320 Main, Seal Beach, (2012)
Good-tasting beer cocktails understand that beer is already a finished product, then look to enhance and support what’s already there. Same goes for champagne, sherry… hell, even good-quality sipping spirits don’t need an assist from citrus, sugar, or whatnot. But when balanced thoughtfully, beer cocktails work great. And thinking about balance is just what got Jason Schiffer at 320 Main going on one of their most popular original cocktails, the Detroiter. On paper, it doesn’t sound like it will work… but take that first sip and you’ll get it. A balancing act of bitter, sweet, and just enough tartness evoke the fall flavors of apple and spice without tipping into the obvious Pumpkin Spice Latte category.
I asked Jason what inspired this drink, originally called the Michigander and made without the beer component. He says, “I was missing my favorite time of the year back home in Michigan – remembering pumpkin-carving parties my Mom took me to when I was a kid, raking leaves, and making cider from the apples we foraged in nearby orchards. I had this picture in my mind with these nostalgic tastes and smells. Applejack was an obvious place to start, and it only seemed natural to gravitate toward Cynar to mimic the earthy smells of the fall leaves. This original drink was called the Michigander – it starts a little on the sweet side and finishes somewhat drier so it works. Then, the Detroiter was born when a couple guys came in asking for a beer cocktail. We didn’t have one at the time, so I figured the Michigander’s front-end sweetness should stand up to a nice, dry beer. I knew hoppy beers pair well with bitter spirits, so IPA it went. Adjusting the recipe a bit and bringing in the high proof of the bonded Laird’s apple brandy instead of their 80-proof ‘applejack’ zeroes out any possible unpleasant bitterness from the hops and the Cynar.”
The grapefruit twist garnish is essential – its mix of bitter, sweet, and tart echoes what’s going on in the glass and helps it all make sense. To hit the right notes in this drink, look for a good-quality IPA like Ballast Point’s Sculpin, Russian River’s Blind Pig, AleSmith IPA, or if you really like a blast of hops, Stone’s Double Dry Hopped.
Hardware: Jigger, Muddler, Barspoon, Hawthorne strainer (if using Boston shaker), Fine-mesh strainer
Ice: Ice cubes
Glassware: Rocks glass
Spirit: Applejack (Laird’s apple brandy 100 proof)
Mixers: Cynar, Beer (India Pale Ale), Honey syrup (three parts honey mixed with one part hot water)
Juice & Garnish: Lemon juice, Grapefruit twist
In an empty shaker, add:
1 oz Cynar
1 oz beer (India Pale Ale)
3/4 oz applejack
3/4 oz lemon juice
3/4 oz honey syrup
Dry shake briefly to blend and release some carbonation from the beer. Add ice and shake again to chill. Double-strain (to catch small bits of ice and citrus pulp) into a rocks glass over ice cubes. Add an extra:
1 oz beer (India Pale Ale)
Stir to blend. Pinch a grapefruit twist over the drink to express oils onto its surface, then lightly brush the twist around the glass exterior. Garnish with the twist.
You’ll just have to drink the leftover beer, darn the luck.
Sycamore Den, San Diego, CA (2013)
With the benefit of hindsight, it’s generally acknowledged the ’70s and ’80s were the Dark Times of 20th-century drinkmaking. Maybe cocktail culture just wasn’t high on the priority list: America had just emerged from a decade of radical upheaval and change: the civil rights movement, the Vietnam war, the sexual revolution, the emergence of the psychedelic youth culture, and the best blues, soul, rock, pop, and country music ever created. The ’70s presented a new set of challenges: ending a war, firing a president, finding equality for gays and lesbians, running out of gas, and dealing with out-of-control pollution. The general question seemed to be, “so… now what?” The general answer (in the face of all this heaviness) seemed to be, “Have a Good Time.”
Drinks in the ’70s were all about stupid simplicity: Margarita (José Cuervo & Sour Mix), Rum & Coke, Screwdriver (vodka & orange juice). People didn’t go to bars for a culinary experience – they went to bars to get laid. Drinks functioned as alcohol-delivery systems to loosen libidos and, maybe, indicators of what lay ahead in the night: Margarita drinkers were partiers, Screwdriver drinkers couldn’t handle strong feelings (or flavors), Rusty Nail drinkers had fingers that smelled like an ashtray.
