Gin Feed

Casablanca In Tampa -- CW's Gin Joint

"Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine." That is one of many classic lines from the iconic film Casablanca. Much of it takes place at Rick's Café Americain.  Humphrey Bogart, the actor who played Rick, would have felt at home at CW's Gin Joint in Tampa, Florida. Earlier this year Ms. Cocktail Den and I were in Tampa.  Our friends Kirk and David, who we knew online through the cocktail community but never had met in person, invited us to join them at CW's. We all had a wonderful time.

CW's Gin JointThe motto of CW's (CW is Carolyn Wilson, the owner) is "Where style and grace have an attitude." The motto hits the mark. Glancing at the stunningly designed interior, you might think the bar is one of those annoyingly expensive and pretentious establishments.  It's not. While you can go to CW's impeccably dressed (like Kirk and David, who would've looked perfectly normal on the set of Casablanca), the people there will treat you just as well if you're wearing an aloha shirt (like me). We didn't meet Carolyn, but we did have the pleasure of meeting Daniel Bareswilt. He's a true professional.

CW's Gin Joint 2
Channel Captain Renault and round up this Usual Suspect.

You will be shocked, just shocked to learn CW's has a serious focus on gin (if you don't get the joke, please watch the movie). If, like me, you're not a gin connoisseur, CW's gin matrix can be helpful. When I say matrix, I don't mean the Keanu Reeves/red pill/blue pill sort of matrix. If you want to learn about gin, this is the place. If gin isn't your thing, CW's has plenty of other spirits and cocktails. I particularly enjoyed the Gateway, sort of a cross between a Martinez and a Hanky Panky. In the unlikely event nothing on the menu tickles your liver, I'm confident the bartenders can make you something Rick's patrons drank, e.g. the Champagne Cocktail resistance leader Victor Laszlo orders as he figures out how to evade the Nazis.

In many ways CW's resembles the fictitious bar in the movie. Great drinks? Check. Classy atmosphere? Check. Great bartenders?  Check.  International intrigue?  Not that I saw or heard.  Unless you count sharing stories about international travel adventures.

If you're in Tampa and want somewhere to have a drink as time goes by (again, if you don't get it, watch the movie), go to CW's Gin Joint.  It will be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.


Better Than Lemonade -- The Lemony

When life gives you lemons, why not make something adult like the Lemony?  I haven't been able to find any history on this tasty drink, which I found on the Difford's Guide website.  Ms. Cocktail Den and I had the pleasure of meeting Simon Difford at a Tales of the Cocktail conference. What we thought would be a 30 second "nice to meet you" turned into a wonderful 30 minute conversation.

Lemony2 ounces gin
.5 ounces Lupo limoncello
.5 ounces yellow Chartreuse
Juice from 1/4 lemon

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake with zest (get it?), and strain into a chilled glass, preferably a martini glass.

Like the much maligned but actually quite good Lemon Drop, the Lemony incorporates a clear base spirit and lemon juice. The Lemony has more of a kick because of the other spirits. My limoncello has plenty of sugar in it but still clocks in at 95 proof; most commercial versions of limoncello aren't nearly that strong. The deliciously complex yellow Chartreuse, an indispensable ingredient in other cocktails such as the Diamondback and the Stark, injects a nice herbal element that blends well with the gin. If the Lemony is a bit too tart for you or your guest, add .25 ounces of super simple syrup.

The Lemony even gets a celebrity endorsement. After tasting it, Elmer Fudd declared: "I wuv the Wemony! It's a gwate dwink with gin, fwesh juice, and wiqurz!" Even if you're not a Warner Brothers cartoon fan like me, you'll agree the Lemony is a fine cocktail.


Who's That Foxy Lady -- The White Lady

To paraphrase Jimi Hendrix and the Isley Brothers, the White Lady is a foxy and sexy lady of a drink. Most sources point to one of two legendary bartenders named Harry (McElhone and Craddock) creating it in the 1920s. McElhone created a White Lady in 1919, but it didn't contain gin (his later one did). There are many variations of the White Lady, most of which I classify as either Svelte or Voluptuous (see below). I prefer Voluptuous.   

White Lady1.5 ounces gin
.75 ounces triple sec (I used Cointreau)
Juice from 1/4 lemon
.25 ounces super simple syrup
1 egg white

If you're reverse dry shaking, combine everything except the egg white in a shaker, and Shake Shake Shake Your Egg Whites. If you're dry shaking, combine everything except the ice in a shaker, shake, add ice, then shake again. After you're done shaking like you mean it, strain into a chilled glass. Lemon peel garnish optional. 

So what's the difference between a Svelte White Lady and a Voluptuous White Lady?  The Svelte only has gin, triple sec, and lemon juice (this makes it a Sidecar with gin instead of brandy), and the Voluptuous has all of those ingredients plus the super simple syrup and egg white. There's certainly nothing wrong with a Svelte, but you'll get a richer and slightly sweeter taste with the Voluptuous. And the Voluptuous is unmistakably white.

