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Old School Colonial Style -- The St. Augustine

The Bridge of Lions at sunrise, St. Augustine, Florida.
The Bridge of Lions at sunrise, St. Augustine, Florida.

When I say old school, I mean really old school.  As in 1565.  That is the year in which St. Augustine became a settlement, and the small Florida city has the distinction of being the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the United States.  As I learned during a recent vacation, the city is home to a couple of fine cocktail bars and a good distillery.  Thanks to the SheKnows website for introducing me to this drink, the proportions of which I slightly adapted.

2 ounces rum (see below)
.5 ounces Cointreau
Juice from 1/8 grapefruit

A colorful citizen of the Fountain of Youth.
A colorful citizen of the Fountain of Youth park.

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake with the determination of the Spanish admiral who established the city (it wasn't the British who founded it) or the early Christian theologian for whom it is named, and strain into a chilled glass.  Lemon peel garnish optional.

The original St. Augustine calls for light rum, which gives it a pleasant and vaguely tart taste. For a more robust flavor use dark rum.  If you want a sweeter libation, cut back on the grapefruit juice and/or add more Cointreau.

Indulge in some relaxation and history, and have a St. Augustine!

Hail to the Cocktail Chief -- The El Presidente

El Presidente 1Regardless of who holds the office of the President, there's never a bad time to have this liquid tribute to a commander in chief. Eddie Woelke, an American bartender in Havana who created the Mary Pickford, gets credit for creating the El Presidente in honor of Presidente Gerardo Machado, the Cuban president at the time (obviously this occurred well before Fidel Castro took over).  In terms of its genesis, the El Presidente is like the Daiquiri, which a different American created in Cuba.

El Presidente 21.5 ounces clear rum (Cuban if you have it)
.75 ounces dry vermouth
.75 ounces triple sec (preferably Cointreau)
1 dash of glorious grenadine

Combine in a shaker with ice, stir with the pomp and circumstance of a state dinner, and strain into a chilled glass.  Orange peel garnish optional.

Technically this recipe is for the El Presidente #2.  Originally it consisted of equal parts clear rum and a particular vermouth, but the recipe evolved over time.  If the cocktail is too sweet for you, add more vermouth and/or cut back on the triple sec. Speaking of triple sec, try to use Cointreau or another clear triple sec because of its lack of color. Unlike the El Presidente #2, the El Presidente #1, which pertains to a prior Cuban president, essentially is a Manhattan that substitutes aged rum for bourbon or rye. 

Now that you have the proper cocktail, raise your glass and toast your favorite President!

Bliss In A Glass -- The Tranquilo

This is what George Costanza from Seinfeld meant when he insisted on having "Serenity now!"
This is what George Costanza from Seinfeld meant when he emphatically insisted on having "Serenity now!"  Of course, he didn't get what he wanted.

Want to relax?  Take the edge off?  Has someone told you to "chill the (rhymes with duck) out" and you know they're right?

When (not if) you answer yes to any of these questions, have a Tranquilo.  I adapted this from a cocktail at the Sanctuary Cap Cana resort in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, which is the site of many blissful moments for me and my far better half. 

2.25 ounces light rum
Juice from 1/4 lime
.75 ounces glorious grenadine

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake with the rhythm of rolling waves hitting the beach at sunset, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

The Tranquilo is a simple cocktail, so I guess in this instance simplicity equals serenity. You can use a gold or dark rum instead of light rum. Regardless of the rum you use, psychologically speaking the Tranquilo will get you to where you want to go.  Isn't that the point of cocktails? 

Dominican Style Drinking -- Mamajuana

Powerful serenity, thy name is mamajuana.
Powerful serenity, your Dominican name is mamajuana.

Mama what?  Yes, you read the word correctly.  No, it has nothing to do with the drug that's legal in some parts of the United States and the rest of the world.  And no, it has nothing to do with the great Genesis song "Mama."

So what the hell is mamajuana?  It is a libation indigenous to the Dominican Republic.  You infuse dark rum with a combination of herbs, roots, and bark, and then you mix in some red wine and honey.  I'm a big believer in trying the local libation(s) wherever I travel, so I must thank the Sanctuary Cap Cana resort for introducing me to mamajuana. It is very tasty and very potent. 

