Welcome; the Floridita and the Margarita

Hullo and welcome to The Manhattan Project. My name is Aaron, I’m an 18 year old engineering student from Melbourne, Australia with a keen interest in mixing drinks. (And if you want to avoid a self-indulgent history lesson, you’d best scroll to the bottom of this post.)

I guess my interest in the subject sparked about a year and a half ago, when underaged Aaron’s father contemplated a bottle of Bombay Sapphire in an airport shop, and was mildly curious about the brilliant blue bottle and its contents. A the same month, at a Sufjan Stevens concert (which my father was decidedly bored at), he let me have a sip from his gin & tonic. I thought it tasted bloody brilliant. “Vodka lime?” I asked. “No. It’s a gin and tonic.”

In the following months I began taking nips from my parents’ dusty collection of duty-free liquor they had acquired over the years (they were more wine drinkers than anything), then mixing them- I remember being fond of Bacardi and grapefruit juice, serving my friend Nick White Russians, and even once trying a recipe inspired by the “Colorado Bulldog” – vodka, Kahlua, Coca-Cola and milk. But I replaced the Coca-Cola. With root beer. And liked it. One of these days, that concotion must be revisited…

Thankfully, in the year since then I have been scouring the Internet and a handful of print sources fervently for educational material. The most helpful by far, when I was getting started, was Robert Hess’s video blog, The Cocktail Spirit. He provided much insight into all the basic principles of mixing drinks, and many a great, classically styled recipe. Another resource that was very important to me was 750 Cocktails, by Walton, Olivier and Farrow. It provided detailed backgrounds and explainations of most of the spirits and liqueurs one is likely to encounter in a lifetime, and many recipes with short descriptions and sometimes photographs and histories for each. Though I could now recommend better texts for a beginner, this publication is certainly far above the depressing average standard of most cocktail books on the shelves today. Shout outs must also go to Jay from Oh Gosh! and the boys from Infusions of Grandeur (who seemingly mysteriously disappeared almost exactly a year ago). More recently, I’ve found a wealth of knowledge at the eGullet forums, which many of today’s cocktail visionaries frequent, and have been exploring some of the excellent cocktail bars my city has to offer (Der Raum and Black Pearl being my favourites so far).

Well, that’s more than enough of a history lesson. I can hardly expect you, the reader, to care in the slightest about a backstory when I’ve not yet posted a single thing. So, on to the first drink of the blog!

Floridita

Floridita

1 1/2 White Rum (Havana Club Anejo Blanco)

1/2 Sweet Vermouth (Cinzano Rosso)

1/2 Fresh lime juice

1tsp Grenadine (Monin; I used 4mL actually)

<1tsp White Creme de Cacao (Baitz, I substituted dark; about 3.7mL. White is preferred for a cleaner colour, but seeing as such a small quantity was added the brown did not impact too badly.)

Shake all ingredients with ice. Strain into achilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime slice.

Sorry for the slightly mangled garnish – mum used a lime’s peel for cooking and I used the juice.

An interesting and somewhat unlikely recipe, the Floridita combines rum, lime, grenadine… vermouth… and chocolate? I had made one of these before, but that was a long time ago in my newbie days when I was using a 10 year old bottle (!) of local sweet vermouth – far from ideal (though an interesting flavour in its own right; My best friend and I, upon first sip, concluded that it tasted like Mother Nature). I thought it was about time I retried it, seeing as it had given great praise by Robert Hess and a few others.

On tasting, the drink reflects the complexity in its recipe: the initial flavour is mostly vermouth and spirit (alcohol), a suggestion of rum, but whilst swallowing this gives way to a wave of crisp lime, then the body of the rum, more lime and just a hint of chocolate – more the ‘feeling’ of chocolate than a pronounced flavour. It’s quite a pleasant drink, but though the flavours are complex and give that great “marching down the tongue” sensation, they are light and none of them particularly grab you; I love complex drinks, but I prefer them to have bold, heavy flavours, like a Sazerac or an Islay Morning Fizz. This is much the same issue I had with the 20th Century I had at 1806, and come to think of it, the two drinks are kind of similar (the 20th Century consisting of Gin, Lillet, lemon juice and Creme de Cacao, albiet quite a lot more Cacao). Regardless, both are fine drinks, well worth trying, and may certainly appeal to many drinkers out there.

Margarita (stub)

Margarita

1 1/2 Blanco Tequila (Trago Silver – 100% agave)

1 Cointreau

3/4 Fresh lime juice

Before juicing the lime, take a cocktail glass and run the exposed flesh of the lime around the outer lip of half of the rim.  Lightly sprinkle salt upon the wet edge of the rim. Chill the cocktail glass. Juice the lime, shake all ingredients with ice and strain into the prepared glass. Garnish with a lime slice.

I made this one for my father, so I can’t write in depth about how it tasted. From the few sips I had though, it was quite delicious. I made it using a super-premium 100% agave Tequila which I managed to pick up for half price due to import discontinuation (for the other Melbourninans out there, Nick’s Wine Merchants is one hell of a shop if you love your wine and/or spirits, and they have a fantastic site to boot which is a real trove of information). I had only made Margaritas before with Tequila Blu before, which as far as I know is a mixto (meaning it’s not pure agave spirit, instead being blended most likely with sugar spirit to produce an inferior and cheaper product) Reposado (it has been lightly aged). Some confusion arises from Tequila Blu being occasionally marketed as 100% agave- however, as it is fairly cheap, bottled locally (100% agave Tequilas are by law restricted to bottling in Mexico) and not stated as being 100% on the packaging this is highly unlikely. It does have a very strong pepper note, and the Margaritas never turned out quite right. It did quite well in Palomas and Prados though, which I shall cover later.

On the other hand, Trago Silver is a very clean tasting tequila, and makes a very drinkable Margarita, if a bit light on the agave flavour. To be honest, I’ve never tried another 100% agave tequila, but I feel I’d prefer if the Trago could stand up for itself a bit better in a mix – the Cointreau somewhat overshadowed it in this drink. Maybe I need to try a drier ratio, or a Tommy’s style recipe, using agave syrup as the sweetener instead of Cointreau. Other future Margarita experiments will include using Grand Marnier instead of Cointreau (“Cadillac Margarita”), and mixing one using Sauza Blanco, a mixto, for when I’m not feeling so luxurious.

The final note on the Margarita for this post is the salt rim. Some love it, some hate it. I like to salt half the rim, and only lightly, to give the drinker a choice with every sip. I’m not partial to the salt myself, and oversalting to get a big crusty rim  I feel is harsh on the tastebuds, and the cocktail. If desired, the salt should just be there to slightly enhance the flavour of the drink – and between Mexican food, the alcohol and the lime juice, you’re going to be thirsty enough! It is also very important not to get any salt on the inside of the glass, where it will dissolve into the drink.

Thank you for reading!

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