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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Revolver

Revolver

When I first saw the recipe for the Revolver, I thought it was just weird enough to be good. The only time I ever whip out my coffee liqueur is when I want to make a Mudslide, so the thought of putting it in something less sweet and more sophisticated was appealing. Sure enough, the Revolver is a unique and excellent drink. The recipe specifically calls for Bulleit (thus the name), noting that it's a high-rye bourbon, which makes it a little drier and adds some spice. I used Four Roses (the Yellow Label, not the high-rye Single Barrel) and did find it just a little too sweet, but still very enjoyable. It would be an excellent after-dinner cocktail, and toning down the sweetness just a bit would make it more versatile. The coffee flavor isn't nearly as strong as you might expect. It's all orange on the nose, and bourbon and caramel and sweetness at first taste. The coffee kicks in at the end.

History: The Revolver was invented in San Francisco's by Jon Santer around 2003. It gets its name from the use of Bulleit bourbon and, of course, its strong kick.

Revolver

1 1/3 oz. bourbon, preferably Bulleit
1/3 oz. coffee liqueur (Santer uses Tia Maria; I used Kahlua)
2 dashes orange bitters

Combine ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir until chilled. Strain into a coupe and garnish with a wide strip of orange peel. Bang.

Recipe from Liquor.com.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Hemingway Daiquiri

Hemingway Daiquiri

After making a classic Daiquiri and introducing Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur, a Hemingway Daiquiri was a logical next step. This riff on the traditional Daiquiri was indeed a favorite of Earnest Hemingway, and the addition of grapefruit and maraschino makes it taste quite different from its simpler predecessor. At the proportions below, it would have been a better option for the Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur Bottle Buy post, because the taste of the maraschino is extremely strong. Which isn't a bad thing, if you like it. If you don't, I'd recommend reducing the maraschino to 1/4 oz. and substituting in 1/4 oz. simple syrup if you find the product too sour.

Hemingway in his natural habitat.

History: Renowned author and drinker Earnest Hemingway lends his name to his favorite concoction from El Floridita bar in Havana, Cuba. The story goes that Hemingway flew to Cuba to escape his newfound notoriety and walked into El Floridita when he needed to use the bathroom. He saw the bartender, Constantino Ribalaigua Vert, making daiquiris. Constantino had a special and somewhat theatrical method of chilling the daiquiris so well that they became almost frozen without use of a blender. Hemingway ordered one, and then, like a a truly experienced tippler, asked for one with no sugar and double the rum. Constantino used maraschino liqueur in place of sugar to add some sweetness. (The PDT Cocktail Book claims Hemingway left out the sugar because of his diabetes, but the maraschino likely adds plenty on its own; the more likely explanation is that foregoing the sugar made the cocktails go down easier in bulk, as Hemingway would drink a dozen of these in one sitting.) Made according to the recipe below, the drink is known as a Hemingway Daiquiri; double the proportions, and you have a Papa Doble, Hemingway's preferred beverage.

El Floradita is still operating and serving daiquiris in Havana, and there is a statue of Hemingway at the bar.

Hemingway Daiquiri

2 oz. white rum
3/4 oz. lime juice
1/2 oz. maraschino liqueur
1/2 oz. grapefruit juice

Combine all ingredients in a shaker. Add ice and shake until very cold. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass or coupe and garnish with a lime wheel. Drink at least a dozen of these to become a literary genius.

Recipe from the PDT Cocktail Book.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Red Hook

Red Hook

Before I gush about one of my new favorite cocktails, the round-up of Mixology Monday's Drink of Shame is up! I feel like I'm in good company. I'm not even the only one who re-mixed the 7&7: Craig E. created the Fourteen, which I can't wait to try. I'm also planning on mixing up Home Bar Girl's Santa Monica Sunrise and Doc Elliot's Paradise Remembered. (Though I will stand up for the Pina Colada as a legitimate cocktail any day.)

