Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Kingston Club, a Fernet-Laced Cocktail

Your first sip of Fernet Branca, an Italian liqueur, 
will be akin to waking up in a foreign country 
and finding a crowd of people arguing in agitated, thorny voices 
outside your hotel window. 
It’s an event that’s at once alarming and slightly thrilling, 
and leaves you wanting to know more. 

~ Wayne Curtis

The last time I traveled to Portland, we ate and drank for five solid days. It was, as I've mentioned, glorious. We ate from food trucks, from restaurants, in breweries, at picnic tables — wherever and whenever we spied something that looked good. And, man, it all looked good. To catch our breath, we dropped by bars — sometimes just to shoot a few games of pool, but often to visit a particular bartender. And so I dragged my crew to Clyde Common in the ground floor of the Ace Hotel where bar manager Jeffrey Morgenthaler slakes the thirst of travelers, locals, cocktail enthusiasts, and the occasional insufferable cocktail snob who may get pawned off on a visiting writer.

Fortunately, Morgenthaler isn't such a snob; he's a down to earth, genuinely nice guy who does smart things with drinks. I've got an awful lot of whiskey at home, so, despite the large board bearing an impressive list of supple bourbons and spry ryes, I opted for something tropical after our initial round of Negronis. Bar man Junior Ryan set me up with one of Morgenthaler's concoctions: the Kingston Club cocktail, a peach-colored, lightly fizzy drink based on Drambuie and laced with Fernet, the bitter Italian amaro I once heard a wag call "bartenders' Jagermeister."

A small quantity of Fernet in a tropical drink is unusual, but isn't much of a stretch. After all, tiki bartenders have long used the similarly bitter absinthe-like Herbsaint and Pernod to craft an ethereal, can't-quite-put-my-finger-on-it taste. For you thespians, think of it as the crowd on stage, constantly mumbling "peas and carrots, peas and carrots," helping to set a mood, but not stealing attention from the leads. Drambuie, on the other hand, is a surprise. Best known for starring in the classic Rusty Nail, the Scotch-based liqueur usually plays, at best, a walk-on role in the tiki scene. I'm glad it walked on here.
Kingston Club 
1.5 oz Drambie
1.5 oz pineapple juice
.75 oz lime juice
1 tsp Fernet Branca
3 dashes Angostura bitters

Shake, top with 1 oz soda water, strain over fresh ice in a collins glass. Garnish with a large orange twist.

Goes well with:

Monday, October 29, 2012

California XO Brandies Fare Well Against Cognac

Claret is the liquor for boys; 
port for men; 
but he who aspires to be a hero must drink brandy. 
In the first place the flavour of brandy is most grateful to the palate 
and then brandy will do soonest for a man what drinking can do for him.
 There are indeed few who are able to drink brandy. 
That is a power rather to be wished for than attained.

~ ascribed to Samuel Johnson in Boswell's 1791 Life of Johnson

Elin McCoy's recent piece for Bloomberg pits California brandies against Cognacs which for centuries has stood as France's ne plus ultra brandy. The subcategory under review is XO, the "extra old" brandies that spend at least six years (and sometimes decades) in barrels and which may be a blend of dozens of brandies.

McCoy writes:
With only five serious producers, California was the underdog in this competition against six French bottlings. Cognac is home to four giant global brands and hundreds of small family distilleries, and only brandy made there can be named after that region. Like producers in Cognac, the Californians double distill wine in traditional copper pot stills. The big difference is the grapes. Cognac is restricted to ugni blanc (for roundness), colombard (for depth) and folle blanche (for finesse). Any varieties can be used in California. 
For the blind tasting, she brought together Falvian Desoblin, founder of New York's Brandy Library, Jason Hopple, beverage director of New York’s North End Grill, and wine collector Stuart Leaf. The California distilleries represented in their blind tasting include Osocalis, Etude (which sells remaining XO inventory made by Remy Martin on the premises), Germain-Robin, Jepson, and Charbay. Their finding? A Cognac — Jean Fillioux XO Grande Reserve — just beat out the American offerings.

