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Happy spring! With its beautiful colors and come-out-and-play weather, spring awakens our awareness of sensual pleasures like no other season. For the Grog Dog, it’s time to run like the gate was left open and roll in the sweet new grass!

While drinking dogs generally limit themselves to basic hydration, Dog Drinking GIFpeople drink for many other reasons, and pure enjoyment is not the worst of them. Modern cocktails in particular offer an almost unlimited range of flavors and textures (thank you, molecular gastronomists!), and due to their intoxicating effect, are the perfect medium to deliver a sensational spring day… or evening.

The tongue and palate are the major organs of taste, naturally, and although they are highly sensitive, they can only “report” their data to the brain, which must catalog and record the information so you remember that warm hint of absinthe in your Inside Job, or the surprising spark of celery bitters in your Oxford Comma.

So next time you mix or order a cocktail, take a moment to really taste it. Taste the cocktail. First, inhale at the rim of the glass and notice its scent as you take in the first sip with just a bit of air. Let it roll over your tongue, slowly. Bathe your taste buds in viscous sips of deliciousness. (And then try to say that phrase three times fast.)

drinking martini-dailymailukAs you swallow, open your lips slightly to allow the alcohol vapors to rise into your palate. Breathe in slowly through your mouth and nose, and savor the flavor of each ingredient as it evaporates. Lick the remaining drops from your lips and warm to the final tingle on your tongue. Sigh, and sip again. Notice how the first sip is different from the next, and the next, and the last. Take in the astringency of the gin, or the heat of spicy bourbon, or the sweet complexity of the liqueurs.

That’s the physical process of drink-tasting. While the temperature, flavor, and texture are dancing down your throat, your brain still needs to keep a firm grip on its analytical faculties to learn and catalog those taste sensations – warm or cool; sweet, spicy, or fruity; thick, foamy, or frosty. Is it too tart? Too watery? Too cold, or not cold enough? What individual flavors do you detect? Give your brain time between tastes to record the flavors, the textures, temperatures of each sip.

It doesn’t matter whether there’s absinthe in your cocktail – if you taste anise, there must be some chemical cousin to it in your glass. That won’t be fun if you don’t like anise, but you’ll have learned to do a little more taste-testing to find out what exactly you do like about that particular drink. Make a different cocktail that includes – or excludes – the ingredient you’re not sure of. Compare and contrast. Have a tasting party, and try several varieties of the same base spirit to see how they affect the overall flavor of one of your favorite cocktails.AJ1180423

Spring is the perfect time to rejuvenate your palate with some fresh sensations. Drink up, slowly, and savor the season!

Image credits: reddit.com (dog drinking); dailymailuk.com (sipping); Eavisa.com (daffodil)

As a writer, the Grog Dog has aspirations to literary greatness. This July 4, however, I dedicate my post to two all-American literary icons whose lasting fame and reputations are unmatched, and perhaps not coincidentally, are related by blood and name as well as writing prowess.

FSK-starspangled200-orgFrancis Scott Key, American lawyer, amateur poet, and coincidental observer of the Battle of Fort McHenry, authored the poem that would become the national anthem of the United States, “The Star-Spangled Banner“. During the War of 1812 (the “second war for independence”), the British attempted to re-establish dominion over the American colonies – and very nearly succeeded.

Not surprisingly, given the colonists’ tendency to produce and consume huge quantities of spirits, ale, and wine, Key set his poem to the tune of an English drinking song: “To Anacreon in Heaven“.

f-scott-fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald

One hundred years later, Francis Scott Key’s second cousin three times removed and namesake, F. Scott Fitzgerald, would graduate from prep school and soon set out on a career as a writer – becoming famous for his talent and infamous for his dedication to a drinking lifestyle that rivaled his colonial ancestors’ in scope and frequency. By the time Fitzgerald had published his first novel, This Side of Paradise, in 1920, Prohibition had become law, and the post-World War I Jazz Age was blooming like the poppies in Flanders fields. Fitzgerald’s novel perfectly reflected – many say, influenced – the zeitgeist of the era and his own artistic (and hedonistic) circles. As a daring spokesmen for the Lost Generation, Fitzgerald enjoyed fame and fortune and squandered both in spectacular fashion. He was the first (1929) to conjugate “cocktail” as a verb (all the way through the preterit tense, whatever that is – the Princetonian smarty-pants).

fitzgerald-conguates-cocktail-openculture-comPresent: I cocktail, thou cocktail, we cocktail, you cocktail, they cocktail.

Imperfect: I was cocktailing.

Perfect or past definite: I cocktailed.

Past perfect: I have cocktailed.

Conditional: I might have cocktailed.

Pluperfect: I had cocktailed.

Subjunctive: I would have cocktailed.

