink them year round). Running from June 20 through June 26 this year, Sazerac Cocktail Week is the brainchild of the Sazerac House. Think of the Sazerac House as an approachable, interactive, and really interesting museum about all things Sazerac. How interesting is it? My mother-in-law enjoyed her experience there, and she doesn't drink.

Sazerac Week 3So how am I celebrating Sazerac Cocktail Week (besides the obvious)? By speaking with Matt Ray, the Sazerac House cocktail expert and experience team leader. Displaying his Southern upbringing and his experience as a former teacher, Matt graciously spoke with me and Ms. Cocktail Den about Sazerac topics ranging from historical to technical to personal. Keep reading because I'll ask you the same question I asked Matt at the beginning of the interview.

First, the historical. The past affects the present, and it's no different with the Sazerac. Emphasizing why the Sazerac is important in the American cocktail pantheon (my phrasing), Matt pointed out the Sazerac is an "old, old cocktail," as newspapers mentioned it as far back as the 1830s.  As the Sazerac evolved from its roots of using a cognac base to using a rye base, it became what Matt characterized as the "most lovely expression of an elevated Old Fashioned." Similarly, the profile of a Sazerac drinker evolved over time, in my opinion for the better. Matt hilariously noted Sazerac drinkers used to be "old grumpy white men," then "younger grumpy bartenders." Now people of all ages, races, genders, and occupations are likely to kick back with a Sazerac.

Sazerac Week 2Second, the technical. A Sazerac doesn't require many ingredients, but it "takes a small level of precision to make it." The key word is small. If I can do it, you can do it. Matt astutely compared making Sazeracs to baking cookies - few ingredients, tasty when done right, and many ways to screw them up. What are the most common mistakes according to Matt? Overdoing the absinthe or Herbsaint (a homegrown New Orleans spirit still used today and used when absinthe was illegal), and over-stirring. Surviving the former, Matt described it as "punishment for being drunk at 1:00 a.m. in the French Quarter." For the latter, Matt recommended a quick, soft stir so as not to water down the drink.

Third, the personal. Here's the compound question: where did you have your first Sazerac, and when did you have it? For me and Ms. Cocktail Den, it was the bar at the Dauphine Orleans Hotel in 1999. That began our ongoing love affair with the cocktail. For Matt, it most likely was at Loa, the first craft cocktail bar at which he worked, in an undetermined year (no judgment, as I'm well aware drinking in New Orleans can be antithetical to perfect recall).

In addition to appreciating and spreading the word about the Sazerac, there is another important aspect to the week. Sazerac Cocktail Week benefits Feed the Second Line, a non-profit organization focused on supporting the people who are the culture creators of New Orleans. Some bars and restaurants around the country are running promotions during Sazerac Cocktail Week. If you can't make it to one, this curated playlist provides a great musical background as you sip your Sazerac.

All of this talk about Sazeracs is making me thirsty. Care to have one with me?


Lively And Boozy -- The Pura Vida

"Pura vida" is a Spanish phrase that literally means "pure life." While Costa Rica uses the phrase as a national slogan to describe its culture, the Pura Vida cocktail comes from London. Riccardo Aletta at Holy Birds bar created it in 2016.

Pura Vida2 ounces mezcal
.75 ounces Averna
.5 ounces coffee liqueur (I used Mr. Black)
2 dashes orange bitters

Combine in a mixing glass with ice, stir with lively style, and strain into a chilled glass. Orange peel or amarena cherry garnish optional.

If smokiness can shine, mezcal does it here. It gives the Pura Vida a boozy base and a wonderful fragrance. As it does in drinks such as the Naked And Famous and the Good Cork, mezcal plays well with the other spirits. Averna, a Sicilian amaro used in the Peligroso, gives the Pura Vida some depth. So does the coffee liqueur. You don't have to use Mr. Black (its coffee amaro is a key part of the Blackjack), but the coffee liqueur you use will have an effect on the Pura Vida.

Pura vida -- it's not just a state of mind. It's also a fine cocktail.


Classic New Orleans -- The Sazerac

Real New Orleans drinkers love a Sazerac, the city's official cocktail and Ms. Cocktail Den's favorite drink. Although the Sazerac's exact birth year is a bit hazy (as are many things if one properly experiences the city), Billy Wilkinson and Vincent Miret created it in the late 1890s at the Sazerac House. Its popularity endures and expands over time.

Sazerac2 ounces rye
.25 ounces super simple syrup
2 dashes Peychaud's bitters
Teaspoon of absinthe

Coat the inside of a chilled glass with absinthe, discard the remainder, add the other ingredients, and stir with some New Orleans style. Lemon twist garnish optional.

The Sazerac is many things. Weak is not one of them. Some early versions used cognac as the base, but most modern versions use rye. Think of the Sazerac as an absinthe enhanced twist on an Old Fashioned with special bitters. Both the Peychaud's bitters (another New Orleans creation) and absinthe, used in my When Ernest Met Mary, are indispensable parts of the cocktail. You can serve the Sazerac at room temperature. It's also quite good if you stir it with a couple of ice cubes and then remove the cubes before serving (this is how I do it). If you're still in a New Orleans cocktail mood, try my Len Bon Temps Roulé.

