Saturday, December 25, 2010

12 Beers of Christmas: Great Lakes Christmas Ale

Ohio beer lovers (especially Clevelanders) always get giddy when November rolls around because that means it's Christmas Ale season. It's kinda ridiculous how much hype this beer gets in the Buckeye State, and this year was no exception. However, to throw a wrinkle in this annual tradition, Great Lakes Brewing Company sent a larger than normal percentage of their seasonal Christmas Ale out of state, leaving a smaller supply here in Ohio.

As I mentioned when I first started this series, I had to check several places before I finally found a shop that had any in stock, and even then sales were limited to 1 per customer. When my review copy was inadvertently consumed by a certain very occasional poster to this blog, I temporarily freaked out, knowing that more Christmas Ale would be hard to come by. My ladyfriend and I were at our local Giant Eagle grocery store when we saw a patron exiting the premises with a sixer of Christmas Ale. We immediately made haste for the beer aisle, only to find out that he had bought the last one. We momentarily considered heading back outside and jumping the poor bastard for his beer. Figured we should probably take his shoes too while we're at it, since there's precedent.

We headed back to the Pace-High carryout, the site of my initial score. Unfortunately, there was no Christmas Ale in the cooler. Dejected but not defeated, I asked the guys there if they were going to get any more in. One of them answered "I can probably spare you a six pack," and headed for the stock room. Our eyes lit up. Upon his return he told us "We're just trying to keep it fair. People are actually selling this stuff on Craigslist."

Whoa. Further research would prove this claim to be true.

So I guess the over-arching goal of the 12 Beers of Christmas is to see if Great Lakes Christmas Ale is really the king of the holiday beers, or if it's just Cleveland pride run amok. After 11 beers of varying strengths and weaknesses, it was finally time to put Great Lakes to the test.

The pour is a coppery amber and crystal clear. The off-white head is thick and persistent. Not only did it have the longest duration of any of the beers I sampled, but it also laced to the glass quite nicely.

The beer gives off a strong aroma of honey and ginger, the latter I'd expect from a winter warmer, but not the former. It's not playing coy: this beer wants you to smell it, and you don't have to try very hard to pinpoint the rich ingredients.

My first sip delivers on the honey and spices, but with a more robust malt character. I get a very nice base of sweet toffee beneath the strong ginger and honey flavors. This is medium bodied with average carbonation. The finish is a really nice caramel sweetness around the malt.

This is an astounding tasting beer that will leave you craving more. You'll have to be careful drinking more than one of these, as the high gravity 7.5% ABV can get you shit-cranked in a hurry. That's what a winter warmer should do, but it does bear precaution.

Overall, I have to say that Great Lakes Christmas Ale is worthy of the hyperbolic accolades bestowed upon it by proud Clevelanders. Several of the beers in this feature have rated very highly (Columbus Winter Warmer, Shiner Holiday Cheer, and Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale in particular), but the Great Lakes edges all of them out. This is one beer truly worth searching for.

Beer Advocate readers: B+
Justin: A

12 Beers of Christmas: Shiner Holiday Cheer and Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale

Texas governor Rick Perry recently said that he'd support his state's secession from the Union and turn Texas back into an independent republic. While this treasonous outlook is cast off as little more than political rhetoric, the idea that some of the Lone Star State's finest products would only be available as "imports" frightens the hell out of me. For one thing, I don't want to have to show a passport just to be able to eat some of the world's best BBQ brisket. For another, if my access to Shiner Bock is cut off, I'll have to drink Michelob Amber Bock, which gives me nasty nightmares and hellacious hangovers.

I'm a big fan of the Spoetzl Brewery, makers of Shiner beers. When choosing my 12 Beers of Christmas, this was a no-brainer. I've never been disappointed by any Shiner product, not even their Smokehaus lager (though it may have been the single strangest beer I've ever tasted). The only disappointing part of this beer, to me, was that I had to wait so long to finally review it.

Shiner Holiday Cheer is based on the Dunkelweizen style - literally a "dark wheat" - but has its own special character. The pour reveals a clear beer with a deep mahogany color, the "dunkel" in "dunkelweizen." It has a tan frothy head with minimal lacing.

One of the first thing that strikes me about this beer is the strong aroma of peaches that it puts off. There are also traces of brown sugar and lightly toasted pecans, but the fruit is the major player here.

The taste follows the aroma as expected with something unique like this. The peach and pecan flavors are dominant, with some Belgian-like wheat notes filling out the body. The sweetness and nuttiness play off each other perfectly, and while there are no obvious hop tastes to speak of, the other flavors are very well balanced.

Holiday Cheer is a crisp drink, medium thin body, with a very pleasant toasted nut finish. I was already craving another one of these before I even finished the first one. At 5.4%, it's not going to kill you to knock a few of these back. I'm sure since it's fruity and without a prevalent hops flavor, a lot of of beer purists are going to knock this. Too bad for them: orthodoxy often leads to killing your enjoyment of anything new. I'll bet Rick Perry still eats hot dogs with ketchup and PBJ sandwiches with the crusts cut off.

Beer Advocate readers: B
Justin: A-

I feel the need to come out and say that I am not a hop-head, not even a little bit. I generally avoid pale ales and IPAs like the plague; I just don't dig on all that bitterness. Don't get me wrong, I've had some wonderful hop-heavy brews, but it's not my cup of tea, er, beer.

That said, I've never really been a huge fan of the Sierra Nevada offerings. Their pale ale is almost a standard in the style and is so popular that you can find it at even the least reputable watering holes. I realize that it is a really good beer, but it's never my first choice, probably not even in my top 50. So when I read the label and it said that Celebration Ale's primary job is to show off the first batch of hops from the growing season, I figured I was in for a tongue punisher.

Celebration Ale pours a coppery amber, and it's cloudy, probably because of it's hop concentration. It's got a thick off-white head that laces to the glass and doesn't let go.

Not surprisingly, the aroma is primarily hops. I get a lot of grapefruit and a little bit of pine. I don't necessarily associate grapefruit with a winter beer, but I'm keeping an open mind on this one.

The taste is a surprise. Yes, it's very hoppy, as an American IPA should be, but it's luscious. Strong hop bitterness, but rounded out by a citrus sweetness complimented by earthiness and florals. It's got a medium body with crisp effervescence. The finish is hoppy dryness, another IPA trademark.

Even with my general avoidance of hoppy beers, the Celebration Ale really impressed me. It's well-rounded character was a pleasant surprise after the aroma led me to believe this was going to bruise my taste buds. This beer is getting high praise and it definitely deserves it.

Beer Advocate readers: A-
Justin: A-

Thursday, December 23, 2010

12BoC: Goose Island Mild Winter, Harpoon Winter Warmer & Magic Hat Howl

Hey, it's Christmas time; a guy's gotta do his shopping sometime, right? Sorry to have left you sans beer reviews. Here's a tripleheader to get us caught up.

I used to have a bunch of friends in Chicago, since the stylish thing to do after college was to move to the Windy City. Most of them have given up on Chicago, but I've inherited quite a few new friends due to my impending nuptials. My old friends and my new friends are quite disparate groups, but they all have one thing in common: they like drinkin', and Goose Island is a pretty impressive Chicago brewery.

