Flaming Doctor Pepper recap, Washington Apple test

On Monday May 7th BRAINS!! had our second meeting at Booker + Dax. The purpose of this meeting was to test if our idea for an updated/ possibly highbrow version of the Flaming Doctor Pepper was indeed an improvement, and afterwards to taste and discuss the Washington Apple shooter, which we will attempt to improve at our next meeting.

Right off the bat we had a slight problem: This came the week before the 2012 Manhattan Cocktail Classic, and so almost all of our bartenders had irons in the fire and could not participate. This meant not only would we be limited by the small number of opinions being given on the improved Flaming Doctor Pepper, but also would have a small number of minds weighing in on what is missing in the Washington Apple shooter.

Sother tests the drink with some Newcastle Brown Ale

Nevertheless, Sother Teague, Aaron Polsky, and myself showed up to TCB (TAKE CARE OF BIZ-NASS!)

Our Flaming Doctor Pepper hypothesis was simple: Use a darker beer for more caramelized flavors, make the “flaming” part a bit more spectacular, and maybe try recarbonating the whole thing to give a more tight carbonation. None of this was even close to making this drink delicious.

This drink felt like an incurable illness. In theory the things we were doing should have probably been an improvement to the drink, but any good cocktailian should be able to admit when it just isn’t working. First of all, we ended up burning small demitasse pitchers of 151 and drizzling it in one long flame into the drink. This looked cool as hell, but did nother but add the flavor of burning (Ralph Wiggum would have hated it) to the drink. Second, while we imagined the darker flavors of Newcastle might have more in common with the Flavor of actual Dr Pepper, it did absolutely nothing to make the drink better or even more interesting. Third, almond-like stone fruit flavor doesnt seem to be an enormously heavy flavor in Dr. Pepper, so keeping that ratio the same didn’t really help the drink.

Sother and Polsky discuss the importance of carbonation in the drink

I have to say, we all seemed to think it was appropriate that our first drink was a failure. BRAINS!! is by design supposed to have the possibility of failure, and that was made quite real to us on our very first project.

Moving on, we made the Washington Apple shooter. This shooter is made with Crown Royal, a Canadian Whisky that is quite light (almost flavorless compared to bourbon, and even lighter than Irish Whiskey,) Apple Pucker (yes, I had to go to the store and buy a neon green hip flask of DeKuyper’s,) and Cranberry Cocktail (I used the cheapest brand I could find, Cranberry Dandy. Dandy indeed.)

After mixing this thing up, we decided the following were hits against it: It doesn’t taste like an apple, it isn’t strong, in fact it isn’t particularly likeable, it smells and tastes like a Jolly Rancher, and really deep down just tastes like a drink that was invented for children. This is a phenomenon I get and I don’t get, because really a shooter is invented for people who don’t like the taste of booze. In that sense, this drink fuckin’ nails it.

There were, however, a few things we did think were good about this drink: it is very, very ‘drinkable’ (I think it tastes like Crystal Light), and can be made unbelievably quickly. If I finished a 10k and needed a quick buzz, I could feel refreshed and light-headed in no time at all.

Shake it, baby! Chris shakes up the Jolly-Rancher-Meets-Crystal-Light Washington Apple shooter

A few ingredients were proposed for the updated version of the drink: Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy, Normandy Cider or Calvados, and a less neutral ingredient than Cranberry juice (perhaps an apple peel + cranberry syrup or granita would be useful for a more full drink?) I think perhaps with an apple spirit instead of Crown, we would not then also need both a cider and apple syrup or granita, as this would be redundant. But plenty of other things would give nice acidity, and I think this drink has much more inherent promise than the Flaming Doctor Pepper did.

One question that is begged as I think about the two drinks and about BRAINS!! drinks in the future is “What is the purpose of drinking?” Getting drunk? Tasting something interesting? Social lubricant? That our group’s focus is directed away from making drinks taste like nothing and towards making them taste like something is indication that for us it is not just about getting hammered, and yet most of these drinks are so goddam weak that our attempted improvements will invariably be boozier. When I make a drink for myself, 99% of the time I feel like I will choose a higher proof spirit if it will work and is available. With so many of these drinks being so light, it is difficult to find balanced ones, as I think imbalance shows up more in light drinks than in heavier ones. So hopefully with today’s bartender having a presumably greater understanding of balance than the 80’s Cocktails barkeep of the Tom Cruise ilk, we can create some great improvements on these drinks.

The next meeting will have us recreating this monstronsity! Stay tuned!

BRAINS!! Chris


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