Chin-chin! A cocktail for the new year

Text & Photo:
Julie Schwietert Collazo
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I thought I didn’t like bourbon.

Wedded to tequila and mezcal and charmed by their seemingly infinite possibilities, I didn’t give this most American of spirits much of a chance. The memory of the burn from sips of Wild Turkey nipped while making bourbon balls with my mom during childhood holidays didn’t exactly entice.

So when Francisco handed me a drink he’d ordered from the bar at San Juan, Puerto Rico’s recently renovated and reopened Condado Vanderbilt Hotel, and said, “Bourbon, honey, and lemon–try it; it’s delicious,” I almost said, “No, thanks.”

But something about the smell was so seductive, I couldn’t decline. One sip and I was reminded that one of life’s great lessons is try and try again.

Condado Vanderbilt makes its “Gold Rush” cocktail with Woodford Reserve (though the menu says Knob Creek). When we returned home to New York, Francisco decided to make his own version of the drink. This is what we’ll be drinking tonight to say farewell to 2014 and to ring in 2015:

Francisco's version of the Condado Vanderbilt's Gold Rush. (Photo: @collazoprojects)
Francisco’s version of the Condado Vanderbilt’s Gold Rush. (Photo: @collazoprojects)

[Makes two cocktails]
-2 shots of Buffalo Trace bourbon whiskey
-3 ounces of fresh squeezed Meyer lemon juice (The Condado Vanderbilt does not use Meyer lemons, but the distinctive aroma and taste of the Meyer lemon elevates the drink considerably)
-a dash of St. Germain liqueur
-1 teaspoon of mountain forest amber honey

Mix well in a shaker with plenty of ice. Serve over more ice in an old-fashioned glass that has been rimmed with a light coating of honey and spritzed with Meyer lemon.

Chin-chin and salud! Here’s to a wonderful new year full of health, happiness, and wholeness!

Drinks around the World

Text & Photos:
Julie Schwietert Collazo
**
The #EattheWorld chat on twitter has gone and done it again: sent me diving into our photo archives to pull together photos of memorable moments–this time, spent drinking at home and abroad. (If you’ll recall, the last time was desserts).

That may make us sound like lushes, but Francisco and I are actually pretty featherweight when it comes to drinking. Still, as the lively chat on alcohol abroad reminded me, alcohol–like food–is one important point of contact that helps us learn more about other countries and cultures: what they value, what’s taboo, what prevailing tastes are, how people socialize, and how they tend the land and the fruits it yields.

Here, then, are a few photos tied to our favorite memories of drinking abroad.

Ratafia
I don’t love drinking ratafia at all; to me, it has a strong, herby, medicinal taste. But the theatrics of drinking this Catalonian liquor and the sheer social fun of it (Ratafia is *not* vodka- you don’t drink it alone), even if you’re just spectating, make at least a tiny sip worthwhile.

Blue agave for tequila.
If you’ve never driven past the blue-green fields of agave in Tequila, Mexico, add it to your list of things to see; the beautiful color has no equal in a box of Crayolas. Tequila’s my spirit of choice, and after seeing how it’s made (both in Tequila and San Sebastian, Mexico), I feel intense respect for the jimadores– the men who cut and prepare the agave–every time I sip.
Cashew Wine, Belize.
I’ve seen wine made out of all sorts of grapes, but I’d never seen–much less tasted–cashew wine until I went to Belize. This stuff is high double digit proof, for sure. The local winemaker also makes rice, starfruit, and seagrape wine.
Mezcaleria Bosfero, Mexico City.
My preferred spirits are mezcal and tequila, so I was pretty excited to interview journalist Daniel Hernandez at this “underground” mezcaleria in Mexico City last year. (Read my article about it in Centro y Sur). But their artisanal mezcal is so powerful, I couldn’t even finish 1/4 of my shot glass and confess to dribbling drips of it underneath my barstool like feeding dark meat Thanksgiving turkey scraps to a dog under the table so Daniel would think I drank it all.

What memories have you made while sampling the local brew abroad? Tell us in the comments.

DIY Cocktail: Tanteo Tequila + Flor de Jamaica = “Some Like It Hot”

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photos: Francisco Collazo & Julie Schwietert Collazo
**
It’s been one of those days– the kind where you* needed to get more done, wanted to get more done, and were just sure you could… but life interfered. The only possible way to salvage the day was to get in the kitchen and make something, anything, from scratch.

Even if it was only a cocktail.

The headquarters of Tanteo Tequila.
The headquarters of Tanteo Tequila.

Last week, Francisco and I visited the SoHo headquarters of Tanteo Tequila (all in the name of research for an upcoming article, mind you). The cocktails mixed up for us were delicious (a little too delicious, I realized, as I hung a bit heavily on Francisco’s arm on the way out), and I promised our host I’d experiment at home, as I’m an amateur mixologist.

