The Southside Cocktail

A couple of weeks ago I got into a little online tête-à-tête with Chris Amirault of eGullet’s Fine Spirits and Cocktails Forum when he asked for suggestions for a mint cocktail he could have when he got home. “Don’t say ‘Mojito,’ please,” he added. I extended that to juleps too, since that’s a bit obvious, and started mulling over the idea of a smash, a rum smash in particular. More on that in a moment.

I have a difficult history with mint in cocktails. I have come to love mint in its fresh form, yet continue to find most if not all mint-based liqueurs to be revolting. I even used to find mint juleps to be revolting, but that was because it was many, many years before I’d ever had a good one, and on a number of occasions I’d tried it I’d been served very poor imposters made with mint syrup (but, thank all the forces in the Cosmos, never an abomination like this).

All it takes, though, is a good (or great) bartender to make you a proper mint julep, and the world of mint is your oyster. (Not only is this Cocktail of the Day, it’s also Mixed Metaphor of the Day.)

Chris ended up settling on the Southside Cocktail, one that oddly enough I’d never had, and specifically the version made by Toby Maloney of The Violet Hour in Chicago. There are a number of various recipes for this drink, some calling for lemon (although most bartenders seem to use lime), and Dale DeGroff even calls for it to be topped with soda.

I don’t want soda in mine, and although it’s not part of the traditional recipe I really like the addition of a little dash of bitters in here as Toby suggests — for a standard Southside, just omit it. As fond of tart drinks as I am, I up the lime a bit, but if you want to stick to Toby’s version keep it at 3/4 ounce.

The Southside Cocktail
(version by Toby Maloney, The Violet Hour, Chicago)

2 ounces Beefeater gin.
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice.
3/4 ounce simple syrup.
1 dash Angostura Bitters (optional).

As shown above, place a sheaf of mint into the shaker and barely bruise it for a few seconds. (Do NOT muddle or grind it, as you’ll end up getting the bitter, vegetal flavor of chlorophyll and ground leaves, and not the lovely aroma and flavor of the essential oils of the mint — this is probably the biggest mistake people make when muddling mint to make Mojitos and other mint-bearing cocktails.)

Add the rest of the ingredients plus cracked ice and shake vigorously for 10 seconds. Double-strain to remove any particles of mint, into a chilled cocktail glass. Spank a handful of mint over the glass to release more essential oils, and garnish with a single floated mint leaf.

Toby participated in an excellent eGullet thread on the Southside a while back, where he explained the evolution of how he came to make the cocktail the way it is (including the non-traditional addition of bitters, which he quite rightly says goes with gin “like ham and eggs”). It’s still a good drink without bitters, but with … it is the yum!

Some recipes call for it with a splash of soda to top it off in a cocktail glass, others call for making it into a long drink, like a Collins with mint. One person on eGullet suggested making it from a fizz into a royale by topping it with Champagne instead of soda. Toby adds that if you do you use Champagne, “don’t forget to bump the simple about 1/2 ounce for every 2-3 ounces of Champers, as Champagne dries cocktails out.”

One of the eGulleters noted that this drink is a perfect way to get the ginphobic vodka crowd to drink a gin-bearing cocktail. I agree, and so did Toby — he noted that when he put it on The Violet Hour’s menu, they sold it as a “gateway” gin cocktail (which is exatly the term I like to use). He added, “Many times, when requested to make it with vodka the bartender or server would recommend that it be made with ‘this great botanical, citrus infused vodka we had.’ It would then be made with Plymouth gin. Always a hit.” (Hah! “Great botanical-and-citrus-infused vodka” … I am so stealing that.)

Here’s a food pairing idea: at the Spirited Dinner at The Rib Room at Tales of the Cocktail 2007 in New Orleans, bartenders Chad Solomon and Christy Pope paired this cocktail (sans bitters) with a seared porcini-crusted redfish filet with wilted spinach. Yum.

I got myself all distracted with this lovely cocktail and had forgotten completely about my own suggestion, which I tried the next night. It’s a variation on the venerable Whiskey Smash, with rum as the base and Créole Shrubb instead of cura¸ao, and is kind of a riff on Maks’ Creole Julep, the official cocktail of Tales of the Cocktail 2009.

St. Pierre Rum Smash
(just me messing around with rum and mint)

1-1/2 ounces Rhum Clément VSOP rhum agricole.
1/2 ounce Old New Orleans Cajun Spice Rum.
1/2 ounce Clément Créole Shrubb.
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice.
6 or 8 large mint leaves, no stems.

Bruise the mint gently in the shaker, then add the other ingredients with ice. Shake vigorously for 10 seconds, then strain over ice into a large rocks glass. Garnish with a large sprig of mint.

Hmm, not bad!