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The Stinger Royale

This is one of those quirky little drinks that will really surprise you.  No one would ever accuse Creme de Menthe of being a bartender favorite.  In fact, Creme de Menthe is generally recognized as one of the most loathsome liqueurs in cabinet.  On its own, this minty liqueur is cloying and overwhelmingly sweet in almost any cocktail.  But here it is mixed with cognac, which is just burly enough to make the stuff behave to a degree.   

My Mom's favorite drink???The Stinger has an interesting background.  Depending on who you ask, this drink is a classic throwback of high society or your grandparents' favorite nightcap.  There can be little doubt that modern mixology has left this drink in the dust - no doubt thanks to the Creme de Menthe.  When I first saw it in Jason Wilson's fine book Boozehound I breezed past it without a second thought.  But Mr. Wilson was so glowing about the cocktail that I finally went back and tried making it for myself.  

Of course, before I could make a Stinger I had to go out and buy some Creme de Menthe.  I took that walk of shame across the store to the checkout counter, trying to conceal my little bottle of minty nastiness from other patrons. Some mixologist I am, huh? All in the name of research...  

But upon trying this little cocktail, I have to admit that it really is a nice little addition to The Ace's menu. The cognac and the Creme de Menthe blend together nicely, taking away the cloying qualities of the mint liqueur pretty well.  You're left with the familiar bite of the cognac which gives way to the spearminty flavor of the Creme de Menthe. It evokes the cold Winter nights by a warm fire - just in time for the Holiday season.   

Stinger Royale
From Boozehound (2010) by Jason Wilson

2 oz. cognac
1/2 oz. white Creme de Menthe
1 dash absinthe

Place ingredients in a mixing glass 1/2 full of ice and stir for 30 seconds.  Pour contents into a double-highball glass and serve.  

Note: A regular Stinger Cocktail (non-Royale) is made without the absinthe.  

P.S. I was at home for the Holidays with my family in the Midwest this year.  I normally grab a couple bottles of spirits at the local grocery store so that I can imbibe while away from home.  My parents - straight beer and wine types all the way - indulge my mixology bent but have never been able to even feign liking the cocktails that I make.  But tonight as I mixed myself a Stinger nightcap my Mother practically grabbed the drink out of my hand and proclaimed that she "loves" Stinger cocktails.  

Okay - I acknowledge that my Mother's ringing endorsement for the Stinger cocktail may not send you running for your liquor cabinet.  But the point is that this is a simple-to-make drink that doubles as a crowd-pleaser for your Holiday get-together.    Any drink that makes you and your family happy during the Holidays is a winner. And if you're like me it makes a nice little addition (if only a seasonal one) to your home bar rotation as well.  


The Rehabilitation of the Daiquiri

Yesterday I posted about the much-maligned Mai Tai and its sad state of ruination at the hands of blue curacao and grenadine.  Last week I posted about the Margarita, which has has also suffered miserably in recent years. So now I am feeling on a roll and thought I would cover another once-proud cocktail brought to its knees - this time by the blender and frozen fruits.  Yes, I am talking about the Daiquiri.  

You'd never know it by ordering one at most bars, but the Daiquiri is a grand old dame of the cocktail world. It dates back to the 1890s, well before blenders were even invented - and in its heyday it was the talk of the town amongst the fashionable drinkers of New York City and Havana. All without the assistance of frozen strawberries and banana puree!

The origin myth of the Daiquiri is one of those great stories of colonial Cuba that I hope is true.  According to Charles Baker of The Gentleman's Companion, back in 1898 Cuba;

"There was fever.  Doctors still thought that a lot of yellowjack malaria cases came from drinking water and swamp mists.  They couldn't turn off the swamp mists but they knew that diluted alcohol was a disinfectant against germs.  So they put a little rum in their boiled drinking water.  This tasted pretty bad so some bright citizen squeezed a lime into the thing, and a little sugar to modify the acid.  Ice made from distilled water took the tropical blood heat off the thing."
"Jigger, Beaker and Glass: Drinking Around the World" (Derrydale Press - 2001) 

So from this story came the invention of one of the truly great cocktails of the pre-prohibition era.  The recipe was simple - just rum, sugar, lime and ice - but amazingly effective.  