I've been known to knock back their 312 wheat ale, the Summertime kölsch, and even their IPA when I'm feeling masochistic. I have to admit, though, that the Mild Winter was not in my original review queue. I only picked it up after the project started, but I was pretty impressed by this and I was tired of writing bad reviews of beers, so I bumped a beer which shall not be named and never looked back.

Goose Island classifies the Mild Winter as an American Mild Ale, but it could just as easily be called a Rye Beer. It pours out a deep rich brown with a frothy, bubbly, off-white head that laces itself to the glass. It doesn't have a very strong aroma, some caramel malts and a slight whiff of dark fruit. On the surface, not altogether impressive, but looks (and smells) can be deceiving.

Upon first sip, I thought maybe I was drinking a coffee stout. Coffee and roasted malts dominate here, with a healthy amount of rye and cinnamon, though not overpowering. It's got a very pleasant sweetness to it, and at times a little bit of candied apple poke through. Really nice, unique balance of flavors: rye has a tendency to want to dominate a drink, which makes this even more impressive.

The aftertaste is primarily malty sweetness, but not too intense. This is very drinkable, and at 5.6% ABV, not likely to put you on your ass without a concerted effort. Like I mentioned from the outset, this was a really good brew that wormed its way into the 12 Beers through sheer merit. Kudos to Goose Island and here's to wishing a Mild Winter upon my Chicago pals.

Beer Advocate readers: B+
Justin: B+

A couple of days ago while reviewing the Flying Dog K-9 Cruiser, I wished to Santa Claus that some of these Christmas beers would either be objectively exceptional, or at the very least flame out trying to do something unique. Harpoon answered my call, putting forward a polarizing Winter Warmer that would make grading this beer very difficult.

I have to admit, I have never had a single beer from the Harpoon Brewery, a Boston institution since 1986. This being my first, I'm interested to try their other varieties because if they go all out with those like they do with the Winter Warmer, I'd imagine they're worth a shot.

Pouring this out, you get this beautiful reddish copper color. It's crystal clear with some visible effervescence, and the creamy off-white head is just icing on the cake. Or should I say pie?

You can't miss the aroma of this beer, as it assaults your olfactory nerves with an onslaught of spice - cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger - it really does smell like a pumpkin pie, minus the pumpkin, of course.

The first sip surprised the hell out of me. I knew I was going to get a fair amount of spice, but this beer tastes like it was stirred with a candy cane. Very sweet with a blast of cinnamon and nutmeg. It's very crisp despite its sweetness, thanks in part to the juniper-esque hops used to balance the malts and spice. The slight hoppy finish is enticement enough to find the bottom of the glass and then refill it.

This beer is not for everyone. It is a textbook winter warmer: heavily spiced, though a little on the light side at 5.8% ABV. A lot of people are going to be turned off by this as it doesn't have much of a hop or malt character. I, on the other hand, really enjoyed this and wouldn't hesitate to pick up another sixer to get me through the rest of this holiday season.

Beer Advocate readers: C+
Justin: B+

On Monday night, instead of reviewing Christmas beers, I was getting soused on Magic Hat #9 with my ex-bandmates, The Kyle Sowashes. Ever since Columbus Brewing Company discontinued their Apricot Ale, #9 has been my go to when I get a hankering for apricot beer.

Aside: this peculiar palette demand was opened up by drinking Rolling Rock when I was in college. My dad always swore that Rolling Rock was about a step and a half below piss, and while I acknowledge that it's not a high-class affair, I'll defend my consumption on the grounds that it was what I could routinely get for free or cheap that wasn't Natty Light. Also, my dad drinks Milwaukee's Best Light. 'Nuff said.

Anyway, I'm generally amenable to Magic Hat brews - their summer Wacko was a big hit for me - so I figured this beer would do OK by me. The Howl, marketed as a "black-as-night winter lager," started off by at least living up to its description. It is incredibly dark, though not as dense and opaque as the Anchor offering, which was virtually impenetrable to light. The bubbly beige head has a little bit of lacing against the glass.

Now, this is a lager, so I wasn't expecting a knockout aroma, but I also wasn't expecting it to be as subdued as it is. I have to strain to get the faintest whiff of smoky malt and maybe a hint of black licorice. Weird, but acceptable from a brewery that regularly churns out "Odd Notion" beers.

Howl is another very roasty brew, kinda like the Goose Island above, but not as well balanced. The roasted malts play with the bitter hops to produce some unholy amalgamation of toffee and charcoal. It's a pretty thin beer, as lagers generally are, and it drinks more carbonated than it looks.

Here's the real downer: the I get that black licorice back in the aftertaste, but it's laden with ash and rancidity. I've pretty much got to force this one down, and I am not compelled to drink another one. In fact, I pretty much just want to wash my mouth out. This beer might be appealing to somebody (judging by the BeerAdvocate ratings, more than I can imagine), but I will never put this in my taste hole ever again. I'll keep it out of the "avoid" range if only for the fact that it's still better than Beast Light.

Beer Advocate readers: B
Justin: C-

Monday, December 20, 2010

12 Beers of Christmas: Flying Dog K-9 Cruiser Winter Ale

OK, I'm kinda getting sick of these Christmas beers. Really, who's great idea was this anyway? The reviews almost write themselves at this point: "malty, spiced, strong, 'B.'" I'd really like more of these beers to excel (like the Columbus offering) or at least flame out spectacularly trying to do something different (like the Anchor).

I had some hopes for the Flying Dog entry in to the holiday fray: a strong English ale called "K-9 Cruiser." A brewery that has built its marketing around being "out there" - they're big fans of Hunter S. Thompson - should be able to make this a remarkable beer.

Think again.

I could probably cut and paste the review for the Columbus Winter Warmer, then take out everything that I enjoyed about it and have an adequate review of the K-9 Cruiser. Starting with the pour, we get a rich reddish-amber with no cloudiness. The head is impressive, a light creamy color that leaves very good lacing despite its quick dissipation.

The aroma doesn't jump out at you. It's a repressed mixture of malt, cinnamon and copper that doesn't really make me want to drink it. It certainly doesn't make me want to smell it.

Like the Columbus beer, the hops are the star of the show here, but not in a pleasurable way. You get the blast of piney hops with a little bit of light roasted malt and some well hidden spice notes that are blasted away by the hops. Don't get me wrong, we're not talking IPA-level bitterness here, but it's turning me off as far as winter beers are concerned.

It feels a tad thicker than previous offerings and isn't heavily carbonated. Still at a strong 7.4% and with this much bitterness, it's not the most drinkable beer I've tasted in this experiment, which leaves me wondering if it has any real redeeming qualities. I guess if I were a bigger hops fan and this didn't advertise itself as a winter ale, I might like it. However, as is I've gotta put this K-9 to sleep.

Beer Advocate readers: B-
Justin: C

Saturday, December 18, 2010

12 Beers of Christmas: Columbus Winter Warmer

As much as people around these parts clamor for the Great Lakes Christmas Ale, you'd think nobody in this town brewed anything worthwhile. Enter the Columbus Brewing Company. I've been a fan of most everything this brewery produces, but especially the Scottish Ale (formerly known as the 90 Schilling Ale), the Summerteeth seasonal, and the recently discontinued Apricot Ale. So, when I got a chance to pick up their Winter Warmer, I jumped at the opportunity.

