Tuesday, April 7, 2009


A good friend of mine is responsible for two things. One is convincing me, one wine soaked evening, to start Food on the Dole. Secondly, he's the main force behind creating the cocktails at the place he works. Which happens to be the place I used to work. Which happens to mean that he and I would often spend time discussing, creating, and, most importantly, tasting these cocktails and the food I'd be making for the same specials menu, which was a ton of fun, and one of the more creative and pleasurable duties of cheffing.

Obviously, this needs to continue despite my absence, so he decided to restock his liquor cabinet via the Cocktail Party method (always a good route to take, much like the wine and beer-stocking event that usually masquerades as a House Warming Party). Which meant a handful of us gathering at his place for experimentation and pizza from the unfortunately named Pizzeria Aroma right by the Berwyn Red Line stop (which, by the way, was really, really good, despite the crust leaving room for improvement, but someone always has a problem with this crust or that crust on every pizza, don't you think?).

I brought a sack full of limes and lemons and mint along with my trusty, beloved citrus juicer, and he kindly bought all the liquor. We decided to focus on Rye and Gin, mainly because we both like these spirits, and I get soap-box-ranty about the (dis)merits of Vodka anytime it enters the discussion, room, or cocktail. He bought a bottle of Templeton Rye, lovingly produced in Iowa (and interestingly only available in Iowa and Illinois--laws, you know?), and a bottle of Junipero Gin, made by the Anchor Distilling Company in San Francisco (yes, the same Anchor that makes that beer my dad likes). He made some Grenadine using a pomegranate juice he reduced with some sugar, and a syrup for sweetening using some gum arabic he had to smuggle out of the post office due to its powder-in-a-little-plastic-bag appearance. We had the mint, limes, lemons, Angostura bitters, and this weird coconut juice with chunks of coconut suspended in the strangely thick, clear liquid. Oh, and eggs, too.

We proceeded. I had a few in mind, including an Aviation (gin, lemon juice and Maraschino liqueur--and no, that's not the red corn syrup water left in the jar of cherries you get in the corner store), a Sazerac (Pernod, sugar, water, bitters, and rye), a Ward Eight (whiskey, lemon juice, and grenadine) and a Sidecar (lemon juice, triple sec and brandy). In the interest of keeping things simple and using what was available (gin and rye), we stuck to the Ward Eight, a tasty blend of a Floradora and a Flip, and an unnamed concoction using the weird coconut juice, lime juice, grenadine and acai liqueur (you know, to make it healthy).

The Ward Eight allegedly originated in Boston back in 1898 in a story involving politicians, almost certainly of the corrupt kind (pretty standard really, but probably with better haircuts and speaking skills), in the great restaurant Locke-Ober, which is still standing, and standing strong after a big renovation by the owners, including the chef Lydia Shire. Our version was really, really good--one of those super dangerous drinks that you could drink all day long in the summer, say, if you were unemployed and had a good thermos and lived right by Lake Michigan. We added orange juice to ours, and made it with that Templeton Rye. The soda water stretches and thins it outa touch, giving it the aforementioned dangerously drinkable quality, and we added a sprig of mint to it for some added freshness. Ours was served in a highball glass due to the soda water stretch, and well, at this point, there are probably some traditionalists in Boston who wouldn't call it a Ward Eight anymore (plus, we blew it and didn't bring the traditional mini-Massachusetts flag that the drink usually gets garnished with). Regardless, it was good.

Moving on, the next drink, as mentioned, took off from a Floradora recipe, usually framboise/raspberry liquer, lime juice, gin and ginger ale. But we decided midway through making it to explore flips as well, which usually involve an egg and some serious shaking. For our drink we subsituted the homemade grenadine for the framboise liqueur, and we used that good Anchor Junipero Gin. We left the ginger ale out, mostly because we didn't have any, and we added an egg white (leaving the yolk out for our maiden journey into the world of flips) and shook all the ingredients with a bit of ice to help aerate the egg white. I was reading about the flip, and found a great story regarding another great Boston restaurant, No. 9 Park, that describes how, no matter how busy the bar is when the writer goes in and orders a rye flip, the bartender will shake the drink for a full 5 minutes in order to give it proper aeration. Anyone who has ever worked behind a bar or kitchen line on a busy Saturday night can fully appreciate the significance of this dedication to quality. I set our timer and we shook, shook, shook the flip; taking turns freezing our hands on the metal shaker until the 5 minutes were up, and the drink came out amazingly light and creamy tasting, quite delicious and interesting. The egg white really added a bit of body and a delicious, rich flavor to the drink, kind of like a light egg nog.

The final drink of many was made to utilize the coconut juice. We added a good deal of lime juice to it, and boozed it up with the acai liquer. The drink was refreshing and light, bright and cool. A good summery drink. And something someone who works in a bar could sell to people as a healthy cocktail, hopefully with the understanding that there's nothing healthy about it at all. But you never know these days. After all, the Atkins Diet was viewed as a healthy way to eat for a long time.

Since that night, many more cocktails have been made. I've put my juicer to good work, stripped my teeth of much of their enamel, and experimented a lot. The main thing is, I think, to explore and respect these old drinks, without taking them (or ourselves) too seriously. Because drinks are meant to be fun and delicious, not stogy and contrived. And you can make really nice ones in your home--even though we're very lucky to be at a point in time when some really great bars are putting the necessary work and respect into the cocktail, it doesn't always have to happen in an exclusive bar with velvet seats and waiting lists. And you don't have to be a crooked politician to enjoy one, either.