I can’t remember exactly when I first tried a tequila and tonic, but I can remember why: I was searching for a standard drink. I wanted to have a drink in my mental back pocket that I could order when the specialty cocktail list got too goofy. Or when I’d arrived late and everyone else was already halfway through their glasses and a waitress was asking, “And can I get you anything?” as she whooshed by on her way to another table. An easily-described drink made out of ingredients available pretty much anywhere, one that even the most ham-handed bartender couldn’t screw up too badly.
I started from a gin and tonic baseline. Rum and tonic was too sweet. Vodka and tonic just tasted like tonic. I never tried bourbon and tonic, because that’s just too weird even for me. But one night I asked for a tequila and tonic with a lime, and I’ve never looked back. Tequila and tonic trades on the same bittersweet, citrus pleasures as the gin and tonic, but substitutes spicy roundness for medicinal bite.
These days, I’m looking forward to a tequila and tonic at the homestead even more than usual, as the renewed national interest in cocktails has spawned a couple of boutique tonic waters. So, as part of the Drink of the Week and Mixology Monday festivities, we rounded up a couple of the new entries–Stirrings and Fever Tree–to put them to the test against the supermarket standbys: Schweppes and Canada Dry.
The results were interesting. Canada Dry was the clear loser with a Two Tongues Stuck Out in Disgust rating; “Overly sweet and chemical-tasting,” said our panel. Our tasters were also a bit disappointed by the Stirrings tonic. It had the advantage of tasting like natural product, but was nearly as sweet and oddly fruity as the Canada Dry. The second mass-market entry, Schweppes, fared better, although it brought out the boozy, horse-blanket nature of the tequila. The overall winner was the Fever Tree tonic, which balanced sweet and bitter and added welcome herbal notes.
Purely in the interest of science, we also compared the two supermarket brands in multiple formats: 10-ounce bar bottles and liter-sized big ‘uns. Just as I’ve always thought, the contents of the larger bottles were OK when fresh, but quickly took a turn for the flat and lackluster, which further exacerbated their chemical-y, medicinal undertones.
Tequila & Tonic
2 oz. aged tequila (we use El Jimador Reposado)
3-4 oz. good-quality tonic
lime wedge, for garnish
Build over ice. Sip suavely, Rico.
Rhubarb when raw is so tough
And its leaves contain poisonous stuff,
- But when cleaned and de-soiled
- Dipped in sugar and boiled
Then the stalks are quite tasty enough.
- — The Rhubarb Compendium
This month’s CanJam challenge — hosted by Toronto Tasting Notes — offers not one but two options for us to put up: Asparagus or rhubarb. Given that I’d used the former in last month’s project (the theme was herbs, and I made tarragon asparagus pickles), my path was clear.
I know that some of my friends (including both of the people who I consider my pie gurus) will disown me when I admit this, but I’m not generally a fan of rhubarb’s texture; I just can’t tolerate the usual sliminess. I love its tart fruitiness, so I’ve learned a trick or two for keeping it firm in desserts, but canning it in a water bath — the whole point of the CanJam — would undo all of those careful preparations.
But there are a few preserves, like flavored syrups, where the pulp of the fruit (or vegetable, in this case) is strained out, leaving just the juice and its flavor behind. Best of all, syrups are simple to preserve, and they’re a compact way to save the flavors of seasonal produce for enjoyment throughout the year. You can also freeze syrups, if — unlike me — you’ve got the space to safely stash a glass bottle.
You can use this flavored syrup any place a sweet-spicy-sour touch would be welcome, something as simple as brushing it onto a cake, or diluting it with sparkling water for a homemade soda. To my mind, its perfect use is making a pink variation on the venerable summer drink known as the Paloma (or even a virgin variation, sans tequila).
