Ginger Brown Sugar Simple Syrup

Ginger Brown Sugar Simple Syrup

You can go to a store and buy simple syrup. I won’t complain. You can even go buy some fancy stuff that’s more than just the basic model.

But…. if you want to save a stupid amount of money and make something really tasty in less time than it takes to boil water, keep reading.

This is the part where I write stuff that’s happy and homey to convince you that I know how to put on an apron or mix a drink. Consider my job done and we’ll move on. I like to drink our house ‘panty dropper’ on occasion, and I’m just not going to buy simple syrup to make it. Here’s how you, too, can do it for yourself.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup brown (or light brown) sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 thumbs worth of fresh ginger
Ginger Brown Sugar Simple Syrup
Ginger Brown Sugar Simple Syrup

Put the sugar and the water in a small sauce pan on medium heat and stir just a little bit.

Peel the ginger and chop it into long, thin slivers, like fat matchsticks. Or however you want. Thin slices lets the good stuff out of the ginger, and longer slices means its easier to keep tabs on the things floating around.

Toss the ginger into a glass jar (I have a stash of Mason jars and pasta and peanut butter jars for these kinds of things).

Bring the water and sugar to heat but not to a boil. It doesn’t have to get super hot. Just enough to dissolve the sugar. Seriously, this should take like 5 minutes and you’re done.

This is HOT still, so let it cool a little, then pour it into the jar with the ginger. Let that cool to the point you can touch it before putting the lid on and putting it in the fridge. Leave it over night for best results so the ginger and the sugar can get all romantic.

I usually leave the ginger in there for the duration of use because it taste better every day. And I also use the ginger for a second round of simple syrup if it’s still fresh enough.

Yes, you can get super creative here and add black peppercorns, orange peel, cranberries, or anything that sounds fun. I love ginger and brown sugar for the drinks I mix. Go wild and have fun!

Doc’s Hard Sour Cherry Cider

Doc's Hard Sour Cherry Cider
Doc's Hard Sour Cherry Cider
Doc’s Hard Sour Cherry Cider

Hands up if you like cider? It’s kind of the gateway drug to beer. Sometimes it’s super sweet. Sometimes it’s too chemically sharp. There’s a spectrum from Woodchuck on one side to Cidre Bouché on the other.

We were at The Top last night and were pointed at this deliciousness – Doc’s Hard Sour Cherry Cider. It’s on draft and made by Warwick Valley Winery, which also makes gin and wine. The cider is gluten free, which is totally hipster. It’s made in New York state – ‘Murica!

Anyhow, we had already ordered our drinks and one of the bartenders that know I like cider had us try this, so we ended up double-fisting our drinks and this cider. Better yet, when we came back for brunch today, what else could you want?

It’s nicely sour, with a soft punch of cherry, supported by a dry apple cider. The cider pours a deep red brown color, and has a slightly sweet hint at the back of your tongue.

Try it, dude.

Doc’s Hard Sour Cherry Cider
Found at The Top
$5 / 12 oz pour

[Girl21]

Smack That Basil!

Gin + Basil + Lemonade

Basil Gin Limeade drink

I’m not going to lie. I’m not a huge gin fan. Don’t throw something at me!

But I feel obligated to expand my horizons. I keep my eyes out for cool new flavor combinations. So hey – gin, lemonade, and basil. Why not?

My baby basil plants I started from seed were just big enough to produce decent leaves. As a fanfare to start the fresh basil season, I wanted to celebrate. Coinkydink? I think not. (That’s weird to see that word written down.)

Keeping it basic (seriously, some of these drinks recipes want you to steam or simmer the leaves beforehand), I settled for one part gin and three parts limeade over ice and basil leaves. Instead of muddling the leaves (green chunks in your teeth!), I opted to smack the three large basil leaves between my hands a few times to bruise them. Bonus is that my hands smelled good afterwards.

The Man did something similar with more gin, because he loves gin. Our gin of the night was Bombay Sapphire, something we readily have on hand. Again, The Man likes gin. And our limeade is generally Simply brand. No need for simple syrup or extra steps tonight. It’s Sunday and who needs that?

