Barbados (early 18th century)
This is the most you’ll ever hear me talk about The Bible, not just on this site, but ever. Get it while you can.
What that old book has to do with the tiny southern Caribbean island of Barbados, I’ll share in a moment. It’s my grand (and more than slightly half-assed) theory of where this name “Corn ‘n’ Oil” came from. The drink itself is a bit of a love-it-or-hate-it situation, and the drink’s name has encouraged even more dissension, with plenty of ideas about what the hell corn and oil have to do with rum, lime, and Caribbean spices.
Up through the 15th century, the native Arawak people had Barbados to themselves (and most likely created the idea of spit-roasted wood-smoked meat, “barbacoa,” the granddaddy of southern US barbecue). Thanks for that. Spanish explorers (you know, the guys who “explored” the fun to be had with raping and pillaging) arrived in the 15th century. It didn’t take long for the Arawaks to leave Barbados and get replaced by droves of pigs imported by the Spanish, left to graze and be reclaimed for dinner on a return voyage. The English colonized Barbados in the 17th century, and although independent now, it remains part of the British Commonwealth. Some Arawak people eventually returned when the coast was clear of “explorers.”
In the early 18th century, German Protestant missionaries arrived in Barbados. Funny enough, that was around the same time the Barbadians (“Bajans”) learned how to distill rum from the molasses left over from making sugar. And, following the production of rum, they came up with a delightful homemade liqueur of rum, ginger, lime, almond, allspice, and clove they called “falernum.” Now, falernum was the Latin name for the popular and coveted wine grown by the farmer Falernus in the foothills of Mount Mossico in Italy way back in Biblical Roman times. How did the Bajans get this name for their spiced liqueur? It’s gotta be by way of the missionaries.
Here comes The Bible stuff:
“…I will give you the rain of your land in His due season, the first rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil.” — Deuteronomy 11:14
I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to take this Biblical idea of an agricultural tribute sacrifice to God (corn, wine, and oil – they crop up several times in the book) and have the native Bajans adapt it to sanctify their homegrown hooch, their easy punch of rum, falernum, and lime as “Corn ‘n’ Oil.” After all, it may taste devilish to some, like manna from heaven to others.
In 1890, John D. Taylor of Bridgetown, Barbados, began selling his falernum commercially. It’s still commonly available today as “Velvet Falernum” — but I don’t recommend it. Compared to homemade or to the commercial version by B.G. Reynolds, well… there’s no comparison. Likewise, some great rums from Barbados are easy to come by, notably Mount Gay “Eclipse” and Plantation Barbados 2001 — really stellar on their own or in other drinks, but they tend to fade in this particular cocktail. Some fire & brimstone is in order here, and it fell to Murray Stenson to revive this almost-lost drink while he was working at Seattle’s Zig Zag Café, and his idea of using Cruzan Black Strap Rum from the Virgin Islands has become the industry standard. The deep, black, almost sulfurous molasses flavor of the blackstrap balances the sweet spicy ginger of the falernum, keeping the drink from becoming cloying or limp. A bright dash of lime’s acid across the crushed ice gives your lips something to think about while you sip the drink, and helps solidify the cap of crushed ice on top.
The mystery of how Murray learned about the Corn ‘n’ Oil remains, though… I hope to get the answer out of him someday.
The first couple times I tried this drink (using different recipes), I hated it… until I tried the version served at Portland’s amazing tiki bar Hale Pele by proprietor Blair Reynolds (the same guy behind the previously-mentioned B.G. Reynolds line of syrups & liqueurs). Blair was kind enough to share his preferred recipe for the Corn ‘n’ Oil, and it’s turned me into a believer.
Here endeth the lesson.
Hardware: Shaker, Jigger
Ice: Crushed ice
Glassware: Rocks glass
Spirits: Blackstrap rum (recommended: Cruzan Black Strap)
Mixers & Liqueurs: falernum (recommended: BG Reynolds’ or make your own; recipe linked above)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lime juice, Lime wedge (reserve from squeezing)
In a shaker about a half-full with crushed ice, add:
1 1/2 oz black strap rum
1/2 oz falernum
Shake briefly to blend. Pour unstrained into a rocks glass. Mound with additional crushed ice. Over the drink, squeeze:
1 lime wedge (one quarter lime)
Garnish with the spent lime wedge.
