No. 9 ~ Casa Blanca
• What Makes a Classic Cocktail?
• Reverse Engineering
• The Recipe
At first blush, classic cocktails can seem a bit, well, mysterious. Who would think to put dry white wine and bitter herbal extracts together with booze and piece of pickled fruit? It seems an unlikely marriage, and a polygamous marriage at that.
But what if you start with the mouth and work backwards? That is, just imagine a mouth-filling, brain-stimulating drink that has sweet, sour, salty, bitter, savory, and of course alcohol, all wrapped into one. The first drink like that to comes to my mind is the Margarita: sweet from sugar, sour from lime, salt on the glass rim, bitter from the rind of citrus, savory from the tequila’s complex plant elements, and then the buzz from the booze. Does it surprise you to consider that major fast food burgers, with their secret sauce and mystery ingredients seek to accomplish that very thing? Give me a homemade Margarita over a Big Mac anytime.
Another of my favorite classic cocktails is the Casa Blanca. I don’t know much about the history of the drink – my cocktail library must be too small right now, but I am willing to make up a story. Just don’t take it as the gospel truth. Having a backstory for a cocktail helps me remember what goes in it and what I’m striving to create.First off, it ought to stimulate all the flavor senses. We’ll want to emphasize some triggers over others by varying the intensity. (If all drinks stimulated every sense to a high degree, then all drinks would be more or less similar.) Let’s say we have decided on white rum. Good rum has some sweetness, complex fruitiness, and slightly sweet, straight-ahead alcohol. We can offset that fruitiness with some sourness and bitterness. Adding fresh lime juice will give us the sour, not to mention a little bitterness from the rind. Bitterness can come from a splash of bitters. Angostura bitters contain the bitter and tonic gentian root, along with some bitter citrus components. We won’t add something salty to this one, but will contribute some savory and astringent aspects from maraschino liqueur. This clear ingredient is only faintly cherry, with pronounced cherry pit nuttiness. It finishes off-dry in sweetness. Finally, just to add a dash of fresh sweetness, we’ll garnish with a sweet orange twist and a candied cherry.
Okay, the backstory. I imagine some really good white rum originating in Puerto Rico. The tropical fruits could come from those surroundings and the Maraschino liqueur could be an exotic ingredient brought in through trade. The drink is pale with a faint seafoam luster created by the fresh lime juice. Indeed, it reminds me of the historic Casa Blanca in San Juan, hued by a late afternoon cloud cover over a falling sun. (Okay, I’ve never seen that. Told you this was a made up history.)
The Casa Blanca Cocktail
Set 5-6 oz cocktail glass (martini or antique) with crushed ice to chill. In pint shaker over several ice cubes, add all liquid ingredients. Shake vigorously, empty ice from cocktail glass, strain cocktail into glass. Garnish with orange twist and cherry. Cheers! TPJ