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The year in beer.

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‘Tis the season to make lists. So, apropos of my love for beer, a quick list of some of the best I have had in 2011. Also includes best pub, and other oddities.

[Note: Since I tend to drink most of my beers from local breweries (unless travelling) the list is somewhat San Diego-centric. (This is not a disadvantage at all for me given the large number and variety of breweries in the area and the fact that the number seems to be growing by a few every year. But unfortunately, you may not find many of these beers at your local grocery or liquor store. All the more reason to visit or better yet, move to America’s Finest City.)]

Lager/Pilsner: Not my favorite style and hence I tend not to drink a great variety of these. Among those I have tried, Lightning Brewery’s Elemental Pilsner easily wins top spot for its full-bodied malty, yet crisp and abundantly hoppy taste. Without doubt the best beer for the San Diego fall season (when it actually *does* gets hot here).

For lagers, I have to immodestly declare that my home-brewed Oktoberfest Lager beat out many of the commercial beers out there in this category. A hint of diacetyl taste – which I have to admit, was accidental – really put it over the top.

(don’t worry, that’s the only one of my home-brews I’ll praise myself)

Saison: 2011 seems to have been the breakout year for this usually spicy, but refreshing style of beer with origins in the Belgian farmhouse (these beers were brewed in spring for readiness to drink in fall after the harvest). Almost all local breweries produced a version (most of which I tried), and I brewed a few of my own in summer. However the Saison I most enjoyed was the New York-based Ommegang Brewery’s Hennepin Saison. It is also possibly the best beer I’ve had all year.  The only downside is that it packs a whopping 7% ABV,  so not quite a session beer.

Pale Ale: Found Bell’s Two Hearted Ale late this year – actually just this month on tap at a very nice pub in DC – and loved the intense hop aromas combined with the resinous characteristics of the Centennial hops used in the brew.

Also, though not new for this year, but Alesmith’s X (an Extra Pale Ale) continues to be a regular favorite.  Karl Strauss’ Pintail Pale Ale is great as well, especially when it is fresh on the tap during spring – love the strong citrusy aroma of this one.

IPA: Finally had a chance to enjoy Pliny the Elder this year and have to agree with the general assessments of it being the best (American-style) IPA in all of the country. Malt sweetness is brilliantly balanced with hop bitterness and lingering aromas.

A very, very close second would be Swan’s (a brewery based in Vancouver) Dry-hopped Casked IPA, which I had at the Alibi Room (see below). Yet another runner-up, again by just a thin margin, is Alpine Brewery’s Nelson, an IPA made with Nelson Sauvigon hops and small amounts of rye. The Nelson hops, which grow only in New Zealand and are hence pretty rare on this side of the Pacific, possess characteristics of the Sauvigon grapes that add a distinctive characteristic to the beer.

Apart from these, Ballast Point’s Sculping IPA remains a local favorite.

Stouts/Porters: Lightning Brewery’s Bourbon Barrel Black Lightning Porter – loved the vanilla flavor (extracted from the barrels) in this one. Flying Dog’s Gonzo Imperial Porter, served on nitrogen, was another favorite.

Cask Ale: 2011 was also the breakthrough year for cask ales, i.e. beer aged and carbonated naturally in a cask. Just like Saisons, almost every brewery was jumping on the bandwagon and producing special versions of their ales in casks (some going to interesting extents such as adding sumac to the beer while casking). Apart from the Swan cask-IPA mentioned, the casked version of Alesmith’s Anvil  ESB was quite good.

Barley Wine: Actually this was the only Barley Wine I had all year, but Alesmith’s barrel-aged Old Numbskull is a brilliantly complex beer and deserves a mention.

Honorable Mentions: Unibroue’s (a Quebc-based brewery) Blanche de Chambly – a Belgian White with subtle spice and citrusy freshness. Also, a red ale made with Thai rice that I had at a brewery in Singapore called Brewerkz (run by an American). Can’t remember the name of that beer though.

Green, healthy beer.

Most Absurd Beer: A Green Lager at the Red Dot Brewery in Singapore. It was made green by the addition of spirulina, a dietary supplement made from cyanobacteria. The description of the beer claimed it had health benefits, noting that spirulina is supposed to help in ‘regression & elimination of AIDS virus’! Taste was only a small step above the locally available Tiger lager.

Best Beer Name: The Polygamy Porter from the Wasatch Brew Pub in – where else? – Utah.

Ashamed to Admit I Drank it Beer of the Year: Kingfisher Lager. Choices in India were limited.

