On the rocks, or straight up. With a Splenda, or agave syrup – you can do seemingly whatever you like to your cocktail of choice and it is relatively accepted – though perhaps silently criticized. Try putting an ice cube in a glass of warm Cabernet on a hot summer day and watch the eye rolling begin!
It’s this laissez-faire attitude towards cocktails that has kept bartenders busy for centuries; concocting new drinks and tweaking old ones. However, there’s one facet where cocktails have been continuously overlooked. Wine dinners are often seen: five courses of food paired with five different wines, while even beer pairings have begun to make their way into the ritziest of establishments. But where are the cocktail dinners? It seems the three-cocktail dinner has been relegated to appearances in Mad Men and that’s it.
Perhaps it’s time we start treating the cocktail to the same luxury our favorite wines currently experience – marrying them with food.
The High-Brow Apéritif and the Low-Brow Appetizers
“In my opinion…a good cocktail can be just as complex and food friendly as a Bordeaux blend or a Belgian Trappist Ale,” Patrick Bolster, rockstar bartender of 5 1/2 explains. “The Italians do it just as good as anyone else with their delicious aperitifs, digestifs, and vermouths.”
So, perhaps the bold aperitif is the way to start a cocktail pairing off. The term originates from the latin work aperire, which means “to open.” The aperitif history can be concretely traced back to 1846 when a French chemist, Joseph Dubonnet, created a wine-based drink that included quinine, which sought to fight off malaria. The medicinal concoction however was very bitter and so he added various herbs and spices – the resulting brew was so delicious people who had little chance of contracting malaria began to drink it. It was very popular with the French Foreign Legion soldiers abroad – and oddly enough – the housewives back home. Nowadays, aperitifs are still popular in the cafes of Italy, especially in the hours following the end of the work day. Rather than cook for oneself at home, many prefer to head to the cafes to have a few cocktails and nibble on some light dishes.
The following cocktail is bold enough to not need flamboyant accompaniments. A simple array of light appetizers (crostini, olives, various tapenades) will please the palate while letting the drink have its moment.
The Boulevardier Cocktail
5 1/2′s Patrick Bolster discovered this cocktail while perusing through Ted Haigh’s “Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails.”
2 parts rye whiskey or spice-forward bourbon (Buffalo Trace is recommended)
1 part Campari
1 part sweet vermouth (Dolin and Punt E Mes for Patrick)
Dash of bitters (Angostura for Patrick)
Add ingredients to a mixing glass, then add ice and STIR-never shake this cocktail. Strain mixture into desired vessel and add a twist of orange peel for garnish/flavoring.
Mojito and Pulled Pork Springrolls
“Mount Gay Rum comes from the oldest existing distillery in the world and that’s what we’ll be using in our drink today,” Layne Schumann, resident bartender at Vic and Ike’s — and my instructor for the evening — says as he counts out a pour. Picking up a muddler he crushes the mint before adding some ice and simple syrup.
The result? A perfectly balanced and delightful drink. Not that there’s not room for creativity. When it’s my turn behind the bar he cuts me up a few pieces of watermelon I’ve been eyeing and throws it in the tumbler. The ending drink is summer in a glass.
The Mojito is a close ancestor of a drink that dates back to Cuba sometime around the 16th century. Its predecessor was known as “El Draque” – having been named in honor or Sir Francis Drake. Back then it was made with Tafia, a stronger and somewhat harsher cousin of rum, and was mixed with lime juice, sugar and mint to take the edge off.
The modern day Mojito is a mellower version of “El Draque.” Being that it hails from Cuba, it practically demands to be paired with pork and being that it incorporates the cooling qualities of mint – a little spiciness.
Pulled Pork Spring Rolls
1/2 pound ground pork
1 1/2 cups of shredded coleslaw
2 green onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 tablespoon oyster sauce
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon chile sauce
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon water
12 (7- inch square) spring roll wrappers
4 teaspoons vegetable oil
Preheat oven to 425 F
Place pork in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium high heat until evenly brown. Remove from heat and drain.
In a bowl, mix together pork, cabbage, carrot, green onions, cilantro, sesame oil, oyster sauce, ginger, garlic and chile sauce.
Mix cornstarch and water in a small bowl.
Place approximately 1 tablespoon of the pork mixture in the center of the spring roll wrappers. Roll wrappers around the mixture, folding edges inward to close. Moisten fingers in the cornstarch and water mixture, and brush wrapper seams to seal.
Arrange spring rolls in a single layer on a baking sheet. Brush with vegetable oil. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes. Turn rolls over. Bake 10 minutes more.
Serve with Mae Ploy, a sweet-chile sauce that can be found at local Asian grocery stores and even Publix, now.
