The Nitty Gritty Magic City Cocktails for August

IMG_20150812_093253In case you didn’t get the word on Facebook, we are taking a week or two off from our serialized detective novel to catch up on some writing and get ready for school to start. Munford Coldwater and the gang will be back before the end of the month.

Earlier this summer, we mentioned that we regular do cocktails for the Nitty Gritty Magic City reading series, which takes place the second Thursday or every month at Desert Island Supply Company and features local writers as well as travelling talent from across the country. We featured the series in chapter six of the novel, and then they promptly went on hiatus for the next two months. Well, it is back, and we are back, with two seasonal cocktails that we think you will like.

The fig tree in our back yard didn’t produce much this year, but our rosemary bush is doing just fine. We got some lovely figs at Whole Foods and made a fig and rosemary syrup. We used it to add some seasonal pizzazz to a simple (eggless) whiskey sour using Bulleit rye. A spear of rosemary for garnish brings out the rosemary in the syrup. We call it:

The Morris Avenue

  • 1.5 oz rye
  • 1/2 oz fig rosemary syrup
  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • Rosemary garnish

We recommend shaking it and then straining it over fresh ice, as seen in the picture.

Next, we are doing a punch that uses local honey, house-made grenadine, and gin. A little Campari adds complexity to the flavor and keeps the sweeter ingredients from being too cloying. Soda on top makes it refreshing.

Downtown Punch

  • 1.5 oz gin
  • 1/2 oz Campari
  • 1/2 oz honey syrup (1/2 honey, 1/2 water)
  • 1/2 oz grenadine (we use Joey Schmidt’s recipe to make ours)
  • Fill will soda

Build in a tall glass full of ice and give it a stir. Garnish with something fun from your garden, or your neighbor’s garden.

The next Nitty Gritty Magic City is Thursday, 8/13 at Desert Island Supply Co. at 7:30 PM. This month’s readers are Kristi Houk, Jason Slatton, and Lynnel Edwards.

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Breakfast in a Glass

IMG_20150709_094305Eggs in a cocktail? Raw? Preposterous! Well, no. It would be preposterous if the eggs were cooked perhaps, but there is a long history of eggs in cocktails. Lots of drinks, like whiskey sours, combine egg white with citrus to provide a frothy, creamy texture. When you use the whole egg, it’s called a “flip,” variations of which go back to the 16th century. Flips are mentioned in some of the works of Dickens. Jerry Thomas, in 1887, said that a flip “gives strength to delicate people.” Well, I was feeling a little delicate earlier this morning, and now I’m feeling as strong as a race horse. Of course, there is always some risk in consuming raw eggs. That’s our disclaimer. However, if you know where your eggs come from, that’s half the battle. We get farm fresh, free-range, hormone-free eggs every week from our CSA, and I try to pull out the smallest ones for cocktails.

One variety of flip that is still popular around the holidays is eggnog. A lot of people dont’ realize you can make eggnog by the glass with milk, an egg, sugar, and (optionally) the spirit of your choice (we like ours with brandy). But a flip can be enjoyed any time of year, particularly when you are hung over. Fortified wines are great in flips. These include sherry, port, madeira, marsala, and vermouth. Our favorite flip, is made with a combination of gin and sherry, and we make it thusly:

IMG_20150709_095020Solera Gin Flip

  • 1 oz London dry gin
  • 1 oz solera sherry
  • 1/2 oz simple syrup
  • 1 small farm-fresh egg

Put all the ingredients in a shaker and shake for 30 seconds with NO ICE. This will make it fluffy. Add ice and shake again. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with fresh-grated nutmeg.

A note on sherry: There are many varieties of sherry and also great disparity in quality. We picked solera sherry for this drink because it has a sweet, but not too sweet, nutty flavor that we enjoy.

The Whiskey Thief: A Serialized Novel, Part 6

Read from the beginning


Nitty Gritty

Photo by Katherine Webb

After the car dropped him off, Coldwater was able to get the blindfold off just in time to see them race around the corner, down 55th Place, a quaint old Main Street type of block with a couple of recording studios, an art gallery, and some other shops that had come and gone. It had been a white Cadillac, vintage 1980s, and he made a note of the license plate number. When he first started his agency, he’d spent time practicing and gotten good at quickly memorizing numbers.

The Desert Island Supply Company stood in a storefront on the ground floor of an old Masonic temple in Woodlawn, a once-venerable neighborhood just east of downtown that white flight in the 1960s had left to rot. In recent years, some people had been trying to build it up again. Desert Island Supply, aka DISCO, ran creative writing programs for area kids but was disguised as a shop that sold supplies you’d need if you were in danger of becoming stranded in the South Pacific with only a volleyball as company. At night, they had other events, and this Nitty Gritty Magic City poetry reading was one of those.

