Monday, July 28, 2008

Cocktail of the Week #46: Brandy Alexander

Growing up, I'd only been familiar with the ice cream version of this drink. That, and a now-retired porn star bearing the same name.

I actually prefer this half and half-based version over the ice cream one. But don't drink it on a hot summer day... it'll make you feel a little funny in the tummy (if you know what I mean).


Hits: 35
Misses: 17

Monday, July 21, 2008

Cocktail of the Week #45: Bellini

Champagne drinks can be a fickle thing. If it's good champagne, it seems a waste to adulterate it with orange juice or liqueur.

Cheap champagne, on the other hand, is fertile ground for additives and mixers.

We expected good things of the Billini, and were not disappointed. We recommend enjoying this over a good Sunday brunch.

Hits: 34
Misses: 17

Monday, July 14, 2008

Cocktail of the Week #44: Pimm's Cup

I've already commented on my preferred cocktail, but after manhattans, Pimm's Cup is my favorite drink (third after beer, actually). Pimm's is a seasonal drink - while it's available year round, it tastes best on a hot summer day, especially if the weather is humid. This summer, with all the rain and flooding throughout the Midwest, the weather is more than perfect for Pimm's.

Just not this recipe.

A Pimm's Cup should only contain Pimm's No. 1, lemon-lime soda and a lemon wedge... although there are many variations on what one may use for a garnish. (One friend of ours practically builds a fruit salad into the darn thing.) The flavor should be light, refreshing, and startlingly complex. As one writer whose name escapes me once put it, a Pimm's Cup tastes like an English garden on a fine sunny afternoon.

But I ramble on.

The recipe in this deck calls for adding gin and club soda to Pimm's No. 1 in place of the lemon-lime soda! We found this concept of adding more alcohol to an otherwise perfectly balanced drink distressing, but in the interest of exploration we sallied forth and made the drink per the recipe on the card.

It sucked.

We're rating this one a miss, but we must implore you: buy a bottle of Pimm's No. 1 and follow the recipe on the bottle on a hot - preferably humid - summer's day. You will not be disappointed.

Hits: 33
Misses: 17

Friday, July 11, 2008

Whew! We're finally caught up!

We're all caught up, people.

You won't be subjected to near-daily update with cocktail assessments. Cocktail of the Week will now go back to being a Monday-only feature.

Enjoy, goodnight, and prepare for more infrequent posts.


Cocktail of the Week #43: Mai Tai

The classic South Seas-themed rum cocktail.

We've had this several times already: as a cocktail on our honeymoon in Maui (eh) to several variations of the recipe we have found online and in various drink guides.

Overall, we prefer the "tart" recipes for this drink over their "sweet" variations.

This recipe took our notice, however, because is called for something called "orgeat," which I had the damnedest time finding. Three liquor stores and I only found the stuff... today!

Anyway, we made it, and while it was tasty it was still too sweet for our liking. While we enjoy the venerable mai tai, this particular incarnation did not suit our fancy; and so we declare it a "miss."

But Mrs. Wit and I are in agreement that we should certainly visit it again, one day.

Hits: 33
Misses: 16

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Cocktail of the Week #42: Golden Cadillac

I simply was not expecting to enjoy the Golden Cadillac.

Think about it: cocoa and cream (good enough so far) and... licorice?

But it works! In spite of itself, it works remarkably well! As long as you like licorice.

Hits: 33
Misses: 15

Cocktail of the Week #41: Gin and Tonic

Somebody. Please. Tell me. How can you go wrong with this one?

Vodka and tonic is also in this category (which used to be my exclusive drink in my latter college years).

But I won't count it as two hits...

Hits: 32
Misses: 15

Cocktail of the Week #40: Long Island Iced Tea

I will forever associate this drink with Markie Post when she was in her prime on "Night Court" (and I mean bad Eighties hair and everything).

I've had them in my early twenties and was duly unimpressed. It seemed a needlessly complicated mix of liquors and... it didn't even taste like an iced tea! But it was deceptive in that it did not taste much of alchohol and could pack a punch. This is a another "get lucky" drink probably devised by frat boys desperate to get laid.

It's a miss because it's... well.. IMHO... stupid.

Hits: 31
Misses: 15

Cocktail of the Week #39: Depth Charge

Beer and whiskey! Whiskey and beer! A classic combination!

Growing up this was a standard bar combo known by suburbanites as a "shot and a beer" and native Chicagoans as a "boilermaker." The term "depth charge" for this drink was born out of World War II for reasons that should be obvious.

