Cocktail of the Month November 6, 2013

November 6, 2013

I can hear the faint rumble of the ocean over the chill sounds of a mellow reggae beat. The cool sea breeze laps at my hair as my partner and lounge in an oversize bean bag chairs with a candle lit between us. Brightly colored paper lanterns glimmer in the dark as they hang from the large ketepeng tree. In the night, I watch the glow of the moonlight as it catches the waves that slash on shore. I can smell the salt in the air and the feel sand between my toes, as I sip on a cool cocktail.

Welcome to the JAJ beach bar on located on the Double Six beach in Legian on the tranquil isle of Bali, Indonesia.
What feels like a dreamy paradise, is actually quite a simple concept. JAJ, which is short for ?Jing a Jing? is not much more than a crew of three or four with a makeshift bar under the trees.

The beaches of South Bali are lined with these so-called beach bars. While not bars in the standard sense, these gathering spots usually consists of a cooler or two, filled with soft drinks and beers, beach chairs, umbrellas and some Indonesians hosts, happy to entertain you with jokes, guitar melodies and magic tricks, while you soak up the sun and surf. Each little place is like a mini ?Cheers? where everyone knows your name.

But JAJ has managed to take the concept a little further. They have cashed in on in on the natural beauty of Bali, postcard-worthy sunset every night and the magical sea – to create a serene and blissful atmosphere. Lounge chairs, romantic lighting, a high quality sound system and a small menu of beachy cocktails add to the island vibe. The bar opens at 4 p.m., about two and half hours before sunset and stays open until about 1 am.

The main man behind the bar is Irvan Blueocean who says he has been working on the beach for more than half his life. Irvan has been a fixture here since 2000 playing guitar, renting beach chairs, giving surf lessons and mixing drinks. Whether you just want a simple tumbler of Johnny Walker, a classic mojito or a tropical creation, he will mix it up for you with a smile. Irvan and the others who man the bar call themselves ?the crew of happiness.?

The name of the bar itself is an acronym for happy. ?Jing a jing? which is a Balinese translation of the Indonesians phrase ?sik a sik ? is derived from the word, Asik, which means to enjoy yourself.

Most of the drinks on the cocktail menu are fairly simple, but what makes them special is Irvan?s special mixer that he calls ?jungle juice.? A secret blend of fresh tropical fruits including pineapple and sweet orange. It?s bright and crisp flavor make a refreshing tipple that mixes in harmony with the sunny setting.

For me, my favorite tipple to enjoy here is a freshly-forged mojito, sans sugar. For this Irvan will grab a handful of green mint leaves from a basket and muddle them together with limes. Topped off with rum and club soda, this brisk and chilly cocktail is perfect for someone that doesn?t like sugary drinks. But if you prefer your elixirs on the sweet side, that?s no problem either, Irvan will customize it to your taste.

A popular choice is the bar?s namesake cocktail, the Jing a Jing Sunset. It is a fruity concoction of Absolute vodka, ?jungle Juice,? lemon and grenadine. The combination provides a refreshing burst of flavor, reminiscent of the original tiki drinks that were made by hand, before pre-made mixes became the norm. The red grenadine, combines with bright yellow juice to form a drink with the brilliant hue of an island sundown. Ask for this drink with rum instead of vodka and the result is a cocktail similar to a Mai Tai.

As the drinks and conversation flow, the Irvan dispenses tidbits of joyful advice, like ?Make the world green,? ?Love your life? and ?It?s all good,? as he jokes with the happy bunch of fellows that gather here. Whether you chose to indulge or not, it?s hard not to leave JAJ in a better mood than you came with.

2 jiggers vodka (1.5 oz each)
1 oz fresh squeezed lime juice
4 oz fresh fruit juice
1 teaspoon grenadine
Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into glass full of ice. Enjoy (Jing a Jing!)


October 10, 2013

In Korea, drinking is a social art. It is enjoyed in groups, at business dinners, family celebrations and nightclubs. When people get together they often will join in for a bottle (or two or three or seven) of soju.

Soju, a rice liquor made in Korea, is the most popular spirit in the land. It is uniquely identifiable with Korea.The clear liquid has a smooth, crisp and somewhat bitter flavor. While most soju ranges in the 20-25% alcohol content, it’s potency can vary from 10% up to 45%.

While I spent most of my time in Korea, unwinding in a Buddhist monastery in the tranquil Songnisan Mountain National Park, I set aside three nights to explore the bustling fashionable metropolis of Seoul.

