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Stir Up Some Fun During Negroni Week


Cocktail lovers know that there are few pleasures that match a well-made Negroni. It is also one of the simplest drinks to mix: Stir equal parts gin, Campari and sweet vermouth with ice. Garnish with orange peel.

For Jeret Peña of the Last Word and the Brooklynite, the end result is magic. “The Negroni is my favorite cocktail, hands down,” he says. I couldn’t agree more.

That’s why Peña and many of the rest of us are ready to celebrate Negroni Week, which runs June 1-7 this year.

A Negroni

A Negroni

The fact that this event, sponsored by Imbibe magazine and Campari, raises money for charity only makes the week more inviting.

The rules couldn’t be much easier: You buy a Negroni from the participating bar of your choice, and the bar, in turn, donates $1 to the charity of its choice.

According to the event’s website, “From 2013 to 2014, Negroni Week grew from more than 100 participating bars to more than 1,300 participating bars around the world and more than $120,000 raised for charities.”

This year’s list is growing, with the following San Antonio bars taking part and the charities that they’re raising money for:

Alchemy Kombucha & Culture
1123 N. Flores
NowCastSA

Arcade Midtown Kitchen
303 Pearl Pkwy.
WINGS

Bar Du Mon Ami
4901 Broadway, Suite 130
Pets Alive

Barbaro
2720 McCullough Ave.
Breast Cancer Research Foundation

Blue Box
312 Pearl Pkwy.
Wounded Warriors

Esquire Tavern
155 E. Commerce St.
The Children’s Shelter

George’s Keep
17101 La Cantera Pkwy.
Wounded Warriors

Piatti
555 E. Basse Road
Texas Science and Engineering Fair

Piatti at The Eilan
17803 La Cantera Terrace
Texas Science & Engineering Fair

Silo Oyster Terrance
22211 I-10 W.
Wounded Warriors

The Green Lantern
20626 Stone Oak Pkwy.
Humane Society

The Hoppy Monk
1010 N. Loop 1604 E.
Eco Life

The Last Word
229 E. Houston St.
GBS | CIDP Foundation International

Once again, this list is growing. So, if you don’t see your favorite bar on the list, ask for a Negroni anyway. You’ll enjoy the drink and you might be helping a charity.

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Embracing Bitters


Our fascination with classic cocktails has grown in recent years, and with it has come a return to the way drinks were made back when people took the time to craft something by hand. We’ve seen a return to the use of egg whites, for example, to give a frothy head to drinks such as whiskey sours and pisco sours.

Dale DeGroff appears behind the bar at Soho Wine and Martini Bar

Dale DeGroff appears behind the bar at Soho Wine and Martini Bar

In the past four or five years, the interest in bitters has skyrocketed. Go into just about any liquor store and you’ll find bottle after bottle of bitters boasting flavors of celery (made for a bloody Mary), cherry (for Manhattans or old-fashioneds), grapefruit (for salty dogs) and mint (for a more righteous julep). Sure, the old standby aromatic bitters, Angostura and Peychauds, are on the shelf, and they still sell for anywhere from $5 to $10 a bottle, but mainy places are starting to stock more exotic mixtures with price tags in the $20 or range or more.

But what are these mysterious elixirs in their bottles, which are occasionally covered in paper wrapping? They are often alcoholic liquids flavored with a host of concentrated botanicals and aromatic herbs, most of which are predominantly bitter. Ingredients could include gentian root, orange peel, cinchona bark, cardamom, eucalyptus, coffee, you name it. Their purpose in the cocktail world is to provide balance to a drink so that it isn’t cloyingly sweet. Think about the indefinable touch in a Sazerac that keeps the licorice flavor of the absinthe in check or the trace of orange bitters that enlivens a real martini.

The seminar at Soho (Photo: James Goulden)

The seminar at Soho (Photo: James Goulden)

Brad Thomas Parsons has written the exhaustive “Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All, with Cocktails, Recipes and Formulas” for those who must know every last detail about bitters in cocktail history and want to try making their own at home. Bonnie Walker and I lassoed a recipe for barbecue bitters from Bohanan’s Heather Nañez to include in our own “Barbecue Lover’s Texas.”

Dale DeGroff, known as “King Cocktail” and the author of “The Essential Cocktail,” offered a dash or two of his perspective on bitters recently during a Manhattans seminar presented at the Soho Wine and Martini Bar on Crockett Street. The cocktail chronicler produces his own version of these aromatic gems, Dale DeGroff’s Pimento Aromatic Bitters. And it was one of five that participants got to taste in a series of Manhattans that had been made with George Dickel Rye.

