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.

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The GrogDog does not have an MBA, but understands well the potential for big dogs to bully the small ones out of business. Here I present the case for respecting the big dogs whose very existence helps protect the small ones.

As with dogs, it’s not the size of the breed but the environment that counts. In terms of liquor, yes, there are huge global corporations that own many brands of spirit, liqueur, beer, and/or wine. And they protect their brands fiercely – they don’t want to share shelf/bar space with their competitors for the same reason a Chevy dealer doesn’t keep a Ford on the lot for test-drives. That does not necessarily make them bad companies or poor stewards of the craft. The truth is that without corporate investment, many small producers would have gone out of business (and did), leaving us all thirsty for high-quality ingredients and a good cocktail experience. One can argue that company “controls” have stripped out character and quality, and in some cases that may be true. But the resurgence of cocktail culture owes something to the companies that caught on to the expanding market for craft liquor and are giving their customers and their shareholders what they want.Big Dog Small Dog

It’s up to us, the drinking public, to continue to demand the quality and craftsmanship that will support profitability and continued investment in small, local producers. And, of course, directly supporting your local craft breweries, wineries, and distilleries will give the big dogs a run for that money!

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!

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!

As a cooking as well as cocktail aficionado, the Grog Dog believes in following a recipe… at least at first. It takes a few run-throughs before I’m comfortable with the timing, techniques, and last-minute fixes that mean the difference between a dish that looks like the picture in the cookbook vs. one that looks like, well, the dog’s dinner.

If you want to know what a proper cocktail looks, smells, tastes, and feels like, check online reviews and take a field trip to the bar that’s most highly rated for their ability to serve a good drink. Decor, ambience, price even – none of that matters if the bartenders really know what they’re doing. (The proof of this principle is the success of Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives“.) Once you’ve had a good-quality sample of the cocktails you like most, you’ll be better able to re-create them for yourself.

Image: startcooking.com

Image: startcooking.com

Most US drink recipes are given in (no surprise) US standard measurements – ounces, tablespoons, etc. Occasionally you’ll come across a recipe where the ingredients are given in “parts”, which are simply ratios – 1 part gin, 1 part Campari, 1 part sweet vermouth (Negroni; stir with ice in a rocks glass). I’m a fan of using parts as opposed to ounces. First, the standard US measurements are not universal, and it’s pretty arrogant to push our scheme, especially when we’re the one major holdout from the metric system. Second, it allows for scale. Sometimes you want a 3-oz drink; sometimes you want a double. The recipe is the same ratio of spirit to juice to liqueur, just more of each.

Regardless of the absolute numbers, ratios are important. When you’re baking a cake, it’s not critical that your measuring spoons are crafted to space-shuttle precision; it is critical that your set of measuring spoons is accurately proportioned to one another, or you’ll end up with a cake that’s flat as a brownie.

So once you know what a really good Jack Rose tastes like (2 parts applejack, 1 part lemon or lime juice, 1/2 part grenadine; shake with ice; strain into a cocktail glass), and you’ve made it a time or two by the book, you can riff on the recipe according your taste. I tend to like sours and herbal cocktails, so I’m liberal with citrus and bitters. But some days I have a sweet tooth and add an extra dash of syrup.

Another important measurement every drinker should know is his/her alcohol tolerance.

Image: Dreamstime.com

Image: Dreamstime.com

I’m not talking about the legal limit (though knowing what it is in your state is probably a good idea on general principle). I mean, how much alcohol can you take in before the pleasure is outweighed by a fuzzy head and twisted tongue? By embarrassing behavior or unpleasant mishaps? By snoring during the movie?

This will vary according to circumstances, so pay attention to how your flavor profile and tolerance changes before or after eating, seasonally, when you’re stressed, etc.

Identifying your own tastes and limits – How much vermouth is too much? How strong a drink can I tolerate and stay awake through a rom-com? – will make it easier for you to make, order, and even invent new drinks. You’ll have a core set of cocktails that you’re good at making, so you can always whip up something that suits your mood without having to think too much. And you’ll be able to order something you know you will enjoy from any drinks menu, saving money and the disappointment of choking down a cocktail you dislike because you can’t bear to let alcohol go to waste. (We’ve all done it…)

Image: dogtime.com

Image: dogtime.com

The true measure of a good cocktail is how much pleasure it gives you in the moments you are drinking and how much it enhances your pleasure in the event you’re engaged in. The more you know about your own drinking preference, the more confidence you have in your mixology capabilities, and the more recipes you have in your book, the more pleasure you’ll take from every cocktail engagement – from a solo sip of toasty bourbon after work to a fruity, fizzy brunch Bellini.

Cheers to a happier happy hour!

p.s. I cannot stress this enough: Do not give any dog alcohol, any time, for any reason.