Curious about soju, I ask Joon-Tae Kim, my amiable host at my guesthouse in the trendy Hongdae neighborhood, for some recommendations on the best place to try Soju. Knowing that I had arrived solo, his first question was “Where are your Korean friends? ” Unbeknownst to me soju is a social tipple. He told me it would be so sad for me to drink it on my own.

Since I didn’t have a Korean posse in place, I asked Joon-tae to give me a soju tutorial. The first thing I learned is that whenever people are gathered together, usually they are joined by soju.

Drinking soju is a way of social bonding in Korea. “If I drink with you, you are my friend,” Joon-tae tells me. “When going out soju is main ingredient for a good time,”

But soju is not just for social calls, it is also an important part of a business encounters. Whether you are meeting with a client, negotiating a deal or connecting with your colleagues after work, soju is usually included. “It’s good for business relationships,” Joon-tae tells me. “It makes for a more dynamic atmosphere.”

So what to do if you don’t like soju and you’re out with your boss? Drink it, because according to Joon-tae, drinking itis a symbol of politeness.

Korea has some strict rules for drinking soju, he informs me. Some are related to their culture of respecting their elders. Generally the younger person serves the older person.

If you are receiving a glass of soju, you hold your glass with two hands, with your left palm on the bottom and your right hand around the glass. If you are pouring a glass for others, always use two hands.

It is considered rude to drink in front of your elders. You must turn to the side, so that only your profile is seen, and cover your mouth and glass with hands.

After all this formality one would think that you might sip your tipple gracefully like a fussily preparedcup of tea. This is not the case; you are expected to down the glass in one shot. And then most likely the glass will be quickly refilled. An empty glass is considered bad thing. But you never pour your own glass and you never fill a glass unless it is completely empty.

With the younger generation of Koreans, many of these rules are relaxed. Soju is often served mixed because its bitter taste is not as palatable to the youthful crowd. A popular cocktail is a slushy blend of soju with fresh fruit such as strawberry, lemon or kiwi.

My first stop on my soju adventure is Hosi Tam Tam a barwith a bohemian French theme, where I order a bottle of Jinro, the most popular brand in Korea. We drink it straight up. The liquor is potent, but not as strong as a shot of hard liquor. It is bitter and dry. I am glad to have a palate cleanser of crackers nearby.

Next it’s off to Soju Has, achic nightspot. Plush red velvet couches fill this hip lounge. We sample soju mixed in a blender with papaya. Our pitcher looks like a juicy daiquiri from the tropics. The fresh fruit masks the bitterness of the soju, but a hint of its flavor shines through giving the drink a good balance. Plus there is little sugar added which allows it to avoid tasting like a cloying sweet cocktail one would find at an Ocean City beach bar.

As the pitcher winds down, so do I, as I have an early flight to Tokyo. I won’t be experiencing a marathon round of soju drinking, that Joon-tae tells me is fairly typical. But before I turn in for the night at the guesthouse, I say farewellto my newly-minted sojufriend. [gallery ids="101492,151735,151738" nav="thumbs"]

Cocktail of the Month: El Capo

September 25, 2013

The Negroni is my go-to cocktail. As a person who abhors overly sweet drinks, the Negroni (a mixture of Campari, gin and red vermouth) is the polar opposite of a sugary tipple like a pina colada. I just love its herbaceous bitter, tangy taste. Campari, an Italian bitter aperitif , an infusion of herbs, aromatic plants and fruit in alcohol and water. It is characterized by its dark red color.

While those with a sweet tooth sometimes complain about the medicinal taste of the bitters, there’s something about the way the sharp orange of the Campari, melds with the botanicals of the gin with the vermouth bringing the two together in sweet harmony.

A classic cocktail, dating back to the early 1900s in Italy, variations of this cocktail abound. In Peru, I have tasted the zamboni a takeoff with pisco substituted for the gin. The spicy edge of the pisco made this satisfying variation. At New York’s Saxon & Parole I tried the Champagne Negroni, which was the traditional recipe topped with champagne. It gave the drink a lighter texture and bubbly edge similar to the standard Campari and soda. And just to be cute, it was served in old-fashioned soda bottles.

During my last visit to Bandolero, Georgetown’s temple to Mexican spirits, I was intrigued by the El-Capo, a Negroni-style drink on their menu. In their South-of-the-border rendition, mezcal was substituted for the gin in the timeless recipe.

I had to ponder a moment. the idea of tequila in a Negroni, did not sound appealing at all to me, I imagined that the piquant flavor the agave would clash with the powerful Campari. Then I gave some deep thought of the possibility of mescal, a spirit I learned to love after spending a month the Mexican states of Chiapas and Oaxaca last year.

