Category: gospel
Rule 2
Tiki Month 2014

National Margarita Day in Tiki Month: The Margarita Atoll

Margarita Atoll-A Tiki Margarita Today is National Margarita Day. Since just about every day is National {Put name of liquor/cocktail/food/something else that hires PR people here} Day, I usually ignore these momentous occasions on the blog. But every once in a while, circumstances come together to demand a post. This is that point in the current while. I have been happily perusing the results of this month's Mixology Monday, hosted at Ginhound. The theme is Sours, and like yours truly, many of the participants chose to set their offerings in the very Sour-friendly arena of Tiki drinks. Another entrant is Bartending Notes' simple and elegant post on the Margarita (the Gospel of Tequila). Despite a kind shout-out to this humble repository, the Margarita Ceccotti presents is a fairly straightforward, if a touch sweet for my preference, version. Not a Tiki drink, really. But then you look at the picture used:
marg It's BLUE.
Two things here:
  1. I don't know how this azure concoction arose from the recipe in the post
  2. Doug's Rule of Tiki #4 is: If it is blue and has citrus in it, but mostly just if it is blue, it is a Tiki drink.
So today's Tiki Month project was to construct a truly Tiki Margarita. The right recipe was pretty easily obtained. I simply used my standard Margarita recipe, substituted Bols Blue Curaçao for half the Cointreau to obtain the wanted color of Tahitian coral shallows, then backed off the tequila slightly and added a whisper of honey syrup for the sweeter, more undefined Tiki flavor profile.
  • 1 1/4 oz. good silver tequila
  • strong 1/2 oz. fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 oz. Cointreau
  • 1/4 oz. Bols Blue Curaçao
  • 1/4 oz honey mix
Combine in shaker with ice and agitate until frigid. Strain into a cocktail coupe rimmed as below.
Since I'm trying to emphasize the Tiki-ness of this drink, I wanted a garnish somewhat beyond a simple lime wedge, even a nicely tattooed one. I also do not like to rim my Margaritas with salt. If you use good tequila, I've always maintained that the salt rim just wipes out the character of the spirit. But others continue to be wrong disagree. So I chose to split the difference by caving on the second problem to solve the first here. I hauled out my black Hawaiian salt (a great origin for a Tiki drink, yes?). You have to crush this further, since the gravel size it usually comes it is to big and heavy to rim with. I just use a muddler on a plate, but if you have a mortar and pestle you are better off. You don't want to powder the salt, just break it down a little so it can stick. Black Hawaiian Salt I then, both to allow an anti-salt guy like me a way to not taste the salt and for garnish purposes, rubbed the outside of the rim with a lime wedge, but only in patches, before rolling the outside of the glass in the crushed black salt. The result is a nifty look, reminiscent of the ring of volcanic islands of a south Pacific Atoll, surrounding the light blue waters of the sunken caldera. Margarita-Atoll-Rim The drink's not half bad
Gnostic Gospels

The Gnostic Gospels: The Margarita

I've written before of the four bedrock drinks of cocktailia. Each based on one of the four foundation spirits of classic cocktail mixing: gin, bourbon, rum, and brandy, I refer to these cocktails as The Four Gospels. There are other great and/or popular spirits that people mix with, of course. And there is for most of them an emblematic cocktail as well. I'll refer to these drinks as the Gnostic Gospels, since the spirits they use aren't quite canonical for one reason or another. With Cinco de Mayo fast approaching, let's discuss the (Gnostic) Gospel of Tequila: The Margarita.