When he walked in the front door, he was immediately confronted with a giant wooden pelican, the size of a cigar store Indian, facing the sky with its beak open in a state of creepy ecstasy. The front room was divided from the back by a large shelf where they sold Imagination Spray, empty wine bottles for sending messages across the sea, and an “Official Survival Kit” containing a pencil, notepad, compass, and other items. Against the east wall, next to a giant plank of driftwood, an unknown party was selling beer and wine, and (hallelujah) mixed drinks. Coldwater needed something badly and made his way to the bartender, a youngish fellow, prematurely balding on top, and tall, thin, and squared off enough around the corners to serve as a doorjamb. What hair he had was red, which matched his goatee. Only about half of the dozen people milling about had that long curly hair that English majors, both male and female, frequently seem to go in for. Coldwater asked Doorjamb what he was making.

“We call it the Nitty Gritty Cocktail. It was invented for us by a friend who died recently. It’s got rye whiskey, Fernet Branca, and tawny port in it.” A Manhattan variation. The stiff he was talking about had to be Professor Hornbuckle. Doorjamb said it was. “He used to make drinks for us. The reading tonight is, in some ways, a tribute to him.”

The cocktail was six bucks, a bargain, but it was a little heavy on the Fernet. Coldwater took a seat on one of the box-shaped stools in the back at a table that seemed to have been constructed from the door of an old ship. The room was infested with maps and globes, model ships, and other seafaring-related trinkets. A small p.a. system was set up underneath the formidable shadows of a swordfish and a hammerhead shark that were hanging from the wall. Everyone looked pretty gloomy, but a short-haired brunette with cat-eye spectacles sitting by herself in a corner looked gloomier than the rest. She was dressed more conservatively too, in a buttoned-up white blouse with a long, black skirt. The reading hadn’t yet started, so Coldwater moved over to the seat next to her.

“Do you mind?”

“Suit yourself,” she replied.

“I’m a private detective, and I have some interest in the case of Professor Hornbuckle. I’d like to talk to you if you have a moment.”
“What makes you think I have something to do with it?”

“Are you kidding? Among this bunch of hippies and hipsters, you stand out like a pink flamingo in a black velvet cape. My guess is that you loved him. Maybe he loved you. Maybe you know about some trouble he’d gotten into. Maybe he left out on you. Maybe you came here thinking you might get some answers.”

“You have some kind of ID that shows you’re a detective?”

He opened his wallet to flash his APIB license. Up until a couple of years ago, you didn’t need any kind of license to hang your shingle as a PI in Alabama. Now there’s a whole rigmarole of college courses and an examination and continuing education credits, and you have to shell out a couple of hundred dollars every two years to keep it current.

After examining the credentials, she said, “Shall we talk here, or do you have a better idea?”

“I got dropped off here. If you can give me a lift back downtown, I’ll buy you a drink.”

She looked at him slonchwise and pulled a smirk that knocked his necktie askew. “I’ll pass.”

“After the reading, of course. I wouldn’t want you to miss anything important.” He felt his phone vibrate in his pants pocket, but he didn’t want to disrupt the informative conversation he was having.

“Tell you what,” she said. “Let’s skip the poetry, skip the drink, and go straight to your place.”

“You’re being sarcastic.”

“You bet I am.”

“We can start here and figure out the rest later. First of all, maybe you could tell me your name.”

One of the curly haired English majors, a female who looked to be about 6’5”, took the mic. She thanked the audience for coming, etc. “Most of you know…knew Professor David Hornbuckle, who helped us out with this reading series from time to time by making some awesome cocktails. Tonight we have some of his friends, colleagues, and former students who will be reading work.”

Colleagues and former students made sense, thought Coldwater, but he didn’t know Hornbuckle had any friends.

“Some of these pieces,” the hostess continued, “were influenced by Professor Hornbuckle’s seminars on medieval poetry and medieval rhetoric; others are on topics that he was interested in, which ranged from basketball to beekeeping to the finer varieties of whiskey. Everyone here, I’m sure, has his or her own story to tell. We’ll start with someone who probably knew him better than anyone, also one of the most accomplished poets I know, his wife, Flora Hornbuckle.”

Coldwater felt a cold draft as the woman with whom he had been speaking quietly took the stage and pulled some folded sheets from her handbag. “Good evening, everyone. Thank you for being here. I know it would have meant a lot of David. For those of you who are interested, there will be a wake tomorrow at the Buck Mulligan’s in Five Points, starting at six o’clock. The poem I want to read for you is called ‘Hazel and Honeysuckle’. It references the tragedy of Tristan and Iseult, one of David’s favorite stories from Arthurian legend.”

She unfolded her packet of papers and began to read with a deep mellifluous voice. Coldwater wasn’t much of a literary critic, and he wasn’t familiar with the legend. He wished he had a hard copy to read along with. From what he could follow, the poem had to do with a kind of love triangle, and there were some trees growing out of graves. His ears perked up at the mention of “Lyonesse.” Obviously, there was something significant about this. It was what Hornbuckle and Ashley Rose had argued about at the Nick, but he still didn’t know what it meant. While he was still making a note about it in his pocket moleskein, the poem ended, followed by a steady stream of applause. When he looked up again, Mrs. Hornbuckle had already left the room.


