Hemingway, Cognac and Benedectine

Cognac and Benedictine, Hemingway

Ever on the hunt for interesting cocktails and the stories that go along with them, I recently picked up the book, To Have and Have Another: A Hemingway Cocktail Companion, by Philip Greene. It certainly helps to know some Hemingway if you want to get the most out of this cocktail book, but anyone with an interest in the drinking culture of the 1930’s-1950’s will find at least a few good stories and recipes as well.

The book is organized by drink – with a recipe for each, and how the drink fits into the Hemingway¬†oeuvre (or his life beyond the pages of his books). There are entries for the Daiquiri (of course), the Cuba Libre, the Americano… but also more unusual drinks (at least to modern tipplers) like the Gambler’s Delight and the El Definitivo. And there are a number of super simple concoctions like gin and coconut water, or Scotch and lime juice, or Armagnac and soda. Which brings us to… the Cognac and Benedictine.

This drink is a 1 to 1 blend of Cognac and Benedectine, an herb and spice-laden liqueur from France that began production in the 1860’s but traces its roots back to the 1500’s. ¬†The story goes (and don’t ever fully believe any story about spirits like Benedictine) that this liqueur was originally imbibed by the monks of¬†the Benedictine Abbey of F√©camp in Normandy in the early 1500’s. After the production ceased for a few hundred years, a fellow by the name of Alexandre Le Grand revived the recipe (or at least created the backstory).

By the 1930’s, one of the popular uses for Benedictine was in a Benedictine and brandy (B&B), and the company behind it came out with their own bottled version of B&B (you can still get that today, but buying the pure Benedictine is the way to go, so you can use it in cocktails like the Vieux Carre or the Singapore Sling). Now, Cognac is a specific type of brandy, so the Cognac and Benedictine is basically a (better) B&B.¬†Made with a good Cognac, this is a lovely drink, a touch syrupy, but full of intrigue from the herbs and spices in the liqueur.

Hemingway, to have and have anotherSo what does this have to do with Hemingway? Turns out, young Ernest wrote a bunch of short stories upon his return home to the States after serving in the ambulance corps in Italy during World War I. One of these stories was set in a dive bar in Chicago, and prominently features the Cognac and Benedictine amidst tales of wartime in Sicily and the wishes of the Royal Republican Chilean Army. Intrigued? Try it yourself. Ernest would be happy to know it was because of him.

Recipe: Cognac & Benedictine 

Mix equal parts Cognac and Benedictine in an Old Fashioned glass over ice, stir and garnish with a lemon peel. Enjoy.



Tasting: Two Top Southern Bloody Mary Mixes

To some, a Sunday brunch is not a Sunday brunch without a Bloody Mary. Its recuperative properties have long been debated, but there is no disputing the fact this is the most lycopene-packing cocktail around. Holla! Tomato juice is the foundation for the drink, and of course a wee bit of vodka, but the fun comes in what else makes its way into the mix. Horseradish, lemon or lime juice, Worcestershire sauce, salt and black pepper are almost always present. Tabasco, beef¬†bouillon, celery salt and cayenne are not far behind. Then there are the garnishes – olives, celery stalks, pickled okra, pickled carrots, lemon or lime… I’ve even seen shrimp and lobster somehow climb their way atop a glass.

My favorite Bloody Mary recipe¬†comes from Greg Best and Andy Minchow at Holeman & Finch here in Atlanta. It pulls together your typical ingredients, plus a golden beet, some fennel, some¬†Guinness¬†and sriracha. And its made-from-scratch character shines through tremendously well. Serve it up when you have friends over and you will be handing out the recipe left and right. And, really, if you’re entertaining, why not pull out all the stops and make your Bloody Mary mix from scratch? There is something to be said for the bright flavors that fresh squeezed citrus juice and freshly grated horseradish bring to the drink.

As for bottled Bloody Mary mixes… there are a million out there. The best-selling Mr. & Mrs. T is not too bad in a pinch, and it seems most regions have their own local favorites. Today’s post focuses on two artisan mixes from the South – one from Charleston Mix in, duh, Charleston, South Carolina, and one from Atlanta’s H&F Bottle Shop (the same folks who created the recipe above, but it must be noted that the bottled version is an entirely different concoction). The Charleston Mix comes with the endorsement of Sean Brock and Garden & Gun Magazine (who am I to argue with that??). The mixologists at H&F have been lauded left and right, and for good reason – they know cocktails like crazy (Google Greg Best or Andy Minchow, go ahead, I dare you). Enough with the accolades though… how do they taste?

It’s evident right away that these two products are very different beasts. The Charleston Mix Bold & Spicy lives up to its name. It’s fairly thin, a rusty red color flecked with plentiful spice. The ingredient list is lengthy, starting with water and tomato paste, plunging into apple cider vinegar and lemon juice, veering off to roasted vegetable base, beef base, habanero mash, and a vast conspiracy of herbs and spices. Once you taste it, black pepper, celery seed, and a lemony twang jump to the forefront, but there is A LOT going on here. Behind the heat and acidity, a dark brown sugar mellowness adds depth. It goes down quick, and you’ll be ready for a second one in no time.

