DIY Cocktail Hour: Gold Dust Woman Martini

Tito’s Handmade Vodka started something with its notion of taking the distilling of vodka as a serious art in this country. It has been my workhorse vodka for years and will remain one of my favorites unless they change the recipe or start making prissy flavors like “angel food cake” or “cool whhip.”

There are now a plethora of artesinal vodkas that are organic, distilled over charcoal in artesinal springs with dancing nymphs and Romans eating grapes. With Portland 88, Crater Lake and House of Spirits Volstead Vodka, the Portland area certainly has more than its fair share of purified and crystalline vodkas. But this week when I went to Austin on vacation, I wanted to see how the locals stacked up.

dripping_springs

At the liquor store down the street from the ranch that was my vacation home– yep, you got it, a ranch. (No cows but a salt water pool and about a billion stars at night). I found several Austin craft distilled vodkas. I went with Dripping Springs because it had received some convincing accolades. The label doesn’t do it justice. It is a ten times filtered vodka from the water of an artesinal spring. Beautifully alcoholic and clear it has the resonance of crystal. Don’t let the label fool you, it’s not fake crystal. This can’t go through the dishwasher.

With the elegance and decadence of the vodka as a starting point, I created the following cocktail:

Gold Dust Woman

Gold Dust Woman

Gold Dust Woman:

Ingredients
5 oz Dripping Springs Vodka
1 1/2 oz mango pulp
1/2 oz Headsnapper Sauvignon Blanc

Directions
Fill martini glass with sparkling water and ice cubes
Fill shaker with ice
Add vodka, mango pulp and sauvignon blanc
Shake, shake shake until the shaker is frosty and sticks to your hand
Empty martini glass, rinse with 1/2 oz of sauvignon blanc
Partially rim with white sugar
Strain drink into glass 7 oz glass (It’s Texas, it has to be big)
Garnish with giant, freshly picked Texas strawberry

To Pick On: (Cuz Gold Dust Women Don’t Really EAT)
Tex-Mex Strawberry Salad

2 Shredded romaine hearts
1 cup juillienned jicama
1/2 cup sliced strawberries
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup black beans
1/2 cup tortilla strips

Dressing
1 small fresh red chili pepper, seeded and minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsps agave syrup
1/3 cup pack fresh chopped mint
1/2 cup squeezed lime juice
1 tbsp liquid coconut oil
1/3 cup EVOO
2 tbsps white wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Dress salad in bowl, chill if desired and dish up into four dishes.

Best Use: Chillin’ by the pool waiting for your toenails to dry, sparkled gold over violet

Reading Materials:
 Maya’s Notebook, Isabelle Allende

Soundtrack: Duh, Gold Dust Woman… this version

DIY Friday Cocktail Hour: Futbol Hero

frozen margarita in mason jar

frozen mason jar cocktail a la tastespotting.com

I will readily admit that I have had a love affair with margaritas–I know a minute on the lips and a lifetime on the hips. That’s why I come up with variations on a theme that are a little bit lighter so you feel less guilt.

This happy accident came during Cinco de Mayo and is a holy hybrid of the Pina Colada and the margarita.

Ingredients: (Makes one 40 oz pitcher of  Tropical Margaritas plus ice)
Iced Pitchers
 1/2 cups Espolon 100% Agave Blanco Tequila
1 1/2 Trader Joe’s Low Sugar Lemonade
1 cup Knudsen Pineapple Coconut Juice
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
1/2 cups Monarch Triple Sec (or to taste)

On really hot days, sometimes a frozen margarita is on the menu, if the blender’s not broken 😉

Frozen Pitchers
Pre-frozen sliced banana and small can of pineapple chunks
1/2 cup cocktail ice (if available)
1 1/2 cups Espolon 100% Agave Blanco Tequila
1 cup Trader Joe’s Low Sugar Lemonade
1/2 cup Knudsen Pineapple Coconut Juice
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
1/4 cups Monarch Triple Sec (or to taste)

The liquid should cover the frozen bits with about a half-3/4 inch to spare. Blend for 45 seconds to 1 minute depending on the power of the blender.

Serve frozen or on the rocks in mason jars (can be kept cold in coolers or in the freezer
Or serve up in a margarita glass
Garnish with a lime and a pineapple wedge
Cocktail umbrella optional

Serve with: Spicy Mango Salsa and Tortilla Chips from my new fave Sarah’s Cucina Bella
Soundtrack: Futbol Heroes Cinqo de Mayo 2012 by pandemix

What’s your gorgeous spring day missing? An Aperol Margarita

So bear with me on this one because it may sound a bit culturally inappropriate and downright odd. There are those of us in this world who do not like sugary margarita mix. I’m one of them. Combine the sugar water with a triple sec and woo-baby, sugar spike, calorie binge. They may be delicious but they add up.

So, in the spirit of ingredients that mysteriously add up to delicious things, I present the Aperol Margarita. Made with an Italian digestif rather than triple sec, it actually captures quite well the neighborhood in which it was invented: the Italian Market in Philadelphia, a place where Italian Americans and Mexican people co-exist although they don’t often mingle.

Mingle me this Batman.

Aperol Margarita

1 1/2 oz blanco or reposado tequila (100% agave of course, some recommendations here)
1 1/2 oz Aperol
1 1/2 oz fresh lime juice sweetened with agave nectar (to your liking)
Garnish with an orange twist (just the surface zest)

This will be unlike any margarita you’ve had before…call it a “dry” margarita, but it’s great for a spring day when the sun is not radiating you with its death rays and the flowers are blooming.