The One and Only Tropical Daiquiri
Adapted from Jigger, Beaker and Glass: Drinking Around the World by Charles Baker

1 1/2 oz. rum (I absolutely adore Smith & Cross in this drink if you can find it)
The juice of 1/2 lime
1/4 oz. simple syrup or gum arabic

Combine all ingredients in a shaker half-full of ice. Shake vigorously for at least 10 seconds. Pour contents of the shaker (including ice) into a double-old fashioned glass.  Drop the spent 1/2 lime into the glass and serve.  

Notes on Preparation:  While it is true that Smith & Cross is absolutely incredible in this drink, I have used other rums in this drink to great effect.  The cool thing about te Daiquiri is that it is so simple - it tastes great with any rum that you like to drink.  For 10-Bottle Bar readers, Appleton Estate V/X and Bacardi 8 are such nice rums that they are excellent in this recipe as well.  

The Baker version of this cocktail calls for crushed ice instead of regular cubed ice.  The cocktail pictured above uses crushed ice as called for by Mr. Baker. The drink comes out just fine using this method, but I prefer to use regular cubed ice in my Daiquiri. I find that the crushed ice melts a bit faster than I would like in this drink - and I prefer to keep the flavors of the Daiquiri intact as long as possible.  


The Mai Tai

Ah, the poor Mai Tai.  Few drinks have been bastardized by bad bartending more than this Tiki classic.  The shame of it is that most people now avoid the Mai Tai altogether because of that tourist trap bar that served them a god-awful blue Mai Tai on 'Hawaii Five-O Night'.  

I still remember when I first came across a reputable Mai Tai recipe (thanks Bum) and tried it for myself.  I was blown away at how great this cocktail was.  When I first started serving Mai Tais to people at my home or at events, people were so averse to trying the drink that I renamed it "The Adonai" (the drink whose name can not be spoken... ask your neighborhood rabbi if that reference doesn't make sense) just to get people to order it.  

A well-made Mai Tai easily makes my list of all-time top 10 cocktails.  It was the gateway drink that started me down the road into the broader Tiki cocktail scene.  And best of all, there is a simple version of the Mai Tai in the 10-Bottle Bar.  

I'll take a moment here to give a brief bit of color about the Mai Tai recipe.  I could never do the story proper justice - the definitive history can be found in Jeff "Beachbum" Berry's fine book Beachbum Berry Remixed but here goes.  

There is a great deal of mystery and intrigue around the Mai Tai recipe and its origins.   The Mai Tai was part and parcel of the whole Tiki culture war that was waged across America in the 40s.  Two of the major players in the Tiki craze were Donn Beach (and his Don the Beachcomber restaurants) and Vic Bergeron (of Trader Vic's fame).  Each had their own flagship Tiki joint, and each tried to assume leadership in the Pacific Island/Tiki craze that swept America after the end of World War II.

Each of these two men had a plausible argument to have invented the Mai Tai - although the general consensus is that Donn Beach's Mai Tai Swizzle was nothing like the eventual Mai Tai and that it had long disappeared from Don the Beachcomber menus well before Vic Bergeron came up with his version that became famous.  The recipe itself was shrouded in mystery, largely because there was so much intellectual property tied up in the unique drinks that each bar served and because bartenders were routinely poached from competing Tiki bars.

Trader Vic's Original Mai TaiTrader Vic's Mai Tai (created right here The Ace's backyard in Oakland, CA) fast became Vic Bergeron's calling card, giving birth to the sprawling Trader Vic empire to points as far away as Bahrain.  It also was imitated, flattered and outright stolen by every other Tiki Bar from Oakland to Oskaloosa.  That leads us back to today's state of affairs for the once-proud king of the Tiki cocktails.  

So let's show two versions of this amazing drink.  First, the original Vic Bergeron Mai Tai - as triangulated by Tiki historian Beachbum Berry's blood sweat and tears. 



Original 1944 Trader Vic Mai Tai
From Beachbum Berry Blog

1 oz. Rhum Clement VSOP Martinique rum
1 oz. Appleton Estate extra dark Jamaican rum 
1 oz. fresh-squeezed lime juice
1/2 oz. orange curacao (NOT blue)
1/4 oz. orgeat
1/4 oz. simple syrup
1 sprig fresh mint 

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with about 2 cups of crushed ice.  Shake well for at least 10 seconds or until the metal on your shaker is frosty.  Pour the entire (unstrained) contents of the shaker into a double old-fashioned glass.  Drop a spent half of lime into the glass, then spank a sprig of mint and insert it stem-down into the glass as garnish.  