Some Like It Hot
Some Like It Hot
I happened to have some leftover agua de jamaica (hibiscus water, sweetened) from a batch of homemade popsicles, so I tossed that in the blender along with 1.5 shots of Tanteo’s jalapeno tequila, a drizzle of agave, a squeeze of half a lime, and a handful of ice. I rubbed the other half of the lime around each glass and rimmed them with coarse kosher salt mixed with smoked paprika… hence the name: “Some Like It Hot.” I happened to have one wild hibiscus flower in syrup in the fridge (if you’re in NYC you can buy these at a few stores, including Kalustyans), so I stuck a bamboo skewer through it and rested it on the glass.

Perfection… day salvaged.

Hibiscus flowers can often be found (at least here in NYC) in the Mexican or “Latin” section of grocery stores, usually alongside dried chiles and spices. They’re dried and are labeled as “jamaica” flowers (their name in Spanish).

Do you have a homemade cocktail you’ve invented? Share the recipe with us in the comments.

*Oh, who am I kidding? I’m totally deflecting my lack of accomplishment today by talking in second person, but you know full well it should be first person.

Cinco de Mayo Cocktails

Text & Photos:
Julie Schwietert Collazo
**

Toloache 82
Toloache 82

Though Cinco de Mayo is a widely misunderstood holiday in the US, that doesn’t mean Mexican restaurants will correct their customers’ perceptions; for them, the day commemorating the Battle of Puebla is one of the best days of the year for business. When asked about available reservations for Cinco de Mayo, Julian Medina, chef and owner of six Mexican and Latino-themed restaurants in New York City, shook his head and said, “We’re ‘hasta las manos.'” Then the phone, which had been ringing since the early morning, rang again, with another prospective customer seeking an elusive reservation.

Meanwhile, Medina’s mixologist, Juan Vasquez, was busy getting ready for what’s likely to be the busiest night of his year. Vasquez, who has manned the bar at Toloache 82 since it opened, created two signature cocktails for Cinco de Mayo, both celebrating “only-from-Mexico” ingredients like pulque, horchata, and tequila. The pulque and horchata, he says, come from El Barrio, where Mexican bodegas and groceries sell products that are hard to find elsewhere. Vasquez supplements his bar with some commercial and artisanal tequilas, mezcals, and spirits that are difficult to find elsewhere in the US.

Mixologist Jorge Vasquez preps his bar
Mixologist Jorge Vasquez preps his bar

Mixologist Jorge Vasquez preps his bar, setting up the ingredients and tools he’ll use to make his Cinco de Mayo signature cocktails, El Pulque de Juarez and El Aguila.

Housemade rimming salts & Jarritos
Housemade rimming salts & Jarritos

Part of Vasquez’s prep work involves making sweet and savory salts to rim cocktail glasses. The Jarritos Mexican soda is the ingredient that finishes off El Aguila.

Pulque
Pulque

Pulque, a fermented sap made of the agave, is an acquired taste. Vasquez gets his pulque in cans from a bodega in New York City’s El Barrio neighborhood, where Mexican grocers supply items from their homeland that aren’t found on mainstream supermarket aisles.

Tequila delivery
Tequila delivery

While Vasquez preps at the bar, suppliers deliver the essential ingredient of the mixologist’s work: tequila. Extra boxes are stored in the restaurant’s basement for what is sure to be a busy day.

El Pulque de Juarez
El Pulque de Juarez

Vasquez’s “El Pulque de Juarez” is one of two signature cocktails he created especially for Cinco de Mayo. The drink includes pulque, horchata, and tequila, among other ingredients, and is garnished with a cinnamon stick.

El Aguila
El Aguila

Playing on patriotic themes and colors, Vasquez’s second signature cocktail for Cinco de Mayo is El Aguila. The drink is fruity and sweet and features watermelon; it’s finished off with Jarritos mandarin soda. The cocktail’s sweetness is offset a bit by the spicy rimming salt.

De la Calle
De la Calle

Though not created specifically for Cinco de Mayo, the De la Calle cocktail is one of Toloache 82’s best-selling drinks, says Vasquez. The cucumber-based drink is cool and refreshing.

Toloache 82's well-stocked bar
Toloache 82's well-stocked bar

El Pulque de Juarez and El Aguila may not be on the official menu after Cinco de Mayo, but Vasquez is happy to make the cocktails for patrons who ask for his special creations.
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Toloache 82 is located at 166 E. 82nd Street between 3rd and Lexington.
Phone: 212.861.4505.
**
Want to make your own cocktails? Vasquez graciously shared the recipe for all three drinks mentioned in this article:

El Pulque de Juarez
Mix 1.5 oz of tequila, 2 oz of horchata, 3/4 oz of simple syrup, 1.5 oz of pulque, and 3/4 oz of Cointreau. Shake well, strain into a glass rimmed with cocoa powder and cinnamon, and serve over finely crushed ice. Garnish with a cinnamon stick.

El Aguila
Mix 1.5 oz of tequila, 3/4 oz of St. Germain, 3/4 oz of simple syrup, 1 oz of lime juice. Shake well, strain into a glass rimmed with chile salt, and top off with a splash of mandarin Jarritos.

De la Calle
Mix 2 oz of tequila infused with jalapeno, 2 oz of cucumber puree, 1 oz of fresh lime juice, 1 oz of simple syrup,. Shake, strain, and serve.