Manhattans all in a row

Manhattans all in a row

While leading the tasting, DeGroff also offered a little history on the subject. Bitters were part of the first printed definition of a cocktail, he said. It dates back to a newspaper article from 1806. That’s when someone told the Balance and Columbian Repository of Hudson, N.Y., that a cocktail was a stimulating mixture of “spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters.”

But they date back further than that. Actually, they’ve been around since the late 17th century, he said. Stoughton’s Bitters were first produced in England in 1690 and were that country’s second patented medicine in 1712. The original recipe from Jerry Thomas and Pierre Lacour included 8 pounds of gentian root, 1/2 ounce red saunders wood or cochineal, 6 pounds of orange peel, 1 1/2 pounds of Virginia snake root and 1/2 ounce American saffron, among other ingredients. Ten gallons of distilled spirits were added to the mix before it aged. Now, that’s medicine.

"King Cocktail" Dale DeGroff

“King Cocktail” Dale DeGroff

Bitters returned after Prohibition ended. Cole Porter mentioned them in the 1940 torch song, “Make It Another Old-Fashioned, Please”:

     Leave out the cherry,
     Leave out the bitters,
     Leave out the orange.
     Just make it a straight rye.

But a funny thing happened to American tastes. Somewhere in the last 50 years or so, we surrendered our taste buds to syrupy sodas and other sugary confections. In doing so, we lost our appreciation for all things bitter. Or, as DeGroff said, “We have in our DNA an aversion to bitter things.”

So, for far too long, that bottle of bitters, which never goes bad if it has an alcohol base, was relegated to the back of the bar. Bartenders even took to joking: “What’s going to last longer, my bottle of bitters or my marriage?”

The Manhattan

The Manhattan (Photo: James Goulden)

No two bitters are alike, and each will influence the final flavor of your cocktail in a unique way, just as the profile of your whiskey, bourbon or rye will affect your Manhattan. So, do you prefer a bitter and fruity blend, such as the one attributed to Jerry Thomas that has been revived for modern cocktail drinkers? Or the classic, herbal profile of Angostura Bitters? You’ll have to conduct your own taste test. First, sniff and taste a tiny amount of the bitters by itself. What do you taste? Clove? Ginger? Cinnamon? Cola? All of the above? Then shake a drop or two into your drink and notice the changes that result.

Some people, DrGroff said, are so taken with the flavors of their favorite bitters that they’ll pour an ounce or so into an ice-filled glass and finish it off with mineral water or club soda. The end result is a digestif along the lines of a Campari, a bitter liqueur from Italy that’s often served with soda.

By the way, the name Angostura comes from a city in Venezuela, where the formula was developed in 1824. The distinctive bottle with its oversized label is perfect in such classic cocktails as the Horse’s Neck, Rob Roy, Singapore Sling or the Esmeralda, a winning blend of tequila, lime juice, honey and bitters that deserves to be resurrected. So versatile is Angostura bitters that one satisfied Amazon customer claimed they’re an effective mosquito repellant.

Luis Villegas with his winning Manhattan.

Luis Villegas with his winning Manhattan. (Photo: James Goulden)

You can take your bitters out of the bar and into the kitchen. In his book, Parsons suggests using them in everything from chicken wings to a topping for broiled grapefruit. I have used a dash or two in cherry and rhubarb pies to add a kick to the flavor. Just remember to start off slowly. The flavors are intense, so one dash may be all you need in the beginning. Your bottle will not go empty anytime soon. Or as DeGroff joked, if he ever goes into business again, it’ll be to produce something that people consume in quantities greater than a dash or two at a time.

After the seminar, three bartenders presented their own Manhattans to DeGroff and a representative of George Dickel Rye in a competition to see who could put the best spin on the classic. In the end, Luis Villegas of Houston, who consults at Costa Pacifica on Loop 1604, took the top prize for his variation, which he named “Come and Taste It!” Here’s his recipe:

Luis Villegas’ “Come and Taste It!” Manhattan

3/4 ounce George Dickel Rye
1/4 ounce Carpano Antica
1/4 ounce
Margerum Amaro
1 dash Angostura Bitters
Blood orange extra-virgin olive oil
George Dickel-infused Cherry

Stir rye, Carpano Antica, amaro, bitters and oil in an ice-filled glass. Strain into chilled coupe. Garnish with George Dickel-infused cherry.

