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.
Friday, September 17, 2010
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!
Thursday, September 16, 2010
Due to personal scheduling conflicts, this post is about a month over due. Please, enjoy anyways!
Michelada meet drinker, drinker meet michelada. Also known as cervesa preperada, or prepared beer, this is a cocktail that seeks to enhance the cool, refreshing qualities of Mexican, and domestic for that matter, lagers.
Origins are unclear, but some say the michelada was created as a way to make sub-standard Mexican beer palatable to American tourists. I’m not convinced this is true as most Mexican lagers outstrip the majority of American macro-brewed beers. So far, of all the Mexican beers I’ve tried, and I’ve tried most of them as this point, this is only true of Corona, whose bland, skunky taste requires limey goodness to make even approach drinkability. Other myths of origin suggest that limes were swirled around the mouths of beer containers in order to kill any bacteria lurking in the ice used to chill the beers at resorts. This seems more plausible, but I’m still skeptical. No, I think it comes down to man’s nature to try and improve on something. The michelada doesn’t necessarily try to reinvent the wheel, it’s more of a white walls and spinners deal.
Michelada recipes are as varied as the countries of South and Central America, utilizing a variety of native ingredients to enhance the both taste and rejuvenating qualities of native brews. Perhaps you’ve seen Bud’s “chelada” in a can, a foul, foul mixture of clamato juice and Bud, lite or regular—your choice!—is a variation on a common Mexican version, while a spicy Cubana contains Worcestershire sauce, Tobasco, chile, and salt. Stateside, the so called “shandy” is a michelada made up of lager and lemonade. There are literally endless variations of micheladas, the only limit is imagination and mixable ingredients.
I would now like to share with you a few of my favorite michelada recipes:
(Note: when making these I primarily used 12oz. bottles and cans of Modelo Especial and PBR, but any medium bodied lager, or “beer that tastes like beer” should do nicely.)
Super Simple Michelada:
Open beer, take drink, squeeze in lime, swirl to mix, enjoy! It’s as simple as that, just a little lime juice, even from the little squeezable plastic lime works nicely. If you want to class this up a bit and impress your friends remove the beer can from the fridge and let it stand at room temp for a minute or two until it starts to sweat a little bit. Once there’s enough condensation built up to make some salt stick, roll the rim of the can in kosher salt then open, drink, lime, drink again. If you’d rather not have to lick all the edges of the can to get a little salt every time, simply line the rim of a glass with salt, squeeze in the lime then pour beer over top to mix.
Nicolassa’s Famosa Beermosa:
Nicole would often speak of a michelada of her own invention. A self described greatest-thing-since-champagne-and-orange-juice drink she had dubbed “Beermosa” in honor of the aforementioned concoction. The recipe might actually be easier than our Super Simple Michelada: Into a pint glass pour one bottle or can of beer. Top with 3-4oz of your preferred orange juice, stir lightly to combine, and enjoy with the breakfast or brunch of your choosing. A delicious and refreshing way to start the day and/or take a little hair of the dog.
Like any lucky kid growing up I got to spend a fair amount of my childhood being spoiled by my grandparents. And for all the wonderful memories I have of my grandfather, one of the strongest was his interesting habit of seasoning certain food and drink items, namely his beer and watermelon which both received a pinch of salt. It was in that spirit, and the influence of 21st Amendment Brewery’s Hell or High Watermelon that I created this quaffable tribute. Once again coat the rim of a pint glass with salt, the easiest way to do this is to rub the edge with lime then upturn the glass into a saucer of salt; you could go out and buy a tub of “Margarita” salt, but why spend when you already have everything you need. Into this salty rimmed glass pour 2-3oz of watermelon juice (recipe follows). Top with a bottle or can beer and float a lemon wheel on top. The sweet watermelon, bitter beer, sour lemon, and salty salt makes this a drink that appeals to all the tastes. It is incredibly easy drinking, almost to a fault, and is should even appeal to the tastes of folks who claim to not like beer.
For a real kick in pants try this boozy version of the michelada. In a shaker or mixing glass combine, per person, 1 shot of tequila blanca, a healthy squeeze of lime (say an eighth or so), and a splash of triple sec. Add a shot of the mixture to a can of beer, from which a few sips have been taken and the edge has been coated with salt. You could, of course, do all this in a glass, but why when this is more fun. To a, mostly, full beer this imparts just a hint of margarita goodness throughout. Just a hint of the sweet/sour from the triple sec and lime, and that great fresh, earthy, grassy bite from the tequila. Watch out, though, this’ll michelada will really clean your clock.
