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Last night, I celebrated International Women’s Day with Holly, Pilar, Maura and Melinda at Drink.  This is not a day generally acknowledged here in the US, but in Europe it’s a big deal—it’s a time to get together with your closest gal pals and be merry.  And merry we were.

I told bartender Joe Staropoli that I wanted to celebrate the day with cocktails named after women.  The first drink he made for me was the Mamie Taylor.  Following the criteria for a highball—a spirit with a sparkling mixer served in a tall glass with ice—the Mamie Taylor is a yum combination of blended scotch, lime juice, and ginger beer (home-made, of course).  I loved the wonderful spiciness of the ginger in this drink.  It was warm, refreshing and bright.

Image of Mamie Taylor from broadside, c. 1900

So, who was Mamie Taylor and how did she get a drink named after her?  She was popular opera singer and actress in the late 19th-early 20th centuries. One story says that a bartender in Rochester, New York created the drink for Mamie when she requested a refreshing drink on a hot day.  Whatever the exact origin of its creation, Mamie’s namesake cocktail quickly became the “it” drink after its debut in 1899.  “The latest bit on these hot days is a nice cool Mamie Taylor.” (Daily News, 1900)  Its popularity, however, waned just as fast; within a few years, no one was ordering a Mamie Taylor.  Luckily for us, the recipe was noted in Jack Townsend’s 1952 The Bartender’s Book, and Ted Haigh keeps it alive in Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails.

For my second drink, I had a Barbara West.  Unlike my first drink, the origin of this cocktail’s name and whether or not its linked to an actual woman named Barbara West is unclear.  After the first sip, I was intrigued.  I liked it a lot, but I couldn’t instantly identify the spirit.  Instead of telling me, Joe gave us a clue, “Think of a Stevie Wonder song. And the main ingredient sounds like that.”  We all began humming and singing different songs (we discovered that I easily confuse Stevie Wonder and Lionel Richie– “Hello. Is it me you’re looking for?”).  As Pilar began “My cheri amour, lovely as a summer’s day…” a smile came across Joe’s face—sherry!

The Barbara West is made with sherry, gin, lemon juice, and orange bitters.  I was surprised by how much I liked it, since I am still acquiring my taste for sherry.  But this drink is dry and crispy and really wonderful.  Whoever you are Barbara West, your cocktail is pretty great!

So, while International Women’s Day is a good day to celebrate with the wonderful women in your life, don’t wait until next March 8.  Any day is a good time—and Mamie Taylor and Barbara West make fine company for such an occasion.  Cheers!

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In ancient Norse mythology the Northern Lights, or aurora borealis, were reflections off the spectacular armor of the Valkyries, the warrior women who escorted the dead across the northern skies to the legendary Valhalla.  For the Romans, Aurora was the goddess of the dawn.  Each day to rejuvenate herself she flew across the northern sky to announce the coming of the sun.  And Finnish folklore tells of mythical foxes that spark fires in the sky with their tales.  You may be wondering what this mythology has to do with cocktails…

Comfortably seated at Craigie’s crowded bar (this is one popular place!), Holly and I enjoyed a Northern Lights while we waited for Maura to join us.  This drink is SO good!  With scotch, St. Germain, lemon and tiki bitters this cocktail has a wonderful range of flavors, like the beautiful spectrum of colors of the meteorological phenomenon of the same name.  The smoky, sweet, and tart flavors are enhanced with house-made tiki bitters which feature ginger, orange essence and baking spices.  One of the things that Holly and I liked best about this drink was the subtly of the St. Germain.  Now, I totally love the elderflower liqueur, but it often takes over a drink.  Here, however, the scotch holds it at bay and the St. Germain just adds a delicate bright sweetness.  A drink that stands up to the legends of ancient mythology– complex, magical, and pleasing.

Maura soon joined us and we moved onto the Cocktail Whim.  This was my 3rd adventure in this cocktail tasting and I love the concept more and more each time.  Once again, Carrie served up four great drinks– three of which featured Benedictine, one of my favorite liqueurs.  We started with a Belle du Jour—brandy, Benedictine, house-made grenadine topped with Champagne.

Maura, Holly and I enjoying our Belle du Jour-- Look at that gorgeous color!