Margaritas! Woo Hoo!
Um, no. Not quite what I want to talk about here. The Margarita suffers from all sorts of problems, few if any of them its own fault. The biggest is that, like the Gospel of Rum (the Daiquiri), the Margarita has been largely debased from great classic cocktail into a machine-dispensed, umbrella party drink that is consumed rather than savored. It's a shame really, because when made well, the Margarita is a delicious, sophisticated cocktail that you can order in the finest cocktail bars in the world with your head held high. Please note, I'm not totally dismissing the frozen Margarita here. There are times when a slushy, salt-encrusted bowl of green agave bomb is just the thing. They can truly rev up a party, and if you either cannot afford or do not want to pop for the good stuff on this set of guests, Frozen Margaritas are the best way to go to hide the genuinely crappy flavors of cheap tequila. Cheap or expensive, Tequila really does seem to have a higher than average ability to knock down inhibitions. I banned the stuff from my own parties back in my late twenties after two incidents. The first ended with me rolling up and down the hill in our back yard in the wet grass with several of the neighborhood wives. The second had my own wife finding me taking a shower in the guest bathroom, fully clothed, but dry as a bone since I'd forgotten to turn on the water. But this blog is a high-falutin' operation, so I'll leave off the frozen Margarita discussion with a single piece of advice for those who came here looking for insight into cold, green, party punch for St. Patrick's Day (South of the Border Edition). Forget the blender. It is a hassle, loud, and unlike with lots of frozen cocktails, unnecessary. If you are going to do the Margarita Party thing, just try one of these products. The freezer bucket mixes just need a bottle of cheap tequila and some freezer space, and they make a plenty serviceable faux Mexican party drink. Let's start with what is in a Margarita: Tequila, lime, an orange liqueur, and a bit of sweetener. Within this, there is a lot of room for variation and experimentation. Here is the recipe I use when my fancy takes me to Margaritaville:
  • 2 1/2 parts silver tequila
  • 1 part Cointreau
  • 3/4 to 1 part fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 part agave syrup
Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice and do the hat dance until it is seriously cold. Strain into a properly salt-rimmed cocktail glass.
I'll go through each bit to show where you might want to vary the program, and why I don't. For the most part, I stick with silver tequilas in my Margaritas. The added character is largely wasted in this mix, and frankly, I don't like the color as much in the final cocktail. Rather than spend your money on a reposado or anjeo, spend it on a better class of white tequila and you'll be well ahead of the game. Whatever tequila you use in making your real Margarita, make sure it is actually drinkable. If you take a sip and have to bite into a lime and lick salt just to survive the experience, it isn't good enough tequila. If you do want to use a dark, aged tequila, I suggest you do it on the rocks, where the color will be less of an issue. Which brings us to the choice of up or on the rocks. As I mentioned above, the frozen version is a fine drink, but it is not a cocktail. A good Margarita cocktail can be served either chilled or with ice, and in either a cocktail glass or a rocks. I prefer up, in a cocktail glass, because I think it is more elegant. But since it is so important that your Margarita be cold when you drink it, you may find rocks to be a better choice if you like to pour a larger portion. In either case, please don't use those giant, thick "Margarita" glasses. These things are ugly, clunky, and take up unnecessary space in your cabinets that could be devoted to booze. If you must use these things, do it with the slush.

Not the Devil, but it is what he drinks out of.
Cointreau is apparently the original liqueur in Margaritas. I use it because, well, I seem to use Cointreau in every damn thing I mix. Also, it is a magnificent step up from basic Triple Sec. You can also use Grand Marnier, or other orange liqueur such as Patron's Citronage. Why you'd bother, I don't know. Cointreau is delicious. Fresh lime juice. 'Nuff said there. You may or may not want the sweetener. I like a little myself. I use agave syrup here, and in precious little else. It is not flavor neutral, and in most cocktails that is a problem. But for obvious reasons, it does go quite well with tequila. The last big thing is the rim. In an Art of Drink post two years ago, Darcy says a lot about the salts to use on your rim. For my part, I just want to focus on where, not what. Below is not how to rim your glass, for Margaritas, or any other salt or sugar-rimmed glass. Ever. The salt needs to be outside the glass, not inside, and the standard bar rimmer, while fast, will put just as much or more material on the inside of the glass as the outside. Rimming materials that are inside the rim of the glass will wash into the drink. If you wanted the salt dissolved in the drink, you'd add it when you are shaking. Outside the rim, the salt will only dissolve on the drinker's tongue, in the amount he or she desires. To that end, always leave a gap at least a quarter of the way around the glass clear of ice, so the drinker can start out with a span of rim where they can be completely salt-free, even on their first sip. You should do this with any rimmed drink you make, salt, sugar, or Peruvian cocoa and parika dust. Achieving this kind of rim, with the salt only on the outside and leaving a perfect gap, is harder than just slamming your damp glass into a ring of salt, but not by much really. To make the salt stick, take a freshly cut wedge of lime and run it around the outside rim of the glass as far around and down the outside as you want the salt to coat. Then lean the glass over on its side and pat its outside gently into a high pile of your chosen salt. Don't turn the glass while it is in the salt, or you'll get a messy rim and your salt pile will get contaminated. Instead, pat the glass down, lift and twist slightly. Repeat until you have gone as far around as you want. The result is a gorgeous, evenly crusted outer rim. With the slightest of practice, it takes 30 seconds, tops. Before I leave you to your newly sophisticated Conco de Mayoing, I should explain why I classify the Margarita as a Gnostic Gospel. Good Margaritas have all the hallmarks of a gospel cocktail. They are delicious, simple to make, complex, beautifully showcase the quality of the base spirit, and they are the quintessential means of serving tequila. But whereas vodka is so devoid of character it is relegated to the gnostic status, Tequila's conversely overwhelming character makes it just too limited a spirit in its own right to merit full gospel status. It is a bitch to mix with in general. Its unique flavor profile is problematic with a host of the usual cocktail ingredients; so much so that most every tequila cocktail ends up being some kind of Margarita derivative. Also, despite tremendous money spent in recent years by the industry, with lots of creative advertising and a concurrent increase in sales, tequila remains a boutique or niche spirit. Most Americans drink it only in Mexican restaurants or on Cinco de Mayo. Similar to what I said about Old Fashioneds and Mad Men season premiers, 95% of everything you will see written about tequila this year, will be written this week. abc
General Cocktails
Gnostic Gospels

