Category Archives: Cocktails

In Praise of the Cocktail Pitcher

As the weather here in Charm City becomes ever more pleasant and temperate, we’ve found that we’re spending a lot more time in the great out-of-doors. Of course, we’re not really the trail hiking and mountain biking type- most of our outdoor activities have more to do with following our bliss than with following a trail, and for us that often means raising a glass. Or three.

As anyone who’s sat outside relaxing for more than 10 minutes can tell you, running inside for anything is an incredible hassle. Man invented coolers because no one wants to take down their feet and leave a cool breeze for a steamy kitchen just to get another beer.

The cocktail pitcher: Summer drinking done right.

Whether you’re drinking beers in the backyard or cocktails on the veranda, the same principle applies. Yet for some reason when most people build their bars they’ll gather their bottles and even buy some quality barware, but neglect a crucial component to Summer drinking: the cocktail pitcher.

When most people think of cocktails in pitchers, they think of very specific occasions and drinks; the pitcher of margaritas for Cinco de Mayo, a pitcher of mojitos for a holiday cookout, or breaking out the blender for frozen daquiris. There’s some irony in that though. Most people hope to impress guests with their secret-recipe sangria, only to end up serving it in a crummy old tupperware pitcher which has seen more than its share of dishwasher heat and kool-aid stains. This will never do.

At the Chophouse, not only do we have a dedicated cocktail pitcher, but it occupies a prominent place on our bar. We keep it out in plain view because most dedicated cocktail pitchers are as elegant as they are useful. Whether vintage or modern, standing alone or matched as a set, cocktail pitchers are typically given as much care in their creation as in their design, usually being mouth-blown from crystal or very high quality glass. With most ranging from $20-$50, you can shop with confidence knowing that you’re likely to end up with more than your money’s worth.

Whether it’s sake punch or one of our favorite homespun highballs, we’re not sure how we ever got by without a pitcher. Pick one up for yourself this summer, and we think you’ll agree.

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The Chop’s Seawater Martini Cocktail Recipe

Some popular new ideas are nothing more than teeny tiny tweaks of very old, very good ideas. Roller skates were tweaked to make rollerblades. Facebook was just a better Myspace. They put sleeves on a blanket and called it a Snuggie.
It’s in that spirit that we offer you a small tweak to the grandaddy of all classic cocktails, the martini.

Notice we said “tweak.” Not improvement. Not “major breakthrough.” The poor martini has been ‘reinvented’ so many times that many casual drinkers don’t even know quite what a martini actually is. All we offer here is a slight variation: something you may want to try just once at least, or just once in a great while at most.

What's it taste like? It tastes like this.

What we have here is mostly just a “dirty” martini, with a slight variation and possibly a twist on the garnish. It’s not something you’d order just anywhere, or drink just anytime, but if at some point this Summer you find yourself overlooking the harbor from the Rusty Scupper’s dining room, or out on the deck at Nick’s Fish House, this version of the martini might be just the thing before dinner.

The Seawater Martini

  • 6 parts Vodka
  • 1 part Dry Vermouth
  • Large splash of olive juice
  • Small splash of clam juice
  • Anchovy-stuffed olive to garnish
  • Chill and mix as you would a traditional martini, serve straight up.

Of course, drinking actual seawater is never recommended, but the saltiness of olive brine mixed with the piscine flavor of clam is a very close approximation for a cocktail glass. We mentioned that you might want to call for one of these at a seafood restaurant, and aside from mixing one at home, that might be the only place you can order one. Clam juice isn’t exactly a common ingredient, even behind the best-stocked bars.

You can certainly try this with good, crisp gin as well, although clams and olives and gin might be a little overwhelming. This is already a very savory drink with vodka, and like some other produce of the sea, it simply won’t be for everyone.