Want something assertive, alcohol forward, and utterly magnificent? Then make yourself a Sazerac.


A Cocktail Of Light -- The Parisian

Known as the "City of Light," Paris is one of the great cities of the world. Ms. Cocktail Den and I have been fortunate enough to explore iconic sites such as the Eiffel Tower and the Champs Élysées, as well as cocktail landmarks to know We'll Always Have Paris. In 1930 the Parisian cocktail appeared in the Savoy Cocktail Book by Harry Craddock. I slightly adapted the recipe.

Parisian1.25 ounces gin
1.25 ounces dry vermouth
.75 ounces crème de cassis

Combine in a mixing glass with ice, stir with Parisian joie de vivre, and strain into a chilled glass.

Crème de cassis is a blackcurrant liqueur used in drinks such as the classic Kir or my original Bourbon Renaissance. Almost a full ounce of pretty sweet liqueur needs something to counterbalance it. That's where the gin and dry vermouth come in.  Aside from a Burnt Fuselage or Scofflaw, normally I wouldn't use an ounce or more of dry vermouth in any cocktail, but it works well in a Parisian (the original has equal proportions of all ingredients). Its rich purple color reminds me of the liveliness of Paris and its people. 

Want your cocktail life to shine even brighter? Have a Parisian.


Irish Capital Craic -- The Dubliner

Dublin, the capital of Ireland, is a lovely city, and there's much more to do than drink beer, whiskey, and Irish Coffee. "Craic" (pronounced crack) is a Gaelic word that roughly means fun in a social context, e.g. a lively bar conversation. The Dubliner is not remotely as old as the city, as the late cocktailian and author Gary "Gaz" Regan created it in 1999.

Dubliner2 ounces Irish whiskey
.5 ounces Grand Marnier
.5 ounces sweet vermouth
2-3 dashes orange bitters

Combine in a mixing glace with ice, stir as if you're walking across the Ha'penny Bridge or the grounds of Trinity College, and strain into a chilled glass, preferable a coupe. Luxardo or amarena cherry garnish optional.

I see the Dubliner as an orange enhanced Manhattan, or a variation on the Tipperary or the Luck of the Irish.  There are a lot of fine Irish whiskies you can use as the base of the Dubliner. I'm not going to recommend a particular one. Regan specifically called for Grand Marnier, used in drinks such as the Burnt Fuselage, as the triple sec (orange liqueur). Using a different triple sec is fine, but of course the result will be different. Amusingly, even though Ms. Cocktail Den and I had some serious craic when we were in Dublin in 2017, we didn't have a Dubliner until later.

Have a Dubliner or two, and your odds of good craic improve immensely. Sláinte!

 

 


CCRockin' Cocktail -- The Fogerty

Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) was a rock band with a unique sound that still resonates. John Fogerty was the lead singer of CCR during its brief history and prolific output (try to find a movie or TV show set during the Vietnam war era where "Fortunate Son" isn't played).  In 2010, 40 years after CCR's heyday, Ryan Fitzgerald in San Francisco created the Fogerty, and I discovered this adapted recipe in Difford's Guide.

Fogerty2 ounces rye
.5 ounces Campari
.25 ounces crème de cassis
2 dashes orange bitters

Combine in a mixing glass with ice, stir with forceful rhythm, and strain into a chilled glass. Orange twist garnish optional.

The Fogerty is a remarkably well balanced drink despite its unusual combination of ingredients. There's no doubt rye, a part of other American themed drinks such as the Roosevelt, and Campari, a part of drinks such as my Scandinavian Suntan,  are strong tasting spirits with a lasting impact (much like CCR's music), and they temper the rich and sweet crème de cassis, which you use in the classic Kir or my original Bourbon Renaissance. Fitzgerald's original used crème de cacao instead of crème de cassis. If you or your guest prefers a slightly sweeter Fogerty, use bourbon as the base instead of rye.

It doesn't matter if you're down on the corner waiting for Susie Q, or if you're looking at a green river with a bad moon rising, the Fogerty is a cocktail that will resonate.


Fiercely Crimson -- The Wildest Redhead

Redheads make up a very small percentage of the population, but they generate a lot of stereotypes. The Wildest Redhead is a creation from Meaghan Dorman, a New York City bartender. She took the Wild Redhead, which first appeared in the 1977 book Jones' Complete Barguide, and enhanced it.

Wildest Redhead1.5 ounces blended Scotch
Juice from 1/2 lemon (.75 ounces)
.75 ounces honey syrup
.25 ounces allspice dram
.25 ounces cherry Heering

Combine everything except the cherry Heering in a shaker with ice, shake with wild abandonment, and strain into a chilled a glass, preferably rocks and over a large ice cube. Top with the cherry Heering.