There are many types of mamajuana, each with its own slightly different recipe. You can get some mass produced brands that are pretty good (look online), but not as good as the stuff I had in the Dominican Republic.  If you're in that country, stick with the stuff at resorts.  My friend Sonia, who has traveled extensively in the Dominican, advised that homemade mamajuana can contain all sorts of impurities and be very dangerous.  Don't be concerned about mamajuana served at resorts.  After all, killing and sickening customers is a bad business model.

Liquid Refuge -- The Sanctuary

Relax with a soothing and strong cocktail.
Relax with a soothing and strong cocktail at the Castle pool at Sanctuary Cap Cana.

Sometimes you just want a drink that brings you to a state of inner peace.  Think Zen like calm without meditation (and with a little collateral liver damage).  The Sanctuary is adapted from a cocktail at the wonderful Sanctuary Cap Cana resort in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.  Want some refuge from the trials and tribulations of life? Of course you do.

2 ounces light rum
1 ounce Cointreau
Juice from 1/4 a lime
2 dashes grapefruit and hops bitters from Bittered Sling

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake like a palm tree swaying in a stiff breeze coming off the ocean, and strain into a chilled glass.

The main pool at Sanctuary Cap Cana.  Yes, it really is that beautiful.
The main pool at Sanctuary Cap Cana. Yes, the place really is that beautiful.

This cocktail is perfect for warm weather ...... or when you're dreaming of warm weather.  The grapefruit and hops bitters really bring the Sanctuary together.  If you can't get them, use two dashes of Bittered Sling's orange and juniper bitters or orange bitters.  

Sanctuary Cap Cana introduced me to Barcelo Imperial, a great Dominican rum.  During a recent trip I extensively sampled many Barcelo rums.  It reinforced the belief that I mentioned in connection with the In The Dominican -- Brugal is good, Barcelo is better. My wife and I can say that the name of the resort is very appropriate. Many thanks to Carlos and Emilio at the Castle rooftop bar, as well as the other nice people there who tolerated my attempts to speak Spanish. 

Go have a Sanctuary, and enter your personal sanctuary.

A Caribbean-Italian Mashup -- The Rumara

What's a Rumara?  It's just a combination of the two key ingredients in this cocktail I created -- rum and maraschino liqueur.  Putting these types of booze together might seem strange, but the result is great.

All hail this trans Atlantic triumvirate!
All hail this trans Atlantic triumvirate!

2.25 ounces dark rum (right now I'm drinking Barcelo Imperial)
.75 ounces Luxardo maraschino liqueur
2 dashes orange bitters

Combine in a shaker with ice, stir with the grace of a cool breeze coming off the Caribbean or Mediterranean, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

I know what some of you are thinking -- maraschino liqueur?  You mean like those eyeball searingly red cherries?  Rest assured, I wouldn't do that to Den followers. Maraschino liqueur bears no resemblance whatsoever to those Frankencherries.  The liqueur has a nutty, vaguely sweet flavor.

The orange bitters can make a big difference.  The first time I made a Rumara I used Angostura orange bitters (which are almost sweet), and the second time I used Regan's orange bitters (which are definitely not).  Use whatever bitters you prefer, or whatever you can get your hands on.   

Dare to expand your liquid horizons, make yourself a Rumara, and imagine that you're looking at a beautiful sunset on the horizon.

Of Avians And Axl Rose -- The Jungle Bird

Welcome to the Jungle (Bird).
Welcome to the Jungle (Bird).

What do Axl Rose (of Guns N' Roses) and avians (you know -- birds) have in common?  They're both sort of related to the Jungle Bird.  This cocktail dates back to the late 1970s (not exactly a high point of cocktail culture) at the Aviary bar in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  I've never been in Malaysia unless you count its airspace between Thailand and Singapore.  Thanks to Mens Journal magazine for introducing me to this drink.

1.5 ounces dark rum
.75 ounces Campari
1.5 ounces pineapple juice
Juice from 1/4 lime
.5 ounces super simple syrup

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake like you're a bird flapping its wings (or Slash flailing on his guitar), and strain into a chilled glass.