It's no wonder that this drink set the world on fire.  The Rhum Clement VSOP is truly a top-shelf rum and it really adds a lovely character to the drink.  This drink is complex, sweet but not overly so with a fresh undertone from the lime.  

The Ace's Mai TaiNotes on preparation: Tiki culture draws from a HUGE variety of rums out there.  One could easily go broke trying to keep up with and stock all of the different rums called for in Tiki recipes.  If you can find the "right" rum - great.  If not, don't sweat it.  I have also used Rhum JM from Martinique to great effect (or if you can find another rhum agricole from Martinique go for it).  I have also used Coruba Dark as a less expensive and more readily available substitute for the Appleton Extra Dark.  I really recommend using Combier for the orange curacao but Cointreau will do and I recommend Small Hand Foods' orgeat for this recipe.  

And now a really lovely adaptation of the same drink that can be made with ingredients from the 10-Bottle Bar.  This version is slightly less complex than the Trader Vic original, but it is a great little crowd pleaser that still conveys the genius of Tiki culture. 

Mai Tai
Adapted by The Ace Saloon from Vic Bergeron

1 1/2 oz. Appleton Estates V/X rum (or Bacardi 8 if that's your 10-Bottle Bar rum) 
1/2 oz. orange curacao
1/2 oz. orgeat
3/4 oz. lime juice
1 sprig fresh mint

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with about lots of ice.  Shake well for at least 10 seconds or until the metal on your shaker is frosty.  Pour the entire (unstrained) contents of the shaker into a double old-fashioned glass.  Drop a spent half of lime into the glass, then spank a sprig of mint and insert it stem-down into the glass as garnish.   



The Battle of Brooklyn

It is one of those blissful nights - you know, the one where you're sidled up to the bar (in this case Comstock in San Francisco), designated driver at your side.  After three or four rounds, you're in the mood to be wowed by the barkeep.  So you ask him to make you a dealer's choice - whiskey please.  After a brief consideration he offers up a Brooklyn cocktail.  If you're not already hooked on the alchemy of cocktail mixology (and the delights of sitting and drinking cocktails), you are now...

The Brooklyn cocktail that I had that night was a complex little drink.  It started out with a spicy little slap in the face of rye, but followed up with the oily slickness of dry vermouth (there was some discussion between bartenders about the virtues of sherry and dry vermouth) and ended with a little bitter/sweet from the amaro. This is not a cocktail for everyone - it lives on the fringes of today's American cocktail tastes.  But this is my kind of cocktail, and its certainly worth a try for any fan of rye whiskey.

I knew of the Brooklyn from cocktail folklore.  Mainly, I knew that the original recipe included Amer Picon - which has been somewhat of an obsession for me for quite a while now.  Amer Picon is no longer sold in America, and is apparently will not be distributed in the States anytime soon.  But the old-school cocktail books extoll the virtues of Picon and its ability to make a cocktail sing.  

So the next step was clear - I decided to compare a Brooklyn cocktail with Amer Picon to the version made by Mr. Raglin at Comstock. 

Lets take a second to consider what Amer Picon is.  Amer Picon is a orange-flavored French bitter aperitif that is consumed today mainly by old alsatian men as - strangely enough - a mixer in their belgian white beer.  Having tried it in France, suffice to say that Picon deserves a better fate than as some old man's witshandy...   It USED TO BE used as an addition to whiskey-based drinks back in the Prohibition era. This has made it a bit of a holy grail amongst mixology geeks.  Jamie Boudreau of Spirits and Cocktails has posted an Amer Picon-like recipe to let the rest of us approximate this fine spirit.  Yes, I made a couple of bottles - and yes, that qualifies me as a mixology geek.

As it happens, I had just been to France (Mrs. The Ace thinks that we were there on holiday) and had brought back a few bottles of the stuff. The only problem is that the Picon recipe has changed in the past 20 years, removing the quinine which gave the liqueur of much of its former bitter flavoring.  I tried getting around this little issue by using the current Picon recipe plus 2-3 dashes of Regan's Orange Bitters No. 6 to add back some of the bitter flavoring.   

So we'll start with an adapted Brooklyn cocktail with Amer Picon from the Savoy Cocktail Book - kind of the "old school" way of making this drink.  