This one would not disappoint, and after my experience with two of the beers in this project (the Bell's and Brooklyn offerings), I needed something to come through and wow me. This is a true winter warmer, clocking in at a heavy 6.8% ABV.

The pour is nothing special: a reddish-amber color with some slight cloudiness. The thin, white head was somewhat disappointing, but would prove to be the only real low point of this beer.

The preliminary smell test reveals a robust aroma of pine, ginger, cinnamon, and lighter notes of berries and caramel malt. Definitely smells like a winter warmer should.

The initial sip gives me a hoppy hit, the first of these beers to do so. Most of these winter seasonals have been all about the malt, but the Columbus Winter Warmer gives a great first impression with hops reminiscent of juniper mingling with the heavy presence of ginger and cinnamon. There's a really pleasurable caramel malt body here that serves as a base for the spice and hops, rather than overpowering you with sweetness. Really nicely done.

It's got a pretty thin texture, not heavily carbonated but still feels crisp. Since the hops are the main player here, I'm not surprised that I get a slight dry, hoppy finish. This is one that I could knock back a few pints of on a cold, Columbus night. Matter of fact, I think I may already have accomplished that particular mission.

CBC really hits a home run with their Winter Warmer, and I'm not just saying that as hometowner. This is more than worth a try and gives the highly vaunted Great Lakes varietal a serious run for its money.

Beer Advocate readers: B+
Justin: A-

12 Beers of Christmas: Brooklyn Winter Ale

There aren't many things in Brooklyn that are genuine (obvious link to Look At This Fucking Hipster here), but the Brooklyn Brewery is one of them. From the heart of Williamsburg comes an unpretentious brewery that got to where it is through hard work and offering something of substance. Weird, right?

Brooklyn Winter Ale - much like the Bell's Christmas Ale - eschews the trappings of the Christmas/Winter beer varietal. No additional spices, fruits, etc.: this beer is a traditional Scottish ale, envisioned to be a tasty companion to a long winter. I guess I just don't understand this trend of creating something and pretending it's something else. Then again, I'm not from Brooklyn.

The Winter Ale is a deep reddish amber, clear but with heavy visible carbonation. The light beige head is very thin and dissipates quickly.

It doesn't do much for the nose: some caramel malt aroma with a slight undertone of pine from the Willamette hops.

The taste follows the aroma with caramel malts being the key player. Very strong and complex malt character, just like a Scottish should. There is one flavor note in this that cuts through the malts: iron. Like blood. Gross.

It's got a smooth body and the initial effervescence dies down after a sits a minute (as evidenced by the rapid dissipation of the head) which makes it quite drinkable. The aftertaste, thankfully, is slight, made up mostly of sugary malt sweetness.

It's really too bad that the one metallic note ruins this whole beer because I really enjoyed most everything else about it. But, like Brooklyn itself, it only takes one bad element to tarnish the entire beer's reputation.

Beer Advocate readers: B
Justin: C

Thursday, December 16, 2010

12 Beers of Christmas: Bell's and Breckenridge Christmas Ales

Sorry I missed you guys yesterday. As it turns out, committing to do something every day requires, um, commitment. I'm making up for it today with a double dose of holiday hops.

Ah, Bell's. Creator of the famous Two-Hearted Ale, the highly demanded Hopslam seasonal, and the Oberon wheat ale (one of my summer favorites.) The brewer's reputation is beyond reproach, so was I ever surprised when I tasted this bland, boring, run-of-the-mill "Christmas Ale." In quotes, you see, because this is not really a Christmas ale or winter warmer at all: it's essentially an amber ale, which is strange since Bell's already has an Amber Ale.

According to the brewer's statement, Bell's set out to create a beer that "would stand apart from the array of spiced winter warmers that are typically introduced this time of year." No spices, no outlandish flavors, just Michigan-grown barley and hops. Am I the only person who thinks that it's a cop-out to call this a Christmas ale? If I had known what Bell's was shooting for, I would've left this one on the shelf.

As you can see in the photo, this beer is a rich amber color and a little cloudy. The head is off-white and medium thick. You can see the effervescent build-up on the side of the glass. The appearance of this beer would turn out to be the high point.

Holding the glass up to my nose, I get... nothing. OK, maybe not nothing, but not what I would expect from a Bell's product. Very slight hop aroma and a little bit of copper. Metallic. Mmm, totally makes my mouth water.

Now that I'm all warmed up to this, let's take a sip. Part of the mission here was to make this drinkable (a "session" beer), and at least that part was accomplished. At 5.5% ABV, I could probably take down quite a few of these. It drinks easily: subtle flavors of hops, citrus peel, and a hint of granny smith apple make it palatable, but the intense carbonation distracts, even detracts, from the taste.

Not much of an aftertaste - hops and a touch of leather - nothing that would cut into this beer's precious drinkability. It's too bad that all I'll remember about Bell's Christmas Ale is how many of them I'll drink in a row. Or not.

Beer Advocate readers: B
Justin: C

Two years ago I spent a week in Denver for the Democratic Convention. I don't remember many details from that week, primarily because a great percentage of Colorado breweries are phenomenal. New Belgium, Left Hand, Great Divide, Boulder Beer Company, Avery: these are no lightweights. Beer is a big, big deal in this state. As if to prove it, the governor-elect John Hickenlooper is the founder of Wynkoop Brewing Company, Colorado's first brewpub.

Breckenridge may not have the national profile or the celebrity factor, but they make some fine brews. I remember downing some of their Avalanche Ale during my time in Denver, a nice cold amber ale that washed away those hot August days. Yes, I was drinking in the daytime.

The Christmas Ale is Breckenridge's only winter seasonal, available in November and December. The brewers call it an "American strong ale" and it is strong at 7.4% ABV. Despite their self-classification, this is a pretty traditional winter warmer and not a bad one at that.

The pour reveals a beautiful, deep mahogany color. This beer is as clear as the mountain stream water used to brew it. What, they just use Denver tap water? Um, ok. The head was a complementary beige and somewhat thin. Just a gorgeous looking beer.

The malty nose was fainter than I expected, with hints of blackberries and mild spice. The taste followed the aroma, but with more robust caramel malts and spiciness, maybe even a little bit of red licorice. Its relatively thin mouthfeel and light carbonation make this an easy one to drink. Just remember this one's packing a punch, cowboy.

It leaves a very slight sugary aftertaste, and I really wish that this aftertaste is what I had gotten from the Anchor Christmas Ale I reviewed on Day 1. If that beer had this aftertaste, it would've been an "A-," maybe even an "A." Of course, if the Breckenridge had anywhere near the flavor profile of the Anchor, it would rate higher. And those guys at Breckenridge would be rich and up to their butts in medals.

Overall, this is a pretty good entry, but lacks a real standout flavor to carry it up to the next level.

Beer Advocate readers: B-
Justin: B

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The 12 Beers of Christmas: Anchor Christmas Ale

My ladyfriend had been jonesing for the 2010 version of Great Lakes Brewing's Christmas Ale, and as any good man should, I scoured the city in search of this 4-time gold medal winner. I had heard that it was in high demand and short supply this year, but I didn't believe it until I struck out a handful of times trying to find it. I finally descended upon one of my favorite Columbus specialty booze retailers, Pace-High Carryout, where the victorious glow of Great Lakes Christmas Ale was eclipsed by a hand-scrawled note on the cooler door: "One 6-pack per customer." Since I couldn't stock up, I took advantage of Pace-High's charming "build-your-own-six-pack" cooler and cobbled together a variety of Christmas beers, winter warmers, and other year-end brews.