Mexico, 1920s (or earlier)
No, not sangria. Not that there’s anything wrong with a good sangria (I’ll share my recipe eventually). Sangrita (“little blood”) is a traditional Mexican side-shot to be sipped alongside tequila. Not slammed back to wash down the taste of bad hooch – but to be savored, taking turns back and forth between the tequila and the sangrita. The flavors leapfrog each other, making each sip taste better than the one before.
You might see some less-than-passionate bartenders passing off their house Bloody Mary mix as sangrita. Not the same thing at all. You might also see a lot of recipes elsewhere that use tomato juice. Although this is the standard in Mexico City, sangrita purists outside that area scoff at such an adulteration. As far as I can tell, sangrita originated in Jalisco as the leftover juice from a bag of fruit salad bought from a street vendor. You may have seen it (hopefully you’ve enjoyed it) – a plastic bag full of mango, pineapple, watermelon, cantaloupe, jicama… just about any mix of fresh, seasonal fruit doused with a good squeeze of lime juice, a dusting of chili powder and a sprinkle of salt. Someone, somewhere discovered that the spicy, sweet, tart, savory juice that collects in the bottom of the bag goes great with a shot of tequila. Muchas gracias, anonymous wonderful person.
At the very minimum, a basic sangrita would be a blend of orange juice and lime juice with grenadine (homemade, please) and chili powder (a mix of powdered dried chilis, not chili seasoning mix). Recently, as the availability of artisanal sipping tequilas has risen, bartenders have come to embrace the idea of sangritas, even making custom recipes that suit a particular tequila brand. The astounding and outstanding single-estate Tequila Ocho even sponsors an annual nationwide competition called “¡Viva Sangrita!” that pits bartender’s best recipes against each other, with a rowdy final event held in New Orleans during Tales of the Cocktail.
I asked Tomas Estes, known as “The Tequila Ambassador,” about his first experience with sangrita during his youthful adventures in Mexico. He says, “My first memory of Sangrita was in the El Camino Real Hotel in Guadalajara. In the late ’60s it was by the Sauza Tequila offices (Sauza has moved since then, but the hotel is still there). I was having a drink with my aunt Maria Elena who lived there in those days. We ordered some servings of Sauza and sangrita that arrived in large, tall “caballito” shot glasses. I remember the sangrita was quite attention-getting with its flaming red color. I tried it and did not care for it, since I am not fond of tomato juice. I came to prefer the original recipe which uses pomegranate concentrate, various freshly-squeezed citrus juices, and chili powder.”
Los Angeles bartender Cari Hah, agave champion and sangrita evangelist (alongside Jaymee Mandeville as half of “Lil Twisted”) is a passionate advocate for neat spirits served alongside a complementary non-alcoholic sip. In fact, she doesn’t limit this practice to just tequila: “I actually prefer all my spirits that way – neat with a sangrita to match whatever spirit it is.” Cari says of her first experience with sangrita, “I think the first time I ever tried a sangrita, it was a horrible one – essentially Bloody Mary mix with orange juice in it. I asked the bartender at this Mexican restaurant bar for sangrita because I had just heard of it. I wound up trying to explain it to the bartender, and finally just settled for their bottled bloody with some OJ. The first good sangrita I had was one I made myself – because no one seemed to have a real one that wasn’t tomato based! The idea of it is genius… to have a beverage that enhances and complements the flavor of beautiful tequila, but you can have as much or as little as you like.” Bonus: Cari shares her favorite sangrita recipe at the end of this article.
