Take it easy, Carl. These will F*CK you up!
As we head into this Memorial Day weekend, I don’t know about y’all, but I’m getting kinda thirsty! Weather-wise, it’s going to be a mixed bag here in New York, but traditionally this time of year signals the shift from spring to summer. Technically, we still have four weeks of spring to go, but in keeping with the prevailing attitude around here, New York doesn’t give a shit! Pretty much like clockwork, after this holiday weekend, the warm nights start setting in, the streets give birth to the distinct bouquet of garbage, Chinese food and urine , and the slow, familiar trickle of sweat begins its descent from the top of the neck to the lower back. It’s pretty special, you guys. Oh! And those rich, spicy cocktails you were having all winter long? Well, they are starting to change flavors…and bubbles may possibly be involved! BUBBLES!
Ladies, you’re DESTROYING the bubbles
Bubbly drinks and BBQ may not sound like the most intuitive pairing, but they are pretty much a dream team. The beauty of most classic Champagne cocktails is that they usually have very few ingredients, so they’re fairly easy to make, which is pretty much a requirement for a low maintenance holiday like Memorial Day.
While I could wax poetic on the Aperol Spritz and sing the praises of the gorgeous simplicity of the Kir Royale, the bubbly cocktail that is really having a moment in my life right now is the French 75.
Now, I’m not going to name names, but it came to my attention the other night that two very cosmopolitan girlfriends of mine had never tried a French 75 cocktail. Long story short, they did that night and LURVED them and totally got Bit By a Fox. A few days later, I went to a lovely backyard barbecue and brought some ingredients over to make my version of French 75s, and pretty much introduced everyone there to their new favorite warm weather drink. Boom! Totally Bit!
Now, while this drink is crazy refreshing and super magical and everyone needs to know about it, French 75s should probably come with a warning label. BECAUSE THEY TASTE SO GOOD. And too many can be SO BAD…the next day. The combination of wine and spirits is always a dangerous one but the addition of sugar just adds that little extra special headache-y kick. But don’t let that scare you! Just imbibe responsibly. And don’t be a dum dum, drink plenty of water!
Or…you could just do that.
When it comes to classic cocktails, there is always debate surrounding the origin and exact ingredients. This drink supposedly dates back to 1915 in Paris at The New York Bar, but the recipe wasn’t put into print until 1930, when The Savoy Cocktail Book was released. Popular with the American ex-pats in Paris who came of age during World War I, the French 75 then was finally made famous in America at The Stork Club in New York.
The French 75 is traditionally made with: Gin, Champagne, Lemon Juice and Sugar. Sometimes it’s made with Cognac or even Vodka instead of Gin. Sometimes the sugar is powered or superfine or in a syrup form. And sometimes it’s served in a Collins glass with ice or up in a champagne flute, tulip or coupe glass! There are so many variations, it can be crazy making. So just do some experimenting with those ingredients and make the proportions to suit your tastes. YOU are ultimately the authority on what you like. That being said, this is my blog and the recipe below is a variation on what I made at that backyard barbecue a couple of weekends ago. Because it was dope.
Traditionally, the gin, lemon juice and sugar are shaken with ice and then strained into a glass first (sometimes with ice, sometimes not) and then the bubbles top off the drink. I like to make it easy and build the ingredients in the glass itself, preferably a large coupe-style, without ice, assuming all the ingredients are very cold. No shaker, no problem! (Seriously get a shaker, though. We’ll be needing that for future drinks)
BBAF French 75: Yield: 1 drink
1 1/2 ounces (shot glass) London Dry Gin
1/2 ounce Simple Syrup (I had a jalapeño mint syrup leftover from making Mint Julips at a Derby party the week before and it worked out well here, but it’s not necessary)
1/2 ounce Lemon Juice (1/2 lemon)
3-4 ounces Brut (Dry) Champagne (or dry sparkling wine like Cava or Prosecco)
A few shakes of Rhubarb Bitters (optional)
(To make a simple syrup, combine 1 cup sugar with 1 cup water in a saucepan over low heat until dissolved. Cool to room temperature before using. Stash extra for later!)
Build the first three ingredients in the glass, then top it all off with the bubbly so it mixes. Add a few shakes of Rhubarb Bitters for that last spring hurrah. Voila! Bring on the summer!
This is my sober face.
Bit By a Fox! Isn’t it a delightful expression? Made all the more appealing, I happen to think, to know that it is an English tavern phrase dating back to the 16th century, meaning tipsy, a wee intoxicated, slightly inebriated, a tad squiffy…or as my mother likes to say, a little lit! Fox-drunk or foxed were also terms that were used more frequently during that time and into the 18th century. But these all eventually disappeared from our lexicon, taking with them other colorful phrases along the way, such as Cork High and Bottle Deep, and my new, personal favorite: Laughing at the Carpet. So much more elegant than shitfaced, no? Let’s bring them all back!
