The Main Squeeze

Main Squeeze Cocktail

Yesterday I went to the wedding celebration of my friends Kristina and John. Though, sadly, I somehow managed to come away without any pictures of the beautiful blushing bride and her handsome beau, I did come home with a camera full of pictures of cocktails and food. Go figure. Suffice it to say the event was gobsmackingly beautiful, from the bride herself in her grandmother’s necklace to the garden setting to the wildflowers on each table. And did I mention the cupcakes?? Oh, the cupcakes!

wedding cupcakes

The most gorgeous of the many fabulous cakelets, which were all baked by friends of the bride, were these, which, not surprisingly, were contributed by The Working Cook.

s'more cupcake

It doesn’t take long looking at this cupcake to realize that it’s a s’more cupcake, with brûléed marshmallow and graham cracker. Wow.

But back to the drinks … In addition to beer and wine, the bride and groom wanted to serve a signature cocktail, which I volunteered to make. So, after I made several different drinks for the bride to taste a few months ago, she settled on London Dry Sangria, a pitcher cocktail dreamed up by Duggan McDonnell, a genius of a San Francisco bartender who opened the neo-Latin speakeasy Cantina a handful of years ago. With a bright lemon flavor and bit of sparkle from the ginger beer, it seemed like the perfectly refreshing drink to serve during a cocktail hour that would immediately follow a warm-weather afternoon ceremony.

The recipe for his London Dry Sangria has been published in a few places, both in a book and online, but even after I found it I had a bit of work in front of me.

You see, most recipes are published without mentioning specific brands of food or spirits. Most of the cookbooks I edit—whether for food or for cocktails—specifically discourage mentioning brand names  of ingredients. This is generally for very good reasons. First, you don’t want to discourage a reader from making a recipe if they don’t have access to the specific brand specified in a recipe. And second, recipes that specify brands often seem as if they’re shilling for that brand. If you see a recipe that indicates, for example, Kraft grated Parmesan cheese or Grey Goose vodka, you might guess that the recipe was engineered by the corporate flacks at the respective company rather than crafted by a dispassionate foodie. This is why most recipes you’ll find in cookbooks don’t mention specific brand names except for in a few rare instances (Tabasco sauce and Campari are a few exceptions that come to mind).

I think that this is generally a good policy, but it’s less compelling when applied to cocktails. If I were just throwing together a pitcher of Duggan’s London Dry Sangria for a run-of-the-mill cocktail party, I wouldn’t have been thrown off by his ingredients list, which calls for gin, white wine (actually, he specifies a grüner veltliner), orange bitters, and ginger beer, among other ingredients, without specifying the type. But, when you think about it, there is such a huge amount of variation between those ingredients that it can result in various versions of the drink that are quite different.

Do you use Barritts Ginger Beer (which I hear is Duggan’s go-to ginger beer), which is a fairly sweet drink that contains high-fructose corn syrup? Or do you go with Bundaberg, or the intensely flavored Fever-Tree, loved by cocktail aficionados but considerably more expensive? For the gin do you use Hendrick’s, which is delicate and floral, with more cucumber than juniper, or do you go with Junipero Gin, which smacks you upside the head with its spicy juniper quality? Even the orange bitters in the original recipe are up for interpretation. I started with my go-to orange bitters, Reagan’s Orange Bitters No. 6, my favorite to use in a gin gimlet, before I decided that the drink benefitted from a dose of the beefier and spicier Angostura Orange Bitters.

Since I needed to prepare 176 servings of the drink for the wedding, I really wanted to dial in the right combo of ingredients in the recipe, but I also needed to use ingredients at a reasonable price. This, unfortunately, eliminated using Martin Miller’s Westbourne Strength Gin, a delightful 90-proof gin (most gins are about 80 proof) with a strong undercurrent of juniper and citrus that I thought would marry well with the lemon juice. But if I scrimped on the gin, that meant I would have more money to spend on the ginger beer, an important ingredient since the bride had originally suggested a drink that incorporated fresh ginger.

In the end, I decided on this refreshing cocktail, which the bride charmingly called “The Main Squeeze.” So, with several tweaks to Duggan’s original ratios, and the addition of recommended brands, this is what we drank at the wedding …

Main Squeeze cocktail

The Main Squeeze, after Duggan McDonnell’s London Dry Sangria

Makes 8 servings

12 ounces gruner veltliner or other zesty dry white wine, like a sauvignon blanc
7 ounces Tanqueray gin
8 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
5 ounces simple syrup
10 dashes Angostura orange bitters
10 dashes Reagan’s Orange Bitters
12 ounces Cock & Bull ginger beer
16 thin lemon slices, for garnish

Combine the wine, gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, and both bitters in a pitcher and stir to combine. Chill in the refrigerator for at least two hours. Pour into an old-fashioned glass filled with ice. Top each serving with 1 1/2 ounces of ginger beer and garnish with two thin lemon slices, each pressed against the side of the glass using the handle end of a barspoon or a chopstick. Serve at once.