Here they are discussing the selections. Link to the original article with ratings and prices after the video.

Goes well with:

Sunday, October 28, 2012

30 Years Under the Influence, a Panel Discussion at St. George Spirits

In an era when new American spirits are hitting the shelves so fast that it's hard to keep straight what's on offer from whom, it's discordant to realize that within living memory fewer than a hundred distilleries operated legally in the United States. Though "new" no longer seems fitting for a company that was founded years before Ronald Reagan exhorted Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall, one of the nation's oldest new distilleries is St. George Spirits. Next month, distillers Lance Winters and Dave Smith will join St. George's founder Jörg Rupf for a panel discussion, 30 Years Under the Influence: St. George’s Tale of Liquid Courage, at the Alameda, California distillery under the auspices of the Commonwealth Club of California.

From the Commonwealth Club, here's the low-down on the event on Friday, November 30th:

30 Years Under the Influence: St. George’s Tale of Liquid Courage
Jörg Rupf, Founder, St. George Spirits
Lance Winters, Master Distiller, St. George Spirits
Dave Smith, Distiller, St. George Spirits
Bob Klein, Proprietor, Oliveto Restaurant - Moderator
When Jörg Rupf founded St. George Spirits in 1982, he was a lone wolf making elegant eaux de vie in a wine cooler world. In those days absinthe was illegal, craft-produced American gins were unheard of, and there was no such thing as an American single malt whiskey. In the decades since, hundreds of new craft spirits producers have followed suit, proof positive that the spirits movement has officially gone the way of micro brewing and coffee roasting - into the realm of the artisanal. Intrigued by the unknown and with a madcap approach to creation, the St. George team has inspired a modern spirits renaissance. Come drink in some history with the godfather of the artisanal distillation movement, Jorg Rupf, resident evil genius Lance Winters, mad alchemist Dave Smith, and other artisans changing the spirits conversation.
Tickets include: A grand tour of the St. George distillery; three specialty, decade-inspired cocktails; hors d’oeuvres; and the panel discussion and after party.
Location: St. George Spirits, 261 Monarch St., Alameda
Time: 7 p.m. check-in; 7:30 p.m. tour; 8:30 p.m. program; 9:30 p.m. after party
Cost: $75 standard, $60 members

Goes well with:
  • Get tickets to the event here.
  • The Commonwealth Club of California, the oldest public affairs forum in the United States, organizes over 400 events in the San Francisco Bay Area every year. The nonpartisan, nonprofit group was founded in 1903 and has sponsored speaking events across a range of political and cultural and cultural topics and affiliations. Past speakers include Teddy Roosevelt, Arnold "Get to da choppah" Schwarzenegger, Bill Gates, Ronald Regan, Nancy Pelosi, and Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Jeff Levy (of Bread & Gin) joined distiller Lance Winters this past Spring for a pear-and-Bonal cocktail called A Fistful of Pears with pear brandy and pear liqueur. Here's the video and recipe

Friday, October 26, 2012

Max's (Other) Mistake — A Tropical Drink With a Genever Twist

Genever is  — or used to be — a hard sell at the Whiskey Forge where the usual hangers-on prefer American whiskeys and rum. Nothing wrong with those two, but this knee-jerk mistrust of genever bothers me because the stuff is delicious and I'm a bit bummed to the be only one who regularly reaches for it. Genever (or jenever) is a grain spirit from the Netherlands and Belgium. A few varieties are available, some even flavored with citrus, but they all are flavored with juniper, those little blue-black cannonball berries that give gin its characteristic taste. Knowing their weakness for rum I found last night a way to sneak genever into my drinking buddies' cocktails; use it in a tiki drink that calls for gin.

