Category Archives: Vodka Cocktails

May 29: The Rite Of Spring

StravinskyIt was on this day in 1913 that Igor Stravinsky’s (at right) landmark ballet and orchestral work The Rite Of Spring debuted at Paris’ Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. The Rite Of Spring is now viewed as a essential piece of classical music, but when it premiered it was met with a decidedly negative reaction. How negative? Well, it caused an actual riot!

How did a night at the ballet turn into a riot? Well, first we must look at the crowd that gathered at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées that evening: There was the wealthy who wanted to witness nothing more than traditional ballet with traditional music, and then there were the Bohemians who according to Jean Cocteau, would “acclaim, right or wrong, anything that is new because of their hatred of the boxes”. Stravinsky’s Rite was distinctly primitive with heavy rhythms. The accompanying ballet depicted a primal pagan celebration that ended with the sacrifice of a virgin who dances herself to death. Obviously, there was no way that the older, richer crowd in the boxes would enjoy this.

On the evening of May 29, 1913, the theater was packed. The trouble started almost as soon as The Rite began. According to Stravinsky, derisive laughter began during the first bars of the introduction. As the performance went on, the laughter from the wealthy box seats rose, which led to calls for silence from the Bohemian contingent. Eventually, the two sides began to fight, with some people even attacking the orchestra! According to conductor Pierre Monteux, “Everything available was tossed in our direction, but we continued to play on”. Eventually order was restored when the police kicked out 40 of the more egregious troublemakers. Shockingly, despite all the action in the audience, the orchestra played on and the performance continued without interruption.

As we toast The Rite Of Spring and the last month of spring, let’s drink a Spring Sling. This cocktail was invented by T.J. Palmieri for Tito’s Vodka and is a refreshing springtime cocktail.

Spring Sling

  • 1 1/2 ounces Vodka
  • 3/4 ounce cucumber water
  • 3/4 ounce St. Germain
  • 1/2 ounce lemon juice
  • 2 dashes Bitterman’s Hopped Grapefruit Bitters

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into an ice filled highball glass and top with a splash of ginger beer. Garnish with a thin cucumber slice.

Tomorrow: An old west bandit.

May 27: The Preakness

PreaknessRight now we’re all pretty excited about American Pharoah’s chances of becoming the first Triple Crown winner since 1978. American Pharoah’s much anticipated run for the Belmont Stakes isn’t for another week and a half, so in the meantime we’re going to flashback to 1873 because it was on May 27, 1873 that the second leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes, was first raced.

The Preakness is held annually at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland, but its name actually comes from New Jersey. The race’s name was chosen by Maryland Governor Oden Bowie in tribute to a horse named Preakness,  a colt from Preakness Stables in Preakness, Wayne Township, New Jersey. When Pimlico opened on October 25, 1870, the big race that day was the Dinner Party Stakes, and the winner of that race was Preakness. So, the Governor thought it was only appropriate that the track’s biggest race be named after the winner of the first major race to be held at Pimlico. Although the date of the race bounced around during the first 60 years of the Preakness, since 1932, the race has consistently been scheduled for the third Saturday in May.

The Preakness is known as “The Run For The Black-Eyed Susans”. The black-eyed Susan is the Maryland state flower and in 1940 it was first proposed that horses who won the Preakness be draped in a garland of black-eyed Susans. There was just one small problem with this idea, namely that black-eyed Susans don’t come into bloom until late June or early July. A solution was soon found to this problem and rather than being draped in black-eyed Susans, winners were covered in yellow viking daisies that had been painted to resemble the state flower. Since the early 21st century, viking poms, a flower that resembles the black-eyed Susan, have been used to make the winners’ garland. In short, at no point in the history of “The Run For The Black-Eyed Susans” has a winner received black-eyed Susans.

With all that said, the official cocktail of the Preakness is the Black-Eyed Susan. The Black-Eyed Susan cocktail was invented in 1973 when some marketing exec decided that the Preakness needed an official cocktail and tried to come up with something as respectable as the Kentucky Derby’s Mint Julep. Unfortunately, the original Black-Eyed Susan was something of a mess. In 2014, the Baltimore Sun described the original recipe as follows:

Take vodka, rum, whiskey, bourbon, peach schnapps, orange juice, pineapple juice, sour mix, orange-flavored liqueur, elderflower-flavored liqueur, shake, pour into a souvenir glass and garnish with an orange slice, cherry and mint sprig.

Then dump it on the infield grass and get a real drink.