Brooklyn Cocktail (Picon version)
Adapted from The Savoy Cocktail Book 

1 1/2 oz. Rye Whiskey
1/2 dry vermouth (I used Sutton Cellars' brown label vermouth which is excellent)
1/4 oz. Maraschino liqueur
1/4 oz. Amer Picon
2-3 dashes of Regan's Orange Bitters No. 6 

Combine all ingredients in mixing glass with ice and stir for 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled up glass and serve.  

This version was fine - but frankly was a little disappointing.  I WANTED to like the way that the Picon and the rye interact. But the real problem here is that Picon has now become a bit too sweet for this drink.  In addition, the whiskey-Picon mixture pushes the vermouth to the back of the bus.  Blast that recipe change!

On to the Comstock version...

Paul Clarke over at Cocktail Chronicles just ran a great post profiling Jonny Raglin's Brooklyn recipe (yes, the one that I drank at the beginning of this post) and the secret Amer Picon substitute for his Brooklyn adaptation.  Its Bonal Gentiane-Quina, a wine that includes two bitter agents - quinine (yes, THAT quinine) and gentian (a flower root used in many bitters). Well, I guess I will chalk that up as a good reason to keep blogging - perhaps someday The Ace will be able to get those kinds of scoops for himself!  Nevertheless - Bonal Gentiane-Quina just hit the shelves in the Bay Area. Thanks again Haus Alpenz!  So lets try this version, from Cocktail Chronicles' post.

Brooklyn Cocktail (Comstock Version)
Jonny Raglin - courtesy of Paul Clarke and Cocktail Chronicles

 2 oz. Rye Whiskey
3/4 oz. dry vermouth or sherry 
1/4 oz. Bonal Gentiane-Quina
1/4 oz. Maraschino Liqueur
1 dash orange bitters
Twist of orange for garnish

Combine all ingredients in mixing glass with ice and stir for 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled up glass and serve.

 So we have our clear winner here.  Hats off to Jonny for plugging in the Bonal with a little orange bitters to give the drink back its citrusy quality. Note that I again used the Sutton Cellars vermouth here in the place of the sherry, and it was still quite a beautiful drink.  

Perhaps someday we will get the old version of Amer Picon on liquor shelves once again.  Perhaps Mr. Seed at Haus Alpenz is already on the case???  But in the meantime i must say that the Brooklyn cocktail works beautifully with a simple and elegant workaround spirit.  And yes, K&L Liquors (see my Find a Bottle page) has Bonal in stock.  


The Ace's Perfect Margarita

Perfect MargaritaMixologists don't really mess with margaritas - and with good reason.  Most of the world makes a margarita by dumping tequila into the blender with ice and some unholy pre-made margarita mix.   

This post makes the case that a margarita can be fresh AND tasty AND interesting.  I want to take the margarita back as the classic backyard party cocktail that it is.  What could be better on a warm sunny day than some lime, orange and sugar with a dollop of smoky tequila?   The margarita may never be considered a 'classic', but it can certainly help folks enjoy themselves - which is what The Ace is all about.  


Perfect Margarita (part of the 10-Bottle Bar)

1 1/2 oz. reposado tequila (I prefer Herradura but choose your favorite)
1 oz. orange curacao (I use Combier)
3/4 oz. fresh-squeezed lime juice
1/4 to 1/2 oz. agave nectar - to taste

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake for 10 seconds.  Pour the entire mixture (including ice) into a double-highball glass, drop one of the spent lime halves into the glass and serve.

Beachfire MargaritaI like the aged smokiness flavoring of the reposado tequila, so the Beachfire Margarita recipe from Scott Beattie's Artisanal Cocktails book really spoke to me.  FYI - mezcal is a derivative of tequila that is made by roasting the pina of the agave over an open fire for as much as three days to give the spirit a super smoky flavoring.  

My family found Scott's original recipe a tad bit overpowering, so this version tones down the mezcal proportions and ratchets up the agave nectar a tad to offset the smoke flavoring.  



Beachfire Margarita
Adapted from Scott Beattie's Artisanal Cocktails 

1 oz. tequila blanco
1/2 oz. mezcal
1 oz. orange curacao (I still prefer Combier)
3/4 oz. fresh-squeezed lime juice
3/4 oz. agave nectar 

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake for 10 seconds.  Pour the entire mixture (including ice) into a double-highball glass, drop one of the spent lime halves into the glass and serve.