The original Harvey Wallbanger recipe, as promoted by Galliano, was a softer Screwdriver (that was already disappointingly limp): one ounce of vodka, six ounces of orange juice (most likely pasteurized, from concentrate) and a half-ounce float of Galliano, the herbal Italian vanilla-and-anise liqueur. Not a very interesting mix – but the seed of an idea is there.
San Diego bartender Eric Johnson is too young to have suffered the drinks of the ’70s, but he has an appreciation for “The Me Decade.” He designed the bar menu at Sycamore Den, a new hot spot in Normal Heights that celebrates the glorious awfulness of those days with diagonal wood paneling, a sunken “conversation pit,” macramé, and swag lamps. I’m convinced there’s a hidden “Dad’s rec room” somewhere on the premises with shag carpeting, a hi-fi, a bong, and a stack of vintage Swank magazines. The drinks at Sycamore Den are contemporary, though (you didn’t see too much mezcal, Suze, absinthe, or Aperol on ’70s menus)… with one exception: the Hardly Wallbanger. Johnson was curious about the original Harvey Wallbanger and couldn’t figure out what accounted for its popularity. Marketing can only go so far, you know. Johnson told me, “I definitely was loving Galliano and wanted to showcase the liqueur over the neutral spirit, vodka. I added vanilla to satisfy my sweet tooth and was thinking ‘Orange Julius’ after a couple attempts. I had the staff test it out and all were nodding or banging their heads in approval!” The Hardly Wallbanger chucks what’s bad about the original and enhances everything good – keeping its creamy orange-and-vanilla lightness, adding a subtle tartness, and shining a light on the recently-reformulated Galliano’s intriguing herbal blend.
Keep an eye on what oranges you use in this – Valencias will be sweeter, so you’ll probably want to dial down the simple syrup to a quarter-ounce. If you’re using the more common Navel oranges, stick with a half-ounce. Use real vanilla extract, not imitation vanilla flavor – even though it’s just a few drops, you’ll know the difference.
Hardware: Shaker, Jigger, Barspoon, Eyedropper, Cocktail pick, Straw (optional)
Ice: Ice cubes, Cracked ice
Glassware: Collins glass
Spirit: vodka (recommended: Karlsson’s Gold, Absolut)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Galliano, Simple syrup, Seltzer (or tonic water (recommended: Fever-Tree) or sparkling mineral water (recommended: Pellegrino))
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Orange juice, Lemon juice, Vanilla extract, Orange wheel, Cherry (recommended: Filthy amarena, Luxardo maraschino)
In a shaker about a third-full with ice cubes, add:
1 1/2 oz vodka
1 oz Galliano
2 oz orange juice
1/2 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz simple syrup
3 drops vanilla extract
Shake briefly to blend and chill, then strain into a Collins glass filled about two-thirds of the way up with cracked ice. Top with:
2 oz seltzer
Add additional ice as needed. Stir lightly to blend and garnish with an orange wheel and cherry pierced on a cocktail pick. Optionally, serve with a straw.
New Orleans, Louisiana (1888)
The Ramos Gin Fizz doesn’t mean to be difficult, really. It’s just that creating a glassful of pillowy heaven does take a bit of work and attention. Even the name – which shouldn’t be difficult – is: the correct Spanish pronunciation is “RAH-mose” but most people I know say this as “RAY-mose.” To make things more confusing, in New Orleans, some say it “RAY-muss.” Whatever. As they say, “Call me anything you want, just don’t call me late for breakfast.”
This drink evolved from the basic Sour 2:1:1 formula (spirit:citrus:sweet) into a Fizz (by adding seltzer, like a Tom Collins but without ice) and from there into a group of fancy Fizzes (egg white makes a Silver Fizz, egg yolk makes a Golden Fizz, whole egg makes a Royal Fizz). Adding cream and orange flower water was the masterstroke by barman Henrico “Henry” Charles Ramos at the now-extinct Imperial Cabinet Saloon in New Orleans back in 1888. The drink became so popular, Ramos employed a line of up to 35 “Shaker Boys” to pass the shaking tins down an assembly line, vigorously shaking each drink in succession for up to 12 minutes total.
