The Friday Tipple: Salted Cucumber Pimm’s

Salted Cucumber Pimm's

Summer is still in the air, Boozers. While we are mentally ready to move on to the snap of an autumn chill, we heard otherwise this week from Baltimore Bill, the Punxsutawney Phil of Maryland; apparently our little blue crab friend scuttled his way toward a prediction of a warm fall and, we have to admit, he seems to be right so far. If that is the case, then we decided we may as well pull the Pimm’s out of storage.

We’ve noticed two items in great supply at the farmer’s market: cucumbers and apples. Cucumbers are often used as a garnish for a summery Pimm’s Cup, so it seemed logical that a cucumber juice could make a charming base for an autumn Pimm’s, particularly when just touched with a bit of apple. Before you grumble to yourself, “But I have no fancy juicer with which to make juice”, let us assure you that a simple blender will do the trick. Reminiscent of a fall day at the beach, the Salted Cucumber Pimm’s is best enjoyed while wearing a cardigan and a pair of shorts — a happy medium until that cold snap finally arrives.

Salted Cucumber Pimm’s

The concept for this libation is actually based on a classic Gimlet, which, in its simplest form, is nothing more than lime juice and gin or vodka. Our salted cucumber juice is slightly more complex in flavor, providing layers of contrasting flavors highlighting this in-between season. Because Pimm’s is a gin-based liqueur, we like to mix our version with a bright herbaceous gin like Catoctin Creek Watershed Gin, but it also tastes marvelous with vodka, especially Core Vodka, which is distilled from apples.

2 ounces salted cucumber juice (recipe below)

1 ounce gin or vodka

1 ounce Pimm’s

slice of pickled apple for garnish (we’ll tell you how to make that also – it’s easy)

Put cucumber juice and gin or vodka into a cocktail shaker with ice and shake vigorously. Put Pimm’s in the bottom of a martini glass and strain the contents of the cocktail shaker into the glass. Garnish with pickled apple and serve immediately.

Salted Cucumber Juice

2 small to medium cucumbers, peeled and roughly chopped

1 apple, peeled and roughly chopped

Juice of one fresh lime

1/4 cup water

2 teaspoons light agave nectar

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

Put all ingredients in a blender and blend on high until liquified. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve. Can be refrigerated for up to three days, but tastes best when fresh.

Pickled Apple Garnish

1 apple, cut into 1/4-inch slices

1 cup white vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar

Whisk together vinegar and sugar in a bowl, add apple slices, and set aside for an hour. At this point, you can use the slices as garnish, and also put the liquid and apple slices into a jar and store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

The Friday Tipple: Garden Party Punch

Garden Party Punch

We’re a bit punchy, Boozers. What with a coming increase in weddings for all, we think making drinks for a crowd may become a fixture for summertime brides and grooms, and this makes us want to whip up a bowl of punch. Punch can be a terrible throwback of sickly-sweet sherbet floating in a sea of ginger ale spiked with cheap champagne, but it need not be so. A good punch can be the centerpiece of a celebratory garden party, brimming over with fresh flavors and enough liquor to loosen up Uncle Frank when the band strikes up to play.

Our Garden Party Punch is a play on a classic gin and tonic, amped up with limoncello. By freezing the tonic water into a mold, you create a nice way to chill the punch, but it also serves to subtly alter the flavor as it melts and quietly dilute what is, admittedly, a strong brew – which you’ll be grateful for as the evening wears on. Cheers!

Garden Party Punch

Ingredients are key to this libation – look for a flavorful and good quality tonic water, such as Fentiman’s or a classic Schweppes, and a simple clean limoncello; we’re fortunate to have an excellent local variety, Don Ciccio & Figli, but check your area for craft limoncello – or make it yourself for a personal touch. Chilling all the ingredients beforehand insures that the tonic mold won’t melt too quickly.

For the punch:

1 bottle chilled gin (go for something with an herbaceous bite, like Catoctin Creek)
8 ounces chilled limoncello
1 quart chilled club soda (have an extra chilled quart on hand to adjust flavor)
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup lavender honey
handful clean mint leaves
One lemon, thinly sliced

Mix together club soda, lemon juice, honey, and mint – put back in soda bottle, cap tightly, and chill for one hour. After an hour, put all ingredients in a punch bowl, stir well, add frozen tonic mold and garnish with lemon slices. Serve immediately.