While both are Mexican spirits distilled from the agave plant, mezcal differs because the agave is roasted in an oven before the distillation process. The cooking of the agave, must like the process of making Scotch, departs a complex smoky flavor to the spirit. This could be interesting, I thought.

Bartender Matt McHale, a mescal enthusiast, described the El Capo as one of his two favorites cocktail at the bar. (The first being the award-winning Jesus Malverde, another tipple made from mezcal) He described the El Capo, which translates from Spanish into the captain, as a “Smoky Negroni.”

McHale was eager to satisfy my curiosity. I watched as he carefully crafted the drink, and stirring it, the way a proper Negroni should be made. The results did not disappoint, the smoky edge of the mescal stood out strong but was tempered buy the herbal bouquet of the Campari. The mixture exulted in an earthy, woody taste. A dash of Laphroaig Scotch gives this drink an extra punch of smokiness.

While Campari can be overpowering in many drinks, the El Capo is a very balanced cocktail. “The Campari is there,” says McHale, “But it’s not the whole drink.”

While Bandolero has quite an extensive list of tequilas and mezcals, McHale adds that it is great place to get a well-crafted cocktail, with any spirit. “We have a little something for everyone,” he says. So whether you decide to sail with “the captain,” or imbibe on the original Negroni, both are superb options at Bandalero.

El Capo

1.5 ounces
.5 Campari1 oz Carpano Antica
Splash of Laphroaig Scotch
Pour ingredients into a glass or shaker, stir, serve in an old fashioned glass.

Cocktail Of The Week

August 15, 2013

Folk heroes exist in every culture. Their fame, or sometimes notoriety, varies.In the United States some of our mythical figures like Davey Crocket or Daniel Boone are lauded for their pioneering character. Others like Billy the Kid or Calamity Jane capture the outlaw spirit of the Wild West. In Mexico one the most infamousfigures is Jesus Malverde.

Malverde, a bandit from the northernMexican state of Sinaloa, is often compared with the British legend of Robin Hood. Known as “the Angel of the Poor,” or “The Generous Bandit” Malverde was known to steal from the rich and give to poor, making him popular among the region’s underprivileged highland residents. Due to his renegade reputation, Malverde has also been adopted as the patron saint of drug traffickers and is often dubbed the “nacre-saint.”

While Malverde is not recognized by the Catholic Church, Mexicans pray to him for help or healing. Busts, necklaces and scapulars featuring Malverde’s thick bushy mustache and trademark white shirt and black tie are seen throughout the country. In shrines in Culiacan and Mexico City, Malverde’s followers line up to give homage.

Washingtonians looking to pay their respects to Malverde have the unique opportunity to toast him with his own self-named tipple. At Bandolero, M Street’s latest hot spot, one of the best cocktails on the menu, and perhaps one of the best agave-based drinks in DC, shares it moniker with the celebrated Mexican outlaw.

The Jesus Malverde, created Bar Manager Sam Babcock., is an astonishingly refreshing mixture of mescal, lime, cilantro, agave nectar, cucumber and Pork Barrel Hellfire Bitters.

In a case of which came first, like the chicken and egg, Sam confirms that this delightful drink was born before its name came about. He was researching Mexican gangsters when his interest was piqued by the story of Malverde. And since he had already created a badasscocktail with a cool green hue, he realized that his new drinkliterally fit the Spanish translation of the surname Mal (bad) Verde (green).

Imbibing in Babcock’sluscious concoction is a multi-layered experience for your taste buds. “The smokiness from the mescal and the spice from cilantro and the bitters really play nicely with the fresh cucumber and agave, “ Sam says, “ it starts off nice and fresh and clean tasting with a little bit of sweetness and finishes with a nice little punch from the smokiness of the mescal and the heat of the bitters.”

For me sampling this cocktail is like taking off on airplane, the flavor starts rolling down the runway with the first breezy sip and then really takes off with a bracing smack from the liquor and bitters. The peppery Pork Barrel Hellfire Bitters are produced locally by DC mixologist Owen Thompson, of America Eats Tavern.

While Bandoleer’s cocktail list concentrates heavily on tequila and mescal-based drinks, Babcock would like to stress that Bandolero is an excellent spot for craft cocktails of all spirits
“It’s not just a tequila bar where you go to get shots, he says . “We do lot of craft cocktails with tequila and mescal, but I want people to know that they can come in here and my bar staff will be able to make any cocktail regardless of what spirit it is.” In fact, Sam recently updated the drink menu to include a wider variety of classic cocktails. He has also added a few new gin, rye and pisco drinks, just to switch things up a bit.