This drink can be drunk in two ways:
  1. Downing the shot and then quaffing the entire beer as a chaser (the "shot & a beer" but also known as a "boilermaker" because guzzling the beer makes one burp tremendously afterwards).
  2. Dropping the full shot - glass and all - into the beer before drinking it. The shot glass striking the bottom of the beer glass typically causes a great deal of carbonation to release, generating a huge head of foam... hence the names "boilermaker" and "depth charge."
Not surprisingly, Mrs. Wit showed no interest in this drink due to its whiskey content. I just smiled and had two - one for each of us.

Hits: 31
Misses: 14

Cocktail of the Week #38: B and B

I love Benedictine. It's like drinking a delicately herbed pastry, and it gives you a nice buzz to boot.

When combined with brandy, you get nothing but good things.

No need to wax eloquent or give anecdotes, this time. Just make one for yourself and enjoy.

Hits: 30
Misses: 14

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Cocktail of the Week #37: Sloe Gin Fizz

I remember the sloe gin fizz as one of the few alcoholic things my mother would drink. And even then on great rare occasion (my mother does not like the taste of alcohol, nor is she all that fond of the effects it has on people). I also remember it being referred to snidely as a "kiddie drink." It is sweet in character, but to some it taste like cough syrup. That would be because sloe gin is not a flavored gin so much as it is a liqueur made from buckthorn plums.

I bought a bottle of sloe gin, once to make a sloe gin fizz as well as a cocktail called the "shriner." Using the fizz recipe o the bottle, the drink did not taste as good as I remember.  Mrs. Wit veritably gagged on it and claimed it tasted like Nyquil's black sheep cousin.

As for the shriner cocktail? The less said the better. Maybe for snits and giggles I'll make on for Cocktail of the Week once we finish working through the deck (which won't be long now, actually).

Mrs. Wit and I, scarred from our last bought with sloe gin, approached this drink with some trepidation. However, following the recipe on the card we found the drink this time around to be delicious! Mrs. Wit even had seconds!

To our surprise, a hit!

Hits: 29
Misses: 14

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Cocktail of the Week #36: Cape Codder

Mrs. Wit has been drinking cranberry juice cocktail laced with vodka for years, so we already knew this was going to be a hit. So there's nothing much to report here.

Except for a quick anecdote! Mrs. Wit and I were always curious to try straight cranberry juice, just to see what it is like. Well, imagine our surprise when we found it was carried by Trader Joe's! We bought a bottle and anticipated opening it up when we got home.


The stuff was so unbelievably tart we took to diluting it heavily with lemon-lime soda in order to be able to drink the stuff. It was that tart!

A hit nonetheless.

Hits: 28
Misses: 14

Monday, July 7, 2008

"Why Do You Hate God?"

I have not been asked this question, yet, but I am sure sooner or later it will be. I will grant it’s a perfectly natural assumption for True Believers to think that I must not not believe in God, but instead have some personal grievance with Him/Her/It that causes me to deny. I’m sure they must picture the typical atheist to be somewhat like a small child hearing from his or her peers for the first time that Santa Claus does not exist, and the only reaction possible is to clamp the hands over the ears and scream: “No! No! No! It’s not true! I don’t believe you!”

Sorry, folks: it’s just not that simple.

The only answer I, or any other atheist who arrived to the same conclusion I did through reason and careful thinking, can give is: I cannot hate that which does not exist.

I do not hate Santa Clause. Neither do I hate the Easter Bunny. I also harbor no ill will towards leprechauns, unicorns or David Icke’s Illuminati-based shapeshifting reptile overlords. I have no feelings of spite or anger for Zeus or Hercules. I do not plot any retribution towards Quetzalcoatl or the pantheon of Valhalla.

Just so, I do not hate God because the burden of evidence shows, as it does with all the mythical beings and creatures I mention above, such a being is simply not there.

Now, this is not to say I did not hate God at a certain point in my life. I did. Greatly. I had a rather difficult childhood (my wife would say I’m downplaying this a great deal), and while it was not safe for me while young to express my anger - and other feelings - towards those that made growing up such a traumatic experience for me and my sisters, there was one thing I could safely direct my ill feelings towards. Something my Catholic upbringing drummed into my head must exist and was ultimately the cause of all things: God.

But I was not an atheist then, either. Once I came to the realization that there is no Supreme Being, the anger and hatred left me. What it was replaced with was a burning desire to hold those who hurt me and my sisters accountable for their actions (and inactions).

You see, when there is no God, suddenly everyone is responsible for their own actions and the consequences of those actions. It is, frankly, liberating and unsettling all at once. It frees one from fear of divine retribution, but it also makes one realize it’s harder to justify horrible acts against others when there is no Judge Supreme dictating who is deserving of reward or punishment. One can no longer sit back and “just accept” one’s lot in life. One must take control while considering others. Under those circumstances, 9/11 was performed by a bunch of delusional modern-day kamikazes, Fred Phelps is an emotionally stunted old man screaming for attention like a tantrum-throwing toddler, and Barack Obama’s sudden promise to dump more money into faith-based programs is just an obvious ploy to get votes. (Don’t believe me on that one? Then watch this video of a speech he gave some years back… he’s maturing into a true politician, which is sad.)