Here at my home bar, we have a not-so-basic piece of equipment: a vegetable juicer. My wife uses this to make healthy things like apple/carrot/beet/kale juice. And bless her heart, I may have a sip now and again. This juicer comes in handy quite often – for juicing pineapples, making fresh apple juice… all kinds of good stuff. Our house sangrita takes advantage of of this device to enhance the traditional straightforward sangrita recipe with earthy beet, tropical pineapple, spicy ginger, and floral apple.
In a pinch, you may be able to buy pre-made juice from a health food store and use it in this recipe. Fresh is always the best flavor – avoid substituting pasteurized, big-jug, commercial juices here. Look for dried chilis in the Mexican section of your grocery store, or at a Mexican market if you have one nearby. The recipe below will make about five ounces of sangrita – use it as a base template and multiply as necessary. When batching, hold back a bit on the chili powder, salt, and ginger juice – add extra a little at a time until it tastes balanced to you. Next time you have a Mexican-themed party at home, try a batch of pre-made sangrita and some great sipping tequilas alongside your Margaritas.
Hardware: Vegetable juicer, Citrus juicer, Spice/coffee grinder, Electric blender, Cheesecloth, Fine-mesh strainer, Knife, Bottle or jar for storage
Glassware: shot glasses (the tall “caballito” style is traditional)
Fresh produce: 2 Fuji Apples, 2 Valencia (or Navel) Oranges, 2 Limes, 1 Beet, 1 Pineapple, Ginger
Accents: Grenadine, Dried chilis (New Mexico, Ancho, and/or California chilis), Salt
In a warm, dry frying pan, lightly toast a few dried chilis. Remove the stems, chop roughly, and add to a clean spice (or coffee) grinder. Pulverize to an even, fine consistency. Keep stored in an airtight container.
Using your preferred tool, squeeze the orange and lime juices into separate containers. Prepare all the rest of the produce: stem, peel, and core the pineapple, stem and scrub the beets. Peeling the ginger isn’t strictly necessary, but you can if you prefer. Slice all fruit and juice each type of fruit separately, rinsing the juicer parts between fruits. Strain the pineapple juice through a damp cheesecloth-lined fine-mesh strainer to remove the foam. Temporarily store each fruit juice in separate containers so you can adjust the recipe as needed once assembled.
In an electric blender, combine:
1 oz orange juice
1 oz lime juice
1/4 tsp chili powder
tiny pinch of salt
Blend briefly to integrate the chili powder into the juices. Add the spiced citrus juice to an airtight bottle or jar and add:
1 oz apple juice
1/2 oz pineapple juice
1/2 oz beet juice
1/8 oz ginger juice
3/4 oz grenadine
Shake well to blend. Store in the refrigerator and serve chilled. Will keep for a few days (if it lasts that long).
CARI HAH’S SANGRITA TRADICIONAL
New Orleans, Louisiana (1888)
The Ramos Gin Fizz doesn’t mean to be difficult, really. It’s just that creating a glassful of pillowy heaven does take a bit of work and attention. Even the name – which shouldn’t be difficult – is: the correct Spanish pronunciation is “RAH-mose” but most people I know say this as “RAY-mose.” To make things more confusing, in New Orleans, some say it “RAY-muss.” Whatever. As they say, “Call me anything you want, just don’t call me late for breakfast.”
This drink evolved from the basic Sour 2:1:1 formula (spirit:citrus:sweet) into a Fizz (by adding seltzer, like a Tom Collins but without ice) and from there into a group of fancy Fizzes (egg white makes a Silver Fizz, egg yolk makes a Golden Fizz, whole egg makes a Royal Fizz). Adding cream and orange flower water was the masterstroke by barman Henrico “Henry” Charles Ramos at the now-extinct Imperial Cabinet Saloon in New Orleans back in 1888. The drink became so popular, Ramos employed a line of up to 35 “Shaker Boys” to pass the shaking tins down an assembly line, vigorously shaking each drink in succession for up to 12 minutes total.
