The Gourmet CocktailIf you got past the October lockjaw-inducing “Yes, Suri, She’s My Baby” Vanity Fair cover, you would have discovered two articles in VF’s unparalleled gossip-history hybrid style. The common theme? Visionary artists whose feats were eclipsed and unacknowledged by their savvy business partners. Exhibit A: Jeremiah Tower, the lanky bon vivant and autodidactic chef who put Alice Waters’s Chez Panisse on the map, repudiated in his absence as an apostate who froufroued beyond recognition St. Alice’s simple vision of pure, fresh food, expertly prepared.
But VF lays at Tower’s feet (which he puts up in Mexico these days) the persistent craze for locally grown yet exotic fare that’s judged by its lag time from farm to table. Perhaps bartenders can also finger Tower for the current demand for cocktails made with fresh herbs and juices — if only their fingers weren’t so busy macerating, muddling, and squeezing Cucumber Truffletinis, Wild Berry Mojitos, and Raspberry Gimlets. Cocktails have not only recovered from their ’80s-’90s slump, they’ve gone gourmet — yet another “affordable luxury,” as one trade report remarked.
So on a recent Sunday morning, the kids safely delivered to Sunday school, I rang up my bartender brother in Houston, where — no offense, SA — they cocktail like it’s their job. What’s the rage? I asked, and he sighed. He’s been making a lot of Pisco Sours — a lemony, egg-white-fortified froth made with the South-American liquor that is the subject of dispute between Peru and Chile. Made from grapes, Pisco is hot and sweet but otherwise flavorless, and the Pisco Sour, says my bro, is the closest you can come to drinking lemon-chess pie. Pomegranate Martinis, made with Pearl’s Persephone (get it?) pomegranate-infused vodka, are also popular, brightened with a little lemon.
It being the Lord’s Day in the Bible Belt, I was limited to the contents of my home cabinet, which contained Tito’s Vodka, and my kitchen, which offered fresh basil, homemade simple syrup (prepared by my husband for last month’s Whiskey Smashes), and limes. Inspired by my brother’s confirmation that fresh is in, I went fishing for a suitable recipe in the handy Food & Wine Cocktails 2006 — wherein I found the Basil-Lime Gimlet, a simple recipe calling for four basil leaves, 1/2 ounce simple syrup, 2 1/2 ounces vodka, 3/4 ounce fresh lime juice, and ice. Muddle the basil leaves in the simple syrup, add the vodka, lime juice, and ice; shake and strain into a chilled glass.
I call Tito’s Vodka “that upscale Texas moonshine” because of a 2003 party at which it was served freely to a roomful of dandies, some who were later observed sucking face in public with questionable people, another who professed undying love for the aforementioned brother. Maybe it was the moon; maybe it was the Tito’s, which you probably know by now is distilled from corn just southeast of Austin.
At any rate, Tito’s carries significantly more bite than Grey Goose, and it’s not a bit sweet, which makes it a good foil for the simple syrup and lime juice. I’d recommend muddling in an extra basil leaf per drink, however, and use two leaves, lightly crushed, to garnish the glass. Sip to relieve that post-late-summer-thunderstorm mugginess.
And stock up on powdered sugar and eggs, because next column, we’ll delve into Mr. Boston’s 1935 toast to the end of Prohibition.