So, let’s say you ARE in England, in a tavern during the early part of the 16th century, and you really want to get Bit By a Fox…like SUPER foxed. Who would blame you? What with the Bubonic plague going around and raw sewage floating down the streets and an average life expectancy of 40….and all the rats, there’s no wonder alcohol consumption was at an all time high. The rats alone, gah! However, if you are hanging around a tavern, looking to get crunked, most likely you are a man (sorry, ladies – you are not a welcome patron…but if you’re the proprietor’s daughter, you probs get to bartend!), and while your average consumption of about 17 pints of beer and ale per week should be enough to get you Bit By a Fox on the regular, you don’t really have many other drink options. Some generic forms of aqua vitae may appear behind the bar, but at this time, drinking spirits is still largely used for medicinal purposes. And wine is rarely served here. You will have to wait a good two hundred years before it gets very interesting.
Sorry, dude. It was a grim time in the history of imbibing. Choices were limited, quality control was extremely lax and you were lucky if the only side effect of that warm, sour ale you guzzled just got you a little foxed and didn’t force you to have a week-long date with the chamber pot. Hello there, dysentery! Point being, there was no artisanal bitters, hand chipped ice, seasonal rosés or temperature controlled cask micro brews readily available. Even rudimentary cocktails were hardly a glimmer in that bar maid’s eye. Thankfully, we don’t live in the 16th century! Ladies are welcome on either side of the bar! And we have actual toilets that flush! (I’m seriously thankful for that, like every day.)
You guys, we are so spoiled! Forget about romanticizing the pre-prohibition era in America, we are living in the golden age of booze RIGHT NOW. From small batch distilleries and microbreweries popping up seemingly overnight in every nook of the country, to wineries in Arizona and Virginia and New York finally coming into their own, there is no question the United States is going through a boozy renaissance. And spirits and cocktails are at the forefront of this movement. The rise in popularity of small-batch distilleries coincides with the popularity of speakeasies and bars featuring classic and specialty cocktails. But it’s taken a while to get here. Although domestic wine and craft beer has been enjoying massive success for a number of decades, spirits production, on a small batch level, has taken longer to bounce back from that less than Noble Experiment. This is mainly because up until about 10 years ago, Prohibition-era liquor laws were Still. In. Place. You read that right. It took 70 years to start adjusting those laws that were clearly a FAILURE and an embarrassment to our country, in order to move forward to form the varied, booze-rich nation that we have grown so accustomed to these last few years. As you can imagine, this shift in legislature has been a huge hit! Since 2005, 200 micro-distilleries in 45 states have launched, and in 10 years time, we are projected to have over 1,000 small batch stills in operation. Yeah, AMERICA!
Watch your step, ladies!
The people of this country are more sophisticated and enthusiastic than ever. Y’all are home brewing, infusing your own spirits with lavender and bacon, guiding wine tastings in your living rooms, tricking out your home bars with extensive bourbon collections and bitters and tonics and potions, oh my! It is arguably over the top. Pairing tequila flights with cupcakes probably shouldn’t happen. But, then again, maybe it should!
While we’ve come a long way from bathtub gin and warm, sour ale as our only option, it still seems like we may have a ways to go in terms of widespread knowledge about the good stuff. Skinny Girl Cocktails, which includes inferior alcohol and is loaded with preservatives, is the fastest growing spirit brand in America. People are still nuts about Red Bull and vodka. And there are entire Pinterest boards devoted to the most heinous looking, neon colored cocktails, with no root in anything remotely food-like. While I feel like the small batch, local and craft cocktail movement has reached a fever pitch because I happen to live in an obsessive (and occasionally, obnoxious) bubble surrounded by these kinds of businesses, (Brooklyn in the HOOOUUUSE!) not everyone is feeling it. And maybe they don’t want to get on board. Some people are perfectly content with and prefer their Boone’s Farm Wine Coolers and using Crystal Light as a mixer. Hey, I’ve spent entire summers worshiping at the altar of Gin and Fresca and I have my very own brief but ugly experience involving Boone’s Farm Fruit Punch “wine”. Those Pinterest boards filled with bright blue cocktails and bubble gum garnishes are appealing to a LOT of people (Disclaimer: I HAVE used Pixie Stix to rim a champagne cocktail). But I love the fact that there is a trend towards producing the good stuff, and that we are taking our knowledge of the past and building on it to create an exceptional, boozy landscape with more choices than ever before. In fact, there is so much out there, from new spirits launches to seasonal cocktail trends to the hand crafted mixers and bitters flooding the market, it’s difficult to navigate it all. Hopefully, that’s where this blog comes in!
Come along with me to discover the ever-burgeoning spirits scene that continues to sweep the country (and globe). Let’s figure out if any of the cocktail trends are worth practicing, the venues are worth dropping our dough on and what the difference is between a Daisy and a Flip! Let’s delve into the history of the stuff we’re pouring down our gullets and unearth rare cocktail recipes and get the stories behind them! And let’s also create original, seasonal cocktails with simple step by step guides while creating our own syrups, bitters, mixers and shrubs along the way!
Whether you’re a skilled mixologist, obsessing over ice and schooling (annoying) your friends on the history of the Sazerac or you’re someone who is brand new to all this mixing, shaking and stirring and just want to know what all the fuss is about…there should be SOMEthing for you here. Pretty drinks! No rats! I can guarantee at least that.
So, I welcome you to my first, (and longest ever, I promise,) blog post.
And I invite you to get Bit By a Fox!