Now, on to a cocktail that needs no modifications: the Red Hook. The Manhattan has been the basis for a number of interesting variations, and most have been cleverly named after other New York neighborhoods. The oldest are named after New York's five boroughs, while the newer versions have either become more localized (Greenpoint, Prospect Park) or gone farther afield (Newark). Many have ingredients beyond the scope of my growing home bar, but the Red Hook was not only doable, but delicious. It's sweet, strong, a little bitter, and very classy. I'm not exaggerating when I say it is officially one of my new favorites.

Instead of just any sweet vermouth, the Red Hook specifically calls for Punt e Mes. This is a type of vermouth that was created by Carpano but was purchased by Fratelli Branca in 2001. The name means "a point and a half" in a Piedmont dialect of Italian. Some folks say it got its name because it was created following a favorable rise in the stock market, others that it refers to the fact that it's mostly sweet but a little bitter. The story on Fratelli Branca's website is that a stock broker from the Piedmont was having lunch at Carpano's Bottega when he ordered vermouth with quina, a bitter French aperitif, saying "punt e mes" to describe the proportions (one measure of vermouth, half a measure of quina). The old Carpano site repeats the story, adding the bit about the point and a half rise in the stock market. Whatever the truth, Punt e Mes is what you want in your Red Hook. It's got some extra bitterness to it, and isn't as sweet as other vermouth, both important qualities when it's combined with something as sweet as maraschino liqueur.

History: This recipe is a recent creation by Enzo Errico at Milk & Honey in New York.

Red Hook

2 oz. rye
1/2 oz. Punt e Mes
1/4 oz. maraschino liqueur*

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir. Strain into an old fashioned glass. Garnish with a brandied cherry if desired.

*The original recipe calls for 1/2 oz. maraschino liqueur, but I prefer only 1/4 oz. The more maraschino, the sweeter the drink will be.

Recipe adapted from Imbibe.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Bar School: Whiskey


After tackling gin, the next obvious spirit for me to learn a bit more about was whiskey. I like whiskey and all its varieties quite a bit, but until now I didn't really have a good handle on the different types. What's the difference between bourbon, rye, scotch, and whiskey? What does it mean to have a wheated or high-rye bourbon? What's the deal with single malt vs. blended scotch? So I did a little research. Here is what I've learned so far.

Whiskey (spelled whisky in some countries), is a distilled alcohol made from fermented grain mash and then aged. Grains used include rye, wheat, corn, and barley. Bourbon, rye, and scotch are all types of whiskey that are made in specific places from specific ingredients.

Bourbon whiskey must be made in the United States from at least 51% corn (most are 60-70%), stored in charred oak barrels, entered into the barrel at no more than 125 proof*, distilled to no more than 160 proof, bottled at no less than 80 proof, and have no added flavoring or coloring. Kentucky is the largest producer of bourbon, and the spirit was probably named after Bourbon County. Bourbon is sweeter and more full-bodied than other whiskeys.

The proportions of different grains that make up the mash (the "mash bill") have a big impact on the flavor of a bourbon. Rye is usually the secondary grain, and barley commonly makes up the rest. Most bourbons are 8-10% rye, but others have a much higher percentage. These high-rye bourbons will inch closer to rye whiskey in flavor, with fruitier and spicier notes. Some common varieties are Four Roses Single Barrel, Bulleit, and Basil Hayden.

Wheated bourbons, on the other hand, replace rye entirely with wheat. This produces a softer flavor. Maker's Mark is a wheated bourbon, as is the legendary Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve.

I just learned that there are also high-corn bourbons, inching above the 70% mark. This makes them sweeter, which is something I'd like to try. Old Charter is one example, with over 80% corn.

I've got a few friends who are really into bourbon, and two bottles they consistently recommend are Woodford Reserve and Angel's Envy. Both are good options if you'd like something to sip on.

While we're on bourbon: Tennessee whiskey such as Jack Daniels is actually bourbon, but for whatever reason the Tennessee distilleries resist that label. Most Tennessee whiskey is distinguished by the use of a charcoal filter.

