I didn’t make it back to my hometown of Fredericton, New Brunswick this past holiday season (Lord, it seems like a long time ago now). I can’t remember the reason. Something about $2400 worth of plane tickets and traveling with 2½-year-old and 2-month-old girls in shitty weather. Yeah, that was it. As such, although it was incredibly nice to not have to travel for Christmas, I was unable to partake in the annual “Decembender” with The Boys (a most depraved and debaucherous event spanning four days and coinciding with three birthdays). Lamentable.
So, in honour of Fredericton (or Freddy Beach, if you’re a local – shudder), I thought I would feature a cocktail that was created in my quaint hometown: The Dave Matthews. The Dave Matthews is, of course, named after the singer-songwriter and his band. You may have heard of them – during the period from 2000 to 2010 the Dave Matthews Band sold more tickets and earned more money than any other act in North America.
As legend has it, on a particularly sweltering summer night back in 1998, bartender
and Local Legend Wes Ward was working behind the stick at the Capital with someone by the name of Joanne. It was a slow night and the two of them were dreaming up refreshing concoctions that could beat the heat and appeal to their barely legal university clientele. Supposedly, when Wes (who has since come to own the place) came up with the recipe, Dave Matthews was playing over the sound system (did they ever stop playing Dave Matthews at the Capital?). So there you have it.
I, like so many others of my generation, were really (really) into this sappy, folk-rock, jam music. Looking back, the lyrics could be described as somewhat saccharine and, dare I say it, banal. To be fair, their musicianship was impressive (particularly the drummer, Carter Beauford – the man had/has chops). Appropriately, the cocktail itself is cloyingly sweet and might make you cry.
- 1 oz. Captain Morgan Parrot Bay Coconut Rum
- 1 oz. Disaronno Originale Amaretto
- ¾ oz. Dole pineapple juice (from concentrate, canned)
- ½ oz. Ocean Spray cranberry juice cocktail (from concentrate)
<cocktail snob> Add everything to a shaker along with ice that’s been stored inside your fridge for a minimum of 3 months. Give it a half-assed shake for 5 seconds and pour unstrained into an unchilled highball glass. Top up with some melty half-cube or crescent ice. Garnish with atomic neon red marasheeno [sic] cherry. Take a good long drink and spit out the vile contents of your mouth into a fine mist. Immediately dump drink down sink and rinse out the glass. Actually, throw the glass out – better safe than sorry. It might also be worth checking your blood-sugar and insulin levels to make sure you haven’t developed diabetes. </cocktail snob>
The primary raison d’etre of the Dave Matthews is to mask any taste of alcohol with as much sweetness and fruitiness as possible. This drink is purpose-built for Frosh Week and succeeds beautifully in this regard. But, to someone that enjoys spirituous beverages, it’s a hideous abomination and a direct assault on good taste. Therefore, I have attempted to tailor it to the palette of the Modern Cocktail Snob. Feast your eyes on the upscale, shi-shi foo-foo Dave Matthews.
- 2 oz. Inu Ᾱ Kena DIY Coconut Rum
- ½ oz. Luxardo Amaretto di Saschira
- ½ oz. fresh pineapple juice
- ½ oz. fresh cranberry juice
- 1 tsp. fresh lime juice
- 2 dashes Regan’s No. 6 orange bitters
- 1 dash Employees Only absinthe bitters
As you can see, the first step is to use fresh, high quality ingredients. According to an exhaustive taste test conducted by Josh Miller over at Inu Ᾱ Kena, the best tasting commercially available coconut rum is made by Bacardi. But what really caught my eye was Josh’s recipe for Do-It-Yourself coconut rum, which has many advantages over the commercial stuff:
- Most coconut rums are low proof (around 21% abv or so) – making your own coconut rum will boost that to 40% abv or more;
- DIY coconut rum will be free of weird artificial flavours; and
- DIY coconut rum won’t have copious amounts of added sugar.
As such, I picked up a coconut and a bottle of El Dorado 6 Years Old Deluxe Silver Demerara Rum and went to work (this rum has aromas of coconut, pineapple, papaya and guava, so I thought this would work pretty well).
Make a hole in one or more of the coconut “eyes” and drain out the water (I used a steel honing rod and a mallet). Split the coconut open and scrape/cut out the coconut meat and add it to a large mason jar. Aim for about 12 oz of coconut meat for a 750 mL bottle of rum (I managed to get 11 oz of meat and 100 mL of coconut water from the coconut I used). Pour the rum into the jar, seal, and store in a cool, dark place for two weeks (it doesn’t hurt to shake the jar daily). Using cheesecloth or a coffee filter, fine strain back into the bottle. Aia ho`i!
Predictably, homemade coconut rum doesn’t taste at all like what we’ve come to expect coconut rum to taste (I’d argue that coconut rum is actually coconut liqueur). The DIY version has a really nice, round, creamy coconut flavour without additional sweetness. Perfect.
You can probably figure out how to make fresh pineapple juice – get a pineapple, slice off the skin, cut the flesh into rounds, then wedges, and feed into a juicer. Voilà.
The cranberry juice is trickier. Add 2 cups of cranberries to 2 cups of water and simmer over medium-high heat until nearly all of the cranberries have popped/cracked. This should take about 20 minutes or so. Let cool, then pour the whole shebang into a blender and blend on high until smooth. Fine strain through cheesecloth to remove all of the solids. At this point you’re done, but you can add a couple tablespoons of superfine sugar and shake to dissolve if you find the juice is too bitter for your tastes. Given the task at hand, I don’t recommend adding sugar. Beside, the bitterness will most likely provide a good counterpoint to the sweetness of the pineapple and amaretto.
What I did add to this cocktail is some lime juice for a little zing and a dash of absinthe bitters for a little je ne sais quoi (absinthe bitters consists of 3 oz. of absinthe, 1 oz. Green Chartreuse, ½ teaspoon Fee Bros. mint bitters, a dash of Angostura, and a dash of Peychaud’s).
Once all of your ingredients are prepped, add everything to a cocktail shaker. Fill the 18 ounce side of your shaker with ice (or alternatively add a single 2” cube of ice along with two smaller cubes) and shake hard for 10 to 12 seconds. Dave Arnold has reported after a battery of tests that a single large cube with a couple smaller ones results in significantly better texture, whilst still achieving correct dilution. And now we know. (Sasha Petraske, co-founder of Milk & Honey, has been extolling the benefits of shaking with a single large cube since the beginning, but I, like Mr. Arnold, prefer hard data to back up such claims – have I mentioned how awesome Liquid Intelligence is?) Strain into a chilled rocks glass and garnish with a pineapple leaf. Oh, fancy. It’s all cocktologist all up in here (shudder).
This version is much more rum forward with the remaining ingredients playing supporting roles. As predicted, the sweetness from the amaretto and pineapple are balanced nicely with bitter cranberry. The fresh, creamy coconut flavour isn’t lost and mingles well with the nuttiness of the amaretto. The lime juice adds a touch of brightness (if I had some citric and malic acid lying around, I could have used those to the same end). The orange and absinthe bitters add some nice spice that pulls everything together. A huge improvement over the original if I do say so myself. That being said, it’s not great – ha! Perhaps just not my cup of tea. Ah well.
I’m glad I got that out of my system. Anyone want a ¾-full bottle of coconut rum?