Over the years I’ve been writing this column I have visited countless web sites related to liquor. Needless to say, I get literally dozens of libation-related emails every week. Some are very useful (saves me time in researching) and others provide column inspiration. Some, though, are just ridiculous.
I saw what sounded like an intriguing cocktail this past week and was making note of the ingredients until I got to the last one. Grasshopper salt! I felt sure this must be a type of salt that was given the insect name euphemistically. But, no! It is a salt actually made by mixing in pulverized grasshoppers! The drink recipe stated “homemade” grasshopper salt but gave no instruction on how to make the stuff. So I looked it up. In French, it is called “sal du chapulin verde” – and you can, naturellement, order it from Amazon. OK, I know in the past I have offered up drink ideas that incorporated some less common, and sometimes pricey, ingredients. But, let me be clear, I am not going to suggest a recipe that requires you, my readers, to order insect-laced salt.
My research was on a roll that particular day as the next promising recipe required crème de violette. I know from past visits to various booze purveyors that this enticing ingredient is tough to find. I was finally successful a while back and was able to, at last, craft a classic Aviation cocktail. If you have a bottle of crème de violette it can be put to good use in the Aviation. If you don’t, and can’t find locally, well, Amazon.
1-1/2 oz. gin
3/4 oz. Maraschino cherry liqueur
1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice
1/4 oz. creme de violette
Maraschino or brandied cherry, for garnish
Add all the liquids to a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled. Strain into a coupe glass and garnish.
The Aviation has a long past, being of pre-Prohibition vintage. It was nearly forgotten for half a century because of the inability to acquire crème de violette in this country. If you want to really get the most authentic flavor try it with a gin with floral characteristics – to enhance the violet component. A good one is the aptly named Bloom, created by the legendary Joanne Moore, one of the industry’s first female Master Distillers.
Continuing my research/reading I saw an article titled “Updating the 7&7.” I, and I suspect many of you, gained my first exposure to brown liquor by sipping a classic 7&7 – a simple mix of Seagram’s 7 and 7-Up. I usually surreptitiously kept adding dollops of the 7-Up to my glass to cover up the as-yet-unappreciated whiskey flavor. The drink was a goldmine for the Seagram’s folks; it was America’s best-selling brand from the late 40s to the early 90s. When Tony Manera ordered the drink in 1977’s “Saturday Night Fever,” the drink gained a near-magical reputation (as I recall, it didn’t make me the dancer John Travolta was, but it sort of made me think I was).
Anyway, I wondered how such a simple drink could be updated. Turns out, a youthful bartender at a NYC bar (natch!) called Porchlight took it upon himself to update what had been his grandfather’s favorite drink for 40 years. He blended four different whiskies to “approximate” the taste of Seagram’s 7, threw in some Cointreau (reason unknown), added simple syrup and black tea to replace the 7-Up, and then carbonated the whole thing with seltzer to order. Whew! I could only roll my eyes and ask “Why?” They still make both ingredients – why not just mix them up and use that extra time to save the world or something? Oh – one reason may be that said improved cocktail sells for $18. I’ll bet Granddad is appalled.
7&7 (unimproved and classic)
1 oz. Seagram’s 7
5 to 6 oz. 7Up
Pour whiskey in a highball glass filled with ice. Add 7Up. You may garnish with a lemon wedge but only if wearing khakis and a button-down shirt and well past your college years.
Finally, I laughed out loud over an article about the Shirley Temple. Yes, long after that little ring-curled cutie left filmdom to become a United States Ambassador not once but twice, the drink that is her namesake lives on. The classic concoction, typically used to assuage children who want a fancy drink like mommy and daddy, consists of ginger ale, grenadine, lemon, lime, and a handful of bright red maraschino cherries – all served up in a tall elaborate glass. And, of course, no booze. Which is why I found it funny, if not ridiculous, that some upscale bars offer up Shirley Temples with house-made grenadine, fresh squeezed lemon and lime juices, Fever Tree ginger ale, and garnished with Fabbri Amerena cherries. Really? All that for a child’s discerning palate? And it, too, likely runs about $18.
Of course, you can add a healthy splash of vodka to those high-falutin’ ingredients and serve up a Dirty Shirley. Use the Tito’s because your palate might actually appreciate it.
Finally, a bit of madness that actually turned out to be amazingly delicious. I read about a “hot trend” for 2020 – crystal clear anejo tequila. Anejo tequilas are typically deep amber in color because of the requisite aging in oak barrels. After a minimum of 14 months, the agave flavor is akin to that of a smooth Scotch – rich, deep, mellow. So how does this spirit become clear? The folks at 1800 tequila use charcoal filtering, the same process Jack Daniel’s uses to mellow its product (although the Jack stays amber somehow). I invested (and that is an accurate term) in a bottle of 1800 Cristalino expecting to be dismayed at the waste of money. But – it is amazing! Smooth as silk, crystal clear, but with mucho flavor! It also comes in a really nice clear faceted pyramidal bottle, too. This is a sipper – meant to savored with close friends (or maybe just with your trusted dog nearby). No lime or salt, just neat please. At first I suspected madness but happily confess I was way off base – on this one! Cristalino is genius (and no grasshoppers involved).