Wednesday, December 04, 2013

The Advil Calendar 2013 Day 4: ALL AUXIER AND ALL OF THE NIGHT

What's going on, Wednesday? Wednesday is what Tuesday used to be, I swear. Doesn't Wednesday just make you go "HHhrhhghhh"? Wednesday is the day I most frequently find myself sounding like Marge Simpson.

So hey! How about I cop out today!

YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD LIBRARIAN BOOTS IT TO A PRO

Writer, not bartender. As soon as I realized I was going to do the Advil Calendar again this year, I started soliciting guest contributions. It's a lot of work, and one librarian can only drink so much.

Couple of years ago I found myself at a dinner table with the children's book author Jonathan Auxier. Jonathan's books are Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes and The Night Gardener (coming in May), neither of which I have read (OH! Some terrible friend I am!) because in both cases, my older son snatched up my advance reader copy, ran away to some squirrelly hidey-hole to read it, and then stuffed it under his bed.

No I'm serious about that last part. He's a remarkably un-neurotic kid (FOR NOW), but I think he hides his favorite books from me, probably so I won't con him into recording a video review for me to post on my other blog.

And I frickin' WORKED for that copy of The Night Gardener - Jonathan's publisher had sent two boxes of advance copies to a panel he was moderating at a conference I attended, and I offered to guard the books and then hand them out after the panel concluded. My friend Laura helped, and good thing she did. BLOODBATH. It was like the first day of the Missoni limited edition line at Target. You'd have thought we were giving out Cipro in the midst of a bird flu epidemic. I think I lost a chunk of hair!

Where was I? My hair. No, Auxier. At that dinner a couple years ago, Jonathan said something kind of odd when he ordered a drink. "This year I'm exploring beer," he said, and I was like, "If that's the case, this should probably also be the year you explore jogging. And... um?"





Jonathan's favorite
rye. Also my husband's
Turns out Jonathan had only developed a real appreciation for alcohol a few years prior. I don't know, maybe he grew up Methodist. Don't judge. He said he had spent the previous year sampling his way around the bourbon and rye family, and this year he was going to do beer.

My Whiskey Year - I like that. It's got kind of a tone to it, right? It would be a midcentury coming-of-age movie with a lot of white short-sleeved shirts and side-parted short hair. Little dude would be sent down to the corner to get his dad a bottle on summer evenings, and on the way back he'd sit and visit with the wise old black man (maybe blind!) who fixed his bike and taught him how to smoke.

Jonathan is a great guy and a terrific conversationalist, and has a habit of asking leading questions: "What's your favorite movie?" he asked my kids when he met them (Ocean's Eleven and The Dirty Dozen). Into a crowd of kidlit professionals, he will lob, "What's the best young adult book you've read this year that I might not have heard of?" and watch the sparks fly. So this year, when I saw him at the same event, I of course wanted to know, "What's your favorite cocktail out of all you've sampled?"

And Jonathan, it turns out, likes the Sazerac best. The Sazerac - the old, weird, potent, herby cocktail from New Orleans. Jonathan likes a Sazerac so much, and it is so hard to get a real one made for you, that his wife put together for him a little traveling Sazerac kit. I love this.

When I was a kid, our family would go on these biking vacations where we stayed in college dorms. Festive, right? So my parents had a little case that was big enough for a bottle of gin, one of tonic water, a shot glass and a lime. One rainy night, we arrived in London, Ontario for a tandem rally after about a 30 hour drive, and there were no dorm rooms to be had. All we could find was a motel room that was so filthy and so strange that my mother had two gin and tonics, thanks to that little case. She was so cute that night. That room had the Serenity Prayer tacked to the wall, and she read it out loud and laughed so hard I thought her eyes were going to fall out.

Wow. How much do you want a traveling bar set that looks like this?

I asked Jonathan how exactly he ended up a Sazerac drinker. It's an obscure choice, after all. I was envisioning a blurry but hypnotic evening in a haunted New Orleans bar, but he said, "I had my first Sazerac when my cousin showed up on our doorstep one night with her arms full of bottles and declared that it would be a Sazerac night. I've never looked back."

Another great cousin moment! Here's our guest commentary and recipe from Jonathan Auxier. Read his books, drink his drink.



