Oscar Wilde said, “Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.” That may be true, he was a clever fellow who said lots of witty but true things, so we will give him the benefit of the doubt on this one. Experience is also about managing expectations. Sure, we all want to experiment and try new things, but we use our experiences to guide that exploration. For good or for ill, the things we have done help decide what we will do next. That’s a big part of why we learn or, more accurately, why we keep learning. One of the most interesting things about these last few months of daily cocktails, is how much I have learned along the way. Sometimes, it is a new technique or flavor or tool that I discover. There has been a cumulative effect that is way cooler than any eureka moment. My approach to drink making has evolved as I have learned more. I choose different tools now, as I upgrade from my basic kit, to things that fit me and my style better. Which couldn’t happen early on, because I did not have a style. I have noticed that my shaking style now is far different than it was when I started taking classes at Corsair, my pours are different, my attention to detail much more clear. This did not happen overnight and I am still learning and continuing to evolve, but I can see a real difference. That difference is experience and as we learned way back at the beginning of the paragraph, we get experience by making mistakes and I have made a lot of them. I am going to continue making mistakes, that is important. My grandpa always said that the only people who don’t make any mistakes are the ones who don’t do anything, so in that spirit I ask that you, please, join me once again as we stand and make the Donna Maria.
This is a ghost drink, seriously. I stumbled across it in an old post by Wulf Cocktail Den, a really great site you should check out some time. They discovered it at Waterford Castle where it was created by Irish Cocktail Champion, Ilario Alberto Caparo. A quick read of the ingredients told me that this was one I wanted to try, I had the stuff, so why not. On the surface it is practically a tiki drink, without the juices. Every ingredient comes from the tiki area of my backbar, but I can also see a nice fall feel in this one which is perfect for this day where we had a bit of crisp in the air. All signs point toward an excellent drink that should be right up my alley. Let’s make it.
We don’t have any citrus going into this one so grab a mixing pitcher and a barspoon. I have taken to storing my mixing pitcher in the freezer, so it is already chilled, just another of those little evolutionary changes. To your wonderfully chilled mixing pitcher add 2 ounces of dark rum, I chose Smith + Cross, because I am a little infatuated with it right now; 1 ounce of that wonderfully herbal Dom Benedictine, 1/2 an ounce of allspice dram, I sometimes make my own, but this time we are using St. Elizabeth’s because it is way better than mine; and 2-3 drops of 18-21 Prohibition Bitters. Add ice and stir to the beat of Tom Wait’s “Crossroads” while not thinking about those magic bullets or addiction or the bad days when we can’t hit for shit. This song has a great mixing beat, but don’t go too long, you don’t want to overdilute the drink. Pour through your julep strainer into something pretty, you should rim the glass with sugar, which I totally forgot to do when I took the picture, but I did on my next attempt. Trust me, it makes a difference. Garnish with an expressed orange peel, maybe wrapped around a cinnamon stick, to bump up the autumnal quality of the drink.
I do not like this one, which is super weird. All my experience tells me that I should love this combination, but I just don’t. I was so surprised that I went back and double checked the recipe, all was correct there. I thought back through my steps to make sure I had put everything in. I even dumped the drink back into the pitcher got fresh ice and went again to see if it needed more dilution, no luck. Added sugar to the rim, that was a little better, but there was still something that was missing to me. It is a weird thing that I have run into a couple of times, when I combine alcohols that should be awesome together, but all the subtlety disappears and the drink goes “hot”. I didn’t get much of the herbal thing from the benedictine, the allspice came through, but in a muddled way and the banana funk of the rum disappeared completely, leaving the alcohol burn. It looks like I have a lot more mistakes to make before I can figure out this particular problem. It may not be a problem, either. I often don’t like drinks that go hot like this, that’s not necessarily a failing of the drink, just an indication that my palate is not educated enough yet to enjoy these, or something like that.
It bothered me that this one did not work out the way I expected. I wondered if maybe there was something left out of the recipe, I have done that plenty, missed an ingredient or a step that I had to go back and add later. I couldn’t let it go, so I decided to do a little research. Very little research, as it turned out. An exhaustive session with the helper elves at Google turned up exactly two references to this cocktail in all of the internets. One, was Wulf Cocktail Den and another was a recipe page, copied from Wulf Cocktail Den. So I guess, that this post will raise the Donna Maria internet presence by a third. That’s when I got suspicious. I have tried other drinks from this blog and they have been very good, so this one surprised me. We can’t discount that I made the drink poorly, twice in a row or that my rum choice broke things, but there is a third possibility. What if this cocktail really is a ghost drink, created in the same spirit as a phantom settlement?
Not familiar with that term? Well, it comes from cartography and there are lots of versions. Phantom settlements, trap streets, cartographers follies and paper towns are all names for the same thing, errors introduced into maps, intentionally, to mark them as the work of a particular publisher. There are tons of examples of this sort of thing, fictitious towns or streets or mountains added to the map so that they can be easily identified if someone copies the work. This same concept exists in lots of fields, fake entries in encyclopedias, tips and tricks that don’t work in guide books, made up names and addresses appearing in official rosters and registers, you get the gist. There is another version of this called a scrutiny test, which people often add before something is sent through the editing process, just to make sure everyone is paying attention. I do this all the time. When I create a piece of artwork or label design, I always add something for the editors to catch, just to make sure they actually read it. I did this all through high school and college as well. I’d hide messages to the professors in the middle of paragraphs just to see if they were actually reading my voluminous essays, I have been using way too many words for a long time. Through all of those years, I got caught exactly once, by a teacher who really loved my writing. Luckily, it was a personalized line to her, something about taking a break from all this reading and having a nice cup of cocoa or something. I got the A and a chuckle, instead of the remonstrance, I so richly deserved. Sidebar: I cannot, for the life of me, think of the word that I should have used instead of remonstrance. There you go, a high-faluting, too much, piece of vocabulary left over from a Victorian governess’ letter all because my brain refuses to serve up the proper, much simpler word. It sounds like I am putting on airs, but the sad truth is that my internal dictionary has gone all crosswired and my brain isn’t working properly. How’s that for a laugh? Anyway, maybe this is not a great drink, but it is, possibly, a wonderful copyright trap, either way, I feel like we have learned something today. I made a mistake or two and we all gained a little experience, well, we did if learning by example is a thing, which it may or may not be. Stay safe, stay hydrated and stay sane, my friends.