The Gnostic Gospels: The Cosmopolitan

I've written before of the four bedrock drinks of cocktailia. Each based on one of the four foundation spirits of classic cocktailia, gin, bourbon, rum, and brandy, I refer to these cocktails as The Four Gospels. There are other great and/or popular spirits that people mix with, of course. And there is for most of them an emblematic cocktail as well. I'll refer to these drinks as the Gnostic Gospels, since the spirits they use aren't quite canonical for one reason or another. We shall discuss today the (Gnostic) Gospel of Vodka: The Cosmopolitan. The Cosmo is the new kid on the block among the power cocktails, which among other reasons means it gets less respect than it should. I'll get to those reasons in a bit, but I'll lead with why the Cosmopolitan deserves to be considered one of the Gospels. Firstly, the drink is very popular. I challenge you to find a bartender in America (biker bars probably excluded) who isn't called on to make them often. While it is no longer so omnipresent as it was a few years ago, that is actually a testament to its importance and influence. So many people who were attracted to the Cosmo learned that there was a world of cocktails to explore beyond it. And influential the Cosmo is, like all the Gospels. The Manhattan was the first gospel, the Martini defines cocktails as elegance, the Daiquiri and its progeny kept hope alive down in Cuba during Prohibition, and the Sidecar is the iconic Europeans contribution. The Cosmo was the light that brought classic cocktails back out of the wilderness.
Zut alors!
Yes, it did, oh snooty drink purists. Please remember the state of cocktails when the Cosmo was born. The drinking world was a vast wasteland of shots, and slushies, and sour mix. (Oh My!) Even the mighty Martini had devolved into a glass of cold vodka, drunk only by old men and paleo-hipsters. Then the Cosmopolitan burst onto the bar scene. The cocktail glass became cool again, as did drinks in it. Because most bars had become places that had neither the inventory nor staff to produce drinks like a decent Cosmo, fashionable patrons sought out Martini Bars, where they could get one without a fuss. Over time, you could once again find measurable numbers of bartenders who stood out because of their mixing skills, instead of just their sympathetic ear or appearance (or cleavage). I'm not saying that the Cosmo sparked the craft bar renascence of today, but I'm sure it provided several critical items of support.
  • It provided cash flow for a (still to this day) niche market.
  • It spiked demand in the mainstream for Martini-style mixology.
  • It convinced a hell of a lot of young women to put down the wine bottle and pick up the cocktail glass.
To be a Gospel, a cocktail must also be the perfect vessel for its base spirit. I contend that the Cosmo is the perfect embodiment of what you can do well with vodka. Vodka provides no distinctive character of its own to a drink, nor color, or aroma. Instead it provides a simple, smooth kick. When you mix with vodka, your drink has cocktail potency, but you can decide on whatever flavors you need, without having to subjugate them to a dominant spirit. The delicious, well-balanced mixture of flavors from the the other ingredients in a Cosmo won't work without the vodka. I've tried. Interestingly, it is the addition of a large amount of 80 proof liquor that actually makes the drink smooth and drinkable. Of course, the mere use of vodka is why many in the Church of the Cocktail would relegate this gospel to gnostic or "also ran" status. Vodka has a very short history in cocktails, and not a particularly distinguished one. Most of its oeuvre consists of either simply dull concoctions, or dumbed down versions of superior gin drinks. The Cosmo is different in that when made well with good ingredients, it is an interesting, balanced cocktail. Further, the ground is littered with the bodies of cocktailians who tried to turn the Cosmopolitan into a decent gin cocktail. The fabled Metropolitan heresy has wasted more good gin on bad results than you can imagine. (For the record, my attempt can be found here. I cheated and it is still only OK.) There is more to be said about the history and culture of the Cosmo, but I've gone too far into the post already without giving a recipe. Here is Dale DeGroff's Rainbow Room recipe:
  • 1 1/2 oz. vodka
  • 1 oz. Cointreau
  • 1 oz. cranberry
  • 3/4 oz. fresh lime juice
Shake and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of flamed orange peel.
For the record, I actually think Dale's recipe is too sweet. (Ducks head to check for lightning) My preferred recipe is this, the Dry Cosmopolitan, if you will.
  • 2 oz. vodka
  • 1/2 oz. Cointreau
  • 1 oz. cranberry
  • 3/4 oz. fresh lime juice
Shake and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a wheel of lime.
I use a lime wheel because I seldom have oranges around, and I'm tired of burning my fingers learning how to flame the peels anyway. When you are learning to mix your own Cosmopolitans, the cranberry you use will dramatically affect the final product. The omnipresent brand in America is Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice Cocktail. That is what my ratios are designed for. Other brands vary in sweetness. You can also find pure cranberry juice, but please be aware that it is seriously tart. You'll need to add simple, more Cointreau, or less cranberry to make the drink work. Frankly I see no benefit. Ocean Spray isn't really a juice in cocktail mixer terms, but a cordial, like Rose's Lime. Use accordingly. Another issue worth discussing with Cosmos is the Cointreau. Use it. Any decent vodka will do fine in a Cosmopolitan, but if you skimp and use cheap triple sec, the quality will suffer. And using most other orange liqueurs is a heresy, as the darker color will throw off the pristine pink shade of the cocktail. The Cosmo, at its Miami nativity, used citrus-infused vodka. You can experiment with this if you like, but employing such vodka so you can omit the lime is a heresy. And using Rose's in your Gospel of Vodka will surely as the Sun shall rise bring a visit from these guys... I'll wind things up with some discussion of the history and cultural impact of the Cosmopolitan. While DeGroff is widely and persistently credited with inventing the Cosmo, to his credit he has just as persistently refused to take credit. Cheryl Cook, a South Beach bartender, first made a "Cranberry Kamikaze" with this famous moniker. DeGroff adopted and improved the recipe as a signature drink for the rebooted Rainbow Room in New York. The Cosmo's first big splash with the general public came when Madonna visited the Rainbow Room after the Grammys in the early 1990's. A NewYorker photographer snapped a picture of her enjoying a Cosmopolitan and it created a sensation around New York's bar scene. Then Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda made the Cosmo their cup of communion on HBO's Sex and the City, and the cranberries really hit the fan. The show never suited my taste, so I watched only a few episodes. But it's clear to anyone why it sparked such a sensation in the cocktail world. The four fabulous women of SatC led thrilling lives, attend fabulous Manhattan events, wear incredible (and incredibly over the top) outfits, have wild, varied sex, and drink exotic Cosmopolitans. The largely female audience which made the show popular wanted that life. But they mostly didn't live in Manhattan, didn't have the money for designer clothes, and wanted that sex to be with men other than those available. All that and six bucks would get you a Cosmopolitan. See the effects on the cocktail world, as postulated above. With the arrival of the latest installment of the Sex and the City saga in theaters, expect another run on this drink, as well as other means of spicing up marriages. Carrie and Big are apparently getting bored with each other, and such dodges as wearing identical men's tuxedos out for a night on the town don't seem to work. The ladies therefore take the only logical step, which is to jet off to a Muslim nation to ogle men and drink heavily. (?!?!) To paraphrase the movie's trailer, It's like Aladdin? Yes, but with Cosmopolitans. Thus endeth Cosmopolitan, The Book of Vodka. Here are the posts detailing the Four True Gospels of the Cocktail: The Daiquiri, The Book of Rum The Sidecar, The Book of Brandy The Manhattan, The Book of Whiskey The Martini, The Book of Gin abc
Rule 4

