Tag Archive: tequila

Tequila and Mai Tais

While combing over my recent music downloads (Bruce Dickinson does a decent, apropos cover of All The Young Dudes!) I came across a .doc file of semi-intelligible bar reviews tucked away in the bottom, left-hand corner of my desktop. A week ago, I’d gone on a bit of a tear with some friends that started on Ossington and continued east on College through Little Italy.

Since, I haven’t done a proper review in awhile, I decided to post these scribblings and maybe even bone them up with whatever memories I have left of the night…

Reposado Tequila Bar was our meeting spot. I’ve only ever been there on the weekend and between the limited seating and the jazz bands they usually have in, you might have a difficult time of it. It’s still worth it.

I couldn’t begin to tell you which tequilas I’ve tried there because when you’re handed a 2 oz pour in an extremely-pretty stemmed shot glass, you shut up and drink it. I’ve stayed in the mid-price range and been very well-rewarded. They do offer Corzo Blanco Tequila (which I had the pleasure of imbibing at home after Bacardi sent me a bottle) which would pair pretty well with their freshly-squeezed juice but I recommend going with some of their more complex reposados and anejos for some slow-sippin’ pleasure. Stick to 100% agaves and you’ll do just fine. Hell, you’ll have a good time if you give yourself over to Andrea the bartender. She knows what she’s doing.

Next up, we went to Sutra Tiki Bar in Little Italy. I’d wanted to go to Sidecar but one look inside convinced me otherwise; it was far too brightly lit and when you’re bar-hopping, the last thing you want to do is stand in an empty room anyways.

Now, tiki occupies a very particular niche in bar culture. It comes and goes, surging in popularity as people rediscover kitsch only to disappear again as soon as it peaks. The much-maligned quality of the cocktails doesn’t help either.

There are many ways for a tiki drink to go wrong. With multiple ingredients and garnishes that are meant to evoke tropical fantasies as well as stimulate your taste buds, a “sweet rum drink” is a rather crude understatement.  Using multiple rums, spices, freshly-squeezed juices and home-made syrups is a must.

Take the Mai Tai. Two essential ingredients (orgeat and curacao) aren’t even available in Canada.  If you want to make orgeat this recipe by Rick of Kaiser Penguin is one I’ve used and it’s good. The closest thing we have to Curacao in Canada is Cointreau but you should really just go across the border and pick up a bottle in Buffalo.

What, you ask, is in a Mai Tai? Trader Vic’s family (who came up with the most enduring version) provides three recipes and (one psuedo-recipe) on the website that bears his name and I’ll reprint the first one here:


2 oz 17 year-old J. Wray Nephew Jamaican rum
1/2 oz French Garnier Orgeat
1/2 oz Holland DeKuyper Orange Curacao
1/4 oz Rock Candy syrup
juice from one fresh lime

Hand shake and garnish with half of the lime shell in the glass and float a sprig of fresh mint at the edge of the glass.

Now obviously, we Canadians run into trouble with the first item in the recipe, the rum. If you’re a bit of a traditionalist, you could go with Appleton Estate Master Blender’s Legacy rum (750 mL, 43% ABV, $89.55) which is produced by J. Wray but I agree with Tiare of A Mountain of Crushed Ice who recommends a good demerara (rum from Guyana).

The only available brand in Canada is El Dorado (you can get two vintage Bristol Classics but they’ll cost you anywhere from $200-$250); their 21 Year-Old (750 mL, 40% ABV, $109.95) would probably work very well.

If you’re feeling really fly, you could use an ounce from each; part of the fun of a good Mai Tai is the mixing and matching of different rums. Regardless of your budget, there’s probably a couple of bottles you can afford.

As for the curacao, you really should make a run and grab a bottle of the good stuff but Cointreau will do in a pinch. Rock candy syrup is not the same as simple syrup, it has a whole lot more sugar, and a decent recipe can be found on the Tiki Central Forum. I don’t even need to get into why you should use a fresh lime do I?

Anyway! Sutra’s Mai Tai doesn’t even come close to the traditional recipemenu2 as you can see from their menu to the right. Substituting amaretto for orgeat is lazy bartending and those juices don’t belong anywhere near a Mai Tai.

I ordered one anyway, just to see what it was like and while it’s not bad, it’s certainly not worth $7.50. Stick with the recipe above because you won’t find one bar in Toronto that can make a decent Mai Tai.

