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

The Washington Apple!
The Washington Apple is a mixture of Crown Royal canadian whisky, Apple Pucker, and Cranberry “Juice” Cocktail. Shaken and strained and served as a shooter. I just spoke with a friend who works at a dive bar in Richmond, and he said, “yeah, the drink is made with Crown Royal, unless they are seated at a table away from the bar, in which case it’s make with my cheapest bourbon.” It’s the integrity that makes it yummy! We will be tasting and discussing how to improve the Washington Apple at our second meeting on 4/30.
The following inspirational quotes regarding the Washington Apple are from the drink’s recipe page on a website I found:

Myleah Theo

umma try this one tonight! c:

Jo Smith · D.T. Server at The Cheesecake Factory

I’m making these for when my baby sister comes home =)

Trish Taramasco · MCC

I had my first washington apple with Josue at the wedding of his brother and my daughter and it was awesome.We drank to new family ties and love wishes forever for Mo and Emily.Cheers

Ken Wukotich · David Anderson Junior – Senior

all time favorite shot, they must be a ruby red color or they arn`t made right

Jenny Vazquez

yes like juice, flavor is so decieving, so smooth you’ll think your indestructible….until you get up from your chair and fall lmao

Well! I’ll be. Looks like NYC isn’t the only one with great cocktail bars, because people from coast to coast are enjoying the Washington Apple shooter with their baby sister and Mo and Emily and Josue, enjoying it’s ruby red color to ensure it has been properly made, until they fall off their chairs. Umma fall off my chair tonight lmao.

E A T  B R A I N S

Super stoked on this project. BRAINS!! was conceived just a few short weeks ago. In lieu of explaining the project, I have decided to just post a snippet of the initial email I sent out trying to get folks on board. We are enjoying this. We hope you enjoy it too.

We are a group of ten NYC barmen who between us represent great cocktail institutions like Amor Y Amargo, Booker + Dax, D+C, Dram, Guthrie Inn, and Please Don’t Tell, amongst others. The thing we all share is a really, really nerdy interest in booze and how to enjoy it.

Side note: We need a legit photographer. If you or someone you know are in NYC and have a concept in mind for photographing brains events (2 hours every two weeks), please contact us at Must have experience styling / photographing cocktails. K. Here is that email.

The Ethos: The Red Headed Slut. The Woo Woo. Kamikazes. Lemon Drops. Melon Balls! What the fuck were we thinking?
The Idea: Every so often, say every 2 weeks, we meet at one of our bars, taste a shitty shooter and brainstorm about how to recreate it as something delicious. We’ll blog about the process and at the next meeting, with gathered ingredients, make a stab at resurrecting the drink. Once we’ve created and tasted the resurrected drink, we will taste and brainstorm about the next weeks shooter, so that each meeting there is an implementation hour and an hour where we taste the next drink, which we will reimagine at the next meeting, and so on and so forth.
The Needs: Someone to write about it. Myself, Payman or Mr. Wortman could do this. Additionally, someone needs to take photographs. Payman’s lovely wife Vanessa is a photographer and would be right for the job if she’s interested.
The Money: No idea. I’ll pay for the supplies if we can’t figure anything out. Shouldn’t be terribly expensive. If someone’s bar wished to be the home bar for this and we could do the booze at cost, that would be fantastic and they would have the project under their belt/ as a feather in their cap, depending on what they’re wearing.
The Location: Obviously the best candidate is Booker + Dax, since they have access to more ‘techmology’ and Dave Arnold’s brain, which will be the two most useful things. But really we could do stuff at any of our bars, and it might be fun to rotate it.
The Time: I think the best time would be on a Sunday or Monday afternoon, say 1-3. Open to suggestions on this as well. Would also be awesome to do it as a latenight thing some time. We could also do a special edition of it while we’re at Tales this year, if several of us are in attendance. Maybe invite some honorary guests. If you don’t have time for the meetings you can still contribute to the email thread for each drink, if we end up doing that. I am happy to devote several hours to write the blog posts.
The Personnel: The people included in this email thread are people who I consider to be fun and possess critical thinking skills. Doesn’t have to be a private thing though. Again, open to suggestions.
The Name: I think since we would be resurrecting cocktails, my mind immediately goes to zombies. Since a zombie is a drink and this aint a tiki convention, we could just called it something like BRAINS!!, since zombies eat brains and the idea is kind of a fun think-tank. Again, open to suggestions.
The Process Moving Forward: Conversation through email thread for now, with the first meeting being after the MCC. That gives us 7-8 weeks to plan, throw around ideas, get people on board, etc.
Lastly, before I throw up this drinks list, if you are not interested in being in on this project,just send an email back saying so and we’ll create a new thread without you. Not trying to blow up anybody’s inbox!

