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An Original Cocktail: The French Margarita

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I’ve taken a stab at my first original cocktail. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

French Margarita
2 oz Tequila
1 oz Lillet Blanc
1/2 oz Green Chartreuse
1/2 oz Lime Juice
1 tsp Light Agave Nectar
3 dashes Orange Bitters

Combine all ingredients, shake with ice, and strain into a chilled margarita glass.

Book Review: Boozehound by Jason Wilson

“Let’s be honest: As cultural activities go, there are few more popular than drinking.”

A couple of weeks ago I finished Boozehound: On the Trail of the Rare, the Obscure, and the Overrated in Spirits, by Jason Wilson. Mr. Wilson is the spirits writer for The Washington Post, which means that anyone reading this blog would drown a crate of kittens to have his job. Wilson has travelled all over the world tasting unusual and novel spirits and has gotten paid to do it. Yes, I hate him too.

But puting that aside, he has combined these experiences with pieces of his own life story and a fresh sense of humor to pen an entertaining and informative book. Any of you follow sports? Picture the Sportsguy of Now I Can die in Peace fame meets a professional drinker, though Wilson is a bit more subtle in his humor. Wilson documents his travels through numerous countries tasting some spirits that have since become famous, such as St. Germain, and others that are still unknown to the vast majority of Americans. Along the way, he also passes judgment on various brands of more common spirits, such as tequila, rum, and cognac. The end result is a treasure trove of information for casual drinkers, mixologists, and those of us wannabe geeks who just wish we had the money and time to indulge in Wilson’s world.

“I don’t mean to suggest that I had esoteric tastes as a teenager. In reality, I was a rube who subsisted on Gatorade and Ho Hos, gagged on mustard, and scraped the onions or mushrooms off any dish served with them.”

Wilson’s knowledge and opinions are woven throughout his stories of the concoctions he has encountered. Some of the highlights of the book are his rants on vodka and vodka martinis (which don’t exist), his criticisms of faux speakeasies (with which I concur), and his discussions of undervalued staples like vermouth and slow gin. His descriptions will also make you long for spirits you have never tasted or even heard of before. Wilson’s narrative makes brews such as Dubonnet Rouge, Tuaca, Aperol, Barolo Chinato, Cocchi Aperitivo Americano, and Aquavit sound particularly appealing.

If I had to come up with a criticism of the book, it may be that parts of it are too obscure. It took a while for a relative novice like me to get fully engaged and left me wishing that Wilson might have front-loaded the basics that he does cover. That said, Wilson brings it all back home at the end for those of us who are relatively uneducated, including his suggestions for the essential elements of a home bar. This is the most practical part of a book that was not meant to be practical, and it was nice of Wilson to include it. Boozehound is a great read, just be ready to expand your horizons.

When you have finished Boozehound, keep your eyes open for Wilson’s next book. The working title is Questionable Taste, and the author describes it as “explorations into drinking well.” It won’t be out for a while, but that just gives you more time to try everything you read about in Boozehound — if you can find it.

Proof: It’s Not Just About Wine

A while back, I wrote a review of my dinner experience at Proof in Downtown Washington, D.C. As I explained then, Proof is an outstanding wine destination. What I did not learn until recently is that the bartenders at Proof also make very impressive cocktails. My initial assumption that Proof is only about the wine was definitely mistaken. I recently enjoyed a couple of excellent cocktails there and strongly recommend that you try them too.

The Devil’s Grin — Proof’s blend of whiskey, campari, amaretto, lime juice, and cane syrup starts sweet until the bitter takes over on the back end. This is a wonderfully complex drink in which you will find several layers of flavor.

The Charlie Lindbergh — I have a confession to make. Here it goes. I don’t like gin.* There, I said it. At least not certain gins. I don’t like the taste of juniper. It is a shortcoming that will likely prevent me from ever becoming a true cocktail geek. Despite knowing this shortcoming, I occasionally try a gin-based cocktail hoping to improve myself. Proof brought me as close as I have ever come to an enjoyable gin experience with this combination of gin, apricot liquor, cochi aperitivo, americano, and orange bitters. If you like gin, don’t hesitate. Even if you don’t like gin, it may be worth the experiment.

Proof
775 G Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20001

*Update: I drafted this post before relaunching the blog. After writing about Proof, I had an interesting gin experience at The Columbia Room in The Passenger that may have changed my mind. I hope to post about this tasting in more detail soon.

The Easiest Tasty Treats You’ll Ever Make at Home

Everyone wants to make their own wine. Of course, I have no talent in such things and would surely end up disappointed. Besides, who has the time and the space to do it right? Well, even if you can’t make your own wine, there is a similar activity you can pursue that is much simpler and almost as rewarding: infusing spirits.

About a year ago I stopped to grab a bite to eat at Matchbox before a Washington Capitals game. Along with my sliders, I ordered a Matchbox Punch, which the menu informed me was made with orange juice, pineapple juice, sour mix, grenadine, and all of the bar’s infusions. No one will call it a marvel of artistic cocktail creation, and cocktail geeks would surely thumb their noses, but that doesn’t make it any less tasty.

