Episode 142 – “Raising the Bar”

Posted: June 18, 2020 in Season 9
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I relish in the tradition of cocktail hour. I remember my maternal grandparents having an evening cocktail – Grandma’s drink of choice was a Manhattan. When I was little, my dad would come home from work and indulge in an evening martini, using the little etched martini glasses that were his father’s. I now have two of those glasses, but I save them only for special days.

Our barware also includes two decanters that came from Dad’s side of the family. For Ted’s 40th birthday Dad gave Ted a decanter he had received from his mother when he graduated from medical school, and we typically keep Scotch in there (when we have it). We keep dry vermouth in a teardrop-shaped decanter that Dad’s father got at an estate sale. Three generations of our family have now used that decanter for vermouth.

This episode of Good Eats features three types of cocktails, so we tried them for cocktail hour on three different nights. Alton also went over his bar necessities:  old-fashioned and Collins/highball glasses for drinks on the rocks, stemmed cocktail glasses and champagne flutes for drinks not on the rocks, a jigger (1.5 oz)/pony (1 oz) combo, ice, a Boston shaker, and a julep strainer.

Cocktails can have three components:  a base, a mixer, and an accent. A martini, for example, would have gin as a base, vermouth as a mixer, and an olive or lemon twist as an accent. Some cocktails only use two components, such as a rum (base) and coke (mixer). Now, let’s get to Alton’s drink recipes.

AB’s Martini

Alton’s version of a martini is pretty dry, meaning it has little vermouth in it. To make his version, place a cocktail glass in the freezer or fill it with ice to chill.

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Martini glasses filled with ice to chill.

Put 1 C of ice in a cocktail shaker and add 1/2 a pony (1/2 ounce) of dry vermouth. Slosh the vermouth around to coat the ice.

Using a cocktail strainer, pour the vermouth out of the shaker, leaving only the vermouth-coated ice.

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Strainer on shaker to pour out excess vermouth.

Add 2 1/2 ounces of gin (1 pony plus 1 jigger). I believe Alton may have used Gilbey’s London Dry gin, but he had the label covered. Stir the drink thoroughly. Alton prefers stirring because shaking makes the drink too cold, causing it to lose some of its aromatic qualities.

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Gin added to vermouth-coated ice. Stirred, not shaken.

Place a single olive in your chilled martini glass and strain the drink into the glass.

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A lone olive in each glass.

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Alton’s martini.

So, it’s interesting that Alton liked his martini this dry in the past because he has been doing some live cocktail demos on Instagram lately, along with his live YouTube cooking show at his house. On one of the shows, he made a martini, and his current version contains much more vermouth. In fact, he uses a 2:1 ratio of gin to vermouth, stirring the ingredients together without pouring anything out. I suppose his preferences must have changed over the years. I typically drink a pretty dry martini because my dad drank them that way – it’s really the only way I’ve known them! In fact, I’ve made my martinis Alton’s original way since I first started making them years ago, so it’s really my go-to method. I happen to think that this makes a really fantastic dry martini. If you prefer your martinis with more vermouth, feel free to add more! I will admit that a wetter martini is more complex. Really, dry and wet martinis are completely different cocktails, so it’s worth it to try both. If you think you dislike gin martinis, give a wet martini a try. You just may find that you dislike super dry martinis, but that you enjoy those with a bit more vermouth. If you like your martinis on the drier side, Alton’s method is a surefire way to make a good one.

Daiquiri

I’m betting that when you think of a daiquiri, you picture a fruity, icy drink with whipped cream on top. Am I right? Well, there’s also a version that is served ice-free. For this drink, you will need to first make some rich simple syrup. Simple syrup is made by heating equal amounts of sugar and water until the sugar dissolves. Although he doesn’t mention it, Alton actually uses rich simple syrup in this recipe, which means it has more sugar than water. To make the syrup, combine 2 C sugar with 1 C water and heat on the stove until the sugar has completely dissolved. Let the syrup cool before using. You can store extra syrup in the refrigerator.

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Making rich simple syrup by dissolving 2 C sugar in 1 C water.

To make the drink, chill a champagne flute or a martini glass by placing it in the freezer or filling it with ice. Put a pint of ice in a cocktail shaker and add 2 oz of light rum.

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Ice and rum in shaker.

Add 1 oz fresh lime juice and 1/2 oz of the rich simple syrup.

You will want to shake this drink because it has cloudy/viscous ingredients. Shake the drink vigorously and strain it into your chilled glass.

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Chilled glasses.

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Alton’s daiquiri.

We don’t really drink rum very often at all, so this was a little different for us. This is sort of a pretty drink, as its pale green opacity looks appealing in the glass. I find this to be a very balanced drink, as it is simultaneously pleasantly sweet and tart. The alcohol flavor is not super strong, and this is an easy-drinking cocktail, which could be a potentially dangerous combo. This is a simple and delicious cocktail to add to your repertoire.

Mint Julep

The third cocktail in this episode is the bourbon-based mint julep. I have made mint juleps once or twice in the past (on Derby Day, of course), and they have been pretty underwhelming. I wondered how Alton’s recipe would make me feel about this drink. To make one mint julep, place 10 mint leaves (I used mint from our garden) in the bottom of an old-fashioned glass and add 1 1/2 t superfine sugar; you can make superfine sugar at home by blending sugar in a food processor.

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Mint and superfine sugar in a glass.

Muddle the mint and sugar together until you have a green paste.

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Mint and superfine sugar after muddling to a paste.

Add a splash of seltzer water to the glass and fill the glass 3/4 full with ice. Add 2 1/2 oz of bourbon and a final splash of seltzer.

Stir the drink, garnish it with a mint leaf or two, and serve.

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Alton’s mint julep after topping off with a final splash of seltzer.

I have never had a mint julep that I haven’t made at home, so I don’t have a large frame of reference, but this was by far my favorite mint julep. The mint was very apparent, but not overpowering, and the drink had just enough sweetness. The little bit of carbonation from the seltzer was a nice touch. Perhaps southerners would disapprove of this rendition of a mint julep, but I can only say that I really enjoyed this for a cocktail hour change of pace.

 

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