When Trina first asked me to write this article, I told her that I wanted to include some shots, because people in Miami go out to bars and clubs for New Year’s Eve (and any other possible celebration). It’s a cultural thing. Shots are the best drinks to order in these crowded places, because they’re easy to make. Your bartender will be in the weeds the whole night, so you probably don’t want to order a round of mojitos for yourself and ten different friends.
But Trina reminded me that Miami Dish readers are different. We are the foodies of Miami, and we like to stay home and make our own stuff. We like to mix our own drinks, cook our own food and choose our own wine. Why? Because we like things to be better, perfect if possible. And that got me thinking. Shouldn’t there be a Miami for the Miami Dish readers? Don’t we live in a city that can do that for us?
So here’s my early New Year’s resolution: Make a better Miami. We have everything that a city needs to be great-the people, the culture, the space, the weather, the resources. And if people like shots here, then we should make good shots. If we can’t find them when we go out, then we’ll make them at home and spread the word one person at a time.
I like to think of shots as being the espresso version of mixed drinks-they are essentially smaller, more succinct drinks. When I make a shot, I take my time with it. A shot may never take long to drink, but there’s no law that mandates a down-the-hatch approach. This is one category of drink that needs to be reevaluated, so I’m going to recommend two shots for your New Year’s Eve celebrations, one classic and one new. Try them if you can, and more importantly, try to appreciate the fact that however small, they are well-made cocktails.
I also have recommendations for wine, beer and mixed drinks, because as good they may be, you really don’t want to drink shots all night.
Every time the Earth makes another successful trip around the sun, we celebrate with champagne. It just feels right-popping the cork, watching the bubbles rise, clinking the glasses. But there are other options when it comes to sparkling wine. In our unemployed and underemployed era, much has been made about the value of Italian Prosecco and Spanish Cava, and while a good bottle can be had for a great price, I’ve been increasingly tempted to reach for French Cremant.
In France, any region outside of Champagne that produces sparkling wine uses the term “Cremant” followed by the regional designation. Cremant de Bourgogne, sparkling wine from Burgundy, can be pretty good, but when I want something really special, I look for a Cremant d’Alsace.
Alsace is a region in northeastern France known for their first-class white wines-Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris and Riesling in particular–but this region has also been quietly making some of the world’s best sparkling wines. They use the same traditional method of production as Champagne, but they favor Pinot Blanc as their primary grape, whereas the Champenoise use Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
The soil in Alsace is also very different. In Champagne, it’s mostly chalk leftover from an ancient sea floor, but Alsace lies on a geological fault that has churned the earth over the millennia. The resulting soils are diverse, and I think that’s what gives their sparkling wines a particular eccentricity, an exotic appeal that reminds me of tropical fruit.
My favorite producer is Jean Albrecht. This winery makes a white and a rosé cremant. Both are excellent and a bargain at $19.99 each. I shared them with some friends recently, not without some trepidation. Whenever you pull out a bottle of sparkling wine and start to explain that it’s not true champagne, you might be rewarded with smirks and boos. Demands for Mo and Cris get old fast, especially when price is a consideration. I love champagne and rap, but I find it strange that MC’s have become the definitive beverage critics of our time.
But my friends liked the Jean Albrecht–a lot. So much that I probably needed another bottle, but that’s always how it goes with a good sparkling wine.
Try to pick up one of the great seasonal beers before they’re gone. I tried as many of the 2009 American Holiday ales as I possibly could, and the winner for me was the Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale. And it came as no surprise, because Sierra Nevada has been killing it for years now.
Their Celebration Ale is nearly flawless. The color is a perfect holiday red, the body is just full enough to be rich and the hops are generous but not overstated. For a big beer, this is easy to drink–a masterpiece of brewing.
That being said, it may still be too heavy and bitter for the casual beer drinker, so consider having a pilsner option. American craft brewers have defined themselves with the hoppy ale category, but some breweries are producing world-class pilsners. I recommend the Stoudt’s Pils out of Adamstown, Pennsylvania. It’s a light, crisp pilsner with just enough hops to give it depth and character, much better than most of the crappy and popular cereal water so often passed off as pilsner in this country.
