Drowning Your Sorrows in Drink: Three Options
There is something to be said for the Cocktail Set. That era epitomized by Nick and Nora Charles, portrayed on screen by William Powell and Myrna Loy in several “Thin Man” films (along with their dog, Asta, of course). If you’ve never had the pleasure of taking in the charm, grace, humor and utter enjoyment of Mr. Powell’s not-quite acceptable Nick and Ms. Powell’s level-headed and fun-loving Nora, you’re missing out on one of filmdom’s great duos of human chemistry, right up there with Laural and Hardy or Tracy and Hepburn.
The Cocktail Set thought nothing of dressing up in tuxes and gowns for a night out on the town, visiting a club for dinner and a show, dropping in on friends for martinis and G&T’s, going back out for another show and then returning home for a nightcap, with the evening stretching until dawn. The object was never to get drunk and fall down, the object was to obtain that pleasant level of “buzz” that makes one feel like one is floating through life in a carefree but cognizant dream. Being drunk means trying to dive through the ice of reality and exist somewhere that you don’t have to deal with anything. Being buzzed means you can’t legally drive a car, but you’re still aware of that fact.
I have recently gathered about me some tools to allow me, in a limited way, to try to recapture that era. Not the 2-martini evening of a Darrin Stevens who, upon returning home from McMann and Tate, has discovered that Aunt Clara has conjured up Benjamin Franklin who is somewhere out in the world causing mischief with a fire engine and he needs to get soused but fast. I’m talking about that other fantasy of alcoholic intent, where a drink is merely an introduction to a more relaxed, and somehow more coherent life where everything somehow manages — even in the face of murder and mystery — to be just right.
My boyfriend’s (Oh, did I forget to mention that I have a new boyfriend? I have a new boyfriend! And he is aitch oh tee HOT, friends!) drink of choice contains Campari, a slightly bitter liqueur I’ve never acquired a taste for. He enjoys either a simple Campari and Soda (but not as exemplified by the drugged-out bitches of Valley of the Dolls, when ordering one meant getting a glass of Campari with a Soda back — more booze that way) or a Negroni, which contains gin and sweet vermouth in addition to the red liqueur. He is also a great single malt Scotch fan, though I’ve found precious few of them I can tolerate, personally.
My drink of choice is as simple as it comes: The Gin and Tonic. I’m a gin fan. Gin is a liquor with variances and subtlety I find lacking in other liquors, and I’m looking at you, Vodka. My current favorite is a rather hard to find Scottish variety known as Hendrick’s, which places among its various infusions hints of cucumber and rose petal. I will drink Hendrick’s straight (i.e. in a Martini, very dry) rather than dilute its deliciousness with tonic. For those, I favor Bombay Sapphire which is rather more commonplace in flavor, to me, and just slightly less enjoyable by itself than Hendrick’s or my number two Gin, Tanqueray No. Ten, which you can find in most bars of repute if they lack Hendrick’s.
Speaking of gin, and we were, there’s a new guy on the block distilled locally and, therefore, fairly difficult to find but a wonderfully crisp gin if you’re seeking “something different.” No. 209 is distilled five times and has a very clean, pure taste to it on my palette. Gin, by its nature, always contains botanicals and herbs and any number of subtle flavorings to give each one a distinction — or sometimes a distaste — all its own. Finding your favorite, particularly if it’s one of the less available brands, can be both frustrating and rewarding.
But the reason I’m here is not to create a whole new set of alcoholics, but rather to let you in on the three drinks I consider to be my Signature Cocktails. I cannot claim to have invented any of them, and recreating them in some cases will be a chore because for me it’s less about accurate measurements and more about wrist action, which you’ll understand in a minute.
The first drink is usually offered with Sunday Brunch, but in my estimation it may be enjoyed any time, because it has the bite of an eye-opener and the kick of an after dinner drink.