Pub: The Abili Room in Vancouver. I would have loved this place just for its location right next to a railway yard, allowing you views of the locomotives shunting as you sip a cold one. The fact that they have over 30 beers, many local, and served some awesome food made it even better. Tucked in at the edge of Vancouver’s downtown, I also loved the quaint indoor décor – often designed with a sense of humor (a stacked bunch of non-working antique TVs in one corner instead of the usual big LCDs showing sports).

Close second: Tiger Tiger – the newly opened pub in San Diego. Love the big open space inside and their selection, and their wide range of choice for lower-alcoholic session beers.

A special mention to St Augustine’sin Vancouver for their innovative use of the space in front the urinals in men’s restroom: LCD screens displaying live status of remaining beer in all the kegs served.

St Augustine's in Vancouver. Keeping you informed of beer supplies while you pee.

Beer Epiphany of the Year: That I do enjoy sour beers, especially the low-alcoholic, highly carbonated Berliner Weisse, called the ‘champagne of the north’ by the Napoleonic army invading Germany. The Lightning Brewery version of this beer, Sauerstrom Ale, was the best, and I did not even require the traditional syrup which is often mixed in to counter the sourness, to enjoy this.

Serendipitous Beer Discovery of the Year: The Central Coast Brewing Company at San Luis Obispo, CA. We were walking towards downtown SLO for dinner and found this brewery just a few blocks from our hotel. Enjoyed their Topless Blonde Ale – a mild pale ale, but was really blown away by the Catch-23 Rye IPA. These guys are generous with their rye addition, which provides an additional malty spiciness to the beer.

Beer Disappointment of the Year: Dog Fish Head 90min IPA. Supposedly one of the best IPAs made in the USA, I just could not enjoy its overtly fruity, and sweet taste. Perhaps it tastes better on tap, so my judgement could change.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

December 30, 2011 at 3:32 pm

Posted in Food

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The Happy Hour BoozeKwiz

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(Update: now with answers)

Just did a quiz based on alcohol on Twitter, through the handle @kweezzz.

Here are the questions. Have a go if you didn’t participate on Twitter. Will provide answers later, but you are very welcome to take guesses in the comments section:

1. George Hodgson developed this beer with higher than usual (for that time) alcohol and hops so it could survive long sea voyages. It underwent a slight style transformation in the US. What is it?

Ans: India Pale Ale (IPA).

2. Sitter. Identify the movie and the drink. Very specific answer.

Person 1: Bring me ……….. (Describes a cocktail) .

Bartender: Yes, sir.

(Two other people ask for the same drink)

Person 2: My friend, bring me one as well, but keep the fruit.

Bonus for the full recipe.

Ans: Casino Royale. Bond asking for a drink to be later named, Vesper Martini.

Q3. Kipling wrote: “You paid for a drink and got as much as you wanted to eat. For something less than a rupee a day a man can feed himself sumptuously in San Francisco, even though he be a bankrupt. Remember this if ever you are stranded in these parts”.

What’s Kipling talking about here, later to be popularized into a famous phrase by two other people?

Ans: The practice, in parts of US, of offering free food with drinks back in the days. Phrase is of course, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Q4. Easy, advertisement for what?

Ans: Loch Lomond.

Q5. In the episode of The Simpsons, Bart the Murderer, what cocktail does Bart make that saves him from getting killed by the mafia ?

Ans: Manhattans.

Q6. “Creamy Bavarian wheat beer with pronounced clove, vanilla, banana, apple, bubblegum, and sometimes nutmeg flavors. Dark color from roasted/caramelized malt.” What are talking about here?

Ans: Dunkelweizen – a dark wheat beer (not Hefeweizen since dark is mentioned)

Q7: Connect (to a drink of course)

Ans: Apple Martini.

Q8. Kate Hester, owner of a saloon near Pittsburgh, used to hush her patrons when they got too rowdy by whispering “______, boys! _____” (for good reasons). Fill in the blanks and the funda will come.

Ans: Speak Easy

Q9. A version of this classic drink was lent its name by a famous author since he liked it with grapefruit and maraschino liquor in addition to the traditional ingredients. What’s the drink and who’s the author?

Ans: The Hemmingway Martini

Q10. What’s the connection. Looking for a very specific answer.

Ans: Dry Martini. Haweye in MASH was looking for the driest Martini, Churchill and Bunuel are also  famous for liking their Martini dry.

Q11. What would be Ricky Ponting’s favorite beer, if he was partial to his hometown brewery?

Ans: Boags.

Q12.  Identify the event depicted here. Bonus for name of the film.