The result? They used almost an entire bottle of Bols genever on multiple rounds of a drink that San Francisco barman Martin Cate dubbed Max's Mistake. I admit the response to the stuff was a little more enthusiastic than I'd hoped.

The original drink uses gin, but an elision to the Dutch stuff was a natural, and tasty, move. Here's Cate explaining the drink and how its name came about on his new cocktail series for CHOW (recipe after the video):

Max's Mistake  
Martin Cate 
Smuggler's Cove, San Francisco 
1 cup of crushed ice
2 dashes of bitters
1 oz passion fruit syrup
1 oz lemon juice
0.5 oz honey syrup (a mix of equal parts honey and water)
2 oz gin [Bols genever]
2 oz sparkling lemonade
Blend 2-3 second and serve topped with ice cubes and fresh mint.

Goes well with:
  • Regular readers will recognize Cate as the mad genius behind the koi pond-sized flaming tiki punch at Tiki Oasis (pictures and scaled-down recipe here).
  • Bitterballen, little fried croquettes quite similar to Cajun boudin balls, are classic Dutch bar food, perfect for a few shots of genever, even if it is all doctored up with fruit syrups and juices. Here's my recipe
  • Americans used to have a great thirst for genever, also called Holland gin or, simply, Hollands. Here's Samuel M'Harry's 1809 recipe for making a semblance of the imported article from very local American ingredients. 
  • Drinkupny.com has both Bols genever and the barrel-aged version on sale now. This is a good deal, but shop around; liquor regularly goes on steep discount during the 4th quarter and you may be able to find even bigger discounts. 
  • Have you a glut of genever? Then consider whipping up a batch of kruidnoten liqueur, a Dutch recipe combining the spirit with...cookies. Those without so much to spare can swap vodka. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Bad Design is Everywhere, Even Cookbooks

You know, I hear they was really tiny guys.

~  Napoleon Bonapart (Ian Holm)
Time Bandits

Lebanese rice; once you find it, it's not there
This morning, I had to break out an old dome magnifier to read the tiny font on Salma Hage's The Lebanese Kitchen (Phaidon, 2012). Partly this is my middle-aged eyes needing a boost to read, but partly it's just ridiculously tiny font. How tiny? That "a" in "Lebanese rice" on the photo of the book's index is 1 millimeter high — about a 3-point font for you designers. To put it in perspective, that's smaller than a single, tiny coriander seed. Maybe the small font is a diversion from lax indexing (Lebanese rice is actually on page 332, not 334 as indicated).

Lilliputian font wouldn't be an issue on a tablet like the iPad or its competitors. Reading on a tablet can be a great experience for so many reasons. A mundane point I particularly like is the ability to change font size as desired; quite literally, font size there is as arbitrary as it is irrelevant. Too small? Make it big. Too big? Make it small. Don't like that font? Change it to another style entirely. But books — printed books — are ancient technology; one cannot double-tap the page to bring up a definition or shrink the image by squeezing together thumb and forefinger. Once it's printed, it's printed and there's no changing it. One does not simply make the font bigger or re-flow the copy on a printed page; it's locked.

Kona Stout Ice Cream ingredients
Jeni Britton Bauer's editing and design team, you're all culpable here, too. The content of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home (Artisan 2011) is fine, but its design is among the worst of otherwise serious contemporary cookbooks in my collection. The light hues of blue, green, tangerine, purple, and pink of the ingredient lists bleed into light backgrounds. Cute? Arguably. It's clean and light, almost hygienically precise — weighty subliminal elements when dealing with dairy. More to the point, those ingredient lists are all but illegible compared to larger, darker words on the same page. The subtext here is that ice cream doesn't matter; stories about ice cream do. Before I thought to use the dome magnifier on this one as well, I had to take a picture of a recipe with my smart phone, access the photo on my iPad's photo stream, use a photo editing app to sharpen the photo, increase the contrast, and enlarge it right up to the point where the letters started to pixilate — then back off a hair — simply so I could read each one. Understand: I've never had to do with with another book and I really like ice cream.

