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
Don the Beachcomber (1934)
Southern California’s longest-running contribution to the world’s cocktail culture is the deliciously goofball world of tiki. The brainchild of world traveler and bootlegger Ernest Raymond Beaumont-Gantt (who later legally changed his name to Donn Beach), tiki was a melange of the authentic and the completely fabricated. South Seas cultural artifacts mixed with Carribean rum mixed with Chinese cooking, this faux-tropical getaway world captured the imagination of Hollywood in the 1930s and took off from there like hot lava. Tiki dominated cocktail culture in the ’50s and ’60s, then faded as late-’60s culture labeled it “square,” something their parents enjoyed.
Don the Beachcomber’s original 1934 Zombie was created (in all likelihood) as a collaboration with his four Filipino bartenders, who worked hidden away in the back kitchen, out of sight of the front-room bar (to keep the mystery and protect his secrets). One of those bartenders, Ray Buhen, went on to open Tiki Ti in Hollywood in 1961; the place is still there today, run by his son and grandson. In an interview, Ray called out Donn Beach’s authorship claim: “He’d say anything. He said he invented the Zombie, but he didn’t. Or hardly any of his drinks.” Donn’s recipes were jotted down in notebooks passed from one bartender to the other, transcribed in code in case they fell into enemy hands. You’d just have to know what “Don’s Mix” or “Markeza” or “Golden Stack” was to make the drink correctly. He changed the recipe several times over the years; not sure why, because this version’s the best. Potent and dangerously delicious, Don the Beachcomber enforced a strict two-per-customer rule on this drink. Breaking this rule has risks: in 1936, Howard Hughes struck and killed a pedestrian while driving home drunk after one too many Zombies at Don the Beachcomber’s.
The Zombie, with its ten-ingredient list, is a perfect example of a drink that is best (and maybe safest) made at home. Try to get one of these at a busy bar and you’re more likely to get a “pick something else” response. And if you do get a Zombie, it probably won’t be this one. This original 1934 recipe was finally decoded in 2005 by Beachbum Berry after years of research and experimentation.
You’ll need three syrups for this: grenadine, cinnamon syrup, and Falernum – a spiced rum syrup from Barbados (recipes for cinnamon syrup and falernum below, grenadine recipe is linked). Always best to make them yourself at home… but a great alternative is BG Reynolds‘ fantastic line of tiki syrups from Portland, Oregon.
If you’re going through all the fun to make this fantastic drink, why not serve it in a vintage tiki mug? Great finds can be had at thrift stores occasionally, or check online at Etsy‘s vintage shops.
Hardware: Electric blender, Jigger, Medicine dropper, Straws (optional)
Ice: Cracked ice
Glassware: Tiki mug or double Old Fashioned glass
Spirits: Gold rum (recommended: Appleton, Mount Gay, Cruzan), Dark rum (recommended: Coruba, Myers’s), 151 demerara rum (recommended: Lemon Hart)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Falernum, Cinnamon syrup, Grenadine, Pernod or Herbsaint
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lime juice, Grapefruit juice (white, if you can get it), Angostura bitters, Fresh spearmint
In an electric blender, add:
1 1/2 oz gold rum
1 1/2 oz dark rum
1 oz 151 demerara rum
3/4 oz lime juice
1/2 oz grapefruit juice
1/2 oz Falernum
1/4 oz cinnamon syrup
1/4 oz grenadine
6 drops Pernod or Herbsaint
1 dash Angostura bitters
6 oz cracked ice
Flash blend five seconds to quickly mix – meaning just turn the blender on, then off again. Pour unstrained into a tiki mug or Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with a mint sprig that’s been lightly slapped against the rim of the tiki mug or glass to release its aromatic oils. Optionally, serve with two straws cut to size.
In a saucepan over medium heat, lightly toast 3 cinnamon sticks, crushed lightly. Add 2 cups sugar and 2 cups water, then simmer 10 minutes, stirring to dissolve sugar. Cool & steep 20 minutes, then double-strain into an airtight container to remove particles. Keep refrigerated.