Ans: The Judgment of Paris. California wines were judged to be superior than French wines in a blind taste challenge. The movie is Bottle Shock – a barely sufferable romantic comedy that depicts incidents leading up to this event.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

August 28, 2010 at 7:12 pm

Posted in Food, Fun, Martinis

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Weekend cocktail blogging: Beer Margaritas

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Yeah, you heard it right. Just in time before the weekend slips away, treat yourself to this awesome summer refresher.

(Yes, as a self-proclaimed cocktail snob I should be ashamed, but what can I say: I was hit on the head today, and this could be the internal hemorrhage talking.)

The basic idea is to mashup two alcoholic beverages that are very refreshing on their own for a uber-refreshing drink.

Before you start, a word of caution: there are quite a few recipes out there if you google ‘beer margarita‘; but please, please and please, do not follow them. Most of the recipes ask you to use limeade (ugh!), and give you wrong advices like avoid micro-brews to prevent overpowering your margaritas, calling instead for (gasp) Corona!

For those who use limeade (or any of those ready-made margarita mixes), to paraphrase the immortal Mr T , ‘we pity the fools’!

As for micro-brews, yes avoid  the over-hopped Stone/Doghead etc, but there are many micro-brewers and homebrewers (such as moi) who make lagers and light ales that actually taste something other than lightly diluted water. So don’t be shy of using some craft/home-brewed or imported lager/ale that is on the sweeter, but less malty and certainly not hoppy side (however, for the sake of experimentation, a well-hopped ale could be tried). However, German lager, which are heavy on the malt, may not work very well.

I used my home-made California Cream Ale, which is light (~4.5% ABV) and has a very light  sweetness to it and is neither very malty or hoppy.

Also, in my opinion, to really balance the beer and the tequila, I would recommend a Reposado tequila (tequila aged 2 months to a year in oak barrels). Reposados are mellower than the ‘gold’ (the lowest end of tequilas that have caramel etc added to give color, and IMO should never be used expect for college kids  and poor grad students to get drunk quickly) or ‘blanco’ (un-aged tequila, that is 100% agave and quite strong consequently). They are also less expensive than the aged tequilas that are a waste in cocktails anyway. Plus, with this drink, it’s not worthwhile wasting your high-end tequilas like Patron.

This was my recipe:

  • 2 parts Tequila (I used Hornitos)
  • 1 part Triple-sec (again, not worth using Cointreau or anything expensive, the regular stuff will do)
  • 1 part freshly squeezed juice of lime
  • Home-brewed California Cream Ale to top off.

Pour everything into a shaker with lots of ice and shake. Pour into a glass that has been rimmed with margarita salt. It is better to put some fresh ice in the glass and strain the shaken mix over the ice. Carefully top off with beer.

IMG_0235

A word of caution: this will get you drunk very fast. I assume no liabilities.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

August 22, 2010 at 6:01 pm

Posted in Food, Martinis

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Weekend Cocktail Blogging: Saturday Quickie…

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A fine, crisp and sunny weekend evening in San Diego inspires this Hendrick’s Gin-based cocktail. Let’s call it…ummm….. say Carte Blanche (not my own idea – flicked the name off the box the Hendrick’s came in)
  • 3 parts Hendrick’s Gin
  • 1.5 part lime juice
  • 1 part sugar syrup/teaspoon of sugar.
  • Few dashes of Paychaud’s Bitters

Shake all ingredients except the bitters with ice and strain into a pre-chilled martini glass. Add a few dashes of the bitter on top. Enjoy with mozzarella-rolled prosciutto with basil, and salami with Parmesan.

[Or, just drink a Shiraz-Cabernet-Viognier blend, as the better -half was doing]

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

April 10, 2010 at 11:01 pm

Posted in Food, Martinis, Personal

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Monday…must be travel day.

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Just some rambles to take advantage of free airport wifi.

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Not the most pleasant thing to do on very early Monday morning…..but there I go again – all the way across the country this time. And I am holding on to my car keys with dear life this time around.

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So Sunday included a five hours round trip drive (fortunately, I wasn’t driving) to essentially get Biryani from a Bangladeshi place in LA. Then being a total Bong bhadralok & buying lots of fish (which in a very non-typical Bong manner, I will actually will not eat – yes I know, Bongs have been trying to disown me on this technicality for a while). Plus a bunch of old Bong movie DVDs.

Yes – they do have biryani in SD, but not the aromatic, slightly moist with ghee and pieces of of succulent, melt-in-the-mouth pieces of mutto type of biryani. Delicious stuff.

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It was universally agreed upon that LA has the fugliest downtown in America.

But plane-spotting is definitely fun near LAX. Especially if you can get a seat outside at the In-and-Out on Century Blvd. Heaven for airplane-geeks.