So the next time you seeking a little irreverence with your cocktail, make a toast to a Mexican desperado at Bandolero.

Jesus Malverde

1.75 oz mescal
1.25 oz. cucumber juice
.5 oz fresh limejuice
.5 oz agave nectar
2. sprigs of cilantro
4 dashes Hellfire Pork Bitters

Mix ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Double strain, pour into glass and garnish with the sprig of cilantro.
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Cocktail of the Week

The Suffering Bastard is a curious name for a drink that I’ve seen on numerous menus in Tiki bars and Chinese restaurants. Aside from the humorous moniker, I never really gave this drink much thought. But like many popular cocktails, there’s a story behind this concoction, which belongs to a man named Joe Scialom, who was perhaps one of the world’s most famous bartenders.

The Museum of the American Cocktail and Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, the author of five books on vintage Tiki drinks and cuisine, recently hosted a lecture, “The Suffering Bastard: Joe Scialom, International Barman of Mystery,” at the Occidental Grill.

Berry’s research began after reading Scialom’s obituary in the New York Times, in 2004. He tracked down Scialom’s daughter Collette and recorded his fascinating story.

Scialom, who was educated as a pharmacist, was born in Egypt in 1910. While working as a chemist for Lever Brothers in the Sudan, he began applying chemistry principals to mixing drinks to entertain his colleagues. Here he found his calling and set out to become a bartender. His career began at the opulent Shepheard’s Hotel in Cairo, which was one of the most celebrated hotels in the world. Shepheard’s welcomed royalty, heads of state, and famous celebrities. Scialom, who spoke eight languages, dazzled the elite guests from near and far. He counted Winston Churchill, Charlton Heston, Charles de Gaulle, Conrad Hilton, and Egyptian King Farouk among his many guests.

During World War II, the hotel served as an unofficial officer’s club for the British and became an informal press club for war correspondents. When there was little news from the war, the media
wrote about Scialom’s amusing antics.

Due to wartime supply shortages, drinks were being mixed with poor quality alcohol, and guests began complaining of headaches. In response, Scialom created the “Suffering Bastard” as a hangover cure. According to Berry, the original recipe for the Suffering Bastard consisted of “Black market gin from South Africa, stolen British army-issue brandy, a homemade lime cordial, bitters brewed by a druggist across the street, and ginger ale from a Greek merchant of dubious character.”

The hotel bar, which was now referred to as “Joe’s Bar,” even featured a chart prescribing the number of Suffering Bastards needed to relieve a hangover based on its severity.

Another amusing anecdote that Berry shared involved Scialom making gallons of the Suffering
Bastard for a hungover British army that fought the battle at El Alamein. When the British won, the ever-present foreign correspondents reported Scialom’s hand in the victory.

Following these reports, the Suffering Bastard became internationally known. Trader Vic’s was the first to copy it. Then it began showing up at Tiki bars everywhere, even though the recipe was nowhere near Scialom’s original. According to Berry, Trader Vic’s version was very similar to a Mai Tai. Scialom was the consummate host at Shepheard’s.

When the hotel was destroyed, during the course of the civil unrest of the Egyptian revolution of 1952, Scialom continued to serve drinks and was one of the last to leave.

But Scialom’s popularity did not go unnoticed by the Egyptian authorities. They were suspicious
because he mingled consistently with so many important people. He was imprisoned as a spy and then later expelled from Egypt by President Gamal Abdel Nasser. While Scialom’s illustrious
bartending career continued in Puerto Rico, Havana, and New York, it was his time at Sheapherd’s Hotel that cemented his place in cocktail history.

The Suffering Baststard
Courtesy of Jeff “Beachbum” Berry
1 ounce gin
1 ounce brandy
1/2 ounce Rose’s lime juice cordial
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Ginger beer

Add gin, brandy, Rose’s, and bitters to an ice-filled glass. Fill with ginger beer. Stir. Garnish with orange slice and mint sprig.

Ingredients to make the Suffering Bastard may be purchased at Dixie Liquor in Georgetown. Scialom’s story will be published in Berry’s upcoming book, “Potions of the Caribbean: Lost Cocktails from America’s Playground”. For information visit or [gallery ids="99208,99209" nav="thumbs"]

Cocktail of the MonthAugust 7, 2013

August 8, 2013

**VINCENT: Did you just order a five-dollar shake?
MIA: Sure did.
VINCENT: A shake? Milk and ice cream?
MIA: Uh-huh.
VINCENT: It costs five dollars?
MIA: Yep.
VINCENT: You don?t put bourbon in it or anything?
VINCENT: Just checking.**

Movie aficionados will recognize this conversation from Quentin Tarantino?s 1994 cult favorite ?Pulp Fiction.? Hit man Vincent Vega, played by John Travolta, is taking out his boss?s wife, Mia Wallace, played by Uma Thurman, for a night on the town while the big man is away. Vincent is questioning the high price of Mia?s choice of beverage. While he does later recant after sampling it, ?I don?t know if that shake?s worth five dollars but it?s pretty damn good.?