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The Chop’s Democrat Cocktail Recipe

We’ve never really been the type who alternates consistently between a “winter drink” and a “summer drink,” but 2011 might just be the year that that changes for good. As a pretty loyal bourbon/Scotch drinker, we’re happy to pour a whiskey sour or a mint julep during the Summer months, and warm weather is the perfect time to enjoy a Lemon Stick or a Veracruz but until we came up with the Democrat, we hadn’t found anything we could potentially stick with all Summer long.

When mixed properly, the Democrat will look similar to this.

We settled on the name not because we happen to be a Democrat, or because we regularly enjoy drinking with other Democrats, but because the Dems mascot is a donkey, and we fashioned this after a classic drink: The Moscow Mule. Virtually all existing recipes for the Moscow Mule call for ginger beer. While ginger beer is great, we’ve found a way to update and improve this classic, making it lighter without sacrificing that spicy bite of ginger, and making it at once more summery and more alcoholic.

The Democrat

  • 3 parts vodka
  • 2 parts ginger liqueur
  • 1 part lime juice
  • splash of simple syrup
  • 2 dashes orange bitters
  • club soda

Pour ingredients in that order into a rocks filled glass. Stir and top off with club soda.

Another upgrade we’ve made is nixing the traditional copper mug which is a hallmark of the Moscow Mule. A regular Collins glass will work just fine here. Similar to a generously poured Collins, this cocktail is strong enough to appreciate, but not so strong that you can’t drink several of them on a hot Summer day. We’ve found that they’re the perfect mix of the citrus we’d expect in a warm weather drink, and the rich taste of ginger which we enjoy year round.

Go ahead and mix one up, we think you’ll like it just as much as we do.

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The Best Brunch Drinks (That Aren’t Mimosas or Bloody Marys)

You already know that the Chop approves of brunch as a lifestyle choice. We even endorse mini-brunching on the weekdays. There is one little bone we’ve got to pick with brunch though, and although another Mother’s Day has come and gone, we’re going to address it now, because better late than never.

To our mind, the thing that makes brunch brunch is the booze. It’s not the cuisine that’s served or the time or place it’s eaten, it’s the booze and only the booze. You don’t drink at breakfast, and lunch drinking (if you’re lucky enough for that) is markedly different from the Sunday Ritual.

We never claimed we weren't an asshole. Now go fetch us some Campari, boy.

Our problem with brunch menus is that they’re dominated almost entirely by Bloody Mary’s and Mimosas. Now, there’s nothing wrong with these two traditional brunch drinks. They’re both tried and true classics to be sure. It’s just that, personally, we don’t really much care for either of them.

Our point of contention is that both brunchers and restaurants should be a little more imaginative. Some restaurants try to get creative, but end up being way too cute; adding okra, lemons, limes, green beans, tomato slices, rhubarb, olives, and anything else they’ve got laying around until your Bloody Mary approaches the absurd. These “house recipes” often look more like a garden in a glass than an actual drink. And don’t even get us started on the so-called ‘Man-mosa’ in any of its hideous variations. Gross. Stupid. Childish.

Instead of just offering all you can drink bloodys or mimosa’s, we’d love to see more restaurants coming up with their own cocktails for brunch. How about offering the first drink free, eh? Think that might get some asses in the seats? Whenever we’re awake and aware in time for brunch, we make sure to do our part to confound the bartender by ordering something he might actually have to turn around to make. Here’s five of our favorite calls for brunch cocktails.

