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September 2014

My Favorite Bond Girl's Drink -- The Pussycat

IMG_20140927_173719957 PussycatCocktails are by no means my only interest and passion.  I am also a big fan of the James Bond franchise.  I probably could write a blog about James Bond related things, but there are far more cocktail fans in the world than Bond fans.  Of course, there is a lot overlap between these two groups.  In addition, the literary and cinematic character himself is a prodigious drinker, and according to this tongue-in-cheek study from The Lancet (the British counterpart of the American Medical Association Journal, click here to read it) a very high functioning alcoholic.

Every James Bond fan has their favorite movie, and I am no exception.  My favorite is Goldfinger, which is the third one in the franchise.  It has the just the right amount of everything – the rough and tumble version of the hero (the archetypal Sean Connery played him), a resonant title number (sung by Shirley Bassey), a classic line from the villain (“No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!”), and a memorable Bond girl (thank you Honor Blackman) – Pussy Galore.

I must give credit to where it is due, so thanks to Beer Barrel bourbon to introducing me to this cocktail at the Tales Of The Cocktail conference.  Here is how you make it:

That cocktail looks much tastier than fish!
That cocktail looks much tastier than fish!

1.5 ounces bourbon (I love Willett Pot Still)
.5 ounces Campari
.5 ounces Cointreau (or orange liqueur of your choice)
Juice from 1/8 grapefruit (the original recipe calls for 1/2 ounce)

Combine in shaker with ice, shake like you’re a cat who knows it is on its way to the vet (you thought I was going to say something much dirtier, didn’t you?), and strain into a chilled glass.

Those of you who follow the Den will notice that there are some similarities between this cocktail and the Siesta, part of the Grapefruit Triad.  More specifically, both drinks contain fresh grapefruit juice and Campari.  Of course, the big difference is that this cocktail has bourbon as its base, and tequila is the base of the Siesta.  To me it is fitting that bourbon is the base spirit of the cocktail with which I associate Goldfinger.  James Bond drinks bourbon in the movie; he does it in the scene where Goldfinger explains why he wants to break into Fort Knox (spoiler alert -- he doesn't plan to steal the gold).

If you like tart cocktails, then this one is right up your alley (cat).

Liquid Natitude -- The National

I am a proud fan of the Washington Nationals baseball team.  Having been in the stands in the early days when they were truly awful, I'm thrilled whenever the Nationals make the playoffs. It means the team has talent, experience, and Natitude. 

I wear these beads with pride when I attend a Nationals game
I wear these beads with pride when I attend a Nationals game

Do the Nationals have the potential to win the World Series? Absolutely. Will they? I have no idea. This is why I have faith, which I define as belief without proof. My friend and fellow Nats fan Laura once asked an incisive question: “Why don’t you create a cocktail for the Nationals?” This is what I did.

2 ounces rye
1 ounce unsweetened cherry juice
.5 ounces triple sec (I like Cointreau)
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Combine in a mixing glass with ice, stir with the deliberate precision of a Nationals pitcher throwing a curveball while facing a full count, and strain into a chilled glass. Luxardo or amarena cherry garnish optional.

Go Nats!
Let's go Nats!

Rye is a quintessentially American spirit just as baseball is a quintessentially American sport.  (Note to Anglophiles – yes, I know baseball is vaguely related to cricket. I don’t care.)  In addition, George Washington distilled rye at Mount Vernon, so there is the strong link between rye and our first President.  For the cherry juice, red is the dominant color of the Nationals, and as Ms. Cocktail Den astutely noted, Washington is known for its Cherry Blossom Festival.  Also, there is the fable about George Washington and the cherry tree.  Use unsweetened cherry juice if you can. Cointreau helps the National become the cocktail equivalent of crisply executed 6-4-3 double play – elegant and effective.

Show your Natitude and drink a National!

How Much Do You Drink?

If you follow the Wulf Cocktail Den, you probably like to have a drink or two on a regular basis.  Click here to read an interesting article in the Washington Post about Americans' alcohol consumption.  I'm not sure which statistic surprised me more -- half of us have no more than one drink per week, or 10% of us have roughly 10 drinks per day.