The drink seemed supremely popular, and I’d drink it any day, but as always there are a dozen different directions you could take this drink in. Use the ingredients I’ve suggested here, or substitute what you have on hand. I’d be curious to hear your results.


Blood orange cocktails, redux

Recently I posted the recipe for The Apothecary, a cocktail using blood orange juice, but recently I was tinkering with blood oranges and came up with something a little different. I discovered some nasturtium blossoms in my backyard, which put me in the mind of a Bee’s Knees, a Prohibition-era cocktail that I first came across in David Embury’s  The Fine Art of Making Drinks, one of my favorite cocktail books, first published in 1948. His recipe calls for honey, lemon juice, and gin, with the optional addition of orange juice. He also mentions this drink in the introduction to the book, which I adore for its delightfully snarky tone:

During prohibition the overwhelming majority of available liquor consisted of bathtub gin and Scotch…. So unutterably vile were these synthetic concoctions that the primary object in mixing a cocktail became the addition of a sufficient amount of sweetened, highly flavored, and otherwise emollient and anti-emetic ingredients (cream, honey, Karo, canned fruit juices, etc.) to make it reasonably possible to swallow the resultant concoction and at the same time to retain a sufficient content of renatured alcohol to insure ultimate inebriety. Just how much dilution of the “gin”-bottle contents might be necessary to accomplish this supposed salutary result depended largely on the intestinal fortitude and espohageal callosity of the particular individual involved…Small wonder, then, that this period gave birth to such pernicious recipes as the Alexander—equal parts of gin, crème de cacao, and sweet cream [and] the Bee’s Knees—equal parts of gin, lemon juice, and honey; and so on ad nauseam.

I happen to find the Bee’s Knees not at all “pernicious,” and I’d say that this simple variation of mine using blood oranges and orange bitters is downright delicious.


Blood Orange Bee’s Knees

2 ounces gin (I used Hendrick’s)
1 ounce blood orange juice
1/2 ounce lemon juice
1/2 ounce honey syrup (1 part honey dissolved in 1 part warm water)
2 dashes Regan’s Orange Bitters
Edible flower for garnish

Combine all the ingredients except the flower in a shaker with ice. Shake until well chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with the flower.

The Apothecary

Spring may have technically sprung a few days ago, but the Alemany Farmers’ Market is still full of beautiful winter citrus fruits, from teeny calamondins to pomelos the size of bowling balls. For the past few weeks they’ve had the most beautiful magenta-colored blood oranges, which has been making me hanker after a drink I call The Apothecary.

Photo by Ingomar Lochschmidt

A few years ago I entered a cocktail competition sponsored by Hendrick’s Gin. The assignment was to come up with a cocktail that highlighted one of the many ingredients used to flavor the gin, from the obvious (juniper berry) to the less so (infusion of rose petals). In addition, you had to write a limerick about your drink, or Hendrick’s gin, or some related topic, about which the less said the better. I won’t include mine here, because it was dreadful. I’ll just mention I rhymed “uses,” “juices,” and “produces.” Enough said.

After unsuccessfully playing around with cubeb berries, the most obscure ingredient I could find on the list of botanicals, and discovering that muddled cubeb berries taste not unlike a bar of soap, I settled on using orange zest as my featured ingredient.

The following was the recipe I submitted, which in retrospect seems a tad fussy, but the drink isn’t half bad, if I do say so myself. I made it to the finals, where I got to make the drink for a panel of judges. When all was said and done I didn’t place in the top three, but considering I was up against some San Francisco bartending superstars like Jackie Patterson, I can’t say I was surprised.

The Apothecary

2 1/2 ounces Hendrick’s gin
1/2 ounce Aperol
1/2 ounce Mandarine Napoleon
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed blood orange juice
Orange sugar, for rimming the glass (see below)
Piece of orange peel, for garnish

Combine the gin, Aperol, Mandarin Napoleon, lemon juice, and blood orange juice in a shaker filled with ice. Shake well until chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass dipped into the orange sugar mixture. Flame the orange peel over the top of the drink and serve.

Orange sugar

Finely grate the zest from 1 blood orange. Spread onto a plate and let dry for at least two hours, or up to overnight. Stir together with 1/4 cup superfine sugar.

If you make this drink, let me know what you think in the comments.