Cowboy Cocktails: Boot Scootin' Beverages and Tasty Vittles from the Wild West Review
By Grady Spears
Libations and Vittles
As author and chef Grady Spears shrewdly points out, "The cowboy's legendary taste for liquor makes great cocktails." In other words, they are always boozin' it up.
For whatever reason, Cowboy Cocktails is a perfect guide to great western bar drinks and the foods that compliment them.
Spears, who operates several restaurants in Texas and Beverly Hills, California, showcases some top-quality cocktails and beverages. Much more then a standard bar guide, Cowboy Cocktails contains many distinctive beverages that will make your guests do a doubletake. As with cooking, making slight additions or alterations to standard recipes turns ordinary bar drinks into cocktails that your guests will talk about.
A good kitchen chef can apply their skills of ingenuity to the bar and quickly see how easy it it to turn standard well drinks into memorable cocktails. Good cooks know that their creations taste better if they use original ingredients. Instead of using, say, a can of Cream of Mushroom Soup for your chicken casserole, a better dish will result with a homemade, from-scratch mushroom white sauce. This rule also applies to drinks from the bar.
Want to make the best Bloody Marys? Then, stir up your own Bloody Mary mix. Spears includes Bloody Mary recipes and sweet n' sour mixes that are used at his Reata restaurants.
Spears devotes an entire chapter to Cowboy Coffee Drinks, which includes nine caffeinated cocktail recipes. Instead of traditional Irish Coffee ingredients, Boquillas Border Coffee calls for 1½ ounces Jose Cuervo Tequila and is sweetened with a tablespoon of sugar and a tablespoon of Kahlua Cream, the recipe for which is also included in the book. Another drink is the Alpine Latte, referring to the Reata Restaurent in the colorful city of Alpine in West Texas. This coffee drink includes Bailey's Irish Cream, amaretto and Frangelico liqueurs, whipped cream and almonds. It is described it as "sweet, soothing and smooth as a baby's bottom."
Another chapter addresses Drinks South of the Border, many of which are variations using tequila and beer. In fact, Spears has several interesting drinks using beer as a major ingredient. There are also helpful and interesting sidebars like the one printed below, which discusses the mysteries of the popular Mexican liquors tequila, mescal and pulque.
There are numerous recipes for shots and shooters. "Short, sweet, and straight to the point - that's how a cowboy likes his work, his women, and his liquor." Another chapter covers the more sophisticated City Slicker" Drinks popular today. I found a great sangria recipe using his sweet and sour mix. And there are also lighter drinks using lemonades, teas and punches.
Cowboy Cocktails is a great bar guide, but we all know that you shouldn't drink on an empty stomach. The "Tasty Vittles" referred to in the book's title are well represented, as promised. There are lots of finger foods and appetizers like Picadillo Rolls, Texas Strip Steak Nachos, Molasses-glazed Chicken Wings, burgers, and a special guacamole recipe. All the recipes sound delectable and perfectly complement the cocktails.
So take your boots off, put your feet up on the porch, and enjoy a beautiful sunset drinking Sour Beer Punch and Molasses-glazed Chicken Wings.
Tequila and Mescal
If you're like us, there's no way you can remember if the saying goes, "All tequila is mescal, but not all mescal is tequila," or if it's the other way around. Here's the lowdown: Tequila, mescal, and pulque are the three most popular spirituous beverages in Mexico (after beer), and they all come from the fermented juice of the same plant, the maguey, or agave (one close relative is known north of the border as the century plant). Tequila and mescal are then distilled, pulque is not.
Pulque is about the same alcoholic strength as beer and has never been popular outside of Mexico, perhaps because it is sometimes described as having a flavor reminiscent of a mildewed donkey. To be fair, it is made only from the Giant Pulque Agave (only found in Mexico) and doesn't travel well (it loses its, ah, finesse within three to five days).
Of the three, tequila is best known to Norteamericanos and comes only from a specific region and a special variety of maguey, the blue agave. Mescal also comes from a specific region, which surrounds and includes the state of Oaxaca. Until recently, mescal has unfortunately been best known as "the bottle with the worm" and has caused the temporary demise of many a hardy partier in the Southwest (bottles often cost less than four dollars and came with a complimentary bag of seasoned salt - seasoned with pulverized maguey worms, that is).
Recently, however, premium and super-premium mescals are being produced and have increased the quality level of mescal considerably. To make tequila, the heart of the agave plant is steamed before fermentation, but for mescal it is roasted, imparting the smoky flavor so beloved by connoisseurs. The organically produced, single-village mescals of Del Maguey stand head and shoulders above the crowd - each village's mescal has a unique flavorthat comes from a variety of influences such as water, the local yeasts, microclimate, altitude, and of course, the hand of the maker.
Flavors range from spicy and smoky to floral and smooth. Sipped alone, very slowly, or mixed into a cocktail, the flavor of premium mescal is difficult to describe but easy to fall for. (Don't sip too much or too fast, or you'll be falling down - straight mescal is strong enough to melt your tonsils, and premium or not, it doesn't taste any too special coming back up.)
Another Grady Spears book - Cowboy in the Kitchen