125 years of practice and refinement have perfected this little number. Some will tell you removing the spring from a Hawthorne strainer and adding it to the shaker will help whip the drink, but in practice, it actually over-aearates the drink. Some will say you have to shake the drink for ten minutes – that’s bullshit, too. Don’t add the seltzer to the mix, either – the shaker will have a hard enough time staying sealed with the egg white and cream expanding as you go. You may occasionally see a couple drops of vanilla in this drink – which tends to overwhelm the delicate flavors, if you ask me. But good ice does make a key difference here, even though you’ll only be using one cube from a Tovolo 1″ ice tray (unless you’re one of those mad geniuses with a Kold-Draft machine at home). The density of the ice will ensure the drink dilutes, chills, and whips properly. And the right glassware is crucial (an 8-ounce fizz glass like the Libbey 2318 Lexington), to help hold that stasis of booze, air, and protein afloat. Don’t try to make two of these in one shaker – it just won’t work.
This technique was taught to me by 320 Main bartender Shaun Cole, who learned it from bartender, brand ambassador, and consultant Marcos Tello. Word is, Marcos traveled the country gathering techniques from various bartenders and even food scientists, then consolidated the best-of into this recipe. Jason Schiffer, owner of 320 Main, told me this drink “lets bartenders show off their skills like no other drink.” It takes focus and practice to get this one right, but the effort is rewarded. The ideal texture is a tight, dense, almost-meringue-like foam floating atop a creamy, aerated liquid base – not a frothy mass of loose, sloppy bubbles.
If you’re concerned about consuming raw egg whites, try not to be. It’s fine, you won’t die. Just make sure your eggs are cold and fresh, and that you don’t get any chickenshit in your drink.
The Ramos Gin Fizz is perfect for a warm spring or summer brunch, so long as you’re up to the task. Reserve this for a morning that’s not a morning-after!
Hardware: Jigger, Shaker, Eyedropper, Muddler, Tovolo 1″ Ice Cube Tray, Straw, Spoon
Glassware: 8-ounce fizz glass
Ice: Ice cube
Spirit: Old Tom gin (recommended: Hayman’s) or London Dry gin (recommended: Beefeater) or Plymouth gin
Mixer: Simple syrup, Seltzer or Tonic water (recommended: Fever-Tree) or sparkling mineral water (recommended: Pellegrino)
Accents & Garnishes: Lemon juice, Lime juice, Orange flower water (look for a French brand, but Middle Eastern will do), Heavy cream (aka “whipping cream” – but not whipped cream), Egg white
Chill a fizz glass in the freezer at least ten minutes. In a cocktail shaker, combine:
1 1/2 oz gin
1/2 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz lime juice
3/4 oz simple syrup
1/2 oz heavy cream
3 drops orange flower water
In a second container (to avoid contamination from a piece of eggshell), separate:
1 egg white
Discard the yolk and the chalazae (the thick, stringy part connected to the yolk) and combine the egg white with the previous ingredients. Seal the shaker very tightly and dry shake for ten to twelve seconds to emulsify the ingredients. Hold the shaker lid firmly while shaking – the egg whites will foam and expand in volume and will create pressure in the shaker.
1 ice cube (1″ square)
Whip the shaker vigorously until you hear the ice cube has completely dissolved. Pour, unstrained, into the chilled fizz glass. Hold the glass in one hand, and, using a muddler, tap on the bottom of the glass for a minute or two. Look for the level of the drink to settle down about 1/8″ or so, and for any large bubbles in the foam to dissipate. You’re looking for a thick, consistent foam texture in the drink. Next, to the surface of the drink, add:
2 drops orange flower water
In the used shaker, add:
2 oz seltzer
Slowly drizzle the seltzer straight down the center of the drink from a height of about an inch or two. If you’ve done everything right, you’ll see the foamy head of the drink rising slowly above the rim of the glass. Keep pouring seltzer down the same spot and keep an eye on the foamy head. If it starts to sag around the edges, stop adding seltzer.
Serve with a straw (and a spoon to scoop out those last bits of meringuey goodness), then congratulate yourself on creating a thing of beauty. Kick back the rest of the day, you’ve earned it.
p.s. You may want to keep a spoon handy for scooping out the last little bit of foamy, citrusy goodness.