As important as your base liquor for any cocktail, is the addition of your mixer. I've been tasting a slew of new products lately that have reminded me of how important your choices for mixing agents are. I mean, come on... this is the stuff we're diluting our liquor with, right?
Top of the list, for me, is your bitters. What ever your cocktail preferences, you should alwasy have a bottle of bitters on hand. Recommended mostly for addition to brown liquors (whiskeys, rums) bitters is an herbal blend that is actually alcoholic. Used primarily in a Manhattan, Old Fashioned or Rob Roy, I recommend it for one of my favorite cocktail concoctions which has undergone many different name changes depending on which restaurant I'm selling it from (ie; Donerion, Make Mine Fluffy, Whiskey Tango) which is comprised of 3/4 Makers Mark, 1/4 Grand Marnier & splash of Angostura bitters. Shaken over ice.
Bartenders across the country are playing with in-house bitters. In Pittsburgh, resident "bar-crafter" Michael Mincin has created a Blood Orange Bitters used in his "Badlands-hatten" at the bar of Eleven Contemporary Kitchen. http://bigburrito.com/eleven/eleven.shtml
Along the same lines as bitters, is the "official state soft drink of Maine" known as Moxie Cola. Anyone can tell you I am an avid proponent of Moxie Cola. Moxie used to be called "Moxie Nerve Food" or "Moxie Original Elixir", which apparently cured everything from imbecility to "lack of manhood". Moxie waned in popularity when the newly formed FDA decided that the beverage could not advertise itself as a food... and lacked many of the curative qualities it purported to possess. In the 60s when one of Moxie's leading ingredients; sarsaparilla, was banned Moxie lost roughly 50% of its fan base, and now is difficult to find even in the New England states which are it's home base. http://www.moxiecongress.org/
Every year I return to Pittsburgh with 20+ cases of Moxie Cola... enough to get me through the year. It brings me great pleasure to share this soda with my bartender and chef friends who invariably all love it. Moxie and a lime are the perfect accompaniment to a nice rum. Stay away from spiced rums, the flavors tend to compete, but a nice rum like 10 Cane or Zaya make a perfect match for this soda who's maine ingredient (yeah, I spelled it "maine") is now gentian root... the same ingredient found in Angostura bitters.
Another great pairing for your summer rum drinks is Ginger Beer! The spicier the better! There's nothing like a dark & stormy (rum, ginger beer & lime) on a hot summer day by the water. Dark & stormy tradition dictates that Gosling Dark should always be the rum of choice. I'd agree it is one of the best matches for this cocktail, though I have had equally impressive success with spiced & flavored rums as well. Combining two cocktails; the mojito and the dark & stormy, can add a whole new world of Caribbean flavors to your summer party.
Muddle some fresh mint with sugar in the raw and a dash of simple syrup. Add 1 & 1/2 oz. rum (for this cocktail recipe I recommend Khukri rum from the Himalayas in Nepal), 1 oz. of Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur, juice from 1/2 a lime and shake. pour over ice into a tall collins glass and top with ginger beer. There is only one ginger beer I will recommend (though there are plenty of good quality ones on the market) and that is Natrona Bottling Company Jamaica's Finest Ginger Beer, pictured here.
(to be continued...)