Most of their other cocktails were similar bastardized versions of the classics. A coconut cup with a little umbrella does not a tiki drink make.

Despite the disappointing cocktails, the music was boomin’ and the back patio floor is covered with ankle-deep sand which is kind of charming. There are better bars for the cost of the drinks but you could do worse if you’re with the right friends.

(For more information about tiki, head on over to A Mountain of Crushed Ice.)

We were going to go the College Street Bar but the bouncers carded us and insisted we pay cover. Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal but there were quite a few of us and, feelin’ rowdy and a bit put-out by the delay, we headed down the street to The Midtown where we were greeted with open arms.

It’s a new bar but it’s still stuck in the first few years of the millenium. Fatman Scoop and Co. were on the playlist and the bar was packed nine-deep with young ginos  ordering round after round of shots. Between the dancing and the Jager-bombs, we fit right in.

Nostalgia can have a powerful draw; we didn’t end up leaving till after last-call so this venue marked the end of our “crawl” but I suppose it was for the best that we didn’t close the night at Bistro 422 with pitchers of rye-and-gingers in hand.

liquor1Having (mostly) recovered from the birthday party I am busy gathering my wits together for a bevy of beer posts I’ve been planning (’09 spring LCBO beer lineup, the new Innis & Gunn Blonde and a requested review of Sleeman’s Fine Porter) but after a sleeping most of the day, I’m still not up to recalling all of my tasting notes so a post of links it is!

Robert Parker caused a bit of a fuss and an uproar on his forum (and on the Internet at large) when he bitched about the Wine Blogger’s Conference and what he perceived as collusion between bloggers and the Californian wine industry. An excerpt of this diatribe follows:

“looking at that Bloggers Conference, it does look like a big and free sloppy kiss and then some from the California wine industry…with much more than minimal hospitality offered…love to see some transparency from the bloggers(how many of them are paying for travel, car rental, hotels and meals?)…or should I say blobbers since they are the source of much of the misinformation, distortion, and egegious falsehoods spread with reckless abandon on the internet”

Mr. Parker, who I must add is one of the most important writers when it comes to wine, then goes on to state just how much industry cock the bloggers are sucking:

“bloggers can’t continue to exist without wine-related advertising(we do and will continue to do so)….hopefully the smarter consumers will recognize the game plan of both the California wine industry and the bloggers-they are certainly more in bed together than I ever imagined.”

While I don’t doubt that bloggers exist out there who are reaping some kind of reward for schilling for companies; just as many (if not more) don’t.

Blogging is often something you do on the side. It’s having passion for whatever you write about and wanting to cast a spotlight on (in the case of booze) products and the recipes used to employ them.

While I certainly like the idea of being sent a couple of bottles (and if you’re reading this and want to send me some, feel free!) I currently buy everything I review from the LCBO (and occasionally The Beer Store). This means I don’t get to write about everything I might want to write about but even if I did get sent products by promotional reps, I’d still give my honest opinion because at the end of the day, if I’m not drinking it on a semi-regular basis, I’m not going to recommend it to everyone.

I want people to enjoy booze as much as I do and I really, really want to expand their horizons when it comes to what they serve at home or what they order at a bar.

Parker et al. have managed to make  a living out of what we do and I would argue that that’s the ambition of many a blogger. We would like to make a living from our writing and we’re going about it the best way we know how. Conferences are fantastic for networking and I don’t see how these events hurt the established pros. There will always be an ear bent their way, as it should be, just as there will always be new blood looking to mingle and get in on the action.

Now that I’m done with my own diatribe, we can move on to something more fun: alcohol in a pressurized can (which I found via Bevlog)!

Two fellows from Atlanta, Paul Urbanowicz and Tyler Moore, have invented flavored, alcoholic whipping cream. Clocking in at 18 ABV, it comes in four flavors: orange, cinamon, macadamia, and almond. Produced in Georgia, it should be available in Nashville and Gainesville by Halloween which does me a fat lot of good up in Canada but I can always dream…

Over at the New York Times, Philip Ward gets comfortable with mezcal which is good news for me ‘cos I’ve been eyeing that bottle of Cazadores at the LCBO for some time now. Maybe he’ll even open a bar in Toronto someday?

Want to make the next legendary cocktail but not quite sure how to go about it? Darcy O’Neil over at Art of Drink writes about popular cocktail recipes, how they got that way and how your own version can get a little attention.

