Winters in Washington, D.C. are interminable. It was this winter when I realized that spring doesn’t exist, I live in northern Westeros, and it’ll be a generation before the snow subsides. I’m guardedly optimistic about this claim, but given the return of temperatures in the seventies, sundresses, and sandals, I feel it’s safe to say we’ve finally crossed the Rubicon of winter and can enjoy spring’s warm embrace at last.
My name is Andre and I’m your spirit guide, here to make your libationary dreams become reality. On second thought, forget the Dr. Oz-esque puffery; we’re here to make some damn good drinks that you can recreate in your home bar. We’ll throw in some history, too, since this is Molotov Cocktail and we like to teach you something while you drink. In this piece we’ll be discussing cocktails that are perfect for spring and taste as good as they look. When you’re finished reading, you’ll officially be spring-ready — outfitted with tools you can pull out at your next outdoor gathering (or when you don’t want to spend $10 a drink at your local watering hole). As a final side note: any of the bar items I’ve linked to are examples and you can purchase similar items from wherever you feel comfortable.
On to the good stuff:
The humble Caipirinha (kai-purr-een-ya). Just saying it puts sand between your toes and the sun on your back. The Caipirinha is the national drink of Brazil and like many cocktails, has a heavily disputed origin. Some believe it was invented by slaves who used sugar and lime to counter the biting and vegetal harshness of Cachaça (the rum portion of the drink that is made from squeezed and fermented sugar cane juice). Some claim it was a remedy for scurvy or the flu when combined with extras like garlic and honey. Another origin story was borne out of an 1856 Cholera outbreak in Rio, when Brazilians began mixing cachaça “with water, sugar, and limes, because it was prohibited to drink straight water.” Whatever the case, what we do know is that this drink is boozy, refreshing, and goes down a little too easy. The word Caipirinha roughly translates into “little peasant girl,” which is meant to be pejorative, but if drinking these makes me a peasant, then bring on the rags.
Here’s how you can make the pride of Brazil in your own home:
- 2 Oz. of Brazilian Cachaça (I prefer Leblon, but Pitu will work in a pinch)
- ½ – ¾ Oz. of simple syrup (I like mine 1½:1 sugar:water so it’s more flavorful and less watery; the amount to use in the cocktail depends on your tastes)
- 1 half of a lime, quartered
- Get a shaker tin or Boston shaker and put the quartered lime in the metal portion of the shaker.
- Add in the simple syrup over the lime and use a muddler to release the oils and juices from the fruit (five or six twists of the muddler is all you need here).
- Pour the Cachaça over the muddled mixture and add ice. Close the shaker and give it a hearty shake for six-to-eight seconds, then pour all of the contents into a tumbler (rocks glass)
- Say saudé, and take a long swig to transport yourself to another hemisphere.
Variation: “Andre! My friends hate new things and can’t stand the awesome, robust flavor of cachaça!” Well, get some new friends, but if you need to keep them around, you can easily switch out the cachaça for vodka and make a Caipiroska instead.
The Last Word is a drink that lived its life in hiding for quite a long time. Invented during Prohibition at the Detroit Athletic Club, the Last Word cast a pale emerald light on an otherwise dreary period of American history. While there is no record of who actually invented the cocktail, Frank Fogarty, an erstwhile vaudevillian stage actor relayed the drink to Ted Saucier who in turn put it in his 1951 cocktail book Bottoms up! The drink disappeared from American minds until Murray Stenson of Seattle found the recipe in Saucier’s bartender’s manual, and added the drink to his menu at the Zig Zag Café. It makes complete sense that the “Emerald City” would embrace a drink of the same hue to enjoy and call their own. Nowadays, more people than I would expect are savvy enough to order one from a knowledgeable bartender. After you try its herbal and powerfully tart flavor, you’ll understand why.
- ¾ Oz. of Gin (I prefer Plymouth, but then again I always do, so use whichever you like)
- ¾ Oz. of Green Chartreuse
- ¾ Oz. of Maraschino liqueur
- ¾ Oz. of fresh squeezed lime juice
- Set a cocktail glass down and fill it with ice or ice water to keep it cold (like putting hot food on warm plates, this is a necessary step).
- Get a shaker tin or Boston shaker and pour all of the ingredients inside, then top with ice. Depending on the size and quality of your ice, shake vigorously for eight to fifteen seconds.
- Pour the ice out of your waiting cocktail glass. Pop the top of your shaker and use a Hawthorne strainer and mesh cocktail or tea strainer (to get rid of any ice chips that will further dilute your drink in the glass) to pour the drink into the cocktail glass.
- Marvel at the beauty of your creation, and drink to your heart’s content.