So to any Christian reading this who is still wondering why I hate God, I’ll throw the same concept back at you: why do you hate Allah?

Yeah. Thought so.

Cocktail of the Week #35: Dry Martini

Hands down, this is my wife’s favorite cocktail. She’s particularly fond of stuffing blue cheese into the olives used to garnish this drink. It’s also a drink with more variations to it than any other - especially if you want to include “martinis” considered martinis only because they are served in the ubiquitous glass. I’m talking about the variations like the “lemon drop” the “chocolate martini” and even Mrs. Wit’s beloved “cosmopolitan.”

A simple recipe: some gin, some dry vermouth, and a garnish - typically an olive, but a twist of lemon is preferred by some (or the “Oliver Twist” incorporating both). There is also my favorite recipe for this drink in terms of humor value: the World’s Driest Martini.
  1. Add 1 & 2/3 oz. dry gin to shaker/glass.
  2. Pick up the bottle of dry vermouth.
  3. Put the bottle back down.
  4. Shake or stir with ice, pour into glass and garnish.
  5. Enjoy!

The truth is, I’ve always had a tempestuous relationships with martinis. A lot of it, I always suspected, had to do with the use of olives. I’m not overly fond of the fruit. I love cooking with the olive oil. I even enjoy drizzling it on bread at Italian, Greek or Middle Eastern restaurants. But the fruit itself? Ugh! I know, call me strange… I’ve tried using a twist of lemon, instead, but I did not find it improved things all that much for me.

Then we drew this card from the deck. It mentions adding a pickled onion as garnish in place of the olive makes this drink a “gibson” instead of a martini. Mrs. Wit tried the martini, I tried the gibson.


Much to my surprise, I loved it! The vinegar from the onion did something almost alchemical in nature to the gin and vermouth, for me. I even had another, that night, right after the first - not something I often do on our “Cocktail of the Week” night!

We’re counting this as two drinks, because the olive versus the onion in this classic mix make all the difference in the world in terms of overall flavor and character. These are truly two different drinks.

Two hits!

Hits: 27
Misses: 14

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Cocktail of the Week #34: Sea Breeze

I did not look forward to drinking the Sea Breeze because of a stupid association I have with its name.

“Sea Breeze” is also the name of this nasty, high-alcohol astringent my mother insisted I use during the Eighties to combat the Heartbreak of Teenage Acne. While it certainly seemed to help in the pimple department, it also made my face feel tighter than Joan Rivers’ facelift. It also made me smell like I had been caught in an explosion in a Lysol factory for about half an hour after applying it. I guess the only side benefit was its tendency to clear out my sinuses better than a pea-sized nodule of wasabi paste. But as side benefits go, it was kind of like someone saying chemotherapy really helped with their weight-loss issues.

So you can understand, Dear Readers, why I approached this particular cocktail with apprehension. I was imagining it would taste the way the cleanser smelled (with light citrus overtones, that is).

I’m glad to write that I enjoyed it. In fact, I enjoyed it a great deal. This is a rocking hot summer drink!

Enjoy! And stick to alcohol-free face cleansers, if you can help it.

I wonder if any cocktails and exfoliants share a name in common…

Hits: 25
Misses: 14

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Cocktail of the Week #33: Tom Collins

I was looking forward to this one. It’s another venerable cocktail of the lounge era, like the Harvey Wallbanger and the Singapore Sling. The results unfortunately were… disappointing.

Don’t get me wrong! It’s a decent enough cocktail in its own right, but it seemed to be missing something. The gin was not jibbing with the lemon juice and powdered sugar. The drink tasted familiar, but somehow lacking.

The answer was easy to find: the only difference between a Tom Collins and that tiki bar favorite of ours, the Singapore Sling, is (drumroll please) cherry brandy! That’s right; a little cherry brandy is all that is needed to elevate a Tom Collins from a rather pedestrian drink to one of yummy goodness. Unfortunately, it stops being a Tom Collins at that point.

C’est l’vie.

We’re charting this one as a miss, boys and girls. I may have to chuck this one up to the luck of the draw. I feel if we had drawn this drink before the Singapore Sling, we would have rated it a hit. Mrs. Wit, on the other hand, feels a venerable gin & tonic would have been a much better use of the liquor involved.

Hits: 24
Misses: 14

Friday, July 4, 2008

Independence Day: No Kings = No God in Government

Two hundred and thirty-two years ago, today, we declared ourselves independent of the British Empire. We further declared we, as a people, had no need for aristocracy and that we would govern ourselves.