Five Tequilas no Bar Should be Without

I’m not going to lie to you. This blog should be called the tequilawormgirlblog or something stupid like that but I fell in love with ginsoaked and couldn’t let it go. Tequila, the intoxicating nectar of the Cactus is unique, sexy and very difficult to pair in any simple effective way. You have gin and tonic, vodka soda, whiskey coke, seven and seven…yadda yadda. I’ve tried tequila and seven but uh-uh. Nobody’s blowing their marketing wad on that.

It is a very special liquor for cocktailing. It doesn’t subordinate itself to other liquors so drinks with tequila usually feature the tequila–except for commercially made margaritas where the sugary lime sour almost completely masks the flavor of the tequila. No way Jose. (Sorry about that.)

First of all, it’s important to find a tequila that tastes good as-is. Tossing some rail garbage into the mix is not acceptable. The following tequilas are moderately priced enough that there is no reason to scrimp. This is weighted on the side of blancos ad reposados. I will get into anejos later. Those are not to be toyed with.

Correleo BlancoCorellejo Blanco

This tequila speaks to me. It is such a great mixing tequila because of its fairly neutral yet really round flavor. This is a tequila that I am excited to see represented in a bar. It’s not super common but I will get it every time. With club and a Cointreau floater.

Crafted simply to showcase the Blue Weber Agave, I can taste the attention to detail. It doesn’t slam you in the face but like a good German or British beer, the point is not to “wow” with a shtick but to balance perfectly. It makes a hell of a shot. I’ll leave the splendor to the Anejos.

Other Tequilas of Note

Espelon
Such a deal for the price. Another fairly neutral tequila that makes a great shot and a great margarita or mixer. It’s got an agave bounce that I really like.

Don Julio Blanco
A little pricier than the other blancos but Don Julio has a little more heft. I would prefer it in a margarita rather than as a shot but I wouldn’t deny it as a sipper either.

Cazadores Reposado
A very light bodied reposado that is excellent for shooting. It is the tequila of the people and should not be ignored. The deer is ubiquotous in the bars in Oregon, much to my pleasure because bars don’t usually pay much attention to their tequila selection and I’m hooked on the sauce.

El Jimador Reposado
Another thrifty reposado that has a slight sweetness and a bit of oak. The brand started as a humble mixtos but came up in the world with 100% pure agave. Now it stays in a manageable price range with a far more developed quality.

Hendricks Gin: Cucumber, meet Rose

I think most people who have spent any time at all with a bottle have a particular spiritual nemesis (mine is bourbon, which makes me weep like a baby).  But for some reason, gin has this notoriety of turning Dr. Jekylls everywhere into drunk, venom-spewing Mr. Hydes.  I heard this theory the other night while bartending, that the culprit is a sensitivity to juniper berries, which seems plausible. In its unripened form, the juniper berry is hard and green which lends the tannic bitterness to both the gin and its drinker.

Then there’s the seedy side of gin–the roaring twenties with luscious egg-white thickened cocktails. Of course these fancy cocktails came into existence because of the foul taste of nefariously produced ‘bathtub gin.’ Trust me, no one wants an extra-dry martini with soap scum floating at the top.

But we no longer have to resort to the bathtub as distillery, we can leave it to the professionals.  Hendrick’s, for instance, makes a gin so deliciously pure and clear that you are never in danger of a sudsy aftertaste.  Infused with cucumbers and rose petals, this gin has that classic herbaceous quality characteristic of a high end spirit. Unlike London Dry styled gins, the herbs employed in building its aroma aren’t boiled in the still, rather they are steamed, their vapors lending subtle flavor to the liquor. Although it is herbaceous, Hendricks doesn’t drag your palate through the herb garden as does Herbsaint or Absinthe. It may be a bit frilly for Tanqueray drinkers but it is worth straying from the flock for those with an adventurous spirit. And it led the revolution of apothecary styled liquor bottles.

Fun with Mixology: The Hendricks Rosegarden
2.5 oz Hendricks Gin
1 oz Rosehip Liquor
Splash Pink Grapefruit Juice
Fee Brothers Grapefruit Bitters
Shake vigorously, strain into chilled martini glass. Garnish with rose petals or a cucumber wheel

Portland Distiller’s Row

New Deal Vodka Line

(c) New Deal Distillery

The craft distillery scene in Portland is so massive that it even has its own guild, started with seed money from the state of Oregon. For me, having come from a Pennsylvania, a state (er, Commonwealth), with  punitive liquor laws, to see Portland’s magical guild of micro-distilleries and state-funded togetherness threw me for a loop. Really? The state is helping someone sell booze and treating the distilling process as an art? Not the liquor control board I know.

Oregon isn’t the only state with guilds for artisinal distillers, but they certainly appear to be the best organized and most articulate about their mission–to bring their craft liquor to as many people as possible. Their branding is hip, well-considered and well-placed, which gives them a craft edge with the brand credibility of a major.

What strikes me as uniquely Portland about the distillers and their guild is their willingness to work as a collective of companies even though they have potentially competing products. The global liquor conglomerates don’t usually do this. They tend to have one line each of whiskey, vodka, gin, tequila and maybe a few bourbons or different price point lines of one spirit.

It’s an industry with cutthroat competition at its very core (think of the fact that the prohibition era incubated organized crime as we know it). However, this ragtag group of distillers all just want to get along, bonding over their passion for the craft. OK, it might not be as touchy-feely as all that. In working together, the distillers hope to get bulk buying power, more visibility and the ability to reach a broader customer base.

This is a smart move. The aforementioned global conglomerates all have ginormous operating and marketing budgets and can take out consecutive ads on the back of Rolling Stone (not cheap).In reality, as individual brands, these micro-distillers (or at least the best of them) may as well roll over to Beam Global now and all of the craft will go out of the relationship.

This brave new world of spirits leaves me with a challenge. I have to try them all! How? It will be a job of work but I will muscle through it.