Archives for posts with tag: drinking

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

dog-drinking-water_safebeedotcom“Oh!” the Grog Dog’s companion exclaimed after taking a gulp and sputtering a bit, “I forgot we’re having cocktails; I thought we were having drinks!” I knew what he meant, but is it correct to make the distinction between a cocktail and a drink? Does it even matter?

Wikipedia tells us that, “Drinks, or beverages, are liquids intended for human consumption.” It helpfully adds that water is not generally considered a beverage; alcoholic beverages contain ethanol (though alcohol itself includes many other chemical compounds); and non-alcoholic beverages are made with (or are modified so as to contain) less than 0.5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV).

So technically, we were having drinks – they were liquid and intended for human consumption. But we were consuming the top tier of the drink hierarchy, the cocktail, which deserves a more refined description.

The Wiki definition of a cocktail is, “[A] beverage that contains two or more ingredients if at least one of them contains alcohol.”

Even without a hangover, this explanation makes my head hurt, because it implies that a “non-alcoholic beverage” at 0.5 pct ABV can be the main ingredient in a cocktail as long as it’s mixed with a second ingredient – for example, a near-beer shandy. But no one – at least, no one I’ve ever met, heard of, or read about in the history of human civilization – really looks forward to kicking back with a concoction of cooked-down malt beverage with a splash of lemon-flavored high-fructose-corn-syrup that has zero capability to alter their mood or please their palate.

And for me and my drinking buddy, therein lies the distinction.

vintage-cocktail-party_thirtysomewheredotcomDrinks (the alcoholic kind) are what you consume at parties, where social lubrication is more important than the flavor profile. Surely you wouldn’t criticize your host for using bottled juices or middle-shelf spirits when serving a crowd; the important thing is that they encourage guests to have a good time together.

Cocktails, in the Grog Dog’s lexicon, are beverages containing a balanced combination of two or more flavorful ingredients and enough alcohol (technically, ethanol) to make their consumption a physical and emotional pleasure – an experience to savor. Cocktails can and do enhance a gathering, a meal, and other activities, but they mostly are crafted for the sheer joy of the tastes, textures, and effect they deliver. The higher the quality of your ingredients, the better the drinking experience, whether you’re alone or with a group.

Whatever you call them, delicious cocktails can be as simple as the Salty Dog, a slightly savory mixture of gin (or vodka, 1.5 oz), grapefruit juice (5 oz), and kosher salt (1/4 tsp) stirred with ice. This is a variation of the even-simpler Greyhound, which eliminates Dogstar_paws4clawsdotcomthe salt.

Having taken the first swig of a craft cocktail as if it were a mere drink, my remorseful friend thereafter sipped, enjoyed, and relaxed… as the cocktail gods intended.

Image credits: safebee.com (drinking pup); thirtysomewhere.com (party); paws4claws.com (dogstar)

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!

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.

Spring has finally sprung and the GrogDog is enjoying the sunshine, daffodils, and traditional spring and Easter treats that have been used to celebrate the Earth’s renewal since humans discovered the miraculous egg.

Image credit: PetsLady.com

Image credit: PetsLady.com

While St. Patrick’s Day is all about the green, Easter and its companion non-Christian holidays clothe themselves in pastels – pink, yellow, blue, and green reflecting blooming botanicals. This year, enjoy a semi-sweet brunch cocktail that incorporates all the ingredients of a bright spring day full of promise: The Grand Royal Fizz.

Image credit: Cocktail101.org

Image credit: Cocktail101.org

The Grand Royal Fizz is ½ oz. orange juice, 1 oz. lemon juice, 1 tsp. sugar, 2 oz. gin, ¼ oz. maraschino liqueur, ½ oz. cream, and 1 fresh egg. Pour all the ingredients into a shaker with ice and shake long and hard – you want to incorporate as much of the egg into the drink as possible, and enough air to give it a silky mouthfeel. Pour into a tall glass, top with club soda, and give it a light stir.

Note: I understand that people are wary of consuming raw eggs. There was a massive raw-egg scare a couple of decades ago and now every chain restaurant menu in the country warns against them. If you’re squeamish about drinking whole raw eggs, feel free to substitute 1 oz. of pasteurized egg white from a carton – but if you skip the egg altogether you’re changing the character of the cocktail substantially, and I can’t vouch for the result. In the interest of education, this article completely debunks the myth that consuming raw egg is a health hazard. (The egg-producing process is highly regulated and salmonella contamination rates, already pretty low except for the long-ago outbreaks that caused the seemingly unending hysteria, are hardly worth mentioning now.)

Making the SNAP Sour, image credit ArtintheAge.com

Making the SNAP Sour,
image credit ArtintheAge.com

For those who prefer a less spot-on Easter cocktail but want to enjoy a zingy taste of spring, I offer the Pineapple-Mint SNAP Sour, a fresh, sweet/sour cocktail that features SNAP liqueur, “…a sophisticated organic spirit based on authentic folk history designed for people who know how to drink”.

This delicious ginger spirit was developed based on a traditional Pennsylvania Dutch gingersnap recipe by my drinking buddies at Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction cooperative (conceived by Hendrick’s Gin and Sailor Jerry Rum creator Steven Grasse). You can find SNAP, along with its equally delightful playmates ROOT, SAGE, and RHUBARB, at many well stocked liquor stores, and cocktail recipes in addition to this one on their web site.

Image credit: AWREdinburgh

Image credit: AWREdinburgh

The Pineapple-Mint SNAP Sour is 1 oz. SNAP, 2 oz. fresh lemon juice, 3 oz. pineapple juice, and 5 mint leaves. Muddle the mint with the lemon juice, add SNAP and pineapple juice, stir, and top with club soda.

Happy Easter, happy gardening, happy spring from the Grog Dog!