A plea, then, for book designers and publishers; if something is worth putting in the book, it's worth doing it right. Not everyone has fancy glass magnifying domes or the gimlet eyes of a 23-year old designer. Don't give the mechanics such short shrift; make indicies, instructions, and ingredients lists as legible as head notes, introductions, and forewords.

Goes well with:

  • Know who has a great index? C. Anne Wilson in her distilling history, Water of Life.
  • The dome magnifier above came with my copy of The Compact Oxford English Dictionary. Decent models can be found online for under $50. Here's a sampling
  • Speaking of short shrift and completely off-topic: one of the best lines about ugly kids remains "I was so ugly as a child that my parents put me in dark corner and fed me with a slingshot." 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Swift Kick from a Kentucky Mule

I am aware, in some vague sense, that a mule is a type of shoe, although I am fairly certain that I don't own any. More familiar to me is the proper dead mule, a symbol deeply entwined in — and arguably a signifier of — the literature of the American South. But it is the Kentucky Mule, that bourbon-fueled harbinger of excess, that has kicked off many an evening with friends and family around the Whiskey Forge.

Everything tastes better through a grunge filter
Some history: Around the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, vodka was an obscure spirit in the United States, small potatoes, nothing like the cash cow it is today. The Moscow Mule is the drink that changed that.  That original mule, a vodka-and-ginger beer highball, was made famous at the Cock 'n' Bull Tavern in Los Angeles. By the time Elvis sang his way through Blue Hawaii twenty years later, the drink had become a classic. In Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, Ted Haigh reports that a girlfriend of Jack Morgan, the Cock 'n' Bull's owner, had inherited a copper goods business. She presumably was the source of the squat copper mugs that remain to this day de rigueur for serving the drink.

Vodka, though, is not everyone's first choice when it comes to making and downing mixed drinks. Nor are copper mugs. Enter the variations. Tweaking the basic idea of a spirit, lime, and ginger beer leads to regional and topical versions of the drink; the Mexican Mule (tequila), Caribbean Mule (rums), the Blackberry Mule, and Audrey Saunders' Gin-Gin Mule. Most of them benefit from a dash or two of cocktail bitters. Classically, that has meant Angostura bitters, but when we swap bourbon for the vodka to yield a Kentucky Mule, I've found that Fee Brothers' old fashion aromatic bitters is the better choice. Use what you've got.

American-style ginger ale doesn't have the backbone this drink requires. Instead, use the more fiery ginger beer. A Cock 'n' Bull brand does exist. We've used that as well as Bundaberg from Australia and the fearsome Blenheim's from South Carolina (I quite like that one, but it's a bit strong for some). We've found that Gosling's sells a reasonably-priced, all-natural ginger beer for making a Dark 'n' Stormy, but it's our favorite of the lot for this drink instead: light fizz, well-balanced ginger taste and aroma, not overly sweet. A liter runs less than $3. No, Gosling's didn't send me any. We just like it a bunch. Get some.
Kentucky Mule 
2 oz good (but not your best) bourbon. Buffalo Trace is great here.
Half a small lime
4-5 oz ginger beer (Gosling's if you've got it; if not, use your favorite)
2 dashes aromatic bitters (Fee Brothers, Angostura, or dealer's choice) 
Build the drink on ice in a highball glass. Squeeze the lime into this and drop in the shell. Dash in the bitters and give it a quick stir. If you're a stickler for tradition, use copper mugs rather than glass. Some folks garnish with mint and lime wedges, but then some folks listen to Nickleback and dabble in crossdressing. To each his own.
Goes well with:
  • The drink's versatility should be apparent and the template works with lots of iterations. Using pisco could result in a Peruvian (or Chilean) Mule. Applejack could yield a New Jersey (or an Orchard) Mule. You get the idea. Use gin, swap in tonic for the ginger beer, and lose the bitters...holy cow, it's a Gin & Tonic. 
  • The truth of food and drink origin stories are so often obfuscated by good stories. Eric Felton takes a closer look at the origin of the Moscow Mule and Cock 'n Bull's head bartender, Wes Price. Felton's version putting Price as the originator feels like a better fit. 
  • I like ginger. There's always some around. Here's what I do with it
  • We did overindulge in mules last year. I'm pleased to be making them again, but one of the drinks we started making when we grew tired of so much ginger beer was the Punky Monkey cocktail with Buffalo Trace bourbon and Scarlet Ibis rum. Good, good stuff. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Purpose of Good Liquor