El Cielo En El Vaso -- The Mexican Sidecar

A Mexican version of a French cocktail?  Am I fou?  Am I loco?  (Those are the words for crazy in French and Spanish).  Perhaps. Is my command of the Spanish language limited?  Absolutely.  It is true that France and Mexico haven’t always gotten along.  For example, Cinco de Mayo actually celebrates a Mexican victory against a larger French military force.  Contrary to popular belief, or at least Americans who “celebrate” the holiday, Cinco de Mayo is not the Mexican counterpart to the Fourth of July.

If you have too many of these, vaya con Dios
If you have too many of these, vaya con Dios

So what is in this variation of the wonderful  Sidecar?  I’m glad you asked.

2 ounces reposado or anejo tequila (I prefer Herradura)
.75 ounces Cointreau or other triple sec
Juice from 1/4 lemon
2 dashes orange bitters

Combine in shaker with ice, shake like you’re fighting against l’Armee Francaise at the Battle of Puebla, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Lemon garnish optional.

Those of you who are astute observers will notice that this cocktail is not far removed from the traditional margarita.  Remove the orange bitters, replace the lemon with a lime, and there you go.

A quick word about tequila …… always go for tequila that is 100% agave, i.e. no Jose Cuervo.  Like the brandy you use in a Sidecar, one classifies the tequila you use in a Mexican Sidecar based on its age.  Blanco tequila is aged up to two months, reposado tequila is aged between two months and one year, and anejo is aged for at least a year.  Unlike bourbon, which must be aged in new barrels, tequila frequently is aged in used barrels whose previous occupants may have been other spirits such as bourbon or cognac.  Isn’t that a great example of the transnational nature of liquor?

Side Notes To The Sidecar

An Air France mini bottle (not really)
An Air France mini bottle (not really)

The brandy is the key component of the cocktail (see my previous post here).  I’m not a brandy connoisseur, so I don’t have an opinion about which brands are better.   As with many liquors, e.g. bourbon, producers age brandy before bottling and selling it.  You know those letters on the label of a brandy bottle?  They signify the age.  VS (very special) is at least three years old , VSOP (very superior old pale) is at least five years old, and XO (extra old) is at least six years old.  My understanding is that older brandy is usually better.  Will a Sidecar made with a XO brandy taste exponentially better than one made with a VSOP brandy?  I doubt it (this statement will have brandy purists calling to have my head under a guillotine).

Cointreau is a French liqueur made from sweet orange and bitter orange peels.  I think it may be the original triple sec, which is the French term for an orange flavored liqueur.  There are other triple secs on the market, but in my opinion they are too sweet.  Cointreau has a smoother taste with just the right amount of orange flavor.  I have not tried making a Sidecar with Grand Marnier but my guess is the pairing works quite nicely.

Les deux Cointreaus
Les deux Cointreaus

If you can get Cointreau Noir (which is a blend of Cointreau and cognac), try it in a Sidecar and see what you think.  When I used Cointreau Noir, the result was a Sidecar with a slightly stronger brandy flavor without any real diminishing of the orange flavor.  Of course, this result should be no surprise, as cognac is a very specific type of brandy.  You can't call brandy cognac unless it hails from the Cognac region of France, just like you can’t call sparkling wine champagne unless it comes from ….. you know where.

Frequently bartenders will serve the Sidecar in a sugar rimmed glass.  My research indicates that originally the Sidecar was not served with a sugar rimmed glass, but this practice definitely was in place by World War II.  I have no personal preference as to whether the glass has sugar on it or not.  When I make Sidecars at home, I prefer simplicity (laziness?), which means no sugar.  If you think the Sidecar might be a little too tart for you and/or your cocktail imbibing companions, the sugar is an obvious way to make the drink sweeter. 

Un Cocktail Magnifique -- The Sidecar

The Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald version of  the song "April in Paris" is nothing short of fantastique
The Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald version of the song "April in Paris" is nothing short of fantastique

While there is some dispute as to whether London or Paris is the true birthplace of this libation, the general consensus is that it became famous in Paris shortly after World War I.  The drink is named for the motorcycle attachment.  Nowadays you only see it if you watch movies that are set in the first half of the 20th century.  My completely speculative tongue-in-cheek theory is that the Sidecar was a very early, very French way to prevent drunk driving  -- if you have a Sidecar, you’re going home in one.