I will review one holiday beer every day through Christmas Day, starting with this venerable tradition from the Anchor Brewing Company.

Anchor's Christmas Ale (formerly known as "Our Special Ale") is a standard-bearer of the Christmas beer variety. 2010 marks the 36th brewing of Christmas Ale, with the recipe changing annually. Anchor changes the tree that adorns the label every year as well; according to this brew's marketing materials "Since ancient times, trees have symbolized the winter solstice when the earth, with its seasons, appears born anew." This year's tree is the ginkgo biloba, which may be fitting: this beer comes highly touted, but its merits are questionable when compared to the hype.

As you can see from the photo above, this beer is dark, something similar to an American brown ale as far as color, body and malt complexities go. Held to light, it doesn't appear very cloudy, but it's so damn dark that it's hard to tell. The head is a light tan and relatively thin: it dissipated while I was grabbing my notebook to jot down my observations.

This beer emits a strong aroma of dark fruits - especially cranberries and tart cherries - that dance within roasted malts and nutmeg. This just smells like a Christmas beer should, and it seems like it would be a perfect compliment to a well-brined roasted turkey or goose.

I take my first sip and it hits me like a tannin-rich red wine: sweet and bold, but with a sharp nuttiness. The fruit flavors take the lead, complemented by roasted malt undertones.

Seeing a beer this dark, I expected it to have a porter-like texture, but it's thinner and more delicate. Still, very smooth with little carbonation, almost velvety if it weren't so thin.

Unfortunately, after the bold, fruity body, you're left with a dry, bitter, almost medicinal aftertaste of roasted malt and citrus peel. A real disappointment since I was so impressed with this beer until the very end.

Beer Advocate readers give this an "A-" based on 163 reviews.
Justin gives Anchor Christmas Ale a solid "B."

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The C^6 or: ConstantCommentChocolateChocolateChipCookies

A coworker recently suggested that we have a holiday cookie exchange at work this week. Always game for some baking I said I'd participate, but what to bring? I flipped through some recipes I had saved on my computer, but nothings sounded that amazing. I mean they're all good picks, but I'd made them all before and I try my best to not repeat a performance in the kitchen, regardless of the projects success of failure. There are just to damn many recipes in the world to shackle myself to one or two for all of eternity. So I was thinking about flavors and Googling random combinations of words when it hit me.

I suddenly recalled a few weeks prior when I'd been snacking on some chocolates and a cup of Earl Grey tea. While certainly no stranger to the delightful combination of citrus and chocolate I was struck by how exceptionally delicious this particular mixture was. For the rest of the day and maybe the day after I pondered further applications of these flavors. Earl Grey Hot Coco? Earl Grey Chocolate Cake? But was ultimately stymied in pursuing these ventures by my lack of Bergamont oil, the cornerstone of Earl Grey subtle yet sumptuous flavor. Not yet foiled I began to consider other similar combinations. Didn't Constant Comment also feature a bold citrus note? Did it not also feature a melange of spices that sang alto and tenor to the orange-y high soprano? And wouldn't a rich, booming, chocolaty bass note round out this gastronomic barbershop quartet?

With the idea in place I began to piece together the puzzle of this recipe. It would be a chocolate chocolate-chip cookie for sure, light on the chips, with the spicy, orange zing of Constant Comment hidden within. The cookie part was easy, a simple variation on basic cookie recipes, but unlocking the secrets to the spices would prove to be harder.

Consulting the side of the box and the Bigelow website was about as helpful as asking the Colonel for help in decoding the secret to chicken seasoning, or Mr. A-Cola for the secret to his coke recipe. "Black tea, orange, spices" were all the help they were going to give. I started to scour the Internet for hints or ideas as to what spices should be employed and more importantly in what proportions.

Any drinker of Constant Comment will note that the spices, while bold and assertive, never dominate the flavor of orange and tea, it's a very delicate balance that has been struck but the Bigelows are traipsing that tight rope with ease. My concern was both over and under spicing the cookies. Too much and the cookies would be ruined. Too little and, well, what was the point of digging through the spice cabinet?

Eventually I'd found a few recipes in which people had attempted to channel the flavor of Constant Comment into assorted pastries, primarily cakes. While the amounts and formulations for a cake batter and cookie dough would surely be different, the consensus amongst internet bakers and tea aficionados was that cinnamon and clove where the important flavors in CC, but how much was an entirely different story. Checking the recipes for a number of spice cookie recipes I soon noticed a trend in spice ratios. Specifically checking the cinnamon-to-clove rates it seemed that for every teaspoon of cinnamon being used there was usually about a quarter teaspoon of clove for a comparably sized recipe--that is to say 3 cups flour, 2 sticks butter, and sugars in a pair, tree. The only other component to quantify was the orange. What was the best way to get orange flavor into a cookie? My first thought was liquid orange extract with a boost from real orange zest. My shopping excursion failed to yield any such elixir, but from various web recipes I was able to determine that truly orange-y cookies required an orange's worth of zest or so. But the big, bad bass in these cookies was going to be brash and robust so timid little orange was going to need help making its voice heard along with all the other voices. I invited a friend along for the ride.

With all the players in place I set out to create my cookies, but would they turn out? Were this going to sing with the angels on high or would the be, "kinda pitchy, dawg"? I would soon see.

When I finally hit the kitchen, iPod ready to rock, this is the recipe I was packing:

• 2¼ cup flour
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• ½ cup unsweetened cocoa
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon
• ¼ teaspoon cloves
• 2 sticks butter, softened
• 1 cup granulated sugar
• 1 cup brown sugar, packed
• 2 large eggs
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• Zest of 2 medium/large oranges
• ½ bag dark chocolate chips

• Preheat oven to 375
• Sift together flour, salt, baking soda, cocoa, and spices
• In the work bowl of a blender cream together granulated sugar and butter until light an fluffy
• Add brown sugar and continue to cream
• Once butter and sugars are well combined add the eggs one at a time followed by the vanilla
• Add orange zest and mix
• Gradually mix the flour mixture into the butter/sugar mix
• Once all ingredients are thoroughly combined stir in chocolate chips
• Drop by the tablespoonful onto parchment lined sheets
• Bake on center rack of oven for 10-12 minutes or until edges are slightly darkened and just set
• Allow to rest on pan for a minute before transferring to wire cooling racks

If the smell of the dough and the baking cookies were reasonable indicators, as so often they are, then I felt for sure I was on to something. And when the first sheet emerged from the oven and had cooled enough for consumption I was more than pleased with what I had wrought. One of the most interesting things that occurred during the prep, cooking, and eating of these beauties, though, was the dominance of the spices in the dough and the emergence of the orange in the finished product. Smelling and sampling some uncooked dough I was pleased by the spiciness. Cinnamon's tenor and clove's alto were harmonizing beautifully while chocolate did it's best Barry White, but sweet little orange, while on stage and belting its lungs out, seemed to have a bum mic. However, following an intermission in the oven and a second act on the cooling rack orange found its voice, dueling with chocolate for vocal supremacy while relegating the spice twins to the status of the Pips, Vandellas, or Miracles. No less important, just less recognizable

In closing I offer these variations for future applications of this recipe. Enjoy!