My brother drinks coffee; I drink tea. He and I are two strikingly different men with divergent tastes in everything from politics to pets. He’s nearly a decade older than I and, except for our eyes, our laughs, and general build, there’s no reason to think we are related. Few things to my mind illustrate this more than our tastes in alcohol.

He likes white wines while I prefer reds. He detests gin; I dote on it (and its more aggressive Dutch cousin, genever). I’m a confirmed bourbon drinker, but Scotch is his go-to beverage. The list goes on and on. Somewhere near the bottom of our pro/con t-chart is tequila, the one spirit on which we agree; we like it. A pessimist might conclude that we’re doomed to dislike everything about one another. I prefer to think that when we put our minds to it, there’s nothing we won’t drink.

For his birthday, I sent him my Scotch. Not all of it, by any means, but some choice bottles; a single bottle of big-shouldered, peaty Ardberg and three lovely Macallan bottles: 12-, 15-, and 17-year old. Why? Would I not drink them? Yes, eventually, of course. But he’ll derive so much more pleasure from them than I could — and what, after all, is the purpose of good liquor, if not to share?

If you run into my brother, tell him I like Willett, Van Winkle, and Booker’s.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The BBQ Films of Joe York

The Southern Foodways Alliance's annual symposium in Oxford, Mississippi starts in a few weeks. This year's symposium — the fifteenth — is Barbecue: An Exploration of Pitmasters, Places, Smoke, and Sauce. Rumor has it that tickets sold out in twelve minutes this year. One of the constants in good barbecue is low and slow. What the hell happened? A lot of people who missed out on tickets were bummed by that, but word is that the unexpected rush has inspired some changes in how future events will be managed. Good on them.

Those of us who will be elsewhere that weekend can still get in on some of the action from afar through the short films of documentary filmmaker Joe York. After the video is a list of some of York's other barbecue-themed films. But first, let's start with Joe York's CUT/CHOP/COOK which profiles Rodney Scott of Scott's Bar-B-Q in Hemingway, South Carolina.

List continues after the video.

From John T. Edge and the rest of the SFA crew comes a list of York's films they recommend viewing as preparation for paying attendees of this year's symposium. But you? You can watch them for free on the SFA's site (link below).

Oral History and Film Resources

The Southern Barbecue Trail: An SFA Documentary Project”       www.southernbbqtrail.com
Our filmmaker, Joe York, has made a number of documentaries about barbecue. All are available to stream at southernfoodways.org. They are:

BBQBBQ is a short profile of Big Bob Gibson’s Bar-B-Que, the origin point for white barbecue sauce, in Decatur, Alabama.

Capitol Q: Travel to Ayden, North Carolina’s Skylight Inn and meet the Jones family, cooking whole hog barbecue since the 1830s.

CUT/CHOP/COOK profiles Rodney Scott of Scott's Bar-B-Q in Hemingway, South Carolina.

Dial S for Sausage focuses on Southside Market in Elgin, Texas, and its famous hot links.

Helen’s Bar-B-Q is a celebration of pitmistress Helen Turner of Brownsville, Tennessee.

Mutton: The Movie focuses on Owensboro, Kentucky, where barbecued mutton is on the menu at Catholic church picnics and restaurants, too.

