The recipe for the perfect Bloody Mary is very much a matter of personal taste. It’s a drink that has endless variations depending on which ingredients you chose to use. You can make it spicy or sweet or fishy or savory or herbaceous, whatever the stomach desires. Here is my version. But feel free to play with the recipe to make it your own. Some possible variations are listed below the recipe.
Cocktail bitters are something we hear about a lot in the liquid world, but many people aren’t exactly sure what they are. It’s worth your time to find out more about them, as they can be the crucial difference in whether a drink succeeds or fails.
Bitters are flavorings for cocktails. Much like adding salt and pepper to a soup or stew, bitters aren’t necessarily a flavor that you highlight on their own, but rather one that contributes to the overall taste of the cocktail. You might not even notice they’re there, but you’ll definitely notice if they’re not.
Bitters don’t make a drink taste bitter, even though they might have bitter ingredients (like gentian) in them. Their flavors run the gamut from sweet to spicy to citrusy, herbal, floral and more. They serve to enhance and accentuate the other flavors in the drink, adding some extra zing. It’s like putting salt on french fries — they make the whole thing taste better.
The origin of bitters dates back three centuries, well before the era of the cocktail, when they were used as patent remedies and tonics. Formulated by doctors, pharmacists, and charlatans, bitters were taken for a variety of ills, most notably an upset stomach.
The problem was, bitters didn’t taste very good. It was medicine, after all, and medicine isn’t expected to taste good. So people started mixing their bitters with other things to make them more palatable. Once people start combining liquids, you can bet it won’t be long before alcohol goes into the mix. And so it did, and thus the cocktail was born.
By far the most common type of bitters is Angostura. They are a type of “aromatic bitters” that are so ubiquitous they have become sui generis. Made in Trinidad for almost 200 years, the flavor of Angostura bitters has elements of tamarind, clove, allspice, and cinnamon. They add a warm, spicy touch to your cocktail, and are commonly used in drinks like the Manhattan, Old Fashioned, Pink Gin, and Champagne Cocktail.
It wasn’t that long ago that the only bottle of bitters you’d ever see on the shelf was Angostura. These days, however, there are enough different types of bitters on the market to fill a swimming pool. It can be a little intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be.
After you’ve bought a bottle of Angostura, you can start branching out beyond that. Probably the next most used type are orange bitters, and a variety of them are available. Fee Brothers West Indian Orange Bitters and Regan’s Orange Bitters are the most common, and both are recommended. Orange bitters were traditionally used in Martinis, along with other cocktails like the Bronx and Bijou. They can also add an interesting dimension to a Daiquiri or Margarita.
Peychaud’s, a type of Creole bitters created in New Orleans, are a very handy third addition to your arsenal. There are sweeter than Angostura, with elements of fruit and licorice. They are essential if you’re going to make the official New Orleans cocktail, the Sazerac, or that other Big Easy favorite, the Vieux Carré. They also make a nice change-up in your Manhattan.
There are scores of other varieties of bitters available, everything ranging from chocolate to cherry, lavender to lemon, and celery to sarsaparilla. Whether or not you will need any of these depends on how deeply you plan to go into your mixological explorations, and what kinds of drinks you want to make. If you do want more, Kegworks is a great place to check.
So don’t be intimidated by bitters. When you see a recipe that calls for them, use them. Once you get comfortable with how the flavors work, you can even try experimenting on your own.
If you’re interested in finding out more about bitters, I highly recommend Brad Thomas Parsons’ book, Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All. It contains everything you’ll ever need to know about the subject, including how to make your own. It’s a gorgeous book and a fascinating read.
As the leaves start to disappear, we turn our eyes from summer. But that doesn’t mean we have to stop enjoying the drinks of last season. Here is a delicious one that is ideal for a crisp, fall day. The floral notes from the elderflower liqueur bring a refreshing burst of spring, appropriate for both a sunny day or when the weather turns cold.