- makes 1 jar to keep, plus a little to use right away; can easily be doubled or tripled
1.5 cups white sugar
1 cup water
2 cups thick-sliced rhubarb stalks, leaves discarded
1 cup chopped ginger (no need to peel)
Prepare canner (or a saucepan deep enough to cover the jar by 3 inches), plus a small jam jar and its lid, according to the usual method; keep jar and lid hot until needed.
In a medium saucepan, bring the sugar and water to a simmer, stirring to dissolve. Add the rhubarb and ginger; return to a simmer, then reduce heat and let slowly bubble until the rhubarb is thoroughly soft. Remove from heat and let steep for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, line a metal strainer with cheesecloth, and place it over a heatproof bowl. (If you want crystal-clear syrup, use a muslin jelly bag and be prepared to wait for gravity to draw the liquid into the bowl; be careful not to press or squeeze the solids.)
Bring the strained syrup back to a simmer, then pour into the heated jar, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Wipe rim and center lid on jar. Screw band to fingertip-tight.
Place jar in canner. Bring to a boil; process covered for 5 minutes. Remove lid, wait 5 minutes, then remove jar. Cool, check seal, and store in a cool, dark place.
La Paloma Rosada
1.5 to 2oz blanco tequila
1/2 oz rhubarb-ginger syrup
tart grapefruit soda (such as Izze Grapefruit)
Fill a Collins glass with ice. Add the tequila and syrup; fill with grapefruit soda, and give a good stir. Top the ice with a few shakes of bitters.
For the food-obsessed, there are a lot of exciting things that pop up in the spring. The first tender favas, skinny spears of asparagus, and fruit-tree blossoms that promise a sweet summer ahead. But in our circle of friends, there’s been another anticipation afoot: The long wait for the new edition of Food & Wine’s Cocktails annual.
You may recall our “Book Club” making visits to Range, Forbidden Island, and Bar Drake last year; in fact, our crew managed to hit every San Francisco bar listed in the 2008 edition, sampling a few gems amid a stunning number of failures. (Not to mention the many AWOL contenders; I wish we had a dollar for every time we heard “Oh, that? Nobody liked it, so we took it off the menu.” Sigh.)
When I crossed paths with the book’s compiler, Jim Meehan, at his NY speakeasy PDT, I gave him a fair bit of good-natured grief for our trouble. He allowed that the fleeting nature of drink recipes could be a bit of a problem, but assured me that big changes were in store for 2009, and seemed confident we would like the new direction he’d taken.
It’s still the same book — digest sized, with a clean and colorful layout. But in the biggest change from previous years, where chapters were organized by base spirit, this year’s book focuses on themed chapters: aperitifs, Latin drinks, seasonal drinks, frozen drinks, pitcher drinks, after-dinner drinks, classics, mixologists’ drinks, and mocktails. Each section has a patron bartender, who is briefly profiled and provides all the recipes. Bar celebrities like Jamie Boudreau, Julie Reiner, and (the book’s co-editor) Joaquin Simo take their turns, as do lesser-known mixmasters such as Jeff Grdinich.
The mixologists’ section is like a miniature version of previous editions of the book, a compilation of 18 drinks from top bartenders across the country. Although it’s hard to tell without actually mixing them, the drink recipes from San Francisco shakers — Absinthe’s Jonny Raglin, Neyah White of Nopa, and Jacques Bezuidenhout of Bar Drake — look great on paper. But better still, they come from bartenders who we know understand what works, not just in a highly controlled test-kitchen environment, but in everyday drink-slinging bars. It’s no surprise that some of the cocktails we liked best from last year’s Book Club came from these gentlemen; I can’t wait to give their recipes a test drive.
As before, there’s a directory of top bars listed in the back. This time, the list is explicitly titled “Top 100 Bars”, though they are not necessarily correlated to the included recipes. Frustratingly, other than hat-tips to chapter hosts, there’s no cross-reference to each establishment’s recipes by page number, a detail from past editions I will definitely miss. Cantina’s blurb, for example, mentions Duggan McDonnell by name, offering that “Many of his creations are featured in the Pitcher Drinks chapter (p. 94).” But Absinthe’s listing neither mentions Jonny Raglin, nor directs readers to his recipe on page 135, opting instead for a quizzical mention of Top Cheftestant Jamie Lauren.
