Harold Q. Masur (also pubbed as Harold Masur, Hal Masur, Hal Q. Masur, and perhaps some other variations on his name) has made a fair number of appearances on the old Spiked Punch. Heck, just check out the past Harold Masur Cocktail Talks for evidence. Funny to mention evidence, as his protagonist (his only one as far as I’ve read) is a lawyer named Scott Jordan, who is on the straight and narrow when it comes to lawyering in court, but isn’t opposed to a little breaking and entering if needed, and especially isn’t opposed to the drinks and nightlife and ladies. And he solves murders and stuff, too. In The Mourning After, the affairs are around art, which adds a nice cultured touch – how many mysteries mention or revolve around lesser-known (at least in relation to Matisse) fauve-ist artist Maurice de Vlaminck? Not too many! It’s not all art, however, as Jordan finds times for drinks, too. And one of them is Campari! Seeing that in a mystery makes my day. And near the word “agog,” a word I love and one not used as much modernly? Amazing.
At the Carlyle, seated at a small table, sipping a Campari and soda, Angela was still agog at the thought of a one-man show at the Maxim Gallery for Carl Baum.
“Never heard of the chap,” I said. “Tell me about him.”
I love this drink – love it! And, as it’s the lover’s month, so to speak, felt I should kick things off with a drink I love. And this is it! Funny enough, was thinking about it recently over the past holiday season, when making it for some holiday pals. See, I always couched it in a sorta murder mystery persona (if cocktails have personas, which I believe they do), the drop of crimson blood on the slippers giving Miss Marple the needed clue (or whomever detective you desire, I’m feeling Marple-y) to solve the mystery. But, during this holiday season and discussion, a thought popped into my addled mind – wouldn’t Santa have slippers the color of crimson? Maybe? Maybe! So, that meant this could be a holiday drink, too. Either way, I love it. You will do. No matter what holiday you’re sipping it on.
As the end of another year looms in front of us (along with the joyous and jolly holiday season), it reminds me that – I am old, hahaha! So old that I remember being in New York City, the biggest city in the world, make it there, etc., to teach a cocktail class or some such, and when I went into a bar, a good bar, and asked for a Negroni, they didn’t know how to make it. Now, you youngsters with your Negroni weeks and endless Negroni variations probably can’t believe it, but it’s true! The booze world of modern times is an oft-marvelous place, even though not all Negroni relatives are as marvelous, some are. And the Rosita is one of the top international Negroni, let’s call it a cousin. The usual modern-day Rosita recipe I believe goes back to the great, friendly, fantastic Gary Regan (sadly now shaking and sipping at that big ol’ bar in the sky), back to his Bartender’s Bible. The drink is – if you don’t know – a drink that combines tequila, both sweet and dry vermouths, Campari, and Angostura bitters. Delicious! Shades of the Negroni, changed up by tequila’s vegetal smoke and the dry vermouth’s lighter and bitter’s darker notes, holding on to the deep herbs and coloring of the Campari and sweet vermouth.
The other evening, I almost made that very drink, with some DE-NADA Reposado tequila (which had, lucky for me, shown up in the post recently). Almost! DE-NADA Reposado, beyond the all-caps, is crafted from 100% estate-grown blue agave in Jalisco by the fifth-generation Vivanco family distillers, aged in ex-bourbon American oak barrels for a minimum of four months, and ends up a swell, approachable, sipper, smooth, with peach and pineapple fruit notes mingling with almond and cinnamon, underlined by a caramel vanilla yumminess. In the same way as it’s Blanco sibling, it’s confirmed additive free, too (it’s part of the additive-free family – unlike a fair number of others), and certified Carbon Neutral. A good thing to make a drink with! Probably good to make a regular Rosita with, in the normal style. But I, I was feeling contrary, and decided it would be even better subbed for gin straight into my normal Negroni recipe (which is the classic 1:1:1). And, while I’m not saying it was better, it was certainly darn good! The tequila’s vanilla-nut-spice-fruit-ness gets to shine a touch more, and went wonderfully with the sweet vermouth as the only vermouth, while keeping the Campari at an equal level ensured that the sweetness didn’t take over. I also garnished with an orange slice, and that bit of fresh citrus, well, it was a treat I tell you. Try it before you get too old, and see if I’m right!
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.
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.
En garde! This fencing (or sword-fighting, if you’re using, say, broadswords) drink is a well-balanced (on the balls of the feet, I suppose, if drinks had feet) number, with gin just taking the first position slightly, and then an equality of Cointreau, Campari, and dry vermouth providing the support, with a hint of orange the shining point (if I can drag out the metaphor). Altogether, a lot of herb-botanical-citrus goodness happening, and a cocktail that is fitting for late spring or late fall, one you can serve happily at happy hours and garden parties, and one with just enough of a story to entertain (named as it is after a famous Olympic fencer) but not so much of one to become a bore. And, really, sipping it is much finer than any sort of fight, even a mock one.
Last week I went on and on about brunching and brunch season and brunch drinks and then put down the recipe for a new brunch drink Good Morning Sunshine, and all of that and you know what? Not one of you invited me to brunch. Well, my dog Ainsley did, but she’d eat all the time if it was up to her, hahaha! So, just for that, here’s another brunch drink, one from an old (but still bubbly, if I may be so bold) book of mine called, simply enough, Champagne Cocktails, said drink being called The Pensiero (which is Italian for “thought” making this drink “The Thought” which is just so deeply silly), and as you’d expect one influenced by Italy and featuring delicious Italian stalwarts Punt e’ Mes vermouth and Campari, as well as fancy frizzante ruby-esque red wine Brachetto d’Acqui (a brunch treat if ever there was one). Now, I’m just gonna sit here and wait for my invitations.
Strawberry season is super swell, sweet some might say! Heck, I might have said it not so far back in Spiked Punch history when extolling the virtues of the homemade strawberry liqueur I made, Strawcurranterry, also not so far back. When it rains strawberries up this way, it really pours (if I may stretch metaphors to the breaking point of sense), and so not only did I make said liqueur, but also tossed some fresh-picked-by-my-own-hand strawberries into other big jars with other tasty things – including gin! I didn’t alter the concoction any further than that, though, just took 2 cups of Sipsmith London Dry gin and added it to 2 cups muddled strawberries, and then let them get acquainted for about a month, afterwhich I strained it through cheesecloth and voila! Strawberry gin. Delicious, by the way, over ice on its own. But also delicious in cocktails, including The Stoni. The clever among you (which is all of you, as I’m sure anyone who reads this is clever) will probably guess that The Stoni is perhaps a Negroni, made with said strawberry-infused gin, and you’d be right! I felt that calling it a “Strawberry Negroni” violated all my diatribes about creative naming of drinks, but did want to reference the antecedent, as nothing else has changed (outside of the garnish). So, it’s not overly strawberry-y, and still carries the Negroni balance and beauty. But altered with fruity undertones that add a hint of summer and orchard or fruit farm. Interesting? Yes! Delicious? Indeed! Easy, and worthwhile, provided you have good fresh strawberries and a month to spare? Darn tooting.
The Man Behind the Evening's PlansA.J. Rathbun is a freelance food and entertainment writer, poet and author, a frequent guest on the Everyday Food program (Martha Stewart Living/Sirius satellite radio), and is a contributor to culinary & entertainment magazines such as Every Day with Rachael Ray, The Food Network Magazine, Real Simple, Wine Enthusiast, and many others. Of course, there's so much more to it than that...Read More