• Try using orange extract in lieu of vanilla for a stronger orange flavor
• Try using 1½ teaspoon of cinnamon and ½ teaspoon of clove for a more intense spiciness
• Try cocoa nibs instead of dark chocolate chips for a more bitter/sweet taste, 4-6oz should do

Friday, November 26, 2010

The First Blanksbliving

Nick, Laura, and myself (otherwise known as “Blick,” “Blaura,” and “Blon”) recently celebrated the newly anointed holiday of Blanksbliving. A prelude to, or perhaps warm up for, Thanksgiving, Blanksbliving is an autumnal feast that celebrates gluttony, drunkenness, bowling, ice cream, and fine cinema. Blanksbliving should be observed the Monday prior to Thanksgiving. Here’s a look at the very first Blanksbliving.

The Bowling of the Ball Towards the Pins:
Almost every holiday comes with some sort of traditional activity, usually in conjunction with binge drinking, although in the case of New Year’s Eve and St. Patrick’s Day excessive alcohol consumption is the traditional activity. The Forth of July, for example, celebrates our country’s independence by blowing up small portions of it. Christmas has gift giving and religious lip service. Halloween has become national Show-Your-Slutty-Side day. Traditional Thanksgiving has Turkey Trots and football. Blanksbliving is no exception. On Blanksbliving we honor our forefathers’ struggles against small wooden objects by bowling heavy objects at them in an attempt to knock as many over as possible. Blick, Blaura, and I paid our respects at Capri Lanes where we each earned a variety of holiday commendations. Blick for fastest bowl and highest single game score, Blaura for most improved bowling and most Skee-Ball played, I for most wins and highest overall score. We gave blanks to all those who fell to the pins in the past by felling several hundred in return.

The Appetizing of the Feasters by Pizza:
The Feast can only begin after Feasters have indulged in an appetite stimulating pizza mini-feast. The first Feast’s pizza and cheese bread appetizers were delivered by Donato’s.

The Preparation of the Feast of Feasts by the Feasters:
Having worked up an appetite on the lanes we made a few stops for extra provisions before heading home to prepare the Feast of Feasts. Butter, gravy, alcohol, and more ice cream were on the shopping list, all staples of the Feast, as well as cutlery. For like so many before us we were without knives with which to prepare our meal. With everything properly assembled it was time to begin the prep. Blick began the Baking of the Brownies while I boiled water for the Mashing of the Potatoes. I must admit that I was nervous as this would be my first Mashing of the Potatoes but I was confident that my Blankfulness would carry me through. And it did!

With the two most time consuming portions of The Feast completed we began phase two of the cooking with Blaura’s Stirring of the Stove-Top stuffing and Blick’s Frying of the Bacon.

The feast was nearly complete, all that was left was the Heating of the Gravy and the Frying of the Turkey Dogs in Bacon Grease, perhaps the shortest cook times of any of the components of The Feast, these portions are just as important and significant to the feast as any other. Let not their short investments of time belie or belittle their importance.

The Heaping of the Plates:
With all the elements of The Feast in place Blick, Blaura, and I assembled our mighty food piles on the decorative Plates of the Feast. While the base foods of The Feast are universal, their arrangements are as individual as the Feasters.

The Drinking of the Booze:
With so much food to consume during The Feast, Feasters need a refreshing and seasonally appropriate draught to quench their deep down body thirst. While beers, both root and regular, would be fine libations, the drink of the First Blanksbliving was then and will forever be the Blank Blilliams. Comprised of Wild Turkey 101 and apple cider the Blank Blilliams refreshes the palate and esophagus while enlightening the brain, liver, and Q-Zone.

Just Desserts and Other Happy Endings:
A great and glorious feast such as this must surely end with a sweet coda. To this end we amassed an unrivaled stock pile of frozen treats. The First Blanksbliving Dessert Feast consisted of: But other personal choices can certainly be opted in assuming they are indeed Blanksworthy and delightfully silly.

The Viewing of the Movies:
Once the Feasters have finished at least one helping of the feast movies are viewed to stimulate the digestive process. Cheese-ball 80’s jiggle-fests and cult sci-fi flicks are the recommended course of action, but any exceedingly entertaining fare is fine so long as it promotes heckling or the recitation of the movie’s dialogue by the Feasters and further drinking and/or eating.

We certainly enjoyed the first ever Blanksbliving, we hope you can join us next year. If you are not able to for some reason, please celebrate in your own way and share the experience with the rest of us here on the blinternet.

Blappy Blanksbliving, Bleveryone!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Pozole (to be sung to the tune of "Volare")

I know, I know, you're thinking: "Man, I've been nixtamalizing corn all summer and fall, what am I going to do with all this hominy? Everyone I know is so sick of grits." I've got one word for you...


Traditional Mexican pork, hominy and chile stew. The pre-conquistador Aztec version used fresh human meat. Spanish priests switched it to pork because it apparently tastes very similar. You may want to leave that detail out until after everybody eats.

Here's a recipe I lifted and adapted from this random guy on the internet. His version seemed too heavy on the hominy for my taste. I do agree that the Hatch green chiles are the way to go here. They are hard to find, but worth it if you can get 'em. This is super easy to make. Sorry for the lack of pictures to prove it.

2-29 oz. cans white hominy
4-5 pounds pork tenderloin (cut into small chunks)
1 large yellow onion (finely chopped)
16 oz. green chiles, heat level at your discretion - NOTE: Don't sub jalapenos! Trust me.
1 tablespoon minced/chopped/pressed garlic
2 oz. menudo spice mix or chili powder
1 teaspoon dry oregano
salt (lots)
pepper (lots)
olive oil

In a large stock pot (the ingredients above will yield about 6 quarts) combine the hominy, chopped onions, garlic, oregano and green chile. Cover the ingredients with water, then add a little more. Add a lot of salt and pepper. I mean, A LOT. Put in what you think is too much, then add some more; it'll need it. Boil the mixture while you prepare the meat.

Heat some olive oil in a frying pan and brown the pork slowly. It doesn't have to be cooked entirely through, just sear the outside. Add a reasonable amount of salt and pepper here. You may have to do this in batches: 4-5 pounds of pork cubes don't conveniently fit in one frying pan.

Once the pork is browned, stir it into the stock pot with the other ingredients. Once it starts boiling again, turn down the heat and let it simmer for 15 minutes. Stir, then bring to a boil again. Reduce heat, stir and allow this to simmer for about six hours, stirring about every 30 minutes to keep the bottom from burning. About half way through, add salt and pepper to taste.

For best results, ladle the finished pozole into smaller containers and put it in the refrigerator overnight. Reheat and serve with grated cheese and yellow corn tortillas/tortilla chips.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Unfortunate Muffin

Not my photo, but I saw these obscene pumpkin spice muffins at Tim Horton's this morning.

Caption contest in comments. GO!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

If You're Playing With Fryer, You're Going To Get Burned

Our readers around the world may not be familiar with the gastro-economic phenomenon of the $4 supermarket rotisserie chicken. What a blessed life I live, that I can gather up the change under the passenger seat of my 1998 Ford Escort and buy an entire fucking chicken. I mean, this is third world price, people! What has America come to? I blame Obama...