I’m going with something non-traditional here, but I want a sake and pomegranate cocktail to close out my year. It’s called the Hoa Sua, which is the Vietnamese word for plumeria and also one of the most popular restaurants in Hanoi.
1½ oz pomegranate juice
1½ oz light rum
¾ oz sake
¼ oz simple syrup
1 dash Angostura bitters
Shake with ice, fine strain into a martini glass and garnish with a few pomegranate seeds or a pineapple wedge on the rim.
This drink was formulated by the cocktail master, Simon Difford, during his travels in Vietnam. He wanted to make a new drink, so he used ingredients that were locally available. The result is that rare bird-a new cocktail that is actually worth making more than once. In fact, I dare to call it a modern classic. I use a dash more simple syrup than he recommends, but you can use less.
I’m recommending this drink for two reasons. First, pomegranate juice has a holiday red color, it’s high post (New Year’s Eve is the high post holiday) and it tastes good. Second, both sake and sake-based cocktails are on the rise this side of the Pacific. Americans have gone all-in with sushi, and it’s time for us to do the same for sake. It can be used to make a good cocktail, but it’s tricky. Sake is delicate and requires a deft hand. Light rum and pomegranate juice do the trick, and the Angostura bitters add a touch of spice.
A total aside here-Trina asked me what “high post” means, and I realized that I didn’t know exactly. There is a verse by Hurricane Starang of the Originoo Gunn Clappaz (OGC) that goes, “This is the Boot Camp Show, I’m your host/ I love French toast and b*tches that’s high post.” I always liked that line, probably more for the non sequitir French toast reference, but I suppose in that context “high post” means “fancy” or “posh”.
But back to the drink-I’ve found that the less expensive futsu-shu sakes (the sake equivalent to table wine) often work in mixed drinks. The more expensive junmai and gingo sakes are so elegant they can get lost in a cocktail, so I used to reach for a mini bottle of Gekkeikan or Sho Chiku Bai. However, I have had some success recently using a few higher grades, like the Hiko’s Special Junmai, so don’t be afraid to experiment. Just try to pick a sake that is bold enough to show itself in a mixed drink.
The first shot I want to recommend is a classic, one you can request in a bar. It’s the Kamikaze, and while most everyone has heard of it, not everyone agrees how it should be made. The debate is whether vodka or tequila should be used as the base. When I first learned how to make this drink, I was taught that it is made with tequila and is essentially a miniature margarita. I still prefer it that way, but the vodka version seems to be the formula people have been following lately. Either way, it is one of the all-time classic shots.
1 oz tequila or vodka
½ oz Cointreau or triple sec
½ oz freshly squeezed lime juice
1 dash simple syrup (in this case about 1/8 oz)
Shake with ice and strain into a shot glass. You can substitute Rose’s Lime Cordial for the lime juice. This will make a sweeter shot. You might not have a choice, because some bars and clubs won’t squeeze a lime wedge for you.
The second shot is new, but it deserves to be a classic and certainly merits a place at any New Year’s Eve party. It’s called the Bling! Bling!, and as ridiculous as it may sound, it does live up to the hype.
½ oz vodka
½ oz freshly squeezed lime juice
½ oz simple syrup
Muddle raspberries in shaker, shake with ice and strain into a shot glass. Top with champagne or sparkling wine.
This is a shot you can make at home. I know that we like to read about mixologists doing creative things all over the country, but the reality is that 99.99% of all bartenders will never touch a fresh raspberry in their entire career. You can also top it with your Jean Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace and really show your friends that you’re in the know.
Both of these recipes make large single shots, so I would probably divide them into two or three smaller shots at a party, especially the Bling! Bling!. The Kamikaze is also surprisingly dry, so you can add even more simple syrup or triple sec to sweeten it up.
Regardless of what you drink to close out the year, be sure to enjoy it. The past year was a challenge, and we’re not out of the woods yet. But some of America’s greatest drinks come from our toughest times, because pressure makes us more creative. Take the time to appreciate every sip, even if it’s a small one from a very tiny shot.