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June 18, 2011 – Milwaukee

Ahh, Polishfest weekend in Milwaukee at the Summerfest grounds!  What could be better than Polish food, Polish beer, Polish vodka and polka music all day long!  On this day, nothing!

As is our usual custom, Gwen and I took the girls down on Saturday afternoon to eat, browse the market and listen to some polka music.  The day was perfect, sunny with just enough breeze off the lake to keep us comfortable.  We picked up our lunch at Busia’s Kitchen and had a sampling of everything they had.  The pierogi’s stuffed with potatoe were excellent with a nice buttery flavor and the fried onions that they were served with were a nice touch.  I enjoyed the stuffed cabbage.  The filling was tender and the tomato sauce had a touch of sweetness that I liked.  The sauerkraut was also good, slightly sweet (again) and with a touch of caraway seed.  Finally, Gwen had the Polish nachos – homemade potato chips with a creamy cheese sauce, diced polish sausage and tomato.  They were delicious, if not truly Polish!  The only disappointment were the potato pancakes which were limp and very doughy.

During the afternoon, while we browsed the market, I enjoyed a Tyskie beer.  Although Tyskie is owned by SABMiller (I know, disappointing), it is a very nice pilsner that still has its Polish character and beats a Bud or MGD any day of the week (and twice on Polishfest!).  It’s a full bodied pilsner and goes down smooth.

With our bellies full, we headed home for a short siesta and a Stanski. Round two was Saturday night with our friends Greg and Patti (and a brief cameo by Mark and Sue).  We started off with polka lessons and within 30 minutes could do a passable Polish Hop.  Next was dinner – more pierogies, yum!  Then, the vodka tasting.

The vodka tasting was again sponsored by Sobieski.  However, I have to admit that the Sobieski brand has been diminished in my mind with their recent introduction of flavored vodkas.  I always had admired them for not jumping on the flavored bandwagon, so this was very disappointing. 

Fortunately, I got over my disappointment and enjoyed several Krupniks on ice as we polka’d the rest of the night away!

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

I know that to some of my friends it seems like I just open up the liquor cabinet at the Twilight Lounge, pull out a few seemingly random bottles and whip up a cocktail that’s delicious and nutritious, just like that.  Alright, well, actually, it does sometimes work like that.  However, more times than not it takes several iterations to get a cocktail where I want it.  This week was an example of the latter as I worked on tonight’s cocktail over a span of several days, until finally I was able to say “That’s It!” to myself.

I started off with the notion that I wanted to recreate a root beer float.  That meant using the root beer flavoring from LorAnn Oils.  But what else to use?  I decided on a base of vodka, which provides pretty much a blank slate to work with.  My first crack at it was 2 oz of vodka (Sobieski, for those of you keeping score at home), 2 drops of the root beer flavor and 1/4 ounce of grenadine.  This effort was ok.  The grenadine was subtle but there, but the root beer was also subtle, and I wanted this to be bolder.  I also didn’t get the creaminess that a root beer float would have, but I didn’t want to add ice cream.  The second iteration kept the same amount of vodka and grenadine, but I bumped up the root beer flavoring to 3 drops and added 1 egg white.  Much better, as the egg white added the creamy texture that I wanted, but the root beer was still a tad muted.  Finally, version three came through when I bumped up the root beer flavor to 4 drops.  Ah yes, now I had a tasty cocktail that is evocative of the root beer float flavor I wanted to emulate. 

  Root Beer Float

  • 2 oz vodka
  • 4 drops LorAnn Oil root beer flavor
  • 1/4 oz grenadine
  • 1 egg white

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

When you shake this drink (as with any drink containing egg whites) give it as hard a shake as you can for 30 seconds.  This is about 10 seconds longer than I normally shake cocktails, but it is essential to get the frothy emulsification you want from the egg.  Also, as I’ve noted before, I use pasteurized egg whites purchases from my local grocer in the cardboard container (just like the milk you got at school as a kid).  It’s much easier to add the egg white to a drink when I can pour it from a carton, not to mention safer.  I use 1/2 oz of egg white when the recipe calls for 1 egg white. 

Cheers!