The H&F Bloody Mary Mix is bright tomato red, thick like a puree, almost like a marinara in texture.¬†As for the ingredients, the list is short – nine items – but includes one novelty in Cream Sherry to provide a bit of sweetness and punch. The first item? Tomato. As in, NOT tomato juice. And you can see it in the thickness of the product. ¬†The flavors veer much more towards fresh tomato sweetness and vegetable notes. The spice and the zing are a bit more in the background here – it’s clear they’re not trying to blow out your taste buds with heat, but horseradish makes its presence known. H&F notes on the bottle that their mix is a base for exploration, encouraging folks to add Worcestershire or hot sauce. For my taste buds at least, some added heat is a mandatory to get the kind of kick-in-the-pants I expect from a Bloody Mary. That’s not a knock against H&F’s mix, just a recognition that their mix is more about balance and less about the spice. And it drinks almost like a meal.

So is there a victor between these two? Personally, I appreciate the powerful spice profile of the Charleston Mix – that’s what I’m looking for in a Bloody Mary mix. H&F gives you more room to play doctor with your drink, and a more “homemade” feel, so for those who like to add a dash of this and a squirt of that (or for a more timid crowd who can’t take heavy heat), it is probably the better option. Either way, you’re in good hands, and will be off to a great start to your day with your Bloody Mary in hand.

H&F Bloody Mary Mix is available at the H&F Bottle Shop in Atlanta, $8 for 32oz.

Charleston Mix is available on their website or in select stores in South Carolina, including Whole Foods, $10 for 32oz.

Related: for another Charleston artisan of cocktail mixers, check out our review of Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. Small Batch Tonic.

Full Disclosure: Charleston Mix provided a tasting sample for this review.


A Cocktail of Sorts: Sippin on Gin ‘n Jews

“Gin ‘n Jews.” This is a cocktail that is about as Southern as Santa Claus. It comes from a French Canadian cookbook from a couple guys in Montreal who have a thing for the food and wine of Burgundy… it’s a riff on the drink made popular by a prominent West Coast rapper… it features one ingredient closely linked to the Dutch and the British… and, most surprisingly, it features another ingredient known for its place on the table for the Jewish holiday of Passover. Whoever decided to bring Manischewitz into modern cocktail culture was either a genius, or a madman. Or maybe both. It deserves a place behind the bar at any fine cocktail establishment. (OK. I lie.)

Anyway, as you can see from the photo above, the recipe calls for gin, Manishewitz, lemon juice, and an egg white. Mix it up. Shake till frothy. Bang. Gin ‘n Jews.

I do admit to digging on some Manischewitz once a year or so, but even still, my expectations were not high. It’s a gimmick drink, for sure, but it turned out surprisingly well. The gin notes manage to bust through the juicy concord grape wine, and the freshly squeezed lemon juice brings a nice sharpness to it as well. Smooth, balanced, interesting. Even still, I felt it was missing something. I threw in a splash of Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur, which did the trick. Maraschino and Manischewitz? A match made in the holy land. Who knew?

For the recipe, buy the book!¬†The Joe Beef “Cookbook of Sorts” is an awesome collection of stories, recipes, and guides to things like the top Canadian train itineraries. Seriously. And it also features the “Sausage Martini” with a Vienna sausage garnish, “The Raw Beef” cocktail which does indeed include raw beef, and a guide to making your own absinthe. We’re all in deep trouble if this gets into the wrong hands…

What To Do With All That Extra Bourbon!???

If you’re reading Thirsty South, you’re probably thinking, “WHAT extra bourbon?,” as there is no such thing as too much bourbon in our book. Nevertheless, finding alternate applications for this superb spirit is sometimes as much fun as just sitting down for a sip of it. When we saw a recipe for Bourbon Butter Pecan Gelato over on Imbibe.com, we knew we had to give it a shot. And the results were fabulous, an ice cream (I wouldn’t call it gelato) that weaves together the warmth of bourbon, the nutty crunch of pecans, and the, well, butteriness of butter into one sinfully sweet treat.¬†We followed the recipe pretty much as is, but had to top it off with an extra drizzle of Evan Williams Single Barrel bourbon as well. You can never have too much bourbon, you know.


A White Elephant at The Gin Joint, Charleston

There was one primary cocktail destination (OK, and a few secondary destinations as well) on our recent visit to Charleston – The Gin Joint – and the experience did not disappoint. Their cocktail menu is creative, diverse and expansive. The feel is that of a comfortable, modern take on the speakeasy. The service is knowledgable and friendly. And the drinks are perfectly executed.

A local friend had recommended one particular cocktail that The Gin Joint is known for – their “White Elephant.” There’s no relation here to the White Elephant that features vodka and creme de cacao; owner/bartender Joe Raya informed us that this one is a twist on the classic Hemingway¬†daiquiri¬†which had its origins in 1930’s era Havana at one of Hemingway’s haunts, the El Floridita Bar. The twist in The Gin Joint’s drink is that it replaces white rum with a tequila blanco, and the name comes from Hemingway’s book titled “Hills Like White Elephants.” That book is set in Spain, but it’s the Mexican tequila that sets this drink apart – our version included Espolon Tequila Blanco, which lends an earthiness to the drink that balances the sweet citrus incredibly well. The other key ingredient is Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur – accept no substitutes!

Here you go, The Gin Joint’s recipe for a White Elephant, followed by some photos to give you a feel for this great little bar in Charleston, South Carolina.

The White Elephant
1.5 oz tequila blanco, such as Espolon
3/4 oz fresh lime juice
3/4 oz simple syrup
1/2 oz fresh grapefruit juice
1/4 oz Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur

Shake all ingredients well over crushed ice, strain into a chilled glass. Garnish with a Luxardo Maraschino cherry if desired.