Imbibe magazine’s latest video features Jerry Morgenthaler demonstrating three citrus garnishes (including my favorite, the flamed orange peel). Try ‘em, they’re that easy! (Although I didn’t know until know how much I needed a channel knife until now…)

(Image taken from Agency 26.)

Cutting corners produces crappy cocktails

Paystyle over at Umami Mart hits the nail on the head when he talks about the “dumbing down of drink culture” in reference to that venerable cocktail, the Irish coffee.

While drinks can get pretty complicated (bring on the liquid nitrogen!) I believe that simplicity, like in a basic pasta dish, can be a thing of beauty with a cocktail. Look at a margarita made with freshly-squeezed lime juice or a negroni with the surprisingly-balanced interplay between sweet, bitter and herbal notes.

With the wealth of information available online and in many fine books, there’s no excuse for not drawing upon the knowledge of all the bartenders who have gone before to make your cocktails as good as they can possibly be. As in cooking, experimentation can be a lot of fun but start off by following the recipe exactly. You won’t know how to build your own spin on a classic if you can’t appreciate the foundation.

Let’s look at the margarita again.

A lazy bartender might take the house tequila, add some Triple Sec, pour in an ounce-and-a-half of the semi-sweet lime mix and stir it all together in a rocks glass over ice with a salt rim. A much better alternative takes only a minute or so more to prepare and you can taste the difference.

Another way many bartenders cut corners is with technique. They’ll shake when they should stir (or vice versa) or use premixed juices or halve ingredient proportions to save on inventory. The guest may or may not notice but this kind of attitude, whether encouraged by the management or not, will come back to bite you in the ass.

The hotel I work at currently has a bartender who won’t make anything too complicated; he prefers to tell the guest that “we don’t do that”. I don’t have to work around him too often to know that he’s leaving guests with a less-than-favorable impression of the bar and the hotel, whether they may say anything or not. Now, I’m not necessarily advocating a SIR Corp approach to bartending but there’s got to be a happy medium between maniacally-smiling up-seller and dour old schooler. The pretentious, the incompetent and those mercenaries who are only doing it for the money should really find another line of work (hardly practical, I know, but those fuckers get me down).

Guests at home are even more forgiving but that’s no reason not to show off what you can do with a minimum of effort.

Classic Margarita
2 lime wedges
kosher salt
1 1/2 oz agave tequila
1 1/2 oz fresh lime juice
1 oz Cointreau

Rub a wedge of lime around the rim of the chilled margarita glass, and salt the rim. Fill the prepared glass with ice. Shake the liquid ingredients vigorously with ice. Strain into the prepared glass. Squeeze the remaining lime wedge over the drink and drop it in.

Now, if you know a classic margarita by heart, you’re entitled to a little fun.

Japhet’s Margarita
4 limes (approx. 3 1/2 oz juice)
kosher salt
1 1/2 oz agave tequila
1 1/2 oz fresh lime juice
1 oz Grand Marnier

Rub a wedge of lime around the rim and ring the glass with coarse, kosher salt. Fill the prepared glass with ice. Take three of the limes and roll them firmly beneath your hand on a cutting board (this separates the juice from the pulp and makes it easier to squeeze it all out)
Cut them in half and squeeze ‘em into the glass. Add the tequila and then the Grand Marnier and stir. Peel a thick slice of zest of the remaining lime and place on top of the cocktail.

While I may be more precise with my instructions, they’re easy to follow, don’t take that much more time and still fall under the mantle of being “simple”. My take doesn’t diverge that much from tradition and there are plenty of folks who have arrived at the same conclusion but I believe that guests really appreciate a personal touch when they take the time to go out to a bar. They could be at home drinking whatever but they’re out; the least a bartender can do is prepare something with a little love and flair.

I use Grand Marnier because I think it makes most cocktails that call for orange liqueur better (try it in your cosmos, it’s called a Grand Cosmo) and I think it balances the tartness of the lime juice without the need for any added sugar. Some bartenders feel that it takes away from the flavor of a premium tequila but I’d argue that you should just go with a Tequila Sour at the point. Kosher salt is obviously more flavorful than the regular variety and also has a more pleasing texture.

I like to use Mittie Hellmich’s Ultimate Bar Book (the classic recipe above is quoted verbatim) but as any good one will tell you, the secret to a great margarita is to use freshly-squeezed lime juice with 100% agave tequila and premium orange liqueur.

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