Frozen tonic mold:

1 quart tonic water
1/4 cup lemon juice
Several fresh mint leaves

Put all ingredients in a small bundt cake mold and freeze solid overnight. Unmold just before serving by dipping the mold in a bowl of hot tap water.

The Friday Tipple: Mr. Collins

Mr. Collins

We adore a pompous fool, Boozers. In fact, if we are honest, we have strolled down that perilous path once or twice, only to have our balloon of self-admiration popped unceremoniously by a worthy opponent. It’s why we love Jane Austen, and also why we enjoy a tasty little concoction — once known as the official drink of summer — called a Tom Collins.

In the far-off years of our youth, we recall our first foray into a nightclub, armed with a fake i.d. and a few crumpled dollar bills stuffed into our spandex tights. As the hairy-chested bartender cocked a cynical eye at our underage attempt at sophisticated nonchalance, we stuttered out a request for a Tom Collins — clearly marking us as urbane world travelers.

Alas, what we didn’t realize was that we had immediately marked ourselves as more akin to the inimitable Mr. Collins, the silly social-climbing vicar in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice; Elizabeth Bennett had him pegged in five seconds flat, and would certainly never have accepted a watery Tom Collins made with a slug of cheap gin and a splash of sour mix, topped off with club soda and a maraschino cherry stabbed with a plastic sword. Just like Elizabeth, we now know we don’t have to settle for second-best.

So we’ve imagined Mr. Collins as he should be, if transformed into a refreshing cocktail: bright, fresh, lightly herbal, and blessed with a sparkling wit. Watch out, Mr. Darcy — there may be competition yet.

Mr. Collins

We’ve made a summery lemonade base for our Mr. Collins, sweetened with a pineapple sage simple syrup. If you don’t have this charming herb growing in your garden or on your windowsill, you can make a simple syrup with mint (especially a pineapple or orange mint), which will impart that sunny herbaceous quality.

4 or 5 lemons, freshly juiced

Pineapple sage simple syrup (see below for instructions)

Chilled club soda

2 ounces good quality gin (like Catoctin Creek’s Organic Watershed Gin)

Chilled Prosecco or sparkling wine

Orange wedge and sprig of sage or mint for garnish

Make the fizzy lemonade base by combining the fresh lemon juice, about 2 tablespoons of the simple syrup, and a 1/2 cup of the club soda. Stir vigorously and add more simple syrup if necessary. Fill a Collins (tall) glass with ice and pour in the gin and up to a 1/2 cup of lemonade. Top with an ounce or so of chilled Prosecco and garnish with orange and sage.

The simple syrup is a snap: one cup of water, one cup of sugar, and several sage (or mint) leaves cooked over low heat until slightly thickened, about 30 minutes. Remove sage leaves and cool; can be stored in the refrigerator for about 3 weeks.

The Friday Tipple: Picnic Pops

Picnic Pop

Picnic season is upon us, dear Boozers. We’ve unpacked our summer whites, dusted off the croquet set, and stacked the barbecue with fresh charcoal. The blissful moment of pleine air dining has arrived, heralded by the droning of cicadas and brightly-colored piles of fresh-picked produce at the farmer’s market. Time for a popsicle.

The idea of a cocktail-based popsicle is hardly new, but is always worth exploring. With fresh rhubarb in season and the bright taste of gin on our tongues, we naturally jumped at any excuse to make Picnic Pops – in this case, Strawberry-Rhubarb Gin Pops, a refreshing celebration of that fleeting moment when spring becomes summer. Grab it.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Gin Pops

Freezing alcohol can be a bit tricky – some recipes recommend adding gelatin to help firm up the liquid, but a heavy hand can result in something more akin to a frozen Jell-O shot, which might be perfectly tasty but is not, of course, really a popsicle. For our Picnic Pops, we firmed up our liquid base with strawberry jam, as the pectin in the jam helps provide a stabilizing agent.

