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Feb 28, 201309:25 AM
Happy Hour

All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans

A Cocktail Has To Be Yours

daddyg, stock.xchng, 2008

If there is one topic we have spent a lot of time on over the years it’s that you like what you like. Your preferences are to be honored. Your cocktails have to be yours.


There is no use lecturing on the use of expensive ingredients if you cannot appreciate them to the fullest extent, or are unwilling to pay the up-charge for what they bring to the affair. And this is by no means a knock on your or my taste or culture. Matters are complicated enough without tossing in irrelevant attitudes about upbringing, education, taste, experience or appreciation.


Get what you like at a level you can enjoy within a price range that is comfortable. Period.


The idea that gave rise to this (probably unnecessary) discussion is an article in that vaunted newspaper of American capitalism, The Wall Street Journal. The author, Will Lyons, proceeds to expose how certain ingredients came to be associated with named cocktails, but the debate is not over and the discussion goes on. Likely forever.


For instance, when you order a martini, is the base spirit vodka or gin? Would James Bond, noted fictional British Secret Agent, ever order a shaken-not-stirred martini with gin? Keep in mind that Bond is British to the core.


It seems Mr. Bond’s base spirit is vodka. And the reason James Bond drinks martinis with vodka is that Ian Fleming, the creator of Bond, first tasted a martini in Russia on a trip which included some American journalists. Fleming liked the martinis in Russia, and be assured no self-respecting Russian would ever use a British spirit when vodka is so available and cheap.


But in the opinion of Alessandro Palazzi, one of the finest martini mixers in all of London, holding court and managing the bar, at Dukes Hotel, gin is the way to go. “It used to be that vodka was the spirit of choice, but now it has completely flipped to the side of gin and vodka has become an outcast,” Palazzi says.


A similar argument is made by me, not that any argument I could make counts for anything, when it comes to the wonderful cocktail French 75. This Champagne-based incredibly aromatic and delightful drink seems to have, at least in New Orleans, gravitated to using gin as the second spirit. But I have always been a fan of Cognac as the additive that brings deeper flavor and not just alcohol to the mix.


Besides, my reasoning goes, any drink named French 75 would never tolerate the intrusion of an English spirit into the mix. Never mind that the first reference to this drink, created at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris in the early 1930s, notes that gin was originally used in this cocktail named for the bore measurement of a powerful French cannon used in World War I.


That error of ingredient in the French 75, it seems to me, was quickly corrected in a later volume of cocktail recipes that noted the drink was a Cognac-based elixir.


When it comes to taste in cocktails, I am much more of a citrus-loving palate rather than a sugar baby. Simple syrup, that “complicated” mixture of boiled sugar and water, is not something I want anywhere near what I am drinking. Same goes for grenadine, and whatever is in that bottled sweet and sour mix used by bars all over the place in margaritas.


My logic goes that enjoying a cocktail should be a wonderful experience. I don’t drink just to be doing so. I drink for enjoyment, for pleasure.


Usually there are ways to get to the best drink without the use of sweeteners or random additive ingredients. Usually there are other spirits, bitters or fresh citrus that will add the necessary aromatics and tasting sensations that can make a drink “sing.” You may also want to experiment with Curaçao, Cointreau, Grand Marnier, St. Germain and Cognac as a substitute for cheaper sweetening in a drink. I’ve even had good results by using rum which is in itself nothing more than processed sugar cane.  


By taking that path, I have also made making drinks easier as far as mixing goes. The offset is that the prep work may have expanded.


For instance, margaritas are one of the classic 3-ingredient cocktails. A very good grade of Tequila, fresh lime juice and Cointreau. Each ingredient occupies 1/3 of the space in the drink. That’s it. Now, some bars don’t want to squeeze that much lime juice for only one drink. It’s a lot of limes and a lot of work. But it’s worth it to me and on more than one occasion I have offered to do the squeezing myself. Bars are busy places and I respect that I am not the only demanding guy standing around waiting for a beverage.


While the bartender is pulling a few beers for others, I am rolling limes on the bar, slicing them open and squeezing the hard little buggers into a container that will immediately end up in my drink. It’s not pretentious. It’s just how I like my margaritas.


And there’s the point. I am not a fan of cheap ingredients that bring an artificial flavor to the cocktail. I am willing to work to get something in which I can take pleasure.


Keep in mind that adding sugar is not a bad thing; it may not, however, be the best thing. Sugar and other sweet ingredients are also contained in mixers and other spirits. Consider those sweet levels first, before adding simple syrup or cane sugar.


And know that bitters, other spirits, even citrus are your friends. Deeper flavors and fighting scurvy are reasons enough to drinking smarter.  



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Happy Hour

All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans


In New Orleans, when the subject is wine and spirits, it is very difficult to leave Tim McNally out of the discussion. He is considered one of the “go to” resources in the Crescent City for counsel and information about adult beverages and their place in the fabric of life in this great city.


Tim is the Wine and Spirits Editor, columnist and feature writer for New Orleans Magazine; the Wine and Spirits Editor and weekly columnist, Happy Hour, for www.MyNewOrleans.com; creator and editor of his own website, www.winetalknola.com; all in addition to his daily hosting duties on the radio program, The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, on the air at WGSO – 990AM, every weekday, 3- 5 p.m, and streamed live on www.wgso.com.


Over the years, Tim has proved to be an informed interviewer, putting his guests at ease, and covering tactile and technical information so that even a novice can understand difficult agricultural and production concepts. Tim speaks with winemakers, wine and spirit ambassadors, distillers, authors, people who stage events and festivals, and takes questions from listeners and readers, all seamlessly blended together in a program that is unique in America.


Tim’s love of wine actually came about many years ago from his then wife-to-be, Brenda Maitland, a noted journalist in her own right, and together they have traveled to the major wine producing areas in the US and Europe, seeking first-hand information about beverages that give us all so much pleasure.


They were instrumental in the founding of the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience, a major national and international well-regarded festival of its type. They both continue to be involved with the planning and staging of this multi-venue, five-day event now over twenty years old.


Tim is also considered one of the foremost professional wine judges in the US, being invited to judge more than 11 wine competitions each year, including the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition (the largest competition of American wines in the world, with more than 6,000 entries), the Riverside, CA International Wine Competition, San Francisco International Wine Competition, Atlantic Seaboard Wine Competition, Indiana International Wine Competition, Sandestin, Florida Wine Festival Competition, the State of Michigan Wine Competition, the U.S. National Wine Competition, and the National Wine Competition of Portugal.


Tim is a guest lecturer to many local wine and dine organizations, and speaks each year to the senior class in the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management at Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama.


Staying abreast of the news of the wine and spirits world is a passion for Tim, and he is committed to sharing what he knows with his listeners and readers. “Doing something I love, with products that I truly enjoy, created by interesting people, coupling the experience with culinary excellence, and doing it all in the greatest city in America,” are the words Tim lives by.


It’s a good gig. 




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