Ben and Joel are joined by a stellar panel to discuss the books they would give as gifts this Christmas. Guests in this episode include Rick Henderson, editor of the John Locke Foundation's Carolina Journal; Pia Lopez, editorial writer for the Sacramento Bee (and Ben's weekly sparring partner in the Bee's "Head to Head" column, where they discussed books on Dec. 8); and Sam Karnick, editor of The American Culture and director of research at The Heartland Institute.
Music heard in this podcast:
• "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," Joseph Spence
• "Gabriel's Message," Sting
• "Little Drummer Boy," Los Straitjackets
• "O Little Town of Bethlehem," Shawn Lee's Ping Pong Orchestra
• "Must Be Santa," Bob Dylan
• "A Holly Jolly Christmas," Burl Ives
Books discussed in this podcast:
There are a lot of new American gins worth exploring, and some wonderful things to mix them with (such as Crème Yvette, returned after many decades).
In fact, I think I'll go have a Blue Moon cocktail right now...
2 ounces gin
1/2 ounces freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 ounce Crème Yvette
Shake in iced cocktail shaker, and strain into a small cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.
Joel's computer has been a bit balky today — lots of mysterious viruses, strange things showing up on his screen, and whatnot — but he urged me to relate this big news to the Monkey Community. In fact, it's big news for the both of us. Joel was hesitant to post this himself, but I think it's too important to keep secret anymore.
I repeat Joel's proposed announcement verbatim — that he emailed to me earlier today — whether he likes it, or not:
As many of us have heard, Dr. Zaius will soon be leaving the sunny hills of Southern California to be Communications Director of The Heartland Institute in Chicago. And, out of the goodness of his heart, Jim has agreed that this jobless bloke could use a "hand up." So, beginning in July, I will take my place at the Good Doc's right hand, as Assistant Communications Director of the free-market, libertarian think tank.
The job requires that I leave behind the political viewpoints I have long defended around here, but desperate times require desperate measures. And since Jim had long assured me that many libertarian Heartlanders were against the War in Iraq and Bush's power-grab in the War on Terror, I should be a pretty decent fit.
So, goodbye liberalism! Nice knowin' ya. But duty to family, my career — and a nice paycheck — calls.
P.S. That means you're on your own, Khabalox. Sorry.
I'm sure we all would like to congratulate Joel. But let me be the first to do it here at Infinite Monkeys.
(The official announcement, is here.)
Our friend Lisa Schmeiser, SFGate's "Dollars and Sense" blogger and occasional podcast guest, explores a subject that's weighed heavily on me since May 2008: How to stay soused on a budget. She was kind enough to ask me for a few tips and even linked to my Summer of Gin post on "decent gins."
Lisa praises BevMo, but I want to put in the good word for a chain that recently arrived in California called Total Wine and More. One opened a few months ago across the street from my local BevMo in Rancho Cucamonga. The store's prices are extremely competitive and often better than BevMo's. Also, their selection in certain cases is better. When the day arrives that I can afford to buy Vya vermouth again, I'm pleased that I can buy it at my local Total Wine instead of schlepping all the way to Glendale or Costa Mesa. BevMo doesn't carry it.
Ben says we don't talk enough about booze around here anymore. Things ain't like they yoozta be. Well, I've got to agree, so I'm doing my part.
Behold: Tactical Nuclear Penguin
From the label: "This is an extremely strong beer; it should be enjoyed in small servings and with an air of aristocratic nonchalance."
This is an apple-booze-related post only tangentially, I realize, but I had to pass it along. Ian Knauer -- a "chef, country boy and former food editor at Gourmet" -- writes at Salon today about what may be the greatest culinary marriage since prosciutto hooked up with asparagus: Cider-bourbon braised bacon.
First step, find a thick chunk of slab bacon. You'll have to go to a butcher for this. When you do, ask them for the thickest chunk they've got. The amount is up to you. How much bacon do you eat? A lot? Then get a lot. Just make sure it's all in one piece...
Knauer goes on to show and tell how it's all done. And if the process of merging apples with bourbon and bacon sounds rather involved, well, consider the results: "The bacon can live in your fridge for a month, but it won't last that long, because it's just about the best thing you've eaten." How could it not be?
