Stirred and Shaken: Traveling the World One Cocktail at a Time

Couple having a cocktail on vacation

Sophisticated. Decadent. Exotic. Glamourous. These are the words that hop into my mind whenever someone says, “Come on, let me twist your arm. Have a cocktail.”

One of the many beauties of the cocktail is that with all the possibilities, every palate will find many that appeal. Cocktails can be alcoholic — or not. They can knock your socks off, as happened to me when I ordered my first Long Island Iced Tea, sitting in the Sonoma sunshine thinking I was ordering, well, iced tea!

And they can be yet another inspiring vehicle for the culinary traveler. List your favorites then go drink them where they originated. Or be the ultimate innovative armchair traveler listing your favorites and making them for friends at home.

Which leads to another cocktail-inspired word: cosmopolitan. Which in turn brings me to cocktail number one.

The Cosmopolitan — made with three parts vodka (citrus vodka is good), one part Cointreau or Triple Sec, one part fresh lime juice — your choice whether sweetened or not — and two parts cranberry juice. Put the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with lots of ice. Shake well. Strain into a cocktail glass (aka Martini-style) straight up (without ice). Garnish with lime. An American drink, believed to have been created in Ohio and made famous in San Francisco. Any reason is a good reason to visit San Francisco — so why not to drink a Cosmopolitan?

The Stinger — made with one jigger (1.5oz) Old Brandy (a good, aged brandy of your choice, and depending on your taste for brandy, up the recipe to 2oz), one pony (1oz) white Creme de Menthe. Put in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well. Strain into a cocktail glass. Did you know that Tom Bullock was the first African-American cocktail book author? He wrote The Ideal Bartender, published in 1917. The vintage Stinger, typically an after-dinner drink, is from his collection.

The Obamatini — According to Todd Porter and Diane Cu who invented this cocktail in January 2009 in honor of President Obama’s inauguration, the Obamatini has pineapple juice to give the flavor of Hawaii and chili to mirror the President’s fire. Into an ice-filled cocktail shaker put 3oz pineapple juice, 2oz gin, 3/4oz lime juice, 3/4oz Simple Syrup, quarter to half serrano or Thai chili (crush it inside the shaker), a dash of Angostura. Shake well. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon.

Note: Cocktails offer a great chance for invention and playfulness. I remember being asked to a party where everyone was advised to bring a bottle from a selection of liqueurs. The host had about 10 blenders set out. Some people had been told to bring fresh fruit, others ice cream. The evening was a delicious muddle… And starting a dinner party off with tequila slammers on arrival loosens the conversation up fast.

The Caipirinha is Brazil’s national cocktail and there are good reasons to go there to drink it, not least this year’s Soccer World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. Made with 1+2/3oz Cachaça, Brazil’s most common distilled alcoholic beverage, which is made from sugarcane, half a lime cut into wedges and 2 teaspoons of brown sugar. Place the lime and sugar into an old fashioned glass and muddle (mash using a muddler or wooden spoon), fill the glass with crushed ice then add the Cachaça (use vodka if you’re stuck).

The Negroni, believed to have been invited in Florence, Italy in 1919 and considered an apéritif (served before a meal), is made of one part (30ml) gin, one part semi-sweet red vermouth and one part bitters, traditionally Campari. Stir into a glass over ice and enjoy. One of the earliest reports of anyone drinking one of these came from Orson Welles when he was working as a journalist in Rome in 1947. To quote, “The bitters are excellent for your liver, the gin is bad for you. They balance each other.”

The Singapore Sling was developed sometime before 1915 by the then-bartender at the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel, Singapore. Don’t be put off from having one if you only have time to breakfast at Raffles, as happened to me the first time I tried a Sling. An original recipe — although apparently it can vary, so Google and experiment — mixes two measures of gin with one of cherry brandy (Heering is good), one of Bénédictine and one of blended pineapple, which creates a foamy top.

Curaçao, the liqueur, is named after the island of Curaçao, part of the Dutch Antilles group in the Caribbean located off the coast of Venezuela. My friend Terry Toohey, the Isle of Man’s Director of Cruise Development, reminded me to include this on my cocktail list.

“Blue Curaçao is most commonly used to make striking cocktails and shooters,” he says. “The blue is absolutely stunning, just what you want a cocktail to look like. The taste has a citrus flavor, derived from the dried peels of the laraha citrus fruit, a descendant of the Valencia orange, grown on the island. The citrus is the reason it’s so refreshing to drink. In my mind, Curaçao is the perfect liqueur to star in a summer cocktail, although I’ll admit I drink it all year around in some fabulous cocktails.” Terry sent us a list of 10 of his favorites. How about the Electric Blue Margarita to combine tastes of Mexico, California and the island of Curaçao. Shake together 1oz Cointreau, 1oz Herradura Silver Tequila, 1/2oz Peach Schnapps, 1/2oz blue Curaçao, 4oz sour mix. Strain over a glass of ice. Garnish with a slice of lemon.

The Mai Tai was featured in the Elvis film “Blue Hawaii’ for readers old enough to remember! And it’s popular in Tiki bars. So it’s a surprise to learn it didn’t originate on some Polynesian island — or in Thailand — but purportedly in Trader Vic’s restaurant in Oakland, Calif. In a cocktail shaker, with ice, put 8 parts white run, 3 parts orange Curaçao, 3 parts Orgeat syrup, 2 parts fresh lime juice. Strain into a glass and float 4 parts dark rum on the top. Serve with a straw.

The Mojito — my cocktail of choice — is a traditional Cuban highball. Hugely popular, it’s also the closest many have got to Cuba outside of the Buena Vista Social Club. You’ll need 4 parts white rum, 3 parts fresh lime juice, 6 mint leaves, 2 teaspoons sugar and soda water. Muddle the mint leaves, as in bruise them to release the essential oils — don’t shred them — with the sugar and lime juice. Add the rum, top with sodawater, garnish with a sprig of mint leaves, serve with a straw in a Collins glass.

The Rhum Chocolate Julep is one of many cocktails synonymous with the Caribbean island of Martinique, famous in the cocktail context for its rum, or rhum, to be inspired by the island’s French flavor. You will need 1 part aged rum, 1 part chocolate liqueur, 5 mint leaves. Muddle the chocolate liqueur and mint leaves in a chilled glass. Fill with crushed iced. Add the aged rhum. Enjoy. Better yet, fly to Martinique and enjoy it there.

Finally, from one of the U.S.’s best-known cocktail gurus: Five Cocktails Every Guy Should Know according to New Your City mixologist Karl Franz Williams, owner of Harlem’s acclaimed 67 Orange Street. They are the Old Fashioned, 007’s favorite Gin Martini, the Sidecar, the Manhattan and the Martinez (a precursor to the martini).

See Karl Franz Williams interviewed by Marcus Samuelsson on YouTube.

Last but not least, explore the International Bartenders Association’s website for great cocktail ideas and recipes. And next time you go traveling, go online to check out what cocktail the destination is famous for — and make sure to try it.

Plus, check out Tales of the Cocktail, the world’s premier cocktail festival that focuses on what’s now, what’s new and what’s next in bartending. This year’s 12th (Annual) Tales of the Cocktail takes place in New Orleans from July 16 to 20.

Bottom’s up!

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Long-time Cuisine Noir contributor Wanda Hennig is an award-winning food and travel writer, an author, a blogger and a life coach. A native South African, she believes we are what (and how) we eat (and drink). Thus, she says (only a little tongue-in-cheek), the best way to truly understand a country, a city, a culture—and a people—is via your taste buds and your stomach.