Day 328, Cocktail 334

Last Saturday our friend Jenny threw a surprise 40th birthday party for her husband Kevin.  They had just finished their basement, including a nice bar set up.  Naturally, our gift to Kevin was a variety of barware and a bottle of vodka, Cointreau, some ginger beer, lemons and limes.  To go with this starter package was a list of four cocktails that could be made from the box.  On that list were the Moscow Mule, Kamikaze, Lemon Drop and Caipiroska.  Another advantage of inviting me and Gwen to the party is that you get a built in bartender!

I actually started out the evening sticking with the Moscow Mule, which I’ve had before is in the index.  Simple and straightforward, it is the cocktail that turned America into a vodka drinkers in the 1940’s.  Using ginger beer instead of ginger ale really makes this a treat!  However, after a couple of the mules (and a Cincinnati loss to UConn in the tournament) I was ready for something different and tried out the Lemon Drop.

  Lemon Drop

  • 1-1/2 oz vodka
  • 1 oz Cointreau
  • 1-1/2 oz lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz orange juice

Rub the edge of a chilled cocktail glass with a lemon wedge and then rim with sugar.  Combine the ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake, shake, shake to chill and combine.  Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

I used Luksusowa, a good Polish potato vodka.  This is a nice, girly cocktail, with the lemon and orange flavors sweetening the vodka.  If you like Cosmopolitans then you will like this one as well.

A word about vodka.  Please, please, please, don’t overspend on vodka!  You can easily spend $40 to $50 on premium vodkas.  However, unless you are a master distiller who has spent a lifetime tasting and comparing distilled spirits, you will not be able to distinguish the difference between a $20 vodka and a $50 vodka.  If you want to keep one premium around, and in the freezer, for shots (which I sometimes do), that’s fine.  My current selection of vodka includes two premiums, Grey Goose (given to me as a gift) and Chopin (purchased on sale for $30, $20 off the regular price).  The rest of my vodka selection is Sobieski and Luksusowa, both value priced at around $20 for a 1.75L. 

Cheers!

Day 313, Cocktails 314 & 315

Two new cocktails were created at the Twilight Lounge last Friday night.  You’ll be welcome to have the first, the Pear Tequila, anytime that you come by.  This was the first of the night and was inspired by my simple desire to play around with the Old Ballycastle Ginger and tequila.  I have no idea what put that idea into my head, but it was there so I went with it.

The second drink of the night was the End Of The Line (pictured).  I decided to use Kajmir, the vanilla flavored brandy – vodka blend.  And why did I name it End Of The Line?  Well, I’m almost out of Kajmir, and since it is no longer made, when its gone, its gone…of course, freeing up a space for a bottle of something else (hehe).  So, I’ll get back to this in a minute, but first I want to go back to the Pear Tequila.

  Pear Tequila

  • 1-3/4 oz Cazadores tequila
  • 1-1/2 oz Mathilde Poire liqueur
  • 3/4 oz Old Ballycastle Ginger
  • 1/8 oz bar syrup

Combine all the ingredients in a mixing glass with ice cubes and stir to mix and chill.  Strain into a cocktail glass.  Garnish with a lemon twist, if desired.

This turned out to be pretty good.  The recipe above was the second iteration – I had too much tequila and not enough Mathilde and Old Ballycastle in the original attempt.  It’s a multi-layered cocktail, with the pear and ginger flavors both subtly intertwined and complimenting the Cazadores nicely.  Give it a try and let me know what you think.

With my first effort under my belt, I turned my attention to my nearly empty bottle of Kajmir.  I really don’t know what led me to pull out … maybe it was just my desire to clear out a space for something new.  Whatever the reason, as I sniffed the now open bottle I started thinking about what else could I pair with this to create a cocktail.  I wanted to stick with the Old Ballycastle Ginger, but I’d need something else as well.  I finally settled on orgeat as my third flavoring ingredient.

  End Of The Line

  • 2 oz Kajmir
  • 1 oz vodka
  • 1/4 oz Old Ballycastle Ginger
  • 1/8 oz orgeat

Combine the ingredients in a mixing glass with ice cubes and stir to mix and chill.  Strain into a rocks glass with an ice ball.  No garnish needed.