  • The Madras. The Madras is a classic, and we can never understand why it doesn’t get more love at brunch. Orange and Cranberry aren’t ingredients you’d reach for immediately after dark, but if the sun is shining you can’t go wrong. We say pour it a little weak and don’t be afraid to have more than one.
  • Kahlua. You know those cereal commercials where they show the product next to a bunch of healthy food and say “part of this complete breakfast?” Well, Kahlua completes brunch. Skip the vodka, just put it on the rocks and serve it.
  • Pernod and water. Take a shot of Pernod, pour it over ice, and add as much water as you like. Since this is brunch, and not a Friar’s Club roast, feel free to top off that highball glass with water. Then sip liberally. Pernod’s bittersweet licorice-like flavor will remind you you’re supposed to be awake and help jumpstart your appetite. If the restaurant doesn’t have it, ask for Strega instead.
  • Campari and soda. Sure, Campari is bitter, but it’s bitter in a good way. Espresso is sort of bitter. So are a lot of herbal teas. These have their place at the brunch table, and so should Campari. Plus, you can make up little songs by rhyming it with safari and Rastafari. You’ll never be able to do that with a mimosa.
  • Anything with Saint Germain in it. Trendy restaurants love to sell you $14 elderflower cocktails on Saturday night, but come Sunday morning they conveniently forget all about it and try to foist off cheap champagne on brunchers. If we were in charge of the Saint Germain brand we’d be sponsoring brunch events all over the place, with custom cocktail menus, food pairings, the whole works. The truth is that it’s damn near impossible to make a bad drink with Saint Germain. For brunch, take some Saint Germain, something fizzy, and a splash of liquor. There are 10,000 possible combinations, and they’re all great choices.

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The Ten Best Unpopular Highballs

It’s officially Spring in Baltimore. The good news is that Flowermart and Preakness are right around the corner. The bad news is that Spring also means household chores and Spring cleaning. There is a silver lining though, and it is that Spring cleaning also means cleaning out your home bar.

If you’re like us, you’ve been hoarding bottles the way squirrels hoard nuts during your winter hibernation. There’s no time like the present for streamlining your bar, and one of the easiest ways to do that is by mixing highballs.

Drinks in the back yard are often different from drinks at the bar.

First a clarification: Wikipedia tells us that the term highball originally referred to scotch and soda, but has grown to encompass almost any combination of liquor and soft drinks, mostly but not exclusively of the carbonated variety. A highball is usually what people refer to with the term “mixed drinks” as opposed to “cocktails” which are typically comprised mostly of liquor.

In bars and taverns, some particular highball combinations enjoy a longstanding popularity; Jack and Coke, Gin and tonic, Bourbon and ginger ale, Seven and Seven, etc. Those are all solid choices, but at home having too much, or not enough of one ingredient can lead to some unexpected choices. After all, the best part of home bartending is experimentation…

  • 10: Vodka and Flavored Seltzer. Take a trip up the soda/water aisle in the grocery store and you’ll find plenty of lightly flavored seltzers which aren’t stocked in bars and which are much cheaper than regular sodas. these are a perfect choice for Spring and Summer drinking.
  • 9: Jameson and Lemonade. This doesn’t sound so good on paper, but something about it just works. The combo of malt and citrus makes for a slightly organic taste, and of course, there’s a ton of sugar in there too. We once brought home a bottle Wasmund’s malt whisky, and the only way we could power through it was by adding lemonade.
  • 8: Vodka and Sweet Tea. Sometimes known as an Icepick, this is a drink that is best drunk at home, because no bar or restaurant we know of locally makes tea the right way: Sweet.
  • 7: Gin and Sprite. Most gin drinkers will reach for tonic every time, but we’ve got a sweet tooth. Sprite is the only thing we’ve found so far that makes us like gin enough to drink it throughout the evening.
  • 6: Vodka and Cran-Raspberry. This is actually our father’s drink of choice. Any bar can pour you a Cape Cod, but you’ve got to be at home to make it with cran-raspberry. And trust us, it’s much better that way.
  • 5: Dark Rum and Lemon Water. It’s hard to say what we mean by lemon water. It’s much more tart and lightly flavored than lemonade, and only slightly carbonated. Not quite water, not quite soda, you’ll know it when you see it. Whatever it is, the lightness and crispness of it is a perfect complement to the syrupy quality of a rum like Myers’s or our own favorite, the Kraken.
  • 4: Light Rum and Fruit Punch. Check your fridge, you might have a bottle of fruit punch hanging around back there. You know the kind we mean, mostly grape juice, some pear juice, a small fraction of other juices, and a palm tree on the label. make sure to use rum and not vodka to avoid unpleasant memories of “jungle juice.”
  • 3: Tequila and Snowballs. Most people who are from here don’t realize that snowballs are native regional fare for Baltimore. They also often don’t realize that they’re best enjoyed with liquor dumped all over them. There are a ton of winning flavor and liquor combinations, but you can’t go wrong with tequila and a key lime pie flavored snowball. Just be sure to skip the marshmallow topping.
  • 2: Bourbon and Apple Cider. Granted, this is more of a seasonal drink for the Fall, but it is good enough to drink year round. Plain old apple cider is such a great mixer, it’s surprising that more hoity-toity bartenders haven’t caught on to its use as a cocktail ingredient.
  • 1: Anything and Limeade. Limeade is pretty gross on its own, but it’s one of the most versatile mixers you can buy. Most of the types you find at the store are of pretty good quality too, since they’re not all artificial sweeteners and citric acid like most lemonades. Works with rums, tequila, gin, and just about every one of the 10,000 flavored vodkas out there. Best bet: Cherry vodka limeade.

