Cocktail of the Month: The Tatanka

In Poland, bison grass vodka is most commonly served with apple juice in a cocktail called the Tatanka. If the name of this drink rings a bell, you can thank Kevin Costner.

Cocktail of the Month: Egg Beer Cocktail

In Poland, bison grass vodka is most commonly served with apple juice in a cocktail called the Tatanka. If the name of this drink rings a bell, you can thank Kevin Costner.

A Spot of Irish Coffee

Mark Twain once said, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” With its damp air and piercing Pacific wind, the City by the Bay can be nippy year-round. I recall a late-summer visit where the wind was whipping at my tail as I strolled along Fisherman’s Wharf after dinner. Fortunately, a perfect remedy lurked nearby. The Buena Vista Cafe, which is known worldwide for their steaming cups of Irish coffee, was only few blocks up one of the city’s famous hills. As I trudged up the steep incline, the Buena Vista’s red neon sign served as a beacon signaling relief from the cold. The long and narrow bar draws devoted locals as well as out-of-towners relaxing after a day of sightseeing. Watching the staff at the Buena Vista make the Irish coffees is a spectacle in itself. When the small cafe gets crowded, the bartenders line glass mugs up and down the tapered bar assembly-line style. Methodically, the staff pours blazing hot coffee into the waiting mugs, followed by sugar cubes and jiggers of Irish whiskey. Finally the toddies are topped with generous dollops of whipped cream before being served to eager customers waiting to warm their souls with steaming goodness. Some mistakenly believe that the Buena Vista invented the Irish coffee. According to the Museum of the American Cocktail, Irish coffee was invented in 1942 by Joseph Sheridean, the head chef at Foynes Airbase in Limerick (now Shannon Airport), as a way to provide a warming beverage to cold and weary travelers. According to the bar’s Web site (www.thebuenavista.com), on the night of November 10, 1952 Jack Koeppler, then-owner of the Buena Vista, challenged international travel writer Stanton Delaplane to help re-create the highly touted Irish coffee served at Shannon Airport. Intrigued, Stan accepted Jack’s invitation, and the pair began to experiment. Throughout the night they stirred and sipped judiciously and eventually acknowledged two recurring problems. The taste was "not quite right," and the cream would not float. Jack pursued the elusive elixir with religious fervor, even making a pilgrimage overseas to Ireland. Upon Jack’s return, the experimentation continued. Finally, the perfect-tasting Irish whiskey was selected. Then the problem of the bottom-bent cream was taken to San Francisco’s mayor, a prominent dairy owner. It was discovered that when the cream was aged for 48 hours and frothed to a precise consistency, it would float on the surface. Soon the fame of the Buena Vista’s Irish coffee spread. According to a Frommer’s guidebook, the bar has poured more of these addictive pick-me-up drinks than any other bar in the world, and ordering one has become a San Francisco must-do. Irish Coffee The Buena Vista’s Web site offers step-by-step instructions on how they make their Irish coffee. 1. Fill glass with very hot water to pre-heat, then empty. 2. Pour hot coffee into hot glass until it is about three-quarters full. Drop in two cocktail sugar cubes. 3. Stir until the sugar is thoroughly dissolved. 4. Add full jigger of Irish whiskey for proper taste and body. 5. Top with a collar of lightly whipped whipping cream by pouring gently over a spoon. A selection of Irish whiskeys may be purchased at Dixie Liquor, located at 3429 M Street in Georgetown.

