Monday, May 22, 2017

10 Rules of Martinis

I was a child of the ‘80s. Thank God I was not old enough to drink. For some reason, America completely lost their memory of their traditional cocktail heritage and fell into a dark age of domestic beers and fruit ‘martinis’; essentially anything in a cocktail glass was a ‘martini.’ Ugh. Mercifully, we have returned from that miserable era to a more sophisticated time. However, some bars still have a ‘-tini’ section on their menus- mostly fruity or chocolate undrinkable nightmares. So let the FWL educate you on that most wonderful American invention this side of the light bulb: The Martini.

One - There is no fruit juice, chocolate, coffee, syrup, or even bitters in a martini. Yes, that’s right, the martini may be presented in a cocktail glass, but, unlike its close relative the Martinez (gin, vermouth, maraschino, bitters), the martini itself is not a cocktail. In its true form it only has two ingredients: 5 to 1, gin to French (dry) vermouth. (Classically, the ratio is 6 to 1, however most bartenders prefer to give modern palates a bit of a gin break).

Two - There are only two exceptions to the two ingredient rule. An olive wash in the cocktail glass prior to the alcohol strained into it. This is known as a Dirty Martini due to the briny olive tint to the drink. (For God’s sake, don’t pour olive brine into an already made martini!) A smoky scotch wash (like Laphroaig or Ardbeg) is also a classic touch; this is known as a Burnt Martini.

Three - A Perfect Martini is the same recipe as the traditional martini, however the vermouth added is half French (dry) vermouth and half Italian (sweet) vermouth.

Four - Ordering a Dry Martini at a real bar will not get you dry vermouth (you will ALWAYS get dry vermouth). Instead you are telling the bartender that you want your gin to vermouth ratio at 7 to 1 or higher. An Extra Dry Martini should only entail a vermouth wash. A Wet Martini drops the ratio to 4 to 1 or less.

Five - You always stir a martini. James Bond isn’t a freaking bartender, and we stopped listening to Brits telling us how to do stuff circa 1776. The martini is smooth, sophisticated, and strong. If you shake it, it will be cloudy, ice-sharded, and watered-down. Barf.

Six - There is NO vodka in a martini. Vodka and vermouth is an old drink known as a Kangaroo. Why a kangaroo? Not sure, but probably the terrible name (who wants to drink a Kangaroo?) was used to discourage you from replacing the gin of your perfectly-fine martini.

Seven - There are three acceptable garnishes for the martini. The olive, stuffed or unstuffed. A two olive garnish makes the drink now a Franklin Martini. The pearl onion, whose addition makes your drink a Gibson. The citrus twist, traditionally lemon, but lime or orange can add interest.

Eight - They should NEVER be ordered ‘on the rocks.’ If you have to order your martini on the rocks, order something else.

Nine - Martinis do not have to be served in a cocktail glass. In fact, if we threw them in coupes, maybe the dumb ‘-tini’ menus would stop.

Ten - Gin and vermouth together makes a great base for other flavors- juice, bitters, tonic, chocolates, amari, syrups, and a host of others. If a martini is too bracing for you, go ahead and add other flavors to it- that’s totally cool. Just don’t return to the ‘80s and slap ‘tini’ or martini to the end of the drink’s name. Come up with something original and fun, like the following...

Cloudy at Intervals
Holly’s Originals Series

2 ounces gin (we used Tanqueray)
1 ounce Italian (sweet) vermouth
1 ½ ounces strawberry-rhubarb syrup
1 dropper of Bittercube Jamaica #2 bitters

Add all ingredients in a stirring vessel with ice. Stir vigorously for 30-40 revolutions. Strain into your glass of choice. Garnish with lemon or mint.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Durango, part 3

After the Belle, we could have called it a night, but I had more of the breweries to try that I wasn’t going to be able to get to before they closed. Instead, we parted ways with the saloon girls and visited the dark and quiet recesses of the Office Spiritorium, a quaint one-room affair that is bedecked with antique western flair, a staircase to more private seating above the bar, and a big stuffed peacock. The bar menu is really an extension of the Belle’s and awkwardly out of place for the ambience. You would expect the Spiritorium to be a shrine to old whiskey and specialty mescals, instead you get a ‘martini’ menu straight out of 1986. So I drank beer like a good Wisconsinite.

The first order (and third brewery sampled) was a Amber Ale from Durango Brewing Company. It is their regular amber, a year-round seller. It pours out clear amber with a rapidly diminishing beach-sand colored head. The Amber Ale is well-balanced; however, it’s a rather one-note version of a beer I love (American Amber), since the caramels were lacking for me in general, but drinkable. I compared it to a second Amber from the fourth brewing Company- Ska Brewing. Their amber, named Pinstripe Red, is not as clear as the Durango’s and more of a golden hint to its color. I thought that its flavor was similar as the Amber Ale, unfortunately, too watered-down and looking for a commercial audience I believe (tourists!). That said, both beers would have been just fine on a hot day, just not something you drove a 1000 miles for. Or maybe Carver’s Old Oak Amber spoiled my red beer drinking palate forever!

