Saturday, December 10, 2011

XXQC - The Martini

As mentioned in the past, cocktails have a tendency to evolve over time.  Whether the result of altered tastes, an introduction to a new culture/demographic, the availability of novel products, or the disappearance of others from the market (ie. Kina Lillet), recipes change.  Some are improved, some take a step back, and still others are altered to represent more of a parallel shift...seemingly no better or worse, just different.  With the resurgence of the craft cocktail movement over the last 10-15 years, many are experiencing for the first time the original and proper preparation of the classics.  In top cocktail bars across the country, the Old Fashioned now shines without the addition of muddled orange, a neon cherry, and dilution of soda water; the Daiquiri and its variations can have a solid presence absent the frozen blend with ice and a swimming pool; and perhaps most significantly, a classic Martini can be mixed up to display the sublime harmony of gin and dry vermouth rather than the random clash of vodkas, sweeteners, and/or the hodgepodge of other liqueurs often slapped up as (blank)-tinis.  If ever there was a cocktail that was so neglected, only to have worked its way back alongside fellow iconic classics, the Martini may in fact stand alone...and is absolutely one of the XXQC.

Thursday, December 1, 2011


As is typical for this time of year, the focus on Christmas (or the 'Holiday Season' if you will) begins as soon as the the leftovers from Thanksgiving are stashed in the fridge.  For most, it's all about the tree (or bush), the ornaments, the decor, the cookies, and for those who celebrate Festivus...we must not forget the all important Festivus Pole, a crucial component for the 'Airing of Grievances' and 'Feats of Strength'.  Yes, in these times of holiday bliss, a nice Manhattan, Old-Fashioned, or Equinox among others certainly lends itself well to lounging in front of the fire...but as we draw closer to the end of the month here in the Midwest, I am reminded of one of my favorite childhood memories of the season...eggnog.  For sure, the store bought cartons of this homogenous concoction were often too sweet and thick, tho my naive buds were easily tamed by cutting the viscous stuff with a bit of milk.  Nowadays?  Not so much.  An unbelievably easy and much preferred route is to follow something along the lines of Alton Brown by making your own from scratch, (adult-rated or child-friendly at your own discretion).  I've recently made this a tradition over the last several years and really do enjoy it with a nice kick of bourbon.  At the same time, its profile is still on the heavier side and I've been longing for a boozier version that still retains hints of its nutmeg-y origin.  As a result, I set out to create a variation of eggnog that would find acceptance not only in the spirit and childhood memories of the holiday season, but among the cocktail enthusiast in me as well.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Welcome to the jungle

Born in the 1970s, I look back fondly at the '80s in many respects as they were some of the glory days of my from Guns n Roses, Van Halen, and Metallica, the rise of Michael Jordan and the Bulls, 'Da Coach' and the last (tears still flow) Bears Super Bowl championship in '85, and the simple, relatively carefree days of being a kid and teenager.  At the same time, reflecting on this decade in terms of its contributions to the world of mixology makes me...well, sad.  At my young age, I clearly didn't spend time pondering the cocktails of the time, but now that I have, I'm glad to say I feel I missed very little, if anything.  Nevertheless, enter this month's Mixology Monday theme of Retro Redemption by Jacob Grier over at  Liquidity Preference, and I was forced to dance with the devil.  As described by Jacob: 

Contemporary cocktail enthusiasts take pride in resurrecting forgotten cocktails of the past — unless “the past” refers to the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, or 90s. We sometimes refer to these decades as the Dark Ages of Mixology, eras not yet recovered from the violence Prohibition and a World War inflicted on American cocktail culture. The classic Martini, a flavorful blend of gin and vermouth, had morphed into a glass of cold, diluted vodka. Other drinks were just too sweet, too fruity, too big, too silly.  But still, it wasn’t all bad. People ordered these drinks for a reason. Despite the now annual “burial” of a disfavored drink at Tales of the Cocktail, not all of them deserve to die. Perhaps, as they said of the Six Million Dollar Man, we can rebuild them. We have the technology. So the theme of this month’s Mixology Monday is Retro Redemption! Your task is to revive a drink from mixology’s lost decades. Perhaps you feel one of these drinks has a bad rap; tell us why it deserves another shot. Or maybe the original concoction just needs a little help from contemporary ingredients and techniques to make it in the big leagues. If so, tell us how to update it... 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

