September 23, 2022
The world of spirits, liqueurs, and the cocktails one makes with them has undergone a wonderful internationalizing over the last, oh, 15 years (that number is not scientific, but more a musing digit that might approximate an impossible-to-actually-measure figure). By that I mean, so many products from around the globe once only consumed in their particular region or country are now being accessed by thankful drinkers in other spots. Make some sense? And this internationalizing is still rolling out, with more products showing in more spots. Again – thankful drinkers, including me! One type of produce that we’re finally seeing more of in WA (where I’m at) and the US in general is Shochu, the distilled tipple popular in Japan and made from a number of things: rice, sweet potatoes, buckwheat, and more. I’ll fully and readily admit I’m not a Shochu expert, but what I’ve had, I’ve enjoyed for its earthy, rich flavors (varying depending on the base product distilled) and friendly drinkability.
So, I was very excited recently to receive some Shochu in the mail (don’t be upset with me! I know I’m lucky), from Honkaku Spirits, which is one of the companies helping to spread the word and accessibility of Shochu, along with other Japanese spirits. They’ve been around since 2020, and are focused, amazingly enough, on working with family-run distilleries, which is awesome! One of their newly released imbibables is Jikuya White Sweet Potato Shochu, which is what I’m sipping today. Crafted at the Jikuya distillery (around since 1910! And specializing in sweet potato Shochu “completely sourced and produced in Kagoshima, among other specifications”!) by fourth generation Master Brewer-Distiller, Ms. Maiko Jikuya at the base of Mount Shibi, this Shochu clocks in at 25% ABV, and delivers a lovely flavor. Starting with a light-on-its-feet herbally, flowery (not heavy perfume flowers, but wildflowers) essence, it flows into notes of red berries and hints, just hints, of tea. Neat! Very approachable, very drinkable. And, delicious over ice, solo or with sparkling water (sidenote: there is also a Jikuya Black Sweet Potato Shochu, which is earthier, and well worth trying, too).
Shochu is often served neat, with ice, or with soda water (as well as with warm or room temp water), sometime with fruit juice added to the latter. It’s not as often utilized in cocktails. Not to say it isn’t! Just, from what I’ve seen, not as often. But while I enjoyed/enjoy it solo, I had to test it out with a few other ingredients, cocktail-style, because, well, that’s what I do! And after a little finagling, I came up with a combo that I think lets the Jikuya White Sweet Potato Shochu shine, but also lets it play nicely with others. This Shochu has such a delicate but memorable (hah! That’s a funny combo, but it works for me) nature, I wanted the cocktail to match, so it took a bit to find the right pairings. I landed on maraschino liqueur (I went with Luxardo Maraschino), whose somewhat lighter nuttiness was a swell fit, Dolin Blanc vermouth, due to the floral notes and bit of cuddle it always brings, and Scrappy’s singular Cardamon bitters, whose light spices and more florally goodness shone with the others. This foursome together sings a (if I can say this while being humble) liquid delight! It manages to be both layered in flavor, spice, floral, fruit, and maintain that delicate, brightness from the Shochu. You may want to have another the minute you finish the first. As you do, give a toast to the whole world, which – for thankful drinkers – has become a smaller place.
A Tempest of Provocation
2-1/2 ounces Jikuya White Sweet Potato Shochu
1/2 ounce Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
1/2 ounce Dolin Blanc vermouth
Dash Scrappy’s Cardamom bitters
1. Fill a mixing glass or cocktail shaker halfway full with cracked ice. Add everything. Stir well.
2. Strain into a cocktail glass. Enjoy.
September 6, 2022
As a good reporter and editor (much like Rock Rockwell, the intrepid editor of The Record, and hero in this here mystery book from 1950), I’m going to start this Cocktail Talk by referring you to the reference point of the What Rhymes with Murder? Cocktail Talk Part I, where I dig into the idea of reporters/mystery heroes, and a little more about the book as a whole. Here, I wanna just dive into the Cocktail Talking, so the only background on the book I’m putting in this paragraph is the tagline from the back cover, cause it’s one the finest taglines ever: “When a lusty lothario sings his serenade, romance rhymes with death!” Oh, and in the below they talk about overly-bittered Old Fashioneds. Also, memorable. Read it!
A voice at my elbow said, “Cocktail, sir? Old-Fashioneds and dry Martinis.”
“Old-Fashioned,” I said, hardly noticing the neat figure in black and white who spoke.
“Okay, but there’s more bitters in them than whiskey.”
I started and looked around. From under a frilly cap, the face of Amy Race was peering at me impishly. “I’m sticking to straight whisky myself,” she said. “That’s the trend below stairs.”
In spite of myself, I burst out laughing.
–Jack Iams, What Rhymes with Murder?
