A brief update….
The experimental cocktail series entitled “This Might Work” was a successful push along the borders of the Cocktail Front during the Summer of 2014 in New Orleans. Over the course of three months, I created close to forty (40!) original cocktails. Everything from Amari to Cachaca to Scotch was combined with sweet peas, roasted bell peppers, wheatgrass and all of that crazy shit I’d pull out of my “Box of Magic” or from the walk-in refrigerator or from perusing the aisles of Hong Kong Market and/or personal research on farmers’ market/regional items of interest. It was a fun and extremely challenging endeavor to research, compose and build four new cocktails for every Tuesday night’s debut on the big stage.
The term “This Might Work…” was a statement that I always tell my guests when I was asked to build a bespoke creation with the guest’s favorite spirit and style of cocktail. I would always push the drink towards the guest and start my description of the bespoke cocktail with those three words. I approached the ownership of my recent employment and they were keen on the idea. I drummed up a bit of press, set the menu to four items per week and we were off to the races!
This Might Work… 07.01.14
For the next installment of my experimental cocktail night, watermelons, Thai Basil, Cachaca, Blue Curacao and locally-produced Vodka were on the docket for Tuesday night’s shindig. I was very excited by watermelon season because who doesn’t love frakin’ watermelon during the summertime(?!?) and I pulled out one of my favorite herbs – Thai Basil – and decided to dress it up in NOLA-style with a huge bag of Fennel I had secured at Hong Kong Market a few weeks back. My goals for the next installment of TMW were to build a watermelon rum punch and a new Snowball for the remainder of Summer 2014.
Cool Blue Reason
I have a little dirty secret to share with everyone. I love Blue Curacao in cocktails. Love IT! And I place all of the blame and the glory on the King of Rock n’ Roll – Mr. Elvis Aaron Presley – and a shite Tiki dive bar in the Outer Richmond district of San Francisco called “Trad’r Sam’s”. I grew up with Elvis with my father serving as one of the King’s biggest fans. We would listen to the “Elvis in Vegas” records and when I was just hitting those odd teenage years, my dad turned me onto that odd and wonderful “Elvis Presley in Concert: Aloha from Hawaii” concert recorded in 1973. I still have that record in my vinyl collection. The worldwide satellite broadcast of America’s 1970s jumpsuit-wearing and karate-kicking and way too many peanut butter and banana sandwich consuming music idol enabled over 1 billion people to see the King of Rock n’ Roll in his full splendor with his “American Eagle” custom-made jumpsuit. Goddamnit – Elvis WAS a true blue “Rock n Rolla”.
Fast forward about 10 years or so. I had moved to San Francisco when I turned 20 years young and was eager to grasp onto that amazing and terrible decade called “Your 20s”. Oy vay. Into my second or third year of residence in SF (you know that everything kind of blurs together in your 20s), I discovered Trad’r Sam’s during one dumb trek out to the Outer Richmond via the “38” SF Bus for some stupid house party or BBQ or Golden Gate Park shindig. A group of us incorrigible twats left the house party in search of something to keep the night going. A Thursday night if I remember correct. Hell, it could of been Monday or Friday. Did it ever really matter in your 20s?
We hit 26th Street and Geary and we saw the bright neon lights of “Trad’r Sam’s” all done up in depressing red glow like a sad clown left at the end of a birthday party. It was magical and horrifying at the exact moment when I opened the doors and discovered a real-life Hunter S. Thompson drug-fueled escapade. The entire place was covered with “tiki huts scenarios”, loud Polynesian music and smelled like despair left to mold in the corner of someone’s basement like a broken guitar with two snapped strings. My idiotic party of drunken Gen X’s brats decided to order several “Scorpion Bowls” because we really needed more sugar and cheap grain alcohol on top of bellies full of shite under-cooked meat and sun-soaked macaroni salad. Alas, I thought of myself as connoisseur of cocktails (see previous entry regarding White Russians) and I decided to peruse the cocktail menu for that something something cocktail cocktail that would be my white bear of triumph. My eyes scanned the cheap plastic sheen of the “cocktail menu” and then, I fell upon my golden ticket for the evening – a Blue Hawaiian.
Oh frakin’ yes. Elvis Presley AND cocktails! Let’s do this.
Thank the heavens above that Trad’r Sam’s stuck their guns and served the drink with a standard recipe of Silver Rum, Pineapple Juice, Cream of Coconut (COCO FRAKIN’ LOPEZ) and Blue Curacao because if I was true to my idiotic ways of a dumb 20 something by consuming six glorious rounds of Blue Hawaiians. And the hangover from pretty much mainlining cheap Blue Curacao, Coconut, some type of canned pineapple juice AND plastic jug rum was heartbreaking beautiful in its tragic recollection of the following memory. I woke up on the floor of someone’s bathroom at 5AM with no shirt on my body and decided to craw on my hands and knees to the apartment’s kitchen because the act of walking was beyond comprehension. I slid so gracefully into the kitchen and reached up to grasp purchase on the edge of the counter to retrieve a glass of water from the sink. I turned my head and realize I wasn’t alone despite the Dave Lombardo drum solo going down in my brain. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught movement and turned towards the sight of two of my faithful companions coupling in ecstasy on the kitchen table. Nothing says “smooth operator” as me turning back to the sink, filling a glass full of water, turning back to my ignorant companions with a hearty “Cheers” and then finding a comfy nook on the couch to rediscover that magical thing called “passing the frak back out”.