1. The Bloody Mary
I was introduced to Mary by my friend Mark when I was living in Vermont. Mark, and his lovely with Angie, are drink connoisseurs. Mark loves nothing better than to sit back with a neat glass of Dewar’s and a group of friends and wile away the hours in drink and conversation. Consummate hosts, they always have a well-stocked bar and can suggest just the right cordial for the mood or hour.
Mark’s idea of a Bloody Mary does away with a lot of the salad and hoo-haw that you’ll find in most bars and restaurants and favors a tall glass of red overflowing with strong flavors. In fact, the vodka in it was more like an afterthought than a main ingredient, and I tend to favor this method of preparation myself because I’m not a great vodka fan.
Don’t get me wrong, I do love a Grey Goose martini now and again, but for the most part I find vodka a bit harsh and metallic on the tongue. The worst vodkas (and I would include Absolut and Stoli among them, heretic that I am) are undrinkable without a strong dose of orange juice or something else to disguise the actual flavor. For my Bloody Mary, I most often use Ketel One, which I find smooth but not so enjoyable as Grey Goose, so it works as a mixer and doesn’t add any unpleasantness to spoil the wealth of flavors your tongue is assaulted with otherwise.
The ingredients are simple:
Vodka (As mentioned, I recommend Ketel One.)
Tomato Juice (If you can find an organic brand, like Looza, go with that.)
Fresh ground pepper
Cocktail olives (2)
Cocktail onions (2)
Line up all the ingredients to make sure you don’t forget one, which will spoil the overall enjoyment. Believe me, you need them all and you’ll taste them all in the finished drink.
I don’t shake this thing up in a cocktail shaker or even pour it over ice. In order to present a cold drink, I keep the vodka in the freezer and make sure the tomato juice is well refrigerated, since they make up the bulk of the drink. I keep all my vodkas in the freezer because they’re best served ice cold, anyway, and their alcohol content prevents them from freezing.
In a highball glass (or similar) pour a double-shot of vodka. Add enough tomato juice to fill the glass about 3/4 of the way. Now, here’s where wrist action comes into play. I can’t tell you exactly how much of the other ingredients to add, I never measure. My advice to you is to play with the level of them to your own tastes, depending on how spicy or tomatoy or savory you want your drink.
My method is as follow: Pour in several globs of Worcestershire, and stop just when you think you’ve added too much. Add in 5 or 6 Tobasco shakes from the bottle. Add in the Balsamic vinegar, but not as much as you added the Worcestershire. I stop the second I smell the vinegar from the drink.
Now shake the celery salt over the top until a good dusting covers the entire drink. Add the pepper next, in an equal amount to the celery salt. Finally, dip a teaspoon into the jar of Horseradish and grab more than anyone in their right mind would ever add to a Bloody Mary – not quite a “heaping teaspoon” but certainly more than the spoon was meant to hold.
Use that spoon and stir vigorously until you can see the bits of Horseradish evenly dispersed throughout the tomato juice. Drop in the two olives and two cocktail onions. They’ll sink to the bottom and that’s okay, because they’re only adding some additional flavor now and they’re meant to be enjoyed as the drink’s dessert at the very end.
Everyone has, or should have, their own favorite Bloody Mary recipe. That one’s mine.
2. The Pomegranate Cosmo
The Cosmopolitan enjoyed a hearty popularity for a time during the first dot-com bubble (not that this one’s another bubble, oh no, but of course a database of friends and where they’re going to be tonight is worth $3 million!) and then fell into ill repute, disdained and downtrodden now like last year’s Pradas.
But a cosmo is seriously simple to make and it’s delicious when you want something, you know, faggy. It comes in a delightfully hard-to-manage martini glass, you can sugar the rim (and don’t we all love to scream “lick the rim!” in crowded bars — or is that just me?) if you want to, and it’s actually easy to make. Not as easy as a martini, because let’s face it, how hard is it to pour iced gin into a glass? But still, it’s easy.