Voluntary subjunctive: I should have cocktailed.

Preterit: I did cocktail.

So in honor of two American literary icons, whose very existence perfectly synthesized the foundational elements of the American character – drinking and a genius for pop culture that earned them long-lasting fame – I offer The Fitzgerald:

2 oz London dry gin

3/4 oz simple syrup

3/4 oz fresh lemon juice

2 dashes Angostura bitters

Shake with ice; strain into a cocktail glass. This bright, tart cocktail has a sweet, silky mouthfeel and a slightly bitter finish that makes this literature fan think sentimentally of the troubled author Fitzgerald’s life and times – so different from those of his ancestor but equally inherently American.

Black Dog Flag-Pinterest

The Grog Dog, being something of a lone, er, wolf, is not a parent and has never regretted it. But I respect and admire dog dad kneeparents in general and especially those who teach their children well – as in, teach them good things and teach those things in the right way. In the context of parent “holidays” like Father’s Day and Mother’s Day, this means giving up an entire day of doing things they want to do and modeling gracious acceptance of items and activities they may not have chosen for themselves… pretty much like any other parenting day, but with cards and handmade gifts and questionably edible breakfast in bed.

If you and your dad (or mom, or the person who is like a parent to you) would like to quietly celebrate their importance and influence in your life, I recommend the Nocturnal. This deep, mellow, slightly bitter nightcap can accommodate a variety of brown bases, so just about any bourbon or rye you prefer will work. You can also adjust the bitterness by using Amaro instead of Fernet Branca, but with either variation this is going to go down better after dinner, as the sweet maraschino liqueur and Cointreau (triple sec) make it slightly syrupy.

The Nocturnal is 1.5 oz bourbon (or rye), 0.75 oz Fernet Branca (or Amaro), 0.5 oz maraschino liqueur, 0.5 oz triple sec (Cointreau), 1 dash Angostura bitters. Stir well in a mixing glass with lots of ice and strain into a chilled rocks glass with fresh ice. Garnish with an orange twist. This drink opens up nicely as the ice melts, and the cold will cut the sweetness.dog dad 2

While most of the parents I know could use a day off, for the best of them, that’s just not an option. And they wouldn’t want it to be. So raise a glass to Dad, and give him the next best thing: a quiet night with a good drink.

Thanks to my drinking buddies at Kindred Cocktails for offering cocktail enthusiasts an excellent forum and cataloging tool!
Image credits Hanna-Barbera, LovePet

This Memorial Day, the Grog Dog is quietly contemplating the sacrifices of our military and their families. Turner Classic Movies always delivers excellent themed programming for holidays and this weekend is no exception, as TCM is running a Memorial Day Marathon of films made during and about our many wars and conflicts. For those whose local weather or preference don’t tend toward a traditional cookout, or you just want to experience contemporary portrayals of the soldier’s life, here are some ideas for pairing classic cocktails with classic films.

The Aviation: 1 part fresh lemon juice, 2 parts dry gin, 2 dashes maraschino liqueur, 2 tiny dashes creme de violette. Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. The creme de violette gives this gorgeous cocktail a pale sky-blue tint (hence the name). Red BaronInvented (or adapted) in pre-Prohibition New York around 1916, according to the Imbible, the timing of the Aviation’s introduction also coincides with the development of actual aviation, as both a means of transportation and warfighting in WWI. Today, TCM’s lineup features films like “Air Force“, “Captains of the Clouds“, and “Twelve O’Clock High“.

This evening, TCM features the Oscar-nominated “Friendly Persuasion“, a mostly lighthearted film starring Gary Cooper and a young Anthony Perkins as a Quaker father and his son, who can’t reconcile their peaceful doctrine with the compelling moral issues of the Civil War. The Quaker’s Cocktail is 1 part brandy, 1 part rum, 1/4 part fresh lime juice, and 1/4 part fresh raspberry juice. Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. For another take on the theme, the World Peace is 3 parts London dry gin, 1 part fresh lemon juice, a splash of elderflower liqueur, 2 drops blue curacao, and 2 drops almond syrup (also shake and strain).

On Sunday, TCM features “Sahara” with Humphrey Bogart, and what better classic cocktail to drink with a film about the North Africa campaign than the Blood and Sand? It’s 1 part Scotch, 1 part sweet vermouth, 1 part orange juice, 1 part cherry brandy (Heering); shake and strain into a rocks glass.