Ladies and gents, Mr. Jonathan Auxier

SAZERAC FUN FACTS:

Born in the antebellum south, the Sazerac is the "first cocktail" in the sense that it has fixed ingredients--much like the Reuben is the "first sandwich". The drink is all but forgotten now. 99% of bars do not have the necessary ingredients or knowhow to make it. (New Orleans being the exception ... but even there it's very hit-or-miss).

THE INGREDIENTS:

aka "The Green Fairy," absinthe is very damn expensive
but the bottle are so cool!
First tricky ingredient is Rye whiskey. Needs to be American rye; if you see the word "Canada" on the bottle, pour it down the drain.

For years, this was hard to come by, but more recently rye has made a comeback and is easier to find. I am of the mind that high quality whiskey doesn't belong in a cocktail (just as good coffee doesn't belong in a latte). For that reason, I recommend making Sazeracs with plain old Jim Beam rye ... or if you want something a little more expensive, I like (ri)1 or Michter's.

Second tricky ingredient is Absinthe. Many bars will try to sneak in Herbsaint or even Pernaud as a substitute, but don't let them. Absinthe or bust.

Third tricky ingredient is Peychaud's bitters. These bitters are not expensive, but they are only used in the Sazerac, and they taste nothing like other traditional (Angostura) bitters. That means unless a bar specifically has the Sazerac on the menu, they will not carry this stuff.

The Absinthe and bitters are used in small enough proportions that Mary made me a little kit to carry around with little vials of the stuff. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Perfect Wife!

PREPARATION:

I watched about a dozen how-to videos in search of instructions that actually do the drink justice. Ignoring the use of Herbsaint, this comes closest:


 


Here's the recipe, from Chuck Taggart of GumboPages.com, as printed in the L.A. Times:

Sazerac
Generous barspoon (roughly one teaspoon) of simple syrup (made with demerara or turbinado sugar at a 2:1 sugar to water ratio) or 1 sugar cube
4 big “slugs” of Peychaud’s bitters (“Slug that bottle from the elbow.”)
2 ounces rye whiskey
2 or 3 dashes of absinthe
Lemon peel
  1. Start with two Old Fashioned glasses. (No mixing tins!) Chill one in the freezer, and use the other glass to mix the drink while the other is getting frosty. (If you’ve got a bit more time in between now and when you’re drinking, feel free to chill both glasses.)
  2. Drop in simple syrup and bitters. If using a sugar cube, also drop in no more than a half an ounce of water to help dissolve it.
  3. Pour in the whiskey and a scoop of ice cubes and stir for 20 to 30 seconds. If the ice is wet, stir for less time. With hard, non-wet ice, do it for 30 seconds. “You should be able to taste the whiskey. It’s a strong drink, so be careful to not over-dilute it [while stirring with the ice].”
  4. Get the chilled glass and put in 2 or 3 dashes of absinthe. Rotate the glass to evenly coat it with the absinthe. You can choose to toss out the excess or keep it, depending on how much of that anise flavor you want in your cocktail.
  5. Strain the whiskey from the mixing glass to the chilled glass using a julep strainer.
  6. Squeeze the lemon peel over the glass and wipe the rim with it, but for god’s sake DO NOT drop it in. As Stanley Clisby Arthur, New Orleans author, says in his 1936 book Old New Orleans: A History of the Vieux Carre, Its Ancient and Historical Buildings“Do not commit the sacrilege of dropping it into the drink.” Basically you don’t want to throw the balance off and let it get too lemony.

A FUSSY DRINK BECOMES FUSSIER:

I actually think the official recipe (one sugar cube) is too sweet, so when I order it at bars, I ask for "half the sugar" and usually like what I get.
-- Jonathan Auxier, Pittsburgh, 2013


Ok holy shit, that is as much trouble for one drink as I went to for 3 quarts of Viryta yesterday! I am just happy it wasn't me doing the heavy lifting. Or the throwing - there used to be a bartender at the Tabard Inn in DC who would do that rinse-the-glass thing by tossing it in the air in a spinning motion.

Thank you Jonathan! Tune in next Wednesday for another EXCITING GUEST mixmaster! Til then, we've got another 6 days of me making it up as I go along. What's it going to be tomorrow? Tomorrow might be book review day.

In 2010, when I started writing the Advil Calendar, there were not many cocktail books out there. Now - my gosh it's a glut! And they're not all what you're looking for. I will run down the precious, the meek, and the clever until we find just the mix manual you've been looking for. Don't worry, there will be recipes too.