Variation: “Andre! One of my soon-to-be-ex friends accidentally gifted me Yellow Chartreuse instead of Green! What am I to do?!” Not to worry. Follow all of the same directions above but use these ingredients instead: equal parts Gin, Yellow Chartreuse, elderflower liqueur, and fresh squeezed lemon juice for a different yet delicious twist on the Last Word.
The Kentucky Derby is right around the corner, so I’m practically honor-bound to talk about the julep. I don’t know a thing about horseracing, but I know a good drink when I taste one, and the mint julep is no exception. The drink is believed to be a variation of tipples created in the Middle East centuries ago, where innovative “barmen” added rose water and petals to drinks to make them more palatable (Golâb is the Farsi word for rose water, and was later bastardized to the English “julep”). Washingtonians can tip our hats to Senator Henry Clay, who introduced the mint julep to the Round Robin Bar at The Willard Hotel in the mid-1800’s during his time as a Kentucky statesman. The Kentucky Derby has made the mint julep its official drink of choice since 1938, and every first Saturday of May we get an excuse to feel fancy while we’re dressed ridiculously, pounding high-proof bourbon in silver cups. To quote my friend’s 80-something Charlestonian grandmother, “to make a good mint julep, you’ve got to crush the mint into the tin with your thumb.” Given its simplicity, the julep is a surprisingly fickle drink. Practice makes perfect with this cocktail (and remember, whatever mistakes you make are still drinkable).
- 2½ Oz. of Bourbon
- ¾ – 1 Oz. of simple syrup (again, depending on your taste)
- 8-10 mint leaves and a mint sprig (for garnish)
- Gosling’s Black Seal Rum
- Crushed ice
- Grab the mint leaves and place them in your palm; give them a hearty smack to release their aroma.
- In a julep cup or shaker tin, rub the loose mint leaves on the rim and inside of the tin and drop them inside. Pour the simple syrup over the leaves and muddle gently.
- Pour in 1½ Oz. of bourbon, add some crushed ice, and stir for a few seconds with a bar spoon. Good juleps have to rest. Wait about 30 seconds. Wait a little bit longer.
- Add the remaining ounce of bourbon into the tin, and cover with more crushed ice until you have something resembling a snow cone. Use a bar spoon to float a small amount of black strap rum over the crushed ice.
- Insert your mint sprig as garnish and serve with or without straws. Add powdered sugar to the mint for an extra aesthetic touch.
Variation: “Andre! I’m lazy as all hell! What can I make that’s similar but requires much less hand-eye coordination?” Get a tumbler; throw a slice of lemon and some mint in there. Pour ¼ to ½ Oz. of simple syrup and muddle it. Pour 2 Oz. of bourbon on top of that. Fill the glass with crushed ice and serve. Boom – your laziness has paid off and morphed into a delicious Whiskey Smash.
Dulce Del Diablo (Sweet Devil)
This drink is an original of mine that goes great with spring, mostly because it has a layer of complex flavors that will excite the palette, but still has a punch of booziness to remind you you’re supposed to be having fun.
- 1½ Oz. of Plymouth Gin (Photo substituted Beefeater for Plymouth)
- ½ Oz. of Cocchi Americano
- ½ Oz. of Pineapple syrup
- ¼ Oz. of Campari
- ¼ Oz. of Green Chartreuse
- 2 Dashes of Absinthe
- 1 Dash of Lemon bitters (Bitter Truth Bitters are excellent, despite the hefty price tag)
- Set a cocktail glass down and fill it with ice or ice water to keep it cold.
- Get a pint or mixing glass and add all of the ingredients. Stir with ice until the outside of the glass becomes cold.
- Use a julep strainer to pour the mixed drink into your emptied cocktail glass. Squeeze a lemon peel over the drink and drop in. For real pros, flame a lemon by squeezing the oils over a match or lighter to give a smokier aroma (Editor’s note: WOTR does not condone this, please drink responsibly).
Variation: I don’t know — drink it inside instead of outside?
If you’ve made it this far, you’ve earned my respect. After traversing the Western hemisphere with me, you’re now skilled in the art of making three of the finest classic cocktails around, and one that I humbly submit as delicious. Hopefully you now have the knowledge to also adapt these drinks to your tastes. Most cocktails are made out of necessity, accident, or happenstance, but I believe that drinks made with vision and excitement are the ones that are most satisfying to drink. You feel a certain pride after you’ve built that perfect drink with your own hands, and you or your loved ones take that first awe-inspiring sip. Take the tools and knowledge you have gathered here and make your own journey. Until the next time we get together, cheers.
Andre Gziryan is a Soviet-born American who prefers G.I. Joe to Uncle Joe. He is a former barman who currently works as an international trade analyst at the Department of Commerce. What he lacks in military knowledge he makes up for with a love of all things creative and spirituous.
Photo credit: Marc Wellekötter