The LIST: Feel free to add drinks. Looking at this list, theres a variety of flavors, a lot of recurring themes, and a lot of bad memories.
Melon Ball
Lemon Drop
Woo Woo
Red Headed Slut
Chocolate Cake
Carrot Cake
Dead Nazi
Liquid Cocaine
Dirty Bong Water
Long Island (not a shooter either, but still…)
Mind Eraser
Soco + Lime
Texas Prairie Fire (tequila + Hot sauce)
Four Horsemen
Grasshopper aka Girl Scout Cookie
Panty Dropper
Cement Mixer (Ugh…)
Alabama Slamma
Buttery Nipple
Blow Job
Flaming Dr Pepper
Honey Dew Me
Washington Apple
E A T  B R A I N S ! !
Everyone seemed pretty pumped about the idea. Mayur Subarrao, who is a bartender/ spirits formulator/ innovator/ lawyer, said he would only be on board if the first drink we tackled was the Flaming Doctor Pepper. We all agreed!
Our first meeting was 4/16 at Booker + Dax, which is the new Momofuku cocktail bar, and it went pretty well. Some people couldn’t make it, but most of us showed up. At some point the Wall Street Journal showed up to do a  video so you might see that going on in the background.

The Flaming Dr Pepper.

I dont think anyone expected the drink to be good. It really wasn’t. Payman (who is ALSO a lawyer… In NYC you are always the underachiever of the group) said that he thought the hops were important. Tristan Willey, who runs the bar program at B+D with Dave Arnold, suggested maybe we should get some Dr. Pepper and taste it. I volunteered.

As I walked to the bodega, I realized maybe there were other tools to be purchased. Two things I thought were essential elements to the drink were “the show” of it (the flaming drop-shot) and the element of WOOOOHOOOO that people seem to have when they down this monstrosity. I purchased a rose for us to hold in our teeth while we drop the shot, which I deemed an improvement, and a small vial of 5-hour energy.

After I returned with the stuff, we all tasted the Dr. Pepper. Dave Arnold immediately suggested that we just blend Dr. Pepper with 200 proof grain alcohol and recarbonate it. I think this is why he is the food scientist and I drink beer for breakfast. At some point, it kind of became clear that a group of chiefs with no indians would just keep throwing out idea after idea, so I think next time we may use a whiteboard or an easel to keep things organized.

Tristan and Dave watch that fucker burn

Dave Arnold enjoys the Flaming Dr Pepper

Sother Teague pointed out that the carbonation needed to be tighter than what it was in the drink. We all agreed that it was much better with a hoppy-ish darker lager, like Negra Modello (fortunately, *ahem*, we did have a Certified Cicerone on hand to weigh in on beer options.)

Someone suggested maybe we could use an amaro like Cio Ciaro to add some orange-y cola flavors, but after trying one or two variations, we did not really see much improvement to the drink. I was getting a nice buzz, though, so I think it was good to try a few ideas like that…

We definitely all agreed that the flaming part was essential to the drink, and someone (Sother or Polsky, I think) suggested lighting the rum in a metal pitcher and drizzling it out slowly onto the drink, which I didn’t think was a bad idea. It definitely has the show-y aspect and I think the caramelized flavors of the burnt rum with the bitterness that is added with the liberated aromatics added a nice touch to the drink. At this point, the camera crew from WSJ showed up and Dave Arnold had to go behind the bar. We made a lot of Rupert Murdoch jokes and then moved on. If I find that video online, I will post it. It will definitely be interesting to watch it knowing that there was a peanut gallery there giggling the entire time.

Chris & Polsky

I think we all liked a few of the variations and most of us agreed on what we didnt like. Just to summarize what we’ve decided so far: carbonation good, some hops good, slightly darker beer good, flame good. Mind you, the purpose of the meeting was not to come up with the exact drink; it was to come up with a hypothesis that we can test at the next meeting and decide on whether or not we got it right.


I think that one thing we didn’t really touch on was the specific dominant flavors of Dr. Pepper. I notice vanilla and cherry in it, and wonder if it would work to rotovap (a vacuum distillation machine, essentially) some vanilla, cherry, and other botanicals, with the rum, so that we are making the drink more “Dr. Pepper”y as well as adding all the booze. Then perhaps we could recarbonate the whole thing using forced CO2 or an iSi.

Sother Teague/ Josh Wortman/ Chris Elford

It is also important to consider that the purpose of the drink is to get ya swerve on, and so the more booze in this drink, the better. Perhaps we could find a higher alcohol dark lager (bock, anyone?) and if it needs more hops we could make a hop hydrosol or tincture (or even use Bittermen’s Hopped Grapefruit bitters) to add a bit of that spicy punch back into the drink.


Payman Bahmani/ Sother Teague (@paystyle and @CreativeDrunk, respectively)

But yeah, we definitely want to have the rose there. Maybe we should be shirtless when we serve it.

All in all, a great first meeting. The next one will be great when we recreate the Flaming Dr. Pepper with the recipe we all decide on, and get to taste the next shooter we want to tackle! I hope it’s the Lee Harvey Oswald or the John Lee Malvo. SHOOTER JOKE!

And yes, of course Dave had to freeze the rose with liquid nitrogen, smash it into dust, and use it in a Margarita. SCIENCE

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