Well, if Vincent would have lived through the movie, he would have been able to indulge in an adult milkshake that bears his name at the Satellite Room bar near the 9:30 Club in D.C. The ?Vincent Vega? is a creamy vanilla shake, spiked with Bulleit bourbon. Although Vincent may have gone into sticker shock at the $10 price tag. Yes, prices have risen since 1994. But just like the movie, the same shake can be ordered without alcohol for only $5.

Adult milkshakes have been one of the hottest trends in D.C. in recent years, a perfect have-my-dessert- and-cocktail- too treat, for the area?s scorching summers. These concoctions are basically your cherished childhood treat boozed up with liquors ranging from rum to Kahlua to cr?me de menthe.

[Ted?s Bulletin]( on Capital Hill started the trend. Their Baileys caramel macchiato will make you wish that Starbucks could add a lethal shot to their frappuccinos while their white Russian shake, would probably earn the approval of ?the Dude.? If fruit is more your style, Ted?s offers the buzzed berry forged from raspberry schnapps and rum.

In Adams Morgan, the weekend gathering hub, the [Diner]( has four adult milkshakes on its menu. The apple bottom is creative mixture of Sailor Jerry?s rum, vanilla ice cream whipped together with apple pie. The peppermint shake combines, cr?me de menthe, with ice cream and crushed candy canes. But perhaps the most interesting concoction merges the adult shake trend with the ?bacon in everything? craze. The bacon bourbon float takes and old-fashioned brown cow (or root beer float) spikes it with Jim Beam and tops it off with fluffy head of whipped cream covered in freshly made bacon bits.

I recently indulged on the Diner?s bacon bourbon float for a late-afternoon pick-me-up. The D.C. heat index was 105 degrees. I had spent two painful hours at the dentist, and I was looking for something satisfying, cooling and numbing at the same time.
Like so many other bacon foods, it may sound strange, but the hearty salty smoky bacon, merges well with the spice of the root beer, with the bourbon lending a sweet, oaky and powerful bite. My companion Dan Breen, a Baltimore-based artist and music promoter, gave it a thumbs up as well.

[The Satellite Room]( has the longest list in town, with ten celebrity-named ice cream elixirs. In additional the Vincent Vega, customers can say ?cheers? with the Norm Peterson shake, made with Murphy?s Irish stout or an ?Absolutely Fabulous? Patsy Stone made from pineapple, coconut, orange and nutmeg with Captain Morgan spiced rum.

If you are looking to give your childhood treat an R-rated makeover many of these ice cream cocktails can be easily made at home with a blender, a pint of Haagen-Dazs and your favorite spirit. Get creative, or use a popular cocktail as a guideline. For example, for a pi?a colada mix together rum, pineapple juice and coconut ice cream.

**If you would like to replicate the Diner?s sinful treat, here is a simple formula:**

Add two ounces of bourbon to a parfait or pint glass. Add one large scoop of vanilla ice cream slightly softened. Fill the glass with your favorite root beer. Cover with a generous dollop of whipped cream. Sprinkle generously with bacon pieces. ?

Cocktail of the Month: Mezcal Part II, Creamy Cocktails

May 9, 2013

Cream liqueurs have been popular for decades. The most well known is Irish Cream, a mixture of Irish whiskey, cream, sugar and other herbs and flavors. Bailey’s, introduced in 1974 was the first on the market. It was followed by, among others, Carolans, Brady’s and Saint Brendan’s.

Many people are fond of Amarula, with its eye-catching exotic elephant label. Amarula uses a distillate of fermented South African marula fruit, cream, black tea and spices. In the Caribbean rum creams are the rage. Jamaica likes to brag about Sangster’s original Jamaica rum cream liqueur while St. Croix produces Cruzan Rum Cream.