(Hat tip: Crywalt)
If I had a dime for every time I looked at some boneheaded policy prescription or egregious piece of legislation and asked, "What are those idiots smoking?" I'd be rich enough to run for governor of California.
Turns out, some guy in Lake Arrowhead didn't realize that was a rhetorical question and wrote up a ballot initiative that would require state legislators to submit to annual drug and alcohol tests.
If passed, any lawmaker who tests positive for drugs or "habitual use of alcohol" would need to complete a substance-abuse program before resuming his or her public duties. Failing a second drug test would result in expulsion from the Legislature.
There is no danger that this initiative will pass, however, let alone make the ballot for voters to reject. The Press-Enterprise reports that the measure is "a long ways short of the nearly 434,000 signatures it needs by Thursday's petition deadline to qualify for the 2010 ballot." This despite plenty of favorable publicity from the John and Ken Show on KFI in Los Angeles. (Have these guys lost their touch or what? Did they ever have it?)
According to the P-E:
(Initiative backer Gary) Ellis said he has no proof of chronic substance abuse among the Legislature's 120 members.
Rather, he saw the initiative as an exercise in democracy, getting lawmakers' attention and avoiding the use of paid signature collectors.
It didn't work.
That's direct democracy for you. But it makes me wonder if we shouldn't force some ballot initiative petitioners to submit to drug and alcohol tests instead? Next year is shaping up to be a wild one for kooky ballot measures, even if they fall short on signatures -- from John Marcotte's "satirical" divorce ban to
Gene Glen Simmons' initiative that would impose criminal penalties on politicians who "knowingly and intentionally (make) a false statement of material fact."
Honestly. What are these idiots smoking?
What to drink on Thanksgiving? A few days ago, I heard the loathsome Hoda on loathsome parasite Today show (following the less loathsome actual show) suggest that "they make Beaujolais Nouveau just for Thanksgiving." She was no doubt remembering a charming Thanksgiving at a little cafe on the Seine, but Hoda, that was just an acid flashback. The loathsome Kathie Lee tried to correct her, then gave up, no doubt thinking "the only people watching right now are those too lazy to get up and change the channel, or with misbehaving Tivos, so who cares?"
And even were Beaujolais Nouveau not -- you guessed it -- loathsome, it's hardly fit for an American feast.
The perfect drink for Thanksgiving (and really any time) is the American 76. I came up with it a couple of weekends ago, and worked with Ben to perfect it. As the name suggests, it is based on the French 75. But this is a very American drink. The cognac (or gin) in the original is replaced with Applejack, the champagne with good American sparkling wine -- say, Roederer Estate non vintage brut: American, but owned by people who know how to make sparkling wine (that is, French people). The lemon and sugar/simple syrup are replaced by good apple cider (homemade, bought at a good roadside stand, or Simply Apple). The "75" (from a French 75 mm artillery piece) is replaced by the American independence "76."
And that's it -- the cider should be both sweet and tart enough. If it's not, you can tinker by adding a little lemon and/or sugar, but it should be fine.
In a champagne flute:
• 2 oz Laird's Applejack or apple brandy
• 1 1/2 oz apple cider
• sparkling wine to fill (about 6 oz)
Evidently, Rodriguez has been going wild with apples lately:
(W)e are talking about apples here – in all their splendor. We’ve turned apples into candy (or paste), we’re about to drink some, soon they’ll be in a fresh winter salad and I just ate a piece of raw apple cake with large bits of tart apples strewn about – I think you’ll like it.
Now let’s have that cocktail.
First things first – get yourself some apple brandy or Calvados...
Yes, by all means, please do. (And send me some while you're at it.) The Applejack Rabbit includes 2 oz. apple brandy, 1/2 oz. of lemon juice and a tablespoon maple syrup. Shake, strain and enjoy. And check out Rodriguez's photographs of the drink, too.
Over at Benito's Wine Reviews, we find an interesting cocktail for All Hallow's Eve: The Boulevardier. "In France," Benito writes, "a boulevardier is a man-about-town, a gentleman who enjoys strolling along the street and visiting the most fashionable locales. It's also a classic cocktail that falls between the Negroni and Manhattan in composition and flavor."
Looks and sounds delicious. So what makes it a Halloween drink? The color. And the glass. (Click through and see for yourself.)
So... what are you drinking tonight?