Our second drink was a classic daiquiri— rum, lime juice, and simple syrup.  Deliciously simple. Simply delicious.  Next, we sipped on a Vieux Carre—rye, brandy, sweet vermouth, Benedictine, Angostura and Peychaud’s.  The rich, complexity of this drink paired nicely with our delicious burgers.  Our final drink, a Colleen Bawn—a flip made with brandy, Benedictine and yellow Chartreuse (and an egg, of course)– was a nice herbally ending to our tasting.  Then as an extra treat, Carrie let us sample a drink she’s working on for next Sunday’s event at Green Street.  All I’ll say is that it’s heavy on the smoky mezcal and leave the rest for next Sunday.

Cheers!

With Christmas upon us, the nostalgia of holiday traditions has overtaken my sensibilities. I come from a family that thrives on traditions. And I am the first to admit that some are pretty cheesy, but I totally love it! There is comfort and reassurance in the familiar. I do not find it boring or monotonous as some may, but rather I am invigorated by keeping cherished traditions alive. We are who we are because we bring the past to the present. And as time marches on and loved ones are no longer with us we remember them in these family rituals. For example, this Christmas as I felt the sadness of losing my grandfather this past year, I couldn’t imagine not having toutaes (a homemade ravioli/tortellini).  He learned to make these pastas from his mother and he passed along this tradition to me.  As I rolled out pasta dough I thought about him—and in that way he will always be with me.

So, what does all this have to do with cocktails? The past couple nights my adventures in cocktails have been about traditions.  Monday night I continued a pre-holiday outing with my brother and sister.  Then Tuesday night I met friends for a traditional Christmastime drink.

Jess and Nick enjoying their first cocktails at Drink

Monday night, I introduced my brother Nick and sister Jess to Drink for our 2nd annual pre-holiday outing. We had lots of good drinks; I won’t describe all in detail, but instead I’ll share some highlights. Jess realized that maybe she does like cocktails after all while—if any place will convince you that cocktails are fabulous, its Drink. She especially enjoyed her Big Red (raspberry syrup, lemon, Aperol and vodka)—beautiful color for the holidays and it was a really nice mix of sweet and bitter. Nick wanted something a little stiffer so he enjoyed a Sazerac for the first time and then ended the evening with a Manhattan variation—equal parts Booker 127 proof bourbon and Punt de Mes—Aaron called it the Moto Guzzi (after the motorcycle). One sip of that and you realize why people drink booze to stay warm!

Jess with her Big Red and me with my Champs Elysees

I decided to check another drink of my 100 must-have cocktails, and opted for the Champs Elysees.

The Champs Elysees

As I took my first sip, I kind of fell in love—why have I never had this cocktail before? The drink features cognac, lemon, sugar, yellow Chartreuse, and bitters. Just look at that gorgeous golden color. The cognac offers a rich base and the yellow Chartreuse adds a subtle herbalness (its mellow than the green variety) and the lemon brightens the whole thing up. Its very drinkable and also complex in flavor. Really yum! This just may become a new favorite!

For my final drink of the evening, Aaron gave me his Battle of Hastings cocktail.

The Battle of Hastings

This was the perfect way to end the evening. The ingredients here were the inspiration for the name. And for those of you who don’t remember exactly what the Battle of Hastings was, don’t feel bad Jess, Nick and I didn’t either. But I learned it was the 1066 battle between the Saxons and the Normans. The Benedictine and Calvados are from Normandy, while the smoky Scotch is from the British Isle. But before all this yum booze gets added a demerara sugar cube is muddled with 7 dashes of Fee Bros. Whiskey Barrel Bitters (I previously thought I didn’t like these bitters, but this drink changed my mind). I absolutely loved the smokiness of the scotch and layers of flavors that the Benedictine and Calvados added. A perfect ending.

Tuesday night, I met Molly, Matt and Jeannie at No. 9 Park for a Tom and Jerry, a classic Christmastime cocktail developed in the early 19th century.

Of course this drink has nothing to do with the antics of the cat and mouse pair we remember from childhood. Instead it is a combination of a homemade batter of eggs, sugar and spices—cloves, nutmeg and all spice—served over rum and brandy that are mixed with hot milk. Imagine sweet frothy eggnog that kind of tastes like meringue that is followed by a very boozy warm liquid. Jeannie may have described it best, “Initially you are attacked by a marshmallow, and then you are hit in the face with spicy liquor.” It may take some getting used to for some—the boozy part is really boozy—but on a cold winter evening the warm booze with sweet batter that is filled with all the flavors of the holiday season really hits the spot. Taking a break from the hectic running around that we all do before the holidays to enjoy a traditional Christmastime beverage with friends seems to be a holiday tradition I could get used to.

Happy Cocktailing and Happy Holidays! Salute!

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