1 cup fresh chopped rhubarb stems

1.5 cups water

1 cup sugar

2-inch piece of fresh lemon peel

3 heaping tablespoons strawberry jam

1/4 cup gin (we like Catoctin Creek Watershed Gin or Green Hat Spring/Summer Seasonal Gin)

fresh mint leaves

4-ounce wax-lined paper cups

popsicle sticks or straws cut into 5-inch lengths

Combine first four ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to low and let simmer until liquid is reduced and slightly thickened and rhubarb is completely soft. Let cool for ten minutes, mash the rhubarb in the liquid, and then strain. Add strawberry jam and mix thoroughly, allowing to cool to room temperature. Add gin and stir to mix. Place a small mint leaf into the bottoms of several paper cups, then fill each cup about halfway with strawberry-rhubarb liquid. Place cups into the freezer for about 45 minutes. If the liquid has started to freeze up well, then put a popsicle stick or straw in the center of each (be careful to not push all the way to the bottom of the cup) – if the liquid has not yet firmed up enough to hold the stick steady, then cover each cup with a small square of aluminum foil and poke the stick through the center of the foil and push into the cup. Allow to freeze overnight and peel off the paper cup to serve. Makes about 6 pops.

Note: If you make these with straws, it’s also fun to serve as a Slurpee-style palate cleanser – just leave the cups intact and serve as is – but watch out for brain freeze.

The Friday Tipple: Calendula Cure-All

Calendula Cure-All

We’re broke, Boozers. And by broke, we mean broken, literally. Using a cocktail shaker with one hand is no easy trick, we can assure you, so we’ve had to reconsider the options for making a tasty cocktail – purely for medicinal purposes, of course. Time for apothecary cocktails – in bulk.

Apothecary cocktails are based on the herbal concoctions popular at one time in the 19th century. Purported to cure everything from baldness to cancer, these bottled wonders generally proved to be little more than alcohol and a few herbs and sugar – basically, bottled cocktails. Poured over ice, they might’ve been a perfect sipper to enjoy on the porch at the end of a weary day.

Our Calendula Cure-All will certainly provide relief for whatever ails you. Chock full of anti-inflammatories from calendula and mint, and antibacterial properties from juniper berries, which are used liberally in the making of gin, we feel certain that this is one bottle of medicine that you will always want to keep on hand… just in case of emergency, of course.

Calendula Cure-All

Marigolds, also known as calendula, are a common flower in most gardens, making them a perfect ingredient for use in cocktails. Both the leaves and the flowers can be used, dried or fresh, and the petals impart a lovely saffron color. This Cure-All can be made in advance, bottled, and refrigerated for up two weeks, allowing you to pour yourself a tot whenever you feel a bit weak.

1 cup fresh marigold flower heads
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
Quarter cup fresh marigold leaves
2 cups white wine (try a nice local Chardonnay)
3/4 cup gin (we like Catoctin Creek)
1/2 cup limoncello (our favorite is Don Ciccio & Figgli)
1/8 cup lavender honey

Put all ingredients into an empty wine bottle and mix thoroughly. Cork and place in refrigerator to chill for two hours before serving. May be served over ice with a garnish of fresh lemon.

The Friday Tipple: DIY Craft Cocktail

DIY Craft Cocktail

We’re feeling crafty, Boozers. What with the upsurge of interest in barrel-aged cocktails and gin-and-tonics on tap, we began to yearn for a ready-made cocktail of our own. What could be nicer after wearily trudging home from a long week at the cube than being able to open up the fridge and find a tasty infused cocktail just waiting to be consumed?

Because we like to mix practicality into our cocktails, a mason jar seems to be a perfect vessel for both crafting and imbibing — no fuss, no muss. Our DIY Craft Cocktail can be set up before you leave for work and all you have to do is twist off the lid when you get home, add a few ice cubes, and drink up, straight out of the jar. Put together several jars and invite some friends over, or line them up next to the La-Z-Boy while you binge-watch “The Office”. It’s a Friday night made in heaven.

DIY Craft Cocktail

This drink is a model of infusion — by putting all the ingredients, including the mixer, into the jar, you end up with a cocktail where the flavors have begun to meld together, but the shorter infusion time allows for some of the specific characteristics to remain freshly distinct. Whatever. It tastes good. Drink up.

2 ounces gin (our local Catoctin Creek Watershed Gin or Green Hat Gin are generally at the top of our list, but go local wherever you are, of course)

1 ounce freshly-squeezed grapefruit juice

2 ounces club soda

2 wedges fresh grapefruit

1 – 2 tablespoons orange blossom honey (adjust to your taste)

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger

1 sprig of fresh thyme (optional, but nice if you have it)

1 quassia chip (also 0ptional — we keep them on hand for making bitters — otherwise, just add a couple of dashes of your favorite bitters)

Place all ingredients into a 12-ounce mason jar, stir vigorously, and then put the lid on tightly. Put in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours or overnight. To drink, remove the lid, fish out the quassia chip (and grapefruit wedges, if you wish), stir well, add a few ice cubes, and enjoy.