XXQC - Blood and Sand

From time to time I come across a cocktail which makes me think, '...are you serious?'.  Staring at the list of ingredients and/or ratios, it just doesn't click.  How in the world can this mishmash of booze work with any sense of harmony?  Most times, but not always, I am pleasantly surprised...taken aback and nearly dumbfounded that the tipple is not only decent, but very enjoyable to say the least.  As a result, I have a tendency to enshrine these concoctions as some of the most intriguing if for no other reason than their sheer unpredictability.  While still the callow cocktail enthusiast with neither the thorough appreciation of the spirit universe nor the breadth of experience that often accompanies those behind the bar professionally, I still consider such unanticipated cocktails as deserving of a special respect.  And with that, the inconspicuous wonders of the Blood and Sand.

Friday, November 4, 2011

XXQC - The Manhattan

As fall has now crept its way around the corner here in the midwest, it seems like the perfect opportunity to take a look at perhaps my favorite cocktail to pair with the brisk winds and sun-starved days of autumn.  While a 'simple yet delightful mixture of spirit, vermouth, and bitters' can obviously be used to characterize a number of cocktails from the 1800s...the blend of spicy, peppery rye whiskey along with the full-bodied botanicals of sweet vermouth, all brought into harmony with the addition of a richly aromatic and herbaceous kick of Angostura bitters paves the road to only one cocktail, the Manhattan...a quintessential cocktail from any perspective.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Equinox, revisited and rewarded

A quick look back at one of my first posts to this blog related to my entry into the 'Casual Mixologist Competition' sponsored by Portland Craft Cocktails for a chance to win tickets to the Northwest Food and Wine Festival in Portland.  As described...

Attention all home bartenders, mixologists, and craft cocktail creators! The professional bartenders will be sitting this competition out, and allowing you the chance to craft your own cocktail recipe that will be evaluated by professional judges at the upcoming Northwest Food and Wine Festival. Each month, recipes will be made according to your instructions, and each month the winning mixologist gets 2 tickets to the Northwest Food and Wine Festival, November 5th, 2011, courtesy of Portland Craft Cocktails. You may enter as many times as you wish, but may not enter the same recipe more than once.  

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Rise and shine

Another month seems to have flown by and along with that comes a new theme for Mixology Monday.  This month's MxMo is graciously hosted by the group over at Cocktail Enthusiast, spearheaded by Kevin Gray.  As the description goes...

'The theme is “morning drinks.” Breakfast cocktails were the norm in the nineteenth century, when cocktails were a common beginning to one’s day. The drink’s purpose was to help the imbiber recover from the past night’s indiscretions and to steel their resolve for the coming day.

We’re all familiar with bloody marys, mimosas and bellinis, but what else constitutes a breakfast drink? We’re looking for corpse revivers, eye openers and hair of the dog – drinks that jump start your morning, absolve the prior night’s sins or just taste really good with eggs and bacon.

Maybe you like to fortify breakfast smoothies with gin. Or perhaps you’ve concocted an alcoholic sangrita that pairs nicely with migas. Regardless, let’s see some morning cocktails.'

Saturday, October 22, 2011

XXQC - Pisco Sour

Many are likely to have at least heard of pisco, and a number of these may also be familiar with the spirit's origins as a brandy produced in South America.  If only it's proclaimed affiliations were as uncontroversial.  Not to insinuate that there is a formidable venture in understanding the basics of pisco, but rather the divisive claims bestowed upon the production of this brandy, as well as the famed cocktail which has helped to widen the spirit's adoption here in the northern hemisphere.  As the hotly debated 'national spirit' of two neighboring countries on the western coast of South America, the battle between Peru and Chile to lay claim to the spirit continues to this day.  Regardless of the appeals for truth from both sides and all its associated rhetoric, a nice bottle of pisco is the best way to be introduced to the Pisco Sour, yet another of the XXQC.