Rye whiskey has the same requirements as bourbon whiskey, but it must be at least 51% rye. Corn is usually the secondary grain, with barley making up the rest. This gives rye a fruitier, spicier flavor than bourbon. Cocktails made with rye will be less sweet than those made with bourbon. Note that Canadian whiskeys are sometimes called rye whiskeys, but they are not held to the same standards as US rye and may not contain rye at all.

My go-to rye is Old Overholt because it's impossible to beat for the price (under $20). I recently got a bottle of Rittenhouse, which is stronger than most rye at 100 proof, and honestly didn't like it; I found it to have a menthol flavor that was overpowering. But a lot of folks recommend it, and to each his own.

Malt whiskey uses primarily malted grains in its production. Malting is the process of allowing the grains to germinate and then drying them. Malted barley is the most common type, and is included in small percentages in most bourbon and rye as well; since it's not the primary grain, these are still considered grain whiskeys.

Scotch whiskey is malt whiskey made in Scotland from malted barley and aged in oak barrels for at least three years. "Single malt" scotch is made from only water and malted barley at a single distillery, whereas blended scotch whiskey contains both malt whiskey and grain whiskey. Scotches can taste very different from one another, but most are smoother than other whiskeys and many have a smoky, peaty flavor.

Irish whiskey is whiskey produced in Ireland. The terminology used to describe it (single malt, blended, etc.) follows that of Scotch. While there are a lot of characteristics shared by most Irish whiskey, such as using malted grains and triple-distilling, as far as I know none of these are universal and they certainly aren't required. The most popular varieties are blended whiskeys, including Jameson and Bushmill's.

As you can see, some of these categories are not mutually exclusive, and it can get a little complicated. I'm still not 100% clear on a few aspects! If you're interested in getting more into whiskey, the best thing to do is taste a lot of different types and figure out what you like. I haven't tasted nearly enough whiskey to be preaching about what's good, but now I'll know what to notice when I find a bottle I like, and what to look for when I want to try something new.

*While we're on the basics, a bit of terminology when it comes to alcohol content: alcohol proof is equal to double the alcohol by volume percentage (ABV). So a spirit that is 40% ABV is 80 proof. This terminology goes way back to 18th century Britain, and we'll have to talk about it another time.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Aviation

Aviation

This is the cocktail that got me into cocktails. I first tried it at Eastern Standard, one of my favorite cocktail bars in Boston. The gin melded perfectly with the taste of cocktail ingredients I'd never tried or heard of before. The finished product was deliciously tart and very unique. I would have made this my first post, but it contains a couple of intimidating ingredients that most people don’t have on hand: Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur and Crème de Voilette. We talked about Luxardo on Monday. Crème de Voilette, however, is a new ingredient. I haven't made it a "bottle buy" because so far this is the only recipe I know of that uses it, though I'm determined to find some others. I'd definitely try ordering an Aviation at a local bar and seeing if you like it before you splurge on this very specific ingredient. If nothing else, the bottle is adorably retro

And don't forget a jar of Luxardo maraschino cherries; eating the garnish when you're finished this cocktail is the only thing that will keep you from being sad that your glass is empty.

History: The Aviation was created by Hugo Ensslin, the head bartender at the Wallick Hotel in New York. The first recipe appears in his 1916 book Recipes for Mixed Drinks. It was copied by Harry Craddock into his more popular Savoy Cocktail Book. Unfortunately, Craddock forgot the Crème de Voilette, causing countless bartenders to wonder why on earth the drink was called an Aviation. Once the discrepancy was sorted out, it was clear that the drink gets its name from its sky blue color. A recent Gothamist article humorously (and correctly) referred to the Aviation as “the only blue cocktail you should ever drink.”

Aviation

1 1/2 oz. gin
3/4 oz. lemon juice
1/4 oz. maraschin liqueur
1/4 oz. Creme de Voilette*

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled. Pour into a martini glass or coupe. Garnish with a Luxardo maraschino cherry dropped into the bottom of the glass.