Ben minus Joel is joined by a finite group of Infinite Monkeys -- David Burkhart, Robb Leatherwood and Jim Lakely -- to discuss the pros and cons of network neutrality and to preview the Autumn of Apple.
We had originally planned to talk about medical marijuana, which might or might not explain Ben's introduction. But the net neutrality discussion turned into a real knockdown, drag-out among Lakely -- who is co-director of the Heartland Institute's Center on the Digital Economy and managing editor of Infotech and Telecom News -- Leatherwood and Burkhart, both of whom have professional backgrounds in information technology.
If you have no idea why net neutrality is controversial or why you should care about the issue, you must listen to this episode.
After listening to the discussion, however, you may find yourself in need of a drink. Ben and David talk about applejack, calvados, pommeau and various apple-infused cocktails in a sequel to the Winter of Apple.
Music heard in this podcast:
• "Capitalism" - Oingo Boingo
• "The Internet is for Porn" - Lea DeLaria (from Avenue Q Swings)
• "I'm Free" - The Rolling Stones
• "Touch of Grey" - Grateful Dead
• "Applejack" - Dolly Parton
• "Applejack" - Dave Appell & The Applejacks
We're going to make another go at applejack and Calvados for the autumn and winter, starting with a sober discussion of applejack cocktails in the upcoming podcast. Applejack, perhaps more than bourbon or rye, is the quintessential American spirit. (Rum might make a run for the title, but that's a different season...) There is only one U.S. applejack distiller left, and that's Laird's in New Jersey.
To adequately prepare for the Autumn (and Winter) of Apple 2.0, I would make the following three recommendations:
HealthDay News reports on yet another study that contradicts an earlier study purporting to show the benefits of moderate drinking. The headline is typical of the genre: "Drinking Your Way to Health? Perhaps Not"
Yeah, yeah. What's the lowdown?
The benefits related to cardiovascular health have become well-known. A study released in mid-July, for instance, found that moderate alcohol consumption reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease in women by increasing the amount of "good" cholesterol in the bloodstream and reducing blood sugar levels.
But other studies have linked a daily drink, most often wine, to reduced risk of dementia, bone loss and physical disabilities related to old age. Wine also has been found to increase life expectancy and provide potential protection against some forms of cancer, including esophageal cancer and lymphoma.
But don't invest in that case of Pinot noir just yet.
Experts with the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association say that though these studies do show some benefits to moderate drinking, the health risks from alcohol consumption far outweigh the potential rewards.
Experts with the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association say that though these studies do show some benefits to moderate drinking, the health risks from alcohol consumption far outweigh the potential rewards.
Look, I'm no doctor, OK? But these incessant studies and warnings are simply impossible to follow. It's too stressful. Who needs the aggravation? Relax. Have a glass of wine or two, live your life, enjoy what you have. Invest in that case of Pinot noir. Send me a bottle or two.
And, I think you will agree by the end, this goose is thoroughly cooked:
(Hat tip: Crywalt via the Incomparable e-mail list)
I'd like to throw glommer-on Joe Biden into this mess, too. But he imbibed a waste-of-time non-alcoholic beer at the most boring picnic on the White House lawn since the Tyler administration. So Biden doesn't rate, even if Obama brought him along to be his wing man. (C'mon, Joe. If you're not into adult beverages, just order a Coke like a normal person).
Anyway, we've gone over this subject more than enough. For sure. Joel, the house liberal, was even kind enough to suggest our own beer summit. And I'm game. But before we crack open a few cold ones, I couldn't help but share what I consider a great "last word" on this whole troubling affair. Paul Mirengoff at Power Line, says it well:
As "race men" go, Gates has always been viewed as relatively sensible, as opposed to, say, Cornel West. Indeed, as E.J. Dionne reminds us in a worthwhile column, Gates once criticized "race politics" as a "court of the imagination wherein blacks seek to punish whites for their misdeeds and whites seek to punish blacks for theirs, and an infinite regress of score settling ensues."
Barack Obama, for his part, was going to be a post-racial president. As such he would lead us out of the "race politics" Gates (and the rest of us) finds so sterile and counterproductive.
Yet when the rubber met the road, Gates didn't hesitate to level baseless charges of racism in an extremely aggressive manner. And Obama didn't hesitate to attack the white police officer before he had the facts.