This is also a very nice cocktail…a hint of nuttiness from the orgeat, a bit of spice from the ginger and the smooth, slighty smokey vanilla of the Kajmir.  I added the extra shot of vodka (I used Sobieski) to give this drink at list a little heft since the Kajmir is only 40 proof.

I’d ask you to try this one out as well, but unless your one of the three people in the world who still have a bottle, you’ll have a tough time finding it.  Of course, if you get over to the Twilight Lounge soon, I still have enough for a couple more!

Cheers!

Day 69, Cocktails 67 & 68

The Fourth of July is a day of parades, backyard BBQ, swimming, tailgating, fireworks…and a cocktail or two mixed in with a cold beer here and there.  Our day will start with getting ready for the Germantown parade.  We get the added thrill of watching daughter #1 march with the high school band for the first time, including the fancy uniform!  As we’ve done for the past several years we will get to our spot at the Ivee’s parking lot before the streets close and set up a good ol’ fashioned tailgate with Bloody Mary’s, beer, brats and a whole bunch more food than we’ll ever eat.  Our good friends Greg and Patty will be there with us and who knows who else will drop by.

A fun part of the morning is mixing and sipping on our Bloody Marys.  Everyone has their recipe, and I’m no exception.

    Bloody Mary

  • 2 oz Sobieski vodka
  • 2 dashes worcestershire sauce
  • 2 dashes Tabasco sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon horseradish
  • 1/2 oz lemon juice
  • 2 dashes ground black pepper
  • V8 juice

Fill a pint glass with cracked ice.  Add the all the ingredients, topping the glass with the V8 juice last.  Stir to mix.  Garnish with a pickled aspargus spear, a dill pickle spear and 3 green olives. 

This recipe gives just a little bit of bite and with all the garnish and V8, you practically have a full days allotment of vegetables!  As I wrote above, we’ll be enjoying these at the tailgate and during the parade.  If you want to add a real Wisconsin flair, add a cube of pepper jack cheese to the garnish and add a beer chaser!

After the parade the fun moves the Patio Lounge and Swim Club for swimming, chilling and grilling as the day turns to evening.  To continue to celebrate the 4th, I like to have an All-American cocktail ready.  This means a cocktail featuring bourbon or rye as the truly original American spirit.  This year it will be my tall version of a Kentucky Kiss, which I found on Colleen Graham’s cocktail website.

  Tall Kentucky Kiss

  • 2 oz Maker’s Mark bourbon
  • 1 oz strawberry puree
  • 1/2 oz lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz maple syrup

Combine all the ingredients in a shaker with 4-5 ice cubes.  Shake to chill and mix.  Strain into a collins glass filled 2/3 full with cracked ice.  Top with seltzer water and garnish with a strawberry.

This is a delicious, bourbon based cooler that’s not too sweet, not too tart, but just right!

Have a happy and safe 4th!  I’ll see you again on the 5th!

Cheers!

Hey, save some for me!

 

Day 58, Cocktails 51, 52, 53 

Whew, another Polish Fest is in the books!  To say it was fun would be an understatement.  The food – pierogies, stuffed cabbage, kielbasi…hmmm!  The polka music and dancing.  And of course, the vodka!  You have to love a festival that features vodka tastings! 

My vodka weekend started Friday night with a classic vodka martini.  Yes, I normally prefer to drink gin martinis.  However, the vodka martini is sometimes a nice change of pace and is the only other cocktail that you will see me refer to as a “martini”.  Besides, if it’s good enough for James Bond, it’s good enough for me! 

  Vodka Martini 

  • 3oz Chopin vodka
  • 1/4 oz Martini & Rossi dry vermouth
  • 1 dash Agnosturo bitters

Combine in a shaker with 4-5 ice cubes.  Shake vigourously to chill and mix.  Pour into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with three unstuffed cocktail olives.  

Enjoy as all your troubles slip away! 

Saturday was the big day for us.  We piled into the van with Brett, Greg and Patty and headed down to Polish Fest.  Sue and Mark and Don and Dawn joined us after a delicious dinner for the main even of the evening – the Sobieski vodka tasting!  We actually tasted 6 vodkas and then 4 meads – another Polish delicacy.  I am taking the liberty of counting the vodka tasting as one cocktail and the mead tasting as one cocktail.  Considering that the tastings covered a total of 10 shots (OK, so they were only 1/2 oz, but still), I think they count towards my mission. 