I think next round I’ll try more gin too because the flavor combination is quite nice. Citrus tends to highlight the best side of gin. And fresh basil will make almost anything taste awesome.

Repeat:
Old fashioned glass
Medium ice
3 large basil leaves, smacked like they asked for it
2 fingers of gin
Top off with limeade (or lemonade)

Great for a rainy Sunday evening.

[Girl21]

S.Pellegrino In My Mouth

Pellegrino, Blood Orange

This is what’s in my mouth right now. No, really. Right now. This is what I’m drinking these days because it’s tasty.

Sanpellegrino blood orange is my momentary addiction, and it goes fabulously with vodka, which is boss. I’m not going to go all poetic. Not this time. Just try it.

[Irrelevant note – I’m drinking Rain right now, but I’ve been falling madly in love with Reyka vodka.]

It’s great to have a six pack around. Drink it plain. Mix it with a decent liquor. I like vodka, but it would hold its own against a little gin even. I like spiced rum with a citrus mixer, too.

S. Pellegrino has been a snooty mineral water for a very long time. No, a looooong time. The town of San Pellegrino has been marketing the water for over 600 years. Leonardo da Vinci himself went to the town to check out the water.

In 1997, S. Pellegrino was bought out by Nestlé, which proceeded to market the water in a broader variety and packaging. Thus bringing us these fun cans of different tasty flavored Pellegrino. (The lemon is quite tasty, too!)

[Girl21]

Shiner Ruby Redbird

Shiner Ruby Redbird

Shiner Ruby Redbird

I was trying to get into the mood to write this while drinking one of these, but the darn thing just sploodged foam all over. Something about that first sip gets some beer so excited that is just foams up and starts erupting all over your hand. Awkward!

You have to be living under a rock or in a third world country to not at least recognize the Shiner Bock name, since the Spoetzl brewery in Texas has been making that since 1913 (minus a few years for Prohibition, I assume). It always makes me think of my dad for some reason, but I guess if they’re bringing Old Spice back, they can bring some of these older breweries.

But Ruby Redbird? Hm. I’m willing try any beer once, but I’ve had a few barf-tastic experiences with these mixed concoctions. Grapefruit juice and ginger? I would not have asked for one of these unless a trusted bartender hadn’t waggled her eyebrows at me a told me I would like it.

I did like it, and in turn passed along the joy to a few friends and my whole wine-loving book club. And The Man even.

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t a BEER. Not a real beer. But it’s pretty dang good for a flavored beer. On a hot Florida summer’s day, you’re going to want one of these instead of a fancy flavorful IPA or stout. It’s like a gateway beer for your friends who drink Bud Light.

So, flavor? No it doesn’t taste like a public restroom air freshener like some of these citrus beers do. It’s got some bready, malty beer flavor at the base, and round, ruby red grapefruit at the top. And just popping in the middle are hints of candied ginger. Nothing crazy. Nothing to get the hardcore beer fanatics all up in arms. A nice light, crisp beer that at 4% ABV, is not going to get you running around the pool twirling your bathing suit over your head.

[I originally had this at Loosey’s in a can, but have found it both canned and bottled at a lot of grocery stores and liquor stores.]

Shiner Ruby Redbird
6-pack cans or bottles
Shiner.com

Snakebite

Snakebite, Loosey's Pub

Brass monkey! That funky monkey!

If you remember when that song came out, you’re my kind of people. (Beastie Boys, License to Ill, 1986.) I only bring that up because I was looking up the history of one of my favorite drinks, and this fun little fact was flung at me like an unwelcomed booger.

A Brass Monkey is a shandy, which is a drink that mixes beer with some kind of soda or juice, depending on where you are and where your bartender is from. A Brass Monkey is a mix of orange juice and beer. And the version the Beastie Boys were familiar with was where a hard-partying rock and roll youth would drink off the first 1/4 of a 40 of malt liquor or beer, and top off the can or bottle with OJ.