September 2, 2022
Is today, the 2nd of September, the ideal time to drink an Americano (the Italian stalwart and precursor, perhaps, to the now, perhaps, better-known Negroni, a drink, the Americano, which used to be known itself as the child of the Milan-Torino, or Milano-Torino, which boasted Campari and Punt e’ Mes vermouth, sometimes other vermouths, perhaps, but skipped the soda, which itself was added and then the trio, Campari, Punt e’ Mes, soda, became a favorite of American servicemen, and then became the Americano), the very moment when one should drink this drink? Perhaps! I say so due to the fact that while it’s refreshing with the ice and the soda and the bubbles, making it good-or-more-than-good when the sun’s out, it also has those lovely rich herbal-and-bitter-and-botanical notes from the Campari and vermouth. Those notes point to the fact that fall, and then, always, winter are coming no matter the sun. So, to me, this Friday, the 2nd, seems to straddle those moments in a way, much like the drink can straddle the seasons, in taste, sure, but also in feeling. Drinks are about more than just taste, after all.
2 ounces Campari
2 ounces Punt e’ Mes sweet vermouth
Chilled club soda
Orange slice, for garnish
1. Fill a highball glass three-quarters full with ice cubes. Add the Campari and vermouth. Stir gently.
2. Add club soda to the glass until the glass is almost full. Garnish with an orange slice.
August 16, 2022
The great Graham Greene hasn’t made an enormous amount of time Cocktail Talking here on the ol’ Spiked Punch (though do the read the past Graham Greene Cocktail Talks), which is a shame because A: I like his works lots, and B: he liked a good drink. Probably because we shade a little lower-brow (though he did write a fair amount of what he called “entertainments” which might lean into pulp pockets perfectly), or just because I forget to mark the pages of potential Cocktail Talks when reading his books. Or re-reading, I should specify, as I believe I’ve read them all at least once, re-reading being the case recently as I was re-reading his book The Comedians, which takes places mostly on Haiti during the tragic reign of François “Papa Doc” Duvalier. Circling around one main character and a few main satellites characters (who meet on a boat heading towards the country), it’s a sometimes chilling, always moving novel. Definitely one that one should be read, especially if you carry an interest in political history around like a traveling bar.
“What’s your poison?”
“Have you a whiskey?”
“I have next to everything, old man. You wouldn’t fancy a dry Martini?”
I would have preferred a whisky, but he seemed anxious to show off the riches of his store, so, “If it’s very dry,” I said.
“Ten to one, old man.”
He unlocked the cupboard and drew out a leather traveling-case – a half-bottle of gin, a half-bottle of vermouth, four metal beakers, a shaker. It was an elegant expensive set, and he laid it reverently on the tumbled table as though he were an auctioneer showing a prized antique. I couldn’t help commenting on it.
“Asprey’s ?” I asked.
“As good as,” he replied quickly and began to mix the cocktails.
–Graham Greene, The Comedians
July 26, 2022
Our final stop (don’t miss The Unholy Trio Cocktail Talks Part I and Part II, by the way) in my latest Henry Kane yarn featuring two-fisted sharp-dressing quick-shooting kiss-a-lot-of-girls PI Peter Chambers. This quote almost didn’t make it to the site, as I wasn’t sure it was Cocktail Talk-y enough, but really, any time someone in a book is drinking a Rob Roy, it needs Cocktail Talking. And a Dry Rob Roy (not sure I’ve heard that much)? Forget about it! Read the other two in the series to get more book details, but not before you drink up the below.
“What are you drinking? Lunch is on me.”
“I’m going to get paid.”
“That you are.” I had brought a blank check. “Dry Rob Roy,” I said to the waiter. The menus were already on the table.
“Congratulations,” Arnie said.
“I believe you got married.”
“Oh. Thanks.” Miranda wouldn’t have told him. She was as cozy with information as Cosa Nostra. “How do you know?” I said.
“How do I know? Heck, there was a spread in every newspaper.”
“Yes, there was, wasn’t there?” My drink arrived and I drank it, quickly.
–Henry Kane, The Unholy Trio
July 19, 2022
Another (see The Unholy Trio Part I Cocktail Talk, if you missed it) quote from the Henry Kane political, blackmail, murder, money yarn called The Unholy Trio, starring private investigator Peter Chambers, who tears it up, romances it up, and drinks it up through the book. It’s a fun ride, folks, and one that even includes our manly hero getting (as it says on the book), “a gilt-edged invitation to trouble,” as well as getting married! Really. Well, sort-of. You’ll have to read the book to the get all the details, though the below covers the most important part, the marriage Martinis.