Cocktail of the Month: Peru Meets Bolivia

Anyone who follows my column knows about my love affair with pisco, which started when I lived in Peru. Little did I know then that pisco has a Bolivian partner-in-crime called singani. Peru and its landlocked neighbor, Bolivia, share many things, including the Incas, the Andes, alpacas and altitude. When it was part of the Spanish empire, the area that became Bolivia was known as Alto (Upper) Perú. Many folks regard Bolivia’s national liquor, singani, as a variation of Peru’s pisco, but there are distinct differences. While it’s true that both are technically brandies forged from grapes, singani differs from pisco because it is made from one specific varietal: white Muscat of Alexandria grapes. Singani hails from the Bolivian Andes and can only be produced within its appellation or specified landmark boundaries. According to singani.com, distillation began in the 1500s when settlers began producing wine. The affluent residents of Potosí, a silver-mining town that was one of the richest cities in the world in its day, began to ask for a stronger drink with which to celebrate. In the community of Singani, a distilled spirit was produced for the wealthy. “Singani” has been in production ever since. I got a chance to sample singani last autumn when I was traveling through Bolivia. In La Paz, I met up with one of my dearest Peruvian friends, Miguel Luis Roque, a musician who had been staying and playing in Bolivia for several months. During his time traipsing throughout the country often referred to as “the Tibet of the Americas,” Miguel had developed an appreciation for its native spirit. Singani has a smooth taste and a hint of sweetness similar to pisco. However, Miguel wanted me to appreciate the subtleties of my newly discovered elixir. He insisted on doing a side-by-side comparison between singani and a bottle of pisco I had brought from Peru. When weighed against one another, I found singani to be a bit drier, with a slightly spicier flavor. After sampling each straight up, we mixed them both in a traditional Bolivian cocktail called the chuflay. Technically a highball, a chuflay consists of singani mixed with lemon soda (or sometimes ginger ale). It’s usually served in a collins glass, garnished with lime. This cocktail was a breeze to make. In the corner stores, we found a super-tart carbonated lemonade drink sold in liter bottles. This beverage was an excellent complement for the tangy flavor of the grapes, and the tender spiciness of the singani gave it a bit of a zesty aftertaste. It was as refreshing as breathing La Paz’s 12,000-foot mountain air. I later learned that singani is free of methanol, which accounts for its smoothness. It also contains no congeners, which can contribute to hangovers. I appreciated this fact when I got up four hours after our tasting session to go mountain biking on Bolivia’s notorious highway of death. For a long time, the only way for Americans to enjoy singani in their home country was to bring it back in their suitcases after a trip to Bolivia. However, according to websitesinganiusa.com, Ace Beverage in Washington is the first place where singani formally went on sale in the U.S. Movie buffs will be interested to know that Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh has begun producing his own brand of singani (Singani 63) that can be purchased online. The traditional toast when drinking singani is “La vida es buena” (“Life is good”). I couldn’t agree more with this sentiment on the joyous day when I spent the night reminiscing, not only with close amigo Miguel but with my Lima-based travel partner (and Miguel’s former music collaborator) Lowell Haise Contreras. Cheers! The Chuflay 1.5 ounces singani 4 ounces lemon soda or lemonade Add singani to a collins glass, then add lemon soda. Garnish with lemon or lime.

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 www.BeachBumberry.com or www.MuseumOfTheAmericancocktail.com. [gallery ids="99208,99209" nav="thumbs"]

Cocktail of the Month: The Coquito

In Poland, bison grass vodka is most commonly served with apple juice in a cocktail called the Tatanka. If the name of this drink rings a bell, you can thank Kevin Costner.

The Nica Libre

Rum and Coke may conjure up memories of college fraternity parties or youthful nights sneaking drinks in your parents’ home. It was probably one of the first mixed drinks you tried, back in the day when Natty Boh and Milwaukee’s Best were your choice of beers. But if you head 90 miles south of Florida, the rum and Coke has a more romantic vibe. On Castro’s island, it’s called the Cuba Libre and includes the addition of lime juice. In Cuba, the rum and Coke can trace its earliest beginnings. While the exact circumstances of its birth are unclear, Wayne Curtis, author of “And a Bottle of Rum,” offers a plausible explanation involving Americans soldiers in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. A group of Americans and Cubans were gathered in a bar where the soldiers mixed rum and Coke and called out “Por Cuba libre!” – “To a free Cuba!” The drink migrated north. During Prohibition, Coke was an easy mixer used to mask the taste of bathtub alcohol, and during World War II, when rum was plentiful and whiskey scarce, its popularity increased further. But it was a popular song that blasted the drink into the apex of pop culture. In 1945 the Andrews Sisters’ song "Rum and Coca Cola” entered the charts, where it remained in the number one spot for 10 weeks. The song, which was based on a Calypso song from Trinidad, sold 7 million copies and made rum and Coke an iconic drink for years to come. Its prevalence endured throughout the generic 50’s into the age of Wonder Bread and canned foods. The drink was simple to mix and required no exotic ingredients. Going back to its origins, a proper Cuba Libre, made with fresh squeezed lime, can be a refreshing elixir, especially in the muggy hot Cuban climate. However, while rum flows freely in Cuba, Coca Cola, thanks to the trade embargo, is not readily available everywhere. When your order a Cuba Libre, most bars will mix it with Fiesta Cola, a soft drink packaged in a red can with a white logo that looks suspiciously similar to Coke’s trademark script. A true Cuba Libre should be mixed with Cuban Rum, which is illegal in the states. Luckily, I found a pleasant alternative during a holiday in Nicaragua. While many Americans associate rum with the Caribbean islands, Flor De Cana rum is as ubiquitous in Nicaragua as Bacardi is now in Puerto Rico. Whether you are sitting at an open-air restaurant along the Pacific in San Juan del Sur, a colonial courtyard in Grenada, or at a reggae club on Corn Island, the liquor of choice across the country is Flor de Cana. Any bartender will mix you a “Nica Libre” with Flor de Cana, fresh lime and Latin Coca-Cola. In Latin America, Coke tastes slightly different than what is produced in the states; it’s made with real sugar instead of corn syrup. But there’s no real need to travel afar. This classic highball can be easily mixed at home. However, if you prefer going out (way, way out), I recommend seeking out Isaiah at the Best View Hotel on Big Corn Island. The Nica Libre 2 oz Flor de Cana rum Juice of ½ lime Coca Cola Lime wedge Add first two ingredients in a tall glass. Fill with ice and coke and stir. Garnish with lime wedge. Ingredients to make the Nica Libre may be purchased at Dixie Liquor at 3429 M St. in Georgetown.

