Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Mischievous Mixologist: The Campari Grapefruit

Campari Grapefruit

2 ounces Campari
½ ounce Cointreau
6 ounces San Pellegrino Aranciata soda (or to taste)
juice half a lemon
several dashes Fee Brothers grapefruit bitters

(shake without soda, then pour both over ice)

Listen, I need to make this short.  Short work week, lots to do.

Let's start by dispensing with the niceties.  Happy fucking spring.  I'm sorry if that sounds rude.   I realize that in a lot of places, spring started about a month ago.  But in Wisconsin, it’s just starting to warm up now.  Sort of.  Almost.  So that's why I'm cursing about it.   Don’t judge, moms.  You know it sucks.

It’s been a month since my last cocktail post, so let me now bring you up to speed on my drinking in the last 30 days.  For spring break, last week, we went to California.  We spent the first half of the trip visiting relatives in the Central Coast area.  My in-laws live in a one-taco town near Paso Robles.   Going there is a bit like going to Coachella, but without the people.  Or the music.  

There are plenty of opportunities to walk through vine trellises, though.  That area happens to be the “new wine country” (as depicted in the movie, Sideways).   According to local viticulture lore, the central coast now produces most of Napa’s cabernet grapes.  So basically, suck it Napa.  Just kidding, Napa.  Love you.  Also, I love red wine but it gives me migraines most of the time.  Really, I don’t have a dog in this fight.  Moving on.

After the in-laws bit, we drove down to Los Angeles for Easter weekend.  Of course we did.  L.A.: the city of angels. Cue the choir of naked baby cherubs.  In observation of Easter weekend, we went to the beach, visited Universal studios, swam in the hotel pool, ate Mexican food, and drank delicious cocktails.  Totes angelic. 

One of my personal favorites was from a restaurant called A-Frame, chosen by our friend and tour-guide-master-of-the-universe, Justine.  The drink was called, The Trick.  And oh yes, it was.  Quite a trick, too.  It had some kind of hot and sexy blend of tequila, cucumber, ginger, lemongrass, lime, and chile powder.  Here is a picture of it.   

Die of excitement now.

I had another incredible drink at a restaurant called Mercado, in Santa Monica. They call it a spicy cucumber margarita.  It’s got silver tequila, house jalapeno puree, and a chipotle salt rim.  If I were going to continue the drink-as-lover theme, I’d have to admit: I almost left my husband for this drink.

He's so green. 

So that takes care of one week.  Now: What have I been doing for drinks the rest of the last month?  

Well, the truth is that prior to my spring break libations, I had been taking it down a notch.   Trying to keep the old liver from turning prematurely into foie gras, if you know what I mean.   It was a long, cold winter marked by a lot of snow and a lot of cocktails.  They were good times, and terrible times.   It was winter in Wisconsin.   But once the thaw got under way, I thought it was time to slow things down.    So I wasn’t drinking as much.  At least not during the week.  And when I was drinking, I was mixing much lighter cocktails.  

In your personal mixology repertoire, you sometimes have to consider the strength of the liquor you’re drinking.  There’s obviously a vast difference in drinks.  If you drink Jim Beam Devil’s Cut, for example – a bourbon that I’ve used in the Nashville Mule – you’re drinking stuff that’s 90 proof.  I’m no math genius, but by my calculations, that’s 45% alcohol by volume.  If you want Tres Agaves Reposado Tequila – another spirit I have in stock in mi casa – you’re looking at 80 proof.  40% alcohol by volume.   Given that a nice margarita mixes tequila and Cointreau (also 40%), you’re looking at twice that volume of alcohol in your drink.

Well, nobody needs that on a school night.

So in my lighter spring cocktail mode, I started mixing with lighter alcohol varieties.   A great weekday cocktail is the Pimm’s Cup.  Pimm’s, always tasty and refreshing, is only 25% alcohol by volume.  You can find a lot of recipes on line.  I mix Pimm’s with ginger beer sometimes, or just plain soda water, sour mix, and a little simple syrup, which I keep in the fridge.  A few dashes of rhubarb or orange bitters, and it’s a drink.   One.  Done.  A refreshing cocktail to cook with, about as potent as a single glass of wine, but nobody ends up needing to leave the dishes for the morning. 

And hint to the guys: this is a VERY good cocktail for date night.  You can pace yourself without getting too sloppy, so you stay fresh and clever for your long marathon night of Game of Thrones.  Later.  When you drop off your date.

Another fab lite spirit is Campari.  I have always loved Campari.  Why?  Because as far as apertifs and such go, I think it’s the spicier Italian cousin to Pimm’s.  And really, anything Italian is a little bit spicier than everything British.  I know some people think Campari tastes like motor oil.  But then, some people think that song Happy is cool, and I find it massively annoying.  Especially after hearing it 47 thousand times while driving (aka parking) in L.A. on the freeway.  There you go.

Frankly, I think more people would enjoy Campari if they mixed it in cocktails.  I appreciate the old standard blend of Campari and soda.  It’s tall, dark, handsome, and always the gentleman.   But it still comes on too strong for some folks.  I get that.  So do I.

For you gentler souls, then, I’d suggest a Campari cocktail.  There are a lot of variations available on line but remember: If you’re trying to concoct a light cocktail, you can’t mix Campari with Gin, and Cointreau.  Defeats the purpose.   I get around this problem with soda (which I happen to love) and mix it sort of like a Pimm’s Cup.   Throw it over ice.  Ahhhhh.

The drink I’m featuring here does use a little bit of Cointreau, for flavor.  The great thing about mixing orange liqueur with Campari is that – surprise! – it tastes like grapefruit.  Don’t ask me why.  I really don’t know.  I’m not a real mixologist.  I just play one in my suburban midwestern village.  Plus, maybe some things are meant to stay unsolved.  Like that one day all of Manhattan smelled like syrup.  So mysterious.  Am I right?

So.  Here’s a drink you can feel good about sipping on a Tuesday, and still get up fresh for -- wait for it -- Hump Day.   Salute!



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