Tiki Timeout: A Whole Bucket of WRONG

So I was watching Modern Marvels on the History Channel last night. The Modern Marvel being profiled was Whiskey Overall, it was a cool episode, but there was a two minute segment that had me wanting to nuke the entire network. Forgive me while I step away from Tiki stuff to prosecute one of the worst heresies I've ever witnessed against the Gospel of Whiskey. There was only one drink recipe presented in the entire episode (at least that I saw), and it was of course for the Manhattan. So far, so good. If you are to present only one recipe, that would be it. But they let the rep from Canadian Club do the presenting.... Here's the recipe this chuckle-head gave:
  • 4 parts Canadian Club Canadian whisky
  • 1 part Harvey's Bristol Cream
  • 2 superball maraschino cherries
Pour ingredients into a rocks glass and stir. Garnish with cherries.
I'll pause so you can leap from your seat, just like I did. How awful is this recipe? Let's review: Canadian Club? Are you kidding me? I might be able to forgive this. After all, he's a CC representative, what the hell is he supposed to do, suggest Knob Creek? And I actually made a Manhattan with CC myself over Christmas. My Mother-In-Law made me, so sue me. But it just gets worse from here. Harvey's Freaking Bristol Cream?!? Sherry? Cardinal? Pile some wood around a stake, please.

The producers damn well ought to expect this, in this case!
Where the hell are the bitters? I know there is a shortage on, but if you don't have a couple of dashes on hand, may I suggest a Daiquiri? Make sure there's a lot of oil on that wood, please, guys.... On the rocks? No. Just... no. {This TIki TImeout presented in the spirit of Rule 4, and with a nod to the God of Cocktail Rule 4.}abc
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