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Grapefruit Cocktail Extraordinaire: The Plantation

My current favorite bar is Comstock Saloon in San Francisco.  It's really an amazing place in the North Brach area of town.  You simply won't find a more professional set of barkeepers anywhere - led by the two chief mixologists, Jeff Hollinger and Jonny Raglin.  Back in the day, both of these guys came from Absinthe on Hayes Street in San Francisco, and a couple years ago Jeff co-wrote a brilliant book called Art of the Bar which shows off his considerable talents behind the bar.  

Ooh - check out that green cocktail!The Art of the Bar has been in my Library for some time now, but recently I found myself digging through the tome looking for a grapefruit cocktail for Mrs. The Ace.  My wife, a well-documented grapefruit cocktail lover, was looking for something new to help her pass another rainy Bay Area winter evening.  Lo and behold, I found this thing of beauty that includes not only grapefruit but also is a fresh basil cocktail.  

This drink has a lovely, fresh taste to go with its brilliant green coloring. The basil and sugar make a nice, light pesto of sorts that go nicely with the citrus flavors of grapefruit and lime. And if you float some club soda on top you get a great little summertime cooler for your trouble. It's almost enough to make anyone forget that it's still cold and rainy outside. In just a few short weeks this drink will be much more useful as a harbinger of Spring.  

Plantation Cocktail
Adapted from Art of the Bar (2006) by Jeff Hollinger and Rob Schwartz

4-6 leaves fresh basil
1/2 tsp sugar
1 oz. Plymouth Gin
1/2 oz. Cointreau (or Combier)
1/2 oz. fresh-squeezed lime juice
1 oz. fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice
Club soda (optional) 

Combine the basil and sugar in a mixing glass and muddle until the basil is liquified into something that looks like pesto.  Fill the mixing glass with ice. Add the gin, orange curacao and juices to the glass and shake well for 10-20 seconds until well-chilled. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a chilled tall collins glass filled with ice. Top with a float of club soda for a summer cooler (optional). Garnish with a slice of grapefruit. 


You're in the Navy (Grog) Now

Mrs. The Ace just got back from a long weekend in Florida. Before she left, she was looking forward to:

  1. Getting out of the house for a few days; and
  2. Checking out this tiki bar in Ft. Lauderdale called the Mai-Kai.  

Unfortunately for me - the only part that ended being as good as advertised was the part about getting away from me.  Turns out the Mai-Kai has focused their energies away from that silly rum stuff (they only carried 10 rums on their menu - most were Bacardi) in favor of the Polynesian Islander Revue and a heart-healthy menu. What would Donn Beach say about that?

Just goes to show that good tiki bars have gotten very hard to find.  Oh sure, here in the SF Bay Area there are still a number of excellent ones (Forbidden Island in Alameda is my drop-dead fave, but there's also Smuggler's Cove in San Francisco, The Kona Club in Oakland and the newly redone Trader Vic's in Emeryville) to choose from. But it's getting harder and harder to find a good spot for a tiki drink out there...

So in light of my wife's failed attempt to replace The Ace with some tiki joint in South Florida, I thought that I'd break out my tiki recipes a little early this Spring. Call it self-preservation.

It's worth re-stating that any conversation about tiki history and/or mixology begins and ends with Jeff "Beachbum" Berry. Jeff's great books on all things tiki have been treasured titles for me since my first Mai Tai years ago. And his blog ain't bad either.

Let's jump right in with my favorite tiki drink - a potion called a Navy Grog. My apologies to Mr. Berry - I cannot find the link in to this recipe, but I am sure his site was the source for this recipe at some point along the way.

Navy Grog
Adapted from Jeff "Beachbum" Berry's blog

1 oz. Dark Jamaican rum (I used Coruba Dark - but if you're fancy use Appleton Estate Extra)
1 oz. Jamaican rum (I used Smith & Cross, but Appleton V/X is most widely used here)
1 oz. Demarara rum (use Lemon Hart 151 if you can find it - but I cannot so I used El Dorado 5) 
1/2 oz. fresh-squeezed lime juice
1/2 oz. fresh-squeezed white grapefruit juice
3/4 oz. honey mix*
1/4 oz. pimento (allspice) dram (I use St. Elizabeth's)
dash orange curacao (Cointreau or Combier)

* Honey mix is a 1:1 mix of honey and boiling water, stirred enough to melt and dissolve the honey.