As pisco has gained in popularity over recent years, the debates surrounding its origins has garnered more attention as well.  One might be surprised to learn of such bickering over the ties and methods for the proper distillation and production of this grape brandy, but both countries take their arguments very seriously.  That being said, since the uncertainty won't find resolution with the faint insight of an American cocktail enthusiast, I'll spend my time more wisely with some brief highlights of what primarily distinguishes these rival versions of pisco.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

XXQC - The Margarita

Since my last XXQC post finished up with a tequila/mezcal version of an Old Fashioned, I felt compelled to take a closer look at these oft confused spirits...and with tequila, it invariably paved the way to another of the XXQC, the Margarita. But first, as reference, a bit more on the distinction between tequila and mezcal.

Tequila and mezcal share a similar affiliation, both with origins from the pinas (hearts) of the agave plant. It is true, and widely appreciated, that to be distinguished as a tequila, the spirit must be made within five states of Mexico (Jalisco - wherein the town of Tequila is found, Michoacan, Nayarit, Tamaulipas, and Guanajuato), and is best produced from 100% blue agave. Mezcals, on the other hand, are made in the region of Oaxaca to the south, and are made from one, or a blend, of 28 other agave varieties. While these geographic and varietal differences both affect the profiles of the respective spirits, nothing is more influential in their distinction than the manner in which the pinas are prepared prior to fermentation.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

20 Quintessential Cocktails (XXQC) - The Old Fashioned

While researching and reading about the plethora of cocktails that have been devised over the last 200+ years, I came to appreciate the enormous diversity within the realm of mixology.  Yet at the same time, I also began to realize that the lineages of a number of them could often be traced back to classics, or corresponding variations on a respective theme.  Clearly there are many drinks in existence today which are novel creations, often times a bit more complex than earlier-dated cocktails which might display subtle hints of their origin.  The vast array of commercially available spirits, liqueurs, and bitters, combined with the unknown number of craft and housemade infused spirits, syrups, and sweeteners are seemingly limited only by the imagination.  In my recent inaugural efforts to create original cocktails, I started with ingredients and ratios with which I had the most experience, and began my venture from there.  Although the resulting concoctions were not offensive to myself or the immediately available guinea pigs at my disposal, the world of mixology can be a rather personal one...with slightly altered proportions, different classes of spirits, or distinct ingredients altogether resulting in the thumbs up or down from fellow imbibers.  That being said, in a humble effort to sift through and simplify what is an incredibly profound universe of cocktail recipes, I have decided to take a look at how some of the most common and well-known were originated, evolved, and/or remained the same over time.  Lacking a more innovative approach myself, I decided to model this project on reference material ('The Classic 25 Drinks Every Bartender Should Know') used during my BarSmarts certification.  With the minds of Dale DeGroff, Doug Frost, Steve Olson, F. Paul Pacult, Andy Seymour and David Wondrich at the helm of such an educational effort, I figured I certainly couldn't go wrong, let alone come up with a better approach.  So with that, I'll take a look at the first of my 20 quintessential cocktails (XXQC)...the Old Fashioned.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Blueberry booze, part I

Quite some time ago I was in my kitchen, wondering what to do with the mound of blueberries sitting in front of me on the counter (compliments of my mother-in-law).  Aside from eating them by the handful...blueberry crumb bars, lemon cornmeal cake with blueberry sauce, and blueberry pancakes were about all I could muster from the culinary side.  So as with other suitable surpluses of the past (lemons = lemoncello, almonds = orgeat, etc), I decided to steer this one towards the cocktail world, a blueberry liqueur would be the result of these little morsels being steeped in ethanol.  After scouring the internet for a suitable reference to a recipe, I came across a number of them and created this straightforward hybrid.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Among other reasons for establishing the 'The Venture Mixologist', I wanted a blog in which to reference cocktails that I might submit for participation in 'Mixology Monday'.  For those of you who are unfamiliar, Mixology Monday was established back in '06 by the well regarded, Seattle-based cocktail enthusiast Paul Clarke, and is essentially an online, themed cocktail event hosted monthly by different sponsors.  Various writers, readers, mixologists, enthusiasts, etc. participate by submitting cocktail creations (often, but not always original) based on the corresponding theme chosen by the host.  My goal was to begin with a first contribution this year, and that time is now upon me.  The theme for this month is 'Local Color', hosted by Lindsay of Alcohol Alchemy, and for my inaugural submission I've decided to go with the use of a locally crafted botanical spirit...hum.