One of the highlights of the whisky year for people who love awards and rankings is when Jim Murray publishes his Whisky Bible. Murray tastes seemingly every whisky produced in the world, and gives it tasting notes and scores. He also provides his rankings of the world’s best whiskies.
Murray has just announced his 2014 pick for the best whisky in the world: Glenmorangie Ealanta 19 Year Old Single Malt Scotch. Not only does he say it’s the best, he gives it a score of 97.5 out of a possible 100. He said it has “one of the longest finishes of any Scotch this year…Borderline perfection.”
Should you care? Who knows. I find rankings like this interesting, although not necessarily useful. It’s like the Oscars — it calls attention to notable achievements, even if the idea of something being “the best in the world” is ultimately kind of silly. It gives us something to talk about, a jumping off point for discussion, and I think that’s always a good thing.
But here perhaps is the cool part about this particular selection. You can actually buy a bottle! So many of these highly rated, award-winning whiskies are impossible to find. This one, however, is currently available from Caskers.
Is it worth $120? I have no idea — I haven’t tried it. But if anyone has, please let us know.
Most Americans don’t generally think of Venezuela when they think of rum-producing countries. We tend to be focused on the Caribbean. And naturally so, as most of the rums enjoyed in the U.S. come from there.
But Venezuela has a long tradition of making fine rum, and Diplomático Reserva is a good example of that. The mid-range entry in the line of rums produced by Destilería Unidas – they have the Añejo and the Reserva Exclusiva on either side of it – Diplomático Reserva is distilled from molasses and aged for up to eight years in used Scotch and bourbon barrels.
It has sweet, fruity touches on the nose, somewhat reminiscent of brandy, which is common in rums produces in former Spanish colonies. The brown sugar element, though, lets you know that you’re smelling rum. It’s a very promising aroma.
The flavor is pleasant, although initially on the thin side. I expected a little more body from an eight-year-old rum, but this one skews light rather than dark. This is not necessarily a bad thing. But it does mean that this rum works better when mixed in a cocktail, rather than enjoyed neat.
Diplomático Reserva rum has a slight oaky taste from the wood, which also gives it vanilla notes. I don’t taste much of the fruitiness that I detected in the smell, but it does have a mild sweetness that balances out the oak. There are also some hints of chocolate.
Overall, the Diplomático Reserva has a nice balance to it. It finds a solid middle ground between sweet and dry, light and dark, with none of the individual flavors dominating. That allows it to mix very well in a cocktail – try a Daiquiri or Mai Tai – by adding flavor without overwhelming the other ingredients.
The first seven years of my drinking life were spent in a dive bar – although back then it was just known as a bar. The place was called Amestoy’s on the Hill, and it was located in a dicey neighborhood in Bakersfield, California, not far from where I lived.
I went there a couple nights most weeks. Cheap draft beer was what I drank, with the rare Gin and Tonic when I was flush, and maybe a shot if someone else was buying. Amestoy’s was small and dark and old – it opened in 1948 – and had a crowd to match. Working men and women, most considerably older than me, with a lot of rednecks and Basques.
There was no entertainment to speak of. No shuffleboard or anything. The room wasn’t big enough. (If you wanted shuffleboard, you went to Murphy’s.) I think if you went during the day, they’d sell you a pre-made sandwich. But I never went during the day.
There was a jukebox that played Frank Sinatra, Merle Haggard, Bob Seger, and some more modern stuff like Guns N’ Roses. But not much. The selection mostly stuck to the classics: classic rock and classic country. You could put a couple of bucks in the jukebox and pick enough songs to last for an hour. The bartender had a button behind the bar that he could push to advance it to the next one. When it was someone’s birthday, they’d play “Happy Birthday” on the jukebox. But sometime the guy behind the stick would have to skip through 20 people’s songs before it would come up.
The ceiling was full of darts pinning $1 bills to the plaster. People would throw them up there, although Frankie, the bartender/owner, seemed to be the only one who could make them stick. Once a year, Frankie would pull them all down and use the money to throw a barbecue for the regulars.
