Making a Brazelton

Bulliet neat, Bulliet rocks.

I met this guy, Dan Brazelton – a 12-year-old boy, trapped in a 40-year-old man’s body with the wardrobe of a philosophy professor. I went on a date with him even though I didn’t think I’d like him. We had drinks, then dinner, then more drinks. Bourbon. He ordered his neat and I ordered mine rocks. “Can I have a couple of those?” he asked and stuck his fingers in my drink to pull out just two ice cubes. “I like a little ice, but they always give me too much.” Now he doesn’t bother to ask.

Dan told me he wanted a cocktail, a signature cocktail called The Brazelton, something all his own. But he didn’t know what it should be, that’s why he came to me. I’m the one that understands booze and flavor combinations, he just wanted something that tasted good.

I asked more questions and got him talking. He wanted something classic, an Old Fashioned if it hadn’t already been invented. Something that made you think tweed, leather and smoke. He wanted a drink Teddy Roosevelt would drink. He wanted something original, yet totally familiar.

Since I’m always game for a reason to make cocktails and play in the kitchen I took on the challenge.

Dan has a tendency to make things harder than they need to be which led us to discussing elaborate mixing techniques and hard to find ingredients. Purees, foams, barrel aging, and fire were all suggested. Seasonal, imported, and chemical ingredients were definitely considered, but in the end my persistence swayed him toward something a bit more reasonable.

2 parts strong
1 part weak

It’s your most classic drink formula, gin and tonic, rum and coke, Scotch and soda. It’s where we started, bourbon and soda with a splash coffee-pecan bitters. To our surprise the combination didn’t sit well at all. The bourbon and the bitters actually clashed. We tried adding a squeeze of lemon and then simple syrup. Nothing could save it. 

We’d only been dating about 3 months when Dan told me he thought he might want to marry me. He knew me well enough to not actually ask, even though I know now he was sure even then. I said nothing in response, just sat there, gripping the barstool fighting the very strong urge to be anywhere else. He took this as a good sign. 

A month later he asked for real. Nothing dramatic, no bended knee, just “will you marry me?” over bourbons in a bar on Easter Sunday. My heart said yes, but logic said no. I didn’t really know him yet. I told him it was too soon to answer that question. I still had high school notions of an all consuming, can’t function normally kind of love. This was comfortable. This was easy. This couldn’t be it.

He gave me 5 more months and asked again. This time I had a feeling it was coming, but he still waited till my defenses were down, already emotional and shedding tears at a remembrance ceremony for a friend of a friend. I said yes. I wanted easy, I wanted comfortable, I wanted to marry my best friend. 

3 parts strong
2 parts sweet
1 part sour
4 parts effervescence

It’s the basic ratio for a fizz or a Collins, bubbles make everything better.

A few months ago we had people over for cocktails and someone brought a bottle of white rum. It seemed a natural compliment to the coffee bitters. A quick taste proved that the flavors did indeed work. I added a little black pepper infused simple syrup, a squeeze of lime and club soda. The lime was the wrong choice with the bitters. Someone suggested cola, which we didn’t have in the house, but we did have a dandelion and burdock root soda, somewhere between root beer and cola. A splash proved we were going in the right direction, but for me the soda was all wrong, the taste is a bit like bubble gum. Dan on the other hand liked it, but deemed it still wasn’t a Brazelton.

Before we got married I worked three jobs. I was a founder in two separate consulting businesses and I waited tables to make sure I could pay the bills. I was very busy and a little miserable, but I was in control and knew that my security was in my hands. 

Once I moved in with Dan and our schedules and habits began to mix that little bit of miserable that I was willing to accept became too much for him. He was capable of taking it out of my life, but at one cost, my security would no longer be totally in my hands. He first persuaded me to leave one of my consulting gigs and then eventually to stop waiting tables. It was the last that was hardest to give up. It was the source of most of my miserable and now his, but it was also the source of most of the income I brought into the house.

The first few months were hard. I felt lost and inadequate. I only had a little savings to work with so I was hoping that my other consulting business would take off and fill in the gap. It didn’t and soon I found myself having to ask for money to pay my bills. He could see how hard it was for me, but what I saw as weakness he saw as “in this together.” While I was coming to terms with being “supported” Dan was learning to live on half an income.

