Mexico (maybe 1920s, hard to tell)
You might be surprised to learn Mexico’s most popular tequila cocktail is not the Margarita. What works best in triple-digit heat turns out to be something tall, icy, a little sweet, a little sour, a tiny bit salty, even a touch bitter to keep it dry – a delicious combo called “La Paloma” (Dove). Tequila and grapefruit soda with a squeeze of lime, plus a pinch of salt in the drink before you shake that does double-duty: boosting the various flavors and unifying the ice and liquid in a pleasant slush. Yes, you could substitute the grapefruit soda for fresh grapefruit juice, simple syrup, and seltzer… but if you can hunt down Jarritos Toronja soda at your local Mexican market, you’ll get extra points for authenticity (and a better-tasting drink, to boot). Squirt works as an I-guess-so substitute.
Now, if you’re a die-hard and can wait six weeks, get some good-quality reposado tequila, three pints of ripe, sweet, organic strawberries, and let ’em steep together… make a Paloma with this Tequila por mi Amante as relayed to me by Paul Clarke & Chuck Taggart (recipe follows), and this drink goes straight into orbit.
Hardware: Shaker, Jigger, Straw (optional), Hawthorne strainer (if using Boston shaker)
Ice: Ice cubes, Cracked ice
Glassware: Collins glass
Spirit: Tequila (plata or reposado, recommended: El Jimador, Espolón)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Grapefruit soda (recommended: Jarritos Toronja)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lime juice, Salt, Lime wheel
In a shaker about a third-full with ice cubes, add:
2 oz tequila
1/2 oz lime juice
1 pinch salt
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:
3 oz grapefruit soda
Stir lightly to blend and garnish with a lime wheel. Optionally, serve with a straw.
TEQUILA POR MI AMANTE
In an airtight container, combine 1 750 ml bottle reposado tequila with 3 pints ripe, organic, strawberries that have been washed and hulled (large ones sliced in half). Reserve the empty tequila bottle. Seal the container and allow to steep in the refrigerator three weeks, gently agitating occasionally. After three weeks, strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer and cheesecloth into the reserved tequila bottle and return to the refrigerator an additional three weeks to mellow. Strain through cheesecloth to filter out any coagulated natural pectin from the strawberries. Keep refrigerated afterward.
Trader Vic’s (1944)
You really can’t improve on perfection, but that hasn’t stopped the world from screwing up Trader Vic’s original Mai Tai for almost 70 years. I’ve already detailed the secretive and combative world of Tiki in my write-up about the Navy Grog – I’d say that contributed to the degradation of the Mai Tai, but Trader Vic himself also changed his recipe as time went on, adding more citrus juices (and more rum). Trader Vic originally used Wray & Nephew 17-year old rum in his recipe, but the Mai Tai was so popular, he actually depleted the world supply of that rum (or they just stopped making it), then the same with 15-year expression that came afterward. These days, the Trader Vic’s chain restaurants make the drink with a crappy, artificial-tasting bottled mix and inferior rum. Feel free to experiment with mixing two different rums (as I do here), or try just one kickass rum in this. My friend Matt “RumDood” Robold says he’s made this with Smith & Cross and “enjoyed it more than he probably should have” and I can back that up – even just a quarter-ounce in place of some of the aged Jamaican rum works great. The great bang-for-the-buck aged rum Appleton 12 is a minor luxury. If you’re up for it, make a batch of homemade orgeat (recipe below), or look around for B.G. Reynolds‘ excellent version. Either way, done right using this old-school recipe, the Mai Tai will take you back to the early days of Tiki, as US Marines were returning from the Pacific back home to southern California, eager to both remember and forget what they’d been through over there.
Hardware: Shaker, Jigger, Straws (optional), Hawthorne strainer (if using Boston shaker)
Ice: Ice cubes, Crushed ice
Glassware: Double rocks glass
Spirits: Aged Jamaican rum (recommended: Appleton Estate 12 or Reserve), aged rhum agricole (recommended: Neisson Élevé Suis Bois or Rhum J.M. Vieux VSOP)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Curaçao (recommended: Senior Curaçao of Curaçao, Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao), Simple syrup, Orgeat (recommended: BG Reynolds’ or make your own; recipe below)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lime juice, Lime hull half (reserve from squeezing), Fresh spearmint
In a shaker about a third-full with ice cubes, add:
1 oz aged Jamaican rum
1 oz aged rhum agricole
1 oz lime juice
1/2 oz Curaçao
1/4 oz orgeat
1/4 oz simple syrup
Shake well to chill. Fill a Double Old Fashioned glass with crushed ice, then strain the drink over the ice, adding more ice to top if needed. Garnish with the spent lime hull half (rind side up) and a mint sprig that’s been lightly slapped against the rim of the glass to release its aromatic oils. Optionally, serve with two straws cut to size.