I decided that I wanted to make it at home. I had orange juice, pineapple juice, sour mix, and grenadine. But I was short the infusions and who has the time to make them? I did some snooping and found out that pretty much anyone has the time. You really don’t have many excuses.

A simple Google search will give you recipes for creations like strawberry infused vodka (by far the yummiest infusion to drink straight up), pineapple infused rum, and blackberry infused vodka. If you really want to get crazy, you can do infusions with herbs like rosemary and lavender, or with some vanilla beans. The purpose of this post is not to rehash these formulations (though it essentially amounts to cutting up the fruit, sealing it in a jar with the spirit, putting it in a cool, dark place, and waiting). The purpose is to note some things that I have learned along the way that may be of help if you decide to try this. Here’s a list of 10 tips for simple infusions:

1. Vodka is, not surprisingly, the easiest, cheapest, and most versatile spirit to infuse. As I have said before, I recommend Smirnoff as a good mixing/infusing vodka as it provides a good balance of quality and value.

2. Although you don’t need to track down the best fruit in town to make a good infusion, the quality of the fruit will affect the taste of the final product to a degree.

3. Rum is hard to infuse, so if you are going to try it use a higher fruit-to-spirit ratio than with vodka and give it an extra day or two to contemplate itself.

4. Blackberry infused vodka may not taste great straight up, but it works well in a cocktail. It’s a hard fruit to infuse, so give it all the time you can. We let ours sit for a month, and I have seen some websites recommend a year.

5. Filtering properly is a good thing.

6. The tedious parts of infusing are more fun if you do them with someone else.

7. If you are looking for a nice color in your infusion, stick with fruits.

8. Don’t try to eat the fruit left after pouring off the liquor. Eeeeew.

9. Wash out your jar thoroughly after pouring off your infusion to eliminate the strong scent left behind before making your next infusion.

10. You can make an interesting vodka martini (to the extent that term is not a contradiction in terms) with home-infused lavender vodka, home-infused vanilla vodka, and dry vermouth.

Building on this last point, the best part of infusing spirits is experimenting with them when you are done. Here is the current recipe for my version of Matchbox Punch, though it can change from one day to the next and depending on the sweetness of any given infusion:

2 oz. orange juice (or cranberry juice, if you want to switch things up)
1.5 oz. sour mix
1.5 oz. strawberry infused vodka
1 oz. pineapple infused rum
1 oz. blackberry infused  vodka
splash of grenadine
garnish with lime; serve on the rocks

Chris’ Punch

You’re out of excuses.

The Gibson: Quality Cocktails in the U Street Corridor

My wife and kids headed out of town to visit family a little while ago, leaving me with 6 days of quality bachelor time. My first order of business was a good cocktail — I mean a good cocktail. After asking around and considering some options, I decided that The Gibson was the place to go. The drinks did not disappoint and my friends and I had a very enjoyable evening, even if The Gibson is guilty of some of the pretensions of many quality bars these days.

Lets get my minor hang-ups out of the way. News flash: Prohibition has been repealed. You are not a speakeasy. Accordingly, your website can contain more than a few old pictures with your contact information. Also, you can put a noticeable sign over your door stating the name of your establishment. I am not saying we have to put golden arches up there, but you can subtly mark your territory. Again, The Gibson is not alone here. For example, I also love me some PX, and I appreciate that they put a bit more information on their website, but I can do without the blue light marking the spot — a small sign will be sufficient. These are personal dislikes and are simply a matter of taste, but I feel better now that I have gotten them off of my chest.

That said, once inside, The Gibson is a good looking bar with a good atmosphere. It’s a bit dark and the music was a bit loud to my taste, but no one else in my party seemed to share these concerns. The service staff is knowledgeable and friendly, and the drink menu is comprehensive. Most importantly, The Gibson passed my biggest test — I gave them a general idea of what I like in a cocktail and told them to bring me something I would love . . . and they did.

That first drink was a Boomerang, consisting of rye, Dolin Dry, homemade Swedish Punsch, a bit of simple syrup, and dashes of Angostura Bitters and lemon juice. Exactly what I wanted — not to dry, not too sweet, with a bit of a tart kick. The staff nailed it on the first try.

After our first round, the six of us decided to order a pitcher of The Gibson’s Seasonal Punch for the table. We were six people with very different tastes, but the punch was roundly praised. Made by mixing apple brandy, rum, pineapple, syrup, whiskey, and Champagne, the punch was sweet but not cloying and light on the palate. It was the perfect end to the evening.

If you need a great cocktail, The Gibson should be high on your list of places to go in downtown D.C. The drinks and the knowledgeable staff make it worth paying a couple of extra bucks. Make reservations well in advance or prepare for late night (or early morning). Just make sure you don’t walk past the unmarked black door when you arrive.

The Gibson
2009 14th Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C.
(202) 232-2156
Appx. $12 per drink