No, that’s not my favorite drink at all. I feel like I just threw up thinking about that. I like a Snakebite, which is a specific type of shandy. It’s a combination of half beer and half cider. Many bartenders will just mix the two willy nilly and hand it over like a dead rat in a glass. But the classy folks will pour the cider first, then float the beer on top. I generally see this done well with a nice dry cider like Strongbow paired with a dark beer like Guinness for the maximum effect and flavor.

At Loosey’s (pictured), you get Donnybrook instead of Guinness, which goes much nicer with the cider because it lacks that slightly burnt after flavor. But I may have to try the version a friend was drooling over which was raspberry cider with Choklat Stout by Southern Tier. Probably best for dessert.

But watch out. Lore states that Snakebites get you drunk faster than the individual drinks that make them. I haven’t seen any supporting evidence, but there’s a long argument at several sites about this. I can only guess the reason for the myth is that originally a Snakebite had a shot of vodka in it in some regions. Which of course would sneak up on you and bite you in the ass.

[Girl21]

Organic Cherry Ale, Samuel Smith

It’s all about expectations. This is why relationships fail. And why blind dates end in disaster. Reality mixes with your expectations, setting off an interesting chemical reaction.

Sam Smith Brewery has been making beer in the U.K. since the mid-1700s. Unless you are complete heathen who only drinks Bud Light or whatever is on special at your local gas station, you probably have seen (and maybe tried) something by Sam Smith’s brewery. You probably don’t know that (with one exception) all of Sam Smith’s brews are vegan.

Sam Smith brews tend to be reliably drinkable and traditionally made (yes, you can taste this). We picked up the Organic Cherry Ale at our last trip to the Wall of Beer at Ward’s. I’m a cider fan, but a fruit beer will also do. The Man is very patient with me on this. He likes IPAs and high ABV Belgian beers that are like getting hit in the mouth by a sack full of flavors. He doesn’t take my more timid approach to beers well.

Anyhow, I was tempted first onto the beer path through Lindeman’s lambic beer, often flavored with fruit. I challenge anyone who dislikes beer to have some of this and say it even tastes like beer. There’s nothing beer about it. Lambic beer is a seasonal beer that is very mild because it is spontaneously fermented, and the ingredients are selected to have very subtle flavors.

Not so for any of the Sam Smith brews. I went into this cherry ale thinking of the delicate Lindeman’s kriek (cherry) lambic, which it is not. Lindeman’s is a fair and cultured lady, where Smith’s is her country cousin that wears boots and mucks out the barn. Not that it is bad. It’s loud with sweet and sour cherry flavors, a bold ale body underneath, and a flurry of bold bubbles.

My fault was the expectations I had. Once I adjusted my brain and started drinking it again, the cherry ale went down a bit better. It had a great big fragrance of cherry pie, but the taste of cherry wasn’t quite as strong. The earthier notes of the grains came through better after I got past the shock of the sweet cherry. In fact, as I drank it, it lost the sweetness of the cherries and was left with that super tart flavor which was refreshing.

The Man had a hard time with it because he was thinking of ale when he started drinking it, and he quickly got burnt out on the fruit flavors and the sweetness. The hoppiness came out after a while, which filled out the flavors of grains and fruit. But for him, it has been permanently consigned to the “baby, you finish that so I can drink my good beer” list.

Overall it wasn’t bad. Samuel Smith consistently produces good beer. This is one of those things you can only drink one of. In fact, share it with a couple of people for an evening of beer tasting just for fun. Just be aware that if you invite this girl, she’ll still be wearing her boots from mucking out the barn. I’ll stick to the Lindeman’s lambic.

Samuel Smith
Organic Cherry Ale
1 Pint Bottle | 5.10% ABV
Price: $4.50-6.50

[Girl21]

Zywiec Porter: Polish Beer?