10 fresh mint leaves
1/2 lime, cut into 4 wedges
2 tablespoons simple syrup
1 cup ice cubes
2 oz white rum
1/2 cup club soda
Place mint leaves and 1 lime wedge into a sturdy glass. Use a muddler to crush the mint and lime. Add 2 more lime wedges and the simple syrup, muddle again to release the lime juice. Do not strain the mixture. Fill the glass almost to the top with ice. Pour the rum over the ice, and fill the glass with carbonated water. Stir, taste, and add more syrup if desired. Garnish if desired.
Mexican Coffee with “Margarita” Cupcakes
The beauty of pairing cocktails with food is that you can tweak the drink to match your food. With wine and beer you’re stuck – you can’t exactly make your bottle of Bordeaux taste sweeter if that’s what you’re in the mood for. Perhaps the best course to play around with your cocktails is the dessert course. I’m using tequila, but you could easily make a whiskey based concoction and pair it with pecan-praline cobbler or sweet potato ice cream.
While Irish Coffee uses whiskey, Mexican Coffee uses – you guessed it – tequila! It’s sweetened up with a bit of mocha liqueur and a dollop of whip cream.
1 oz. of your favorite tequila
1 oz. mocha liqueur
2 oz. hot coffee
1 dollop whipped cream
Add the tequila and liqueur to hot coffee. Top with whipped cream. Contemplate life on an existential level.
There’s tequila in your coffee, so might as well put a little in your dessert as well. Tequila is used as a glaze on the cupcakes and whipped into the frosting, so these cupcakes have a subtle kick and are sure to satisfy your devilish sweet tooth. These “for adult only” cupcakes won’t be found in your local store.
For the cupcakes:
3 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teasp salt
2 sticks of unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 eggs, room temperature
Zest and juice of 3 limes
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon tequila
Preheat oven to 325 F.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.
In a mixer, cream together butter and sugar.
Add eggs one at a time. Blend. Add the lime zest, lime juice and vanilla extract.
Reduce speed to low and add 1/3 of the flour mixture, then 1/3 of the buttermilk, alternating until finished. Mix until just incorporated, do not over-beat.
Divide the batter into line cupcake pan. Bake 23 to 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center of cupcakes comes out clean.
Remove the cupcakes from the oven, brush with tequila. Allow cupcakes to cool before frosting.
Tequila Lime Frosting:
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
5 to 6 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon lime zest
1 tablespoon tequila
1/8 teaspoon salt
To make the tequila lime buttercream frosting, place butter in a mixer’s bowl. Beat until butter is fluffy. Add 5 cups of powdered sugar, salt, lime juice, and lime zest. Mix until thick and creamy. Add more powdered sugar until the frosting is of good consistency. Pipe frosting onto cooled cupcakes. Garnish with small lime slices.
Critics cite that cocktails kill your taste buds so you won’t taste your food anyways. I don’t believe this. However, keep this in mind when pairing cocktails with food: don’t pair a terribly strong, intensely flavored drink with a weak dish.
Pace yourself. Wine’s alcohol content generally varies from 8-16 percent. Beer is generally 4-6 percent. A cocktail can easily reach 20 percent, depending on the heavy that pours. The key is a balanced cocktail – for taste and for pleasure – and perhaps consider making smaller cocktails, rather than full pours if coursing them out.
Remember – Taxis are your friend.
Chef’s Table at Elise
Elise is hosting intimate, twice monthly dinners at their “Chef’s Table” – which overlooks the open-air kitchen. Patrons can relax while talking wine with their certified sommelier, or while learning from the master’s in the kitchen.
$75 plus tax and gratuity – wine pairings are an additional $50.
Sept. 14 and 28.
For more information and reservations call: 332-7227
Rosh Hashanah at Jackson’s
On September 28, along with their full menu, Chef Irv Miller will prepare a traditional Rosh Hashanah feature. Dishes include challah, beef pot roast, sauteed green beans, red sweet peppers with caramelized leeks and raisin kugel.
Wednesday Sept. 28, 5:30 p.m.
$29 per person.
For reservations please call 469-9898
A Taste of Pensacola Beach
Pensacola Beach’s best restaurants are featuring some of their favorite dishes – all for $5 or less – at Casino Beach. Seventeen of the area’s restaurants will be participating, including Grand Marlin, Laguna’s, Hilton H20, Paradise Bar and Grill and Peg Leg Pete’s. Live entertainment.
Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 17-18, 1-4 p.m.
Cocktail Class at Vic and Ike’s
I got to go behind the bar for this article to learn about the magical Mojito at Vic and Ike’s – and now you can too! Vic and Ike’s will be hosting Cocktail Classes at 6 p.m. every Wednesday. Guests will learn about the cocktails being prepared, nibble on delicious food, and make three (full size!) cocktails themselves. Great for the start of a bachelor/bachelorette party. Future classes include drinks like Pimm’s Cup, Mint Julep, Margaritas and Daiquiris. It’s a don’t miss – I had a blast!
Wednesday nights, 6 p.m.
$30 per person
Reservations, call (850) 916-8569