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The Five Best Bottles of Liquor to Give as a Gift

Last Fall when we wrote about How to Stock a Home Bar we mentioned that you should save space for a couple of ‘special occasion bottles.’ You need a couple of bottles of the good stuff; a private stock, if you will. This is the stuff that you’ll break out for special occasions, and that is good enough that it will make any occasion special if you do break it out.

We suggested that these bottles might even be given to you to mark some special occasion. It works both ways though… eventually a friend of yours is going to have a birthday, a housewarming, a Christmas party, or some other milestone worth marking with a bottle. It’s times like these when the usual good stuff isn’t quite good enough. Any drinker can treat himself to a bottle of Makers’ 46 or Tanqueray 10 on payday, but the idea behind a gifted bottle is that it should not only be a liquor of superior quality, but should be something a friend might not think to try on his own.

In any decent spirits shop there’s going to be no shortage of bottles worth giving as a gift. Especially now, in the age of artisanal booze made in small batch copper pot stills there is plenty of variety for a special occasion. These five though are tried and true, and represent the very best spirit of generosity.

The Dalmore 15

The Dalmore 15 year old. Representing the third tier in the Dalmore Range (which includes whiskys up to 50 years old), the 15 is about the best there is in the world before you start spending into the triple digits. The Dalmore’s 12 point stag stands guard on the bottle, ensuring it’s not opened lightly. Aged entirely in sherry casks, this is the stuff that your Grandfather would drink. At his mistress’ funeral. (around $80.)

Barbancourt Estate Reserve

Barbancourt Estate Reserve. Unlike some other liquors, there are plenty of good rums available in the $20 range. Spend twice that and you’re into the realm of world-class rums. What makes Barbancourt’s Estate Reserve so special isn’t just the fact that it’s still being produced in post-quake Haiti from pure sugar cane or the 15 years it spends in oak, it’s the fact that not only do you not need Coke to drink it… you don’t even need ice. (around $45.)

Noah's Mill

Noah’s Mill. We had the good fortune to receive a bottle of Noah’s Mill as a gift once, and can speak directly to its quality. The Chop is first and foremost a bourbon drinker, and Noah’s Mill has supplanted Russell’s Reserve as our top pick. You know this isn’t for everyday drinking, as it’s bottled at a ridiculous 114.3 proof. You wouldn’t ever know it though, because it smooths out nicely after 15 years of aging in charred oak. This is as good as it gets. (around $45.)

