D here, guest writing. I have a longstanding love of cocktails and think that home bartending is just a fun hobby to have, so when the “citrus spritzers” recipe came up here, G asked me to collaborate. The recipe isn’t available online, so here’s it is (if you’ve got a set of The Stripes at home, this is p. 74 of No. 45, though the picture is on p. 72):
*Adapted from Everyday Food, September 2007
-2 cups fresh orange juice (from 6 oranges), strained
-1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 to 3 lemons), strained
-1/4 cup fresh lime juice (from 2 limes), strained
-2/3 cup superfine sugar
-4 cups seltzer or club soda
-1 ounce vodka per serving (optional)
– Orange, lemon or lime slices, for garnish (optional)
When G and I looked at this recipe we knew were going to make this a boozy version, but vodka seemed like a total copout. I’ve actually had good luck with Martha Stewart’s cocktail recipes in general and the Everyday Food “Happy Hour” section in particular. The Happy Hour is where I first discovered the way to make a proper Lemon Shandy which is kind of a curse, because once you’ve had it you’ll never be able to drink any pre-made “shandy” type beer again. The “Happy Hour” is also where I was introduced to miracle that is Tequila & Tonic. It’s 5,000% better than you’d think it is – trust Martha on this one. Throwing vodka in this just seemed uninspired, so we decided to have our own tasting to audition the best spirit to add in here.
G made up the mixture and then I set up a flight-style tasting, using the stated proportions to make little tiny cocktails in sake cups for G and I to audition. I was glad we were so methodical, because pairing a spirit with the spritzer base turned out to be much harder than anticipated. Here’s the contenders:
It’s a tough job…
The first that we tried is white rum – we used Flor de Cana 4 year old, because that’s what I had on hand. It was serviceable, but the flavor of the rum didn’t really come through, and the whole thing just kind of ended up tasting like a wan beach drink from a TGI Fridays. Since we jettisoned the suggested vodka in search of something more flavorful, this wasn’t what we were hoping for.
Next we tried it with a silver tequila, in this case Leyenda del Milagro (at about $20 a bottle a phenomenal value if you can find it). This was decent, but something was missing. The tequila/lime/orange flavors made it very similar to a classic margarita, but the addition of the lemon and the effervescence of the club soda made the whole thing kind of odd: it ended up tasting like someone had poured 7Up into your margarita. Surprisingly, the white rum was actually better.
Two other things to note before declaring the winner. I drug the bottle of Tanqueray out of the freezer mostly as a lark: huge mistake. Imagine a band doing a cover of the Snoop classic “Gin and Juice” in Spanish, and then imagine resulting song as a cocktail. Horrible. Also falling into the “bad idea” category was mescal (far right). If you know what mescal is and like it, don’t waste your time here – the spritzer base is too sweet and clashes with the smokiness of the mescal. If you don’t know what mescal is, now is not the time to learn. Move along.
So the winner was a reposado tequila. Tequilas generally fall into three rough categories: 1) silver or “blanco” which are not aged or have been aged only slightly, 2) reposado tequilas, which have been aged between 2 months and a year in oak barrels, and 3) anejo tequilas, those aged over a year. Like aged whiskies, tequilas take on a woody, smoky character from the wood in the barrels, and the bite of the alcohol tends to mellow. Anejo tequilas run to the pricey side, and generally should be sipped on their own. But there are excellent reposados available at reasonable prices if you know what you’re looking for, and they can be just what a cocktail calls for. Reposados tend to be much less smoky than a mescal, so they can be easier to mix and more crowd pleasing than a mescal cocktail, which is often an acquired taste (G has yet to acquire this taste for the most part).
Espolon is fairly widely available and their reposado tequila is an inexplicably good value at about $23 a bottle. I think they just break into other distilleries and steal this stuff or something. Go track it down and mix it into your spritzer (and your margarita the next time you make one). The aged character comes through just enough to give the drink some character, but it doesn’t overwhelm the base: the fresh sweetness and the acidity of the juices still comes nicely into balance. The seltzer gives the whole thing an effervescence that makes these dangerously easy to drink. Even G, whose tolerance for smoky alcohol is about 1/1000th of mine, declared this one the clear winner.
So go get yourself some Espolon Reposado and have a couple of these. We still need a name for this magic elixir, so get drunk and suggest one in the comments.
(Alright, Bear: I contributed. The ball is in your court to write something, or you’re going to look like a slacker!)