During my recent travels through the mezcal-crazy Mexican state of Oaxaca, I was not too surprised when I encountered a wide variety of mezcal-based cream liqueurs. You may remember from last month’s column that mezcal is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from the maguey plant, a type of agave, similar to tequila.
As I was hitching from Mazunte Beach, along the Oaxacan Riviera, to the nearest commercial town, San Augustine, I noticed the collective transport truck passed a mezcal distillery. When my local bodega in town ran out of mezcal, I decided to take a ride back to the tienda and investigate.

During a scenic ride along the coast in the back of the truck, my thirst was raging from the hot afternoon sun. As I spied the spray-painted plywood sign outside the shop, I yelled for the driver to drop me off. As I walked toward the small shack, I didn’t see anyone on the premises, except for a friendly dog.

I ventured further down the gravely path towards a table lined with bottles of various colors and flavors. My next reaction was one of disbelief. Not only was there a plethora of bottles on display, there was also a sign offering, “Pruebas Gratis” (free samples) while the owner was sound asleep in a hammock.

My first thought was, “Am I in heaven?” I briefly considered loading up my backpack and catch the next truck out of Dodge, but considering how bad that could be for international relations, I timidly helped myself to a sample glass from an open bottle and woke the man who was clearly enjoying his afternoon siesta.

The owner sleepily wandered over to the table and began to give me a half-awake lecture on the different flavors of mescal creams in his collection I started off with a coffee flavor, which tasted like a white Russian with a smoky kick. The next was a minty green-colored pistachio which did not translate well. The powerful mezcal overwhelmed the delicate pistachio. My next selection, banana, went down with a sweet easy slide, like a frozen daiquiri at a swim-up bar.

The samples kept coming. There were two coffee varieties – mocha and cappuccino. While very rich, they were also heavy on the sweet side. Coconut cream, with its nutty creamy texture, made me long for some pineapple juice. As though he could read my mind, the proprietor immediately poured me a sample of a pina colada that was decadent but strong.

A brightly colored purple mixture followed. Cloyingly sweet, grape, cream and mezcal is not a flavor combination that I wanted to continue imbibing. The lines of bottles on the table seemed to be expanding. So, I knew I was going to have to cut my tasting flight short, before I forgot my way back home. I capped off the afternoon, with a taste of Oaxaca kiss, a pink tropical fruit punch flavor, reminiscent of a TGIF’s blender drink.

I thanked the owner, who had spent the last half hour entertaining me as he wrapped my purchases — a bottle of coconut cream to be enjoyed from my hammock at my beachfront cabana, mocha as a gift for my Peruvian shaman who loves his coffee with lots of sugar and a bottle of aged mezcal for nighttime fiesta on the beach.

While mescal is often noted for its high alcohol content, mescal creams are generally low-proof, averaging between 12 and 18 percent alcohol. Their strikingly pleasing flavor make them a perfect after-dinner treat. Some folks like to enjoy them over ice cream for dessert. Mezcal creams are not widely sold in the USA, but they can be purchased online. Relíquias de Oaxaca, ( has a huge selection that includes, maracuya and guanabana (tropical Latin American fruits) pina colada and coffee varieties. [gallery ids="101285,149564" nav="thumbs"]

Cocktail of the Week, Pisco

November 6, 2012

Superfluous holidays such as Sweetest Day, National Grandparents Day and Boss’s Day are often referred to as “Hallmark Holidays,” because many believe they exist primarily for commercial reasons such as increasing the sales of greeting cards and not to truly appreciate significant people. There are other celebrations that seem downright silly, such as International Pancake Day (Feb. 21), National High Five Day (April 19) and Talk Like A Pirate Day (Sept. 19).

In the country of Peru, there is one holiday that may appear excessive at first, but is truly a celebration of national pride. This is National Pisco Day, which is celebrated on the fourth Sunday in July.

Pisco, which is considered a symbol of Peruvian nationality, is a type of grape brandy or Aguardiente, distilled from Muscat grapes. Pisco is produced and exported from both Peru and Chile, and both countries claim to be the original producers. It has become a fierce source of contention between the two nations. According to, the Spanish conquistadores brought grape vines to South America in order to make wine for their own consumption and export. Distilling Pisco was an easy way to use leftover grapes that were undesirable for wine making.

The patriotic spirit surrounding National Pisco Day is amplified because the holiday falls very close to Peruvian Independence Day, celebrated on July 28, often with a toast of pisco.

I was fortunate enough to be in Cusco, Peru, to take part in the festivities for both holidays. To kick off the merriment, I was given a shot of Pisco from Lizardo Valderrama Gilt, my host in whose home I was staying. The shot had a strong and powerful grape nose to it, but it went down surprisingly smooth. Its dominate flavor was grape with notes of earthiness, spice and tart fruit with a clean and bracing finish.