Take a large handful (or two) of ice from the freezer and crush it using a device like this. Pour the crushed ice into your cocktail shaker - enough to fil the glass at least 2/3 full. Add the rest of the ingredients to the shaker and shake for at least 10-15 seconds, enough to make the metail half of your shaker frosty cold. Uncover your shaker and pour the drink (ice and all) into a tall highball glass and serve.

A word to the wise - this drink is not for the intrepid tiki drinker. The allspice dram packs a flavor wallop - one that not everyone out there will enjoy. But if you're one of the lucky ones that can handle the taste of allspice dram, then the world of tiki drinks is yours. Aside from the allspice dram wrinkle, this is a classic tiki drink all the way. It has plenty of delicious rum, some fruit juice, a strong flavor package and a little sweetness. 10 out of 10 in my book - I hope that you like it too. 

Like much of rum culture, there is a great backstory to the term 'grog' that dates back to British colonialism and the British Navy. Read this Wikipedia post, and then thank your chosen higher power that you weren't in the actual British Navy drinking the original Navy Grog.


Reviving an Old Corpse

As you can see from my library page, I am a big fan of pre-Prohibition cocktails. Many of the books that I have used to develop my love of libations are from the era, so many of the cocktails from that era really speak to me.

Ah, and what a lovely corpse it is!One of the cocktails that has always intrigued me has been the Corpse Reviver No. 2. Different versions of the so-called Corpse Reviver cocktails began appearing in the cocktail world perhaps as far back as the 1800s, but I came across the Corpse Reviver No. 2 in Harry Craddock's Savoy Cocktail Book some years ago. The drink boasted a great combination of flavors - gin, orange liqueur, lemon juice and Kina Lillet.

At first glance this recipe looked quite easy to make. After all - I had plenty of gin, orange curacao and lemon on hand. And in a past life Mrs. The Ace lived in France and habitually keeps a bottle of Lillet Blanc in the fridge. I ran over to the liquor cabinet to whip up my supposed newest masterpiece.

The only problem - Harry Craddock's original recipe calls for Kina Lillet, not Lillet Blanc.  As you can read on this page, Kina Liillet and Lillet Blanc are unfortunately very different ingedients (for those too impatient to click through - Lillet Blanc is what was left once quinine was removed from Kina Lillet's recipe in the 1980s to suit modern American tastes). With Lillet Blanc, this is still a nice cocktail.  But the drink did still leave me a bit empty.  I filed it away in The Ace's vault as a "try again some other day" recipe.  

Fast forward to this past month, when I found a bottle of Cocchi Americano on the shelves at my local liquor store.  I had just read about Cocchi Americano in Jason Wilson's fine new book Boozehound so you can imagine my excitement to break out a Corpse Reviver once again with this new toy!  

Corpse Reviver No. 2
Adapted from Savoy Cocktail Book by Harry Craddock (1930)

3/4 oz. gin
3/4 oz. Combier (or other orange-flavored liqueur)
3/4 oz. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
3/4 oz. Kina Lilllet (use Cocchi Americano)

Place a coupe glass or other up glass in the freezer to chill - give 5 minutes for the glass to frost over. Combine all ingredients (except the absinthe) in a shaker with lots of ice and shake for at least 10 seconds. Pour absinthe into the chilled up glass and roll the absinthe around the glass as a rinse, then throw out the excess absinthe. Strain the drink into the glass and serve.

As you may have guessed - given that I am writing this post - the Cocchi Americano absolutely knocks this cocktail out of the park!  It adds that slight bitterness to the drink that makes this little gin beauty a complex, rich cocktail to savor.  

So yes, consider the old corpse revived - and enjoy the results!  Keep in mind that the drink was designed and thus named by Mr. Craddock as a drink to be taken in the morning or "whenever steam and energy are needed." And of course no exercise in dragging Mr. Craddock's timeless quotes around like this is complete without the reminder that you must be careful: "Four of these taken in quick succession will unrevive the corpse once again." 


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 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.