The recipe for the Black-Eyed Susan is ever-evolving and has gone through several interpretations. Today we’ll mix the recipe that’s currently featured on the Preakness recipe. It’s a floral and citrusy cocktail that works quite nicely for a spring day at the races.

Black-Eyed Susan (circa 2014)

  • 1 1/2 ounce Vodka
  • 1/2 ounce St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
  • 2 ounces pineapple juice
  • 1/4 ounce lime juice
  • 3/4 ounce orange juice

Shake with ice and strain into an ice filled highball glass (or Preakness souvenir glass) and garnish with an orange slice.

Tomorrow: A time capsule.

May 15: Mickey Mouse

Plane-CrazySteamboat Wilie (released November 18, 1928) is considered to be the official debut of Mickey Mouse. However, it was on May 15, 1928 that the famous mouse and his girlfriend Minnie made their real first onscreen appearance when the short Plane Crazy was given a theatrical test screening.

Plane Crazy was actually the first Mickey Mouse cartoon ever made and co-directors Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks had high hopes for the short. So they organized a test screening for the silent cartoon in the hopes of finding a distributor. However, the success of the 1927 partial-sound film The Jazz Singer had inspired a new interest in “talkies”, so distributors were not particularly interested in a silent cartoon from two not particularly well known animators. The two animators would receive a similar reception for their second silent Mickey Mouse cartoon, The Gallopin’ Gaucho.

Later in 1928, Disney and Iwerks began production on a sound cartoon which would become Steamboat Willie. What made Steamboat Willie different from other early sound cartoons was that it was specifically created with a synchronized soundtrack, distributors quickly lined up to talk to Disney and Iwerks about screening the cartoon. So, despite being the third Mickey cartoon ever made, Steamboat Willie was the first to get a theatrical release. As for Plane Crazy, Disney and Iwerks added voices and music to the cartoon and released it as the fourth Mickey cartoon in March of 1929.

I was able to find a couple of non-alcoholic drinks called Mickey Mouse, one of which is basically a non-alcoholic Bloody Mary; and really, what’s the point of that? There is however this little Mickey which is a nice little vodka-amaretto sunrise.

Mickey Mouse

  • 1 ounce Vodka
  • 1 ounce Amaretto
  • 2 ounces sweet and sour mix
  • 2 ounces orange juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon grenadine

Shake everything except the grenadine with ice and strain into an ice filled highball glass. Top off with the grenadine.

Tomorrow: Oscar night!

May 5: Carnegie Hall

Stern Auditorium/Perelman Stage Beauty ShotsHow do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.

Although the concert hall hosted a few events in April of 1891, Carnegie Hall’s official opening night wasn’t until May 5.

Carnegie Hall’s May 5, 1891 opening night was a New York Symphony Society concert conducted by maestro Walter Damrosch and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Interestingly, when it first opened, Carnegie Hall went by another name, simply the Music Hall. The Music Hall was originally built by Andrew Carnegie as a home for the Symphony Society and the Ontario Society of New York. It wasn’t until 1893 that the board members of the Music Hall Company of New York were able to convince Carnegie to put his name on the building.

The Carnegie family remained the owners of Carnegie Hall until 1925 when Andrew Carnegie’s widow sold it to a developer. In the 1950s, the developer tried to sell it to the New York Philharmonic, the building’s chief tenant. However, the Phil was set to move to Lincoln Center, which at the time was under construction. It was not believed that New York could have two successful large concert venues, and so the developer put the building on the market, and the worst possible scenario soon arrived: Another developer bought the land with the intention of demolishing Carnegie Hall and building another skyscraper on the site. Thankfully, New York’s artistic community, led by violinist Isaac Stern, rallied to save Carnegie Hall, and special legislation was passed allowing New York City to buy the land and hall for $5-million. Nowadays, the concert hall is run by the nonprofit Carnegie Hall Corporation, and hosts concerts of nearly every genre.

I’ve discovered a cocktail called the Carnegie Sunrise, but tragically I can’t find an explanation behind its evocative name. Regardless of its origin, this drink is a sweet cross between a Bloody Mary and a Tequila Sunrise. I don’t know how it works, but somehow this Frankencocktail is delicious.

Carnegie Sunrise

  • 1 1/2 ounces Vodka
  • 1 ounce Tequila
  • 1 can frozen orange juice
  • 3 ounces tomato juice
  • 4 strawberries

Blend all ingredients and strain into a highball glass.

Tomorrow: Valentino!

May 3: Bollywood

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEvery year, the Indian film industry, popularly known as Bollywood, produces more films than any other nation. For comparison purposes, let’s look at the year 2009. In 2009, 558 films were produced by American companies while Indian filmmakers made 2961; 1288 of which were feature length. Today, we’re going back to the birth of Bollywood and celebrating the first Indian film, Raja Harishchandra, which premiered on this day in 1913.

