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New Year’s Eve toast: Checking in with Brian Johnson of Better Cocktails at Home

Post by Sue Kidd / The News Tribune on Dec. 31, 2013 at 12:00 am | No Comments »
January 8, 2014 12:51 pm
Pictured here, Brian and Brooke Johnson on Tacoma. They produce a web show called Better Cocktails At Home. Photo courtesy of the Johnsons.
Pictured here, Brian and Brooke Johnson on Tacoma. They produce a web show called Better Cocktails At Home. Photo courtesy of the Johnsons.

Followers of my occasional cocktail features will remember Brian Johnson, the gritty Tacoman who works in marketing by day and hosts his own cocktail show via the web by night (literally -they film the episodes at night after their 3-year-old is put to bed).

I checked in with Johnson on what he’s drinking for New Year’s Eve and what he’d recommend for those hosting a party. Find more of his cocktail advice at his YouTube channel, Better Cocktails At Home.

Q: With New Year’s Eve almost here, can you give recommendations for drinks to make at a party?
A: I think the key is if you’re at a big thing, a group thing, you have to think about preparing a punch. … You’ll spend a good and complete hour – depending on how complex it is – preparing it. But once people are there, people can serve themselves, it’s easier for a group thing.
There’s a book called “Punch,” by David Wondrich. It’s the bible of making punch. The author has a Ph.D. – he does amazing primary source researching, so I pretty much follow that.

Q: Tell readers about that author’s best advice for making punch.
A: In general with a punch, you need to have at least four components. Basically, you need a spirit of some kind, something sweet, something sour and then something (that’s) called a weak component – tea or champagne, or something like that.

Q: Can you explain the weak component a bit more?
A: I think it come out of the Caribbean. Just remember the saying – one of sour, two of sweet, three of strong and four of weak. If you follow that, you can do what you want. The kind of ingredients you use are going to change the flavor.

Q: Are there any ingredients to avoid in making a punch?
A: Most people when they make punch make it with 7-Up which is disgusting and too sweet. We filmed a punch, I think it was last fall, it was a really simple punch. It was simple syrup, lime juice, black tea and rum. It’s a super easy one.

Q: What are decent cocktails to try for New Year’s Eve?
A: Champagne cocktails. Nobody makes them at home because you’re only going to make one or two and they call for one or 2 ounces of champagne – its such a waste of a bottle for people at home unless you make several of the cocktails for a group.

Q: Which champagne cocktail do you like?
A: The classic one with bitters poured over a sugar cube and champagne. … There’s also a variation of a Horse’s Neck. It’s a cocktail traditionally made with ginger ale. It’s got brandy or bourbon, but it’s defined by its garnish. You put a whole peel, a long peel, of lemon in the glass. It’s a cool drink you can transform with champagne instead of ginger ale.

Q: Are there other cocktails that lend themselves well to champagne?
A: Yes, anything made with club soda, you could probably sub in decently with champagne. You could mix – any cocktail you make – you can top with champagne. You could take a sidecar and put champagne in it. That’s how I use champagne a lot. I’ll use it as an addition to drinks I find I normally like.

A few recipes, courtesy of Johnson:

Martinelli Cocktail
Yield: Serves 1
1 ounce apple brandy
2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 dashes orange bitters
3 ounces Martinelli’s sparkling apple cider
Combine all ingredients in a glass, over ice.

Bombay Government Punch (for 3 people)
Yield: Serves 3
3 ounces lime juice
3 ounces 2:1 simple syrup (use a turbinado or demerara sugar, see note)
1/2 quart black tea
1/2 bottle rum
Grated nutmeg, for servers
Mix all ingredients together in a punch bowl. Adjust for taste. Let punch bowl sit in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Prior to service, remove bowl from refrigerator and add some chunks of large ice. Grate fresh nutmeg over the top immediately before service.
Note: To make simple syrup, boil together two parts turbinado or demerara sugar to one part water, cool and refrigerate until use. Can substitute granulated sugar.

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