Wait, wait, wait. Wait.


If Obama was really responsible for $4 rotisserie chickens, the Democrats wouldn't have lost control of the House of Representatives. Everybody loves rotisserie chicken. Even you vegans secretly love rotisserie chicken - feel free to admit that in the comments section below.

What blows my mind is that I can buy a fully cooked chicken at the supermarket for less than a raw chicken. How is that possible? Cooks cost money. Fire costs money. Those little plastic bags (or trays) that the rotisserie chickens come in cost money. Unless these chickens are being roasted through a charitable donation from the Chubb Group, this goes against basic economics, which means that rotisserie chickens are inherently Communist.

So I bought one. Then I ate half of it. The next day, I had to come up with something to do with the other half. I didn't feel like just eating it off the bone again, so I decided to get creative. How about some BBQ chicken sliders?

First thing's first, gotta pull that chicken apart. A couple of strategic cuts separate the wing, leg and thigh from the rest of the chicken and a skilled blade liberates the breast meat from the carcass. I like to get my hands dirty (or rather, greasy), so I shred the breast meat by hand before chopping up the dark meat. If you decide to try this with the chicken still hot, you're dumb. Let it cool down or you'll burn your hands.

Next, make some sauce. I had some leftover chipotle peppers from a recent batch of chili, so I decided to make a maple chipotle BBQ sauce. This was super easy:

  • 1 cup of ketchup
  • 1 small can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (chop the peppers up very fine)
  • 1/4 cup of maple syrup
  • a splash of apple cider vinegar
  • a splash of worcestershire sauce
  • 1 clove of roasted or sauteed garlic (finely chopped)
  • a liberal dash of onion powder
  • a conservative dash of celery salt
  • an independent dash of black pepper
Let that all simmer in a saucepan for about 15-20 minutes. It'll be spicy, but the maple syrup will give you a nice sweet balance. Add the pulled chicken and bring it all up to safe temperature.

Hmm, what's going to go well with a BBQ chicken sandwich? How about some seasoned potato wedges? But I don't have a deep fryer in my kitchen! No problem, because I'm smart. First, let's cut some potatoes into wedges. I did 4 potatoes, which was way too many...

I could just fry these as-is and they'd probably turn out OK, but if I'm going to create a makeshift deep fryer in my house, then I'm going to go all out here. That means breading and seasoning these little bastards. I went with a traditional three-step breading process: flour, egg/milk wash, seasoning blend. My seasonings were a 60/40 mix of flour and Italian bread crumbs, plus dried parsley, onion powder, garlic powder, sea salt and black pepper. I also had someone with lovelier hands than mine pop them through the stations while I tended to the danger grease.

OK, all joking aside: don't try this at home unless you know what you're doing. Delicious potato wedges are not worth the risk of starting a grease fire and burning your home to a crisp. If you are going to try this without an actually deep fryer (or FryDaddy), you need the following:
  • A deep pot (I used a small stock pot)
  • A metal scoop with either a wire mesh or slots to allow grease to pass through (DO NOT USE PLASTIC, DUMMY)
  • A bin to put the cooked food into
  • An oil thermometer (this is really, really important)
  • An oil with a high smoke point like peanut oil
Put about an inch-and-a-half of oil in the pot and turn on the heat. Mount the oil thermometer on the pot so that the probe end is in the oil (without touching the bottom of the pot). You're looking for an oil temperature of 350 degrees, which if you have a good stove and a good pot, you'll get to pretty quickly. Pay close attention to the oil temperature: too low and your food won't cook correctly, too hot and it will start to smoke, which will make your food taste bad.

Cook your wedges about 8-10 at a time. You don't want to overload the fryer because you won't get oil coverage over all the wedges. Use the scoop to grab the uncooked wedges and dip them in the oil. DO NOT DROP THEM IN, OR THE OIL WILL SPLATTER AND YOU WILL GET BURNT! If your wedges are thin enough, you probably only need to cook them between 60-90 seconds to get them golden brown and crunchy on the outside and fully cooked on the inside. Use the scoop to carefully remove the wedges from the fryer and put them in the bin. Sprinkle some salt on those immediately after taking them out of the fryer: potatoes accept seasoning more readily when hot. Repeat these small batches until the oil gets "dirty." If you're making a lot, you may have to strain or change the oil.

NEVER, EVER PUT FROZEN OR WET FOOD INTO HOT GREASE! IT WILL SPLATTER AND YOU WILL GET FUCKED UP! You probably should have a fire extinguisher nearby, because seriously, dude, I do not trust you.

Before I started, I turned my oven on to 350 degrees because I thought I might have to keep the wedges warm and I knew I would have to toast my slider buns. Once I had fried all the wedges, I threw them in the oven for about 4-5 minutes while I toasted the buns. Once the buns were done, it was all over but the plating.

This is the part where we put in the disclaimer about not being responsible for your loss of skin, property or life because you were a careless fuckhead. Seriously, go buy a FryDaddy or just let somebody else deep fry your food for you. Or don't deep fry anything at all, because you may not have heard, but it's not healthy at all...

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Bucket List

I was just alerted to this fantastic article recently run in Poor Taste magazine by sometimes WWEIL contributor and generally excellent dude, Erik Pepple. "The 100 Hundred Greatest Cult Restaurants in America" is an epic list--and not so subtle challenge to the gastronomically inclined--that scours our great nation in search of those joints that elicit fervent devotion and violent salivation from their customers.

Personally I would've liked to have seen Cleveland Heights classic-cum-crunchy diner, Tommy's on the list, as well as Columbus' Jenni's Splendid Ice Creams

Check out the article and see what Poor Taste has to say. See how many you've knocked out on your travels, and plot a new course to gastronomic enlightenment.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Fast, Delicious Fish Tacos!

Hungry and in need of some quick, tasty, and healthy eats a few nights back, Nicole and I made a quick trip to Dave’s for vittles. It had been predetermined that tacos were our course of action, but the kind of taco had yet to be decided. Unfortunately Dave’s at Cedar and Fairmount doesn’t carry the box of fake taco meat that we really enjoy (especially if you cook the “meat” with beeraritas instead of water!) so we decided on fish tacos instead.

Picking out fish for fish tacos is a tricky feat. On the one hand you want the tacos to taste awesome and that starts with some good fish. On the other hand blowing a bunch of dough on fancy cuts of designer fish is stupid if you’re just going to top the tacos with sour cream, onion, cilantro, hot sauce, etc. A nice middle of the road, mild white fish is ideal for these applications, and really these alone. The tilapia prices were a tad high at Dave’s that night, and I’ve never heard of basa (and after reading this, maybe I’m glad we chose otherwise) so we got a pound of catfish nuggets. Catfish has a clean, mild fishy taste, ideal for lots of cooking applications and it is possible to farm raise cat fish in ways that are both economically and environmentally sound. Catfish nuggets seem to be the ends of fillets and other cuts, not the prettiest pieces of fish I’ve ever seen (there were some free guts attached to ours!) but they would end up working nicely.

