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The Twilight Lounge – March 12, 2016

St. Patrick’s Day is right around the corner and as is usual, I’ll be pub crawling all day with my pal Mike.  We’ve been doing our St. Patrick’s day drink fest for 6 or 7 years and this year will be no different.  We’ll start at 6am at Bub’s Irish Pub in Germantown, work our way to Erin for post parade fun at the Tally Ho and then work back towards town.  There will be plenty of Irish whiskey, Guinness, corned beef and fair lasses in green to be sure!

As a prelude to the glorious day itself, I’ve been enjoying Irish inspired cocktails.  This one in particular caught my eye as I perused the Ultimate Bar Book by Mittie Hellmich.

Dancing Leprechaun

  • 1-1/2 oz Irish whiskey
  • 3/4 oz Drambuie
  • 3/4 oz lemon juice
  • ginger beer

Add the whiskey, Drambuie and lemon juice to a shaker with ice.  Shake then strain into an ice filled Collins glass.  Add ginger beer to the top, stir and garnish with a lemon twist.

I used Tullamore Dew whiskey, which I like as much for it’s reasonable cost as I do it’s slightly smoky flavor.  Irish whiskey and ginger beer has long been a favorite of mine, and this cocktail is a nice twist on the typical Irish and ginger beer.  The Drambuie gives a bit of sweetness and a spicy, nutty flavor that I enjoyed.  It’s a refreshing cocktail that would be fun on a warm summer day (soon to be here) as well as on St. Patrick’s Day.

Cheers!

 

Madison, WI – July 12, 2012

I found myself in Madison, WI for an evening recently – and for the first time in my various travels around the midwest.  Being just 90 miles from home was different, but I still managed to hunt down a good cocktail lounge to while away my evening.  The Opus Lounge was my target for the evening.

After reading a few of the Yelp reviews and seeing the menu when I first arrived I was concerned that this would be a menu driven cocktail lounge lacking any real creativity.  Boy, was I wrong, and am I ever glad I was!

The decor is urban chic with a soundtrack to match that ranged from hip hop to acid jazz and many alternative formats in between.  As I scanned the booze behind the bar I saw what I thought were too many flavored vodkas, but then, who doesn’t have too many flavored vodkas these days?  The menu was also full of what sound like fruity, girly drinks and, my pet peeve, is called a martini menu (a martini is a cocktail, and this was a cocktail menu!).  

Fortunately, Marilyn, the bartender on duty, came to the rescue and patiently demonstrated that she and Opus have real cocktail chops.  I ended up sampling three of the menu items, the Dill Collins, an interesting riff on the classic Tom Collins which was very refreshing on a warm summer evening.  This cocktail featured Death’s Door gin over muddled cucumber, dill, lemon and a sugar cube.  Club soda and ice finish off this drink.  It was delicious – the dill was just barely there and added a nice dimension to the drink.

 
Next was the Royal Highness featuring Plantation rum, cassis, bolivar bitters, lime, Domaine de Canton and egg white among its ingredients.  Yes, I said egg white, and when a bar is mixing cocktails with egg white they get my full attention!  This drink evoked visions of tiki torches and tropical beaches for me.  There was a slight coconut flavor, which I could not figure out for the life of me since this drink had none in it.  It did have a smooth, creamy texture courtesy of the egg white and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
 
The third menu item was the Pimm’d Up Bondurant.  Only the second cocktail I’ve seen anywhere using the venerable Pimm’s No. 1 and it was delicious.  This is basically a Pimm’s sour with Domaine de Canton in it.  The ginger of the Canton played off the Pimm’s perfectly.  This sipper was served up in a cocktail glass, but would have worked equally as well in a collins glass on the rocks.
I finished the night with an off menu drink from Marilyn that featured Laphroiag scotch, ginger and lemon flavors.  Again, a homerun that has me wishing I had written down the recipe – but unfortunately, didn’t.  

Bottom line is that if you’re looking for good cocktails in Madison, look no further than Opus Lounge.

Lincoln, NE – March 13, 2012

I feel like I could have just as easily titled this post Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  I’ll explain in time, but that’s what my two separate experiences at Marz in Lincoln, NE have been like.

My first visit was last August, and the notes and pictures are still in my Blackberry, just waiting to get published.  So, with a return trip to Lincoln this week I was really looking forward to visiting Marz again and having a some great cocktails and food.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Marz is located in downtown Lincoln and has an incredible hip and cool vibe.  With 20 something foot ceilings, a very long bar lines one side and cozy velour covered half circle booths run down the other side.  With a space age decor and a comfy lounge area at the rear, and a very nifty acid jazz, chill electronic soundtrack going, I liked it as soon as I walked in the door.