This suggests to me that, as far as African-Americans are concerned, "race politics" will continue unabated, as if Obama had never been elected president.
And that, long after anyone cares about who's version of events was most correct, is what matters — and why it ended up being so important. At least to me.
Dr. Zaius and I should have a beer sometime.
The original recipe of the Harvey Wallbanger cocktail's essential ingredient is available again in U.S. liquor stores.
Galliano, the secret ingredient in the Harvey Wallbanger cocktail, has reintroduced its original formula to the U.S. market.
A few quick booze items before I go make myself a cocktail:
• Galliano has apparently quietly reintroduced the original formula to the United States. I say "quietly" because apparently they made a big deal in Europe about it, but I've hardly heard it mentioned here, though I guess there was some kind of launch event. I have a really old bottle my neighbor gave me, so when I get a bottle of the new I'll report on it. I prefer Licor 43, though.
• I'm into tiki drinks right now, and was disappointed that all of Beachbum Berry's books seem to be out of print. Apparently they'll be back this fall, but I was happy to discover the Tiki+ app for the iPhone, which is from the same folks who do Cocktails+. (Read Ben's Macworld review of Cocktails+ and other drink-related iPhone apps.) It has almost all of Beachbum Berry's recipes, painstakingly researched from the history of tiki culture.
• Last, Monkey Brad recently asked for a good margarita recipe on Twitter. It took me a while, but let me weigh in. Ben suggests a 3-2-1 ratio of reposado tequila, Cointreau and fresh lime juice. I tend to prefer silver tequila, which is why that might be too strong for me. I think the absolute best margarita I've ever had was from the best Mexican restaurants I've ever been to, Topolobampo & Frontera Grill in Chicago.
Here's my adaptation of that recipe:
• 1 cup good tequila (silver or reposado)*
• 1/2 cup Cointreau (Gran Torres orange liqueur or Grand Marnier work here but use less or it's too sweet)
• 1/2 - 3/4 cup fresh lime juice (about 3 large limes)
• Finely grated zest of two limes
• 5 Tablespoons sugar
• Lime wedges
• Coarse salt**
1. Steep the mixture. Dissolve sugar in lime juice and 1 cup water, then add orange liqueur, tequila and lime zest (or use a mixture of water and crushed ice to make a bit more than 1 cup, but then you'll have to add it last or the sugar won't dissolve). You can also use that fancy new agave syrup instead of sugar, so dissolving isn't a problem. Prickly pear syrup would also be great, but I can't find the stuff since I left Phoenix. Don't use Splenda (Brad).
Put the mixture in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours (but no more than 24 hours). This time is really worth is, trust me. After the time is up, strain into another pitcher.
2. Rub the rims of martini or other glasses with lime, then dip in course or kosher salt. You should get 6-8 margaritas out of this mix depending on how much you drink. I consider this recipe "serves two," but that's how I roll. If you have more than 4 people, do double the recipe.
Now, pour the margarita in the glasses, either up or on the rocks (I do think this margarita benefits from some dilution, but if you're serving it on the rocks, you might want to use a bit less than 1 cup of water in the first step).
It will be the best margarita you've ever had.
* You can use Cuervo Gold here if you want, just be aware that it will probably induce Tijuana-memory gagging for anyone who went to college in San Diego. I use Milagro silver a lot.
** One tip on the salt: rub the lime on the outside of the glass, not the top of the rim, and roll in salt (this can be a bit tricky with a martini glass, so you'll probably need to put the salt on the end of your cutting board). This is so you taste the salt, but it doesn't fall in your glass. Refrigerating the glasses at the same time as the mixture is also a nice touch.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is in China today, attempting to outdo her despotic hosts in Beijing with her own matronly brand of authoritarianism. Pelosi argued that government tyranny is essential for saving the planet from the looming specter of climate change.
Obviously, Pelosi didn't use the exact phrase, "government tyranny is essential." That would be crazy! But greater government tyranny would be the necessary outcome if her policy prescriptions and those of her compatriots in Congress should come to pass.
Here's what Pelosi did say on Thursday to a complaisant audience of nodding bureaucrats, budding Communist Party courtiers and sundry lackeys of the regime at Tsinghua University: "I do see this opportunity for climate change to be ... a game-changer. It's a place where human rights — looking out for the needs of the poor in terms of climate change and healthy environment — are a human right." (Read that again: "It's a place where human rights... are a human right." Tautology, anyone?)