The part of LA where biryani and fish were picked up could very well be in a different country. Driving north on S Vermont Ave, every sign is in Korean (and every other shopfront offer acupuncture and some sort of herbal therapy). A few Bengali signs after that.

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Watched bits and pieces of the Oscars  while devouring said biryani. Under-whelmed. Both by the ceremonies, and most of the live-tweets.

What was with the people going on and on introducing the best actor/actress nominees ? Looked very awkward. IMHO, only Colin Ferrel was able to pull it off.  And the sudden ending was weird as well. Like the theater caretaker was pointing to his watch and asking people to hurry along and finish up, he had to lockup and leave before his diner closed up.

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Guy behind me: I don’t need to know the entire love-life, breakup and therapy of whoever you are talking to very loudly on the phone with.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

March 8, 2010 at 11:34 am

Posted in Food, Personal, Travel

Coffee, ‘Johnny Z & the Camaros’, with some science in between…

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[was going to post over the weekend, but procrastination ensued. as usual]

A great week at San Francisco for the Biophysical Society annual meeting, ending rather badly with two weary hours at the San Diego airport because I am a dunce who manages to lose car keys while waiting for the luggage! (To top it off,  apparently these fob-thingies are some ultra super-duper gadgetry that requires NASA scientists to make and a pretty penny to replace. Gah.)

But overall, one of the pleasanter conferences I’ve been to. Some quick thoughts on food & drink (most important of course), the conference and the city. Real sciency stuff for a separate blog.

Food and Drink (mainly limited to places around the Moscone convention center and Union Square):

  • Blue Bottle Coffee: A case of beer to Purely Narcotic for this recommendation. It’s hidden away from the main streets (the Mint Plaza location), so I wouldn’t have found it on my own.  But so glad to finally be able to walk into a coffee shop in the US, order a  Long Black Americano and not worry about it being served in gigantic saucers filled with water to kill the taste (actually, made a fool of myself by starting to explain that I wanted the regular cup size, only to be stared at with a ‘…but that’s what we do anyway’).  Of course, the quality of the roast itself is top-notch and the barista approaches the pulling of each cup with zen-like devotion. Their brioches, and other assorted sweets and savouries are yum as well. No better way to open the day.
  • Samovar Tea Lounge: Just above the convention center in the Yerba Buena gardens and usual lunch-spot. Bit of new-age pretentiousness about the place, but great selection of teas and – this turned out to important after nights of drinking – healthy food.
  • Papalotes: This one was recommended via Twitter as well by geetika1255 (so that settles the question of whether Twitter serves any purpose?) and has gained fame recently with their chef beating Bobby Flay in a burrito throw-down. Therefore, as expected, there was a huge crowd outside the smallish place in the Mission area. But they did an admirable logistical job of seating people just as their food was about to be ready and then politely moving them out for the next batch. Food was good, everything was freshly grilled etc. But coming from San Diego, with its Mexican-food-at-every-corner-ness, it wasn’t such an overly exciting experience. The Aussies were suitably impressed though.
  • Tropisueno: Stepped in only because it was next to the convention center and it was pouring.  Came out very satisfied with the  Mexican fare here  – their spices were quite exquisite. But the margarita with agave nectar and house salt (whatever it was) was the winner – nice kick to it without overpowering. Would highly recommend.
  • Pakhwan: Went here for a dinner partly out of nostalgia, partly because the Aussie contingent were craving for ‘Indian-style rice’ (I assumed they wanted biryani). This hole-in-the-wall place on O’Farell St had sustained us during my previous visit (seven years ago) for the same conference – back when we were PIGS. They have an actual tandoor in there, so both the tandoori chicken and the Bihari kebabs were moist and succulent. The began bhartha was wiped clean off the plate. Biryanis were so-so.
  • The Daily Grill: The bar at the hotel I stayed; not too memorable other than the fact I got into a mild argument with the bartendress about how a Sazerac should be made (she was shaking the stuff, and I was telling her to stir) – but I bowed to the fact that she’d been bartending much much longer than I’d been making Sazeracs. I ended up drinking two of her concoctions and then going back later in the week for more. Now if it was a Martini, I’d have fought till death (though I doubt a good bartender would dare to shake when asked for stirred martini).
  • Johnny Folley’s Irish Pub: Any place that serves Guinness does well by me – thusly, I have a built-in stop function that kicks in whenever I walk by an Irish pub. However, was it just me or their Guinness a wee bit watery? I had the Black and Tan to begin with and thought the less then usual robustness was just the layers mixing in too quickly. But subsequent drinking of just Guinness on its own was less than satisfying as well. Oh well, the lamb shanks more than made up for the drink.
  • Lefty O’Doul’s: Didn’t have any food here (seemed like diner-style food) but had a few beers with friends on the first day. Had to comment because of the really nice waitress who served our drinks. It is rare to find someone reciting from memory the whole lot of 12 beers on tap – from light to the heavy –  in order. Was also amazed how at the end of it, she helpfully pointed out how much each person owed without actually splitting the bill. Way to go.
  • Gold Dust Lounge: Velvets couches, golden chandeliers, old oil paintings, statue of a gold-rusher as you walk in – a funky little place, with almost a dive bar-ish atmosphere.  Easily the best place to hang-out after a tiring day at the convention. A bit pricey for the beers – but they have margarita specials ($3.50) till 830p. However, after 830p is the time to be hanging out there when Johnny Z and the Camaros sit behind a cramped bar-space and belt out 60-80s hits.  More than the music, it’s old Johnny Z’s dry wit which makes it a lot of fun. Don’t walk in without expecting bit of borderline insults (I got the usual, Indian-must-be-call-center-dude-with-funny-accent treatment *yawn*). For a couple of bucks in tips, they’ll take requests (just don’t ask them to play Bon Jovi). Made my friend happy by playing Land Down Under. Truly mixed crowd as well – everyone from AARP members to wannabe hipsters, with equal parts regulars and tourists (a few nerdy biophysicists walked in as well, and were made appropriately made fun of by the aforementioned Johnny Z).  If you do head out there, take plenty of cash – they don’t do cards. Expect a surly waitress, or two.

