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Copita de Mezcal

A copita is just a little cup, and mezcal, as you might already know, is agave spirit—like tequila. It comes from the blue agave, a long-leafed desert succulent similar in appearance (though not related) to aloe. The plant is harvested, the leaves are hacked off, and the resulting core, called a piña, resembles a giant pineapple. These are roasted then crushed and fermented, and finally distilled. Categorically speaking tequila is also mezcal, but by definition tequila is more specific because it has to come from Jalisco. Anyway, we are talking about mezcal here which is similar in flavor, having all of the goodness you get from distilled agave, but often with additional smokiness reminiscent of the roasting process. Let's stop right here and mention that any bottle with a worm in it is just a marketing gimmick. Today, we have better choices than that, and there is some fantastic mezcal worth collecting. But you might be wondering: what's the big deal serving a shot of this stuff in a little cup? How is that a cocktail?

Several years ago during a visit to Portland, Oregon before we made the big move, we found ourselves enjoying a few rounds at the end of the bar at The Woodsman Tavern. It continues to be one of our favorite places for great food and cocktails. At the time, Evan Zimmerman was running the bar program and he had a seasonal cocktail at the bottom of the menu he simply called Copita de Mezcal described as an ounce of Del Maguey Vida served with spicy pineapple sangrita. We were intrigued.

In Zimmerman's cocktail the mezcal is served neat, but in a rustic style that is apparently common where it is produced. Pouring the spirit into the cutest damned little terracotta clay pots you have ever seen allows the mezcal to spread out a bit, releasing the wonderful aromas that enhance the sipping experience. So far so good. Then, alongside the spirit we have a small glass of yellowish liquid. This is fresh pineapple sangrita, a house recipe that is, as Zimmerman describes it, traditional but somewhat improvised instead of measuring exact proportions. It is fresh-squeezed pineapple juice, lime juice, cilantro and a big dose of cayenne pepper!

Pineapple Sangrita
Pineapple, peeled, cored and chopped
Juice of one lime, more or less to taste
Small bunch of cilantro
A teaspoon of cayenne pepper, more or less to taste

Add the ingredients to a blender or food processor and blend into a smooth pulp. Hang the result from a sieve or in layered cheesecloth over a bowl for several hours to collect the juice. Ideally, you might use a juicing machine, if you have access to one. Keep the juice refrigerated and drink within a few days.

Copita de Mezcal
1 oz of mezcal (we used Del Maguey Vida)
Sangrita (see above)

Serve a few ounces of cold Sangrita in a small glass next to a copita de mezcal.

You can make sangrita using a variety of fruit juices, but if you search online you mostly find recipes with tomato. While that may be a fine beverage, some folks think that tomato juice is an inaccurate addition that was introduced over time in an attempt to match the reddish color that should come from the cayenne pepper. Since ours is based on pineapple not tomato, this should result in a yellow-orange liquid depending on how much ground cayenne pepper is added. But, we are also tossing in a bunch of cilantro which can overwhelm the reddish tint and ends up keeping our sangrita on the green side of yellow.

Your first sip of mezcal hits your nose and tongue with smoky fruit aromatics possibly followed by honey, cinnamon, and a long finish. The alcohol burn requires quenching, so you reach for the sangrita. The cold pineapple does the job, with the fruit sugar balanced with the added lime juice. The cool hint of cilantro flavor is then overtaken by a slow cayenne pepper burn! Whoa! What do you do next? You reach back for the copita again, and so on and so forth. You get the idea. One sip reinforces another, and another, for a cocktail that that is as much about the experience of slowly sipping as it is about the fine and fresh ingredients themselves.

The whole point of this is to provide a sidekick for the spirit—a deconstructed cocktail experience. It is both exhilarating and refreshing. This is also chance to sip a nice spirit and and experience the fresh flavor paring. Good mezcal can be smooth, creamy, complex and aromatic, but it doesn't have to break the bank. Vida is a sipping and mixing mezcal that is delicious at a reasonable price point.

We realize the sangrita recipe above is far from exact, but that's what we got, even after trying to nail down some measurements. Nevertheless, it's not difficult to find success. You can taste your sangrita right out of the blender, pulp and all. It will be a little frothy at first, but you can test the flavor. Is it too sweet? Add some more lime juice. Can you taste the cilantro? If not, add more. Remember, the stems contain a lot of flavor, so toss them in too. Do you get some heat from the cayenne? If not, you are missing the best part. Add a little more until a small sip ensures you get some burn.

We have served this two-glass cocktail without taking the time to strain the sangrita, but we find that it separates in the glass as it sits and that tends to be distracting. Make it ahead of time so you can strain it, knowing your total volume will be less, but the result will be more refined. We used a metal strainer and the juice dripped clear like a gravity filtered fruit juice. If you can't find a copita for mezcal service, try a small tea bowl or espresso cup. Little ceramic cups for sipping sake are also perfect for this, but the flatter the design, the more surface area you will have to enjoy the spirit's aromatics.