As far as the local bars in the Top 100, there’s only a couple of quibbles. Everyone I’ve asked is surprised by the omission of Oakland’s lovely Flora, and it’s odd that Bar Drake didn’t make the cut this year when Jacques’ recipe did. Bix, however, is a total head-scratcher. Despite reviving the classic-cocktail genre a full decade before almost anyone else in town, this stalwart has long been eclipsed in both technical merit and outright hospitality.
The visuals, always a strength of this series, continue to impress. In addition to ace prop styling and eye-popping photography found in previous editions, this year’s version includes more infographics, which should help users navigate now that the book is not organized by spirit type. Graphics show ease of construction and base spirit, in addition to the glassware icon of the past editions. The front matter is perhaps a bit basic for experienced bar aficionados, although there is some good stuff about ice, must-have spirits, and best brands taste-test winners.
Do you need Food & Wine Cocktails ’09 in your bar library? Probably not. But at $10, it’s less than the price of a drink at nearly any of the places it trumpets, and it’s bound to be a fun souvenir of the way we’re drinking in the late aughts.
Bay Area bars/restaurants in the Top 100
There are 13 of them this year, which — for those of you keeping score at home — is more than any other city except NYC (home to 14). Mixologists mentioned by name in their establishment’s blurb are shown in brackets.
- Beretta [Thad Vogler]
- Bourbon & Branch
- Cantina [Duggan McDonnell]
- Clock Bar
- Elixir [H Ehrmann]
- Forbidden Island
- Heaven’s Dog [Erik Adkins]
- Nopa [Neyah White]
- Slanted Door
San Francisco cocktail recipes in the Mixologists’ Drinks chapter:
- Jonny Raglin, Absinthe
Villa Flores: jalapeno, tequila, egg white, grapefruit, agave, orange-flower water, Sichuan pepper garnish
- Neyah White, Nopa
Cherry Samba: cachaca, cherry Heering, Islay Scotch, lemon, simple, egg white
- Jacques Bezuidenhout, Bar Drake
Black Friar’s Pint: gin, cardamom-cinnamon Guinness, sherry, bitters, agave, egg white, cinnamon garnish
San Francisco recipes for Party Food:
- Warm Marinated Olives, Seasons Bar & Lounge
- Queso Fundido, Tres Agaves
- Polpette in Spicy Tomato Sauce, Beretta
And one San Francisco chapter host: Duggan McDonnell of Cantina
The great irony of these troubled economic times is that cocktail budgets are shrinking just at the time when many of us really could use a strong drink. And even if you’ve survived the entire economic downturn syndrome — the downsizing, the furloughs, the real-estate bubble, and the credit crunch — unscathed, it feels a little too much like tempting fate to be drinking high on the hog while waiting for the other shoe to drop.
And thus we find ourselves on this particular Mixology Monday with the theme Hard Drinks for Hard Times, hosted by whiskey guru Matthew Rowley. Our assignment: “Write about an alcoholic drink you’ve made that resonates with the current economic turndown.”
But even widespread austerity measures don’t have to mean the end of the civilized ritual that a properly made cocktail affords. Off the top of my head, I can think of five painless ways to keep the cocktail hour rolling when we need it the most:
Secret #1: Switch your allegiance.
Perhaps the simplest way to economize on cocktail expenses — other than to drink less — is to drink cheaper booze. Duh. But I’m not advocating that you ignore your tastebuds and buy crap, or even settle for something you don’t enjoy. (We are still drinking for the pleasure of the well-crafted cocktail, correct?)
