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Jazz & Drinks - The Rite of Spring

A Cocktail Pairing for "The Rite of Spring" by The Bad Plus

Photo by Joey Kendrick

My first two drink pairings were for Miles Davis albums from 1959 (Kind of Blue) and 1960 (Sketches of Spain). A lot of important jazz happened in the mid-20th century, and there will be plenty more drink pairings for jazz albums from that time. Jazz did not, however, stop in the sixties (contrary to popular belief). As a matter of fact, jazz still happens to this day. I know, I'm blowing your mind with this. 

So, in order to introduce you all to 21st-century jazz, here is a cocktail pairing for a piece of music that was composed in 1913.

The Rite of Spring

via Sony Masterworks

For this 2014 release, The Bad Plus—a modern jazz trio consisting of Reid Anderson, Ethan Iverson, and David King—looked back a century to Russian composer Igor Stravinsky's most iconic work. The Rite of Spring was originally, if you can believe it, a ballet. The choreography was so far removed from traditional ballet that a riot almost broke out at the premiere of the piece. 

By today's standards, The Rite of Spring isn't exactly tame, but it is certainly no longer iconoclastic. For some context on how jarring this work originally was, what do you think was happening in ballet at the time? Here's an excerpt from a ballet by Claude Debussy that premiered the same year as the Rite: La boîte à joujoux. Compare that with this two-minute preview of the Rite's choreography and tell me if any differences jump out at you.

Suffice it to say The Rite of Spring was a landmark piece of music, and even though they don't tackle the choreography, I was incredibly excited to see what The Bad Plus would do in their take on Stravinsky's music. But what to drink with it?

Cocktail Pairing: Spicy Moscow Mule

Photo by Joey Kendrick

Get it? Because Moscow is in Russia, and Stravinsky was Russian?

Okay, okay. I know the Moscow Mule is about as Russian as apple pie, but this is still a tasty drink that pairs well with The Rite of Spring, or even just a hot summer day with friends. I thought about creating a cocktail that more faithfully reflects the Rite: something bitonal and percussive, like a Black and Tan with woodchips. I may have been tempted to do something avant-garde if this were a pairing for the original orchestral Rite, but alas, we're listening to a jazz interpretation.

The Bad Plus's Rite is phenomenal in its juxtaposition of jazz and classical elements, introducing fresh jazz sensibilities to the piece while maintaining what made the original work such a monumental masterpiece. In simpler terms, this music is meant to be enjoyed. So I wanted to pair it with an enjoyable drink, and the Moscow Mule feels like a good fit. This will be especially true when we add our secret ingredient: jalapeño.

The classic Moscow Mule is extremely simple to make, and the basic recipe only contains three ingredients: vodka, ginger beer, and lime juice. Don't stress too much about the vodka. Generally speaking, the better the vodka, the better the cocktail (personally I prefer to use Cardinal Spirits Vodka, but that's not easy to get outside of Indiana). With a Moscow Mule, however, the dominant flavor comes from the ginger beer, so any mid-range vodka will do just fine. Of course, this means a good quality ginger beer is imperative for a tasty Moscow Mule.

Ginger Beer

Photo by Joey Kendrick

There are several varieties of ginger beer, and everyone seems to have a different opinion on which is the best. On top of this, not all ginger beers are available in all stores in all regions, so it really can be a crapshoot unless you're willing to order your ginger beer online.

Gosling's is usually my go-to thanks to a favorable taste/cost ratio, but I wish it were a little spicier. Gosling's is known for being one of the sweeter ginger beers on the market, which may or may not be your cup of tea.

Q Ginger Beer is one of the more premium options, and it might just be the perfect choice for this cocktail. Uniquely, Q specifically markets their ginger beer as "a mixer and a mixer only," meaning you shouldn't drink it straight like you can do with most other ginger beers. Coriander, cardamom, and chili peppers in the recipe really amp up the spice factor, which is just the sort of thing I'm looking for in this Rite of Spring Mule.

So pick up some Q if you want a premium, deliciously spicy Moscow Mule. Pick up some Gosling's if you want to keep the budget a little smaller or if you like drinking ginger beer straight. If you can't find either, my runners-up are Fever Tree and Barritt's. If you can't find any of these (you poor soul), feel free to try whatever ginger beer you can get your hands on. One important caveat: don't use Reed's ginger beer. It's okay on its own, and in fact seems to be one of the more common ginger beers in America. However, it tastes different than most ginger beers, and the flavor profile just doesn't work in a Moscow Mule.

For this recipe, I tried out a new ginger beer for the first time, because it was all they had at my local Whole Foods. This brand, Belvoir, is actually pretty solid with a good spiciness. It also had a strong citrus flavor (lemon juice is the third ingredient) that I actually enjoyed. There's a fair amount of ginger pulp in the bottle to prove real ginger was used, which is great. There's also added capsicum extract (you know, from peppers) for spiciness. Normally I prefer my ginger beer without added (non-ginger) spice, but since I'm putting jalapeños in this cocktail anyway, it kind of works.

Recipe: Spicy Moscow Mule

Photo by Joey Kendrick

To emphasize the earthiness and chaos of the Rite, I wanted to add a little extra something spicy to the Moscow Mule. I didn't want to get too crazy, so I picked up a classic jalapeño, and it worked beautifully. Bear with me here—I know a chili pepper in a cocktail may sound unappetizing. But it really does add a beautiful freshness to the drink, and just a little extra heat to complement the spiciness of the ginger.

So take a fresh jalapeño and slice it as thinly as you can manage. Muddle some jalapeño slices in your cup before adding the rest of the ingredients. I like it with two or three slices. If you are nervous about the spice level, one small slice is fine too (or even zero slices if you're that nervous). Or, of course, feel free to toss an extra slice or two in there if you want. Really any amount of slices. I just wanted to write an entire paragraph about how many jalapeño slices to use.

Here's what you need to make this spicy Rite of Spring Moscow Mule:

  • 4 oz Ginger Beer
  • 1 1/2 oz Vodka
  • 1 Fresh Lime
  • 1 Fresh Jalapeño, sliced thinly

First thing, grab a mug or a glass. Copper mugs, the traditional drinkware for Moscow Mules, have been under fire lately for being potentially poisonous. They don't actually offer anything to the drink besides presentation, so I had no qualms eschewing mine in favor of my trusty LL Bean mug. 

You don't need to be super precise with this recipe. Muddle a few jalapeño slices as stated above, add ice, pour in a shot of vodka, squeeze about half a lime in, then top it all off with your choice of ginger beer. Then buckle up for forty minutes of groundbreaking music by phenomenal musicians.

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