You might be thinking -- Campari in a tiki drink?  Yes, it looks weird.  Even though I like the sharp taste of Campari in cocktails such as the Negroni or Amaro Amore, I was hesitant to use it here.  Turns out there's no reason to question the recipe.  

This probably goes without saying, but to erase any doubt, use fresh pineapple juice.  If for some reason you only can get your hands on canned pineapple chunks, I suggest leaving out the simple syrup.  Now go give 'em the Bird!

Dreamin' of the Caribbean -- The Pina Colada

Sometimes a cocktail is all about the context in which you drink it.  For me, the pina colada is a great example. A tropical beach setting is perfect for a concoction of pineapple (fresh of course), cream of coconut, ice, and a healthy amount of rum.  Just the thought of it transports me back to a recent vacation in the Dominican Republic. 

Click here for a thoughtful article about the pina colada from Carrie Allan.  You might learn something new, e.g. the pina colada is the official drink of Puerto Rico.

She's absolutely correct that the prevailing cocktail culture isn't a good environment for a drink such as a pina colada.  Right now there's a lot of focus on whiskey based cocktails, e.g. the Manhattan, cocktails that have amari (bitters), e.g. the Amaro Amore, or cocktails that have whiskey and amari, e.g. the Lupara (one of my original creations).

Of course, times and tastes change, and like many other things in life the cocktail culture is no different.  Considering the recent revival of tiki drinks, in which fresh pineapple juice is a major player, maybe the pina colada is about to have another moment in the sun.  Como se dice "colada comeback" en espanol?



DR DR Gimme The News -- The In The Dominican

The DR refers to the Dominican Republic, not doctor as in the title of the classic Robert Palmer tune. I've gone to Punta Cana on vacation, and my experiences there have been full of leisure and libations.  Adapted from a drink recipe at the Paradisus Palma Real, here's how you can be in the Dominican:

With a rum based cocktail in hand and a view that evokes the Allman Brothers song "Blue Sky," how can you go wrong?
With a rum based cocktail in hand and a view that evokes the Allman Brothers song "Blue Sky," how can you go wrong?

2 ounces dark rum (hola Barcelo Imperial)
1.5 ounces coconut water (I prefer Zico)
.5 ounces super simple syrup

 Combine in a shaker with ice, stir as if you're doing the bachata, and strain into a chilled glass.

When it comes to Dominican rum,  I'm a big fan of Barcelo Imperial.  I discovered it at Sanctuary Cap Cana courtesy of a Dominican guy next to me at the bar. Other Dominican rums such as Brugal are good, but Barcelo Imperial is better.  You can get it online, and I've even found it a local liquor store or two that occasionally carries it.

For the coconut water, use whatever brand you like.  Just make sure that it doesn't already contain sugar, otherwise the cocktail will be too sweet when you add the super simple syrup.

Although the In The Dominican is not as "alcohol forward" as other cocktails in the Den, it is refreshing, delicious, and possibly dangerous.  It may make you muy caliente and give someone a bad case of loving you.

Modern Day Rumrunning

Havana Club
Mi amigos Cubanos.

Cuban rum is liquid forbidden fruit in the U.S.  It was the base of a daiquiri I had in Panama, and the cocktail was glorious. Until very recently it was illegal to transport Cuban rum into the United States.  Even though changes in federal regulations now  allow people to bring in limited amounts of Cuban rum in certain circumstances, distributors still can't ship it to the States.

My wife and I recently seized the opportunity to get Cuban rum with both hands (technically four between the two of us).  While going through duty free in the Dominican Republic (another country that makes excellent rum) we came across a display of Havana Club.  In the blink of an eye a couple of bottles were ours.  We didn't lie when we came through Customs -- we declared that we were carrying rum.  We just didn't mention what country produced it.

Is what we did rumrunning?  Technically no because what we did is legal.  But the experience was fun and allowed us to channel the spirits (pun intended) of some Americans during Prohibition.

A quick note about Havana Club -- read the label to confirm its origin.  According to my research some rum distributed under this name is made in Puerto Rico, so obviously there's no problem with bringing that product to the mainland (as I once had to remind an ignorant client, Puerto Rico is part of the U.S.).  Don't worry, the bottles in the picture come from Cuba.  My wife and I read the labels.  Twice.




check Havana Club