Archive for the ‘Cocktails’ Category

I started a serious diet a few days ago, with the goal of losing some significant pounds before I travel in April to one of my favorite islands in the world: St. John in the USVI. This will probably be my tenth trip, but the first since the island was devastated by Hurricane Irma a few years ago. It’s time to return and pump some money into the local economy!

One of the drinks I’m dreaming about is a Caribbean classic. When traveling to St. John, a must for my friends and me is an all-day catamaran sail to the British Virgin Islands, to the home of what I call the Greatest Beach Bar on Planet Earth: the Soggy Dollar Bar.

One of the tastiest rum drinks you can make, and one that certainly brings you back to the Caribbean, is the legendary Painkiller. It was invented on the tiny island of Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands, at the Soggy Dollar. Located on White Bay, a stretch of the whitest sand in the Caribbean, surrounded by beautiful turquoise waters, there is no dock. You have to anchor your boat offshore and swim…hence the name: the Soggy Dollar.

 

Pre-Irma: after the hurricane, the Soggy Dollar, too, has changed, I’m sure. But it will be good to be back!

 

Daphne Henderson was the owner of the Soggy Dollar years ago, and she is credited for inventing the Painkiller, which used Pusser’s rum, a British rum that is available here in the United States. Charles Tobias, a businessman that received permission from the British Royal Navy to commercialize Pusser’s rum in 1980, tasted the Painkiller and realized the potential of this amazing drink. He took some Painkillers home to the island of Tortola, where he experimented in recreating that drink, coming up with what he thought was something that was as good as—if not better than—the original. He called it the Pusser’s Painkiller.

Tobias never found out what Daphne Henderson’s original recipe was, but when he brought his own Pusser’s Painkillers back to the Soggy Dollar, and had a tasting battle between the two recipes, his recipe apparently won 10 out of 10 times. With 5 Pusser’s bar and restaurant locations, Tobias quickly made the Pusser’s Painkiller the signature drink of these now-famous establishments…and perhaps the most popular drink among the sailing community in the US, Caribbean and West Indies.

Woody’s in St. John makes a good Painkiller to go, but nothing beats the Soggy Dollar!

 

PUSSER’S PAINKILLER

4 parts pineapple juice
1 part cream of coconut
1 part orange juice
grated nutmeg
Pusser’s rum

Combine the first 3 ingredients, with lots of fresh grated nutmeg in a glass with ice. How much Pusser’s rum you use depends on how hammered you want to get! A Pusser’s #2 uses 2 parts rum…a Pusser’s #3 uses 3 parts rum…and a Pusser’s #4 uses 4 parts rum!

I’ve had several Pusser’s #4’s back in the day when there was a Pusser’s bar in Cruz Bay, St. John, many years ago. I’ve also sampled them in the BVI on Tortola.  But I still prefer going back to Jost Van Dyke and knocking back a few of the originals at the place where the Painkiller was born, The Soggy Dollar Bar.

SOGGY2

Thanks to my buddy, Dr. Chezwick for the photo, taken years ago. My daughter is now 13, and ready for a “mock” Painkiller! Dad wants the real deal!

 

Let’s face it: there’s no such thing as healthy eggnog. This recipe is delicious but is also a heart attack in a glass. I post it every year because my friends just love it.

My buddy, Rick Sammarco, a wicked talented bartender, credits his father, Al, for this eggnog. The original recipe calls for a lot more of everything. I’ve cut it down to a “more reasonable” size.

A word about salmonella: If you’re concerned about it, you need to decide what works for you. Some recipes tell you to make your eggnog weeks in advance to “sterilize” the drink with all the booze you’ve added to it. I’m not sure that really works. As for me, I use raw eggs in my Caesar salad dressing and in other recipes, so I’m willing to risk it here.

If you’re lucky, some stores–(though very few of them, and none near me)–sell pasteurized eggs. They say the taste is a bit funky, but that it does remove the salmonella.

 

eggnog

 

1.5 quarts vanilla ice cream (I use Breyer’s)
1 pint half & half
15 whole eggs (raw)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
At least 3/8 cup of each:
spiced rum (I use Captain Morgan)
whiskey (I use Crown Royal)
brandy (I use E&J)

 

Let the ice cream soften 1 day in the fridge. Mix the ice cream, eggs, vanilla, half-and-half in a blender.