To further explore this spirit, I met up with my newly minted friends, Suzanne Harle and Sabrina for a few rounds of cocktailing. We started off with the most popular Pisco tipple, the Pisco Sour, a mixture of Pisco, lemon, bitters, a sweetener and an egg white. We headed to the Crown, a second-story restaurant with a gorgeous view of the Plaza Des Armas for their two-for-one happy hour. The egg white gives this cocktail a smooth, full body while tart lemon citrus flavor is a nice compliment to the woody pisco. So good that it is hard to detect the amount of alcohol in the drink. That may explain why we left the bar wearing balloon hats.
Our second stop was the upscale Limo, one the most highly-regarded restaurants in Cusco, which boasts a three-page menu of creative pisco cocktails. Just watching the scene behind the bar proved to be entertaining, with men squeezing, pureeing, muddling, and juicing fresh ingredients.

We sampled three concoctions, one forged from eucalyptus, another from lemongrass and one made with tumba fruit. The tumba is a relative of the maracuya fruit, which is commonly eaten in Peru. The eucalyptus had a cool soothing effect, while the lemongrass mixture was refreshing and uplifting. The tumba had an exotic tropical flavor similar to passion fruit but with a little more punch.

The evening continued with more flavorful cocktails, including a fresh strawberry concoction, one blended with Peru’s potent coco leaves and a South American version of the classic Negroni with pisco substituted for the gin. The evening was capped off with a night of salsa dancing to burn off all the excess alcohol.

If you cannot make it to Peru and would like to try pisco in Washington, I recommend whipping up a few Pisco sours at home. Most liquor store will carry at least one brand of Peruvian Pisco, such as Porton, or Macchu Pisco. This classic tipple is a great way to try this interesting and versatile liquor. If you would like to try something more exotic, Las Canteras in Adams Morgan has a full menu of delicious pisco cocktails.

The Pisco Sour

Place 4 cups ice cubes
1 cup pisco
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup white sugar
1 egg white
A dash of angostura bitters

Blend on high speed until finely pureed. Pour into two glasses and garnish with an additional dash of bitters.

Cocktail Of The WeekSeptember 19, 2012

September 20, 2012

Travelers have flocked to Latin America for years as a means of escape. As you head south of the border, the climate heats up, the beaches become more tropical and the party starts a little earlier in the day. In places like Rio de Janeiro, Costa Rica and much of Mexico, the clock always seems to read 5 o?clock.

Many Latin American countries produce their own native liquors, which are as varied as their people. These drinks are a source of pride and nationality. Mexico?s tequila is probably the most well known. In Brazil, the most popular cocktail is the caipirinha, which is forged from cachaca. And anyone who reads my column should be familiar with pisco, after my posts from my Peruvian summer.

Before Peru, I had the luxury of stopping for two weeks in Colombia. The most popular drink there is aguardiente. This local spirit is a somewhat sweet elixir made from sugarcane and flavored with anise. Aguardient is not aged, so it boasts a strong and robust flavor. Aguardiente literally means firewater in Spanish; the name combines the Spanish words for ?water? (agua) and ?fiery? (ardiente).

Arriving in Medellin in June was a delight in itself. When I left D.C. earlier in the day, it was 104 degrees and humid. Medellin, perched in the Andes, is known as the city of everlasting spring due to its pleasant year-round climate, which averages in the mid 70s. Humidity is low, and fresh air rushes in from the surrounding jungle-filled mountains. In addition to its near-perfect weather, Medellin boasts a vibrant art scene, where Fernando Botero is a native. The city also has a thriving nightlife.
Many of the fashionable bars and clubs are located around Lleras Park in the tiny Poblado neighborhood. I quickly find the locals have a very relaxed partying style. While the open-air watering holes that ring the park are filled with partygoers, so is the park itself. Folks gather together on the benches and ledges to enjoy each other?s company while sipping on a tipple. Open containers laws do not apply here.

It is here I get my first taste of the local firewater. As I?m enjoying a beer on a park bench, my seatmates Carla and Roberto eagerly offer me a taste of their aguardiente. The flavor is strong and torrid. It burns and makes me grimace. I am happy to have my beer to chase it. In defense of the aguardiente industry, I don?t believe my first taste was of the highest quality. It came packaged in a box.

I soon realized that aguardiente was a common thread between the people of Medellin, affectionately called paisas. During my visit, I sampled aguardiente in small bars, people?s homes, trendy restaurants and my favorite hangout, Periodista Park. The flavor, after I had the chance to taste some of higher quality brands, grew on me. The same way the licorice taste of ouzo grows on you in Greece.