While we're talking about colors, triple sec is the general term for an orange liqueur. On the topic of colors and flavors, a Pink Lady is basically a White Lady with glorious grenadine instead of super simple syrup. Don't let colors fool you.  Just like pink drinks, the White Lady is smooth but powerful.  The name of this cocktail reminds me of one of many hilariously offensive lines uttered in the great Mel Brooks comedy film Blazing Saddles (hint --  the line from Sheriff Bart begins with "where" and ends with "at").

Do you want to honor a lady or ladies in your life?  Then you know what to drink.


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.


Come Fly With Me -- The Aviation

"Come Fly With Me" is one of my favorite Frank Sinatra songs. The Aviation cocktail took flight (pun intended) around the time the late Chairman of the Board was born. In 1916 Hugo Ensslin published a cocktail recipe book that included the Aviation.  Just as wind currents and shear can affect an aircraft in flight, the history of the Aviation has been a bit turbulent. Many thanks to our friend Alexandra Barstalker, who we met at Bryant & Mack during Tales on Tour in Edinburgh, and her Aviation Project for inspiring me to try to make this pre-Prohibition classic.

Aviation1.75 ounces dry gin
.5 ounces Luxardo maraschino liqueur
.5 ounces crème de violette
Juice from 1/4 lemon

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake as if you could use some exotic booze and know there's a bar in far Bombay (now Mumbai; listen to the song), and strain into a chilled glass.  Luxardo cherry garnish optional.

So what is crème de violette? It's what gives the Aviation its pale purple color, and it's what distinguishes the original Ensslin recipe from later recipes. You can get it online if you can't find it at your local liquor store. Crème de violette is a 40 proof liqueur that's floral and vaguely sweet. Without it the Aviation basically becomes a gin sour, which is fine but doesn't evoke the old school glamour of flight and air travel.

Aviation 2When Ensslin wrote about the Aviation human flight was a pretty new technology, and when Sinatra sang about air travel it wasn't nearly as widespread as it is today. As with the Frank Sinatra cocktail, I doubt he would have had a drink that looked like the Aviation.

Many modern versions of the Aviation have a little more gin and a little less crème de violette. To me those versions result in a drink with unnecessarily heavy juniper and citrus flavors. My version incorporates those flavors and introduces a subtle hint of sweetness.

Does the Aviation intrigue you?  Then come fly with me, let's fly, let's fly away.


Aqua What? -- Aquavit

AquavitAquavit isn't some fancy new flavored water. Derived from the Latin for "water of life" (just like whiskey means "water of life" in Gaelic), aquavit is a Scandinavian liquor that's becoming increasingly popular outside of Northern Europe, both on its own and in cocktails. Like vodka, aquavit is distilled from either grain or potato and then, like gin, it is flavored with spices and botanicals.  So what distinguishes aquavit?  Under European Union regulations, the predominant spice in aquavit has to be caraway or dill, and it must be at least 75 proof.  Do you like rye bread?  If you do (like me and Ms. Cocktail Den), you'll probably like aquavit.

Almost all aquavit currently on the market comes out of the Scandinavian countries -- Denmark, Sweden, and Norway.  There are some general national differences in aquavit styles.  Denmark and Sweden typically distill from grains, while Norway typically distills from potatoes. Aquavit can be relatively unaged and clear, e.g. Aalborg from Denmark, or aged and darker, e.g. Linie from Norway. As with other spirits such as rum and tequila, aging aquavit changes the flavor. Traditionally one drinks aquavit on its own. I had the opportunity to try different types when I was in Denmark and Sweden.  I enjoyed a couple of types of chilled  aquavit, and I found it goes great with herring (if you think that sounds disgusting, Ms. Cocktail Den agrees with you).

So why you should care about aquavit? Because it's a fascinating substitute for vodka, gin, and even whiskey in various cocktails.  Depending on your perspective, to some extent aquavit (also spelled akavit) is like vodka or gin that's flavored with caraway or dill. Try switching aquavit in for another spirit and see what happens. Sköl!


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.


A Cocktail Of Valor -- The Don't Give Up The Ship

You're outnumbered, outgunned, and dying.  What do you do?  If you were Captain James Lawrence of the USS Chesapeake, you give one final order -- don't give up the ship. This episode during the War of 1812 became a rallying cry for the United States Navy.  While the history behind the phrase is clear, the history of the drink is not.  It first appeared in a 1941 cocktail guide, then remained dormant until it resurfaced on the Seattle and New York City cocktail scenes more than 60 years later. 

Don't Give Up The Ship 21.5 ounces gin (I like the Botanist)
.5 ounces Cointreau
.5 ounces sweet vermouth (hello Carpano Antica)
.5 ounces Fernet Branca
1 dash orange bitters (I like Embitterment)

Combine in a shaker with ice, stir with the steely determination of a true leader, and strain into a chilled glass. Orange peel garnish optional.

All of the flavors in the Don't Give Up The Ship, which sort of expands on a Hanky Panky, work really well together. Even though it's all alcohol, it's not overpowering. Use Cointreau (my favorite triple sec) because it has a cleaner orange taste. There are a few versions of the Don't Give Up The Ship, but I like this one for a couple of reasons.  First, the proportions are pretty easy to remember. Second, the result is a well balanced cocktail -- a little sweet, a little sharp, and definitely unforgettable.

If you're going to give up some of your liver cells ... just Don't Give Up The Ship.


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.