On Sunday night TCM is showcasing one of the best silent films ever made (in my humble opinion): “The Big Parade” (1925). “The Big Parade” stars John Gilbert in one of his best roles, as a carefree young man who goes to war in France and experiences all the horrors of WWI. It was the first film to depict war from the ordinary soldier’s point of view, and was widely cited by WWI veterans as a realistic portrayal of their experience. For this film, the French 75 is particularly appropriate, having been named for the French artillery gun (and likely the effect of too many of these potent drinks). The French 75 is 2 oz London dry gin, 1 tsp superfine sugar, 1/4 oz fresh lemon juice, 5 oz Champagne. Shake the gin, sugar, and juice with ice and strain into a tall glass half-full of ice. Top with Champagne.

On Monday, TCM features films from various eras, including M*A*S*H. The anti-war film featured the iconic characters Hawkeye Pierce and Trapper John, and became the inspiration for the longest-running show on television. What else to drink with this except moonshine, right out of a makeshift still?

Credit: uswarddogs.org

Credit: uswarddogs.org

I hope you enjoy your holiday weekend. Please take a moment to think of, and thank, the veterans you know, and all those who gave their lives in war to promote peace and freedom everywhere.

Being a free canine spirit, the GrogDog doesn’t appreciate having a “master”. Knowing a master, however – someone with a lifelong dedication to acquiring knowledge about a specific topic – is an entirely different proposition. Masters of knowledge not only teach, but engage, and are passionate about sharing their interest with others. When the topic is liquor, and the sharing adds to the sum total of happiness in the world, it’s the Master who’s earned a good scratch behind the ears and a most excellent job as an expert drinker.

Philosopher Jeremy Bentham:

Philosopher Jeremy Bentham: “It is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong.” (1789)

I met such a master this week at a tasting event at Petite Cellars (Ellicott City, Md.). Nick Crutchfield is a Master of Whisky with Diageo, “the world’s leading premium drinks business“. The topic was bourbons and Tennessee whiskeys (and ryes), and Nick spoke about the resurgent American “brown spirits” with the reverence and delight of a man who has found his true calling.

The nice folks at Petite Cellars put together an excellent written introduction to bourbon and whiskey for their guests, which described their history and definitions, processes, and ingredients and equipment used in making whiskey (or whisky). After a brief introduction to the differences between bourbon, whiskey, and rye (which involve much more than nomenclature), we tasted, learned about, and compared six spirits, each with a distinctly different character: IW Harper Kentucky Straight Bourbon, George Dickel No. 12 Sour Mash, George Dickel 9 Year Petite Cellars Single Barrel, Bulleit 10 Year Bourbon, Bulleit Bourbon Rye, and Orphan Barrel Forged Oak.

As dedicated GrogDogBlog readers know, I advocate taking the time to learn not only what you like to drink, but why you may like a particular flavor profile, and how to use that knowledge to enhance your overall pleasure in drinking. Whiskey Master Nick echoed the GrogDog’s drinking philosophy when he recommended people drink good liquor for “the escapism of that first sip”. This is why I highly recommend attending a tasting of your favorite spirit at your local liquor retailer. Not only will you learn a lot about the spirit in general and have a chance to ask questions of a master (or at least a very knowledgeable expert), but you’ll have an opportunity to taste different variations side by side for a reasonable price. The knowledge you will gain about your own preferences can save your happy hour or salvage a bad day. It can also help you be attentive to the preferences of friends, family, and party guests who may discover a new cocktail experience from your carefully selected gift or well stocked bar – thus increasing the sum total of happiness in your inner circle. That’s always a good thing!

Keep in mind that just because they work for a specific company doesn’t mean the experts won’t give you good advice, or honest assessments of particular brands or products. Mr. Crutchfield spent many months in formal, hands-on training at Diageo’s properties to learn the histories and nuances of each product, how they are made, why they are made that way – and getting to know the people who make them. (George Dickel, for example, has about 30 employees total, and no plans to get bigger; Bulleit is dedicated to sustainable, zero-impact production.) His insights have made my drinking experiences more enjoyable, and I’ll be less apt to judge a bottle by its branding now that I know more about how it’s produced and (most important) how it tastes.

Dog PhilosopherMany thanks to Whiskey Master Nick Crutchfield and Petite Cellars for a fun and informative event!

p.s. Petite Cellars is a candy store for cocktail culturists (or cultists, if you prefer). They have a huge selection of small batch spirits, craft beer, and fine wine, along with hard-to-find liqueurs, premium mixers, unusual bitters, and an impressive number of miniatures so you can try out a new cocktail or spirit before investing in 750ml. The owner and staff couldn’t have been more accommodating of their tasting guests, and laid out a generous charcuterie/ cheese plate to accompany the drinks. They clearly care about giving their customers a good experience, from the attractive decor to the sensible layout and knowledgeable staff. As an extra added bonus, Petite Cellars also offers a growler program for craft beers, a selection of cigars, and gift-boxed handmade chocolates, which are not only beautiful but decadently delicious. If you’re in the Central Maryland area and love craft cocktails, go there!