It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere

Readers, I’m leaving for New York tomorrow and I’ll be there for the weekend.  When I’m not taking in the Christmas tree and skaters in Rockefeller Center and combing the Upper West Side flea market and smart boutiques for stocking stuffers, I will be on the prowl for some interesting food finds and restaurant dishes to write about.  I promise a blog post from the road.

But yikes!  Our annual holiday brunch falls on the following weekend, and it will be a bit of a scramble to pull everything together – shopping, cooking, cleaning, decorating the tree – in five working weekdays.  So I got a jump on things today by testing out three cocktails I devised for our brunch guests.  I’m sure you’ll forgive that I had to start testing at one-thirty this afternoon.  As noted above, it’s five o’clock somewhere.

For the past couple of years we have served a Blood Orange Punch before and during the informal buffet-style meal, but after last year, when I couldn’t find bottled blood orange juice locally and had to order it online to be delivered, I thought a drink change was in order for this year.  Changing things up a bit also offered me a creative opportunity.  What if I concocted a drink for each invited couple, something to – in some way –  match their personalities or tastes or heritage?   Presenting them with such a drink, talking about it, then doing an informal tasting could inject a freshness into our  years’ old tradition of gathering.

Maybe.  It might also be a huge bust.

An avowed wine drinker, I know little about tasting cocktails, less about mixing them.  Lucky for me Dale DeGroff  does, even luckier that he wrote a book about mixology called The Craft of the Cocktail, and luckier still that it resides on my cookbook shelf.  I did a little reading.

Dizzying reading.  The world of liquors, liqueurs, syrups, and bitters is a vast and mysterious one, and I will never be able to memorize a few recipes, let alone mix hundreds of drinks upon request.  But DeGroff is the kind of expert who can demystify his subject and fill a person with confidence.  Hence  ”craft” rather than “art” of the cocktail.  With a few basic principles under the belt, and enough practice, anyone can mix a fine drink.

Or at least take a stab at it.

The basics?

The oldest cocktails were made of four ingredients – hard liquor/spirits, water, sweetener, and bitters.  Today, the recipe is not so rigid but including at least three ingredients (liquor, sweetener, another alcoholic or non-alcoholic liquid to dilute the strength of the star alcohol) is probably a good guideline.

Find good quality spirits that taste good to you and stock your bar with the essentials: gin, vodka, Scotch and/or American whiskey (Bourbon or Rye), rum, tequila, brandy.  Delve into fortified wines, cordials, and liqueurs when you’re ready, using your palate as a guide.

Just like you want a food pantry stocked with staples, you’ll need a well-stocked cocktail pantry too.  Mixers, juices, flavorings, glasses, tools – know what drinks you want to make and keep the essentials on hand to be able to make them.

Stirring, shaking, or blending a drink with ice is essential for the American cocktail.

Crafting a cocktail that deviates from a classic recipe means trusting your palate to know what it likes.  Not so different from cooking off the cuff!  Ask yourself: when you make a drink, what kind of flavor are you going for?  Know that, answer that, and you’re on your way to a good result.

That’s exactly what I asked myself last weekend.  My answer?  When making cocktails for our holiday party, I wanted the flavors of Christmas.

Please note that because I mixed and tested in the middle of a workday, I used very small glasses that are a hybrid of the cordial and the small martini glass, and I filled these with very small portions.  Still, each recipe below is the right amount for one drink served in a 4 to 6 ounce traditional martini glass.  Use what glasses you have.  And if something feels right on the rocks, make it that way and write back to tell me about it.

The Gingerbread Boy (because you want the classic flavors of the season)

  • 2 ounces dark rum, such as Gosling’s
  • 1/2 ounce Canton ginger liqueur
  • 1/2 ounce molasses simple syrup (recipe below)
  • splash ginger ale or, even better, ginger beer, chilled
  • pulverized gingersnaps for rimming the glass
  • lemon juice for rimming the glass

Dip the rim of the glass in lemon juice and then in the gingersnap dust. Set aside to dry a bit.

Place 6 ice cubes in a cocktail shaker.  Add to the shaker the rum, Canton, and molasses simple syrup.  Give the shaker a few gentle back-and-forths.  Strain the cocktail into the prepared glass and top off with a diluting splash of ginger ale.  Serve.

***

The Stocking Stuffer (because nuts and oranges in the stocking are better than coal)

  • 1 1/2 ounce Grand Marnier
  • 1 ounce almond simple syrup (recipe below), chilled
  • 3 ounces Prosecco, chilled
  • pulverized brittle toffee, plain or chocolate coated, for rimming the glass
  • lemon juice for rimming the glass

Dip the glass in the lemon juice and then the toffee to coat.  Set aside to dry a bit.

Add the Grand Marnier and the simple syrup to the glass.  Stir gently.  Top off with the chilled Prosecco.

Serve immediately.

***

Santa’s Little Helper (because a little buttered rum never hurt anyone)

  • 2 ounces white rum
  • 1/2 ounce Amaretto
  • 1 ounce butterscotch simple syrup (recipe follows)
  • a sparkle sugar-light brown sugar blend for rimming the glass
  • lemon juice for rimming the glass

Dip the glass in lemon juice and then in the sugar blend to dust the rim.

Set aside to dry a bit.

Place six ice cubes in a cocktail shaker.  Add to the shaker the rum, amaretto and simple syrup.  Shake the mixture gently in a couple of back-and-forths.  Strain into the prepared glass.  Serve immediately.

***

*Simple syrups can be made from any sweetener – sugar, brown sugar, honey, molasses, agave syrup – diluted with water, usually in a 1:1 or 1:2 ratio.  Adding this kind of syrup to a drink helps make the alcohol of strong spirits palatable, the old “spoonful of sugar making the medicine go down” principle.  Dilution is key in making a drink people want to, well, drink.  Experiment with simple syrups, or try these below:

For molasses simple syrup:

Heat 1/4 cup spring water and mix this well with 1/4 cup dark molasses.  Let cool, cover, and chill.  Will keep for a week or two.

For almond simple syrup:

Mix 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup spring water together in a small saucepan.  Heat until the sugar melts but the liquid does not boil.  Stir and remove from heat.  Add 1/4 tsp. almond extract.  Let cool, cover, and chill.  Keeps for a week or two.

For butterscotch simple syrup:

Add 1/2 cup light brown sugar and 1/2 cup spring water to a small saucepan.  Heat until the sugar melts but the liquid does not boil.  Remove from heat, cool, and chill.  Keeps for a week or two.

©2011  Jane A. Ward