Category Archives: Drinks

To Stage a Murder

A few months ago (on April 13th, to be exact), I happened upon the idea of hosting a murder mystery party in a chance conversation.

I let the idea stew in my mind for awhile, and then realized that I absolutely had to do it. So, I spent several hours scouring the Internet for an appropriate scenario. Eventually, I found one I liked at Night of Mystery. Called Murder at the Juice Joint, the mystery was set in a 1920’s speakeasy, the haunt of rival mobsters.

I’m a huge fan of 1920’s fashion and my apartment – with its bare brick walls and concrete floor – could easily be turned into a plausible imitation of a speakeasy. Once I had chosen the right scenario, everything else began to fall into place.

I did some preliminary research into how to run a murder mystery party and emailed an event invitation to everyone on the 20-suspect guest list so I could begin collecting RSVPs.

Here’s a modified version of the deco-style event invitation I sent out:

Murder Mystery Party Invitation

(The fonts are Park Lane and Party at Gatsby’s – both free on FontSpace)

After that, the real fun began. Always a stickler for detail, I researched all of the details of the party meticulously – everything down to the brand of rum in the punch and gin in the rickeys (not to mention the recipes themselves) were from the 20’s.

Below you can find all of the party details, along with a few photos of the setting from the night of (you can see the characters and costumes here).

THE DRINKS
Gin was the most popular liquor of the Prohibition era (unlike many other spirits, gin doesn’t require a significant amount of time to age, and the botanicals masked the flavor of home-distilled moonshine), so I knew from the beginning that the party would not be complete without a gin cocktail. Simple to make in large quantities, the incredibly popular gin rickey – a variation of the classic G&T – won the day.

Drink Menu

Gin Rickey
1 oz. gin
1/2 oz. lime juice
1 oz. club soda

Since there were going to be 20 guests at the party and I didn’t want to spend all night behind a bar, I opted to fill out the rest of the drinks menu with two 20’s-era punches, one featuring champagne and the other rum. The only popular Prohibition-era spirit I left off the menu was whiskey – in large part because I simply can’t stand the taste, but also because whiskey cocktails are more finicky to mix than a simple punch or rickey and modern taste buds tend not to enjoy the whiskey-maraschino-and-orange-juice creations that Prohibition bartenders came up with in order to mask the taste of inferior whiskey.

Champagne Punch
1 cup simple syrup
2 tablespoons triple sec
6 tablespoons lemon juice (2 lemons)
1 quart champagne (or prosecco)
2 cups black tea
4 tablespoons brandy
2 tablespoons dark rum
1 quart club soda

Mix the champagne, brandy, rum, triple sec, lemon juice, and tea. Sweeten to taste with the simple syrup and pour into a punch bowl over a large piece of ice. Add club soda just before serving.

I modified the Planter’s Punch recipe slightly before posting it here. The authentic version – which to me seemed like it would be unbearably sweet – included 2 cups more each of pineapple juice and orange juice, as well as a cup of simple syrup.

Planter’s Punch

4 cups pineapple juice

4 cups orange juice

1 1/2 cups light rum

1 1/2 cups dark rum

1 cup triple sec

1 cup lemon juice


1/2 cup grenadine

Mix the ingredients in a large punch bowl or pitcher. Pour into tall glasses with ice. Garnish with an orange slice, pineapple wedge, or maraschino cherry.

The two punches, along with 2 fifths of gin for the rickeys and a 24-pack of PBR, turned out to be just the right amount for the evening.

To serve the drinks, I rearranged my furniture to create a bar area in my kitchen. My conveniently bar-height table became the serving area, and a backwards bookshelf became a great place to stash the glasses (mostly mason jars, since nothing at a speakeasy can be served in a glass obviously intended for cocktails). A shelf behind the bar held all of the empty bottles I had been saving, which were relabeled for the party with the vintage labels that came with the Night of Mystery party PDF.

The Bar

My friend and co-party planner Kat managed to track down a free PBR banner, which both completed the bar look (even if it was totally inappropriate for a discreet speakeasy) and hid the microwave and cupboards.

However, there was more to the party than just drinks.

THE FOOD
Appetizers

Since the mystery was set in a speakeasy, I opted not to run it as a multi-course sit-down meal. Instead, I settled on a spread of era-appropriate appetizers. Fortunately for me, the popular food of the day tended to be newfangled processed things like canned fruit, Rice Krispies, and – of course – Jell-O, so it was very possible to put together an impressive yet relatively inexpensive spread.