The actual conference:

  • Bummed out by the lack of wi-fi in vast areas of the conference center. For a conference that was promoting the use of blogging (BPS had four official bloggers at the event) and Twitter to disseminate information, this was a huge fail.
  • Poor planning for many of the talks – sessions that are historically always well attended (anything to do with ion channels), were given smaller rooms with hardly any standing areas left while concurrent sessions went empty. Also the National Lecture by Roger Tsien was filled out very quickly, which was bit of a downer, but we did get to hear and see the presentation in a different room. Other than these minor issues, a good conference, as usual.
  • Good science, but nothing earth-shattering, no disruptive technologies. A few cool ‘out-of-the-box’ applications for existing technologies. Old controversies still raging even as participants have mellowed down. Roger Tsien’s lecture was wonderful as usual. His lab has succeeded in developing imaging techniques by which tumor cells in the living body can be highlighted by fluorescent light. This helps surgeons in cutting out the majority of the tumor without relying on guess-work. Even better, the tumor cells can be contrasted to important tissues like the nerve cells, which surgeons need to avoid. Current technologies have worked exceedingly well in mouse models. Next – clinical applications in humans.
  • Personally, the conference was a huge boost in terms of networking and meeting up with lots of people. There are many regulars at this conference, and catching up with them on the edges of the actual sessions is satisfying. I actually get much more scientific information  and exchange of ideas this way  than attending actual talks. It also feels good when someone you’d interviewed with once for a postdoc job five years and haven’t seen for a while remembers your name and interests very well.
  • Big thanks to the Aussie contingent for making it fun in the post-conference evening dinners and drinks (see above).

Bad weather and a busy meeting ensured that I did not have too much time to explore SF, but have been there couple of times before and done most of the touristy stuff. Certainly this won’t be the last trip either.  In spite of the mainly gloomy weather this time, fondness for SF remains. Possibly not a place to live permanently (though given the quality of coffee on hand, I am sorely tempted), but great for brief visits or even spending a year or two like we did down under. San Francisco has that certain vibe, sorely lacking in San Diego (even in the Hillcrest/Gas Lamp-type happening areas).

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Note about Virgin America’s service trying not to sound like a paid advertisement: must be the funnest, most comfortable US-domestic airline around. Starting from their red-carpeted check-in area that often plays eclectic music, to the mood-lighted, almost Vegas-like cabin interior, leather seats (with enough space), power-port on every seat, personal entertainment unit with free and paid stuff, easy ordering of food/drink through the personal unit and most of all, the easy-going attitude of their staff; these guys have managed to make flying within US fun again (I know SouthWest does a few of these things, but I’ve had some bad experiences from them). The humorous way they handled the fog-related delay of the flight into SF (we were held up at SD itself) and also the manner in which the extremely tired staff at the SD airport went out to check if I had dropped my keys on the plane speaks volumes of their customer service. Wish they served a few more destinations.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

March 2, 2010 at 4:46 pm

Friday Cocktail Blogging: New Orleans on mah mind

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The SuperBowl to be played between the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts this Sunday, will have at least a few certain winners from the city of New Orleans. If the Saints win – the connection is obvious, and the French Quarters will erupt. But even if Indy wins, Peyton Manning happens to hail from NOLA, as does his father – who spent a long career playing with the home team (back in the dark days when the team was mocked as the ‘Aints).