Add the spices and liquor. Blend until it’s frothy.

Taste, and add more cinnamon and nutmeg if you like.

After it’s fully blended, let it sit in the fridge, covered, for at least 12-24 hours for the flavors to blend. Even longer is better.

 

 

I love onions! Raw, sautéed, caramelized, yellow, Spanish, Bermuda, Vidalia, Texas Sweets, scallion, pearl, Crimini, Walla Walla…they can do no wrong. In fact, my family gave me the Lithuanian nickname: “Ponas Svogūnas.” (“Mr. Onion.”) I answer to it proudly.

I also love vodka martinis! So if I’m going to buy a top shelf vodka like Stoli Elit or Belvedere, I’m not going to ruin it with jarred cocktail onions, brined with cheap vermouth, found in the bar mixers section of my local supermarket. Who knows how long those nasty things have been sitting on the shelf?

No, I’m going to make my own cocktail onions to enjoy a proper Gibson!

The Gibson martini is simply one with onions instead of olives, and the story of its origin is somewhat unclear. According to one story, it was invented by Charles Dana Gibson, who created the popular Gibson Girl illustrations. Supposedly, he challenged Charley Connolly, the bartender of the private club, The Players, in New York City, to improve on a martini. Connolly simply substituted an onion for the olive and named it after Gibson.

Another story claims a man named Gibson dropped an onion in his water-filled martini glass to differentiate between his own drink and that of his colleagues, who were imbibing heavily.

Some stories about the Gibson don’t even mention an onion. (?)

And yet another story, now considered the more probable one, is that the Gibson martini was invented at the Bohemian Club in San Francisco in the 1890’s by Walter D. K. Gibson. There is documentation as early as 1898 to back that up.

Whatever story you want to believe, the Gibson martini was originally made with gin, not vodka, but that’s strictly a personal preference–and I don’t use any vermouth.

 

 

My first attempt at homemade cocktail onions was not a success. I bought pearl onions and did what the package instructions said: I dropped them in boiling water for a couple of minutes, then moved them to ice water to let them cool. Then a gentle squeeze on one end of the onion would make it pop right out of its skin. Easy, right?

Well, it didn’t work out that way. For one thing, the onions got soft…not what I wanted. I had to cut one end of the bulb with a knife. And even then, when I squeezed the onion, the part that popped out was about half the size of the original onion…there was a lot of waste.

 

 

After brining, they tasted OK, but they never had that crisp bite I wanted. They were mushy. I realized that boiling was not the way to go.

 

A lot of waste.

I knew there had to be a better way. Then I discovered already peeled pearl onions at Whole Foods. I have to be honest…I won’t use any other onions now. They’re big, plump, and exactly what I want.

 

Sure, these are much larger than the onions you find in a jar. But tell me how that’s a problem!

 

 

 

1 lb. pearl onions, peeled, ends cut off
1 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 1/2  cups water
3/4 cup sugar (I like turbinado sugar)
10 peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt (per quart-sized Mason jar)
2 cloves garlic

 

Combine the white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, water, sugar, and peppercorns in a medium-sized saucepan. Bring it to a boil, making sure the sugar dissolves completely. Remove it from the heat.

 

 

Slice the ends off the onions.

I’ve found that if I allow the brining liquid to get inside the onions, especially these larger ones, they’ll get tastier faster…and who doesn’t want that? So I take a thin metal or bamboo barbecue skewer and push it through the center of the top of the onions, all the way through the center of the bottom of the onions. Now there’s a little “tunnel” for that brine to get in, and it can work its magic from the inside out!

Not skewering the onions simply means it’ll take longer for that brine to seep in…but that’s perfectly fine if you want a not-so-briny onion.

 

 

In a quart-sized Mason jar, add the teaspoon of salt and garlic cloves. Pour a little of the hot vinegar liquid in the Mason jar to dissolve the salt. Add the onions to the jar, as tightly as you can, then fill the jar to the top with the vinegar liquid.

Screw the top of the jar on tightly, and turn it upside-down a couple of times to mix everything together. If it looks like the level of the liquid has gone down a bit, open the jar and top it off with the vinegar liquid, then re-seal it.

Let the jar cool to room temperature, then move it to the fridge. You can use the onions as soon as the craving hits you, but they’ll taste better if you give them a few days to a week.

