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By Ron Fisher

You’re having guests for dinner and you remember that one is pregnant, or one does not drink for some reason or another, or, because of the distance to be travelled, one has opted to be a designated driver. Don’t these folks deserve something better than a ginger ale or a seltzer with a twist of lime?

Enter the mocktail, a rather sheepish name for an interesting drink, albeit one without booze. Better to call it a ‘Cocktail Without’.

When you build most cocktails, you typically have a spirit, a modifier and something else to enhance the flavor. For example, in a Manhattan, there is rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters. The spirit does a lot of heavy lifting in a traditional cocktail, but a non-alcoholic drink can’t rely on that, so you need some sharp flavors to pick up the slack. It also has to be attractive, quite frankly, if only to show off a bit.

Google ‘mocktail’ and you will find a variety of interesting concoctions. In many cases, the recipes are very complicated, introducing a range of flavors and mixtures (lychee-passion fruit purée) to make up for the lack of alcohol. Tasty, to be sure, but not very practical. <ROTR> found some recipes that don’t require any advance preparation and which have ingredients that are fairly easy to come by. Making them involves muddling – mashing up the ingredients in a glass – which is more work than just pouring liquids, but these drinks look good, taste great, and are well worth the effort.

Cucumber Lemon Cooler

6-8 slices of cucumber, cut into small pieces

1½ oz. lemon juice

1½ tsp. light brown-sugar syrup (dissolve sugar in an equivalent amount of water)

6 oz. club soda

The trick with this drink is to get as much juice out of the cucumber as possible. If you have a juicer, or some type of press, it’s easy – juice the cucumber. If not, you’ll have to muddle the cucumber in the bottom of a thick-walled, tall glass. A muddler looks like a small baseball bat, and instead of holding the knob, you grab the barrel and use the knob to do the mashing. If you don’t have a muddler, you can use the handle of a large wooden spoon, or any other blunt instrument that you can safely hold. Muddle the cucumber to a soupy pulp and strain the juice into a separate tall glass. Add the lemon juice and sugar syrup and stir. Fill the glass with ice and club soda, and garnish with a cucumber wheel. This is a light and very refreshing drink.

Virgin Ginger Rogers

¼-½ tsp. light brown sugar

10-12 mint leaves

1 piece of ginger, ¼ in. thick and the diameter of a quarter

¾ oz. lime juice

6 oz. ginger ale

This time, we are muddling mint, trying to get the flavor out of the leaves. Put the sugar into the bottom of a tall glass, then the mint leaves, and muddle, using the sugar as grist to scrape the mint. When the mint leaves just start to fall apart, add the ginger and lime juice, and muddle until the ginger begins to crumble. Strain the liquid into a tall glass, add ice, and then fill with soda water. Garnish with a sprig of mint or a lime wedge. This drink has great color and the sprig of mint really gives it pizazz.

Nola Mule

5 oz. ginger beer

2 oz. pineapple juice

1 oz. lime juice

2 tsp. simple syrup

Here’s one you can just mix and serve. It comes from the bar at the Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix (a wonderful place to enjoy a cocktail, either inside or out). Make sure that you use ginger beer, which has a much stronger kick than ginger ale.

Lastly, as a cocktail writer — an advocate of drinking — I would like to make a brief comment about those folks who have decided to step away from alcohol. It is perhaps the most important decision they have ever made, it was not done easily, and anything we can do to help is a small task indeed. If it means taking a minute or two to muddle some mint or a cucumber so that they can feel part of the crowd, it is time well spent.

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By Ron Fisher

 

They say that Scotch is an acquired taste, most likely because of its smoky flavor. My father was a Scotch drinker, and when I was growing up, I would get a sip of his drink every hither and yon, so I acquired the taste without much thought on my part. That said, it’s a complex spirit, and enjoying it can be quite an adventure.

 

Scotch starts with barley malt that has been cooked above a peat fire. Barley malt is barley that has been moistened, allowed to sprout and kiln-dried. In Scotland, the malt is dried in kilns with a porous floor directly above burning peat, which gives the malt, and hence the Scotch, a smoky flavor. By contrast, with Irish whiskey, also made from barley, the malt is dried over a non-porous floor, and thus the smoke never meets the grain. Because of the smokiness, Scotch doesn’t mix well, and there are very few Scotch-based cocktails, which we will return to in short order.

 

Scotch has deep roots. The earliest reference to distillation in Scotland is an invoice from 1495 for barley malt that had been sold to Friar John Cor (how often in history we find monks fermenting and distilling!). Only whiskey produced in Scotland can be called Scotch. It must be predominantly made from barley and aged in oak barrels for at least three years. Ageing, which allows a slow evaporation through the pores of the wood, makes the whisky smoother, and the oak gives it both flavor and an amber color. Among whiskies, Scotch requires more ageing than bourbon, and bourbon more than rye.

 

There are two types of Scotch that one finds on the shelves at the liquor store: single malts and blends, although both names are a bit misleading. With a single malt, the word ‘single’ refers to the distillery, and not the malt. This type of Scotch (think of Talisker, Balvenie or Macallan) comes from one distillery, and is made only with malted barley, but is still typically a blend of different barleys or even different years. Blended Scotch (Chivas, Dewar’s, Johnnie Walker), which is 90% of the whisky produced in Scotland, contains whiskies from more than one distillery and uses malt from barley and other grains (wheat, oats, corn). In both single malts and blends, distillers mix the whisky to keep the taste consistent, since different barrels and different malts can impart different flavors.

 

The accepted custom is that a single malt is consumed straight up. In my college years, I was travelling with some friends in Scotland, and at one bar, one of the guys asked for the local single malt on the rocks. The bartender rather emphatically put his hands palms-down on the bar and, leaning directly towards my friend, said, “A blend you can have with ice, but a single malt (with ice),” his voice rising, “you’ll not have in this bar!” So, I always drink single malts straight up, if for no other reason that I’m still too scared to do otherwise. Actually, adding water to a single malt, a few drops per ounce, won’t dilute it but will add to the flavor. The water unravels certain amino acids and ‘opens up’ various compounds within the Scotch. Try it – you’ll taste the difference.

 

Which blend or which single malt to drink is really a matter of taste. Single malts can be expensive, but they are very distinctive, and finding one that you enjoy, both the aroma and flavor, is a real treat. There are excellent blends, as well, which are as ‘crafted’ as the single malts. Johnnie Walker Black is a hearty, smoky Scotch that stands up to water or seltzer. Cutty Sark is light in color, and besides being the Scotch that my father drank, there are stories that it was Hemingway’s choice because he could have a double and everyone would think it was Scotch and water.

 

What cocktails can you make with Scotch? There is only one. The <Rye on the Rock> test kitchen went through all the cocktail books and made almost every Scotch-based cocktail that we could find – a Rob Roy, a Rusty Nail, the Mamie Taylor, and a Blood and Sand – and we didn’t like any of them. Once upon a time, the British drank Scotch with ginger ale, but we didn’t like that either. The one which passed muster is noted below.

 

<<Scotch and Soda>>

 

2 ounces blended Scotch whisky

5-6 ounces soda water

 

Put Scotch into a tall glass. Add ice and soda water. Enjoy.

 

 

 

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