So anyhoo, all this is a long lead up to say that I’ve always had a sort of romantic longing for NO, especially after reading ‘A Confederacy of the Dunces‘ (easily one of the more underrated gems). A city with a laid back attitude, rich musical heritage, spicy food, and a number of classic cocktails does absolutely fine by me.

Of course, being a lazy ass has meant I’ve kept putting off the trip down there (In fact –  totally useless piece of personal trivia –  we we had almost made bookings for the weekend that Katrina stuck NO, and some work  made us cancel it). Oh well.

But in the spirit of celebrating Orleans, here’s the most famous cocktail from the city – and apparently, the very first cocktail to be ever invented. There are several versions of the drink , but I really liked how this one was written, so I pretty much followed the directions:

1/2 teaspoon absinthe, or Herbsaint (a New Orleans brand of anise liqueur)
1 teaspoon of simple syrup (or 1 sugar cube or 1 teaspoon of granulated sugar)
4 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
1 small dash, a scant drop, of Angostura bitters (extremely optional; some feel it helps open the flavors, but traditionalists may leave it out).
2 ounces rye whiskey. (I used Old Overholt Rye)
Strip of lemon peel

And I followed the traditional method outline there, using the Herbsaint, which I was lucky to find at the local BevMo:

The traditional method: Pack a 3-1/2 ounce Old Fashioned (rocks) glass with ice. In another Old Fashioned glass, moisten the sugar cube with just enough water to saturate it, then crush. Blend with the whiskey and bitters. Add a few cubes of ice and stir to chill. Discard the ice from the first glass and pour in the Herbsaint. Coat the inside of the entire glass, pouring out the excess. Strain the whiskey into the Herbsaint coated glass. Twist the lemon peel over the glass so that the lemon oil cascades into the drink, then rub the peel over the rim of the glass; do not put the twist in the drink. Or, as Stanley Clisby Arthur says, “Do not commit the sacrilege of dropping the peel into the drink.”

It takes while to make this drink, but the effort is quite well worth it.

Edited on the morning after: I made about 6 of these last night, and seems like a good idea to go easy on the sugar. For me, about half teaspoon of sugar hit the spot.

So here to the Saints (or the Colts) and the weekend in general. Cheers.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

February 5, 2010 at 11:16 pm

Posted in Food, Fun, Personal

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Weekend Cocktail Blogging

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First, Happy New Year and all that. Wishing everyone a very successful, non-sober 2010.

The last day of fairly  longish (and very relaxing) holiday weekend, along with the balmy, mid-70s and sunny weather we are experiencing here, calls for some refreshing outdoor drink.

So I cooked up this variation of the ultimate outdoor drink,  the Mojito, with basil leaves in place of mint (try this with other drinks such as Juleps that call for mint as well, IMO basil has a nicer aroma), plus adding a bit of the Brazilian rum, Cachaca, and some orange liqueur to the mix.

Can’t come up with any interesting names right now, but how ’bout the ‘Finest City Mid-winter Sling‘ ?

Here’s the recipe:

1.5 part White Rum

1.5 part Cachaca

0.5 part Cointreau/Triple Sec

Dash of Blue Curacao

3-4 large basil leaves

Juice of half a lime

1-2 tsp sugar (demerara sugar is preferred, but I used Stevia)

Sparkling water/Soda (optional)

To enjoy:

Step 1: Add the lime juice, sugar and basil leaves into a shaker; using a long bar spoon, mix the sugar and lime juice while smashing the basil leaves (do this gently without bruising the leaves). Add the rum, cachaca and Triple Sec  with some ice, shake and pour into a tall Collins glass. Add the dash of Blue Curacao. Top up with soda or sparkling water if you want (I didn’t have either, so I used some tonic water, wasn’t too bad). Serve with a straw.

Step 2: Find a nice, sunny patio – preferably one with a hammock – and an engrossing book. Lie on the hammock, take a sip for every page read. When finished with the drink, go to Step 1. Repeat till the sun gets close to the horizon, making it bloody cold all of sudden.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

January 3, 2010 at 6:09 pm

Posted in Food, Fun, Martinis, Personal

FCB: Gourmet 50’s Cocktails – Frangipani

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Not sure if it is related to their upcoming demise, but Gourmet magazine online is doing a feature where they publish their 20 favorite cocktails of each decade, starting from the ’40s. They are upto the 90s now.