Like many of the cocktails in the Wulf Cocktail Den, the Sidecar does not have many ingredients.  That makes it easier for simple cocktail enthusiasts like me.  It seems like everyone has a theory about what proportions are “correct.”

My suggestion is that you start with the recipe below, read the side notes in the next post, and then if you prefer modify it your own taste.  I will not be offended if you ultimately decide to use different proportions. Sidecar

2 ounces of brandy, preferably one classified as VSOP or XO 
.75 ounces Cointreau
Juice from 1/4 lemon

Combine with ice in shaker, shake like you’re hurtling down the Champs Elysees on a motorcycle without shocks, then strain into chilled martini glass.  Sugar rim on glass optional.

A votre sante!  If I recall my high school and college French correctly, that is a toast that means "to your health!"  Although in this case it could mean "make me another Sidecar!"

The Red (definitely), White (not as much), and Blue of Wine

Color coding is a popular way to distinguish people and states politically. According to recent data, in the United States one color prevails when it comes to wine -- red.  Click here to read the article in the Washington Post.

Obviously I'm a fan of cocktails.  If you're reading this blog, that fact is quite obvious.  That being said, I also like wine. Apparently most Americans have the same preference as I do.  So if you're like me, once you're done reading the article, feel free to have a glass of your favorite red wine, vino tinto, vin rouge, vino rosso ..... you get the idea.

A Groovy Bicoastal Mashup -- The Disco Fristrict

My brother-in-law and his wife were in town last weekend.  My in-laws were hosting a dinner, and they asked me to create a special cocktail in his honor.  He has spent much of his life in two major metropolitan areas, so I decided to blend cocktails named for the respective cities.  I used the Frisco and the District.  Obviously the former is named for San Francisco, and I learned about the latter cocktail in a Washington Post column (yes, the name refers to the District of Columbia).

If you have enough, you can say the name without stuttering
If you have enough, you can say the name without stuttering

So this is how you make a liquid ode to these great cities:

2 ounces rye whiskey
.5 ounces Benedictine DOM
.5 ounces ginger liqueur
Juice from half a lemon
1-2 dashes Angostura bitters

Combine in shaker, shake like you’re flying between the two cities and hit some turbulence, and strain into a chilled glass.

There are a number of good ryes on the market.  I think Bulleit is a great value and gives you the best bang for your buck.  For the ginger liqueur I recommend Barrow’s Intense or Domaine de Canton.

There is a lot of crossover between the source libations.  Both have a strong rye base and use lemon juice. If my recipe results in a cocktail that is too tart for you,  you can add a little more Benedictine DOM and ginger liqueur.

You might be asking why do I describe this cocktail as “groovy?”  Simply because when you mashup the names of the two drinks one of the words is “disco.”  So for the love of God put away your bell bottoms.  Please.

Precious Metal In Austin

CU29_IMG_20140830_220000748Continuing a fine tradition, when my wife recently had a business trip to Austin I reprised my role of the freeloading husband and joined her.  Of course, I had to revisit CU29, my favorite cocktail bar in a city that is not like the rest of Texas (Keep Austin Weird is a local slogan).  In case you’re wondering,  the name of the bar is the symbol and atomic number for copper on the elemental table.

If I ever try to make a Friendly Stranger, a fire extinguisher will be in close proximity
If I ever try to make a Friendly Stranger, a fire extinguisher will be in close proximity

CU29 has all the elements (pun intended) of a damn good cocktail bar – extensive alcohol selection, professional bartenders who are friendly and knowledgeable, and a cocktail selection that lends itself well to those in an adventurous mood. 

Also, CU29 has a revolving group of infused spirits and cocktails.  When I went there a year ago, I sampled the brisket infused bourbon.  This year it was the barrel aged Boulevardier.  It had a slightly different taste than the Boulevardier that I discussed in a previous post.  CU29’s Boulevardier did not have as sharp a bite as my version of the cocktail.  My uneducated guess is that the difference in taste is due to proportionally less Campari, the barrel aging process, or both.

Some of the cocktails on the bar’s list are clever variations of classic cocktails.  For example, the Lu in New Orleans is a spin on the Sazerac, and the Pineapple Rum Old Fashioned uses dark rum instead of bourbon as the base.  Other cocktails are very original, such as the Friendly Stranger. 

Bottom line – if you want a good cocktail or two in Austin, CU29 is where you need to be.