Mine isn’t, as usual, the standard Cosmo and maybe it’s entirely all wrong, but the end-product has sweetness and a sting and includes today’s oh-so-trendy juice of choice, pomegranate.
Pomegranate juice (Do not use Pom Wonderful, if you can help it. The best I’ve found is Naked Juice, second best being Odwalla)
I know, you’re probably asking “Why Cointreau and Grand Marnier? Isn’t that more or less the same thing?” And my answer is, “Yes. And no.” Cointreau is a liqueur made primarily from orange peel, and Grand Marnier is Cognac and orange “essense,” so together you get the whole fruit.
This mix is enough for two cocktails. Never drink alone, because then who would be around to benefit from all your amazing ideas and discoveries? In a cocktail shaker already containing lots of cubes, add 2 parts vodka to 1 part Cointreau and 1 part Grand Marnier and 3 parts Pomegranate juice. Squeeze (or ream) in the juice from the lime. Cap the shaker and start shaking.
Shake the drink until your hands hurt from the cold. Pour into martini glasses. Garnish with pomegranate seeds (if you happen to be lucky enough to have pomegranates just lying about) or a twist of lime. This is one of those drinks made up of mostly liquor but it doesn’t taste that way, so use caution when drinking and telling someone exactly what you think about them.
Finally, you’ll need something completely off the wall and weird so that when you offer it to someone, they’re going to look at you like you’re insane and then they’ll say yes. This next drink takes some special ingredients and weird pre-prep in order to have everything ready, but the results are worth it.
3. Global Warming
This drink is the culmination of three things: A visit to The Slanted Door here in San Francisco for lunch with my friend Evany (buy the book), my boyfriend’s offhand remark about making coffee ice cubes, and my desire to keep drinking coffee no matter what the weather is like.
I haven’t been a fan of iced coffee because the iced coffee I had always tasted so, well, horrible. I like my coffee black, or occasionally with sugar if it’s too bitter (usually the result of over-heated beans (i.e. using a bladed bean grinder rather than a burr grander) from the water being at boiling rather than just below) but iced coffee without cream is, to me, like drinking yesterday’s leftover coffee. It’s distinctly lacking in deliciousness.
The Slanted Door is an upscale Vietnamese restaurant at the renovated Ferry Building on the Embarcadero overlooking the bay. If you are ever visiting San Francisco, a reservation is highly recommended, and try the Shaking Beef. But before you eat anything, order an iced Vietnamese coffee. It’s a little like Thai iced tea, only you prepare it yourself at the table and get to enjoy the odd pleasure of mixing the hot coffee into the glass of ice cubes and scooping the sticky sweet condensed milk from the bottom until it all mixes into a mouthful of decadence.
I’m not sure if this is how they actually drink coffee in Vietnam, but they should. What you end up with is a concoction that is almost exactly, though not quite, like drinking a glass of coffee ice cream. The sweetened condensed milk is the magic ingredient, and the coffee is hella strong so the ice doesn’t dilute its flavor too much.
My recipe isn’t an improvement on its perfection so much as a sideways glance at it.
Fresh hot coffee
Coffee ice cubes
One would normally used sweetened condensed milk in an iced coffee in order to achieve the melted ice cream deliciousness approaching what one gets at The Slanted Door, but the Kahlua is sweet already and the two together are just a tad too much.
You need to be careful with this drink because some glasses will shatter when encountering both hot and cold in the same gulp. So start with the condensed milk on the bottom and then place the ice cubes in next. Pour the Kahlua over the ice (as much as you want, frankly) and then add the coffee last. You may, if you wish, allow the coffee to cool but I find I’m just too impatient for that step and if you do, you’ll miss the entire point of the name — I rather enjoy the sudden hot pouring over the ice cubes and hearing them crack like the glaciers in Antarctica.
Stir to mix the ingredients, add extra ice if necessary, and drink immediately before the world ends in a calamitous flood.
May 3, 2006