For more than a year now, Shady's bartender and regular Chow Bella contributor JK Grence, has been providing invaluable advice to the alcohol-infused masses with his "Last Call" column. Considering this grand milestone, we decided to take a look back at some of his best tips as we head into the summer.
Read on to see some of our favorite summer cocktail recipes and drinking advice, courtesy of Grence.
One of my favorite parts of writing Last Call is getting to answer people's burning questions about booze. I truly love getting to pull the curtain back on the alchemy of bartending. This week, I opened up the mailbag and read:
What tips do you have for making a good Sidecar?
Good choice with the Sidecar, it's one of the most underrated drinks out there. The hardest part of ordering one is finding a bartender who's heard of the thing. While the Sidecar is practically the standard bearer of brandy cocktails, Americans (except grape-loving Californians who skip the Sidecar in favor of sipping brandy neat from a snifter, and for some strange reason Wisconsinites) lost their taste for brandy quite some time ago. It's poised to make a comeback; brandy is smooth and easy to drink and has more character than boring old vodka. The Sidecar is a great place to start.
The French 75's origins are shrouded in mystery. Harry's New York Bar in Paris claims to have invented the drink in 1915. And cocktail historian David Wondrich has reason to believe it's the only cocktail invented in the United States during the dark days of Prohibition.
I'm a bit more inclined to believe Wondrich, but either way, one thing is sure: It's named for a piece of French artillery. The 75mm shell provided an awful lot of firepower in a small, light package, and the gun itself had a new type of recoil mechanism that was incredibly smooth.
You can guess how the drink goes down.
Much like the French 75, there are two schools of thought on the spirits to use in the original Suffering Bastard. Gin is always half of the equation. The other part is either bourbon or brandy, depending on who you ask. I give a slight nod to the brandy version, but sometimes I'll absentmindedly reach for the bourbon. It's delicious either way.
Suffering Bastard à la Trader Vic's
¾ ounce fresh lime juice ¼ ounce orgeat syrup ½ ounce simple syrup ½ ounce orange curaçao 1 ounce (Puerto Rican) light rum 1 ounce (Martinique) gold rum ½ ounce (Jamaican) dark rum
Shake everything together with crushed ice. Pour into a double rocks glass. Garnish with a speared pineapple tidbit and maraschino cherry, a sprig of mint, and a thick spear of cucumber peel.
I was introduced to the Lei Lani Volcano through the book Beachbum Berry's Intoxica! by tiki historian extraordinare Jeff Berry. The Volcano was created at Disney's Polynesian Resort in Walt Disney World back in the 1970s. As befits a resort libation, it's a textbook faux-Polynesian umbrella cocktail: An extra-long, head-turning pink drink made from guava nectar and pineapple juice. Low-proof coconut rum provides just the right amount of social lubrication for a summer soirée. Most umbrella drinks are cloyingly sweet; a healthy dose of lime juice saves the Lei Lani Volcano from that fate. Add it all up, and you have a well-balanced, crowd-pleasing summer quencher. And a bonus: It's really easy to scale up for large gatherings.
Around the bar, it seems that this season's official cocktail is the Moscow Mule. Over the past few weeks, its popularity has skyrocketed. I'm a little surprised that people often say I make a really good one. It's such a simple drink, anyone should be able to put together a good one.
Alas, bartenders the world over feel like they need to dress up the Mule. In goes a dash or two of bitters. Sometimes they'll use a squirt of simple syrup. It's time to get back to basics, and reclaim the simple elegance of the Moscow Mule.
This time of year is perfect to pull out the big guns for refreshing cocktails. You can keep your frozen daiquiris and margaritas, I'm reaching for Negronis right now. You might remember a few months ago when we discussed the classic Americano. Think of the Negroni as the advanced version of the Americano. It came about when Count Negroni in Venice got tired of his favorite Americanos and asked the bartender to make it stiffer with gin in place of the sparkling water.