The walls were decorated with gimee mirrors from liquor companies and the bottom halves of neckties. As the story went, if a customer walked in wearing a tie, they’d cut it off and hang it on the wall. I never saw it happen. It wasn’t the kind of place that one wore a tie.
They did a few “cocktails” there. The bartender’s specialty was the Flaming Dr. Pepper (a shot of amaretto and 151-rum, lit on fire, and dropped into a glass of draft beer.) Another favorite was the Waterfall, an elaborately poured concoction made of peppermint schnapps and beer.
Frankie would also do the occasional round of Blueberry Kamikazes, usually for a crowd of young women who’d somehow stumbled in the door. That was the only time I recall him getting out the shaker. People mostly drank beer, and there were two types on tap: Coors and Coors Light. A small glass was 75¢ and a pitcher was $5.
The reason I went there was because the drinks were cheap, the people were friendly, and they all knew me. (They thought I was named “Jim” but that’s a different story.) The atmosphere also appealed to me, although there wasn’t much of it that you could point to. But it felt like a bar was supposed to. It was a place where you could go and hang out with a few friends, enjoy some drinks, and forget about your troubles.
Amestoy’s was the only bar I’ve been to where strangers would regularly buy you a drink. If someone was celebrating, or got a piece of good news, or was just feeling generous, it was common to buy a round for everyone sitting at the bar. The drinks were cheap enough that you could do so without going too deep into your wallet. The bartender was also quick to buy a glass for a regular or a pretty girl. It was an easy place to make friends.
There were no windows, and the entrance was around the corner by the bathrooms, so you couldn’t see inside or out. Nobody every used the front door. If you opened it by mistake, you got plenty of dirty looks. Sitting at the bar, you were immersed in the environment, which made it that much easier to forget about what was going on elsewhere.
When you walked in and the door closed, you left the outside world behind. The feeling of the bar – the cramped, dim space that somehow held the promise of good times — took over. There was music and booze and company, the air filled with laughs and the occasional shout, along with the clouds of smoke. Everything you needed when you get right down to it.
Amestoy’s is still there, although I haven’t been in over fifteen years. The two owners – father and son, both named Frank – are dead now, and the bar is owned by someone new. From what I’ve read online, it’s a very different place these days. Supposedly, they even serve gourmet food and craft beer. It hardly matters now. The place I knew and loved is gone, except in my memories.
If it weren’t for Berry, we wouldn’t have the Tiki drinks we have today. They would have stayed lost in the rummy mists of time forever. But he almost single-handedly found them and restored them to their place of glory.
So when the Bum publishes a new book — which he doesn’t do very often; he is, after all, a beachbum — it’s an event worth celebrating.
Coming this December is his latest,Beachbum Berry’s Potions of the Caribbean. It recounts the spirited history of the West Indies, as seen through the prism of a cocktail glass. I haven’t read it yet, but I can’t wait to do so.
I’m copying the official information below, but first I want to share these amazing pages from the book. Not only is Berry an invaluable writer and cocktail historian, but his books are downright gorgeous.
This is the “must-give” gift for the cocktail, history, rum, or Tiki fan in your life.
Beachbum Berry’s Potions of the Caribbean by Jeff Berry Hardcover, 317 pages, $34.95
For the Conquistadors, the Caribbean was “New Spain.” For Victorian England, Jamaica was “The New Riviera.” Chicago mobsters transformed Havana into “The Las Vegas Of The Caribbean,” while Tiki-crazed tourists remade Puerto Rico into “Hawaii In The Atlantic.” Since Columbus first stumbled on the Caribbean, invading hordes have continually tried to turn it into something else — and with every reinvention of the region came a reinvention of its drinks.