So, for example, if you’re fond of rye (and really, who isn’t?) consider a bottle of Old Overholt for everyday mixing; save that Sazerac or Rittenhouse for sipping, or at least for the drinks where the spirit is the star of the show. The shelves are filled with quality booze that’s nearly as good as the boutique brands, at a fraction of the cost. David Wondrich wrote up five of his favorites in a recent Esquire piece; I’m hoping we’ll hear a lot more about alternative brands from other MxMo posters.
Secret #2: Share the love.
If you need just an ounce or two of some obscure liqueur, don’t be afraid to ask your friends if they’ve got a bottle you can borrow. This works especially well if you have somebody like Erik living a few blocks away, like we do. But even if you have to make a special trip across town, you’ll have an excuse to buy your pal a drink.
The ground rules are the same ones your mama taught you back when your friends were loaning you Hot Wheels and Shaun Cassidy albums: Return the item in the same condition you found it, express gratitude in an appropriate fashion, and reiterate how happy you’ll be to return the favor down the road.
Secret #3: Think small.
If you don’t have a ready network of cocktail geeks in your back yard, there’s still hope. Even the most math-challenged among us realizes that mini-bottles aren’t a great deal on an ounce-by-ounce basis. But if you only need a splash of something to test out a recipe – especially if it’s a type of liquor you aren’t sure you’ll love – tiny bottles can be a smarter bet.
A case in point: A few months back, I wanted to test a recipe that called for a small amount of Southern Comfort. But I’m not a great fan of flavored spirits, so this was a case where the $2.50 mini was a much wiser investment than the 750ml bottle at $15. (Special note to drink bloggers: Minis are often indistinguishable from their full-size counterparts in photographs, especially if you use a macro lens.)
Secret #4: Shop around.
If you’re lucky enough to live in a place that’s unencumbered by a state liquor monopoly, don’t be afraid to look for good-quality booze in unlikely places. Swanky spirits emporia may have all the beautiful bottles you need in one place, but they aren’t always a fantastic bargain. And — if you’re anything like me — it’s often impossible to get out the door without buying three (or five, or a dozen) things you couldn’t live without.
You can often find great deals at places that don’t necessarily specialize in spirits, like supermarkets (we keep our Safeway Club Card just for stocking up on staple booze), drugstores (a co-worker swears Rite-Aid has door-buster pricing on Sailor Jerry rum), and warehouse stores like Costco. Just make sure to walk straight past that twelve-pack of Swiffer refills, OK?
But when you’re clipping coupons and being an otherwise savvy consumer, don’t forget that the owner of your local quality liquor store — the one who makes great wine recommendations and offers to set aside bottles of special whiskey for you when it comes in — is also feeling the pinch. Certainly, buy your Beefeater in bulk, but when you’re getting excited about saving two bucks on a $25 bottle at the megamart, remember that if you don’t buy from the folks who really know their stuff, you’ll miss their expertise when the inevitable happens.
Secret #5: Drink seasonally.
If you’re a fan of drinks that have a substantial fruit or juice component, it pays to keep an eye on the calendar. Drink sours in the wintertime, Tequila por mi Amante in the spring, Bellinis in summertime, cobblers in the fall. Just as when you’re planning meals, follow the bumper crop for cocktail ingredients and you’ll find the best prices as the farmers market. And don’t be afraid to ask around; you may even get lucky enough to find a neighbor or co-worker with an abundance of backyard fruit to share.
If you know you won’t be able to live without your favorite fruity beverages in the off-season, consider simple preservation: Most fruits (and pretty much all juices) freeze well, and home-made cocktail cherries are among the simplest and most rewarding of spring pantry projects.
In the spirit of the frugal tipple, we shook up a batch of Ward Eight cocktails — essentially a more-interesting twist on the venerable whiskey sour — using one of our favorite value-priced spirits, plus lemons from our own tree, and oranges given to us by a friend with an abundance of homegrown fruit. The grenadine is a homebrew version we keep on hand, made from store-bought pomegranate juice. The cherry garnish happens to be a gift from another thoughtful friend, but we could just as easily have used our own home-preserved version.