The 40 minute silent film tells the classic legend of Raja Harishchandra, a noble and righteous king who swore to never break an oath and never lie. The gods and a local sage decide to test Harischandra’s twin vows, and over the course of the legend Harischandra loses his kingdom, his wealth and his family, eventually having to sell himself into slavery. As the story goes, Harischandra stays true to his word and eventually the gods reveal themselves, and offer him an instant place in heaven for he and his wife. However, Harischandra says that although he may no longer be king, he could not leave his subjects behind. The gods refused, but when Harischandra asked if he could remain on Earth and allow all of his subjects to go to heaven in his place, the gods recognized his honor and piety and allowed all members of Harischandra’s kingdom to come to heaven with him.

For Raja Harishchandra director Dhundiraj Govind Phalke, making the film was a struggle worthy of the film’s protagonist. Phalke and his wife ran the entire production; he was the director, writer, producer, set designer and casting director while his wife was in charge of washing costumes and making food for the cast and crew of roughly 500 people. It’s amazing that the Phalkes were able to get 500 people to work on the film, as at the time it was considered taboo to work in motion pictures. Due to this, the film has an all-male cast, as no woman wanted to be a part of the film. To get around this taboo, Phalke told those involved with the film that if they were asked where they were working, they should simply say that they were working at a factory owned by a Mr. Harishchandra.

A small private screening was arranged in April 1913 for many influential Indian citizens and journalists. The film was met with rave reviews, and when it officially opened to the public on May 3, the lines stretched for blocks. The film was an instant success and the taboo against working in film quickly fell. By 1930, India was already producing 200 films a year. Tragically, although bits and pieces of Raja Harishchandra remain, the complete film is believed lost.

So, in celebration of Bollywood, let’s drink an Indian inspired cocktail. The Madras is named after the famed pink Indian shirt whose color this drink resembles.

Madras

  • 1 1/2 ounces Vodka
  • 3 ounces cranberry juice
  • 1 ounces orange juice

Pour vodka and cranberry juice into an ice filled highball glass and stir. Top off with orange juice.

Tomorrow: A master of French cinema.

April 30: May Eve & Beltane

BeltaneIt’s April 30, which as you surely know means it’s May Eve, otherwise known as the Feast of Beltane: A celebration typically beginning at sundown and heralding the arrival of the summer.

Beltane is the traditional Gaelic May Day celebration. In the old Gaelic calendar, the four seasons were as follows: Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane, and Lughnasadh which began around the 1st of November, February, May and August respectively. As it was the summer festival, Beltane was typically celebrated with a variety of fertility rituals intended to appease the sí, the fairy spirits of the world, and bless the summer’s crops.

So, what rituals were commonly performed at a Beltane celebration? Well, as with any good party there was dancing, singing, drinking and other forms of revelry. Floral wreaths, bouquets and garlands were common festive garb for Beltane night, and the tradition of dancing around the maypole comes from Beltane celebrations. However, the one Beltane tradition that hasn’t really leaked into most contemporary spring/summer celebrations is the good old fashioned bonfire. The traditional Beltane bonfire would be lit by creating friction between two pieces of wood with the intention of producing a particularly potent fire. When the fire burned out, the ashes would be taken and spread into the soil of nearby farmers’ fields. In addition to the big bonfire, there would also be smaller fires that men would jump over as a personal fertility ritual.

Beltane is still celebrated by modern Pagans and Wiccans, so in that spirit, today we shall make a White Magic. This cocktail is a grapey, transparent concoction that’s a perfect refresher for the warming season.

White Magic

  • 2 ounces White Grape Vodka
  • 4 ounces white grape juice
  • 4 ounces ginger ale

Pour all ingredients into an ice filled highball glass and stir.

Tomorrow: Robin of Locksley

April 25: Jerry Leiber

Jerry LeiberIt was on this day in 1933 that one of the most important songwriters of the early rock and roll era was born: Jerry Leiber who, along with his writing partner Mike Stoller, composed some of the greatest songs of the 1950s and 1960s. These guys could write everything from meaty R&B (“Kansas City”) to goofy novelties (“Yakety Yak”) to doo-wop street corner symphonies (“Stand By Me”).

Leiber and Stoller’s first major hit was Charles Brown’s 1953 recording of their rhythm and blues song “Hard Times” which went to number one on the R and B charts. However, their first big pop hit came in the form of Elvis Presley’s take on their 1952 song “Hound Dog”. But how did the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll come to record what became his signature song?

