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I'm a guy who likes to cook, eat, and drink, but not necessarily in that order. This blog is nothing fancy; just my random thoughts about anything that can be baked, roasted, or fried. Enjoy!

Monday, May 30, 2016

Summer Drinks: As Easy as One…Two…Three…

"I don't know what reception I'm at, but for God's sake give me a gin and tonic."
       —Denis Thatcher

Memorial Day, the traditional start of summer, has arrived! So break out the seersucker, the white shoes, and put away the brown water. In other words, it’s time for summer drinks. Let’s start with the big three: the gin & tonic, the margarita, and the daiquiri. 

Gin & Tonic

 The gin and tonic is the ultimate summer drink. (Though I was once told by an Englishman that a gin and tonic can be consumed in the winter as long as it is done during the weekend.) When it comes to the gin & tonic, your best bet is to go with a classic London dry gin (the ones that taste like Christmas trees), like Tanqueray, Beefeater, or Boodles. But as important as a good gin is to a good G&T, the tonic is just as important, if not more so. Nothing destroys a good G&T more than bad tonic—gin is a jealous mistress. Unfortunately, most store-bought tonic is atrocious. It is nothing more than carbonated sugar water.

But what is tonic water?

British officers stationed in India invented tonic water by mixing soda water with quinine. Quinine is an anti-malarial substance derived from the bark of the cinchona tree. (During a safari in Africa, our guide told me that, based on my quotidian intake of gin and tonics during happy hour, I had obviated the need for my anti-malarial pills!) Being good Englishmen, the officers countered quinine’s bitter flavor by adding gin, sugar, and lemon or lime. Thus, in the land of the Raj, the gin and tonic was born!  Eventually, the gin and tonic made its way back to England, yet another contribution made by the Pax Britannica.

Because Britain was the home of the Industrial Revolution, there should be no surprise that Schweppes, a London-based sparkling-water company, added "Indian" tonic water to its line of products in 1870 and began the mass production of tonic water. Canada Dry stepped in and began making tonic water around 1890. Since then, these two companies have produced most of the world’s tonic water. But it is a far cry from the original. Until now.

In recent years, several companies (e.g., Fever-Tree, Q Tonic, and Stirrings) have stepped in and halted the malaise, producing tonics that will certainly take one back to the glories of the British Empire. Of these new, artisanal tonics, my favorite is Fever-Tree, made with Rwandan quinine and cold-pressed orange oil from Tanzania.

One final note. It would be helpful to us gin and tonic drinkers if restaurants and bars would take note of this trend in artisan tonics. (In all fairness, some have; there are bars that even make their own tonic.) Please stop using that Barbarella soda gun machine-thingy! This is especially true for high-end restaurants charging me $12 for a gin and tonic.

The modern, day-glo green concoction is a mere shadow of the original. Like many well-known cocktails, the origin of the Margarita is hazy. Those who have claimed the honor: a Texas socialite named Margarita Sames; the Kentucky Club in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico; and the Tail o' the Cock in Los Angeles. One thing is certain, it was never frozen, and it was never made from a mix.
Much like a well-made G&T should avoid “the gun,” a respectable Margarita should avoid: (1) cheap tequila, and (2) pre-made mix. Like most classic cocktails, less is more, and better ingredients mean a better drink.
Let’s start with Tequila. For most Americans, Tequila means Jose Cuervo shots in a college bar on Cinco de Mayo. But there’s so much more than that. Good Tequila, in this author’s humble opinion, rivals the best Scotch when done right. And when I say “done right,” I mean made with 100% agave. I would recommend Herradura, Patrón, or Corzo. 
Tequila was first produced in the 16th century near the present-day city of Tequila, Mexico, though the Aztecs had made a fermented beverage from the agave plant long before the Spanish arrived. And so when the Spanish Conquistadors ran out of booze, they did what any respectful invader would do: go local! They distilled agave to produce what is perhaps the first indigenous North America distilled spirit. It was pure; it was good; it was natural. And then America stepped in and turned it all to crap.
So, to get back to where it all started, here’s a classic, simple, and pure, recipe for a Margarita.
Recipe for the Classic Margarita
2 limes, halved and juiced, rinds reserved
4 oz. premium tequila
1/2 oz. Cointreau or triple sec
Margarita salt or kosher salt
Fill two stemmed cocktail glasses with crushed ice and allow to chill. Meanwhile, fill a cocktail shaker with ice and add lime juice, tequila, and Cointreau. Shake well. Empty the ice from glasses, rub rims of glasses with the pulp side of one of the lime rinds, then dip moistened rims into a saucer of salt. Strain margaritas into salt-rimmed glasses and garnish with a slice of lime, if you like.
This drink has always reminded me of that crazy, hot mess ex-girlfriend who just…can’t…let…go. You know what I’m talking about. Drunken, late-night calls from some bar with a “Mc” or an “O’.” in the name. She’s with her girlfriends who obviously don’t have the common decency to take her phone away. Yeah, the modern-day daiquiri is a mess. But it wasn’t always so. In the distant past, she was a 1930s movie star, elegant and graceful. Maybe Olivia de Havilland; maybe Greta Garbo; and maybe, just maybe, Marelene Dietrich. 
The origins of the daiquiri are just as delitescent as the margarita, but one theory has the Daiquiri being invented by James Cox, an American mining engineer stuck in Cuba at the time of the Spanish–American War. Few folks outside of Cuba had even heard of the drink until Rear Admiral Lucius W. Johnson, a U.S. Navy medical officer, tried Cox's drink. Johnson later brought the drink back to the the Army and Navy Club in Washington, D.C., and within a few decades its popularity soared. Its fame was sealed when Ernest Hemingway and President John F. Kennedy made it one of their favorite cocktails. 
If I had to pick a provenance for the daiquiri, this story would be mine because it seems so American—the child of America’s spasmodic rise to world-power status in the early 20th Century. Perhaps it should have been named the “Teddy Roosevelt” or the “Rough Rider.”
Originally the drink was made with a teaspoon of sugar and the juice of one or two limes poured over crushed ice in a tall glass, all finished off with two or three ounces of white rum. It was then stirred with a long cocktail spoon until frosted.
I suggest you break-up with the hot-mess girlfriend version and move on.
Recipe for the Classic Daiquiri
2 oz. white rum (Cruzan Light Aged, Mount Gay Eclipse, or Flor de Caña 4-Year Extra Dry)
1 oz. fresh lime juice
2 bar spoons of sugar syrup
Pour all the ingredients into an ice-filled shaker. Stir vigorously with a cocktail spoon and strain into a chilled glass.
Hemingway Daiquiri
Ernest Hemingway was diabetic, so according to legend this particular version was devised for him using maraschino liqueur in lieu of sugar. How this made the drink better suited for a diabetic escapes me. One reason I call B.S. on this story, but here it is nonetheless.
3/4 oz. white rum* (Cruzan Light Aged, Mount Gay Eclipse, or Flor de Caña 4-Year Extra Dry)
1/2 oz. maraschino liqueur
2 bar spoons of grapefruit juice
2 bar spoons of fresh lime juice. 
Pour all the ingredients into an ice-filled shaker. Stir vigorously with a cocktail spoon and strain into a chilled glass.

Well, there you have three classic drinks to get you through the hot summer months. If these don’t work for you, then grab an ice cold beer.

*I seriously doubt that Mr. Hemingway, one of the most famous professional drinkers in American literary history, would drink a daiquiri with less rum than the standard version. I would up this to 1-2 oz.

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