In a heavyweight Ziploc, break up 2 1/2 cups whole, raw almonds – looking for large chunks, not powder. A rolling pin or muddler works well. Toast at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. In a saucepan, combine the crushed, toasted almonds with 2 cups of sugar and 1 1/2 cups of water. Bring to a simmer, then cook 4 minutes or so, stirring. Remove from heat and let cool, then pour into an airtight container and let steep 24 hours. Strain the mixture through a cheesecloth-lined strainer into a jar or bottle (it’ll take a while to slowly drip out), then add 12 drops of orange flower water, 12 drops of rose water, and 1 oz of overproof vodka to help reduce spoilage. Shake to blend. Keep refrigerated. Will last about 3 months.
The Edison, Los Angeles, CA (2008)
There’s been a bit of a resurgence in punch these last couple years, led by two fronts. One is from craft bartenders wanting to make sure everyone in a crowded bar gets a quick drink when the line starts backing up. The other is David Wondrich, booze historian, and his fascinating book “Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl.” And for good reason: one of the simplest ways to make sure a large party is sufficiently quenched is with a big bowl of punch. Sure, it’s a bit of work upfront that you’ll need to plan far ahead for, but it frees you – the host – to kick back a bit when your guests arrive. They’ll serve themselves and gather around the punch bowl just like in Colonial times. Nice how some things never change!
This particular recipe comes from The Edison in Downtown Los Angeles. Of all the punch recipes I’ve tried recently, this one knocks the rest to the mat with one tap. Delicious, just strong enough, and perfectly balanced. Plus, you’ll pick up a fancy new word to bandy about: “oleosaccharum.” This is another place to use that batch of homemade grenadine you made – please don’t use that fake toxic-red shit.
Look for glass punch bowl sets at thrift stores or estate sales. You’ll find fantastic-looking vintage pieces, sometimes even complete sets with a dozen or more punch cups, edge hooks, and a ladle. I regularly see them in my area for under $20.
To maintain dilution when you serve your punch, you’ll want to hand-fashion a large block of ice instead of using ice cubes, which would melt too quickly…
Easy Ice: Find a freezer-safe bowl that fits well inside your punch bowl, with plenty of room for ladling around the edges. Fill the bowl with water and let freeze overnight. When ready, take the ice out, invert the bowl on the counter, and let it drop out (takes a few minutes).
Not-So-Easy (But Really Freaking Awesome) Ice: Fill a small Igloo lunch cooler with water and let freeze 36 hours. When frozen through, invert the cooler in the sink and let it thaw a bit, then slide out. It’ll take some time – but don’t worry, it’ll announce itself when it drops. You won’t miss it. Wearing protective gloves and using a bread knife, carefully carve away the slush and cloudiness at the bottom of the block to reveal a huge hunk of crystal-clear beauty. Round the corners by sawing and hacking, then shape the block to fit your punch bowl. When finished, you can store the block in a gallon Ziploc in your freezer until needed.
Hardware: Measuring cups & spoons, Muddler, Strainer, Slotted spoon
Ice: Ice block
Glassware: Punch bowl & punch cups (with ladle)
Spirits: Bourbon whiskey (recommended: Wild Turkey 81, Woodford Reserve, Buffalo Trace)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Lemon oleosaccharum, Grenadine, Champagne
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lemon juice, Angostura bitters
Peel from end to end, avoiding the bitter white pith:
Reserve peeled lemons for juicing. In the punch bowl, combine peels with:
10 tablespoons superfine sugar (not Confectioner’s / Powdered Sugar – run regular white sugar through a dry electric blender if you can’t get superfine)
Muddle well to abrade lemon peel and begin expressing zest oils into the sugar. Stir to combine and let sit at least one hour, stirring occasionally. It’s done when the sugar is no longer gritty and the lemon syrup is smooth and fragrant.
To the oleosaccharum in the punch bowl, add:
4 cups bourbon whiskey (works out to an entire 750 ml bottle plus more)
2 cups lemon juice (strained well to remove pulp and small seeds)
1 cup grenadine
8 dashes Angostura bitters
1 1/2 cups cold water
Stir to blend, then using a hand-held strainer or slotted spoon, remove the lemon peels, making sure they don’t bring any of that oleosaccharum with them. Refrigerate, covered, until ready to serve. Just before your guests arrive, add the ice block and:
1 1/2 cups Champagne (about a quarter of a 750 ml bottle)
Stir to blend and then relax. You’re done.
MAKES 20 SERVINGS