My dad loves to tell Polish jokes. He grew up in Chicago, and as a boy, had a job delivering a Polish-language newspaper in the Polish part of town. This was back in the day that if you went walking through the wrong neighborhood, you got the old stank eye from the old grandmas and the kids on the front steps. So of course being a German kid riding his bike through a Polish neighborhood, he had to duck a few insults, and probably a few rocks. I don’t fault his love of Polish jokes, but I do roll my eyes.

I say that because there’s only one reason I picked up a bottle of Polish beer while we were at the Great Wall of Beer at Ward’s the other day. It was Polish beer. My brain instantly bubbled up a dozen of my dad’s dumb jokes and I had to reach for the bottle. The Man’s mission is to make me like beer, so the minute I show interest in anything beer-related, he buys it. He caught me holding the bottle of Zywiec porter and it was instantly added to our cart.

At $3.99 for a 16.9 oz. bottle, it’s not inexpensive, but it’s also 9.5% ABV so you’re getting your money’s worth of WOO HOO! The Man opened this up to taste when his brother stopped by for a visit, and we split it three ways while I cooked dinner. I certainly felt the 9.5% ABV on an empty stomach, but ‘m also not a professional drinker.

Before you even take a sip, the smell of chocolate hits your nose. And your first mouthful gets you good with molasses, malt, caramel, and rich oaky earth flavors. It’s quite intense from beginning to end. A bit overly sweet and in your face. It leaves a full burnt caramel taste at the end that lingers a bit too long. It has a lovely bubbly mouth feel that seems oddly cheerful contrasted with the very bold and solid flavor profiles.

Not that this is a criticism or a surprise. It is a porter; a Baltic porter to be exact. Porter is named for the people that drank the stuff in the old days. The big fellows who did hard work all day and couldn’t afford a lot of good beer in the evening. They wanted something cheap and strong. The Baltic regions produce a higher ABV porter than their comrades in other regions. Many experts attribute these variations to the commercialization of production, and the supply of ingredients because of wars and regional growing issues.

Okay, that was boring, but I had a fun time reading all about top-cropping, Reinheitsgebot, and John Feltham’s Folly. Suffice it to say that porter tends to be flavorful and packed with alcohol. And Baltic porter is just a little bit more so.

And speaking about commercialization, Wyziec started producing beer in 1852 but is now owned partially (61%) by Heineken, so that’s probably a major reason you can even get it in the US. The label claims they have been using the same porter recipe since 1881. I’m voting for them to continue doing what they’re doing. It was tasty and I’m glad we tried it. It was absolutely on the sweet and powerful side of things. I doubt I could get through a full pint on my own, and The Man is of the opinion that a half-pour is the best way to get at this beer.

So cheers to Polish beer. As for my dad and his Polish jokes… In doing some research on our family history, I suspect that part of our family line comes from a region of Germany that was handed over to Poland after WWII because of that whole invasion faux pas. Technically I think we’re a little Polish now.

Zywiec Porter
9.5% ABV, Baltic Porter
16.9 ounce bottle | $3.99 at Ward’s

[Girl21]

Ba na NA ner NA Ner Na na … Tequila!

Milagro Silver Tequila

The thing about the Tequila song is that you can sing it after drinking tequila. It’s a beautiful marriage of practicality and fun. There’s only one word and you say it only three times. The rest is just instrumental, which can conveniently be ‘played’ using whatever is handy nearby for the dirty sax and percussion.

I can barely hear anyone mention tequila without hearing the sax start playing in my head. And everyone has a tequila story, so when drinking stories come up, tequila is mentioned. This is one reason I was in my thirties before I tried the stuff. Dread of acquiring a half-remembered tequila story of my own.

But yes, tequila entered my life eventually. Not the cheap stuff that makes you feel like Ron Jeremy the next day. The good stuff that costs enough to remind you to drink it slowly.

By now most people know real tequila comes from the actual region surrounding Tequila, an actual place in Mexico. And the tequila association will send coa-armed jimadores after you if you erroneously label your bottle tequila instead of mezcal. Oh and yes, we’ve all been updated that the worm was a marketing gimmick and nothing else.