The Friday Tipple: Lincoln’s Oscar

Lincoln's Oscar

We’re heading back to the red carpet, Boozers. Last week we celebrated the excellent judging in at least one category at the Grammy Awards, and today we begin preparing for the Academy Awards. Oscar night should rightly be observed with glamorous gowns, trays of canapés, and a special cocktail. Or two.

Film aficionados seem to agree that Steven Spielberg’s monumental “Lincoln” will win big at the Oscars this year, which led us to wonder “What would Lincoln drink?”. People often characterize the 16th president as a teetotaler, but it is perhaps more accurate to say that he was not much interested in indulging in alcohol or tobacco, preferring to imbibe typhoid-inducing water. However, Lincoln was known to have spent a certain period of time drinking lager, which had been recommended to improve his health. Ah, how we love 19th-century medicine.

Lincoln’s Oscar is, therefore, a beer-tail that is an ode to a complex American born in a log cabin who loved to dance at balls — lager combined with liquor and elegantly served, red-carpet ready, in a coupe. And the winner is…

Lincoln’s Oscar

Lager has a light refreshing fizziness — the champagne of beers — that lends itself to festive cocktails. We chose to combine it with a rye-based gin, such as Catoctin Creek Watershed Gin and St. George Dry Rye Gin, because it has a certain bold peppery quality that we find quintessentially American, but it could work just as well with a more floral variety like Green Hat Gin or Dry Fly Dry Gin.

3 ounces chilled lager (we chose Flying Dog’s UnderDog Atlantic Lager, because Lincoln loved an underdog)

1 ounce gin

1 ounce reduced apple cider (instructions below)

1/2 ounce St. Germaine liqueur

few drops of celery bitters (yes, invest in this — perfect combination with the apple cider, and with gin in general)

one apple slice soaked in Leopold Bros. New York Apple Whiskey (apple brandy or calvados will also work)

Put one cup of apple cider in a small saucepan and simmer over very low heat until reduced by half. Cool completely before using. Soak the apple slice in an ounce or so of the apple whiskey or brandy for about 30 minutes.

In a cocktail shaker, mix together the gin, apple cider, and St. Germaine, then add the beer and stir briskly. Add the bitters (without stirring) and pour directly into a chilled coupe or a wide-mouthed wine glass. Float the apple slice on top and make your entrance.

The Friday Tipple: Earl’s Cup

Earl's Cup

What ho, Boozers. The long months have finally passed and Americans are eagerly waiting, as always, to catch up to the Brits. Yes, Downton Abbey returns on January 6th — and that’s what we call a real epiphany.

Of course, we need a proper drink to enjoy such a comeback on a dark winter’s night tucked up by the electric fire. The Earl’s Cup is a lovely little aperitif to sip as you breathlessly await the unfolding saga of Mary and Matthew while wearing your “Free John Bates” t-shirt, and it tastes even better when you have Carson mix it up for you, serving it on a sterling silver tray.

If a downstairs drink is more your style, you can try our Daisy’s Cup version, but don’t let Thomas get his hands on it — he’s likely to slip you the mickey.

Earl’s Cup

A simple syrup of Earl Grey tea lends this sipper a touch of elegance; use a good quality local gin — Lord Grantham would certainly approve supporting the local economy, since he probably owns it anyway.

2 ounces gin (we have two fine local gins here, Catoctin Creek and Green Hat)

1 large spoonful to taste of Earl Grey simple syrup (recipe below)

Wedge of lemon, preferably a flavorful Meyer lemon

Put gin in a cocktail shaker. Squeeze the lemon into the gin and drop the wedge into the shaker and leave it for half an hour while you polish the silver. Then add the Earl Grey simple syrup and shake (without ice, of course — that would be terribly American). Strain into a crystal sherry glass and serve. This is best served at room temperature, and is also lovely to enjoy slightly warmed after a day out in the country riding to hounds.

