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Want to Craft a Cocktail for a Wedding Party?
Mr. Sullivan Suggests You Examine the Bride’s Knees

Posted: April 5, 2013

By Terry Sullivan, Very Special to BTI

The bride’s knees were a hit. You never see the bride’s knees, of course, and this bride was no exception, but the bride’s knees in question here was a bespoke cocktail.

The bride herself was my new daughter-in-law Kate. Not an attractive word, daughter-in-law, and not nearly attractive as Kate. (Better than the German shwiegertochter, but what isn’t?) Then I discovered that in France, where there’s a more attractive name for everything, a daughter-in-law is one’s belle-fille.

So. My new belle-fille wanted a cocktail for her wedding party, ideally a cocktail created for the occasion. Since this is among the things I do, it would have been churlish in the extreme to refuse. After a little light tasting to pick sparkling and still wines and some discussion of the beer to be served (about which, you won’t be surprised to hear, she was staggeringly indifferent) we got down to bespoke cocktail basics.

The interview is the most important part, of course. I learned this from the estimable Salvatore Calabrese—a legendary London drink-slinger with a sideline in custom cocktails. He’s created cocktails for Queen Elizabeth and for me, plus some other folks I can’t recall, and we spent some time talking about my palate before he ever took shaker in hand. I do the same, and it turns out the belle-fille prefers tart to sweet, white to brown in spirits (but gin to vodka, bless her heart) and has a special devotion to grapefruit. And since she’s the belle-fille and grapefruit is a fairly ugly word, let’s invoke the French rule and make that pamplemousse, shall we? Yes, we shall.

At the test soiree—an Oscar Night party a month or so before the wedding—I served sidecars, bee’s knees and what we were calling the Katharine. I’d started with what Gary Regan, another legendary drink slinger who now slings only advice and a word-processor, calls the New Orleans Sour family. Take notes, boys and girls: two parts spirit, one part sweet, one part sour. It’s the recipe for sidecars, daiquiris, margaritas, aviations and a bunch more, and it’s always a good place to start. The sidecars I made were cognac (OK, a lesser brandy—it was a large party), Cointreau, which I could have replaced with triple-sec but didn’t because I have some standards, and fresh lemon juice, which only a barbarian would replace with sour mix. It was hit, but it always is. The bee’s knees, a creation of the Twenties, is gin, honey syrup and lemon juice, and it was a success when I’d cut the honey syrup down to one-half part.

My first attempt at The Katharine was gin, Cointreau and fresh grapefruit juice, and it was semi-tasty but limped a bit, I thought. Using the Hemingway variation made famous at La Floridita by the, yes legendary Constantino Ribalaigua, whose Papa Doble daiquiri featured both lime juice and grapefruit juice, I combined lemon and grapefruit juice. Sorry, jus de pamplemousse. Better—more tart—but still not right. Like any good scholar—St. Jerome comes to mind—I went to the library, or in this case, the largest liquor store in creation, the big Binny’s in Chicago, where I found a Pamplemousse Rose Liqueur, made by Combier. Back at the bench, I used it like the Cointreau in a sidecar and tried two ounces of gin, an ounce of the liqueur and an ounce of fresh grapefruit. It was oversweet. The Combier, like Cointreau is quite sweet, so I eighty-sixed the fresh grapefruit and replaced it with fresh lemon. Fit for the gods, it were. Plus the rose in the Pamplemousse Rose (oddly, not rosé, but just rose) gave it a lovely, bride-like pink blush.

The belle-fille elected both the bee’s knees and the Katharine for the party. I was back home, unpacking the traveling shaker, when I realized that if there were to be a cocktail duet, they needed to be called the bee’s knees and the bride’s knees. The bride agreed. She also wore red, which I recommend, but in a floor length so the drinks remained the only bride’s knees in sight.

Everybody was happy. The sixty or so wedding guests finished the eight liters I’d pre-mixed in two hours, which might have been a problem but might have also been, given the level of happiness they’d already attained, a small blessing. I was the happiest new father-in-law in the room (see German: schwiegervater) and I’ve been toying with calling myself the beau-pere, although I assure you that no matter how beau I am, nobody will ever name a drink after my knees.


Cocktail Recipes

The Bride’s Knees—for Kate Emily Sullivan

2 oz-- gin (brands will affect the outcome, but only slightly)

1 oz—Combier Pamplemousse Rose Liqueur

1 oz—fresh lemon juice*

Shake vigorously over ice, then serve either straight up or on the rocks and if you feel the need to garnish, try a sliver of pamplemousse peel.

*A half lemon will usually provide approximately an ounce, but of course it depends on the size. And microwaving a lemon for 10 or 15 seconds before squeezing will ease the squeeze and increase the juice.

The Bee’s Knees

2 oz—gin

1 oz—fresh lemon juice

½ oz—honey syrup

Honey Syrup.

Sometimes called runny honey in the bar game. Zap a jar of honey in a microwave to soften it a bit, then pour it into a saucepan and add the same amount of water. Heat until completely blended, but don’t boil. Pour the result into a former hooch bottle and refrigerate. This syrup will be, yes, half-strength, but it will pour easily, mix with other liquids very easily, and you won’t end up with sticky gloop all over everything.


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