Tequila is either 100% agave or ‘mixtos’, 51%+ agave and the rest made up of other sugars. There are generally five different categories of tequila based on how long its aged: blanco/silver aged less than 2 months, reposado/rested aged 2 months to 1 year in oak, añejo aged 1 to 3 years in oak, extra añejo aged more than 3 years in oak, and the oddball joven/young which is a mix of blanco and reposado. So just look for the agave content and the age length to determine what you’re actually buying in that strikingly trendy bottle.

That out of the way, let’s talk about Milagro. With over 900 brands of tequila to choose from, you could get arrested 50 times over before you try even half of them. And tequila is like all other liquors. There’s the good and the bad, which have nothing to do with price or fanciness of bottle. You’ve heard of Patron if you listen to hip-hop, and Jose Cuervo if you listen to country. Don’t get caught up in the marketing or you’ll be eating worms.

Of the easy-to-acquire, Milagro Silver is one of the nicer ones for price, taste, and quality. It’s 100% agave, and blanco, so it’s fairly young. There is the typical grassy and succulent agave fragrance at first, followed by citrus. It has a very wet mouth feel but a peppery flavor and an alcohol burn at the end, leaving a slight bitterness. For shots, it’s not bad, but makes an excellent mixer.

The night we emptied this bottle of Milagro, we were doing shots. It went surprisingly fast. Many of our guests felt fine the next day. No one committed a typical tequila blunder like urinating in a closet. It was remarkably tame. Almost spooky. I guess it could have been worse.

Milagro
Silver, 100% Agave
750 mL | 80 proof
$40-60 bottle

[Girl21]

Peroni Nastro Azzurro

Peroni Nastro Azzurro

“Una birra per favore,” says the lovely lady in my car stereo. “One beer please,” parrots her male counterpart.

With the death of CDs, practically the only thing in my car is an old set of ‘Learn Italian in Your Car‘ discs I got for Christmas ages ago. When I can’t get Pandora to play on my phone for some reason, I fall back on these CDs rather than abuse my ears with broadcast radio. I love listening to these CDs actually because the woman’s voice is so sweet and perky with just a hint of attitude. Plus Italian is a beautiful language.

The reason I bring this up is that we bought some Peroni lately to make macaroni and cheese, and I’ve been cooking with it ever since. Yes, some of the beer does make it into the food–I don’t drink all of it while I’m slaving away in the kitchen.

Peroni Nastro Azzurro is an Italian beer, a pale lager to be exact. This is not a fancy beer by any stretch of the imagination. It’s best described as ‘typical’ Italian birra. It’s light, bubbly, and best served cold. It has sweet malty and yeasty flavors, with a hint of white wine, and ends with a satisfactory bitterness that is just right. It’s not going to satisfy the real beer drinkers, but it’s not Michelob Ultra.

It’s a nice beer for cooking with because you’re not wasting a good beer by burying it under other flavors, and there’s just enough flavor from the Peroni coming through that you can taste the beeriness. Beside the obvious use in the cheese gravy for the mac-and-cheese, I’ve also been using it in pasta dishes since I’ve run out of my usual white wine and have thus far failed to put it on my shopping list (blast and damnation!). The acid from the tomatoes and citrus is highlighted by the mellow beer notes and that final slight bitterness.

I’ve been holding onto a beer bread recipe that calls for a pale beer, and I think this might be the time to try it out. I’ve always loved beer bread because of its interesting texture and ideal combination of beer and bread flavors. (I know, those are actually the same flavor generally, but it’s like the fascination with twins–a variation on what should be the same thing actually.) Can’t wait to see how it turns out.

In the mean time, I am waiting to get the point on my ‘Learn Italian‘ CDs when the cheerful, sassy lady tells me how to say “Ho mangiato la pasta così tanto che sto per esplodere!” That should be a handy phrase to know for when we head over to the big boot.

Peroni Birra, SABMiller
Peroni Nastro Azzurro
$6-9 6-pack

[Girl21]