Something Better Than Barbecue documents the life and religious beliefs of Chuck Ferrell of Chuck’s Bar-B-Q in Opelika, Alabama.

To Live and Die in Avoyelles Parish celebrates Louisiana’s cochon du lait tradition—the Cajun equivalent of barbecue.

Whole Hog codifies whole hog barbecue culture in west-central Tennessee and showcases Ricky Parker of Scott’s-Parker’s Bar-B-Que in Lexington.

*                      *                      *
Our friends at Foodways Texas have recently begun making short films as well. Check out Vencil Lives Here, a profile of octogenarian pitmaster Vencil Mares of Taylor Café, by filmmaker Keeley Steenson with additional camera work by Joe York. (Available at foodwaystexas.com.)

Filmmaker Stan Woodward, who made the 1980 food-doc classic, It’s Grits!, gave similar treatment to South Carolina hash in the film Carolina Hash. (Available at folkstreams.net.)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Truffled Rum and (Fine) Champagne Punch

[Edit later that same morning: see Said's answer (a painfully obvious one) to my question in the comments section below. In this case, "fine" Champagne is not sparkling wine, but brandy.] 

At nearly 1,300 pages and weighing over six pounds, my copy of Ali-Bab’s Gastronomie Pratique is a beast. Despite the author’s name, it is not a Persian text; it’s French. Ali-Bab was the pseudonym of Henri Babinski (1855-1931), a French mining engineer who was an amateur avid cook as well. His culinary encyclopedia was first published in 1907 with a modest 314 pages, but was expanded over subsequent editions. My beastly edition is the 9th from 1981. Sometime between the presidencies of Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, a recipe for truffled rum and Champagne punch — punch truffé — slipped in.

The recipe is problematic and I’m giving it here partly as a curiosity. I use truffles when they are in season, but I’m not as lavish in my use of them as Babinski seems to have been. More to the point, I think the recipe is promising but doesn’t work as written; in particular, the order of adding rum and Champagne seems inverted. My French is self-taught and I’d like someone else to take a run at a translation.

The problem, as I see it, is that a mix of sugar, sparkling wine, and nutmeg won't catch fire. BUT — as anyone who's been around my house for Thanksgiving can attest — a mix of rum, sugar, and nutmeg will, when warmed, catch alight. I think the way to fix this is simply that: change the position of rum and Champagne, then proceed as directed.

Or am I missing something? Here’s the original followed by my translation. Anyone — francophiles, French bartenders, punch enthusiasts — want to have a go at it? [See comments section]
Punch truffé (Babinski)

Pour six à huit personnes, prenez:
350 grammes de fine champagne,
350 grammes de vieux rhum,
250 grammes de sucre,
120 grammes de vin de Malaga,
1 belle trufle noire du Périgord,
1 citron,
¼ noix muscade.
Mettez dans un bol à punch la fine champagne, la muscade et le sucre, faites flamber, mélangez bien. Lorsque le sucre sera dissous, ajoutez le rhum et le jus du citron ; activez la flamme. En meme temps, faites cuire la truffe dans le malaga, retirez-la, puis ajoutez le malaga au melange rhum et fine champagne.

Coupez la truffe en tranches minces, metiez une tranche dans chaque verre de punch et servez chaud.
 And mine:
Truffled Punch (Rowley)

For six to eight people, take:

350 grams of fine champagne,
350 grams of old rum,
250 grams of sugar, 120 grams of Malaga wine,
One beautiful black Périgord truffle,
1 lemon,
¼ nutmeg.

Put the fine champagne [see comments section], nutmeg, and sugar in a punch bowl, set alight, mix well. When the sugar has dissolved, add the rum and lemon juice; activate the flame. At the same time, cook the truffle in Malaga, remove it, then add the rum mixture to the Malaga and champagne.

Cut the truffle into thin slices, put a slice in each glass punch, and serve hot.