After that night, I made those solemn promises that you never keep in your 20s. I’ll never drink tequila before 5PM. I’ll never drink Rum after midnight. I’ll never drink too much Blue Curacao that I wake up on the floor of someone’s bathroom and witness persons fucking in the kitchen in the glow of the pale dawn light. Fast forward to my 30s and as my cocktail knowledge began to expand and broaden with all of the knowledge we acquire during our time behind the stick, Blue Curacao begin to trickle back into my bag of tricks and placement on the back bars that I worked in front of during my time behind the stick in NYC. During my time with Rhum Clement and Rhum J.M, I made a ridiculous Blue Curacao cocktail called “Binders Full of Women” that won me bragging rights during a “cocktail off” at Liberty Bar in Seattle as a pre-2012 Portland Cocktail Week event. Fast fast forward to Summer 2014 and I decided that Blue Curacao would be perfect topper for the latest edition of my NOLA “Sno-ball” cocktails that had taken hold during the summer.
I will spend just a quick spell on Sno-balls and their place in NOLA’s culture. I learned during my first proper Summer in NOLA that Snowballs are a really big frickin’ deal in New Orleans. People flock to Hansen’s and/or Plum Street to get their sno-ball fix during the first week of warm weather and the season runs pretty much from March-October. I had one Sno-ball at Plum Street. It was fine but too sweet for me. But I appreciate the cultural history of Sno-Balls in its place as one of NOLA’s crowing achievements so I decided to pay homage with my first “Sno-ball” cocktail called “Roll in the Hay” – Cathead Honeysuckle Vodka, Grapefruit + Ginger Switchel (an old-school Shrub), Dolin Blanc Vermouth + Peychaud’s Bitters. I built the cocktail with the Hansen-style Ice Crusher (the OG for NOLA Sno-balls) and it was well received.
And here’s the odd thing that I found with building “Sno-Ball” style cocktails in the sweltering heat of NOLA. My crew and I tried to build the drink without ice and then pouring it over the crushed ice. It didn’t work because the entire cocktail before a slushy messy. The goal was to have the cocktail prepared with a “dry shake” (no ice in the cocktail tin) and the crushed ice would contribute to the constant evolving dilution process. we were going for the true sno-ball experience where the syrup (or cocktail in this case) would be absorbed by the ice. My brilliant wife suggested adding the cocktail to a chilled glass and then topping it with ice. And it worked! Check out this more in-depth analysis with my Roll in the Hay write-up.
For the base spirit, I returned to my trusty friend Cathead Honeysuckle Vodka from Mississippi. I appreciate the straight-forward approach of the company and their honest prose on their production process as a “craft” distillery. For the acid component of the cocktail, I called up my old friend Lillet Blanc and thankfully, she was able to play nice in the sandbox with Sichuan Peppercorns and Cardamom. Lillet Blanc is this odd and wonderful French fortified tonic (quinine) wine that is stellar in Vespers and the perfect answer to a serious highball with a splash of soda and an orange wedge.
The last question remaining was which Blue Curacao to choose for the final topper of the cocktail. Years back during my run at The Vault at Pffaf’s on Broadway and Bleecker in Manhattan, I discovered the Senior “Curacao de Curacao” line of products produced on the island of Curacao in the Netherlands Antilles. The company has been around since 1896, real Valencia oranges are used in the distillation process and the “Blue” bottling is pretty much the closes one can get to a natural process of producing a blue-tinted liqueur.
For the next Sno-ball Cocktail for the summer, I decided to amp it up with Blue Curacao and build a proper Blue Hawaiian-style cocktail with emphasis on Far East/Indian spices….
Last but not least comes the name for the cocktail. I’m a big fan of the band CAKE. And everyone knows at least one or ten CAKE songs. If you don’t, then you must be a Communist. And if you need a reason to drink….here it is…and I love this song
Cool Blue Reason
2 oz Cathead Honeysuckle Vodka
1 oz Pineapple Juice (fresh pressed if possible)
.5 oz Toasted Sichuan Peppercorn + Cardamom Syrup*
.5 oz Lillet
.25 oz Senior Curacao de Curacao Blue
Add all ingredients to cocktail tin (sans Blue Curacao). Dry shake for 5-10 seconds. Pour into a chilled Old Fashioned glass. Use a Julep strainer to add crushed ice to the top of glass. Garnish with .25 oz Blue Curacao and a picked Orange wedge.
*Toasted Sichuan Peppercorn + Cardamom Syrup
1 tbsp Sichuan Peppercorn
1 tsp Cardamom
toast on a hot pan for 1 min
1 cup boiling water = steep for 1 hour
add to 1 cup sugar – strain, bottle and refrigerator