“Hound Dog” was originally recorded by blues singer Big Mama Thornton in an absolutely smoldering version. This record proved to be quite popular and led to dozens of covers, response songs and rip-offs, like the song “Two Hound Dogs” which was recorded by Bill Haley and The Comets. In 1955, the bosses at Philadelphia’s Teen Records thought that a sanitized and more rocking version of “Hound Dog” could be a big hit, and they hired Las Vegas lounge act Freddie Bell and the Bellboys to rework the song. Bell removed the more obliquely sexual lyrics that referred to a human hound dog, and replaced them with lines that literally refer to a hound dog with a poor track record of hunting rabbits. Leiber didn’t care for the lyrical changes, saying that the song now made “no sense”. The Bellboys’ big band rock version was a local hit in Philadelphia in 1955, but didn’t make much of a buzz in the rest of the country.

In the spring of 1956, Elvis Presley was booked to play the Venus Room at Las Vegas’ New Frontier Hotel and Casino. At the time the Bellhops were the hottest act in town, and Presley and his band checked out their show and decided that “Hound Dog” would be a great addition to their repertoire. Presley’s “Hound Dog” was an instant hit, bringing Leiber and Stoller plenty of royalties. Bell attempted to sue the two composers for a share of the royalties because he had changed the lyrics, but there was one little problem; because Bell never asked permission from Leiber and Stoller to make those changes, it was ruled that he was not entitled to royalties.

Unfortunately, we already made the Hound Dog way back in June, so we’ll have to make a drink named after another Leiber and Stoller composition. “Love Potion #9″ was originally performed by The Clovers in 1959 and has been covered by many bands. Unsurprisingly, there is a cocktail called Love Potion #9 and thankfully unlike the potion in the song, it does not smell like turpentine or look like India ink. Instead, it’s a sweet pink alcoholic milkshake.

Love Potion #9

  • 1 ounce Vodka
  • 1/2 ounce White Creme de Cacao
  • 1/2 cup cut strawberries
  • 1 scoop vanilla ice cream
  • 1/2 cup ice

Pour all ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. Pour into a chilled tulip glass and garnish with a strawberry.

Tomorrow: A man who shaped America’s urban landscape.

April 24: William Castle

William CastleToday we celebrate the 1914 birth of the P. T. Barnum of motion pictures. If Alfred Hitchcock was the Master of Suspense, than director-producer-screenwriter William Castle was his B movie equivalent. While nowhere near as talented as Hitchcock, Castle made up for it in gimmickery.

Castle enhanced his low budget horror thrillers through the use of in theater gimmicks. Castle was lucky enough to make movies in the days before the multiplex; a movie theater would only show one movie and typically that theater would be the only one in town showing that film. So, Castle took advantage of this situation and was able to install gimmicks in the big city theaters that were showing his flicks. He financed his first film, Macabre, by mortgaging his house and then presented every filmgoer with a $1,000 life insurance policy from Lloyd’s of London in the event that they should die while watching the film. Additionally, he had nurses on hand and placed hearses outside of the theater to drum up publicity. The film was a hit, and several other gimmicks followed:

  • 1959’s House on Haunted Hill was allegedly filmed in “Emergo“, which meant that during the film’s climax, a plastic, glow in the dark skeleton floated over the audience’s head.
  • For 1959’s The Tingler, which was filmed in “Percepto“, Castle rigged seats in the theater with buzzers to give audience members a tingling sensation.
  • 1961’s Mr. Sardonicus featured a “punishment pole”. Towards the end of the film, Castle appeared onscreen and asked the audience to use the glow in the dark ballots they had been given upon admission to vote on whether or not the film’s villain should receive mercy. It’s said that no audience voted for mercy, precisely because Castle only filmed the “no mercy” ending.

Of course Castle’s gimmick masterpiece was for the movie Homicidal, released in 1961. Towards the end of the movie, the movie’s heroine made her way to a house in which a sadistic killer is lying in wait. At that moment a clock appeared on screen as a 45-second “fright break” during which patrons could leave the theater and receive a full refund. Unfortunately for Castle, several patrons who weren’t particularly keen on the film decided to get their money back. Other patrons simply sat through a second showing of the film and then got their money back.

