clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

RBR Tailgating: Cocktail Hour

New, comments

"It's always five o'clock somewhere!" is pretty cliched. I don't like that particular phrase, but if someone decided to use it I wouldn't judge because, believe it or not, this little teaser is the hardest part of any post to write. Slainte.

It was suggested to me that I do a post about cocktails. It's not that I'm unfamiliar with behind the bar goings on. I spent a great deal of my working life pouring, mixing, and otherwise facilitating intoxication. The problem is that my personal liquor preferences are fairly straightforward and uncomplicated. It's the steak problem all over again. How do you write an interesting thousand plus words about cooking steak when the best possible recipe is "Add salt and grill"? How do I write a thousand plus words about blending cocktails when my favorite recipe is "Three fingers of Scotch or Jameson, add ice"? It turns out the answer was pretty easy. You find Demian Camacho Santa Anna.

At the tender age of 13 Demian became a mascot of sorts for his uncle's restaurant in his home town of Zitácuaro, a city roughly sixty miles west of Mexico City and just south of the famous winter home of the migratory monarch butterflies. There he learned to mix his first drinks. Since, he has worked in countless bars in Mexico and the United States and owned his own place in La Paz before eventually ending up at his current position behind the bar at Birmingham's Hot n' Hot Fish Club.

I'd describe Demian as Mephistophelian if he weren't always smiling. And it's an infectious smile, particularly when he turns to the subject of libations. I like listening to people who are good at and love their work. For a moment you can see things from their perspective. I know a real estate broker who can hold you rapt as he explains the necessity of property to freedom, a former science fiction and fantasy editor who will leave you swayed, if not convinced, that genre is the best vehicle for revealing truths, and a gynecologist who... well, y'know.*

But seriously, Demian will start in on composition and before you know it, you've heard the history of punch, or of whiskey production in Alabama, or how to properly make a suspension. It's fascinating and made all the more enjoyable as you are generally benefitting from the delicious and relaxing fruits of his labor.

The Tools of the Trade

Cocktail Tools of the Trade

Before we get to the recipes, Demian gives me a quick inventory of the equipment he thinks every home bartender should have on hand.

-          Muddler, preferably plastic or stainless steel. If you must buy a wooden one, avoid the colorful ones at all costs unless you like paint chips in your mojito.

-          Boston Shakers, two piece set. As an aside, he mentions that most people pour everything into the larger shaker. Wrong. You should always work from the smaller shaker to avoid bumping your fingers against the rim when you muddle. I can't tell you how many bruises my fingers suffered because I used the wrong size shaker and never once did it dawn on me, or anyone I've ever worked with come to think of it, to use the smaller sized cup. I feel like an idiot.

-          Bar Spoon. They come in both teaspoon and tablespoon sizes. Either is fine as long as you know which you have.

-          Hawthorne and Julep Strainers. The modern esthetic calls for a clean, clear cocktail but strainers came into vogue for far more utilitarian reasons in a time when dentistry was nascent and ice contact was feared.

-          Channel knife. For making perfect curlicue citrus twists.

-          Jigger, at the very least cups for 1oz. and ½ oz. I find these useful for the first drink. Maybe the second. After that, imprecision reigns.

I mention to Demian that the odds are good most readers will be making do with Solo cups and a Bic pen at their tailgate. He laughs, but I can see the disapproval in his eyes.

The Drinks

He wanted to showcase three recipes: a large batch concoction that could be made ahead in quantities sufficient enough to please a crowd, a sophisticated martini for the ladies, and a strong whiskey based cocktail for the misogynistic guys who think ladies only drink martinis.

I was given reign over the names of his creations. I'm not sure that was the best idea.

First, the large batch concoction.

Rip Tide Punch (I'm not entirely happy with this particular moniker either - hit the comments if you can do better - otherwise lay off)

Cocktail Punch

-          18 Lemons

-          36 tbsps. Sugar (2 per Lemon if you are varying the quantity)

-          1 750ml bottle of Light Rum

-          ¾ 750ml bottle of Triple Sec

-          Cranberry Juice to taste

-          1 -2 Limes, sliced for garnish

We know that Americans have enjoyed punch for most if not all of our country's existence as evidenced by its mention on numerous printed menus from the 18th and early 19th century as well as in written descriptions of formal occasions, but it wasn't until 1862 when Jerry Thomas, the father of modern mixology, put out his seminal work, How to Mix Drinks, The Bon Vivant Companion, that we got a published recipe in the United States. From him Demian takes his inspiration.

Begin by slicing the lemons in half and then scoring the insides. Place them in a bowl, cover with sugar, and then, per Demian, "Muddle the hell out of them." This is going to release the oils in the lemon skins and mix them with the juice and sugar into what is known in the cocktail world as oleo saccharum.

"Oleo," or fat, "saccharum," or sugar, can just as easily be made with limes, oranges, or any other citrus fruit, and serves as the base for pretty much all punches. It gets used to great effect in other cocktails and mixtures, but its highest and best use is clear. Add to the bowl of muddled mess a spirit (in this case light rum) a flavor modifier and/or wine (in this case both the triple sec and cranberry juice) and you have Jerry Thomas certified punch. Add ice, stir, garnish with lime wheels and imbibe.

Demian suggested variations include substituting oranges for half the lemons and adding a half or more bottle of sparkling wine to give an effervescent lightness. I'm thinking I'd opt for the sparkling myself, but I'm a sucker for that stuff as it is.

Next, the sophisticated martini thingy.