Eleven years later, in Philadelphia, we recomposed our government in the form of the Constitution. This amazing document unified the states under a strong federal government and made two amazing laws (of many, many amazing laws):
  1. The First Amendment
  2. The "No Religious Test" Clause
It is no coincidence that we cut both church and king out of any involvement in our government. We cannot depose one without deposing the other.

And how is that?

The European model for governance (for several centuries) worked like this: the church of the nation (typically Catholic) would declare God's support for the king, granting him divine right over his subjects; in turn, the king would see to it a healthy chunk of change from his tax base would divert to the church's coffers.

A nice, symbiotic relationship, eh?

If you don't believe me, consider this: when Henry VIII of England didn't get his way when he wanted to divorce and remarry, he did not just cut ties with Rome... he established his own church. He needed divine legitimacy to keep his seat of power, otherwise, the Vatican would have started pressing other nations to replace him with someone more suitable (for their own pockets, that is). Kings need divine backing for their subjects to buy into their right to govern. Churches need Kings (or some other form of political figurehead) to keep the money flowing in... because sometimes passing the plate just isn't enough to "pay the bills."

And just look at what is happening today. We have a "man of God" in the White House, and he's making sure our tax money is funneled to religious organizations. And men like Dobson of Focus on the Family are given legitimacy by men like President Bush... and in turn, men like Dobson are treated like they have a right to be political pundits, picking and choosing who is more "suitable" to administrate the United State of America.

And next thing you know, too many people are claiming there is no such thing as "separation of church and state," despite the fact it is written as the first item on the Bill of Rights!

Everyone: if you love your country (as I do), read the Constitution. Read the Federalist Papers. Read the letter Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptists. Keeping religion out of government is more than about taxes and affiliations: it's about keeping dictatorship at bay.

As long as all human beings in this nation may believe (or not, in many cases) as they wish, then no one may persecute them for disagreeing. The atheist and the theist can co-exist, as long as each group is managed by a completely secular government; one devoid of interest in showing preferential treatment for one group over another.

And is that not the greatest thing of all?

Keep America's system of government great.

Keep it secular.

Cocktail of the Week #32: Irish Coffee

My wife hates whiskey. Or at least, she thought she did.

To her, all whiskeys seemed to taste of glue. Some faintly, others overpoweringly. And being the kind of husband I am, I regularly begged her to try different whiskeys, thinking sooner or later we would find one she likes.

We did: Irish whiskey. I little research lead me to discover the reason why... no corn. Whiskeys made with corn (that would be almost every American and Canadian variety) or aged in barrels previously used to age corn based whiskeys (a surprising number of scotches, believe it or not) would make my darling Mrs. Wit wrinkle her nose in disgust. But Irish whiskey, which is fairly wheat-and-barley only, is something she finds fairly pleasant. Once we discovered this fact, the tasting of the Irish Coffee for Cocktail of the Week changed for her from something to dread to something to anticipate.

This is a delightful winter night's drink. Or after a good meal, late at night, when you have dinner guests who plan on sleeping in the guest room, anyway.

Hits: 24
Misses: 13

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Cocktail of the Week #31: Kir Royale

One of Mrs. Wit's favorite liqueurs is Chambord, a french raspberry concoction that performs absolute magic on medium and lower quality champagnes. A splash of the stuff in some Cook's absolutely transforms it into a treat beyond reckoning.

When we drew this one from the deck, we were pretty sure what to expect. But we were not prepared for having a difficult time finding creme de cassis: we tried searching for it at no less than three good liquor stores, with no success.

It turns out it's fairly easy to find supermarkets. Go figure.

Chambord is better, but creme de cassis is definitely cheaper.

Hits: 23
Misses: 13

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Cocktail of the Week #30: Grasshopper

I have had this drink before, but only in its ice cream variation. It's quite delicious, and whenever I drink it, I feel a slight twinge of guilt.

Let's step into the WABAC machine to 2001 or thereabouts. One of my dearest friends was moving away to the West Coast, and I joined her and her wife for a farewell dinner at an Italian steakhouse. As we were entering, we all spied a bartender miserably working a blender to make a grasshopper. The blender was not cooperating, and she (the bartender) was clearly looking forward to being done with the task.

By the end of the evening, we were all feeling more than a little tipsy on Chianti and a wee bit mischievous.

Of the six of us present... five ordered grasshoppers. It was delicious, but I felt terrible for doing that to the bartender as I made the long drive home.

Despite the guilt, it's still a hit, even in this non-ice cream form.

Hits: 22
Misses: 13

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Cocktail of the Week #29: Harvey Wallbanger

Wallbanger? I hardly even know her!

Sorry. I could not pass up making that joke.

If you like a screwdriver with a hint of licorice (thanks to the Galliano), go for it.

If you find licorice an unpleasant flavor, don't bother.

We, however, loved it.

Hits: 21
Misses: 13