Makes 1 cocktail.

From Luis Villegas

 

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Stir Up Some Fun When ‘Mad Men’ Returns Sunday


Basil Hayden's "Mad"-Hattan

Basil Hayden’s “Mad”-Hattan

“Mad Men” returns for a sixth season Sunday night on AMC. What better way to celebrate and catch up on the doings of Sterling Cooper Draper Price than to mix up a cocktail in honor of both the show and its Manhattan locale.

Basil Hayden, the small batch bourbon distiller, offers this take on the classic Manhattan, redone in a “Mad” mod style.

Basil Hayden’s “Mad”-Hattan

2 parts Basil Hayden’s Bourbon
3/4 parts Dolin Blanc Vermouth de Chambery
1 bar spoon Luxardo Maraschino Cherries
1 dash orange bitters
Orange twist

Add bourbon, vermouth, cherries and bitters to a mixing glass with ice and stir until combined.

Editor’s note: If you can’t find Dolin Blanc Vermouth, go lighter (maybe 1/2 part) on the vermouth in your version and adjust to taste. I’ve seen Italian marschino cherries, which are different from the American style, at GauchoGourmet, Twin Liquors and more in town.

Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice.

Garnish with an orange twist.

Makes 1 cocktail.

From Damian Windsor

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Cocktails for Mardi Gras and Valentine’s Day Will Get You in the Spirit


The Tart Hart

The Tart Hart

Want to stir up a little fun for Mardi Gras or Valentine’s Day? Then try any of these merry mixed drinks, a heady mixture of classic cocktails and some new libations guaranteed to jazz up your next party, whether it’s for two or 20.

In honor of Mardi Gras, we start with some New Orleans classics, each with a history as colorful as the city itself.

Ramos Gin Fizz

“The Gin Fizz slips on like a fine linen suit,” writes Denise Gee in “Southern Cocktails: Dixie Drinks, Party Potions & Classic Libations.” “It has been a darling of socialites since the 1880s, when it was developed by New Orleanian Henry C. Ramos. Notorious Louisiana Governor Huey P. Long knew its charms well, reportedly hiring New Orleans’s Roosevelt Hotel bartender to accompany him to New York so he could enjoy this white, creamy, floral but tart gin fizz at a moment’s notice.”

2 ounces gin
1 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 egg white
1 ounce simple syrup
1 ounce orange flower or rose water
1 ounce half-and-half
Club soda
1 orange wheel, for garnish

Pour the gin, lemon juice, egg white, syrup, orange flower water and half-and-half into a cocktail shaker filled with a few ice cubes; shake for about 1 minute. Strain into a pilsner glass or tall, slim glass filled with ice; top with club soda and stir. Add the garnish.

Makes 1 cocktail.

From “Southern Cocktails: Dixie Drinks, Party Potions & Classic Libations” by Denise Gee

The Roffingnac

“Here’s one inspired by a drink popular in the days of Count Louis Philippe Joseph de Roffignac, mayor of New Orleans during the early 1820s,” Gee writes. “Life was much better for the count then, since he’d successfully made a hasty retreat from France to the French Quarter in 1800 to escape the guillotine. Roffignac reportedly settled into a house on Chartres Street between Dumaine and St. Philippe streets, and did much to beautify the growing city. It’s there that he no doubt enjoyed the drink that’s now attributed to him, having been passed down for almost two centuries via worth of mouth and hand of bartender. It comes on strong but finishes sweet.”

2 ounces Cognac or rye whiskey
1 ounce raspberry syrup
Club soda
Fresh raspberries, for garnish

Pour the Cognac or rye and raspberry syrup into a stemmed cocktail glass filled with ice. Top it off with club soda and a swizzle to blend. Add the garnish.

Makes 1 cocktail.

From “Southern Cocktails: Dixie Drinks, Party Potions & Classic Libations” by Denise Gee

Brandy Milk Punch

“As a hard-drinking town with a serious affection for late-night carousing, New Orleans has developed or adopted more than its fair share of what locals optimistically describe as ‘eye-openers’ (basically, that’s shorthand for a hangover cure, also known as the hair of the dog),” write Jimmy Bannos and John DeMers in “Big Easy Cocktails.” “Something this milky and frothy is bound to sooth a protesting morning-after stomach.”