Daisy’s Cup: for those who prefer to drink in the servant’s hall, pour four ounces of room temperature ale (we like this with DC Brau Citizen or  Port City Tartan Scottish Ale) into a sturdy mug, add two tablespoons of Earl Grey simple syrup, and drop a lemon wedge in. Stir well and drink up — but keep it to one drink as those fireplaces won’t clean themselves at 6 a.m.

to make the Earl Grey simple syrup: Make 8 ounces of strong Earl Grey tea (using two tea bags). Put tea and 1 cup sugar in a small saucepan and simmer over low heat for at least 30 minutes or until reduced by half. Cool and store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

The Friday Tipple: Power Outage Martini

It’s time for a drink, Boozers. Seriously. What with hurricanes and nor’easters and presidential elections, it’s really all there is left to do. If you’re one of the many thousands of people sitting in the dark right now, well, then you’re probably not actually reading this, but we’re sure your American ingenuity will lead you to the same conclusion.

When the power’s out for days on end,  you find yourself eating strange things out of cans and jars, those odd staples that sit dust-covered in the back of the cupboard. These are the days that lead people to create such delicacies as baked bean-infused vodka — a desperate cry for help that clearly should send utility workers scurrying to get those lines back up before gin bottles start being stuffed with the odds and ends leftover from last year’s holiday gift basket.

When scrounging around in our pantry, we found one of those gigantic jars of sauerkraut, which seemed just about perfect for our Power Outage Martini. This is one of those times when our motto is “Keep It Simple, Stupid”, so use whatever you have handy. Sauerkraut, however, is chock full of vitamin C and other goodies and its salty goodness makes a tasty cocktail when nature has turned against you. Drink up — Thanksgiving’s coming, and if you thought the storms were tough, then you haven’t tasted Grandma’s turkey yet.

Power Outage Martini

When the power’s out, you don’t have ice, but, luckily for the good folks in New York and New Jersey, you’ve got snow. Just plunge that cocktail shaker in a snowdrift for a few minutes and you’ve got a frosty libation ready to suck down before the next storm hits.

8 ounces gin or vodka (we prefer Catoctin Creek’s Watershed Gin or Boyd & Blair Vodka)

1/2 cup sauerkraut

Vermouth

Put the sauerkraut into a jar with the gin or vodka and let it sit for a few hours while you clean up tree branches or write nasty letters to the utility company. Then strain off 3 ounces of the liquor into a cocktail shaker. Chill it in the snow — or shake with ice, if you’re so lucky. Pour a few drops of vermouth into a chilled martini glass and swirl around to coat the inside of the glass, then pour in the gin or vodka and add a spoonful of the infused sauerkraut.

The Friday Tipple: Green Goddess

This week has been a scorcher, Boozers. The kind of weather where you just want to dive into a nice cool mudhole and wallow there until the mercury has dropped below 95. But, if no mudholes are handy, then we just search for the next best thing: cucumbers.

Humans have been cooling off with cucumbers since ancient times, so who are we to argue with the Greeks and Romans? If there be a food of the gods, let it be cucumber, whose mild yet distinctive flavor can be sweet, salty, bitter, and sour. We recently have noticed cucumber soda gracing the shelves of food purveyors and the abundance of this particular summer produce inspired us to whip up a fresh cucumber bubbly base for a cocktail that we like to call the Green Goddess. Just imagine Aphrodite lounging on a chaise overlooking the blue Aegean with a cool glass in her hand. That could be you.

Green Goddess

As you know, we enjoy a gin cocktail, but this particular elixir is also excellent with vodka, so take your pick. We prefer our local Catoctin Creek Organic Watershed Gin, and, as for vodka, we often reach for Boyd and Blair Vodka. However, if you want to kick up the cucumber flavor a notch, you might try Square One Organic Cucumber Vodka for an extra-special cuke-tail.

1/2 of a large cucumber, peeled and roughly chopped

1 teaspoon light agave nectar

1 tablespoon water

1/2 ounce St. Germain liqueur

1.5 ounces gin or vodka

chilled club soda

lime wedge

cucumber wheel, for garnish

Place cucumber, agave nectar, and water in a blender or food processor and blend until completely puréed. Strain through a fine mesh sieve and pour cucumber liquid into a cocktail shaker. Add St. Germain and gin or vodka, then add about 1/4 (up to 1/3) cup of chilled club soda. Stir vigorously. Run the lime wedge around the rim of a glass filled with ice, then add the contents of the shaker. Garnish with cucumber wheel.