Our plan was to cut the fish into little bite sized pieces and pan fry them before they met tortilla. In order to impart some flavor and texture to them before they hit the pan I dredged them in cornmeal and chili powder with a little salt and pepper mixed in. I fried them for about a minute on each side in about an eighth of an inch of vegetable oil. In a medium frying pan this took about three batches to get through all the fish. As each batch finished I let them drain on paper towels and hit them with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. To dress our tacos I finely chopped some onion and cilantro while Nicole made a creama out of sour cream, lime, and cilantro by pureeing the three in a bowl with a stick blender.

While all this other cooking was going on we had a black bean side dish simmering on another burner. While there is no defined recipe, this bean dish is something we’ve been tinkering with for a while now. The only real set ingredients are beans, beer, salt, and pepper. To make this we start by draining and rinsing a can of black beans. The beans go into a small sauce pan with a bout 4oz of beer, nothing fancy, usually PBR. The beans then get seasoned with salt and pepper. Since our cooking usually veers towards Mexican a few healthy dashes of Mexican spices go into the beans with some big splashes of hot sauce—Valentina or garlic Cholula—and a good squeeze of lime. If it’s around and/or we remember a clove of garlic is usually crushed and stirred in. Onions are optional before, during, after, or not at all. Cook this all together, stirring occasionally, until the beans soften slightly and most of the beer has cooked away. These are excellent already but can be dressed with hot sauce, sour cream, cilantro, onion, lime or any combination of the above.

Once all the fish was cooked and the beans were ready we lightly sautéed tortillas in a small frying pan with a few drops of olive oil to give them a little color and flavor as well as taking the chill of the refrigerator off; a pinch of salt on the tortillas while the oil is still hot is a nice finishing touch. If you’re disinclined towards this method you can always wet a few paper towels and ring them out at thoroughly as possible. Lay the paper towels out and lay the tortillas end to end across the towels. Roll this all up into a loose tube and pop it in the microwave for 15-45 seconds depending on the size and quantity of the tortillas and your microwave.

To assemble our fish tacos we made a small bed of creama for the fish to lay in then dropped five or six of the fish bites onto the tortilla. These were topped with a few minced onions and some cilantro along with hot sauce and a pinch of lime. The beans received a dollop of the creama as well, and some more lime and hot sauce. Altogether a simple, delicious meal that we devoured as we watched the fantastic 80’s horror homage House of the Devil.

If I had to do it all over again, and I definitely would, instead of seasoning the fish then frying it in oil I would cut the fish and let it marinate in some oil for half an hour or so. I would season the oil with chili powder, cayenne powder, and lime zest. Just before they hit the pan I’d drain the fish bites of excess oil and let them sear in the pan for about two minutes total. While the corn meal I used above gave the fish a bit of texture I think this method would allow the out side of the fish to sear better and develop a bit more flavor.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Damn Fine Cocktails

I apologize for only posting drink recipes lately. I must confess I’m not feeling that interested in food these days, not just writing about it, but eating, too. I’ve had very little taste for anything and just eat out of hunger/necessity whatever sounds edible to me at the time (read as: lots of Chinese food).

But my current fascination with mixology isn’t terribly troubling to me, so as long as you all are on board let’s take another trip behind the bar for a few new cocktail ideas.

In honor of the year’s spookiest month Nicole and I have been watching Twin Peaks, gold edition box-set thank you very much. So far the only thing I haven’t liked about it is waiting twenty years to watch it. It’s a fantastic show that combines humor, mystery, romance, action, the supernatural, and just the right amount of Mayberry wholesomeness in a way that only David Lynch could make palatable, let alone watchable. In addition to being one of the most perfect shows to ever air on network television it’s also one of the most bewildering programs to ever land on network television. In today’s market of niche programming on both basic and premium it’s easy to imagine Twin Peaks as a sleeper hit on HBO or the mind-melting off season replacement for Mad Men, but in a pre-X-Files 1990/91 television landscape Twin Peaks’ unhinged lunacy was a miraculous pick up for CBS and an even more surprising renewal.

But enough about television history, let’s get to the booze! In a second season episode of TP the local bar is transformed into a courthouse during daytime hours to consider the cases of Leland Palmer and Leo Johnson. During what seems to be a rough day of court officiating the judge, resplendent in his western ware and robes, pulls our hero, Special Agent Dale Cooper, and town sheriff, Harry S. Truman, a side for a little, ahem, sidebar. The judge discusses Johnson’s case with the two lawmen while his assistant whips up a round of “Black Yukon Sucker Punches.” She hands the men three highballs full of a dark, bluish/purplish liquid which the judge warns will “sneak up on you!” This strange aside in the show and curious looking beverage set me to wondering just what the hell is in it?

I’ve been mulling it over for a little while, considering how to get the color right as well as making something that is easily drunk, the judge and Truman knock theirs back in just a few sips. Before I started inventing I thought I’d investigate further to see if anyone on the internet had already invented such a cocktail in homage to this cult classic. I eventually stumbled onto the Twin Peaks Gazette Message Board thread concerning this mythological quaff, but was disappointed by the disgusting and/or thoughtless recipes offered. For example this foul concoction: into a mug pour 11/2 oz of Yukon Jack, fill 3/4 with Hot black coffee, fill the rest of the way with black raspberry liqueur, float 1/2 oz. of Godiva (or Mozart, or the like) chocolate liqueur on top- may substitute with chocolate syrup. Nasty business. Another poster was a little closer with this: Pour 1 shot Yukon Jack, Pour 1 shot Blackberry Brandy, Dash of Bitters, Put in blender with ice, Blend about 5 seconds. Close, but still no cigar.

It seems it was up to me do the heavy lifting on this one. First things first, the name, “Black Yukon Sucker Punch,” it must be black or blackish in color, it should in some way incorporate “Yukon,” and should as the judge suggested sneak up or sucker punch the drinker. And as previously stated, the judge and sheriff belt theirs down in no time, so it’s got to be an easy sipper, too. What drinks in all of mixdom provide easy drinkability while packing a serious punch? A lot, sure, but none quite as infamously as the Long Island Iced Tea. The classic combo of gin, tequila, rum, and vodka seem like a whole gang of bad ideas in a glass, but through the magic of booze they all get along quite nicely. This formula would be my jumping off point. I knew as well that the drink should include Yukon Jack, the “black sheep of Canadian Liquors,” those message board posters got at least one thing right. Finally it had to be black. Black licorice flavored spirits certainly crossed my mind, but the idea of a drink based on Yukon Jack and Jagermeister has “bad night at the frat house” written all over it. No, it had to be black raspberry. With a few final tweaks I finally had the Black Yukon Sucker Punch recipe down. Take a look: Black Yukon Sucker Punch
- 1½oz Yukon Jack
- 1½oz Black Raspberry Liquor (the darker the better)
- 1½oz Rum (high proof, white)
- 1½oz Vodka (high proof)
- Splash Crème de Casis liqueur or Blue Curacao
- Cherry 7-up

Pour the four liquors into a shaker with ice. Shake vigorously until well combined. Strain into a highball with ice. Top with some “damn fine” Cherry 7-up and float Crème de Casis or Blue Curacao on top. Garnish with a black cherry on an umbrella. No straw.
If that doesn’t tickle your liver or your nethers check your pulse and then try this next cocktail on for size…

Our hero throughout this epic mindfuck is a quirky special agent from the FBI, one Dale Cooper. Dale’s seemingly sole purpose in the series, aside from solving the mysterious death of Laura Palmer and rebuffing the advances of Audrey Horne, is the never ending quest for some “damn fine” coffee and pie. While the scientific ability to turn pie into a conveyance of hooch is not quite upon us, liquoring up coffee is well within our means.