Potions of the Caribbean: 500 Years of Tropical Drinks and the People Behind Them strains five centuries of this fascinating history through a cocktail shaker, serving up 77 vintage Caribbean drink recipes — 16 of them “lost” recipes that have never before been published anywhere in any form, and another 19 that have never been published in book form. Even more delicious are the stories of the people who created, or served, or simply drank these drinks. People like William Dampier, the 17th-century “pirate of exquisite mind” who plundered native cities but collected native recipes … José “Sloppy Joe” Abeal, who became an overnight celebrity when Prohibition brought millions of thirsty Americans to his sleepy Havana saloon … Conrad Hilton, the bible-thumping tycoon who used drinking and gambling to kickstart modern Caribbean tourism … mysterious Egyptian mixologist Joe Scialom, who escaped a Cairo prison to bring a new style of cocktail to the islands … restaurateur “Trader Vic” Bergeron, whose faux-Polynesian Tiki drinks turned the West Indies into a surrogate South Pacific … and hard-drinking novelists Ernest Hemingway and Graham Greene, who hated each other almost as much as they loved frozen Daiquiris.
As “a hybrid of street-smart gumshoe, anthropologist and mixologist” (The Los Angeles Times) and “the Indiana Jones of Tiki drinks” (The New York Times), the Beachbum is uniquely qualified to tell this epic story-with-recipes, lavishly illustrated with vintage graphics and rare historical photos.
The full-color hardcover first edition goes on sale December 10, but you can pre-order your copy now from Cocktail Kingdom:
The world of tequila is a complicated one, torn between large commercial producers that use the latest technology, and smaller, more craft-oriented producers that do things the way that distillers have for generations.
There is not necessarily a clear advantage to taking one path or the other – great tequila can be made by companies both large and small – but there is certainly a fascination with and appreciation for those who take the extra time and effort to follow tradition.
Selección ArteNOM Tequila is a company that celebrates that tradition. They find great spirits produced by small distilleries, in a variety of locales and utilizing a variety of techniques, and bring them to a wider audience.
Their Selección de 1414 Reposado is produced by the Vivanco Family in Arandas, located in the Highlands region of Jalisco, Mexico. They grow their own agave and distill it into their own tequila, putting their personal stamp on everything they do. And that dedication to quality and control shines through in the final spirit.
Despite spending ten months resting in used American white oak barrels, this spirit is very pale in color – only slightly darker than the typical blanco. Naturally, it is 100% agave, in this case Blue Weber. It has a rich and appealing aroma of agave, both vegetal and sweet.
Once sipped, those same qualities come across on the palate. There is sweetness and a mild vegetal tang, accentuated by a touch of brine. It’s mild, but still very tasty, with spices including cinnamon and clove. Seleccion 1414 Reposado has a lot of different flavor components that are working together in balance, which makes it both complex and delicious.
It has a medium-long finish, not too hot or spicy. Only at the end does it kick in with a little something extra to remind you that you’re drinking a real tequila. But it never beats you over the head. This is subtle, rather than bold.
Overall, Selección ArteNOM Reposado is sophisticated and rich, highly recommended for both sipping and mixing. (It made an outstanding Margarita, although I felt it disappeared in the Paloma.)
Since you’re reading this post, you’ve probably already noticed that Professor Cocktail has a new set of clothes. Looks pretty spiffy, doesn’t he!
I can’t take the credit. The amazing design and development of the new site, along with importing the old content from Typepad, was done by Toivo Betancourt at t7web media. He took my vague ideas and translated them into what you see, and I couldn’t be happier.
Definitely give him a shout if you’re looking for a new website or redesign. And tell him the Perfessor sent you! He won’t give you a discount or anything — I just like saying that.
Shake ingredients with ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Can also be served on the rocks. Garnish with a lime wheel and a sprig of cilantro.
In a clean bottle, combine a good quality triple sec with several sprigs of fresh cilantro. (The exact amount will depend on how much liqueur you're infusing, and how strong you want to the cilantro flavor to be.) Let the cilantro macerate for at least 2 to 3 days, shaking the bottle periodically. Once ready, it should last in the refrigerator for several weeks, if not longer.