La Michelada Ultima:
While the above recipes are all well and good—and by good I mean awesome!—they are admittedly anglicized versions of the michelada, so I wanted to create something that would be more traditional and authentic. This is what I came up with: take course salt, kosher would be best, and place 2-3 tablespoonfuls into a small Tupperware container. Shake in a few dashes of any or all of the following: chili powder, cayenne powder, or dried chipotle powder; there should be enough seasoning that there are red and brown flecks scattered throughout the slat, but not so much that it overwhelms the salt; no more than an eighth of a teaspoon per 3tbs of salt. Shake well to combine and empty onto a saucer. Rim a pint glass with the spicy salt and squeeze the juice of half a lime into the bottom of the glass. Some recipes call for even more than that—about 3-4 teaspoons per half—but I found that to be overwhelming, like drinking beer flavored lime juice; the object here is to enhance the beer, not burry it in an acid bath. To the lime juice add 2 dashes of bitters and a few drops of your favorite hot sauce. I suggest something less vinegary than Red Devil, Frank’s, etc. as drinking a big glass of vinegar appeals to few. I used a scotch bonnet sauce I like because it adds heat, but alters the flavor by very little. Valentina would be a nice authentic choice, or Cholula which is well balanced between flavor and spice. Pour beer over the lime/bitters/hot sauce and enjoy. The resulting elixir is a full bodied drink that satisfies nearly all the taste cravings and should leave a little sizzle in the throat and tingle on the lips. Remember this is meant to be refreshing, not excruciating so don’t go overboard.
Variations on the Theme:
While working out this final iteration I had a few other irons in the coals and found that these slight variations of the above recipe yield results just as satisfying, but not as bold. First, you can opt out of the spicy salt mix if you feel that’s too much, and for some it may be. Another option is to assemble as above leaving out the bitters until the end. Shake in a few dashes before serving, but don’t mix, allowing the bitters to mix in themselves as the beverage is consumed. Doing this let’s the michelada develop over time and each sip is different from the last. Again jumping off from the Ultima, before the beer is added pour in a splash of orange juice then add the beer to combine. The result is slightly sweeter, more of an aperitif than main course. Alternately add the OJ to the top of the glass at the end and allow it to mix in like the bitters. Unlike the bitters which form smokey trails through the michelada before they combine, the orange juice mixes and unifies much quicker. Either way, the orange juice in these iterations is more of a seasoning that full component so don’t use anymore of it than you’ve used lime juice.
These are just a few ways to jazz up your beer for your next fiesta, cookout, or regular old night of beer drinking. Use these recipes to impress your friends or invent your own and share them with me and the world!
Fresh Watermelon Juice:
Outside of squeezing citrus this may be the easiest juice to acquire at home. Purchase, or pick if you’re so inclined, the freshest watermelon available to you. I’m terrible at determining freshness so I opt for the precut. A good watermelon should have vibrant red/pink flesh that’s firm but yields to pressure. For this application seedless would be preferred, but a plethora of big brown seeds and a dearth of the little white ones is a sure sign of ripeness in the seed baring variety. Cut the watermelon into large-ish chunks, it doesn’t need to be fancy, and drop them into your blender or food processor. Let your machine work its magic for a minute or two then add more chunks until either the unit is full of juice or you’re out of melon. Pour the juice from your device into another vessel via a strainer. You’ll need to help it along by scraping the strainer with a spatula. This should remove most of the major pulp, but the liquid that remains will still have some texture, while this should be fine for most if you want it extra fine pour it through another finer strainer or one lined with a paper coffee filter. If it’s not already in one transfer this to an easy open storage container and refrigerate. I also added a few drops of lemon juice as a preservative. I got about 3 cups from just a quarter of a melon, so unless you’re planning a huge party this should be more than enough.
And if you’re wondering what to do with extra melon juice here are a few suggestions, other than just drinking it:
Into a blender pour one shot of coconut rum per 4oz of watermelon juice. Drop in a few ice cubes and pulse until mostly smooth. Pour into a highball and garnish with lime, watermelon slice, spring of mint.
For the more dessert minded take measure of your remaining melon juice, making sure you have around three cups. If not make some more, it seems to keep well. To the watermelon juice add a healthy squeeze of lemon and 6-8oz of pineapple juice to make about a quart of liquid. Chill well, then process in ice cream maker per your manufacturer's instructions.