*Some may find this much Crème de Voilette a bit much. Other recipes call for merely rinsing the glass with it; try this for a more subdued flavor. I think Eastern Standard's recipe is something in between, but I like the full quarter ounce.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Sidecar

Sidecar

Let me preface this by saying that I don't know a thing about Cognac. I only recently learned that it is essentially the same thing as brandy, the same way champagne is the same thing as sparkling wine; Cognac is brandy that is made in Cognac, France. So the two are essentially interchangeable in cocktail recipes. Before I found this out, I knew I needed some Cognac to make a Sidecar, but I must have gone to the wrong liquor store; they only had a few bottles, and my eyes bulged at the prices. I ended up buying an itty bitty bottle of Hennessey just to try in a few cocktails. Once I found out that brandy could be substituted, I did what any good grad student would do and went to Trader Joe's and bought a bottle of the second-cheapest brandy they had.

Since it's our first time using brandy, we should talk about what exactly it is. I once had a friend at a party drunkenly insist that brandy was just "burnt wine," a notion that I scoffed at, but he wasn't entirely off base. Brandy is distilled wine, usually aged in oak casks. It is popularly served by itself as an after-dinner drink. Cognac, as I said above, is brandy made in the Cognac region of France. A similar type you may have come across is Armagnac, from (can you guess?) the Armagnac region of France.

If you buy brandy or Cognac, you may notice some letters on the label. Brandy is traditionally graded on a standard system to say how long it has been aged (though by law, only Cognac and Armagnac have to abide by these rules):

V.S. (Very Special): the youngest brandy in the blend was aged for at least two years.

V.S.O.P. (Very Superior Old Pale): the youngest brandy in the blend was aged for at least four years.

X.O. (Extra Old) or Napoleon: the youngest brandy in the blend was aged for at least six years.

My very fine Trader Joe's brandy is Pierre Duchene V.S.O.P. Tasting it next to the V.S. Hennessy, there was a clear winner. The Hennessy is smoother and a little sweeter, while I honestly thought the brandy had a faintly unpleasant, musty taste in comparison. In cocktails, the difference is far more subtle, but not long after this experiment I finally splurged on a bottle of Pierre Ferrand Cognac. A Sidecar will be the very first drink I make with it.

The Sidecar is a really nice cocktail. It's classic, classy, and oh-so-drinkable. I'd dare you to find me someone who doesn't like it. Yet it was never on my cocktail radar before. Like the Gimlet, I thought of the Sidecar as a recipe from a bygone day. Which is interesting, given that they've been the two most pleasant surprises I've come across so far. They're also both made from very simple ingredients, so it would be a safe bet to order them at any bar. And I intend to.

History: Here's another drink with a few different possible origins. Let's get the "but we thought of it first" out of the way: the Sidecar is very similar to both the Brandy Crusta and the Brandy Daisy, and could have evolved from either one. But while these are both American cocktails, most accounts suggest that the Sidecar originated on the other side of the pond around World War I. The Ritz Hotel in Paris claims credit for its invention, but there's not much of a story to go along with their claim. Harry MacElhone of Harry's New York Bar in Paris was the first to publish a recipe. In his 1922 book Harry's ABC of Mixing Cocktails, MacElhone credits a London bartender named Pat MacGarry with the drink, but omits this is in later additions. The more popular tale is that an American army captain came to Harry's and developed the drink, named for the fact that he rode to and from the bar in a motorcycle sidecar.

There is a division of opinion when it comes to the exact proportions of ingredients in a Sidecar. The "French school" argues for equal parts Cognac, Cointreau, and lemon juice, while the "English school" likes 2:1:1. I followed The PDT Cocktail Book, which takes the Sidecar even farther from the French version with less than one part Cointreau and lemon juice.

Sidecar

2 oz. Cognac
3/4 oz. Cointreau or triple sec
3/4 oz. lemon juice
1/4 oz. simple syrup

Combine all ingredients in a shaker. Add ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a coupe glass with a half-sugared rim.