After sleeping off my beers and whiskey, it was time to say goodbye to Durango. But before leaving, I stopped across the street from the Strater to the rather chintzy-named Durango Liquor World for a bottle of Colorado something. The something that landed in the cart was Rocky Mountain peach whiskey from Leopold Bros., respected brewers-turned-distillers. Their peach whiskey is made with macerated Colorado Palisade peaches, rested in deep-charred American oak, and hand-bottled to keep its long, dense peach-cobbler-in-cast-iron characteristic finish. The thick tart peach flavor sings through in two and three part cocktail recipes. Here’s one below to transition your spring rains into the summer sunshine-

Peach Whiskey Mule 
Classic Pour

1 ½ ounces peach whiskey (we used Leopold Bros)
4 ounces ginger beer (we used Rocky Mt. Soda Company)
Juice of half a small lime

Find yourself a copper mule mug and fill with ice. Build all ingredients in the order presented. Stir gently for a handful of revolutions so as not to kill the ginger beer’s carbonation. Drink. I hope it’s hot out!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Durango, part 2

As you might have guessed from our first post, Durango is all about beer. Having six major craft breweries (Carver, Durango, Brew Pub & Kitchen, Animas, Ska, and Steamworks) in a town of less than 20,000 people is pretty incredible; it speaks to the tourist area that Durango has become. To those ends, our family set up shop in the Strater Hotel. The Strater opened in 1887 as a grandiose hotel (which sucks up the better part of a modern block) offering comfort to well-to-do ranchers, traveling businessmen, and Wild West authors. It also houses two drinking establishments: the famed Diamond Belle Saloon and the quieter Office Spiritorium.

Before we got our drink on, though, we had to get something to chew on for supper. So we walked the two blocks from the Strater to Steamworks Brewing Company. Steamworks features a huge beer hall/dining hall plastered with kitschy cartoon art, historical pictures of the Old West, and drink advertisements; the crowd was so large, it spilled to the tables on the balcony behind the eatery.

We started with their feature beers; Cindy ordered a Backside Stout and I got a Ginger Ninja. The Backside Stout is easily Steamworks’ best beer. In a pint glass, it is dark as chocolate and has flavor hints of the same. Its head retention wasn’t as solid as its lacing, but looked good going down. The flavor was everything Cindy likes- sweet upfront, chocolate malt in the middle and finishing with a touch coffee bitterness. The Ginger Ninja, however, was pretty awful. I rarely pan anything in the FWL (I just don’t write about it), but you really don’t need the Ginger Ninja in your mouth. It was a flat shandy, an jumbled combination of wheat and ginger that fought each other for supremacy, neither of which won. I quickly replaced the Ninja with a Lizard Head Red, a clear amber-red brew that gave off scents of rock candy and a bit of citrus. The Lizard Head’s aroma was its best characteristic, however, because it really didn’t present much flavor- it was thin, somewhat sweet and overall blah. Lucky for Steamworks, their cajun boils and burgers are great, because we’d probably just rather head back to Carver to drink beer.

But since it was getting late, we went back to the Strater to tuck in the kids. After they were snug in their beds, we went down to give the two hotel bars a try. We started in the Diamond Belle, where a raucous crowd was being entertained by an old-school saloon pianist who was banging away on the keys with fervent gusto. We ordered cocktails from a dancing-girl-coiffured waitress who, like in the Wild West days, was far too busy being flattered by amorous and drunken patrons at the bar than to serve our table with promptness. I surmised that the bartenders were a bit suspect as well, so my cocktail was a simple one.

Drink: Bustamonte 1957
Establishment: Diamond Belle Saloon
Location: Durango, Colorado
First Connoisseur: Holly

1 ½ ounces Colorado whiskey
3 ounces grapefruit juice
½ ounce real grenadine

Build all ingredients in the order presented in an old-fashioned glass pre-filled with ice. Stir gently to combine grenadine. Garnish with a swath of lemon or grapefruit peel.

After drinking the Bustamonte 1957, the piano player still had a tune or two in him, so we ordered one of the Belle’s Colorado whiskey flights. The flight was tasty trio of Stranahan’s straight whiskey (one of our all-time faves), Beckenridge malt mash, and Peach Street small batch. Each of the whiskeys were very pleasant, with Beckenridge’s offering leading the flight.