In a saucepan over medium heat, lightly toast 50 cloves, 1 tablespoon whole allspice berries, and 1 whole nutmeg (crushed, not ground). Combine in an airtight container and add 8 oz 151 demerara rum, the peeled zest from 8 limes (being careful to not include any of the bitter white pith), and 1/2 cup grated fresh ginger. Infuse for 24 hours, then double-strain the infused rum to remove ingredients and small particles. Make a rich simple syrup of 2 cups sugar and 1 cup water and let cool. In an airtight container, combine the infused rum, the rich simple syrup, and 10 drops almond extract. Stir to combine. Let rest two weeks, refrigerated, for the ginger to mellow. Keep refrigerated. (recipe adapted from Kaiser Penguin.)
The Edison, Los Angeles, CA (2008)
There’s been a bit of a resurgence in punch these last couple years, led by two fronts. One is from craft bartenders wanting to make sure everyone in a crowded bar gets a quick drink when the line starts backing up. The other is David Wondrich, booze historian, and his fascinating book “Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl.” And for good reason: one of the simplest ways to make sure a large party is sufficiently quenched is with a big bowl of punch. Sure, it’s a bit of work upfront that you’ll need to plan far ahead for, but it frees you – the host – to kick back a bit when your guests arrive. They’ll serve themselves and gather around the punch bowl just like in Colonial times. Nice how some things never change!
This particular recipe comes from The Edison in Downtown Los Angeles. Of all the punch recipes I’ve tried recently, this one knocks the rest to the mat with one tap. Delicious, just strong enough, and perfectly balanced. Plus, you’ll pick up a fancy new word to bandy about: “oleosaccharum.” This is another place to use that batch of homemade grenadine you made – please don’t use that fake toxic-red shit.
Look for glass punch bowl sets at thrift stores or estate sales. You’ll find fantastic-looking vintage pieces, sometimes even complete sets with a dozen or more punch cups, edge hooks, and a ladle. I regularly see them in my area for under $20.
To maintain dilution when you serve your punch, you’ll want to hand-fashion a large block of ice instead of using ice cubes, which would melt too quickly…
Easy Ice: Find a freezer-safe bowl that fits well inside your punch bowl, with plenty of room for ladling around the edges. Fill the bowl with water and let freeze overnight. When ready, take the ice out, invert the bowl on the counter, and let it drop out (takes a few minutes).
Not-So-Easy (But Really Freaking Awesome) Ice: Fill a small Igloo lunch cooler with water and let freeze 36 hours. When frozen through, invert the cooler in the sink and let it thaw a bit, then slide out. It’ll take some time – but don’t worry, it’ll announce itself when it drops. You won’t miss it. Wearing protective gloves and using a bread knife, carefully carve away the slush and cloudiness at the bottom of the block to reveal a huge hunk of crystal-clear beauty. Round the corners by sawing and hacking, then shape the block to fit your punch bowl. When finished, you can store the block in a gallon Ziploc in your freezer until needed.
Hardware: Measuring cups & spoons, Muddler, Strainer, Slotted spoon
Ice: Ice block
Glassware: Punch bowl & punch cups (with ladle)
Spirits: Bourbon whiskey (recommended: Wild Turkey 81, Woodford Reserve, Buffalo Trace)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Lemon oleosaccharum, Grenadine, Champagne
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lemon juice, Angostura bitters
Peel from end to end, avoiding the bitter white pith:
Reserve peeled lemons for juicing. In the punch bowl, combine peels with:
10 tablespoons superfine sugar (not Confectioner’s / Powdered Sugar – run regular white sugar through a dry electric blender if you can’t get superfine)
Muddle well to abrade lemon peel and begin expressing zest oils into the sugar. Stir to combine and let sit at least one hour, stirring occasionally. It’s done when the sugar is no longer gritty and the lemon syrup is smooth and fragrant.
To the oleosaccharum in the punch bowl, add:
4 cups bourbon whiskey (works out to an entire 750 ml bottle plus more)
2 cups lemon juice (strained well to remove pulp and small seeds)
1 cup grenadine
8 dashes Angostura bitters
1 1/2 cups cold water
Stir to blend, then using a hand-held strainer or slotted spoon, remove the lemon peels, making sure they don’t bring any of that oleosaccharum with them. Refrigerate, covered, until ready to serve. Just before your guests arrive, add the ice block and:
1 1/2 cups Champagne (about a quarter of a 750 ml bottle)
Stir to blend and then relax. You’re done.
MAKES 20 SERVINGS