125 years of practice and refinement have perfected this little number. Some will tell you removing the spring from a Hawthorne strainer and adding it to the shaker will help whip the drink, but in practice, it actually over-aearates the drink. Some will say you have to shake the drink for ten minutes – that’s bullshit, too. Don’t add the seltzer to the mix, either – the shaker will have a hard enough time staying sealed with the egg white and cream expanding as you go. You may occasionally see a couple drops of vanilla in this drink – which tends to overwhelm the delicate flavors, if you ask me. But good ice does make a key difference here, even though you’ll only be using one cube from a Tovolo 1″ ice tray (unless you’re one of those mad geniuses with a Kold-Draft machine at home). The density of the ice will ensure the drink dilutes, chills, and whips properly. And the right glassware is crucial (an 8-ounce fizz glass like the Libbey 2318 Lexington), to help hold that stasis of booze, air, and protein afloat. Don’t try to make two of these in one shaker – it just won’t work.
This technique was taught to me by 320 Main bartender Shaun Cole, who learned it from bartender, brand ambassador, and consultant Marcos Tello. Word is, Marcos traveled the country gathering techniques from various bartenders and even food scientists, then consolidated the best-of into this recipe. Jason Schiffer, owner of 320 Main, told me this drink “lets bartenders show off their skills like no other drink.” It takes focus and practice to get this one right, but the effort is rewarded. The ideal texture is a tight, dense, almost-meringue-like foam floating atop a creamy, aerated liquid base – not a frothy mass of loose, sloppy bubbles.
If you’re concerned about consuming raw egg whites, try not to be. It’s fine, you won’t die. Just make sure your eggs are cold and fresh, and that you don’t get any chickenshit in your drink.
The Ramos Gin Fizz is perfect for a warm spring or summer brunch, so long as you’re up to the task. Reserve this for a morning that’s not a morning-after!
Hardware: Jigger, Shaker, Eyedropper, Muddler, Tovolo 1″ Ice Cube Tray, Straw, Spoon
Glassware: 8-ounce fizz glass
Ice: Ice cube
Spirit: Old Tom gin (recommended: Hayman’s) or London Dry gin (recommended: Beefeater) or Plymouth gin
Mixer: Simple syrup, Seltzer or Tonic water (recommended: Fever-Tree) or sparkling mineral water (recommended: Pellegrino)
Accents & Garnishes: Lemon juice, Lime juice, Orange flower water (look for a French brand, but Middle Eastern will do), Heavy cream (aka “whipping cream” – but not whipped cream), Egg white
Chill a fizz glass in the freezer at least ten minutes. In a cocktail shaker, combine:
1 1/2 oz gin
1/2 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz lime juice
3/4 oz simple syrup
1/2 oz heavy cream
3 drops orange flower water
In a second container (to avoid contamination from a piece of eggshell), separate:
1 egg white
Discard the yolk and the chalazae (the thick, stringy part connected to the yolk) and combine the egg white with the previous ingredients. Seal the shaker very tightly and dry shake for ten to twelve seconds to emulsify the ingredients. Hold the shaker lid firmly while shaking – the egg whites will foam and expand in volume and will create pressure in the shaker.
1 ice cube (1″ square)
Whip the shaker vigorously until you hear the ice cube has completely dissolved. Pour, unstrained, into the chilled fizz glass. Hold the glass in one hand, and, using a muddler, tap on the bottom of the glass for a minute or two. Look for the level of the drink to settle down about 1/8″ or so, and for any large bubbles in the foam to dissipate. You’re looking for a thick, consistent foam texture in the drink. Next, to the surface of the drink, add:
2 drops orange flower water
In the used shaker, add:
2 oz seltzer
Slowly drizzle the seltzer straight down the center of the drink from a height of about an inch or two. If you’ve done everything right, you’ll see the foamy head of the drink rising slowly above the rim of the glass. Keep pouring seltzer down the same spot and keep an eye on the foamy head. If it starts to sag around the edges, stop adding seltzer.
Serve with a straw (and a spoon to scoop out those last bits of meringuey goodness), then congratulate yourself on creating a thing of beauty. Kick back the rest of the day, you’ve earned it.
p.s. You may want to keep a spoon handy for scooping out the last little bit of foamy, citrusy goodness.