After seven years of writing this column I have had my share of looming deadlines when I stared at a blank screen and sought inspiration for a topic that thus far had eluded me. Other times I run across so many items of interest that my head practically bursts with creativity. This column is one of the latter.
It started when I read that venerable beer brewer Pabst was entering the whiskey business. You read that correctly … the folks who make PBR, generally the least expensive beer at any bar, are planning to offer a whiskey this summer. According to the company’s filing with the Alcohol & Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, the 80 proof spirit will be comprised of 52 percent corn, 27 percent malted barley, 17 percent wheat, and 4 percent rye. Check their math, folks, to be sure that totals 100 percent.
I wonder if the stuff will be priced similarly to their beer? That’d be something like $12 a liter? I can’t help but jest, but I will be looking for PBR whiskey this summer and willingly give it a try. After all, the low-priced beer has been an American staple since 1844 when Gottlieb Pabst, a German immigrant who’d had the prescience to marry the daughter of a brewing company owner, established the brand in Milwaukee.
The Pabst name was enhanced by the addition of Blue Ribbon because the company supposedly won so many blue ribbons in beer brewing competitions. In fact, Gottlieb was so proud of the beer’s numerous awards that for many years, from 1892 until 1916, actual blue ribbons were tied around the neck of each bottle. Although this prideful display was costly, it was also marketing genius; folks bellied up to countless bars and asked for the “blue ribbon beer.”
Milwaukee was famous for brewing beer as early as 1840, and the city wasn’t even founded until 1846. For a time, that area on the banks of the Milwaukee River was truly “beer central” in the United States. Another favorite from the city is Schlitz – “the beer that made Milwaukee famous.” Inspired advertising was a hallmark of Schlitz, which also popularized the tagline “when you’re out of Schlitz you’re out of beer.” Today, Schlitz is owned by the same people who brew Pabst.
OK, I’m about beered out, but I’m still looking forward to the PBR whiskey. Hopefully we’ll have more news in a month or so. In the meantime, let’s switch to the always-popular topic of creating a new cocktail that will wow your friends at your next gathering. This one is a surefire hit.
Burnt Orange Anejo Sour
1 orange slice
¼ tsp. sugar
4 mint leaves
1 ½ oz. anejo tequila
1 oz. lime juice
1 oz. Cointreau
1 oz. sweet vermouth
1 oz. pasteurized egg whites
Blood orange soda
Place orange slice on a piece of foil and sprinkle with sugar. Using a kitchen torch (like for crème brulee) heat the sugar until dark golden with a few charred spots. Let cool.
In a cocktail shaker muddle the mint. Add tequila, lime juice, Cointreau, vermouth and egg whites. Shake vigorously until pressure builds and the mixture sounds less “sloshy” and looks frothy. Add ice, then shake until very cold.
Strain drink into a glass and top with a splash of blood orange soda. Float the burnt orange slice on top.
Yes, my friends, I know this seems complicated – but this delicious mashup of the tired old margarita and a whiskey sour is truly memorable. And the presentation is stunning. If you don’t have a crème brulee torch you can put the orange slices under a broiler – but watch them carefully. And be sure to splurge on anejo tequila, not the usual margarita standby. Anejo means aged. Typically this is done in oak barrels, for up to 3 years. The result is dramatically different from silver or gold tequila, with woodsy caramel flavors and a mellow character. You’ll want to sip a bit to prepare for all the orange broiling and drink shaking.
Now … about those egg whites. Don’t skip this key ingredient; the egg white is what gives the drink a viscous frothy texture as well as a beautiful cap of foam much like that on a perfectly-poured Guinness. Using egg whites in cocktails was a popular technique in the past, in such classics as the whiskey sour, Pink Lady and Ramos Gin Fizz. In fact, a bartender at Columbia, the famous Florida restaurant and home to what I’ve long considered to be the best margarita on the planet, confided to me that the judicious use of egg white gave their drink the extra body and froth that I adore.
Back in the day, bartenders used raw egg whites, which – due to health concerns – is the reason the practice fell from favor. These days one can buy pasteurized egg whites that eliminate that concern. And don’t worry – the whites add virtually no flavor to the drink – just froth. Remember to shake the ingredients with the egg white without ice initially (called a dry shake). Then add ice and shake to chill.
I still have inspiration left, but I’m out of space and I’m itching to fire up my culinary torch – so I’ll save my next round of inspiration for next time. In the mean time, drink up and enjoy!