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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)

The Grog Dog is not a sentimental type; even after lapping up one too many cocktails, I won’t be howling over texts from an ex. But everyone has their emotional weakness, and cheeky word-humor is one of mine: Post a sly pun on my Facebook feed and I’ll follow you anywhere.

It was over beers with a friend – of one of the many brands specializing in name-puns – that I was reminded of “the language of flowers”, or floriography: a means of sending silent messages to friends, enemies, and lovers using blossoms that had specific, well known meanings. While flowers had been a staple of romantic communication for centuries, their cryptographic use became wildly popular in England and the U.S. during the repressed Victorian era.

Red_Rose_Wiki commons

Strict social mores precluded young sweethearts, for example, from writing or speaking their ardor. To transmit their feelings or indicate their preferences, they would give, hold, or arrange specific blooms in accordance with floral dictionaries, so their intended recipient would know their meaning. Even the scent of certain love flowers, discreetly daubed on a handkerchief, could speak volumes to a suitor.

After imbibing a few brews chosen for their clever names rather than their flavors (I can’t resist a good pun or a bad one), I wondered whether cocktails might also be used to subtly communicate certain sentiments – specifically, cocktail names. Like stringing together an entire story with emojis, cocktail messaging could become a new bar craze among literary types… Cocktail EmojiOr introverts, who may not wish to be approached by a boozed-up barfly, but could carry on a (very) quiet conversation with that other single who has a sophisticated drink and a Kindle, and understand each other perfectly.

Let me be clear: I am not talking about the cocktails that proliferated during what the Corpse Reviver of the American cocktail, David Wondrich, called the Dark Ages: the Sex on the Beach, the Slippery Nipple, the Slow Comfortable Screw, etc. (I refuse to provide links; if you must, look them up yourself.) As he noted in an Esquire column, “those drinks resist craft”. They also resist taste, subtlety, and class.

To make the cocktail-name-conversation thought experiment a little simpler, and classier, I went back to Victorian times – or at least pre-Prohibition – to imagine a more romantic scene.

1st round: Jack Rose, Margarita

2nd round: ManhattanBrooklyn

3rd round: Tuxedo, Champagne Cocktail

blueblazer.it4th round: Hot ToddyMaiden’s Blush

5th round: Hanky Panky, Morning Glory

6th round: Old FashionedBijou

7th round: Scofflaw, White Lady

8th round: South SideTom Collins

9th round: Blue BlazerLast Word

Final round: Turf ClubMerry Widow

While the game is obviously much more fun when your cocktail companion knows you’re playing, you can amuse yourself for hours (or until you hit your limit) using your drink order to comment on life and the world in the moment. mutt-ropolitan-opera-calendar_merry-widow_operatoonityA friend of mine shakes up a Merry Widow when she’s particularly annoyed with her husband… Which may not change his habits, but fortifies her for the next round.

 

 

 

Image credits: Red Rose – Wikicommons; Martini Emoji – emojipedia.org; Blue Blazer – Blueblazer.it; The Merry Widow – Operatoonity.com

The Grog Dog, no fan of manufactured drinking holidays and their excessively consumed themed cocktails, will be celebrating Cinco de Mayo, but not for the reasons you may think, and not with the cocktail that’s most popular today.

Image credit: Some random Pinterest poster

Image credit: Some random Pinterest poster with egregious taste

According to Wikipedia, the significance of May 5 to the Mexican people was their defeat of French Emperor Napoleon III‘s army at the Battle of Puebla, where a force of 4,000 Mexicans managed to hold off a 8,000-strong army that had superior firepower and equipment. The Mexican-American War (1846-1848) and the Reform War (1858–61) having nearly bankrupted the country, Mexican President Benito Juarez in 1861 suspended all foreign debt payments for two years. Britain and Spain negotiated settlements with Mexico, but France, at the time ruled by Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte (nephew of “the” Napoleon Bonaparte) decided to take advantage of the Mexican plight and establish the Second Mexican Empire south of the US border. Although defeated at Puebla on May 5, 1862, the French emperor a year later sent 30,000 troops to Mexico, and with the support of Mexican conservatives, succeeded in installing Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of Austria as Maximilian I, the first (and only) emperor of Mexico.

The Paloma

The Paloma

The Mexican victory the the Battle of Puebla denied Napoleon III a crucial opportunity to establish a base in Mexico at a turning point in the American Civil War. Defeating Juarez’s troops by early 1862 would have allowed the French to turn their resources to attacking the Union blockade of southern ports and providing military support to the Confederate cause. French cotton mills were desperate for raw material by 1862, and industrialists and workers supported France’s intervention in the war to secure a quick Southern victory and end the “famine du coton” (cotton famine). But the year-long delay in France’s ultimate victory in Mexico meant Napoleon III would have had to fight a two-front war (against Mexico and the US) throughout 1862-64, with murky prospects for winning either conflict. The Union victory in the Battle of New Orleans in 1862 and later diplomatic negotiations with US officials finally persuaded the French emperor that the Confederate cause was truly lost.

