Thursday, July 25, 2013

Stirred, not shaken

Restocking my home bar at Astor Wines & Spirits  |  Stirred, not shaken on *sparklingly  |
{  Restocking the bar at Astor Wines & Spirits  }
We're not what you'd call "drinkers", but neither are we teetotalers. A nice glass of wine on a regular basis or a proper cocktail on occasion versus shots at the bar or weekend binges is how we do it.

But it had been quite a while since I'd had a nice cocktail at home—which was entirely caused by our lack of ingredients. We always have a decent selection of wine, a bottle of whisky, and usually a bottle of spirits picked up on vacation in the Caribbean (Antiguan Rum, Mexican Tequila Reposado), but as for the additions to mix a non-straight-up drink, we were a bit deficient.

After comparing costs for the specific spirits I wanted across local wine stores (since they offer free delivery in Manhattan when you spend a certain amount), I went with Astor Wines & Spirits for my hefty order. The store itself, an eco-friendly, landmark building near NYU and Union Square, is just lovely, and they offer classes and tastings at Astor Center, their "school", but given the heatwave, I had no intention of lugging bottles home, so to the website I went!

Now you may have already gauged from all I've written on the general theme, but just in case you haven't: I'm a big believer in food as medicine, which trickles nicely over to drinks as medicine. Cocktails did originally start as tonics to heal the stomach and mind, after all (medicinal mixology, if you will), before giving way to the hedonism-inducing concoctions of today.

I've always been a fan of what my friend calls "old man drinks", i.e., stiff, bitter, not-at-all-sweet cocktails, like a Negroni. So first order of business was getting the ingredients for that: Gin, Bitters (Campari is the bitter of choice for a Negroni) and Sweet Vermouth (usually Martini & Rossi). But while poking around online I discovered something upsetting: Campari changed its formulation a few years ago to remove the cochineal (a beetle secretion used to dye food, cosmetics, and textiles red) that gave the spirit its iconic neon hue, in favor of the horrid Red #40! Dislike.

When I was researching this absurdity I came across Medicinal Mixology, a really great site with the goal of resparking:

"the practice of crafting restorative healthy cocktails using the purest ingredients availableresulting libations will titillate the senses, promote physical wellbeing, and soothe the soul."
and they also note,
"if you want to avoid drinking neon-hued drinks with ridiculous names that are too embarrassing to say out loud, then you might like what we’re doing. We don’t claim to be experts; in fact, we’ll make mistakes and you’ll hate some of our recipes, but we’re here to provide resources and experiments for those interested in improving their well-being one glass at a time by avoiding artificial additives."

Match that inspiring mission with clean design, glossy pics and witty writing, and I had my afternoon reading break material! While the site no longer seems to be updated, there's a plethora of really interesting tidbits and recipes that you might enjoy, if you're anything like me.

The authors have some background and history on the whole Campari hullabahoo, as well as suggestions for how to replace Campari (and incorporate a much more interesting vermouth). I went with their suggestions and purchased Gran Classico Bitter to replace Campari and Carpano Antica Formula for my vermouth. I kept my own counsel for the gin, though, and bought Bluecoat American Dry Gin (to be honest, even though I had tried it before and liked it, I would have bought it anyway, because how you can resist great language like, "Assert your independence with Bluecoat"?).

Once my spirits arrived I stirred our Negronis up (no cocktail shaker in the house! must remedy this) according to MM's recipe and while I liked it, it was a little too sweet for me. Next time I'll just do ½ oz Sweet Vermouth. The traditional Negroni recipe calls for a 1:1:1 ratio, while Medicinal Mixology recommends:

1 ½ oz Gin
1 oz Gran Classico
¾ oz Sweet Vermouth

We enjoyed these potent potions on Homemade Pizza Night, a pretty regular occurrence around here, as you may have noticed. I like having semi-regular rituals like that, where the basics are always the same: we get regular dough for R and gluten-free flatbread for me (let's be real: I can't be bothered with making two homemade doughs from scratch on a school night!), dribble on some tomato sauce, and then on goes whatever bitter greens are fresh in the fridge (Arugula and Escarole are favorites of mine), followed by whatever appropriate cheese we have (regular mozzarella or Bufala). Sometimes if I'm feeling the need for a more substantial pizza, I crack an egg on top before sliding it in the oven.

Going against everything I said above about enjoying the occasional proper cocktail, I had to experiment with my other spirits the next two following nights. Drink #2 was a Margarita, something I practiced making while in North Carolina earlier this month, enjoyed before a Mexican-inspired beef and peppers sautè.

I already had a bottle of Clase Azul Tequila Reposado from Mexico, but I picked up another bottle that seemed intriguing from Astor Wines: Familia Camarena Tequila Reposado. The bottle I had is definitely a sipping tequila, and apparently the Camarena can be, too, but it's also good for cocktails. I like my margaritas mouth-puckeringly tart, with just the slightest hint of sweetness, so I do:

1 1/2 oz Tequila
1 oz fresh lime juice
1/2 oz Triple Sec

I don't like the well-known Cointreau for Triple Sec, so I went with a less sweet, more intensely citrus version featuring Sicilian oranges (naturally): Luxardo Triplum Triple Sec.

Finally, before taking a self-induced-hiatus from cocktails, the last night called for a much more low key Tequila Shandy (4:3:1 ratio of sparkling water, beer and Tequila) for a refreshing prelude to a dinner of Barramundi in a tomato/lemon sauce.

And now I shall be sipping sparkling water and lemon until this coming weekend!


  1. You are so fancy, J! :) I love the idea of drinks as medicine. I know zero about it (kombucha is my drink of choice!), but it's so interesting. I'm going to share your post with Aaron since he's also a fan of the "old man drinks".

    1. Ha, yes, must continue to perpetuate the fancy pants J image and cover up the fact that I enjoyed my drinks while in slippers and robe, with a basket of knitting at my feet ;).

      I realize now that I was so into my purchases and recipes that I didn't even include the actual medicinal benefits! Silly me (I blame it on the residual cocktail buzz). Must share that soon! Aaron will really enjoy Gran Bitter Classico and Carpano Antica, since he's a whiskey-snifter-in-the-library kinda drinker like me! Let me know what he thinks if he gets the chance to try them.

      Oh, speaking of your drink of choice, I need to get on this kombucha deal soon. What happened to our I-95 Scoby Switch-off? ;)


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