"We have so much room for improvement," Pelosi added to a student interlocutor who asked how she, The First Woman Speaker of the HouseTM, would prod Americans to cut back on their carbon emissions. "Every aspect of our lives must be subjected to an inventory ... of how we are taking responsibility."
By "we," of course, Pelosi means "you," and by "our lives" she means those of you plebeians who are not elected officials, government bureaucrats or favored members of the entertainment-political-industrial complex. Rest assured, you'll pay. It's funny how Republicans receive so much opprobrium for trucking in fear -- fear of jihadist terrorism, inordinate fear of communism, fear of expansive government overreach and so forth -- yet we're supposed to bask in the fear of environmental catastrophe peddled as fact by Pelosi and her ilk.
Pelosi obviously did not come up with this idea of subjecting "every aspect of our lives" to an "inventory" by herself. She had help. The mindset, encouraged by many academics and activists but certainly not shared by all, is illustrated brilliantly by an exchange in the latest issue of the Claremont Review of Books (I think the correspondence may be behind a subscriber's firewall. In which case: Subscribe!). David Shearman and Joseph Wayne Smith of the University of Adelaide wrote in response to a review-essay by Steve Hayward. Their book, The Climate Change Challenge and the Failure of Democracy, gets some rough treatment from Hayward. Shearman and Smith object to the idea that antiquated notions of liberty should hinder the vital work of Saving the Planet. They ask:
Is Hayward really implying by his critique that freedom is more important than life itself? Is this a modern day version of "better dead than red?" If so it is absurd. No life, no freedom. Why should freedom be the ultimate value? Because it produces lots of money? Why should money then be the ultimate value? How do you stop the regress?
This is a stupid objection and a deliberate misreading of the essay, to which Hayward responds:
Environmentalists usually argue against what they call "false choices" (i.e., that economic growth and environmental protection are incompatible), yet Shearman and Smith insist upon a categorical tradeoff between liberty and life itself, which false choice ironically reinforces my point. Fine: I'm willing to accept that but would, along with most Americans, insist on Patrick Henry's ringing reply.
I hope Hayward is right that most Americans remain reluctant to trade their rights for the possibility of reducing the globe's temperature by half-a-degree Fahrenheit (or Celsius... pick your poison) some decades hence. But regulation is slow, remorseless, difficult to see coming and even more difficult to resist. Seldom are power grabs as naked as the Waxman-Markey bill now winding through Congress, even though it's fair to say that few people have or ever will actually read the bill under discussion.
Often the proposals come in the garb of reasonable and incremental proposals and exhortations to do good. In Great Britain, for example, the chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change says that Britons will need to change their diets if they have any hope of cutting carbon emissions. According to the Times of London:
Government advisers are developing menus to combat climate change by cutting out “high carbon” food such as meat from sheep, whose burping poses a serious threat to the environment.
Out will go kebabs, greenhouse tomatoes and alcohol. Instead, diners will be encouraged to consume more potatoes and seasonal vegetables, as well as pork and chicken, which generate fewer carbon emissions.
Beer and whiskey harm the planet because "the growing and processing of crops such as hops and malt into beer and whisky helping to generate 1.5% of the nation’s greenhouse gases." Yet David Kennedy insists his committee is not attempting to force anyone to anything. "We are not saying that everyone should become vegetarian or give up drinking but moving towards less carbon intensive foods will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve health,” said Kennedy.
Kennedy's assurances should fool no one. It may be true that Kennedy and his band of despotic do-gooders do not wish to ban the production of certain foods and beverages -- today. They almost certainly want to tax beef, lamb, beer and whiskey to such an extent that only the rich, well-connected, and aforementioned favored members of the entertainment-political-industrial complex could afford them. Americans must know this is coming to the United States. As for me, they can have my bottle of Rittenhouse Rye when they pry it from my cold, dead hand.
You've got to hand it to the liberal greens, though: They love "life" so much that they're willing to wipe out most everyone's standard of living to make it last as long as possible.
The dead may be carbon neutral, but they can't pay taxes, either. And, really, what's more important than that?