We’re sipping them out of gorgeous glassware, but — a-ha, an unbilled Secret #6! — we buy nearly all of our cocktail glasses secondhand. Thrift stores sell beautiful vintage glasses as cheaply as $0.50, and rarely higher than $2 a stem. An added bonus: Antique cocktail glasses are much smaller than their modern counterparts, so you can often split a single drink between two.
2 oz rye whiskey (such as Old Overholt)
3/4 oz lemon juice
3/4 oz orange juice
1 teaspoon grenadine
Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
I know that it’s been awfully quiet around these parts for a while, but whirlwind trips to New York City will severely cut into your blogging time. The lovely folks at NOTCOT and Liqurious sent me on a hybrid photography/writing assignment to cover the launch of Rosangel, a new hibiscus-infused tequila from Gran Centenario.
You can probably guess that I don’t have a lot of personal affection for flavored spirits, but my better judgment prevailed: As freelance gigs go, getting to visit New York for a long weekend sure beats the hell out of just about anything else.
I fretted about how to make a rose-pink tequila sound credible to our cocktailian friends. But in all honesty, from what I was able to taste at the event, Rosangel has all the hallmarks of a quality product. It uses Gran Centenario reposado as its base, it’s aged for an additional 2 months in port casks to give it complexity and a rosy glow, and then it’s infused with hibiscus blossoms, not doctored with artificial flavors. I’m anxiously awaiting the chance to get my hands on a bottle to play with; the retail launch is set for March.
What I didn’t know when I accepted the assignment was that one of the events would be held at Clover Club, the newish Brooklyn bar from Julie Reiner of Flatiron Lounge fame. And, better still, that I’d have a chance to watch Ms. Reiner and Paul Pacult lead a hands-on immersion training for eight tequila-loving bartenders flown in from all around the country. (I won’t steal my own thunder any more than I already have: You’ll have to check out the NOTCOT post for the full scoop.)
So anyway, apologies for the radio silence. At least you know I had a good excuse! I promise there’s another post coming soon, all about the 70-pound pig we roasted for Cameron’s big birthday.
(Oh man, I shot so many frames… picking just five representative photos for the filmstrip this time is impossible! Please click through to see the whole collection.)
We finally got ourselves over to Alameda this afternoon to visit the Hangar One / St. George Spirits distillery. We’ve always managed to be out of town during their annual open house parties, but this year was different. For a $30 ticket, we got the chance to sip pretty much everything they make (though we limited ourselves to things we hadn’t already tried), including the seasonal Spiced Pear vodka. The best part, though, was getting up close with their gorgeous copper stills, one of my favorite photo subjects.
For an additional $10, we also got to sample the new Agua Azul, a 100% agave spirit that can’t technically be called tequila because it’s not made in Mexico. We loved all three expressions — rich cristal, smoky reposado, and mellow-but-not-boring añejo — but balked when we saw the $60, $80, and $120 price tags. (We’ll probably change our minds right as they sell out, just as we did with the Absinthe Verte last year… oh well.)
In addition to all the sippable samples, admission included copious top-notch munchies: June Taylor preserves, Boccalone salumi, El Huarache Loco antojitos, La Cocina sweets, and Recchiuti chocolates. We were impressed at the short lines for both the samples and the loos (thanks to a set of porta-potties ’round back of the distilling equipment), and plentiful water stations all throughout the warehouse. A DJ spun tunes, employees answered questions, and a shuttle swung by every hour to drop guests off at BART.
Sound like fun? Sign up for the newsletter to find out about next year’s open house and other special events throughout the year.
Hangar One / St. George Spirits
2601 Monarch Street
Alameda, CA 94501
It’s been a good year or two for vintage cocktail buffs. After wandering in the metaphorical desert for so long in search of lost ingredients, our oddball desires have finally been vindicated. Every few months, a flurry of spirits are resurrected from the dustbins, opening up another chapter of classic recipes for experimentation.