And so we went home to our bridal suite and there she said, “Martinis. And I’m making.” She opened the liquor cabinet. “Excellent ingredients here. And a jar of olives and a jar of pearl onions, but I don’t like either. No lemons.”
“I though you weren’t special for Martinis?”
“Except on special occasions. Do you think we ought to call down for lemons?”
I didn’t quite relish the idea of calling to Room Service from the bridal suite in the middle of the night for a couple of lemons.
“I’ll go down and get them,” I said, and when I returned, after my curious excursion to the kitchens below, there was a tall shaker with frosty Martinis sitting and waiting.
–Henry Kane, The Unholy Trio
July 8, 2022
Here is something I learned recently: nearly 80% of the tequila brands sold in the U.S. have additives, things to add sweetening or alter coloring or change up the natural taste. I mean, I knew that additives like caramel for example have been used for, well, ever (or a long time) to change up certain aspects of whiskey or what-have-you, but for some reason never thought this extended in general to tequila. I mean, obviously (by taste alone) you can tell that chemicals are in certain boozes, including tequilas. But just didn’t realize the reach. Until recently, about the same time I was lucky enough to have a little DE-NADA tequila show up in the mail (lucky me!). A newer brand to me, DE-NADA tequilas are confirmed additive free – which means taste, coloring, everything, is coming from the natural ingredients in the tequilas, and the time-honored processes used to make real tequila. Neat! They make both blanco and reposado tequilas (both at a fifth-generation tequila distillery in Jalisco), and while the blanco is a treat – smooth and bright on the tongue, with some fruit notes, peach, grapefruit, and some herbal notes, anise, mint, a hint of pepper at the finish – when I was craving a Rosita, I went with the reposado.
The Rosita (you probably know this, being in the know, but just in case), is a relation in a way to the Negroni. Not, to me, a sibling, but at least a cousin. As well as a cousin to various other drinks served over ice that have spirit + vermouth + something else. The something else here is Campari, and hence the Negroni connection. Oh, though, there are both sweet and dry vermouths – that makes it a cousin only. And also extra bitters (which maybe means, second cousin). But it has a little of that memorable Campari-sweet-bitter-ness (which I love, so much), even though there is less here, allowing the tequila to shine. I feel to stand up to a party properly with the Campari and vermouths, that slightly deeper reposado is needed – and the DE-NADA Reposado shines in the drink. It’s, like the bianco, smooth, very smooth, but the flavor leans nuttier, with almonds and vanilla (okay, a bean, but nut-like), mingling with toasted oak and caramel, roasted agave, and hints of cinnamon, mellowing out buttery at the finish. Yummy! And goes really well with the vermouth, and the bitter-ing undertones. The Campari, too, which might seem an odd pairing at first, but trust me, the end result is lovely summer drink to savor.
1-1/2 ounce DE-NADA Reposado tequila
1/2 ounce Campari
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
1/2 ounce dry vermouth
Dash Angostura bitters
Orange twist, for garnish
1. Fill a mixing glass or cocktail shaker halfway full with cracked ice. Add everything, except the ice cubes! Stir well.
2. Add some ice cubes – about halfway – to an Old Fashioned or comparable glass. Strain the mix from Step one over the cubes and into the glass. Garnish with the orange twist.
July 1, 2022
It’s the first of July, which means that the fourth of July is only days away (poor first of July, always in the shadow – at least here in the US – of its holiday sparkling calendar sibling). On the fourth of July, people tend to have picnics, think (one hopes) about what makes this country the country it’s been for the last few hundred years, and blow things up with brightly-colored mini booms. The latter of which, between us, I’m not too fond of, as I’ve always had pups that don’t like it. So, if you’re in my neighborhood, keep it down, ya hear! But to balance things out, let me offer you this explosive (in taste!) firecracker of a drink, the ideal drink for the day of fireworks (though don’t have too many and then get around matches – a deadly duo if ever there was one), one so ideal I believe I’ve proposed it before as a fourth favorite. The bourbon, vermouth, Pernod (a nod to the revolutionary French), grenadine (homemade if you love your country – check out the homemade grenadine recipe here), and orange bitters combo is a tasty holiday treat. I use Scrappy’s Orange bitters below, and Woodinville Whiskey Co. bourbon, because A: they are both awesome, and B: supporting your local makers is about as patriotic as it gets. Now, don’t forget what we said about keeping the noise down for dogs!
The Whizz Bang
1-1/2 ounces Woodinville Whiskey Co. bourbon
3/4 ounce dry vermouth
1/4 ounce Pernod
1/4 ounce homemade grenadine
2 dashes Scrappy’s Orange bitters
1. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway full with ice cubes. Add the bourbon, vermouth, Pernod, grenadine, and orange bitters. Shake well.
2. Strain into a cocktail glass. Drink up.