3 parts strong
2 parts sweet
1 part sour 

Think Margarita, Cosmopolitan, or Sidecar.

I did a little research on classic flavor combinations with coffee, orange kept coming up. It seemed odd to me, but I was willing to go with it. The next attempt was white rum, coffee bitters, orange juice, sugar, and a splash of soda. Dan’s first reaction was that it was too sweet, but when he got to the bottom of the cocktail he said he actually liked it better. I hadn’t used simple syrup so the sugar had sunk, sweeter was better. I tried again with triple sec thinking that the sweetness of that would be about right and the added kick of orange would bring it all together. It turned out a balance of both simple syrup and triple sec was what was needed, but it still wasn’t a Brazelton. 

We have a friend that gets exasperated about our ability to talk about food constantly. While eating one meal, we’re either planning the next or reliving a particularly good one from the past. We are not about gadgets, toys or status symbols. Instead we covet electric meat grinders, more kitchen space, and fresh roasted coffee.

For us making it ourselves is about saving money and knowing where our food is coming from. I didn’t realize how different our lifestyle was until a recent visit home where my father, who I credit with teaching me most of what I know about cooking, opened a can of black beans to make a quick chili for lunch. It struck me that I couldn’t remember the last time I opened a can of beans. I thought through our kitchen and realized the things we generally buy in a processed state I could count on one hand.

When we got married instead of a guest book we asked friends and family to bring us a favorite recipe. This recipe box is more special to us than any book of collected well wishes would have been. Good food and good drink are important to us. It was part of our budding relationship and it’s the way we prefer to spend time with friends and family. It’s also the best gift we have to give. Who doesn’t love homemade sausage or a kickass cocktail? 

12 parts soda
1 part bitters

A bitter taste is the warning sign for poison.

Cocktail bitters were first made for medicinal purposes, tinctures of botanicals to cure what ails you and washed down with a shot of booze to cover the flavor. These days bitters are considered the spice rack of cocktail making, bringing the ingredients together, mellowing the highs and giving depth. A good cocktail can almost always be made better by a dash or two of just the right bitters. 

Our home bar is stocked with my versions of aromatic bitters, grapefruit bitters and coffee-pecan bitters. 

I like to be in control, have a plan, know what to expect. Dan on the other hand embraces uncertainty, likes to figure things out along the way, see where the journey takes him. This often leads to arguments, sometimes even full on fights. No good relationship is perfect, but how well you fight is key to how long you’ll last. Even though there are many moments of heated reactions and quick snaps, we are always able to resolve them with patient, tender discussions of what went wrong and how we can do better in the future. 

4 parts strong
1 part sweet 

A slightly modified version of the Old Fashioned breakdown is what we worked with next.

After a number of failed attempts we decided to go back to his favorite cocktail as inspiration. I mixed bourbon with a muddled apple, fresh pressed cider and a few dashes of bitters. It was good, but not interesting or original enough. I had a few thoughts about adding an apple liqueur or allspice infused simple syrup, but remembered his statement about tweed, leather and smoke. The light bulb went off, tea and molasses with bourbon and bitters. 

At our wedding reception Dan insisted that we be announced as Mr. and Mrs. Brazelton. Dan’s last name is important to him, he had to work to have it and fight to make it mean something. It wasn’t his given last name, but it was his grandfather’s last name, a man he never met but grew to admire through stories.

It was important to him that I took Brazelton. To me it didn’t really matter, I never put much stock in names. I liked the sound of his, but I’d had mine for 35 years. I kept putting off making it official for no other reason than I’m lazy. Making a visit to the social security office was not high on my list of things to do.

On our first Christmas as husband and wife I gave him an envelope with the DMV receipts of my name change. I was officially a Brazelton.

8 parts strong
4 parts sweet
1 part bitter

I’m not a homemaker. I don’t manage the house, I only clean when someone is coming over, and I avoid shopping as much as possible, but somehow I’ve become a housewife. Dan takes care of me by supporting us both so I can put energy toward things that make me happy and not worry about income. In return I take care of him by baking bread, making granola, stretching our dollars, and taking the time to make him a cocktail called The Brazelton.

What is a Brazelton?

8 parts bourbon
4 parts nocino
1 part aromatic bitters

 and me, I’m a Brazelton.