 

 

Many thanks to my friend, Arthur Shapiro, who suggested I write a bit about the origins of the Gibson. Follow Arthur’s blog, “Booze Business,” on Instagram and Facebook. http://www.boozebusiness.com

 

Cheers!

Much like my radio job, I don’t mind doing requests! So thanks for asking for a re-post of this one. It’s a great cocktail to make when entertaining guests for the holidaze!
At first, it seemed almost silly to try to make one…but the classic James Bond martini has always fascinated me. I’m not talking about the clichéd Sean Connery “vodka martini, shaken, not stirred.”  I’m talking about the real James Bond martini, which appeared in Ian Fleming’s first 007 novel “Casino Royale” and only appeared in the most recent “Casino Royale” motion picture starring Daniel Craig.
Bondtini
To quote the novel:
‘A dry martini,’ he said. ‘One. In a deep champagne goblet.’ ‘Oui, monsieur.’ ‘Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s (gin), one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet.  Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?’ ‘Certainly, monsieur.’ The barman seemed pleasant with the idea. ‘Gosh that’s certainly a drink,’ said Leiter. 
Bond laughed. ‘When I’m … er … concentrating.’ he explained, ‘I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad. This drink’s my own invention. I’m going to patent it when I can think of a good name.’ 
He watched carefully as the deep glass became frosted with the pale golden drink, slightly aerated by the bruising of the shaker. He reached for it and took a long sip. 
‘Excellent,’ he said to the barman, ‘but if you can get a vodka made with grain instead of potatoes, you will find it still better.’ 
Bond named this drink the Vesper martini, after the character Vesper Lynd, portrayed by Ursula Andress in the 1967 adaptation, and Eva Green in the 2006 adaptation of “Casino Royale.”
My version of this classic drink remains true to the original, though I’ve changed brands due to personal preference. In the novel, Bond just asks for “vodka.” (Of course, this was back in the 1950’s when we didn’t have hundreds of brands to choose from!) My choice for best-bang-for-the-buck grain vodka is Tito’s. Made from corn, it has just enough of an edge, which is what this drink needs.
Bond asks for Gordon’s gin. I’m partial to Hendrick’s for this application. Again, in the 50’s, what good British agent wouldn’t drink Gordon’s?
And the original Kina Lillet had its formula changed in the 1980’s to keep up with the times by reducing the quinine, which made it bitter. The French aperitif wine, Lillet, is today’s version: a blend of wine grapes, oranges, orange peels and quinine. Lillet is not a vermouth, though you’ll find it in the vermouth section of your favorite liquor store. Some aficionados claim the martini is just not the same without the original Kina Lillet formulation, but I find that the drink works just fine for me.
ingredients again
So…measurements true to Bond:
3 oz. Hendrick’s gin
1 oz. Tito’s vodka
1/2 oz. Lillet
I prefer combining these over ice in a cocktail shaker, and I stir, not shake. I strain it into a chilled martini glass and I’m happy with the lemon peel…but happier with three olives instead.
Cheers!
Bondtini2
A side note: the correct pronunciation of Lillet is Lih-LAY. Grammatically in French, the double-l would make it sound like Lih-YAY. So to keep that from happening, they spelled it Lilet for a while until the French were used to the correct pronunciation, then they went back to Lillet on the bottle.

I recently had a chance to sample some very tasty bourbons at Fluke Newport, one of my favorite restaurants here in Rhode Island. Not being a big football fan, there was no better way for me to spend a Sunday afternoon…sipping wonderful bourbon, cleansing my palate with a selection of delicious appetizers prepared by my friend, Chef Eddie Montalvo, and enjoying the company of dozens of other like-minded people.

 

 

I have a long history with Geremie and Jeff Callaghan, the owners of Fluke Newport. It was about 12 years ago when my wife and I accidentally found the restaurant one winter night, and Jeff, behind the bar, was more than happy to share his knowledge of rums. We sipped and sampled all night, and I knew we had found a restaurant we’d be coming back to for years.

 

The bar at Fluke Newport.

 

Over time, the demand for rum changed to bourbon, and Fluke Newport now serves about 45 different bourbon brands on any given day.

 

A personal favorite from the day’s tasting.

 

Our bourbon tasting focused on a total of seven bourbons, all from the Buffalo Trace distillery. Six were paired with appetizers and the seventh, one of my favorites, Blanton’s, was served as “dessert.”