hum (no caps here) is a 70 proof spirit produced by cold tea maceration of four very distinct botanicals - hibiscus, ginger, cardamom, and kaffir lime - in pot still, cane sugar rhum.  Founded and developed by Chicago mixologist Adam Seger (formerly of Nacional 27, Tru, and The French Laundry), hum is reminiscent of Italian-style amari, possessing a slightly bitter, yet sweet profile with tons of depth and herbaceous complexity.  

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A variation, but of what?

Following up on my first derivations of The Last Word, with all the changes I made, I had to ask myself...upon what cocktail is this actually a variation?  In reality, it doesn't particularly matter, but after altering the ratio of gin relative to the other components, I began to consider that this new drink might even be viewed as a spin on the gin sour.  To be sure, there might well be more of a correlation between the two than a relation to the Last Word.

A Sour is drink category commonly referred to when describing a ratio of 2 parts spirit, 1 part sweet, and 1 part sour.  I would note, however, that while classic cocktails have withstood the test of time for good reason (ie. they're damn tasty), many a ratio has been tweaked all so subtly to conform to any number of palates.  And in such respect, cocktails with a slightly altered sweet to sour ratio may, and often are, categorized as sour variations all the same. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

Finally, the booze arrives

Although Chicago has a fairly decent selection of liqueurs and spirits, some are just too difficult (or impossible) to find, so I went with the on-line route for a handful of things I needed (no, not want...NEED).  The most relevant ones at this point in time are, of course, Dry Fly gin and Strega...tho I've got a number of other spirits from which to choose if this first attempt is a little unpalatable, or perhaps even disastrous. 

So the first shot at this would be equal proportions (double strained and served up in a chilled cocktail glass, of course), tho smaller 1/2 oz volumes for each, along with a bit shorter time in the shaker to avoid over-dilution (all adaptations in red).  I had a feeling this first one will be a touch on the sweet side...

Run no. 1
1/2 oz Dry Fly gin
1/2 oz Luxardo maraschino liqueur
1/2 oz Strega
1/2 oz lime lemon juice

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Challenge

Although an admittedly difficult task, in an effort to win tickets to the Northwest Food and Wine Festival this November, I will be submitting one or more original cocktails to be evaluated and potentially selected by a panel of professional bartenders.  The competition, sponsored by Portland Craft Cocktails, requires that recipes include at least one of the spirits from the following Northwest distilleries:

The offerings from these distillers are rather diverse, and range from (un)flavored vodkas and rums, a variety of whiskeys (white, single malt, etc), as well as a number of brandies, and other specialty liqueurs.  Given my prior thoughts and commentary, I will be limiting myself to working with only a handful, if that, of these spirits.  First up, Dry Fly gin.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

And so it begins...with The Last Word

The Last Word...a pungent, vibrantly herbaceous, complex cocktail with a touch of sweetness and cloudy green hue.  Calling for equal parts of gin, maraschino liqueur, green Chartreuse, and lime juice, this drink was thankfully revived by famed Seattle mixologist Murray Stenson during his days at the Zig Zag Cafe.  Stenson came across The Last Word while sifting through Ted Saucier's "Bottoms Up!", a 1951 bartender's guide which featured this prohibition-era cocktail, originally conceived at the Detroit Athletic Club by Frank Fogarty in the late 1920s/early 1930s.

While The Last Word is a perfectly well-balanced concoction in itself, a number of variations have made their rounds since the original re-surfaced in 2004.  Perhaps my favorite was developed by New York's Philip Ward, of Pegu Club, Death & Co., and Mayhuel.  He calls for substitutions of rye whiskey and lemon juice in place of the gin and lime, all else, and proportions, remain the same.  It is certainly a different animal, perhaps a bit softer given the lack of an upfront punch of lime, and without a doubt less colorful in the glass, yet it is still a tasty sip in its own right.