During my first visit I had an ongoing conversation with the bartender who was very knowledgeable and into her craft.  She started me with a Smokey Vesper since a James Bond flick was running on the TV over the bar.  For my second drink I had the Martian Sunrise (pictured above), which features Cuervo, pineapple and pomegranate juices in a riff on the Tequila Sunrise.  A strong drink with plenty of punch from the tequila it settled in nicely once some of the ice started to melt.  Interestingly enough I also got a taste of banana from this one, and wasn’t sure if it was from the drink or the banana split I had for desert!

Along with my drinks I had a dinner of the homemade mac and cheese, which was good, very good.  All in all, my visit there last August was quite impressive.  So when I arrived in Lincoln last night I was very much looking forward to eating and drinking there again.

Boy, what a difference 7 months makes!  The atmosphere was just as hip, and given that it was in the 70’s, the outside patio was full when I arrived around 9pm.  Unfortunately, that’s about where the goodness ended and mediocrity took over.  I asked the bartender what he makes that’s unique and his.  His answer was pretty much a blank look and then mumbling something about their Manhattan’s being good.  OK, so he’s not really a bartender into cocktails.  I ordered a Sidecar Named Desire from the menu.  Consisting of Raynar VSOP cognac, Cointreau and lemon juice I was surprised when it was served with a sugared rim that had been wetted with a lime wedge.  The first two sips were overwhelmingly lime and that was spoiling the drink – not to mention that anything resembling a sidecar has no business being served in a sugared rim.

At about this time the second bartender (whose best feature, I learned, was her breasts spilling out of the top of her sundress) came over to ask how it was.  I started to ask her about the sugared rim and her answer was that the bourbon – which prompted me to correct her to brandy, she didn’t even know what was in the thing – made it strong and so they thought it should be sweetened.  I told her the lime on the rim was too much so she offered to pour into a fresh glass, which I gladly accepted.  As we continued talking I tried to point out that a cocktail like this is supposed to be strong.  Her final answer was “I just do what they tell me to do.”  So, two lifeless bartenders on duty.

So, without the lime and sugar on the rim it was drinkable, but unremarkable.  It was a bit disjointed and needed, most likely, some work on the proportions of Cointreau and lemon juice, and also, most likely, a dash of bitters.

As for my dinner, I ordered the cleverly named Moons of Pluto which were described as provolone risotto balls served with marinara sauce.  It failed to mention that they were breaded and deep fried, which was disappointing.  The risotto and cheese was good, and I would have enjoyed the balls if they hadn’t been deep fried and just drizzled with a bit of olive oil instead.  As for the marinara, it had the consistency and flavor of slightly thinned out tomato paste.  Again, disappointing.

Finally, as way of adding insult to injury, there was only one dessert item available, a honey lavender creme brulee.  I normally may have gone for it, but was dismayed by only having that one choice and passed instead.

All in all I was very disappointed by the second visit.  When back in Lincoln down the road I may try it again in the hoped of finding the good Marz is back.

Cheers?

Milwaukee, WI – March 7, 2012

So I’m sitting at the bar and I hear, in this low, almost whispering voice, “Nice pants.”  I look around and there’s no one within ear shot, so I shrug it off and take another sip of my drink.  But then I hear the voice again, “Great looking haircut.”  Again, I look around and nothing.  I try to shrug it off, but when a few minutes later the voice asks “Have you lost weight?” I call the bartender over.

“Brett, I keep hearing this voice saying things like “nice pants” and “great haircut”.  What gives, are you screwing with me?”

Brett looks me right in the eye and tells me, “It’s the peanuts, they’re complimentary.”

One of the nice things about Bryant’s (South 9th and Lapham, Milwaukee) is that you don’t have to worry about either random hours or complimentary nuts distracting your taste buds from the cocktails.  Over the last couple of weeks I’ve had occasion to stop by and enjoy these two outstanding creations by Emily.

First is the Glamour Shot, pictured above.  When Emily asked what I was in the mood for I quickly answered gin, but that I didn’t want something run of the mill or a classic.  So, out came the Plymouth gin, Domaine de Canton liqueur, Cynar liqueur, bar syrup and lemon juice.  An interesting combination I thought, between the ginger Canton and the bitter Cynar, with is derived from, among other things, artichoke.  The result was a terrific cocktail that leads with the ginger of the Canton then quickly follows with a slightly bitter bite.  The bar syrup and lemon juice round out the drink and give it balance so that it’s boozy, but in a mellow way.  An excellent offering from Emily.

