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cb_hip-sipsIt is very tempting to call something the “best.” The word is surely overused, perhaps because we are in constant search for that elusive best person, best bite or best sip. This cocktail book is the best.

Publishers try to catch your eye with a great cover and a clever title. They hope those two things will entice you to grab, and then buy. I was in the Tribeca Barnes and Noble in their food section when, right at shoulder level, I saw Hip Sips with its pretty font and the angled picture of a martini with a balanced evergreen twig on the top.

I know about evergreens. I grew up in Portland, Oregon where in the 50’s and 60’s you could walk down Broadway and see lots of people dressed like lumberjacks. That’s because they were lumberjacks. The city was raw. I went to college there, too, and had lots of fellow students from the big cities: San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York. They loved to remind me about how unsophisticated Portland was. I took it to heart because it was my home town. And because it was kinda true.

Still I vowed passive revenge. My college was tough with over half the starting students never making it through the first two years. I graduated, got an advanced degree, moved to New York, got a Tribeca loft, and now regularly visit my Whole Foods and Barnes and Noble down the street. Still, now I pick up food reviews and constantly read about this wonderfully sophisticated nerve center for the best in food and drink: Portland. Clearly, in some prior reincarnation I must have been …

Portland is a beautiful and truly sophisticated city. The Saturday farmer’s market in the Park Blocks is as fine as any in Paris. There are clusters of small, glistening restaurants offering outstanding food.

One of those is the restaurant Mint with its adjacent bar 820 [www.mintand820.com]. The creator, Lucy Brennan, wrote Hip Sips and has given us a splendid array of the best modern cocktails. The best.

Since I am now sophisticated, in the bookstore I wasn’t taken in just by the title Hip Sips or the pretty cover. It was page 20, with the line, “Remember that Hip Sips cocktails are based on fresh foods, not a liquid concentrate contrived in New Jersey by a scientist.” Ah, that “contrived” verb would truly irritate my old classmates.

Brennan’s cocktails reflect the style and grace of how beverages were made before World War II. She marries the best in spirits with fresh lemon-lime juice and sugar syrup. These are not “knock you on your tush” hard beverages. These are wonderful drinks, each sip subtle and charming. The sour, the sweet, the huskiness of the spirits are all there but wonderfully combined into concoction you’ve just never tasted before.

Her Charlie is a version of the margarita with less citrus but a dose of tart raspberry puree. Of course, Brennan tells you perfectly how to make and store your own berry purees.

She has two Lemon Drop recipes, the classic and her updated version. The classic is good, perhaps a tad strong. Her Lemon Drop is over the top delicious. Brennan has been recognized nationally as one of the best bartenders in the country. She deserves every laurel.

I have a college reunion soon. I probably will pass on actually going to it. I’m headed to Brennan’s restaurant and bar. I want sophistication at its best.

r_charlieHere’s the recipe for her delicious Charlie, including the components:

For the Charlie:

  • Harlequin orange liquor
  • 2 ounces gold tequila
  • ¼ ounce 1 ounce Fresh Lemon Lime Juice
  • 1 ounce Simple Syrup
  • 2 tablespoons Raspberry Puree
  • 2 lime slices for garnish

To make the cocktail, add ice to a cocktail shaker and add the first five ingredients. Shake, pour both beverage and ice into a tumbler or balloon wineglass. Garnish with the lime slices.

For the Fresh Lemon-Lime Juice

Wash, roll, slice and juice 10 lemons and 10 limes. Store the juice in a glass container for up to 48 hours.

For the Simple Syrup

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water

To make the syrup, combine the sugar and water in a small, stainless-steel saucepan. Stir with a wooden spoon over medium heat until the sugar has completely dissolved. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. Pour the syrup into a glass bottle and refrigerate.

For the Fruit Puree

  • 1 cup fresh berries
  • 5 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons baker’s sugar [more if needed]
  • ½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice [more if needed]

Combine the ingredients in a blender and pulse until completely chopped. Puree until smooth. Adjust taste with more sugar or lemon juice if needed. Strain through a sieve to remove the seeds. Use immediately or freeze for up to 6 months. Yield 1 1/2 cups