The centerpiece(s) were two Jell-O molds. Since many original Jell-O mold recipes from the 20’s sounded frankly disgusting (shrimp and mayonnaise in lemon Jell-O?!), I opted for some slightly later recipes. The fantastically titled “Under the Sea Salad” recipe pictured below is from the 1950’s, and the Peaches & Cream recipe from The Kitchn that I used was more modern yet. Unfortunately, not having the skills of The Jell-O Mold Mistress of Brooklyn, my creations ended up being a little lot less decorative than I had hoped. They still tasted good though!

under-the-sea-salad

Also on the menu were:

  • Deviled eggs
  • Rice Krispie treats
  • Pigs in a blanket (for all the non-vegetarians in the room)
  • Potato chips
  • A bowl of mixed nuts

Finishing off the food was the too-weird-to-leave-off-the-list Candle Salad. Originally designed as a way to trick children into eating their fruits and vegetables, this salad is hands-down the most phallic thing I have ever seen.

Despite what you may think when you first behold it, the banana is CLEARLY a candle, and the mayonnaise/whipped cream is CLEARLY the wax being melted by the maraschino cherry flame.

Get your mind our of the gutter.

THE SCENE
In addition to shoving the majority of my furniture in the bedroom or rearranging it to create the bar, I set the scene by hanging the walls with era-appropriate Art Deco posters (there are a bazillion options available on Amazon, and the cheapest one I ordered was retailing at just $0.01 – $2.99 including shipping).

I supplemented these art prints with a variety of print-outs. I covered the bathroom mirror with a variety of vintage advertisements and magazine covers (and – for good measure – replaced my foaming hand soap dispenser with a simple unscented bar soap).

The finishing touch was the wanted posters for the gangsters who would be attending the party. I took the templates provided by Night of Mystery and then photoshopped in photos of the friends of mine who would be playing those characters at the party. Here are the results:

Wanted Posters

So there you go. Food + drinks + a scene well set = the recipe for a very good night.

The final details were the series of emails, all with a typewriter font and smattering of 20’s slang, sent out with character information, the entry plan for the night of the party (enter through the alley after giving the password – the unfortunately obsolete phrase, Phonus Balonus) to the bouncer and climb up the back staircase to the apartment-turned-Juice Joint, and the prizes.

Best Performance PrizeThe awards for Best Dressed and Best Performance were small bottles of house-infused gin (you can find the utterly delicious recipe here), and the super sleuths who correctly solved the murder received little bags of bite-size 20’s candy. The mix included Mounds, Milky Ways, Butterfingers, and Baby Ruths. Unfortunately no Reese’s, because those didn’t come onto the scene until 1928 and I chose to set my party in 1923 (did I mention I’m a stickler for detail?).

I’ll leave you now with a little preview of what the next post will entail, since I forgot to photograph the little bottles of gin before giving them away. To the left a shot of our Mugsy Malone – a North Side Gang Henchman – enjoying his prize for Best Performance.

Doesn’t the little bottle look like something straight out of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland?

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How to Make Your Own Gin

Inspired by the research I did for the 1920’s speakeasy murder mystery party I hosted soon (find out more about that here), I decided to try infusing my own gin.

Gin is one of the most flexible categories of spirits. Essentially any neutral spirit infused with botanicals – herbs, spices, citrus, and so forth – counts as gin, as long as the mix of botanicals includes a predominant juniper flavor. That means that it’s surprisingly easy to transform a bottle of plain old vodka into delicious homemade gin.

My spice cupboard – while very well stocked in general – did not as yet include juniper berries. This meant that my efforts to infuse my own gin (I skipped the distilling part due to a strong desire not to go blind or die of methanol poisoning) began with a Metro ride out to Maplewood in search of juniper. After a quick trip to Penzey’s Spices for a bottle of berries (and a prolonged detour to nearby Vom Fass to sample absinthe & floral liqueurs), I hopped over to Shop & Save to pick up my neutral spirit. I chose a bottle of semi-local Pearl vodka.

Armed with my vodka (or, as I liked to think of it, my pre-gin) and my berries, it was time to begin the infusion process.

While there are a wealth of gin recipes available on the Internet, I chose to start with this one from The Hungry Mouse.

I adapted the recipe after tasting my first infusion, so the ingredients you see below are from my ever-so-slightly different blend (I reduced the amounts of the coriander and allspice to mellow the spice and let the other flavors come through more).

I highly recommend trying out the recipe for yourself!

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Ingredients
1 (750ml) bottle of vodka (or other neutral spirit)
3 Tablespoons dried juniper berries
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon fennel seed
3 green cardamom pods
3 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 piece fresh lemon peel
1 sprig fresh lavender

Gin & Tonics

  1. Sanitize a glass bottle with hot, soapy water.
  2. Add the botanicals to the bottle.
  3. Pour over the vodka.
  4. Shake the bottle vigourously.
  5. Let sit overnight in a cool, dark place. I infused mine for close to 24 hours total.
  6. Shake the bottle again.
  7. Strain out the solids, and then run the gin through a coffee filter a few times. The result will still have a slight golden color.
  8. Enjoy!