2 ounces half-and-half2 ounces milk
1 1 /2 ounces brandy
1 tablespoon simple syrup
6 drops vanilla
Ground nutmeg, for dusting

Combine half-and-half, milk, brandy, syrup and vanilla, and shake with ice. Strain into a chilled highball glass with a little fresh ice. Dust with nutmeg.

Makes 1 drink.

From “Big Easy Cocktails” by Jimmy Bannos and John DeMers

Pimm’s Royale

“This Champagne cocktail shares much of the same history as the Pimm’s Cup, drawing its spirit (literally and figuratively) from the creation of James Pimm in his London oyster bar,” write Jimmy Bannos and John DeMers in “Big Easy Cocktails.” “This drink, however, is even simpler, replacing the lemonade and soda water with the Champagne of your choice.”

3/4 ounce Pimm’s No. 1Champagne
1 lemon twist, for garnish

Pour the Pimm’s into a Champagne glass and fill with Champagne. Garnish with the lemon twist.

Makes 1 cocktail.

From “Big Easy Cocktails” by Jimmy Bannos and John DeMers

And now a few drinks to share with your loved one on Valentine’s Day:

Honey Bee-Mine

Honey Bee-Mine

Honey Bee-Mine

1 1/2 ounces Irish honey whiskey
1/2 ounce lemon juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup
1/4 ounce grenadine

Shake whiskey, lemon juice, syrup and grenadine in an ice-filled shaker. Strain into chilled Champagne coupe (or old-fashioned Champagne glass). Garnish with a strawberry.

Makes 1 cocktail.

From the Lexington Social House in Hollywood, Calif.

The Tart Heart

1 1/2 ounces pink grapefruit vodka
3/4 ounce maraschino liquor
1/2 ounce lime juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup
Dash of pomegranate bitters
Black raspberry liqueur
1 sprig of mint, for garnish

In an ice-filled shaker, mix vodka, maraschino, lime juice, syrup and bitters. Shake. Strain over fresh ice. Float a splash of black raspberry liqueur on top. Garnish with a sprig of mint.

Makes 1 cocktail.

From the Lexington Social House in Hollywood, Calif.

Lover’s Tango

2 ounces vodka
2 bar spoons sweet vermouth
Dash of lavender bitters

Stir vodka, vermouth and bitters in an ice-filled rocks glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Makes 1 cocktail.

From Belvedere Vodka

Sweetheart Swizzle

1 ounce citrus-flavored vodka
1 ounce lime syrup
Dash of Angostura bitters
Tonic Water

Pour vodka, syrup and bitters in an ice-filled rocks glass. Stir. Top with tonic water. Garnish with lemon, lime and cucumber wheels.

Makes 1 cocktail.

From Belvedere Vodka

 

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The Negroni: A Beautifully Bitter Answer to Sweet Cocktails


A Negroni

I worked up an appetite for Campari earlier this summer when I visited Italy. This bitters, with the bright red color, is an apéritif, an herb-infused alcohol served largely before dinner as a means of working up your appetite for food.

It was one of several herbal and vegetal intoxicants that cast its spell over me, and I loved trying various amari as well as Cynar, an artichoke-based drink that went well with a splash of peach soda. I’m not fond of overly sweet cocktails, such as cosmos or the various candied martinis that are all too common nowadays. So, the bracingly bitter difference that these alcohols  brought to cocktails made them a pleasure to sip and study.

I realize that you won’t find Cynar at every bar in town — perhaps not any bar in town, though I have seen it at Twin Liquors, Saglimbeni and Spec’s for about $27 a bottle. Campari, however, is a little more popular (and it’s also priced around $27 a bottle).  It’s usually tucked in with the other supposedly weird bottles, with labels bearing names such as Pimm’s No. 1 and Drambouie, all of which were purchased by the bar manager who was there three or four years ago and they were promptly turned to dust catchers after he  moved on to another job.

And that bottle of Campari generally means I can get a Negroni, though, more often than not, I have had to explain (and occasionally explain several times again) what is in this classic drink.

Not familiar with this crazy red beauty? It’s been around for close to a century, according to Wikipedia, and in all that time, its recipe hasn’t changed: It’s equal parts gin, vermouth and Campari with an orange twist. What could be simpler, right?

Well, in an age when classic cocktails are precociously trendy and bartenders prize themselves on being able to layer a true Ramos gin fizz or  whip up a whiskey sour with egg white, getting a Negroni has not been easy. A few bartenders have refused to make any drink they’ve never heard of. One bartender seemed to believe that those three liquors should not be mixed together, because I was served each separately and left to mix my own.