Some busybody bureaucrat in Great Britain says that the production of whiskey and beer contributes to climate change.
Imbibe magazine's current issue has an article about building a home bar (not the carpentry, or even how to organize it, just what to have). It's in pieces on the web, such as this section on what booze to stock.
It's not a bad article, but I'd question the basic philosophy. I have to agree with someone I read (maybe Ben could help me remember) who said the way to build a bar is pick a basic cocktail, such as martini or margarita, get the ingredients, and then experiment with making it with different recipes until you perfect how you'd like it. I'd go even further, and say that if it's in your means, get a few different brands of the ingredients, and see how different gins or tequilas can be (vodkas less so, at least in mixed drinks, and whiskeys perhaps most of all).
But it did get me to thinking...what are the essentials that you would need to have in order to say you have a respectable home bar? I'm just going to focus on the booze this time, not the equipment or mixers or garnishes. Stripped down to basics, and with an eye for economy (which knocks out, say, Junipero or Old Potrero) what would you need? I'd argue the following:
Brandy Lairds Applejack
Brandy Landy VSOP Cognac
Liqueur Maraska Maraschino
Rum Cruzan (Light)
Rum Myers (Dark)
Tequila Milagro (silver--I don't consider reposado essential, though others might)
Vermouth Noilly Prat (Dry)
Vermouth Vya (Sweet)
Whiskey Jameson (Irish)
Whisky Johnny Walker Black (Scotch)
Whiskey Woodford Reserve (Bourbon)
Whiskey Old Overholt (Rye)
It was tough to leave out some things, especially Campari and cachaça, but choices had to be made...I welcome suggestions, though, and cries of outrage at my choices.
Avoid cheap tequila in your margaritas and, whatever you do, don't use one of those awful, store-bought prefabricated margarita mixes! For the best margaritas, use a good quality blanco or reposado tequila, triple sec (preferably Cointreau, if you can afford it), and fresh limes. The ratio of tequila to triple sec to fresh lime juice should be 3:2:1. See Gary Regan for additional details and enjoy.
I doubt it's any coincidence that the dawn of the Age of Obama is bringing Chad the Elder's radio career to a close. It was inevitable. Two giants cannot share the same stage and, as Chad sagely observes, "Something's got to give."
Any good bartender knows that religion and politics are forbidden at the bar. That was the old rule, anyway. Times have changed. I mention this because Rachel Maddow's politics may be completely absurd, but her cocktail instincts are spot on.
Michael Potemra at National Review directed my attention to a Gawker post, which points to an excellent video of the popular MSNBC host on New York Magazine's site, in which she touts the virtues of the Jack Rose. Now, as I've taken pains to note, the Jack Rose is a fabulous drink. The name tells you almost everything you need to know. Jack... as in applejack. Rose, as in the color of the drink, courtesy of grenadine (the real pomegranate kind, not the artificial sugary stuff). Add some fresh lime, shake it up, and enjoy.
I have one quibble with Maddow's video demonstration, and that's her use of Calvados instead of applejack. Now, with some drinks, calvados and applejack really are interchangeable. But not always. A few weeks ago, Monkey David was making a drink that called for Calvados. He only had applejack on hand. The result was a tad unpleasant -- whereas Calvados would have mellowed the drink, applejack harshened it.
Calvados smooths out the Jack Rose's rough edges, to the detriment of the drink. According Ted "Dr. Cocktail" Haigh, writing in the first edition of his Forgotten Cocktails, applejack "asserts itself where Calvados lays back and remains mellow. Another way of putting it is that in any cocktail calling for Calvados you can substitute applejack. It may make the drink less subtle, but it will work. The reverse is not true. Try a Jack Rose with Calvados. It entirely lacks zing." I concur.
(I probably should have mentioned this to Monkey Brad before Friday night.)
So, Rachel Maddow knows her mixology, and she knows her classic cocktails, more or less, but she doesn't know much worth knowing about American politics. Hey, two out of three ain't bad.
We had very much wanted to launch the Winter of Apple in the fall. The Autumn of Apple would have sounded much more alliterative. Myriad factors conspired to undermine this plan. First, the presidential election removed the oxygen from the discourse and left the Monkeys exhausted. Second, we had to do some research -- including a fruitful field trip to California's Central Coast in November.