Aguardiente is generally served straight up neat in a glass. But when I ventured to Cartagena on Colombia?s Caribbean coast, where rum is the preferred beverage, I noticed that it was also used in cocktails.

The most interesting one I indulged in was a variation on the mojito with aguardientes substituted for rum. While at first the idea of anise mixed with lime and mint sounded a bit odd, I must admit that the combination came off as multilayered, refreshing surprise. Somehow the spicy anise balanced itself with the mint, while the lime provided a pleasing tart background.

The most popular brand in Colombia is Aguardiente Antioque?o, which has won several international awards. If you?d like to experience aguardiente for yourself, the most readily available brand in the Washington area is Cristal. Try it straight up, first but if the taste is a little too overwhelming, mix it in a mojito.

*Aguardiente Mojito*

2 oz. aguardiente
8 fresh mint leaves
1/2 lime in wedges
2 tablespoons simple syrup or sugar
Club Soda
Crushed Ice
Sprig of fresh mint

Muddle mint leaves and lime in a glass. Add simple syrup or sugar; top with ice. Add aguardiente; top with club soda. Stir. Garnish with a sprig of mint.

Cocktail of the Week: The Vieux Carre

September 13, 2012

The French Quarter of New Orleans conjures up visions of raucous partying, 24-hour fun and all-out craziness. While this can be a great way for the 20-something crowd to blow off some steam, those looking for a more sophisticated and tasteful drinking experience will have to veer a few blocks away from Bourbon Street.

Unlike Washington D.C., New Orleans wears its quirkiness like a badge of honor. A classy bar does not necessarily mean stuffy or uptight. One of my favorite Crescent City spots to grab a drink is the Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monteleone.

Tucked away on the corner of Royal and Iberville on the edge of the quarter, the Hotel Monteleone is steeped in history. It has been a preferred haunt of many distinguished southern writers including Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner. Truman Capote used to brag that he was born at Hotel Monteleone, but the truth of the matter was that Capote’s mother had stayed at the hotel during her pregnancy and was transported to the hospital by hotel staff for the birth.
The Carousel Bar itself is an attraction. The circular 25-seat bar is actually a rotating carousel, which makes a complete revolution approximately every 15 minutes. While I will admit that I’ve felt the room spin after one too many cocktails, I assure you that one drink, alcoholic or not, will do the same for you here.

The carnival-like motif reminds visitors that despite the Monte Leone’s lofty setting and noteworthy past, they’re still in New Orleans, a destination that is able to combine history and fun with a shot of jazz and spice shaken up and served in a martini glass.

Literary beasts aside, this bar has it earned a spot in the cocktail hall of fame. According to the Hotel Monteleone 1938, during the height of the Great Depression, head bartender Walter Bergeron introduced the Vieux Carré Cocktail at the Swan Bar, which was the original bar on site before the Carousel bar was built. The name Vieux Carre translates to “Old Square” the official name of the neighborhood known as the French quarter.

The Vieux Carre is a mixture of rye whiskey, brandy, vermouth and Benedictine and bitters. Its formula closely resembles two other legendary New Orleans tipples, the Sazerac, (which was declared the official cocktail of New Orleans by the state senate in 2008) and the La Louisiana. All three feature homegrown Peychaud bitters as a staple ingredient.

According to the Hotel Monteleone, “It was created as a tribute to the different ethnic groups of the city: The Benedictine and cognac to the French influence, the Sazerac rye as a tribute to the American influence, the sweet vermouth to the Italian, and the bitters as a tribute to the Caribbean. Prohibition had been lifted only a few years earlier as a way of stimulating commerce.”

The rye whiskey combines splendidly with the sweeter ingredients, like the cognac, Benedictine and vermouth, while the addition of two types of bitters, give it a nice spice.

For me, a visit to the Big Easy is not complete without stop here. The bar serves as great meeting spot for locals as well as tourists. During my most recent visit in April, I was flanked on by a group of young professionals enjoying an after-office drink once one side and a professional native drinker on the other. For people watching, the bar has a magnificent big-window view of Royal Street. Because the bar rotates, you’re guaranteed a window seat every quarter hour. The Vieux Carre
Recipe courtesy of the
Hotel Monteleone

¼ oz. Benedictine
¼ oz. Cognac
½ oz. Sazerac Rye
¼ oz. Sweet Vermouth
3 Drops Angostura Bitters
3 Drops Peychaud Bitters
Lemon Twist

Place ingredients over ice in an eight-ounce rocks glass and garnish with a lemon twist.
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