 

Blanton’s on display.

 

Jeff and Geremie talked about having another bourbon tasting around the holidays. Can I make my reservation now?

 

We also got some cool Buffalo Trace swag!

 

 

 

 

My raspberry plants are producing a ton of fruit, my mint plants are taking over the yard, and my neighbor has her little blueberry cart out by the street! It’s time to make mojitos!

Very often, I’ll use raspberries alone, but mojitos are even better when you combine the raspberries with blueberries. I have a few blueberry bushes in my yard, but it seems that the birds get to them before I even get a chance. Fortunately, my neighbor puts a little farm stand up in front of her home, so I stock up on blueberries, rinsing them and placing them in plastic bags that go in the freezer until I’m ready to make my mojitos….or smoothies, if I’m feeling particularly healthy.

Store-bought frozen fruit works well, too, so if you don’t have a farm stand down the road, don’t feel like you can’t make this fabulous cocktail. Just make sure you’re using organic fruit. Pesticides should never be a cocktail ingredients!  Once you make mojitos by the pitcher, you’ll never have them any other way. (Even if you’re drinking alone!)

 

The ingredients

 

Make ahead of time…
1 1/2 cups fresh squeezed lime juice
1 1/3 cups turbinado sugar (Sugar in the Raw is a common brand)

Mix both ingredients together, letting it stand at room temperature for a few minutes. I like to combine them in a Mason jar, then shake really hard until the sugar has dissolved. I keep it in the fridge, and it’s good for up to 3 weeks…ready to use any time. Shake it well again before using.

 

mojito pitcher

For the Mojitos…
1 cup sugar/lime mixture
1 cup mint leaves, packed
1/2 pint blueberries (fresh or frozen)
1/2 pint raspberries (fresh or frozen)
3 or 4 cups white rum (I use Don Q Cristal rum)
3 or 4 cups club soda

Combine the mint leaves and 1/2 cup of the sugar/lime mixture in bottom of a pitcher. Muddle the mint up very well to release mint oils. Add the blueberries and continue to muddle.

Add the remaining sugar/lime mixture, rum and raspberries. Mix well. Just before serving, add the club soda and ice. Stir. Pour into tall glasses.

Or…for drinks one at a time, don’t add the club soda to the pitcher. Instead, fill a tall glass with ice. Fill it one-third to halfway with club soda, then top with the mojito mix. Garnish it with a mint leaf.

 

Cheers!

Cheers!

Just because you’ve got a garden full of fresh veggies, it doesn’t mean you have to gorge on nothing but salads! Sometimes, a refreshing cocktail is just what you need after a long day of yard work. This one fits the bill!;

 

 

4 fresh cucumbers, peeled and seeded
Small ice cubes
1 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves
2 teaspoons granulated organic cane sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 cup vodka (I like Tito’s)
1 oz. orange liqueur (I like Cointreau)

 

Peel and seed the cucumbers. Coarsely chop them and then purée in a food processor until smooth. Strain through a fine sieve, pressing the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Or, if you have one, use a juicer. Set the cucumber juice aside.

To a large glass pitcher, add the mint leaves, sugar and lime juice. Muddle the ingredients so that the mint leaves release their oils. Add 3/4 cup (at least) of the cucumber juice. Add the vodka and Cointreau. Muddle again briefly.

Fill tall drinking glasses with ice cubes. Strain the cocktail into glasses. Garnish with a cucumber spear or mint.

I love watermelon margaritas, especially when they’re made with the sweetness of fresh watermelons. Florida watermelons have made their way into stores, and it was too big of a temptation not to buy one.

 

All you need.

 

Many recipes add a lot of sugar: sugar on the rim of the glass as well as sugar in the margarita itself. I think that a ripe watermelon has enough sweetness, and I leave any extra sugar out of my recipe.

 

4 cups cubed, seeded watermelon
1/2 cup (or more!) tequila (I like Patron silver)
3 tablespoons fresh squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon orange liqueur (I like Cointreau)

 

 

Combine the watermelon, tequila, lime juice, and orange liqueur in a blender. Process until it’s smooth. Pour it into margarita glasses filled with ice. Garnish with a lime wedge.

 

Watermelon margarita, aerial view. (No drone required.)