Cocktail of the Month: Strawberry Sriracha Margarita

Ten years ago, it was virtually unheard of. Today, it’s hard to find a trendy eatery that doesn’t either use it in a dish...

Cocktail of the Week: Iceland’s pungent ‘black death,’ Brennivin

While most travelers are familiar with the many specialty foods of Europe, many of these same countries also make their own specialty liqueurs. In Italy, the spirits selection is as varied as its amazing cuisine. If you happen to find yourself in the birthplace of spaghetti, make sure you save some room for Sambucca, Limoncello or Aperol. In Greece, the anise-favored Ouzo is considered a symbol of Greek culture. And in Scandinavian countries, the locals enjoy Aquavit a spiced liqueur whose name is derived from the Latin "aqua vitae," meaning "water of life." Sampling these local elixirs during your vacation can be as much fun and culturally invigorating as enjoying a dinner of local fare. During a recent trip to Iceland, I was excited about trying the local spirit: Brennivin, a type of schnapps made from fermented potato mash and flavored with caraway seeds. The name Brennivin, which literally translates into English as “burning wine,” is also known locally as “black death.” With a name like that how could one not be intrigued? Before landing in the capital city of Reykjavik, I envisioned Iceland as a land of hard-drinking Vikings staving off the frigid climate with loads of alcohol. I had read about the legendary nightlife in Reykjavik, a city where the darkness can last up to 20 hours in the dead of winter. Even though my hotel was situated on Laugavegur Street, Reykjavik’s main party-strip, I decided to get into the spirit of Vikings before trying my first taste of Brennivin. I headed to the Vikingarain restaurant, a themed eatery that also features skits based on Icelandic history. Visitors enter the restaurant through a primitive fort-like wooden gate. Inside, the rooms are covered with rough pieces of raw wood, candlelight, bones and animals skins draped over the rustic tables and chairs. As servers greet you in traditional clothing, you are transported back 1,000 years in time. The restaurant boasts that it presents the same food cooked and served in the same style as the Vikings ate. While I was eagerly looking forward to ordering a whale steak, I was curious to drink what the Vikings drank. While I had pictures in my head of Vikings carousing with giant steins of brewski, my bartender explained that they actually drank mead, a honey wine. While modern Iceland is known for nightlife, the country has had a temperance tradition since the early 1900s. Prohibition was enforced 1915 through 1921 for wine and until 1935 for alcohol. Surprisingly, beer was prohibited until 1989. According to my bartender, on the first day that beer was legalized, more than 350,000 bottles were sold -- more than the entire population of Iceland. It turns out that Brennivin’s lethal nickname stems from the temperance movement. In an effort to scare consumers, the Icelandic government placed a skull and crossbones logo on all liquor bottles. With its stark black label and skeleton, Brennivin became known as “black death.” Today, the label sports an outline map of Iceland in lieu of a skull. Undeterred by the propaganda, I asked my bartender for a shot of Brennivin which he suggested washing down with a cold beer. The liqueur had a bold and pungent taste, heavy on the caraway, almost like drinking a slice of liquid rye bread. As my taste buds were processing this sharp flavor, my bartender explained that traditionally Brennivin was served with dried fish -- specifically Hakral, a putrefied shark -- in an effort to stave off an even stronger taste. Brennivin today is mostly enjoyed as a patriotic drink, most notably on St. Thorlac's Day (December 23), a holiday that honors the patron saint of Iceland. It’s a popular souvenir sampled then brought home by Iceland’s growing number of tourists. Although it’s not currently imported into Washington, Brennivin can be purchased online at NordicStore.com.

Cocktail of the Month: The Boulevardier

In Poland, bison grass vodka is most commonly served with apple juice in a cocktail called the Tatanka. If the name of this drink rings a bell, you can thank Kevin Costner.