Goes well with: 
  • More about Babinski and his book. An English version of Gastronomie Pratique was printed in 1974 as The Encyclopedia of Practical Gastronomy. Peter Herzmann has several copies of this book, but doesn’t care for that one.
  • Another Henri — this one Henri Charpentier — gave a recipe for Eggs, William S. Burroughs in his privately published 1945 Food and Finesse: The Bride's Bible. Here's the recipe.
  • Speaking of flames and punch, San Francisco barman Martin Cate made a hell of a show at Tiki Oasis a few years back with fire and rum. The tale of the punch so big it had to be made in a koi pond is here

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Not That Kind of Yeast

Tim Besecker hipped me to some brewing news yesterday. Read on at your own discretion. Besecker sent a link to Madeleine Davies’s report last week on Jezebel.com that human vaginal yeast is inappropriate for brewing beer.

Oh? Really? I never would’ve guessed.

"Yeast,” Davies writes,
 ...is everywhere, even (as we ladies well know) buried deep inside our vaginas, waiting to go bad and ruin our week at any moment. But does that mean that we could possibly brew beer using the cause of one of our more common south of the border infections? Is "turn a yeast infection into a full-bodied IPA" the new "make lemons into lemonade?" We did some research and, in a word, no. 
Davies explains why in her piece (below). I hope this means we can put a stop right this instant of anyone evening thinking about introducing inappropriate strains of yeast into our whiskeys.

Goes well with:

Monday, October 1, 2012

Nearly a Liter of Lemon Drops

While I take great pleasure in some agressive and obscure cocktails with the occasional outré ingredient, not all of my friends do. In fact, most of them don't give a damn about absinthe, moonshine, homemade bitters, or the latest alpine liqueur. For them, a Jack & Coke, a SoCo on ice, or just a splash of bourbon is fine.

Sure, I'd like it if people — especially people I care about — developed more sophisticated tastes in mixed drinks, but more importantly, I want friends to enjoy themselves at my house. I want each of them to have a drink he or she wants and likes. Foisting baroque cocktails on them with ingredients they're not going to be able to find on the liquor store shelf (and which they don't really want) just isn't being a good host.

One group of friends in particular likes lemon drops. Likes? Strike that. These guys will destroy shot after shot of the sweet-tart vodka drink. So for them, I keep a liter bottle pre-batched in the freezer. Hey, it's cheaper than good whiskey and faster than making cocktails à la minute. More importantly, the guys love it. It's not a sure thing that it will be there, but three times out of five, if you pop open our freezer door, a frosted bottle of slushy yellow liqueur sits on the bottom shelf, ready to be doled out in shotglasses. Not quite as thick or sweet as homemade limoncello, but the same general idea.
Nearly a Liter of Lemon Drops
18 oz/530ml lemon/citrus flavored vodka
9 oz /270ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 oz/120ml simple syrup (I use 2:1) 
Shake, strain, into a one-liter bottle, and store in the freezer. Serve in shot glasses, sugar-rimmed or not, according to your taste. 
Right out of the freezer, the mixture will contain lots of ice shards which quickly melt. It's up to you whether to take this one slushy or wait a few moments and down it once it smoothes out. In The Jox of Mixology (Clarkson Potter, 2003), Gaz Regan suggests swapping triple sec for the syrup for "more depth and character." I myself have been known to spike the liter of lemon drops with a teaspoon (5ml) of Angostura bitters which, to my mind, have an affinity for lemon.

Goes well with: 
  • Victoria Moore's 2009 book How to Drink. In it, she writes a number of sensible things. One in particular seems apropos: “It’s often said that life’s too short to drink bad wine, but I’d go further. Life’s also too short to drink good wine, or anything else for that matter, if it’s not what you feel like at the time. There’s no point in popping the cork on a bottle of vintage champagne if you really hanker after a squat tumbler of rough red wine.”