Simply gazing at the wonderful photos are probably worth the time by itself, but it is wonderful stuff for any cocktail connoisseur and additionally, a good lesson for aspiring mixologists.

Being Gourmet magazine, they also obviously get their preparations right:  Martini is  to be stirred (not shaken), the vermouth is ‘to taste’ (and they stress this fact) with nary a mention of vodka. We can but only appreciate.

All the other cocktails similarly exude class and style  – no tropical forests hanging out of brightly colored, over-sweetened drinks calling for 10 different liquors!

So suitably inspired, I have got it into my head now, of trying out all the cocktail recipes posted on the site and then blogging about it!. Of course, given my record in such matters, ‘all’ might be rather stretching it. But this is alcohol we are talking about – so I will give it a fair go.

I wanted to start with a drink I’ve never had before and settled upon this rum-based recipe from the 50s: Frangipani. A combination of being intrigued by the name and the fact that it used gold rum, which I have rarely tried before, and Maraschino liqueur, which I wanted to try out for a while, made me go this one.

Image from Gourment

Image from Gourment

I had this theory that there might be some sort of  Sanskrit roots to the word Frangipani (pani = water and all that), but as far as I can find out, Frangipani refers to a tropical flower (and a few other stuff). How that relates to the cocktail, I have no idea and the web is sparse on details.  The only other mention of it as a cocktail has a very different recipe. As Gourmet put it, the drink  is a variation of the Hemmingway daiquiri:

A cynical cocktailian might look at this as a dumbed-down Hemingway Daiquiri (or Papa Doble, as it’s sometimes called), but substituting more grapefruit juice for the lime and the sugar actually results in a very different drink. Look for Luxardo’s maraschino liqueur.

This is how I made it, based off the Gourment recipe :

  • 1 part Golden Rum (I used the Dominican brand Ron Matusalem)
  • 1 part Pineapple Juice
  • 3 dashes Maraschino Liqueur (Luxardo, as suggested in the recipe, I was lucky enough to find it at BevMo)

Give it a few nice hard shakes jig in a cocktail shaker with ice and strain into a pre-chilled martini glass.  The toughest part of making this drink was getting the Maraschino Liqueur right: three dashes mean dashes – pour a bit too much and the drink is overwhelmed by the honey-almond taste of the liqueur.

In terms of taste, it is indeed a very different drink from the Hemmingway Daiquiri – and much sweeter as expected with the pineapple juice. I also  thought that the juice and the Maraschino liqueur hid the taste of the rum (but then perhaps I need to get myself a better quality or a  more aged rum).  Overall, even though I don’t like my alcohol too sweet,  I can picture myself drinking this while relaxing outdoors on a weekend afternoon. The drink could be a a nice after-dinner cleanser as well.

As such, I also made my own version of the drink by increasing the portion of run to 1.5 parts and then adding a dash of lime juice (in the form of clarified Key lime) to have a bit of balance.

Not looking as tempting as the image from the magazine; Photography skills still need work :Pp

Not looking quite as tempting as the image from the magazine; Photography skills still needs work 🙂

Not a bad start really. Cheers.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

October 16, 2009 at 2:38 pm

FCB: Givin’ Martini a Bad Name…

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A sincere request to lovers of alcohol everywhere…to stop appending the name ‘Martini’ at the end of any random fruity, colorful liquor concoction.

Even otherwise erudite bloggers are at it, tweeting about something called Mango Martini ! As far as I can see, it is just a variation of the SATC-popularized cocktail Cosmopolitan, with mango juice replacing the cranberry. Nothing against anyone liking it (although, personally I think it is a bit of  a waste of Triple-sec trying to pair its sweet-orange taste to the mango juice, the latter is just awesome on its own). But a ‘martini’, it ain’t, so someone should at least come up with an alternative name.

Nitin also RTs someone suggesting another abomination, The Espresso Martini, as a drink that ‘rejuvinates…like nothing else’.   The drink is  pretty much a shot of espresso added to a slight variation of the  White Russian theme, so yeah – stop calling it a martini !!!   As for the drink itself, I guess to each his own – but mixing coffee and alcohol is usually not my cup of tea (I do, however, on occasion don’t mind a well made Irish Coffee); you are sitting on the precipice of starting to drink the nightclub-sustaining Vodka/Redbull mixes. Besides, why add coffee when the recipe already calls for substantial coffee liqueur  (1.5 parts Kahlua) ? I’d rather go with a simple Black/White Russian. Finally, coffee flavor-based cocktails are supposed to be desert drinks, so not sure of the rejuvenating aspect either. I would suggest going for a Mint Julep, Caipirinha, or a Collins if you are going for ‘refreshing’, and pretty much a shot of any strong liquor – perhaps a bourbon/whiskey – if rejuvenation of the soul is required.