The second drink is her Milwaukee Manhattan.  This drink was designed for a contest that Emily had entered (and, incidently, won) for the best variation on the classic Manhattan.  Featuring Bulliet rye whiskey with the usual sweet and dry vermouths (making this on perfect) and both Agnostura and Peychauds bitters, the twist is the addition of Luxardo Maraschino liqueur (which I love!).  Again, a very well constructed cocktail that tasted incredible.  The cherry from the Luxardo was out in front on this one, with the sweet vermouth, bitters and rye filling in behind it.  This is a complex cocktail, with layers of flavors to be discovered.  Again, kudos to Emily for a job well done.

Cheers!

Germantown, WI – December 18, 2011

Well, another 3 hours of watching the futility known as Cleveland Browns football.  The game started well enough with an opening touchdown drive that featured the bruising, no nonsense running of Petyon Hillis.  I actually felt like the Browns offense may have found a groove today between Hillis and his punishing running style and the athletic Seneca Wallace at quarterback getting the ball downfield to the Brown’s receivers. 

After that opening drive I decided to have a cocktail, and even though I want to feature gin over the next couple of weeks, I was inspired to have rye whiskey by watching Hillis.  Rye seems to match Peyton’s straight forward style of play.  Here’s what I came up with.

  Peyton Hillis

  • 2 oz rye whiskey
  • 1/4 oz sweet vermouth
  • 1/8 oz bar syrup
  • 1 dash of orange bitters
  • 1 lemon slice

In a rocks glass muddle the lemon slice with the bar syrup and bitters.  Add 5-6 ice cubes and the vermouth and rye and stir.  Garnish with a maraschino cherry.

Mmm, I do always like the combination of orange bitters and rye, and I did again in this cocktail.  It is a takeoff on a traditional old fashioned, using lemon for a brighter taste than the orange in an old fashioned. 

Unfortunately, as I sipped my new cocktail creation I was again treated to the sight of the Browns unable to maintain their edge and losing yet again.  At least the cocktail was good!

Cheers!

December 3, 2011 – Germantown, WI

Last Saturday was the kickoff to the holiday season for me.  The decorations are all up (we’ll, OK, I’m still putting the finishing touches on the Twilight Lounge decor) and our first holiday party of the season was Saturday night.

Of course, I had to come up with Christmas themed cocktail to take for us to imbibe.  I seem to have a thing for green cocktails at Christmas, so when I stumbled upon a cocktail called the Grinch it seemed like a natural.  It called for Midori (very green indeed), lemon juice and bar syrup.  So I mixed up a batch and….waaaaaay to sweet.  The Midori is sweet enough as it is and with the additional bar syrup, well, there was just no way I’d be able to sip these all night long.  Factor in that Midori is only 40 proof and I knew I just had to do something.  And what was that something?  Vodka!

  The Grinch

  • 1 oz vodka
  • 1 oz Midori liqueur
  • 1/2 oz lemon juice
  • 1/8 oz bar syrup

Combine the ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake, shake, shake.  Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a maraschino cherry.

Alternatively, you can just pour this, ice and all, into a rocks glass.  In that case, just double all the ingredients and you’ll be good to go.

This turned out to be a nice holiday sipper – not to sweet, not too boozy, but just right.  The melon flavor of the Midori is cut down by the vodka and lemon and is in the background instead of in your face.  Of course, the green color certainly matches the Grinch’s face, and the cherry is a nice reminder that his heart went from two sizes too small to two sizes too big!

Chears!

Has it really been four months since my last post?  I guess there was just way to much gin, bourbon and scotch during the last 120 days.  However, the good news is that I’m tanned, rested and ready!  A week in Puerto Vallarta will do that for a guy!

Of course, there was more to the vacation than family, sun and beach.  There was tequila!  One advantage to renting a house for the week was the opportunity to mix up cocktails for everyone using great, fresh local ingredients.  One of those cocktails was the above pictured Avocado Margarita.  It’s more like a cross between a smoothie and a margarita.  But with fresh limes and avocados at my disposal, I couldn’t pass this one up.

      Avocado Margarita

  • 1-1/2 oz silver tequila
  • 1/2 oz Cointreau
  • 1 oz lime juice
  • 1/2 oz lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup diced avocado
  • 1 oz half and half
  • 1 tsp sugar

Combine all the ingredients in a blender with one half cup ice and puree until smooth.  Pour into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with lime wedge or lemon peel.