Scotch gives the Wildest Redhead a solid base, and it naturally pairs well with the lemon juice and honey syrup.  Dorman (who is a redhead) added allspice dram, part of cocktails such as the Donna Maria or my Les Bon Temps Roulé, to the original drink. Just as Dorman made changes to the predecessor of the Wildest Redhead, I tweaked her recipe ever so slightly. Her recipe calls for a half ounce of rich honey syrup (3:1) ratio, but I use regular honey syrup (1:1 ratio). Cherry Heering brings a nice finishing touch to the Wildest Redhead. If pairing Scotch and cherry Heering intrigues you, definitely have a Royal Blood.

Ready to get a little wild? You know what to drink.


A Muppet Cocktail -- The Kermit The Frog Is Strong

When we were kids Ms. Cocktail Den and I were big Muppets fans. Kermit the Frog is one of the most famous Muppets. Even though he is physically weaker than some of his friends, e.g. Miss Piggy, he more than makes up for it with his honor, friendliness, and positive attitude. Continuing the tradition of a new original creation in a new year, the Kermit The Frog Is Strong pays tribute to his character.

Kermit the Frog is Strong1.5 ounces gin
.5 ounces Barrow's Intense (see below)
.5 ounces green Chartreuse
.5 ounces Midori
Juice from 1/4 lime

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake with the frenzy of Kermit waving his arms as he exclaims "Yay!!!!!", and strain into a chilled glass.  Lime peel garnish optional.

Use whatever gin you like. I highly recommend Barrow's Intense ginger liqueur for the Kermit The Frog Is Strong. Even though I'm biased because Ms. Cocktail Den and I are very small investors, Barrow's Intense gives you a far cleaner ginger flavor than its competitors. Clearly you have to use green Chartreuse (instead of yellow as you would in an Alaska). Combining green Chartreuse with gin and lime juice works very well in the Last Word, and it does the same here. Midori, a melon liqueur, keeps the Kermit The Frog Is Strong from being too tart, and it adds more green color. 

As Kermit might tell you, sometimes it's not easy being green. It's easy with a Kermit The Frog Is Strong.


Celebrating Triangles and Venice

Triangles1December is a popular time for celebrations. This December I had the honor of designing the cocktail program for a party celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Dulles Triangles, a local LBGTQ+ social group. Dubbed the "Gay-la," the party's theme was a Venetian masked ball. Ms. Cocktail Den and I love Venice, the inspiration for my Venetian Kiss. So what did the stylishly dressed partygoers drink? A creative mix of alcoholic and what I call 3/4 (non-alcoholic) cocktails.

Acqua Alta -- Italian for "high water," this is how the locals refer to the floodwaters that periodically soak the city (Ms. Cocktail Den and I literally got caught in historic flooding in 2019). The drink is a minimally modified Frank Sinatra. Combine 2 ounces vodka, .5 ounces blue curaçao, .5 ounces lemon juice, .25 ounces super simple syrup, and ice. Shake and strain.

Canareggio -- Named for the low key and fun district a little off the tourist path. The cocktail is a non-alcoholic Cosmopolitan. This one has .5 ounces lime juice, .25 ounces cranberry juice, .25 ounces super simple syrup, and ice. Shake and strain, then top with 2 ounces sparkling orange water.

Gondola -- I don't need to explain what a gondola is, do I? Ms. Cocktail Den persuaded a skeptical me to take a gondola ride at sunset, and the experience turned out to be sublime. This non-alcoholic drink has a vague tiki vibe. Combine 2 ounces pineapple juice, .5 ounces lime juice, .5 ounces super simple syrup, 2 dashes Angostura bitters, and ice. Shake and strain.

Triangles2Grand Canal -- The key waterway snaking past Venice's major landmarks. Add one ounce of dark rum to the Gondola. This was the Gay-la's "secret" drink, meaning you had to ask the bartender for one.

Palazzo -- These former palaces are the stately homes overlooking the Grand Canal and other parts of the city. Who says bubbly drinks need booze? Combine .5 ounces of lemon juice with .5 ounces of grenadine syrup and ice, shake and strain, then top with 2 ounces sparkling apple cider and edible cocktail glitter.

Sprezzatura -- This wonderful Italian word roughly means making something complex and difficult look effortless. Think of an elite athlete or artist doing what they do best. The drink is a renamed Champagne Cocktail. Place a sugar cube at the bottom of a champagne flute, add 2 or 3 dashes of Angostura bitters, then add sparkling wine and edible cocktail glitter.

St. Mark's Square -- The focal point of Venice. If you've only seen one picture of Venice, it probably was of this. I renamed my Flattening Curve here. This one has 1.5 ounces bourbon, 1 ounce Aperol, .25 ounces super simple syrup, 2 dashes Angostura bitters, and ice. Stir and strain.

The Gay-la was a great mix of old friends, new friends, elaborate masks and costumes ... and elegantly simple cocktails. The end result? Fun. To the Dulles Triangles, I say grazie mille for letting the Den be a part of the Gay-la. Cin cin!