Classic Cocktails ~ No. 9

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.

Some premium white or silver rums. Source: Davies/Starr, NY Magazine

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


  • 3 oz best white rum
  • 1 tbsp Crème de Curaçao, subs. Triple Sec
  • 1 tbsp Maraschino liqueur
  • ½ shot lime juice, fresh squeezed, about 1 small lime
  • 1 dash Angostura bitters
  • 1 ea Maraschino cherry (garnish), or whiskey-pickled cherry
  • 1 ea orange peel (twist, garnish)
  • Method

    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


    Old Man Beer is Not Just for Old Men

    Eddy Merckx - The Cannibal

    Take me back to Kortrijk (core-trike), Belgium. On a bleak and rainy late winter day, like the black and white 1960s, when Eddy “The Cannibal” Merckx battered and bettered his rivals over God-forsaken cobbles. Back in a time long before we had to get to the airport needless hours early… a time and a place where there was only one train leaving in the afternoon and you had to be early.

    So I was early, on this dingy day in this greying downtown where the streets smelled of mud and diesel and wet litter and possibly more.

    But this was just fine. Like much of Europe, the presence of the train station meant the presence of a bar. And in this particular part of Europe, post-industrial Flanders sitting on the doorstep of the Pas de Calais, there would be a simple, smoky bar within a mad dash of the spoor (track). A plain place really, with just enough visible through the windows to reveal itself a bar.

    Is that Hope and Crosby?

    I entered. The few twenty-somethings that lingered in one smoke-filled end of the lounge took notice, then quickly resumed their philandering pranks with a young woman. I saw a small tin sign behind the bar with an image that I’d seen in my research of uncommon Belgian beers. It was an old time sort of cartoon of two cherry-faced men in straw hats. It reminded me of Hope and Crosby for some reason. More importantly it helped me remember that not far from here, in the village of Bellegem, Bockor brewed a brownish-red beer called Bellegems Bruin. This wasn’t any brown beer, it was partly brown lager, partly lambic wheat beer. Beer like this might be called Flanders brown ale or oud bruin (literally: old brown).

    I remembered back to long before I’d ever had one, back when I was chastised for mispronouncing the term. “Oat-brrrain” cried John Maré, an elder statesman in our homebrew club. Then again, he was only half Belgian – the rest was Scottish. Obviously.

    Just then, standing at the bar I decided I wouldn’t ask for the oat-brrrain. It seemed safer to try to pronounce Bellegems Bruin. The young bartender said “You don’t want that. We have a really good pils, made just down the road.” (Bavik Pils, I suspected). I didn’t want the pils. Not on a gloomy and typical Hell of the North kind of day. Then, in one last gesture to get me onto the pils he said, “You don’t want that, that is what the old men drink.” Whew, did that backfire. Guess I’m an old man, too, at heart.

    What followed was so much more than a sour brown beer. Well, it is sour, slightly sour, not lockjaw sour like a straight lambic. It is also malty and coffeeish. It plays with my mind, first sweetish, the sour, maybe sweet again, wait – there’s a little bitterness, then lightly acid at the end. Divine. I passed the old man test.

    More coming on oud bruins… TPJ

    December Survey

    Be sure to click through to the December Survey! Results will be posted in early January. Results for the November survey question are posted now. TPJ

    What treasured beverage, if received as a gift this holiday season, would you be most likely to stop what you are doing and enjoy on the spot?(polls)

    November Survey Results

    The masses have spoken. Two out of three people favor a Belgian-styled saison with a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Another third think an American brown ale would go well. No problems there. Check out the December poll now! TPJ

    Classic Cocktails ~ No. 10

    No. 10 ~ The Aviation

    • 1916, NYC, Hotel Wallick
    • Balance and Daring
    • The Recipe

    The Aviation - Daring Do for Those with the Right... Flowers?

    The Aviation, as with many retro cocktails, was born of pedigree and muddied by mutation. In the case of this cocktail, two critical ingredients became nearly impossible to obtain, or a book editor left something out, or it was a government conspiracy. Whatever the reason, adaptations followed and it wasn’t until the original published recipe resurfaced that someone noticed the all-important Crème de Violette had been missing for many years. Another ingredient, Maraschino liqueur, fell somewhat into disuse, and also became rather a chore to locate.

    But now those ingredients are again available in the States. There is no excuse not to make the authentic version. If you are a student of drinks history, this is the real McCoy. If you are all about the flavor, this is the richly layered, subtle, deep, transcendent recipe.

    Barnstormer Roscoe Turner. Source: North Carolina State Archives

    With its faint robin-egg blue color, it is a cocktail that evokes the jeopardy between the perils of early flight and the wonder of a bird’s eye view. It wedges itself between delicate floral nuance, nutty astringency, lemony acidity, and a whisper of sweetness. The Aviation reminds me that the early mixologists were artists in their own right who deserve not to be upstaged by the flash of today’s liquor practitioners.

    The Aviation was reportedly first printed in 1916 in a book entitled Recipes for Mixed Drinks, by Hugo Ensslin. Reprints are available from time to time. Some have described this cocktail as “lean,” some say “just okay,” and still others cannot find the words. For them, only shifting eyes and a slow growing smile result as the delicate flavors trip over the tongue.

    What follows is my favorite formula, quite similar to Ensslin’s version and pretty close to that of Robert Hess. Getting your version to take to the air lies in the delicate balance of ingredient proportions. As well, you might experiment with the brands of gin and maraschino liqueur, as the synergies of this drink will bring out previously unknown subtleties in these complex distillates.

    The Aviation Cocktail


  • 3 oz gin
  • 1½ tbsp lemon juice, fresh w/o pulp, juice from Meyer’s lemon is sweeter
  • 1 tbsp Maraschino liqueur
  • ½ tbsp Crème de Violette
  • 1 ea cherry, garnish, brandy marinated preferred, or Maraschino cherry
  • Method

    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 drink into glass. Garnish with cherry.

    Follow the recipe exactly, with spoon measures. Make notes on any brand preferences and alterations in quantities. Happy Flying! TPJ

    The Aviation Cocktail

    Classic Cocktails ~ Top 10

    This short note is to introduce my top 10 classic cocktails, with recipes gleaned from historical sources and contemporary mixologists. A word of caution… these are not the sickly sweet, creamy cocktails so common these days. These are not cocktails simply because someone put a word in front of “-tini.” No, they are not your daughter’s cocktails… they are your grandparent’s cocktails. What??? They didn’t tell you about that? Oh yes.

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