Vodka (Wodka) Tasting 

I’ll give my review of each of the vodka’s in order of least favorite to most favorite. 

Sobieski Vanilla – I’m no fan of flavored vodkas, as my regular readers know.  I’ve had other vanilla vodkas, and to be honest, this one just wasn’t very good.  I’m sure it could be mixed with something that would make it worthwhile to drink, but I’d rather add vanilla extract if I want vanilla flavoring in my drink.  The taste was harsh and almost more coffee flavored than vanilla to me. 

Sobieski Citron – Pretty much the same story here.  Although this was better than the vanilla, I thought it was a bit harsh and not all that lemony.  Real lemon juice mixed with vodka tastes much better. 

Sobieski – This is the flagship of the Sobieski brand.  This vodka is an exceptional value!  At about $18 for a 1.75l bottle, it is cheaper by far than premium vodkas, yet compares very favorably.  It is very smooth, particularly when chilled.  This is good enough for a martini, and as I said, at half the price of the “premium” brands, you just can’t lose. 

Stawski Koneser – This is a slightly “premium” label for Sobieski.  Like Sobieski, it is distilled from Polish rye.  Just a bit smoother than the Sobieski, it was very pleasant to drink.  You may have a harder time finding it, but it’s definately worth the work. 

Debowa Oak Tree – OK, so I know, this is a flavored vodka.  The difference here is that its flavor is primarily derived from a sliver of oak that is placed in the bottle.  The oak combined with Black Elder flower makes for a delightful vodka to sip.  Smooth yet oakey (really?) I would drink this one neat. 

Polmos Extra Zytnia – This was the class of the bunch for me.  A high quality rye vodka with the very small addition of apple spirits, this was delicious, mellow and smooth.  This would be great with a twist or on the rocks with just a touch of cranberry.  Again, harder to find, but worth it. 

Mead Tasting 

Polish mead is a honey based liqueur that is aged between 1 and 6 years before aging.  Most meads also incorporate additional flavorings.  Not quite as sweet as krupnik, but very, very tasty nonetheless. 

Bernardynksi Royal Mead (4 years) – This mead has subtle cherry flavor with the honey.  I bit harsh on the aftertaste, this ranked fourth for me. 

Kurpiowski Polish Mead (5 years) – A lighter color than the Bernardynski, this mead spent 2 of its 5 years in oak barrels, contributing to its complexity.  Smoother, this was my third favorite. 

Lednick Mead (1 year) – Suprisingly dark and with little beyond the honey on the palate, this was very good.  I was suprised given that it had been aged only for 1 year, but the bright flavor really appealed to me. 

Jadwiga Miod Pitny (6 year) – The best of these meads, this compared very well to many of the better tawny ports that I’ve had.  Ideal for an after dinner drink, this had a deep amber color and was rich and mellow.  I really enjoyed this one and am looking to pick a bottle up. 

Well, there you have it, the final Polish Fest report.  I hope you can make it next year! 

 

That's a fine looking mule there...

Day 50, Cocktail 47

I’ve done a couple of other mules previously, but figured it was time for a Polish twist (did I mention Polish Fest is this weekend?).  Really, like Mexico and Moscow are the only places that have mules?  I started thinking about this one last night as I was tinkering with the Old Krupnik and saw a variety of recipes that mixed it with ginger beer or ginger ale.  I tried two versions of this little number tonight and with Gwen’s tasting help (and she got the winner).  After talking through the pros and cons,  I settled on this final version.  So, without further adieu, the Polish Mule.

  Polish Mule

  • 1 oz Sobieski vodka
  • 1 oz Old Krupnik
  • ginger ale

In a collins glass mix the Sobieski and Old Krupnik together with 3 ice cubes.  Add 3-4 more ice cubes and top with ginger ale.  Garnish with a lime slice.

The honey flavor of the Old Krupnik and the ginger ale work very well together.  The vodka is used to give this drink the backbone it needs.  If I had used 2oz of Old Krupnik the honey flavor would have overwhelmed the ginger ale.  This makes a very nice summer cocktail that’s different from your run of the mill rum and cola or gin and tonic.  Try it and let me know what you think!

Cheers!