(Semi-regular posting of cocktail recipes for FCB will happen sometime in the future – or not. Life is logistically pretty messy now, and it is much easier here  in the US to step out on a Friday evening and enjoy cheap but well-made cocktails! And in  great company 🙂 )

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

September 4, 2009 at 9:06 am

Friday Cocktail Blogging: The Manhattan

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I blogged about the Manhattan before, but lately I have developed a renewed affection for this drink.  (Also, in that earlier blog, the drink was more of an after-thought – wanted to expand on it a bit).

This renewal of affection came about  possibly during the trip to Boston earlier this year, when fellow connoisseur BH led me to this wonderful watering-hole in a Cambridge alleyway. Over the stretch of a Friday evening, the extremely sympathetic barman treated us [1] to an array of Manhattan variations, the names of which I fail to recollect, but various other New York city subdivisions were involved.The variations mostly involved using different kinds of whiskey, bitters and vermouth (well duh!).

The other reason is the discovery of Gentleman Jack, a double charcoal filtered, extremely mellow Tennesee whiskey that seems ideally suited for this drink .

Note that the kind of Manhattan you prefer, like Martinis, is a personal choice: the type of whiskey, on the rocks or straight up, dry or sweet and cherry or not. etc are some of the options one is faced with.  Couple of ground rules though. First, the obvious – never use expensive whiskey like single barrel bournbons, or single malt scotch. Second,  even if you partake a cherry – don’t add the syrup – the drink will be too sweet. For the rest, go by your own taste.

The Manhattan hasn’t yet replaced the dry Martini as the pre-dinner drink of choice, but it is running close. This is the way I prefer it now, especially on summer evening after work:

  • 2 parts Gentleman Jack
  • 1/2 part Dry vermouth
  • 1/2 part Lillet
  • Dash of Blood Orange Bitters (or Angostura)

Shake in a cocktail mixer with lots of ice and strain into a pre-chilled cocktail glass.  Optional cherry garnishing (best way to do this: add the cherry – sans the syrup – to the bottom of the glass and pour the drink over it).

As you can see, I prefer straight up. Unlike the Martini, where on the rocks is a definite no, a Manhattan is okay over ice. However, I recommend that you use ice a bit more fine than usual for this.

Cheers.

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[1]: No, we paid for the drink, but the barman possessed that ideal quality so severely lacking in many of the profession: anticipating our next drink -both in terms of when we needed one next, and what we would enjoy. In a Friday-evening crowd, that is a fine

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

August 14, 2009 at 7:25 pm

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

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…actually no, it isn’t (but I do love the Alvin and the Chipmunks version of the song).

Warm (~30Celcius) weather and long summer days does not put one into the same type of holiday mood as does a good covering of white fluffy snow on the ground. Add to that a curious lack of carols and songs on the radio, malls and cafeteria here in Oz. Not even much of Christmas-like decorations in our neighborhood. So all in all, not the usual x-mas mood I have been used for the eight odd years in the US.

But hey, if it something the Aussies do well – it is taking holidays, partying, and fun-stuff like drinking.

Speaking of drinking, Christmas in summer  means that the usual egg-nog (with a good amount of brandy) is not such a good option. Hence , to enjoy the holidays, I made up this sweeter derivative of the classic Mint Julep:

A Festive Julep

A Festive Julep

A Festive Julep

Muddle 1-2 teaspoon of sugar with 5-6 mints leaves and a dash of water. Add crushed ice (it is important to add crushed ice to this drink instead of cubes) and pour 2 oz (60ml)  Kentucky Bourbon (or Jack Daniels) and 2oz  (60ml) Southern Comfort mix lightly and top off with sparkling water. Finally, drop in a maraschino cherry (add a bit of the syrup too if you want it even sweeter).

Traditionally a drink associated with southern USA, especially the Kentucky Derby, this is quite a refreshing  cocktail.  Santa would appreciate at the end of the gift runs !

Merry Christmas, happy holidays etc !

Me, I am off to Melbourne tomorrow (sadly not in attendance at the MCG for Boxing Day though), with a drive along the Great Ocean Road, and checking out the vineyards of the Barossa and McLaran Vales in store.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

December 24, 2008 at 8:51 pm

Posted in Australia, Food, Martinis, Travel