I've fallen under the spell of a classic summer beverage, the shandy. It doesn't get much simpler to make: First, get some beer, not too dark; lagers and wheat beers work great. Then, get your hands on some sparkling lemonade or citrus-flavored soda like 7-Up. Mix together in equal parts (or to taste) and enjoy. The two go together perfectly, with the soda's sweet citrus playing off the beer's hops and malt as though they were Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
Since shandies are low in alcohol, you can enjoy them all day without keeling over. On the other hand, if you find your shandy needs a little kick, you can sneak a thimble of vodka or gin in there. If you make your shandy with American lemonade and a shot of vodka, you get a party drink called Strip and Go Naked (but that's another column).
After working for five years at the now-shuttered Trader Vic's in Scottsdale, the Mai Tai has become my very favorite drink. No other drink conveys a festive, tropical mood like it. Even those horribly sweet, neon-colored things that pass for Mai Tais in bad Chinese restaurants are still alluring for their retro charms. But, once you've had a real Mai Tai, everything else is just rum-spiked Kool-Aid.
Balmy days like these call for a light, refreshing tipple. Few drinks can match the refreshing power of a personal favorite, the mojito. Problem is, it's next to impossible to find a well-crafted one in a restaurant or bar. I think all the fruit-flavored variations exist to cover up hideous base products. Good news: It's a snap to make terrific ones at home.
And #1 goes to ...
Everyone seems to think their sangria recipe is best. And, many of them are pretty good; sangria is a laid-back drink that takes well to variation. Really good sangria is more about solid technique than any specific recipe.
1: Use Inexpensive Wine, Not Cheap Wine.
Using expensive wine in sangria is like using super-premium vodka in a Bloody Mary. The wine is buried under so much other stuff that you're going to have a hard time telling the difference between sangria made with a $30 Rioja and Three-Buck Chuck from Trader Joe's. As long as you pass on el cheapo jug wine like Franzia or Carlo Rossi, you'll have a tasty end product.
2: Skip the Fruit in the Glass (Unless You Really Like It)
I have a surprise for you. You know those bits of cut-up fruit that you leave soaking in the wine? They don't add any fruit flavor to the drink. The wine barely penetrates the fruit. Don't believe me? Check out the photo to the right. That was left to soak overnight; the wine didn't even penetrate a millimeter into the apple slice. All that happens is the fruit picks up a little of the wine's flavor. I hear some of you howling "But I like the boozy fruit!" I can't blame you, I have a soft spot for it, too. If you want to add fruit, cover thinly sliced pieces of fruit with a little of the wine in a separate container, and let it sit overnight to soak up some wine. Then, add the wine back to the sangria, and put a couple of bits of fruit into each glass as you serve. Any reasonably firm fruit will do; apples, oranges, kiwi, mango, peaches, strawberries . . .
3: Mash Some Fruit
It's not pretty, but it makes your sangria taste great. So, if soaking the fruit doesn't add any fruit flavor, how do you get fruit flavor into the sangria? Simple, you mash the living daylights out of some fruit. I always use at least an orange and a lemon (unpeeled so the zest can release its flavorful oils). Anything else that goes in is a matter of whim. Firm apples and pears don't mash well, but just about anything else will work. Just slice it thin, add a little sugar, and use a wooden spoon (or your trusty muddler) to get the juices flowing. After soaking overnight in the fridge, strain out the mashed fruit bits, they're not very pretty in the glass.
4: Booze It Up With the wine and juice alone, sangria is a pretty lightweight drink. So, spike it with some high-proof spirits. A couple of ounces each of orange liqueur (Grand Marnier, Cointreau, generic triple sec, et cetera), and brandy are a good base. From there, a splash or two of fruity cordials are a welcome addition. A friend of mine does an especially good version with a healthy splash of cream sherry.
5: Add Sparkle Sangria is light summer drinking. The extra spirits and sweet juice can weigh it down, so some bubbles are the perfect finish. Club soda or your favorite non-dark soda work fine. If you go the club soda route, you might wish to add a little extra sugar at the start.
Check out the complete Last Call archives here.