The Gimlet, and How to Make Lime Cordial

We have often cited the importance of using fresh juice in cocktails, and we stand behind the idea. One of the easiest ways to up your game when making amazing craft cocktails is to always use fresh juice. Of course, many rules have exceptions, and the fresh juice rule has but one: The Gimlet.

The Gimlet is a classic English cocktail that uses lime cordial, not fresh-squeezed lime juice. We are talking about Rose's Sweetened Lime Juice—a bottled product that is intensely sour and painfully sweet. It is effectively a preserved lime juice product that contains sugar, and as such, it cannot be a substitute for actual lime juice in other recipes. Yet, bartenders and ignorant enthusiasts have been using Rose's for years when they should have been squeezing actual limes. All recipes that call for lime juice get ruined when you use Rose's. Just don't do it. However, the

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Bloody Mario

It is no secret that we are not fans of tomato juice. Consequently, we have never written about that famous classic, the Bloody Mary. Of course, we recognize that many of our readers probably enjoy this morning pick-me-up and it has been somewhat irresponsible to ignore it for so long. We thought it might be time to set aside our foolish challenges and come to the table with a working recipe. And then it hit us: While we may not like tomato juice, we absolutely love pizza! It's a wonder we hadn't thought of this before.

Just in time for spring, and for all of our fellow pizza lovers, we give you the Bloody Mario. No, it has nothing to do with video games or mustachioed plumbers in colorful suspenders. This is an honest cocktail, modeled after the Bloody Mary, but one with more Italian flair. Think of it as

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Organize Your Bitters

If you are like us, you have collected quite a few bitters brands over the years. Cocktail bitters typically come in "woozy" bottles for dashing small quantities into drinks. However, not all of them are sized consistently. There are flat narrow bottles, short stocky sizes, and some that are huge compared to others. We buy Angostura, for example, in big 18-ounce bottles—not a very convenient size to keep at the ready wherever you mix drinks. Our solution is to use small eye-dropper bottles for everything. They store easily and can be labeled using simple envelope address stickers (for laser printing, we like self-adhesive 1" x 2-5/8" address label sheets). Some brands like Bittercube already market their products in 1-ounce dropper bottles. This not only saves space, but allows precision when you need it. For example, administering dashes is easy enough with just a squirt from the dropper, but you can

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White Whiskey

White whiskey has many names. It can be marketed as white dog or white lightning, or even the yokel moonshine, although that usually refers to illicit varieties. A few things are clear, however, besides this unusual spirit. First, it is an unaged product, meaning it does not typically spend time in oak barrels. Second, because it is whiskey, it is a distillate made from fermented grain. This is where products differ. Depending on the grain used, where it is farmed, the water added, and of course, the distillation process itself, one white whiskey can taste dramatically different from another.

Traditionally, whiskey is thought of as a "brown" spirit, but all of that color and much of the flavor comes form the aging process. Time spent in charred oak barrels allows the high concentration of alcohol to extract flavors from the wood. Caramel, vanilla, smoke, fruit, spices—these are all derived from

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Water

It's often a good sign when you sit down at a bar to be greeted by the bartender with a glass of water. We don't drink alcohol to quench our thirst—it's a full-sensory experience—so a glass of water not only satisfies the need for hydration, it also balances the social ritual allowing you to extend the enjoyment of your selected beverage. It sounds like an over-the-top description of simply drinking a glass of water—which it is—but we think every great drink deserves this "sidekick" and we can't over emphasize the importance of drinking water while you drink booze. Whether you ordered the expensive and obscure signature cocktail from the seasonal menu at your favorite bar or you are happily sipping beer at home, water should always be within reach. We don't often feature this unsung hero in photographs, but it is the most important beverage you can drink and serve,

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The Ferrari: a Bartender's Handshake

Often regarded as the "bartender's handshake", a shot of Fernet-Branca has become a modern fixture for bartenders visiting one another at their respective craft cocktail establishments. It is as much a nod from one professional to another as it is confirmation that, as a fellow enthusiast of the craft, your tastes have evolved to the point that an intensely herbal, bitter Italian aperitivo is a perfectly acceptable refreshment that doesn't require extra time mixing up a signature recipe.

Regular patrons can also sometimes upgrade their "bar table image" and gain immediate street credit by ordering Fernet, (or if it's not too busy, requesting a bartender's choice cocktail made with the stuff). Calling out Fernet-Branca is still unusual enough—even in better bars—that it might earn you a smile or a double-take from the bartender and occasionally leads to conversations about ingredients or recipe construction. But, sipping Fernet neat is just

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