This did not sit well with Castle, so he went over the top with the film’s gimmick: Now, if you wanted to get your money back, you had to walk down an aisle marked by yellow footprints to go to a yellow booth marked “Coward’s Corner”. All the while, a recording played saying “Watch the chicken! Watch him shiver in ‘Coward’s Corner’!” At Coward’s Corner, a nurse would administer a blood pressure test before the “cowardly” patron could sign a yellow card that simply read “I am a bona fide coward.” It was only then that a theater goer could get his money back. Unsurprisingly, from that moment on it seemed everyone who saw Homicidal thought that was far too much effort to get their money back.

So, let’s toast the King of Gimmicks with an appropriately spooky cocktail. The cocktail called Liquified Ghost sounds like it could be the name of a Castle gimmick, so it’s only appropriate that we drink this cocktail that’s kind of like a homemade (alcoholic) cream soda.

Liquified Ghost

  • 2 ounces Vodka
  • 1 ounce vanilla simple syrup
  • 1 ounce cream
  • 2 ounces soda water

Shake all ingredients together with ice and then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Tomorrow: One of rock and roll’s first great songwriters.

April 23: William Shakespeare?

ShakespeareWilliam Shakespeare, a playwright and actor who in the centuries after his death gained a reputation as perhaps the greatest writer and dramatist of all time might have been born on this day in 1564. Undoubtedly there will be eventful celebrations and excitement in his birthplace of Stratford-upon-Avon.

I say “might” because Shakespeare’s actual birthday is unknown. We know he was baptized on April 26, 1564, and in the Elizabethan era baptism typically happened two or three days after the child’s birth leading some to suspect that he might have been born on April 23. Additionally, it is known that he died on April 23, 1616, so there is a certain poetry to the idea of Shakespeare entering and exiting the world on the same day. Thus, April 23 has become the traditional date for celebrating Shakespeare’s birth. Although, I’m sure there are pedants who would disagree with that.

Now there has been gossip and distasteful speculation amongst some critics that Shakespeare did not actually write the plays he is credited with composing. However, we shall not cater to these obscene improbable fictions that oft rely upon baseless speculation or at best circumstantial evidence.

How great was Shakespeare’s impact upon the English language? Well, he coined somewhere between a couple hundred and a couple thousand new-fangled words and phrases that are now common vernacular. Seriously, nearly every time we speak we are Shakespeare’s mimic. It’s simply unreal to think that we’d be tongue-tied without the words this one man either invented or made fashionable. Don’t believe me? Well, every italicized word or phrase in this post first appeared in one of Shakespeare’s poems or plays.

Let’s celebrate Shakespeare’s priceless contribution to the English language with a cocktail inspired by one of his plays. Viola’s Disguise was created by Cate Gibbs, a part-time bartender at Ashland, Oregon’s Winchester Inn in 2010 as part of a competition to create a Shakespearean cocktail to celebrate the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s 75th anniversary. The Twelfth Night inspired Viola’s Disguise is a satisfying drink uses grapefruit juice and Cointreau to, in Gibbs’ words, “disguise” the vodka.

Viola’s Disguise

  • 2 ounces Vodka
  • 1 ounce Cointreau
  • 2 ounces ruby red grapefruit juice
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime slice and cherry on a pick.

Tomorrow: Cinema’s greatest showman.

April 22: Earth Day

EarthIt’s Earth Day! This annual ecological holiday started in 1970, although its roots go back a year earlier. At a 1969 UNESCO Conference held in San Francisco, peace activist John McConnell proposed a day to promote peace and good stewardship of the Earth. The idea was well received, and McConnell and United Nations Secretary General U Thant signed a proclamation declaring March 21, 1970 Earth Day.

So, why is Earth Day celebrated on April 22? Well, it all started with United States Senator Gaylord Nelson, who organized an environmental teach-in on April 22, 1970 as a tie-in to Earth Day. The way Nelson saw it, it was a perfect day for such an event. It didn’t conflict with any religious holidays and it was a late spring day that would most likely not have terrible weather.

There was just one small problem with April 22, 1970. That was also the 100th anniversary of Vladmir Lenin’s birth. Time Magazine quoted a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution who claimed that Earth Day was clearly a Communist plot and that “subversive elements plan to make American children live in an environment that is good for them.” Despite all that, Earth Day went off without a hitch and continues to be marked to this day.

This Earth Day, enjoy a cocktail called Blue Planet. It’s a refreshing blue cocktail that features vodka and rum. Just don’t use Russian vodka or Cuban rum if you want to keep the Communist elements at bay.

Blue Planet

  • 1 ounce Vodka
  • 1 ounce Rum
  • 1 ounce Blue Curacao
  • Lemonade

Pour the vodka and rum into an ice filled highball glass. Fill almost to the top with lemonade and then add the blue curacao.

Tomorrow: The Bard