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Gatsby car2

H.L. Mencken called the martini the only American invention as perfect as a sonnet, but I think the Sidecar goes one better: It’s as engrossing and enrapturing as the Great American novel.

Cue the Jay-Z soundtrack bandwagon sound effects Jazz Age music — it’s The Great Gatsby week at The Five O’Clock Cocktail Blog!

Gatsby car4

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If that was Feh-bruary, I’m hoping this doesn’t become Meh-rch.

Part of the reason I didn’t post much last month was, Sean and I conducted a mega cocktailing session a couple weeks ago that yielded, like, 8 or so bloggable potations — zero-ish of which I felt any excitement about. We were going for volume, and aiming to keep the necessary ingredients in line with what we already had on hand. Such cocktailing under pressure can still yield inspiring results — and in fact, I always try to err on the side of fridge and pantry staples when composing recipes, because, you know, Shit At-Home Bartenders Have.

So maybe it was just Feh-bruary working its dour magic, or maybe the problem was that we relied on one book out of our entire cocktail reference library, a book I must now admit I find lacking in its organization, writing style, fonts and pretty much anything else you eyeball when you open a book.

(If you see this book cover, crack with caution…)

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In case you haven’t figured it out yet, this week is unofficially-officially Leftover Champagne Week at the blog. Is this a case of bad timing on my behalf? Surely some of you poured your New Year’s Eve backwash down the drain days ago. But what about youse guys who overstocked for your year-end blowout, and now must stare down the doldrums of January while half a case of perfectly good bubbly makes eyes at you from the top of your fridge? This week’s for you.

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I haven’t told you yet how I spent my New Year’s Eve, have I? Silly me. You’re likely kvetching to know what a pretend professional drinker does on Alcoholics’ Feast Day. (It’s in the Bible, look it up.)

Our evening began early-ish, in the five o’clock hour (it’s not just a blog, it’s a thing you can do!), with the best pizza in the world and a list of champagne cocktails to make. Earlier, we’d picked up a cheapo bottle of bubbles, and of course to get every penny’s worth of the $9.97 you just spent on lowercase-c champagne so embarrassingly embarrassing that I refuse to even mention it by name here, you have to plan for several fizzy drinks at once.

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Do more classic cocktails, is my #1 resolution for the blog this year. As much as I love, and have no plans to cease, inventing original recipes, perhaps I should ease up on bedeviling you all with my illimitable tipple perspicacity (resolution #2: consult thesaurus more) for the sake of some insightful, happy hour convo-worthy history lessons on drinks that have stood the test of time, or haven’t but deserve as much. Plus, discuss how to make said vintage drinks at their finest, a la The World’s Greatest Cosmopolitan. (Resolution Trois: I am the greatest!)

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Platitude-y as it sounds, the only secret ingredients in the World’s Greatest Mint Julep are care and time. There is no rare species of mint to hunt down and you can use pretty much any brand of bourbon you want. Most everyone (myself included) uses Maker’s Mark. Woodford Reserve is widely considered to be an appropriate top-shelf upgrade, but that’s mostly marketing hype (Woodford being the “official” bourbon of the Kentucky Derby).  A julep’s mint and sugar bludgeon subtlety right out of any whiskey. This is not a bad thing. It is, in fact, a most yummy bludgeoning.

I do not advocate making juleps in large batches. What I do when I make an individual mint julep is this. I take pinches of fresh mint leaves and I tear them all in two before dropping them into my julep cup. I do this until the bottom of the cup is covered. Then I pour just enough mint-steeped simple syrup in there to cover the leaves. (To make mint syrup: Make simple syrup on the stove in a pot. The moment you hit boiling, turn off the flame and toss in a handful of mint leaves. Stir a bit. Once it’s cool, strain syrup into container.)

I muddle for longer than is comfortable and I listen all the while for that telltale crunch of the leaves’ veins submitting to me. The reason I first covered the leaves with syrup is, once you start smashing those leaves, they start releasing oils and aromatics, and if the leaves were uncovered and dry, all of that would just escape into the air. The syrup keeps those flavoring agents in the bottom of the glass where they belong.

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