Cocktails for a Crowd book signing – 8/11 at Salt & Sundry, Washington DC

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This Sunday, I’ll be in Washington DC, signing books from 2-3:30 PM at one of the most beautiful housewares stores I’ve ever seen:  Salt & Sundry, inside Union Market. I already have my eye on some new glassware.

We’ll also be sampling cocktails from the book and bites provided by The Red Hen. Mark your calendar now!

Low Octane Libations: “cocktails are balanced libations that bring people together to celebrate life.”

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From left to right: Amanda Boccato, Greg Best, Joaquin Simo, Kirk Estopinal

This good-lookin’ crew was my panel from Tales of the Cocktail. We had assembled to talk about “Low Octane Libations” — and although I’ve long been a fan of lower-alcohol cocktails, there’s nothing like hearing the gospel straight from the bartenders. In retrospect, I think this topic hit a sweet spot, sandwiched among seminars and tasting events that focused on vermouth, sherry and other lower alcohol options, and I’ve been tickled to see post-Tales roundups listing “lower alcohol” as a trend in the making.

Although I was preoccupied with moderating the panel, I did manage to scribble down some insightful comments from the panelists. Highlights included:

  • Amanda Boccato, brand ambassador from Lillet, noted that “historical cocktails can be reinvented using lower proof spirits as the base, such as a Lillet Julep.” Unprompted, later on in the session Joaquin Simo of Pouring Ribbons noted that he had tried out a Lillet Julep spiked with Green Chartreuse. “It was so good,” he said.
  • This comment, from Greg Best of Holeman and Finch:  “As stewards of cocktail culture, we’re obligated to define cocktail culture endlessly. No one ever said it has to be boozy with bitters – there’s no rule.” Then he paused to define what cocktails are: “Balanced libations that bring people together to celebrate life.” The audience applauded!
  • Joaquin Simo on the rising phenomenon of Bartender’s Choice cocktails: “It’s an opportunity to bring out that coffee-infused vermouth – not Red Stag. If [guests] are giving you that much latitude, let’s not abuse it.”
  • Kirk Estopinal’s Pineau de Charentes Cobbler. All the cocktails were top-notch (and props to our Cocktail Apprentice leader, Christopher George and his team for making that so), but I especially loved how he defined the garnish:  as “good snacks on top.” His cobbler was topped with a quarter-wheel of lemon,  sprinkled with bitters and then sugar. How to get more guests at bars drinking cobblers? Here’s Simo’s idea: “Tell them the Cobbler was the Cosmo of the 1800s.”
Here’s the drink recipe:
Pineau de Charentes Cobbler  (Kirk Estopinal, Bellocq)
1 1/2 oz Ferrand Pineau de Charentes
1/2 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz simple syrup (1:1)
¾ oz Calvados or Cognac
Boston Bitters-coated lemon pieces, for garnish
Powdered sugar, for garnish
Add all (except garnishes) to a tin and shake hard with big ice. Strain over crushed ice and top with garnish.

The drink you need for your 4th of July party: The Rosemary Refresher

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The Rosemary Refresher

photo credit: Teri Lyn Fisher

It’s possible that I may I love this drink a little too much. I made a batch for a book signing event on Saturday, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

A few random thoughts on this drink:

  • Although it was created to be a pitcher drink, if it’s going to sit out for longer than a few minutes before guests gulp it down in a thirsty frenzy, do not add ice! This drink is best when chilled, but loses all its oomph when it gets watered down. Mix it up and set it in a bottle or carafe, and pour it over ice to serve, if it’s going to sit for any length of time. (if serving right away, the pitcher method is just fine, though.)
  • If any rosemary syrup (and/or lime juice) is left over, refrigerate it and save it. Sunday night, I used this template to create an enjoyable Rosemary Daiquiri (though I used 2 oz white rum, not 2.5 oz aged rum). Tuesday night, I found inspiration here to make a rosemary-tinged gin Gimlet.
  • The rosemary sprig garnish is optional. But it makes the drink look really impressive.

The Rosemary Refresher

From Cocktails for a Crowd, by Kara Newman (Chronicle Books)

Serves 8
Total volume: 4 3/4 cups (without ice)

This sophisticated margarita variation is a wonderful thirst-quenching aperitif. The recipe makes a bit more rosemary-infused simple syrup than needed for the cocktails. Offer the leftover portion in a small pitcher for anyone who isn’t drinking alcohol so they can enjoy it mixed with club soda or ginger ale.

Rosemary Simple Syrup
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
5 sprigs fresh rosemary

2 cups reposado tequila
1 1/2 cups freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
4 ounces freshly squeezed lime juice
6 ounces rosemary-infused simple syrup
4 cups ice cubes
8 sprigs fresh rosemary, for garnish

To make the rosemary syrup: In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and water. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar is dissolved. When the syrup starts to boil, lower the heat to maintain a simmer. Gently roll the rosemary between your hands to release some of the aromatic oils, then add it to the syrup. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Let cool to room temperature, then remove the rosemary sprigs and strain the syrup if need be. Stored in a covered container in the refrigerator, the syrup will keep for about 2 weeks.

To make the cocktails: In pitcher that holds at least 10 cups, combine the tequila, grapefruit juice, lime juice, and rosemary simple syrup and stir until thoroughly blended. Add the ice and stir well.

To serve, pour into rocks glasses and garnish each glass with a rosemary sprig.

Cocktail recipe: East River Defense

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My article, Your Cocktail’s Been A-Saltedappears in the March/April 2013 issue of Arrive Magazine, which –for once!– I got to read in hard copy format as I trundled along from NY to Baltimore and back again last week on Amtrak.

Gotta love any publication that lets me get away with a pun like that in the headline!

I’ve been looking forward to showcasing the East River Defense cocktail in the photo above ever since I first went to Northern Spy, a sweet little locavore spot in the East Village about a year ago.  I was there to interview Co-owner and Beverage Director Chris Ronis for a Wine Enthusiast feature about Aperitif Cocktails, and although it wasn’t part of the article, this was the drink I walked away thinking about — it had the strangest sweet-salty-tart-refreshing combination.

Northern Spy doesn’t have a full liquor license — they can serve only wine and beer. Luckily, that includes fortified wines (like sherry) and aperitif wines, so the drinks list still is robust and interesting.  In part, it’s that way because Ronis brought in mixologist Erick Castro to create the drinks. (If Castro’s name sounds familiar, perhaps that’s because you’ve been reading about his buzz-y new bar in San Diego, Polite Provisions.)

Although Ronis told me that this is based on a classic Cobbler, I think it’s even closer to the Paloma, a tequila drink made with grapefruit soda. Either way, it’s a perfect cocktail to transition into early spring.

East River Defense

Created by Erick Castro for Northern Spy ((New York, NY).  Nubbly “sea-salted ice” plus briny Manzanilla sherry gives the drink a refreshing salt-air tang.

1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt

3 ounces Manzanilla sherry

1 ounce lemon juice

1 ounce simple syrup

3 dashes Scrappy’s grapefruit bitters

Soda water

Scoop ice into a Collins glass, and sprinkle with coarse sea salt. In a cocktail shaker, combine sherry, lemon juice, simple syrup and bitters. Shake well, and strain into glass over the sea-salted ice. Top with soda water. Garnish with a grapefruit wedge and serve with a straw.