Napoleon III chose to continue the fight against Juarez in Mexico, hoping that once Maximilian I was seated on the throne, he could use French and Mexican Imperial troops to assist the Confederacy in driving the Union Army out of the South (which could then get back to its own cotton-picking business). As the Civil War was ending, however, the US government tacitly, then actively, supported Juarez’s republican government through arms sales, official declarations, and open threats of war against France. In 1866, Napoleon III gave up his imperial ambitions in the Americas and withdrew French troops from Mexico. Maximilian I’s Imperial Army subsequently suffered huge defeats that led to the capture and execution of the French puppet ruler on June 19, 1867 by Mexican troops. A victorious Juarez returned to power and maintained his government through an attempted revolution in 1871. He died in July 1872.

Image credit: sodahead.com

Image credit: sodahead.com

I daresay most Cinco de Mayo partiers have no idea that the holiday they celebrate with cheap neon Margaritas and south-of-the-border stereotypes was so important to US history as well as Mexican independence. Much as there is reason to commemorate the military victory, however, there’s always more reason to promote peace. For that, I recommend the Paloma (“dove”): Pour 2 parts tequila blanco and 1 part fresh lime juice over ice in a rocks glass. Add a small pinch of salt. Stir to chill and combine. Top with grapefruit soda; stir lightly.

With a couple of these, even the most bitter enemies can learn to get along. Salud!

The GrogDog, if you don’t mind my sharing, tends to enthusiastically embrace certain cultural memes. The rediscovery and resurgence of cocktails and cocktail culture, for one. (The revival of grown-ups’ Chuck Taylors for another.) But I’ve been indulging in alcoholic serendipity, following my own rambling, tipsy path, with – aside from the research I do for this blog – little discipline or objective other than enjoyment.

Image credit: furever.ca

Image credit: furever.ca

My natural curiosity and the expanding cocktail zeitgeist recently brought together two of my deep natural interests: drinking well and learning how they did things back when people did them right.

This week I was introduced to the man who is largely the reason we are all taking the mixed drink seriously again: David Wondrich. He holds a PhD in comparative literature (among many other accomplishments), and has applied his academic gifts to researching and writing about cocktails – specifically, about the cocktail as a uniquely American art form. How did I not know this until now? I can’t really

Squirrel!

OK, so that’s why I’ve never heard of David Wondrich before this week, when MSNBC host Rachel Maddow interviewed him as part of the cable channel’s “7 Days of Genius” programming. But you can bet I’ll be curling up on a cushion with his books very soon!

The GrogDog believes in the healing power of alcohol – after all, it kills germs when applied topically, so why not from the inside? Earlier this winter I posted a recipe for a bourbon toddy that has several cold-busting elements: lemon juice (vitamin C), honey (soothes the throat), warming hot water (it’s important to hydrate!), and of course alcohol to induce rest and beat that cold into submission.

Another cold-fighting super-ingredient is ginger. Though it has been used for millennia as an all-purpose tonic, ginger is hot again (pun intended), for its spicy flavor and versatility as much as its medicinal properties.

Ginger is also a popular base for liqueurs and cocktail ingredient, and while it makes many delicious drinks, I consider its best use a cold-fighting toddy booster. Its flavor marries well with bourbon, rye, gin, or rum, so you can choose your base according to taste.

To double or triple the ginger mojo, layer in a slice or two of fresh ginger and/or sweeten your toddy with ginger syrup.

Image credit: TummyRumble.Hultberg.org

Image credit: TummyRumble.Hultberg.org

Ginger Toddy

2 oz bourbon, rum, rye, or gin

1 oz ginger liqueur (Domaine de Canton or other brand)

1 oz ginger syrup* (substitute honey if you’re too exhausted to make syrup, or you have a sore throat)

1 oz fresh lemon juice (if using rum, try fresh lime juice instead)

Fresh ginger slice (optional)

Boiling water

Stir all ingredients in a sturdy mug. Sip slowly while bundled up in warm pajamas and wooly socks.

Image credit: Imgur

Image credit: Imgur

*Ginger syrup: Boil 1 cup each sugar and water with a handful of slices of fresh peeled ginger. Stir to dissolve sugar; remove from heat, cover and let steep until completely cool. Strain into a clean jar; store in refrigerator up to 2 weeks.

Note: Bundled-up dog image is for illustrative purposes only. Please do not give your dog a toddy, or any alcohol, any time, for any reason.