The Red Elephant

Cocktail Red Elephant

-          1 ½ oz. Hibiscus Tea

-          1 ½ oz. Vodka

-          ½ oz. Lemon Juice

-          ½ oz. Lime Juice

-          Twist Lemon

By hibiscus tea, he doesn't mean a store bought iced tea flavored with hibiscus. Those products have a definite hibiscus quality to them, but the predominant taste is orange pekoe or black tea. Rather, go to a Mexican grocery store or Whole Foods and buy some good quality dried hibiscus. If your life thus far has improperly prepared you to judge the quality of hibiscus, join the club. I have no idea, either. Thoroughly wash a handful in cold water. Next bring a half gallon of water to a boil, turn off the heat, add the dried flower, and let steep for 5 minutes or so until the water turns crimson. Set aside and let cool.

When the tea is cooled, combine the ingredients in a shaker, add ice, and shake. I thought I knew how to shake a cocktail. I did not. When Demian shakes a cocktail, it stays shaken. Think CLANGA fan in Starkville for the Egg Bowl and the Rebears are going for it on fourth and goal from the one while Christopher Walken is sitting in the seat right next to him. Strain into a martini glass and garnish with a twist of lemon.

If you don't want to go through the trouble of making hibiscus tea, Demian suggests pomegranate juice in its place but warns that since different brands of juices are sweeter or tarter than others and this is meant to be a sweet drink you should keep some simple syrup on hand in case the mix needs a little fortifying. If you've never made simple syrup, boil a set amount of water and add an equal amount of sugar and stir until the sugar completely dissolves into a suspension and then cool. Of course, why you would go to the store, buy pomegranate juice, come home, boil water, add sugar and stir rather than go to the store, buy hibiscus, come home, boil water, let stick steep, add sugar, and stir is beyond me. It seems just as easy to just make the tea.

A variation that we preferred included one additional ingredient, but I left it out because it's prohibitively expensive. ½ oz. of Saint Germain liquor was an unnecessary but very nice addition. It's just hard to justify paying $40 for a bottle when all you want is a splash. If you have some, add it. If not, don't go buy any. The drink is delicious as is.

Finally, the sexist whiskey cocktail. Demian asked me about what people tend to drink at games. He didn't just want to make a tasty beverage, he wanted to come up with something that was tied to the fan experience. I told him about the prevalence of brown liquor and the popularity of Gallettes. When I mentioned that pineapple was the main flavor in the Yellowhammer he smiled. "We should make an Old Fashioned."

I've had some pretty bad Old Fashioneds in my time; maraschino cherries halfheartedly muddled together with a sad orange slice that's been in the bar hopper for three days, not enough bourbon, too much bitters, and a splash of soda. I can see why it's not everybody's favorite. I've also had Demian's Old Fashioned. It's like a consommé; smooth, clean, and bursting with the flavor of unseen ingredients.

So here is his variation on an Old Fashioned with a hat tip toward Gallettes. I call it:

The Stabler

Cocktail Stabler Ingredients

-          2 oz. Bourbon

-          1 thin slice of Pineapple, about the size of a half dollar

-          1 dash Agnostura Bitters

-          4 dashes Regan's Orange Bitters

-          ½ oz. Simple Syrup

-          1 slice of orange peel, about the size of a half dollar

Put the pineapple in the bottom of a shaker, muddle and then add ice. Be sure to use a slice from the edges as the core of the pineapple is almost flavorless. Next add the whiskey, preferably Clyde May's. If you aren't familiar, Clyde May's is produced in Conecuh County. Not so recently the state legislature named it the official state spirit, an honor that was vetoed by Gov. Riley who didn't think it seemly to honor the maker of what was at the time illegal moonshine. The legislature overrode the veto making us the only state aside from Louisiana (of course) that has an official alcoholic beverage (honorable mention to Puerto Rico and their Pina Colada). They have since obtained a license and made a respectable distiller of themselves.

Next add the bitters and simple syrup and stir gently until well mixed.

Cocktail Stirring Stablers

Using a strainer and, if you have it, a wire sieve, pour into a rocks glass and add ice.

Now take your coin sized orange peel slice. A portion of you are up in arms that I would include anything the color orange in a post during Iron Bowl week. Relax. We are going to burn it.

Take the slice between thumb and forefinger and run the flame of a lighter over the skin. This opens up the pores so the oils will flow more freely.

Cocktail Heated Peel

When the orange skin starts to get a little ash on it, hold the flame by the edge of the glass, hold the orange peel coin up to the flame and give it a good hard squeeze. If you did it right you just made a small fireball over the glass. We tried about five times to snap a shot as the orange oils caught fire but missed it every time. You just have to trust me.

Aside from cool showmanship, this adds a lot to the drink. I would have suspected that the flame would consume most of the citrus and that very little would make it to the glass, but I would have been wrong. You can actually see a slight sheen atop the liquor and smell bright citrus.

Garnish with leaves from the pineapple, cleaned of course, and serve.

Cocktail Hour 2

So there you have it. Aside from the confirmed beer or wine drinkers I think there's something for just about everyone you would have to your tailgate. My primary objective was to provide amazing and creative drink recipes. I failed miserably at that, but thankfully Demian stepped in and succeeded beyond my hopes. My secondary objective was to make you loud. I love night games in Death Valley because it gets unholy loud. We all know why. Drink up. We got a night game to win.

I was going to email a proof of this to Demian to check for spelling, procedural, or other errors, but I think I'll take it down to the restaurant and show it to him in person. There is a great likelihood that I will have an Old Fashioned. If you live in Birmingham or plan to be in town anytime soon, drop by Hot n' Hot Fish Club and ask for Demian. If he recommends a cocktail, order it. I'll be amazed if you are disappointed. Tip him well.

*That may be the cheapest attempt at a laugh I have ever gone for. I don't often make genitalia jokes that don't relate to the extraordinarily "ahem" feminine College Football Playoff logo. Sorry about that.