The latest no-longer-missing link is genever, also known in the old cocktail manuals as Holland gin. Of course, genever’s never really gone away. Industrious cocktail hounds have traveled to the Netherlands and brought back suitcases full of the juniper-laced spirit, or scoured the dusty shelves of liquor stores in search of the odd bottle or two. And the drink-nerdy among us will vouch that San Francisco’s very own Anchor Distilling — of Junipero gin and Old Potrero whiskey fame — produces their own genever-ish expression known as Genevieve.
But true Dutch-style genever has been rather thin on the ground in the States, at least until this fall. At the West Coast reintroduction of Bols Genever, I had a chance to chat with cocktail historian David Wondrich, most recently known as the author of the top-notch Jerry Thomas biography, Imbibe!.
Accustomed to a fair bit of cynicism in the professional cocktail world, I was struck by how genuinely excited Wondrich seems about this re-release.
“When you make some of the old [Thomas] drinks with London dry gin,” says Wondrich, “You take a sip and think ‘Hmm, tastes must have changed in the last 100 years’ and dump it out. But when you mix them with genever — which was the gin the bartenders were using in those days — the flavors suddenly click.” Running down the Thomas drinks roster with Wondrich, you get a sense of how a steady supply of good genever could change things dramatically for vintage cocktail aficionados; perhaps 19th-century cocktails will be the next big thing after all.
If you’re expecting genever to taste like a typical English gin, you’ll be taken aback; its flavor is closer to a young whiskey minus any of the woody notes, or perhaps a silver tequila without agave’s horse-blanket overtones. Though genever is commonly regarded as the forerunner of gin, most gin is little more than herb-infused vodka, redistilled to remove harsh flavors and cloudiness. Traditional genever starts out as maltwine, which in turn begins as a beer-like mash. Bearing all this in mind, Bols has taken pains to ensure that their genever is not labeled or marketed as a gin, instead pushing the government to recognize it as a distinct spirits class. On the other side of the Atlantic, genever benefits from a new European Union location-protected appellation — analgous to Champagne or Cognac or Roquefort — mandating production within the Netherlands and adjoining low-countries regions in order to bear the name.
(Oh, and about that name? It’s pronounced gen-EE-vrr, as opposed to JEN-eh-ver. Yes, I’ve been saying it wrong all these years, too, so don’t feel too bad.)
And oh my, what a gorgeous bottle. Bols tells us it’s the first use of smoked glass in a spirits bottle, manufactured using a technique that was not as easy to borrow from the perfume world as they had hoped. The logotype evokes the beautiful calligraphy found on the dark windows of old Dutch cafes.
Bols plied us with a parade of cocktails that afternoon, but my favorite — a preference shared by many of the folks I chatted with — was the Holland Gin Cocktail. Actually, Bols styles it the Improved Holland Gin Cock-Tail on their site, but since their recipe lacks any maraschino, I don’t think that’s actually the correct nomenclature. (I won’t bore you with the details here, but if you’re curious, I blathered about it elsewhere.) However you call it, this simply elegant combination showcases genever’s taste to a T, highlighting just how much you’re missing if you make many of the old drinks with plain-old gin.
Holland Gin Cocktail
- Jerry Thomas, by way of David Wondrich
2-3 oz Bols Genever
2-3 dashes rich (2:1) simple syrup
2 dashes orange bitters
1 dash dry orange curaçao
Prepare a chilled coupe or cocktail glass by wetting the rim with a lemon slice. Stir the drink ingredients with large ice cubes and strain into the prepared glass. Cut a large coin-sized zest of lemon directly over the cocktail, spraying the oils over the drink and running the zest around the rim before dropping it in the drink.
Oh, hi — are you still here? Dang, sorry about that. We’ve done the metaphorical equivalent of falling asleep at the WordPress dashboard, and yet you kept coming by. That’s so sweet.