I tested out my infusion with some gin & tonics (don’t look at me like that – I made one for me and one for Joe!). They were DELICIOUS! Well worth the (24 hour) wait. I’m saving the rest of the bottle to divide up and give out as prizes at the murder mystery party for Best Dressed and Best Performance.

Guess I’ll just have to make more soon.

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Herbstfeste

Fall has arrived in St. Louis, and with it have come a number of beer festivals.

The first, Schlafly’s annual HOP in the Citytook place last weekend at the Tap Room on Locust.  Given that it was happening only a mile from our apartment, the opportunity to sample over 40 beers (including a special Pumpkin Stout brewed just for the event) seemed too good to pass up.  So, Joe and I biked down to the huge white beer tent set up outside the Tap Room last Saturday and, over the few hours we spent at the event, filled our little glass sample chalices twelve times.  Along the way I discovered some new favorites, including the Vanilla Milk Stout and the Galaxy IPA.

The fun continued this past weekend with Oktoberfest (yes, in September) at Urban Chestnut, a microbrewery located a mere two blocks from our apartment.  A $5 Maß (liter glass) and a line-up of four German-style beers (including the stunningly named Oachkatzlschwoaf, an Oktoberfest-style beer brewed specially for the event), all in the UCBC Biergarten?  Yes, please!  This event was also a lot of fun, even though they were out of Maße before we got there and we ended up with regular old pint glasses.

Although I miss apple picking accompanied by fresh cider and even fresher doughnuts in the orchards in Maine, St. Louis is also giving me reason to appreciate the passing of summer (even though the return to cooler temperatures may have been enough by itself).

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Shaking It Up

I have always been fascinated by cocktails.  And that’s hardly an exaggeration—even as a little kid I would amuse myself in restaurants by reading the cocktail menus over and over and imagining which one I would choose if I were allowed.

I wasn’t interested in the alcohol.  In fact, I hadn’t the slightest clue what any of the various alcohols tasted like, so I would skip past those and focus on the other ingredients.  What captured my attention were the seemingly limitless combinations of juices, syrups, sodas, fruit, herbs, and, of course, garnishes.  If I remember correctly, I also used to involve my parents in this game, asking which cocktail they would choose or offering them my own recommendations (based solely on the non-alcoholic ingredients).  They probably had to contend with more than a few disapproving stares over the years!

However, now that I am all grown up myself I can finally indulge in my fascination with these beautiful (and tasty) drinks.

In pursuit of this goal, I have recently acquired a wonderful Boston shaker and strainer from William Sonoma.   This thing is seriously the best.  It is so much fun to use, and the results have so far been delicious.

Now I’m not advanced enough yet to confidently create fancy cocktails from scratch with no recipe, so for now I’ve settled for observation and shameless copycatting.  Here are a few of my favorite creations so far:

The Daryl

The following is my interpretation of a recipe made by Daryl Koopersmith.  The credit for the original recipe is all his, the adjustments all mine.

  • Gin
  • Lime juice
  • Lavender syrup*
  • Fresh basil leaves
  • Ginger beer

*To make the lavender syrup, boil one cup of water with one cup of sugar and several sprigs of fresh or dried lavender until the sugar is dissolved and the solution is tinted brown.

  1. Muddle a handful of fresh basil leaves at the bottom of a shaker.
  2. Pour over two parts gin, one part lime juice, and one part lavender syrup.
  3. Add ice, seal, and shake vigorously to combine.
  4. Strain the mixture into a glass and top with ginger beer.
  5. Enjoy!

The Painkiller / The Bellombra

This is a classic from the British Virgin Islands.  I discovered the recipe through Jaclyn and Simon, my fellow students abroad, while living in Bologna.  The first version below is the original.  The second is the makeshift version we put together in Italy where the ingredients were much harder to find (and more expensive).

  • Dark rum
  • Pineapple juice
  • Orange juice
  • Cream of coconut
  • Nutmeg
  1. Pour two parts rum, four parts pineapple juice, one part orange juice, and one part cream of coconut into a shaker.
  2. Add ice, seal, and shake vigorously to combine.
  3. Strain the frothy mixture into a glass.
  4. Sprinkle with ground nutmeg.
  5. Enjoy!
  • Rum (ideally dark)
  • Orange juice
  • Pineapple juice
  • Coconut milk
  • Nutmeg
  1. Pour something approximating a shot of rum into an empty nutella jar.  Add a fair amount of orange juice and splashes of pineapple juice and coconut milk.
  2. Stir.
  3. Top with nutmeg.
  4. Enjoy almost as much!

So that’s a taste of what I’ve been working on so far.  But check back later!  I’m in the process of perfecting my own Bloody Mary.

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