 

 

This weekend we celebrate Derby Day on Saturday and Cinco de Mayo on Sunday! The important thing is not to celebrate both on the same night…mixing margaritas and juleps is not an option!

I like a margarita that has a few, simple ingredients…and no sour mix. This is the one that hits the spot for me. My friends affectionately call it an “Algarita.”

 

3 oz. Patron silver tequila
1 oz. Cointreau orange liqueur
4 oz. pineapple juice
1/2 a fresh lime, squeezed

 

Place ice in a cocktail shaker and add Patron, Cointreau, pineapple juice and a good squeeze of lime juice from 1/2 a lime. Stir well, then pour it into a margarita glass (salt rim optional) and garnish with a lime wedge.

One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, FLOOR!

This Saturday is the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby! It’s also the 2nd annual Boyz Weekend at our summer rental home, Saule. (www.sauleri.com) We’ll be mixing juleps and watching the race, just like last year.

The Mint Julep is such a perfect, classic and historic bourbon drink, it seems silly to wait until Derby day to have one. Of course, as any aficionado of spirits will tell you, there are as many right ways as wrong ways of making one.

The first step in my Mint Julep is making the simple syrup. Learning from one of my old radio buddies, my pal Rick O’B, I infuse mint into my simple syrup to take my cocktail to the next level. I use the standard ratio of 1 cup of clean, filtered water to 1 cup of sugar, using an organic product like Woodstock Farms Organic Pure Cane Sugar. I place the sugar and water in a saucepan and heat until just boiling. I’ve found that it needs to reach this stage for the sugar to really dissolve. As soon as it starts to boil, I remove the saucepan from the heat, and throw in a handful of freshly picked mint leaves, stirring to make sure the mint gets in there, and then I leave the saucepan to cool to room temperature. Once it’s at room temp, I strain the simple syrup into a bottle with a tight sealing lid, and place it in the refrigerator to cool. It will keep for about a week.

An equally important ingredient for a perfect Mint Julep is the ice, specifically crushed ice from clean, filtered water. Don’t even think of using tap water for any cocktail much less this one. Why ruin an expensive bottle of bourbon by going cheap on the ice? I make my own ice cubes, then put them in an untreated canvas ice bag and bash them with a mallet to the perfect crushed size. Untreated canvas bags for crushing ice can be purchased online from bar supply companies for about $30. I got an untreated canvas tool bag (the exact same shape and size) at Home Depot for 3 bucks.

Da bag.

The next step is a little tougher: which bourbon to choose. The explosion of choices on the bourbon market has made it all but impossible for the average imbiber to know which bourbon is best for their tastes. If you’re a beginner, I suggest you go to a trusted bartender and explain that you’re new to the bourbon world, and could you have the tiniest of tastes and sniffs of what he’s got at his bar. Chances are, you’ll get a sampling of some of the better known brands: Maker’s Mark, Woodford Reserve, perhaps Buffalo Trace or Bulleit, and the standard Jim Beam. This is a very good start. If you have deeper pockets, go to the manager of a trusted higher-end liquor store and explain that you’ve had all the rest, now what does he think is the best? (Also, hinting to wife and friends that “I’m trying new bourbons” around your birthday or Father’s Day inevitably gets you a few bottles as well!)

My go-to bourbon for Mint Juleps is the very affordable Eagle Rare 10-year-old at $32.99 a bottle…and you can never go wrong with the classic Maker’s Mark. It’s always on sale around Derby Day.

Finally, a Mint Julep needs a metal–not glass– Julep cup. Made of pewter or aluminum, it frosts on the outside as you stir your drink, keeping your beverage ice-cold on even the hottest of days.

 

3 oz. bourbon
1 oz. mint-infused simple syrup
crushed ice
Julep cup
Fresh mint for garnish

Crush the ice and pack it into the Julep cup, even letting it dome slightly over the top. Don’t worry…the alcohol will melt it.

I like to add 1.5 ounces of bourbon, then the ounce of simple syrup, then another 1.5 ounces of bourbon on top. Break off a few mint leaves from the stem and push into the ice. Using a long spoon, stir the drink well. A beautiful layer of frost will form on the outside of the cup. Add more ice, if necessary, and garnish with a sprig of mint.

A nice selection of bourbons. This is an old photo: that Pappy Van Winkle is long gone…but I saved the bottle!