Third, and perhaps most decisive, we're lazy and easily distracted. (I started writing this in November. And again in December. And again 10 days ago. And finally... now.)
But, hey, it's January. It's windy outside. There's a chill in the air. Storm clouds are gathering in the west. That can mean one of two things. The Democrats are back in power. And it's brown liquor weather.
Apple cocktails are an unjustly neglected species of spirits world, although this may be changing slowly. Many apple drinks tend to be relegated to the holiday season, which I think is a mistake. Obviously, I'm not referring to the abominable appletini. I mean the good stuff. Hard cider. Calvados. Applejack.
Ah, applejack -- "Jersey Lightning." New Jersey Monthly in 2005 published a pretty good story highlighting Laird and Co's new(ish) marketing efforts. Imbibe magazine had a nice feature in 2007 on the supposed resurgence of applejack. I say "supposed" because I really don't know if applejack is the next small-batch bourbon or not -- I haven't seen the sales figures. But if it is, I couldn't be happier -- especially if applejack becomes easier to find in bars. I was in Vegas in 2007 and after a particularly dismal session of poker at the Circus Circus I repaired to a casino bar to sulk. Lo and behold, I spied a bottle of Laird's Applejack behind the bar. "I'll have an applejack and soda," I told the Filipino barman. "A what?" he said. "That," I said, pointing. Turned out, there wasn't even a shot's worth of booze left in the bottle. That capped the night for me.
Applejack is an American original. According to E.C. Kraus, a home wine-making site, "Applejack is made by storing completely finished apple wine at below freezing temperatures. What happens is the water that is in the apple wine freezes and rises to the top while the alcohol stays in liquid form -- a process known as fractional crystallization. Each day you simply scoop off the ice that has formed, causing the alcohol and the apple flavor that is left behind to become more concentrated." Got that?
There was a time in the Republic when applejack was more common than beer, wine and whiskey. Applejack, in fact, was the first natively distilled spirit in America. The earliest temperance activists advanced their crusade by chopping down apple trees. Eventually, applejack's popularity waned. "There used to be a number of applejack distillers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey -- the places it always called home, right up into the 1930s," writes Ted Haigh. "Now all are gone save one."
One thing you must know about applejack. It isn't apple brandy. Almost everyone seems to make this mistake. Applejack contains neutral grain spirit, making it more akin to whiskey than brandy. The difference will become clear as we progress. One obvious difference, though, is in the taste. Applejack is a bit harsher than apple brandy. That's no knock against Laird's, it's simply a fact. Laird's makes a very good apple brandy, too, but applejack and apple brandy are not the same thing.
Some of the best apple brandy comes from from Calvados, which is region within Normandy, France. Calvados deserves its own post -- and one is coming, trust me. (We'll also be exploring cider and a delightful dessert wine called pommeau.) The very best Calvados is as good as any great cognac or armagnac.
A drink as old as applejack -- and apple brandy, generally -- has yeilded a number of cocktails over the decades. The most famous, I think, is the Jack Rose. Below are five applejack/apple brandy recipes that I highly recommend. We'll be adding more recipes later in the series.
Big Christmas Party here tomorrow night. Spent the last few late night hours preparing:
1. The mixture for this Champagne Punch: (Thanks, David) minus the cava, which is chillin'. The oranges came from my yard. Used Cointreau rather than triple sec (Thanks, Ben). The cava was a steal via Bevmo! due to a combo of online discount + inventory mishap + order screw-up + price matching the pricier alternate cava to what I had ordered (which was also discounted online) + three more various apology discounts. Thanks, internet!
2. A hot buttered rum batter that will blast a supertaster's tastebuds into heaven. Licking the spoon... MMmmmmm (joint effort)
3. Meringues w/ choc chips & pecans (Mrs. Monkey)
4. A kick ass cheese ball (w/ meat & nuts) [and cheese!] (Mrs. Monkey)
5. A substitute for eggnog w/rum called Creme de Vie. Preliminary report: Dreamy. (joint effort)
It is  am. And you [should be] driving. [From] Los Angeles.
Thanks again to Monkeys David & Ben for invaluable advice and recommendations. Thanks also to Scott Steeves at Steeves' Rum Pages. Great site. Fun reading. Look for an addition to the blogroll shortly. Lastly, big thanks to the Amazing Mrs. Monkey.