Welcome To Wonkette Happy Hour, With This Week's Cocktail, The Bottom Dollar Sour!
Greetings, Wonketeers! I’m Hooper, your bartender. And this week, I have made a big, big mistake. I’ve had some mild criticism in the past for choosing pricey bottles for my cocktails. A few weeks ago, I decided to shop the bottom shelf of the liquor store and tackle that complaint head on. What I hadn't counted on was a mild stomach bug making its rounds through work. So here I am, staring nervously at my cocktail shaker and two very, very sketchy bottles, as my stomach does slow barrel rolls. Screw it, as a not very wise man once said, we’ll do it live! Let’s make — with some trepidation — a Rock Bottom Sour. Here’s the recipe.
Rock Bottom Sour
2 ounces Mellow Corn Straight Whiskey
1 oz fresh lemon juice
1 oz simple syrup
½ oz Sutter Home Cabernet Sauvignon (or better red wine)
2 dashes orange bitters
Shake the Mellow Corn, lemon juice, syrup, and bitters over ice. Pour into a double old fashioned glass over a fresh ice cube. Hold a spoon upside down over the glass. Slowly pour the red wine over the spoon, until it forms a floating layer over the whiskey.
I’m looking at my home bar dubiously, and it’s the Mellow Corn that scares me the most. Mellow Corn is something of a bartender’s darling. It’s undeniably authentic, and in a bourbon market that’s overwhelmed with pretentiousness that’s a welcome change. But I did sample this bottle neat before attempting the cocktail, and you can taste every drop of alcohol in this 100 proof beverage. I had forgotten that most mixologists are nerds with a chip on their collective shoulder. We’ll cheerfully attempt to make nasty, bitter aperitifs like Fernet Branca or Cynar tasty. This is definitely a bottle in the same vein, and despite some well-intentioned advice I know that this is going to be a slog. Especially in my current queasy condition. Viral gastroenteritis is also undeniably authentic.
Easy, I tell myself. You still have some excellent rye whiskey and cognac in the liquor cabinet. You can write up some tasting notes, dump this down the sink, and go back to your happy place. And who knows? Maybe all that alcohol will murder the bacteria tap dancing in your GI tract.
Turns out I neglected the magical powers of lemon juice and sugar. There’s an argument to be made that old school cocktails were created not to make something delicious, but to disguise the taste of horrible booze. This sour does the trick. The alcohol burn disappears, and we’re left with something that reminds me of lemonade and cornflakes, in a good way. The red wine should add some needed tannin to the glass … but I’ll address this as we run down the ingredients.
Ingredient shot. The Sutter Home went down the sink shortly after this photo was taken. And yes, Mellow Corn is that color. Matthew Hooper
Mellow Corn Straight Whiskey: I was a bit startled to learn that corn whiskey is a legally defined term, and not just a marketing slogan. Corn whiskey needs to be at least 80 percent corn, and if it is aged, it must be aged in used (not new) wooden barrels. Generally, corn whiskey is synonymous with moonshine, but Heaven Hill went the extra mile and aged this liquor in used bourbon barrels for four years before bottling it. A lot of gimmicky bourbons rushed to market aren’t aged that long.
That being said, I’d hesitate to call this stuff “good.” I described it to some co-workers as tasting like “eating a mouthful of hot, buttered popcorn while having a gallon of cheap vodka dumped over your head,” and I’ll stand by that statement. Most of the bargain shoppers at the liquor store go with Black Velvet. That’ll work fine here. Jim Beam? Sure. Crown Royal? Pretty sweet on its own, cut back on the simple syrup. Jack Daniels? Did I mention that a Lemmy is very nice? Seriously, anything whiskey-oriented will be fine here. Somehow, the lemon juice and sugar boosts whatever ends up in your glass.
Lemon juice: I suppose if I was keeping to the “cheap” theme, I should have used RealLemon or bottled sour mix. But there are some lines I won’t cross. Real lemons. Real juice. Real good. Don’t compromise.
Simple syrup: Sugar and water, heated until clear. You know the drill. If you spend three bucks for premade syrup at the liquor store you’re cheating yourself.
Orange bitters: This drink needs some complexity. The orange bitters provide this admirably. If you use Angostura bitters here, it will make the drink a very odd color, and Mellow Corn is already in that department. It might be more soothing to a rough tummy, but I’ll pass.
Sutter Home Cabernet Sauvignon: This … was an error. I knew that the whiskey was light on tannin. I thought some cheap red wine would balance it well. The moment that I cracked the foil on the bottle, I knew I’d made a mistake. When the wine cork has “ENJOY” stamped on it in large friendly letters, you’re in trouble. Wine shouldn’t have to remind you what to do when you sip it.
This wine looks super pretty floating on the cocktail, but it’s unbearably bitter. Stirring the layers together didn’t help things. Use something better. I had neglected the first rule of cheap cooking wine — don’t cook with something you wouldn’t drink. Cook with something tasty; float a wine that’s tasty on this cocktail. It will pay off, and leave you with fewer regrets.
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