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A couple weeks ago The Boston Shaker hosted a tasting event with Barritt’s Ginger Beer and my obsession with the stuff has now been revived.  I love the contrast of spicy and sweet and because it combines well with such a variety of other flavors it’s a must for any summer bar.

Before the recipes, a bit about ginger beer.  First produced in England in the mid-18th century,  the early recipe included ginger, sugar, water, and lemon juice.  This mixture was then combined with a yeast and bacteria combo, known as a ginger beer plant, which caused fermentation.  Some of the early ginger beers could have had an alcohol content of up to 11%.  Modern ginger beer, like the Barritt’s we sipped at the Boston Shaker, are not fermented, but rather carbonated (no boozy ginger beer here).  Barritt’s was first produced in the 1870s by William John Barritt, a man looking to make a living to support his large family.  Barritt took advantage of a small bottling machine in a dry goods store in Hamilton, Bermuda, and a delicious ginger beer was born.

My friend Anne Marie and I sampled all four drinks that were being mixed by Paul Imbesi.  Two of the cocktails rose to the top.

The Bohemian Cooler

(created by Boston bartender Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli of Island Creek Oyster Bar)

1 ½ oz St. Germain

1 oz rye whiskey

¾ oz lemon juice

2 dashes Angostura bitters

Shake over ice. Strain into a Collins glass filled with ice and top with 2 oz ginger beer. Garnish with lemon wheel.

This is a great summer drink—the richness of the rye, the flowery-sweet St. Germain, and the tart lemon juice are brightened and heightened by the spicy ginger beer.  I just love this drink.

Amatitan Mule

(created by Ezra Pattek of Bar Lab, Miami)

2 oz silver tequila

2 thin slices of jalapenos

½ lime, quarted

1 bar spoon agave nectar

Muddle jalapenos, limes and agave. Add tequila and shake.  Strain into a Collins glass filled with ice and top with 2 oz ginger beer.  Garnish with lime and jalapeno wheels.

Now this cocktail is not for the faint of heart (or taste buds)—this is quite spicy with both the jalapenos and ginger beer.  This isn’t the kind of drink I would usually chose if I saw it on a menu, so I was a bit surprised by how much I enjoyed this.

My advice for this weekend (and my own personal plan)—grab a six pack of ginger beer and get shaking and mixing.  If you aren’t up for the recipes above, try something simple like a Dark and Stormy, a simple combo of a dark rum, ginger beer and lime juice.  Cheers!

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Last night I celebrated the upcoming nuptials of two good friends, Kate and Michelle.  Knowing my passion for cocktails, it seemed obvious that the best contribution I could make to their party was to mix up boozy libation.  After much consideration we decided on the Moscow Mule.  On the surface, a Moscow Mule doesn’t quite say love and romance.  One might expect to find a Champagne cocktail or something with a romantic name like The Honeymoon Cocktail for an engagement party.  But I was looking for something that would please the party crowd, was refreshing (it was a warm day), but had an interesting, even surprising flavor. This drink delivered all of that. The tart lime and the spicy ginger beer make for a pretty tasty party drink!

The Moscow Mule has an interesting history.  Vodka has not always enjoyed the popularity that it does today. In the late 1930s, most Americans had no clue what to do with this spirit that was mostly consumed by Eastern Europeans.  But then the stars aligned and the Moscow Mule was created and the vodka soon after made its way into mainstream consumption.  In 1939 John Martin purchased the struggling Pierre Smirnoff Vodka company which had been started 5 years earlier when the enterprising Ralph Kunett secured the rights to produce the family vodka recipe of Vladimir Smirnov.  As the story goes, a bit after this purchase John Martin was hanging out at the Cock and Bull Tavern in Los Angeles with friend and owner Jack Morgan and the two were trying to figure how to make use of Morgan’s newly produced ginger beer.  Add to that discussion, the fact that Martin just acquired a vodka company.  The two took the formula for a Mamie Taylor, and replaced the scotch with vodka and voila—the Moscow Mule was born and America’s preference for vodka would soon follow.

The drink is traditionally served in a signature copper mug; Jack Morgan’s girlfriend owned a business that made copper products.  The Moscow Mule was a win-win for all involved.  While the mug add to the experience (I even had one keen party-goer call me out not having the proper glassware), it’s perfectly acceptable to use another type of glass—the drink still tastes pretty damn good!

A pitcher of the Moscow Mule

Moscow Mule (from Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails)

2 oz vodka

Juice of half a lime

Ginger beer (the spicier the better)

Squeeze lime into glass and drop half into glass.  Add vodka and ice. Top with ginger beer.

To a deliciously refreshing vodka drink and to a lifetime of happiness for my friends Kate and Michelle–Cheers!

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