But enough navel-gazing: We’re back! We’ve got a great few posts in the hopper, including a brand new eat-local challenge for the summer. First, though, I think we’re definitely overdue for a drink.
One of the cool things that happened before our spring slump kicked in was Cocktail Week: Seven whole days devoted to well-made libations, visits from cocktail illuminiati, and some of the city’s best restaurants offering multi-course meals with inventive cocktail pairings. (Imagine eight pork dishes — including two delicious desserts — with seven different American-whiskey cocktails: Foodie hotspot Orson hosted this Bourbon & Bacon extravaganza, and I dream of it still.)
Another night, the folks at CUESA hosted a Farmers Market Cocktails tasting in the arcade of the legendary Ferry Building. At the mercy of one of those unseasonably hot days we get each May, a few hundred cocktail fans packed under the archways like a tin of tipsy sardines. Happily, we ran into many of our local blog buddies, which made for fabulous chit-chat as we sampled and sweltered.
Sadly, although I love fresh-fruit cocktails, Cocktail Week falls at possibly the worst time of the year for that sort of thing. Specialty citrus is pretty much gone, stone fruits are weeks away, and there’s not much on hand but some early-season strawberries and underripe cherries. As a result, I was not captivated by many of the drinks we tasted at the event, despite their being created by some of the best bartenders in town.
The best sip of the evening was the official drink of San Francisco Cocktail Week 2008: The Soirée. It features both green Chartreuse and St-Germain elderflower liqueur — two of my favorite ingredients — woven together with the muskiness of silver tequila, a sour punch of lemon, and the whispered spice of a Latin-inspired tincture. It sounds like the sort of crazy mess you might expect from a collaboration of a trio of star bartenders… but it’s actually delicious. (Of course, it didn’t hurt that the version we sampled that night was shaken up by one of our favorite mixologists.)
The chile-cinnamon-cocoa tincture — definitely not optional — requires a little effort, but the ingredients can be found in any decently stocked bulk foods department. With a quick shopping trip, a few minutes of prep, and a little patient steeping, you can throw your own Soirée whenever the mood strikes.
1.5 ounces silver tequila
1/2 ounce St. Germain elderflower liqueur
1/2 ounce green Chartreuse
1/2 ounce lemon juice
2 dashes mole tincture
Mint, for garnish
Shake all ingredients with ice, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a sprig of mint.
1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
3-1/2 T cacao nibs
1/4 red bell pepper, minced
1 dried very hot chile (such as de arbol)
5oz silver tequila
Place all the ingredients into a jelly jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake the jar twice daily for four days then strain the mixture, first through a sieve, then through a coffee filter before bottling.
The San Francisco cocktail circuit is a pretty cozy scene. It’s not just that bartenders pick up shifts at three or four different bars or restaurants in as many nights, although that helps. It’s more that for some reason, every now and then, a somewhat obscure cocktail will simultaneously capture the imaginations of multiple menu-writers. Suddenly you see the darned thing everywhere.
Last fall, the cocktail of the moment was the Dark n’ Stormy; every watering hole in The City had it on their menu, and pretty soon Gosling’s Black Seal was a common sight on the speedrail. The effect is so pervasive it feels like one of those community reading programs where everyone skims the same hardback on the subway, except here in SF, it’s “One City, One Drink“.
Winter’s finally over, and so the ginger beer, sadly, is making its way back to the cellar. But ready to take its place, you’ll find a slew of imported, artisanal, and home-brewed grapefruit sodas. Paired with a healthy glug of reposado tequila, a pinch of salt, and the juice of half a lime, you’ve got yourself a Mexican fiesta in a glass, that lazy-man’s margarita known as the Paloma.
