Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Hampden Highball: A Cocktail That's Fittingly Spicy, Sassy and Smooth

When I decided a few weeks back that I was going to fashion a cocktail for each race of the Triple Crown, I knew that of the three, creating a drink worthy of the Preakness was going to be the most daunting task. I'd lived in Baltimore for nearly eleven years. I'd moved there right outta college, and in true poetic form (though not Poe's form) those days were the best of times and they were the worst of times. Since "Baltimore, The City That Reads," was a campaign that was just breaking when I parked my Uhaul at the corner of Cathedral and Center Streets, I'll continue with the literary allusions. What made those years the worst of times proved Tolstoy right: Bad relationships - whether with people, a job, even a town - are unique to each individual. Each person has their own gripe. But what made those years the best of times is something that is fairly universal: The joy we experience from our friendships. And even though I currently live on the other side of the country, the people that I met while living in Baltimore remain my friends to this day. They are still some of the most creative, talented, brilliant and funny souls I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. So I knew honoring those friends in a cocktail created for The Preakness was going to be a heavy and humbling task. 

I was set on only one ingredient: The drink had to include one of the soda's made my Stewart's. But what went into the cocktail after that? That's where I was stumbling. Fortunately, I'd just learned a big lesson about mixing drinks. And it came in a very small glass. 

We had recently attended a party in honor of "Peep's Corner," the latest print to be released by our friend, the artist and San Francisco fixture, Brian Barneclo (who just so happened to design the banner you see above.) The gathering was at Rye, one of the best watering holes in town, and I figured I'd take advantage of the expertise behind the bar. So when Douglas Williams, the aptly titled Liquid Alchemist, came over to take my order, I shrugged and said "Surprise me." And boy, did he. Doug mixed a drink that I can only describe as putting the "wow" in whiskey sour. He used rye, lemon juice, a little agave nectar, and some bitters. It was sublime. When I expressed my amazement over the balance of the drink, Doug essentially explained that if you have the right ingredients, at the right temperatures, the flavors will develop on their own. 

I remembered Doug's words as I went about creating The Hampden Highball, named for one of my favorite neighborhoods in Charm City. As I said, I wanted to use one of Stewart's sodas since the company was a Baltimore institution, but beyond that I was stumped. I'd hoped initially to create something with Stewart's Creme, or maybe Stewart's Key Lime. Why those flavors? Because mixing a successful cocktail out of the famous Stewart's Root Beer just seemed totally beyond my grasp of flavors. (For now.) 

In the end I relied on Stewart's Ginger Beer. Many memorable nights were spent with some of my best Baltimore friends drinking Jim Beam mixed with ginger beer (or ginger ale if we couldn't find any of the former.) Starting with that as the base I then added a little vanilla extract to pay homage to Stewart's Creme Soda, and some bitters in honor of the many cocktails I'd consumed at the now defunct-Memory Lane as well as at the legendary Club Charles.  I took the first sip. And it was awful. So, I took a second sip. Still just as bad. I decided to pour it over ice. It was then that I turned to my default garnish of choice - a healthy squirt of fresh lime. I gave the juice a quick stir into and under the ice, took a sip, and smiled. I think, though I can't be entirely, I had mixed a drink that would have made Doug - but especially my Baltimore friends - proud. 

I'm not going to question how those flavors came together. All I know is that somewhere in those chips of ice, the ingredients enacted an alchemy all their own. 

The Hampden Highball 
For the cocktail....
4 oz Stewart's Ginger Beer (if you need to use Ginger Ale, that's fine, just know that it won't have the same bite.)
2 oz Bourbon (Jim Beam or Maker's Mark will work best.)
A dash of vanilla extract (less than 1/8 tsp)
2 (or more) dashes of bitters
1 squirt of lime (squeezing out the juice from a quartered wedge should do the trick.)
For the garnish... 
Lime wheel
Vanilla bean (if you get these at Costco they are much less pricey.)

1. Pour ice in glass to halfway.
2. In a mixing glass add ginger beer, then bourbon. Add dash of vanilla (use a measuring spoon to get the "less than 1/8 tsp" if necessary) and then a few dashes of bitters. Stir.
3. Pour over ice. Squirt lime juice into glass. Give another stir. Garnish. Enjoy responsibly!  


s. stockwell said...

We are going to love this one...Thanks, s

Steven said...

You're welcome and thank you for the feedback! BTW, just give the lime, vanilla and bitters a good swirl 'round that glass. On the first try, I was ready to pour the contents out and start over but then decided to mix the drink more thoroughly. The flavors really need to be sufficiently blended, just keep that in mind. Once they are, it's delicious! Also, we'll have to swap India stories sometime in the future! I keep meaning to add that every I see your profile pic!

Tangled Noodle said...

We're always on the look out for delicious new cocktails and whaddya know? All the makings for this are on hand although it'll have to be ginger ale for immediate gratification!

Steven said...

Thanks for the feedback! And ginger ale is a fine substitute instead of ginger beer. In fact you might find that you prefer it with the ale over the beer. It will definitely be smoother. Enjoy and let me know what you think. Thanks again!