Delamain pale and dry XO

Delamain pale and dry XO.Without getting into a whole big lesson on Cognac, let us just say this is the good shit. In this year’s Ultimate Spirits Challenge it placed second with a score of 95, a tie with Delamain’s much pricier “Extra” expression. Whereas an XO represents the top of some brands’ lines, at Delamain this 25 year old Cognac is actually the bottom of the line. Compare it to Courvoisier’s XO, which is the fifth step up their ladder, retails about $50 more, and is not 100% Grand Champagne derived. It is a bit expensive, but it’s also a special occasion. (around $100.)

Chartreuse

Chartreuse. Why are we including Chartreuse in this short list? Is it because we love it? Because we would like to receive a bottle as a gift? Because we wanted to include a liqueur for variety’s sake? These are all good reasons, but we include Chartreuse here because it’s the perfect gift for the vodka or gin drinker in your life. Premium vodka is more or less a scam, and any serious gin drinker has probably already reached the top of the gin pyramid on his own (It’s not nearly as high as the Cognac pyramid or the Scotch pyramid). Chartreuse is best served neat, but if that certain someone still insists of drinking vodka, feel free to pass along our Chartreuse gimlet recipe.

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The Chop’s Two Boats Cocktail Recipe

Far down in the South Atlantic, midway between continents lies the tiny volcanic island of Saint Helena. Largely unknown to most people, this British colony’s major claim to fame was as the site of Napoleon’s exile in 1815. In the world of spirits though, it’s known as the home of the Tungi distillery, makers of one of the rarest and most unique spirits anywhere in the world. Distilled from the fruit of the locally grown prickly pear cactus, Tungi (pronounced toon-jee) is a clear, unaged, full strength spirit with a very distinctive flavor.

Tungi is also known as 'the Spirit of Saint Helena.'

Historically, prickly pears (also referred to as tungis) were first distilled by colonists trading in East Africa, and their so-called “bush brandy” was a natural fit when it migrated to the British shipping stopover of Saint Helena around 1880. The ‘Saints’ have been distilling tungis in their backyards ever since, much in the same manner that moonshine is made, though Tungi didn’t go into commercial production until 2006, when Donny Stevens and Paul Hickling bought a small commercial still and installed it in the basement of Donny’s Bar in Jamestown. They’re currently producing a line of 3 spirits (an aged rum and a coffee liqueur as well as their flagship brand) which are only available on Saint Helena and its surrounding islands, as well as high-end shops in the UK such as Harrod’s and Selfridge’s.

The Chop was lucky enough to have a chance to sample some of this interesting spirit during our recent trip to Ascension, and initially found it very disagreeable. Not at all similar to a pear-infused vodka or a pear liqueur, Tungi is surprisingly bitter and medicinal tasting at first blush. Presenting an odd mixture of pine bark, licorice root, sour fruits and dried apricots, it can be something of an acquired taste. It does, however, boast the the very crisp and refreshing finish of a super-premium vodka, lending a clue that no matter what the taste, the quality here is unassailable. It is this finish on the palate that will convince you to try a second shot, and ultimately, to come to appreciate the flavor.

The locals on Ascension are given to taking it straight, and served chilled, it’s as fine an apéritif as any bitter liquor your grandpa may have tucked away in his cabinet. It also makes an outstanding Tom Collins, which is the perfect choice for bowling skittles or grilling a fresh-caught tuna in the island’s tropical climate. It makes a damned agreeable dry martini, and interestingly enough, it’s the first liquor we’ve ever found that made us want to add grenadine to a cocktail, which worked really well in drinks made with the bottles we smuggled home past US customs at the end of the trip. Because after all, isn’t bootlegged booze always the best booze?

Two Boats Cocktail

3 parts Tungi
2 parts simple syrup
juice of 1/4 lemon
dash of grenadine

Combine the Tungi, syrup, and lemon juice in an iced shaker, shake and strain into a cocktail glass. Sink the grenadine to the bottom and garnish with a wedge of lime.

(Tungi retails at 19.99 Saint Helena pounds for 700 ml. (About $36.) 43.6% abv.)

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