I used Patron silver since that’s what we had, and used Grand Marnier instead of Cointreau (again, that’s what we had – and, oh, by the way, makes excellent margaritas!).  This was served with a dinner of grilled shrimp, mahi mahi and rice with poblano pepper and chorizo.  It was delicious – smooth, not to sweet, not to avocado flavored and just a hint of tequila.

Unfortunately, I only had enough avocado for one round the night we did these, but I’m sure this will find its way into my glass again!

Adios amigos!

May 25, 2011 – The Twilight Lounge

About a week and a half ago it was a quiet evening at home  – perfect for a bourbon based cocktail as I contemplated what I needed to get done the next day.  I started flipping through some of my cocktail books and found this little number.

  Gall Bracer

  • 2 oz bourbon
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 1/8 oz grenadine

Combine the ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir.  Strain into a rocks glass with 3-4 ice cubes or an ice ball.  Squeeze a lemon twist over the top of the glass (discarding afterwards) and garnish with a cherry.

To properly mix, be sure to add the bitters first, then the grenadine and then the bourbon.  This applies anytime you are using bitters – adding it first to your ice will ensure it is fully incorporated, especially when you are stirring your cocktail (as opposed to shaking). 

In the Gall Bracer I used Knob Creek and this was a delicious sipper.  With just a hint of the Angostura and grenadine to mellow the bourbon out it really allows the flavor of the Knob Creek to come through as the king of this cocktail.  The flavors are actually reminiscent of a Manhattan, with the grenadine taking the place of what traditionally would be sweet vermouth.

Cheers!

 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Well, I found this picture on my camera a couple of days ago…it’s dated May 14.  It looks delicious, doesn’t it?  I just wish I knew what the heck it is!  Obviously, made with Hendricks….

Wait a minute.  I just flipped through the spiral bound notebook that I use to write down new recipes and write my notes as I drink cocktails … and … I think I found it.  I’d swear that I’d looked before through my notebook and didn’t find this cocktail, but I’m sure this is it.  With Alzheimer’s moments like these, it’s no wonder that I’m getting AARP cards in the mail every other day.

  Mint Love and Happiness

  • 3 cucumber slices
  • 4-5 mint leaves
  • 1/2 oz bar syrup
  • 2 oz Hendrick’s
  • 1 oz St. Germain

In a mixing glass muddle the cucumber, mint and syrup.  Add ice and the Hendrick’s and St. Germain.  Stir to mix and chill.  Double strain into a chilled coupe.  Garnish with a lemon peel floating on a mint leaf (fancy, I know). 

Ahh, a twist on one of my favorite spring/summer cocktails, this takes the Love and Happiness a step further with the addition of the mint.  The flavors of the Hendrick’s, cucumber, mint and St. Germain were just made for each other – sorta  like Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice (did I really just write that?).

As you mix this baby up, put the Raveonettes latest release “Raven In The Grave” on the old Pioneer and listen to “Forget That You’re Young” while you sip.  The aural experience will match the taste experience, I promise!

(Really – this post is written exactly as my mind worked through it – I really didn’t know what the drink was in the picture as I uploaded it – do you really think I could make this stuff up?)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

During some random night last week I was again in the mood for a cocktail featuring egg white.  After thumbing through several cocktail books I found something called the Clover Club.  This is a classic cocktail (read as pre-Prohibition) that was enjoyed by the members of the Clover Club in Philadelphia.  The Clover Club was a group of civic minded business leaders who met regularly at the Bellevue-Stratford hotel.  Alas, while the Clover Club itself expanded to multiple cities in the early 1900’s, the cocktail didn’t make it past Prohibition.  It’s a pity too, because this delicious number beats the pants off a Cosmopolitan any day!

  Clover Club

  • 2 oz gin
  • 1 oz lemon juice
  • 1 oz grenadine
  • 1 egg white

Combine the ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake for 60 seconds or more.  Strain into a rocks glass and garnish with a half slice of lemon.

You really need to shake, shake, shake this cocktail, just like any other egg white cocktail.  The reason is to emulsify the egg and create an nice creamy head and fully incorporate the egg into the drink.

As for the cocktail itself – delicious is the only way to describe it.  Creamy, slightly sweet from the grenadine with just hints of juniper from the gin.  I used Bombay for this one – I wanted the full flavor of a London dry to stand up to the relatively large amount of grenadine and lemon in this one. 

Cheers!