Read Part 7

Maple Cocktails

Once upon a time, we bought two IMG_20131112_220523_905bottles of maple-flavored whiskey. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and at least one of them was on sale for way less than the list price. We were early in our cocktail obsessions. We didn’t know better. It’s not entirely clear whether either of these uses real maple syrup. How much of it is actual whiskey is anybody’s guess. These products are super sweet and tend to take over whatever drink you put them in. For a while we made a dessert drink that we called the Tim Horton’s with equal parts maple whiskey and Bailey’s, which is good if you are in the mood for a cocktail that tastes like a maple creme-filled doughnut.

We are rarely in that mood.

So what are we to do with this stuff? The maple flavor is too strong for this to be the main ingredient in something. At the very least, it needs to be paired with something else that will mellow it a bit. Our first attempt was to mix it with some Applejack (more on that in another post). We decided on a Manhattan-style drink but with Dolin Blanc as the vermouth, hoping the vermouth would help offset the sweetness of the maple whiskey. And then we added some charred cedar bitters we made based on BTP’s recipe and some blackberry thyme shrub we put together at the end of the summer.

Almost all of those ingredients deserve their own post, and we’ll get to that one of these days. Even though the shrub and this precise style of bitters are not things most people would happen to have around, there are always workarounds for such things. The cedar bitters add a smoke, so you could substitute a splash of a particularly smokey scotch or mezcal. Instead of the shrub, try adding a splash of apple cider vinegar.

Jen didn’t care for this one, but I liked it well enough to document it anyway.

Partial to Maple

  • 1 oz maple whiskey
  • 1 oz Applejack
  • 1/2 oz Dolin Blanc Vermouth
  • 1 teaspoon blackberry thyme shrub
  • 2 dashes charred cedar bitters

This is shaken and served up in a coupe glass.

The next idea was much more successful. We decided to mix it with regular bourbon and lemon juice to offset the sweetness. Then we added Cointreau and Luxardo to add some complexity. It is a take on a classic whiskey sour drink.

Maple Sourpuss

  • 1 oz maple whiskey
  • 1 oz bourbon (I used Maker’s Mark)
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 1/2 oz Cointreau
  • 1/4 oz Luxardo maraschino liqueur

Shaken and served in a rocks glass, as a whiskey sour would be. If you want to be fancy, add a float of red wine. If you want it sweeter, add a float of Pama or grenadine.

We want to mention one other maple cocktail that we stole from another blog. We tried to do a version of it with the maple whiskey, but it just didn’t work. We came across it because we made our own butter and therefore had some buttermilk (I know! So many stories we will have to tell you another day. Stop distracting us!) So of course, we thought “how can we use buttermilk in a cocktail?”

We found the answer at the Serious Eats blog. It is awesome as described, but we also had good luck substituting bourbon for the gin.

Buttermilk Maple Gin Flip

  • 1 whole egg, separated
  • 2 ounces gin
  • 1 ounce buttermilk
  • 1/2 ounce maple syrup
  • Fresh nutmeg

Place egg yolk in cocktail shaker with a few ice cubes. Seal shaker and shake vigorously for 10 seconds. Open shaker, fill with ice, and add gin, buttermilk, egg white, and maple syrup. Shake vigorously for 20 seconds and strain into chilled coupe or sour glass. Grate nutmeg over top and serve.

For the uninitiated, many classic cocktails include eggs. Some, like whiskey sours, use just the white of the egg. It makes the cocktail frothier and gives it body. When the yolk is added, the drink is called a “flip.” A gin flip was a popular breakfast drink in the 19th century. It’s becoming popular in our household as well.

Basil Cocktails

Hi folks, and welcome to the Whiskey Thief blog. Here, Jen and I will document our cocktailing adventures.

I thought we’d start with a recent home experiment. The basil plant out back was looking particularly fluffy last week, so we decided to play around with some basil cocktails.

The first is a variation on a traditional gin smash. The picture is a bit out of focus because I’m a terrible photographer. Just don’t click to make it larger, and it won’t give you seizures.

Yes, we are such liquor nerds that we make our own cucumber gin, but you can just use Hendrick’s. We’ll post something soon about all our various homemade gin experiments.

smashCucumber Basil Smash

2 oz homemade cucumber gin (or Hendrick’s)
1/2 oz St. Germain
1/2 oz lemon juice
4 muddled basil leaves

Shaken and served up in a coupe glass with a basil garnish.

For the next one, Jen wanted something with a bit of spice. We dug up a jar of strawberry and jalapeno jam from the back of the pantry, and then we melted it down with some water to make a syrup. I don’t know about you, but when I think of jalapenos, I think about Mexico, and when I think about Mexico, I think about tequila. So here’s what we came up with.

This picture didn’t come out quite as blurry as the other one. I think after the first round, my hands got a bit steadier.

CholulaThe Basilisk

2 oz reposado tequila
3/4 oz strawberry pepper syrup
3/4 oz lime juice
4 muddled basil leaves
3-4 drops of Cholula hot sauce

 Shaken and served up in a coupe glass with a basil garnish.