Of course, it wouldn’t be San Francisco without some liberties taken. Over at the Chronicle, our pal Jane details three different SF bars offering their own twists on the Paloma. Alembic uses homemade soda and some spicy secret ingredient; newcomer Beretta adds elderflower and Cointreau… hmm. I’m sure they’re lovely, but honestly (and here’s something you won’t hear me saying often) I’m pretty sure I’d rather try my luck at Tres Agaves. Their straight-ahead, old-school version uses Jarritos soda, which — after sampling Squirt, Hansens, and Fresca — I’m going to say is an essential ingredient. So please, hit up your local bodega or taqueria, and look for the bottle marked “toronja”.
My one deviation from the Paloma recipe you’ll find at beachfront cantinas up and down the Baja coast is a good shake of Fee Brothers’ Grapefruit Bitters. They’re optional, of course… but they add a delightful boost of grapefruit-peel flavor and accentuate the spicy tequila bite.
2oz reposado tequila
juice of 1/2 lime
Mexican grapefruit soda, such as Jarritos
a hearty dash of grapefruit or orange bitters (optional, but delicious)
table salt (not kosher)
Combine the tequila and lime juice in an ice-filled highball glass. Fill with grapefruit soda, then top the ice with a shake of bitters and a healthy shake of salt.
What is it about ginger-beer drinks that brings together unlikely bedfellows? The Moscow Mule, for example: Two guys sitting around a Hollywood bar, trying to come up with a novel way to slog their middlebrow vodka and their slow-moving sodapop, combine their bevvies in a novelty copper cup. Somehow, this unholy alliance actually resulted in a fabulous drink, one of the few vodka cocktails I’ll actually admit to liking.
Likewise, here’s our friend the Dark & Stormy. Or, I should say, the Dark n’ Stormy®. Yup — some wily bastard had the gall to trademark this classic island refresher. Worse yet, the corporate overlords who own the name actually go around telling people that it’s unlawful (!) to build your beverage with any other rum besides Gosling’s Black Seal.
However you punctuate the damn thing, it’s another product of oddball circumstance: During the late 1800s, the British Navy either bought or built (depending on who you ask) a ginger-beer plant on the island of Bermuda. Your guess is as good as mine as to what prompted Her Majesty’s finest to get into the soft-drinks line, but there you have it. It didn’t take long for the boys in blue to add their daily tot of rum to the spicy soda, and a beverage was born.
Now, I’m not entirely certain that the bartenders of my fair City are acquainted with the attorneys representing the interests of Gosling’s Export (Bermuda) Ltd, because — just between us kids — I’ve seen them pouring pretty much any dark rum that comes to hand. And trust me, I’ve watched a lot of these being made this winter: It seems like every Dom, Duggan, and Harry in SF has added this golden tipple to their cocktail list. Bars of some fame have hosted entire evenings devoted to the drink (Dark n’ Stormy night, har har). There’s no denying it: San Francisco’s pros may be knocking back Fernet, but the paying stiffs out front are guzzling rum-spiked ginger beer like it’s never going out of style.
Contrarian though I am, I’ll grudgingly admit that the best Dark and Stormys we sampled were indeed made with the legally prescribed brand. But I think it’s safe to say that your choice of ginger brew — and please, don’t use that supermarket crap, or even the fabulously subtle Fever-Tree here — will have a much more dramatic effect on the end result than any small variations in rum labels.
Given the drink’s naval origins, it’s a fair bet that Pusser’s wouldn’t be far off the traditional mark, for example. And I’ll vouch that the drink’s awfully good when made with a quality gold rum — like Appleton VX — and a sassy Southern ginger ale like Blenheim… although this turns it into something more like a “Fair n’ Breezy”. Cameron, lover of all things molasses, prefers his Stormys on the Extra Dark side, made with Cruzan Blackstrap and Bunda from Down Undah.
So, go ahead: Experiment, and find your own favorite combination. We promise not to sic the laywers on you.
Dark & Stormy
2 oz dark rum, preferably Gosling’s Black Seal
6 oz ginger beer (or quality ginger ale)
Fill a highball glass with ice, and pour the rum over the rocks. Add the ginger beer to fill, and garnish with a healthy wedge of lime.