A Negroni at Zinc

Kudos to the folks at the Havana and at Bohanan’s Bar for knowing how to make a Negroni properly without asking questions. And thanks go to the bartenders at Zinc, the bar at Oro in the Emily Morgan and the Blue Box because they at least asked what was in the cocktail, listened and then made one to order. The recipe is so easy that most tasted just like they did at home, though I suspect a dash or two of bitters might have been splashed into one or two for a little added spark of flavor, though the blend of herbs and spices in Campari offers quite an explosion on their own.

You can vary the recipe. I found one cocktail book that made a Vodka Negroni, substituting vodka for what the author referred to as the medicinal quality that she detects in gin. My counterargument is that you can at least taste something in gin; I still haven’t found much need for vodka because I don’t need alcohol that badly to settle for something flavorless. (She also uses more vodka than Campari and vermouth, which is shifting the focus in the wrong direction, as far as I’m concerned, but chacun à son goût, as the French say.)

That probably explains where the lighter appeal of the Americano comes in. This cocktail, which actually predates the Negroni, uses club soda instead of gin, leaving you with a fizzy mix of bitter, herbal Campari and lightly sweet, fruity vermouth. Trivia fans will know of the Americano because it is the first cocktail ordered by James Bond in the novel, “Casino Royal,” according to About.com.

So, during the waning days of summer (as least I like to think it’s waning), try something a little different to take the edge off the heat.

For more Campari cocktail recipes, click here.

Negroni
1 part gin
1 part red or rosso vermouth
1 part bitters, such as Campari

Pour into a shaker with plenty of ice. Shake until cold. Pour into a rocks class, ice and all. Garnish with an orange peel twist. Some like to strain the drink into a chilled martini glass.

From John Griffin

Vodka Negroni

1 ounce vodka
1/2 ounce Campari
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
Splash of Perrier (optional)
Lemon twist

Fill cocktail shaker with ice cubes. Add vodka, Campari and vermouth. Stir and strain into glass over ice cubes. Add optional Perrier. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Makes 1 cocktail.

From “Modern Cocktails & Appetizers” from Martha Gill

Americano

1 ounce Campari
1 ounce sweet vermouth
3 ounces club soda

In a highball glass filled with ice, pour in Campari and vermouth. Stir. Add club soda and stir.

Makes 1 cocktail.

From “Pink Panther Cocktail Party” by Adam Rocke


 

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Mint Juleps Aren’t Just for Derby Day


Derby day calls for mint juleps.

Shortly after I moved into my home, I planted a single mint plant next to the fence. It has since grown into a patch at least 10 feet by 4 feet and is now threatening to surround the roses and come into the rest of the yard.

It’s a good thing, because I love mint.

It’s great to make tea with, to add to green peas and other vegetables, or just to snip so it perfumes the air. But, in my humble opinion, mint is best when served in a julep, the classic cocktail that all of us born in Kentucky know is served on derby day.

The Run for the Roses, as the great race is also called, wouldn’t be the same without this sweet Southern confection. And the following recipe comes from “Cordon Bluegrass,” the cookbook from the Junior League of Louisville, Ky.

So, no matter who wins the race, you’ll be a winner if you serve these. And you’ll keep serving them for as long as the mint lasts.

The Mint Julep

Water
Mint leaves
Bourbon
5-inch silver mint julep cup
Shaved ice
Straw, cut  1/2-inch above the top of the serving glass
Powdered sugar
Mint spring

Prepare  a simple syrup by boiling together 2 parts sugar to 1 part water for 5 minutes.

Prepare a bourbon-mint extract, made by piling mint leaves in a clean white handkerchief, gathering the ends around mint and dipping the leaf end in a small bowl of 3 to 4 ounces of bourbon  and wringing it into the bourbon. Mix the extract, bit by bit,  with the syrup until the first “ping” of bitterness is reached (from the mint, not the bourbon).

Prepare mint julep mix by combining 1 part syrup with 6 1/2 parts bourbon.

Store mint julep mix in glass bottles in refrigerator. (Keeps forever!)

Pack julep cup (at Churchill Downs, chilled souvenir Collins glasses are used) with shaved ice. Pour in 2 1/2-3 ounces of chilled julep mix.

Add straw, a tiny bit of powdered sugar and mint sprig.

From “Cordon Bluegrass” from the Louisville, Ky., Junior League

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