The Dale Cooper:
- 4oz strong black coffee or espresso, iced
- 1½oz Kaluha
- 1½oz Vodka
- ½ to 1oz kirshwasser (cherry liqueur)

Get To It:
Combine coffee, kaluha, and vodka in a shaker with ice, shake to combine. Pour ½ to 1oz of the kirshwasser into a coffee mug and swirl to coat the sides, this is easier to do if the liqueur has been chilled redering it somewhat syrupy. Once the mug is coated pour off the rest of the kirshwasser and strain the coffee/liquor combo into the mug. To make it hot skip the shaker and pour the vodka and Kahlua into the cherry flavored mug. Top with hot coffee and stir to combine.

Don’t go adding any cream or sugar, Coop takes his coffee black. The cherry liqueur should add just a hint of fruity sweetness to the drink, like a swig of the black stuff after a big bite of some damn fine pie, Cooper’s other weakness. Swap out regular vodka for vanilla and make this a Cooper a la mode!

I hope you enjoy these! I’ve got a few more in the pipeline that I’ll hopefully get posted before the end of October. Expect a Bloody Mary variation for Laura, something dangerous and sweet for Audrey, and possibly something completely crazy and dangerous for Bob.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Liver Punisher Drink of the Month Club: October Drink of the Month!!!

Despite the impending cold and winter we’re about to endure it’s still fall and that means a few amazing things. Topping that list of awesome fall perks are the amazing beers that are released this time of year. Rich, full bodied Oktoberfest beers abound. These big, bold lagers, usually Marzen style, are deep brown or amber in color and are well balanced between sweet and malty, bitter and hoppy, with just a hint of yeastiness. Great Lakes Brewing Company makes one of the best on the market if you’re looking for something nice, but I just finished the last bottle from six pack of Dundee’s Oktoberfest and, man, was it tasty. And at a few bucks cheaper than the GLBC the price is right, too.

BUT!!! That’s not what I’m here to talk about today. No, today is about that other fine fall libation your favorite brewery is probably filling the shelves with as we speak. I’m talking, of course, about Pumpkin Ales! Bright, bold beers brewed with pumpkin and spice that warm body and soul even if they’ve just come out of the fridge or the tap. And there’s a huge variety of them out there to try, ranging from the sweet pumpkin pie and vanilla taste of Southern Tier’s Pumpking to the subtler, spicier Ichabod from New Holland; and everywhere in between you’ll find something to suit your tastes.

AND!!! Finally we arrive at the subject of October’s Liver Punisher Drink-of-the-Month Club’s October Drink-of-the-Month! Inspired by my love of hearty stouts, delicious pumpkin ales, and a favorite drink of Nicole’s I submit: the Black King!

The ingredient list is short and the construction is simple so please, do try at home:

The Software:
Southern Tier Pumpking (or other pumpkin ale of your preference)

The Hardware:
Pint Glass
Large soup or table spoon

The How-To:
Fill half a pint glass with pumpkin ale. Place the spoon over the opening of the glass and slowly (slowly) pour the Guinness over the back of the spoon—the Guinness in the draught can with the nitrogen widget works best for this.

Better yet, head over to your favorite watering hole, one that has both pumpkin ales and Guinness on tap, of course, and have your favorite neighborhood bartender pour it for you! These half-n-half applications always turn out better when draught beer is involved.

If all goes well you should have a beautiful half-and-half just waiting to be gulped down. I prefer the Pumpking for this application because of it’s bright, spicy taste, it’s nutty/vanilla aftertaste, and it’s gorgeous orange hue. Dogfish Head’s gnarly Punkin ale or Post Road’s beautifully simple pumpkin ale would also make fine substitutions.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Dranks, Dranks, Dranks! Liver Punisher Drink of the Month Club: September Drink of the Month!!!

A few weeks into September is a little late for a “Drink of the Month” entry, I know, but this one is so good, you’ll be glad you waited!

So, it’s no secret that the happy marriage of gin and tonic is one of the great pairings in booze history. They’re Lucy and Ricky, intrinsically linked forever and all time with a wedge of lime standing in for little Ricky. And like Lucy and Ricky it’s somewhat of a surprise that they work so well together. She was a quirky redhead who was always in some sort of well meaning trouble, he was a no-nonsense latin band leader. Gin is a piney, often astringent spirit that has garnered just as many fans as detractors, and tonic water is a thin, bitter soft drink that is generally unpalatable on its own. Together, however each pair unites to form something greater than either individual. A gin a tonic is a cool, refreshing burst of bitter, spicy, sour, and just a hint of sweet. Lucy and Ricky are an indelible comedy team with impeccable timing and natural chemistry. It seems that there would be no room for improvement.

But all that changed about a week ago while I was sitting at the Fairmount in Cleveland Heights sipping a rich, frothy Jameson Sour. Waiting for drinking companionship to arrive I had little else to do between drinks other than glimpse the day’s sports highlights and eavesdrop on the other people at the bar. The closest, and therefore easiest to overhear, were three folks from Ireland. They discussed the merits of American mico-brews and the strange phenomenon of pumpkin beers with the bartender for a bit before resuming a more private convo. The young lady sitting nearest to me had ordered a gin a tonic on their arrival and had taken a few sips before she hailed the bartender. She asked very politely if it might be possible to have the bartender add something called St. Germain to her cocktail. She obliged, and while she was doctoring the drink I asked my neighbor what exactly she was having done. She explained that it was a liquor made from Elderflower blossoms and asked the bartender if we might smell the bottle top. There was little doubt that this had come from flowers, bright and floral, like smelling a bouquet of fresh cut flowers.

I’ll admit that I had some reservations about this addition to a gin and tonic, something so beautifully simple that it needs little more than a squeeze of citrus. She assured me that it was a perfect compliment, and was so convincing in her salesmanship that I ordered one myself on the next round.

It was good, to say the least. It was like tasting a gin and tonic again for the first time. The floral nose of the St. Germain is a nice foil to the battered-by-pine-boughs scent of gin, in fact the two mix in such a way as to give the drink the scent of a particularly good IPA. And the taste of the elderflower liquor is pleasant and sweet, adding another layer of flavor to the drink. This new concoction now touches on the bitter, sweet, and sour sectors of the tongue, filling the mouth with a taste that would somewhere in the neighborhood of a field of wild flowers that neighbors a dense pine forest just moments after a hearty spring rain.

While I generally feel most like drinking g’n’ts in the summer, this slight adjustment gives it warmth and body, extending the drink’s season into this late summer/early fall time.

Play the Home Edition, or: What to Ask Your Bartender For:

On the Rocks:
Fill a rocks or old fashioned glass with ice. Pour in about 2oz of gin, more or less to taste. Fill nearly to the rim with tonic water. Top with up to a teaspoon of St. Germain elderflower liquor and garnish with a lime.

Up: Fill a shaker with ice and add 2oz of gin, a teaspoon of St. Germain, and a squeeze of lime. Shake well and strain into a cocktail glass, top with tonic water to taste.

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