Recipe from The PDT Cocktail Book.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Mudslide

Mudslide


Dessert and cocktails. Probably my two favorite things. As such, you would think that dessert cocktails would be a favorite of mine, but I really don't care for them all that much. The sweetness plus the alcohol can be much too cloying. I'd usually rather pick one or the other. However, there are rare occasions when the stars align and suddenly I'd like nothing more than a sweet, milky, boozy confection. And the Mudslide is an easy go-to. Sometimes it just hits the spot.

History: The Mudslide was probably invented at the Wreck Bar in the Rum Point Club in Grand Cayman (which surprises me, because it's just about the last thing I'd want to drink on a beach). It was either the 1950's or the 1970's; there's surprisingly little info on it, and I've seen both dates. Supposedly some guests asked the bartender for White Russians (vodka, kahlua, and cream), and since he didn't have any cream he used Bailey's Irish Cream instead. The bar continued making and perfecting the drink. It's popularly served blended, but it's not clear whether the original was on the rocks on not. Many recipes add cream or ice cream as well.

The recipe below is my own, simplified version. I find that vodka doesn't add much flavor and only makes the cocktail less drinkable, so I omitted it. I use milk instead of cream or ice cream because I always have it, and it makes the cocktail less of a calorie bomb. Finally, I'm reluctant to haul out my blender unless there's a Pina Colada involved, so I serve my Mudslide on the rocks.

Mudslide

1 1/2 oz. Bailey's or other Irish Cream
1 1/2 oz. Kahlua or other coffee liqueur
1 1/2 oz. milk or cream

Combine ingredients over ice in a shaker. Shake until chilled and strain into an ice-filled rocks glass or a cocktail glass garnished with chocolate syrup.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Mai Tai


Mai Tai

There are a few ingredients that pop up frequently enough in different cocktail recipes that they sound familiar, but not frequently enough that I even know what they are. Orgeat syrup is one such ingredient. But when I saw it at a liquor store for less than $20, I decided to try it out. I love when a small investment can greatly increase your cocktail repertoire.

As it turns out, orgeat syrup is made from almonds, sugar, and rose water or orange flower water. It is very sweet and a little almondy, which I absolutely love. There are several different brands out there; I bought this bottle by Fee Brothers.

The most well-known cocktail containing orgeat is the Mai Tai. Like many fruity, rum-based cocktails, this drink has been corrupted by many touristy bars into something that barely resembles the original recipe. The only fruit juice in a real Mai Tai is lime. The rest of its fruity flavor comes from orange curacao, and orgeat gives it its sweetness. It's quite simply delicious. Still tropical enough to be fit for the beach, but not so ridiculously tiki-themed that you don't feel like you can mix one up at home.

History: The Mai Tai falls under the category of "tiki drinks," fruity, usually rum-based cocktails that became popular in the 50's when Polynesian-themed tiki bars and restaurants were all the rage. The two fathers of tiki cocktails are Vic Bergeron ("Trader Vic") and Don the Beachcomber, who ran competing restaurants in Hollywood. Both take credit for the invention of the Mai Tai, but Vic's claim seems most valid. His 1947 bartender's guide tells the story of how it got its name: he served the first one to a Tahitian friend who exclaimed, "Maita'i roa ai!" ("Very good!").

You want to use an aged rum in this cocktail. In fact, Trader Vic was spurred to create it to complement a particularly flavorful bottle of 17-year-old Jamaican rum.

Mai Tai

2 oz. aged rum
3/4 oz. orange curacao
3/4 oz. lime juice
1/2 oz. orgeat syrup

Combine all ingredients in a shaker over ice. Shake until chilled. Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice. Garnish with a mint leaf and a slice of lime (or edible orchids if you're lucky enough to have them).

Recipe from Vintage Cocktails.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Bottle Buy: Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur



Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur

St. Germain was the first splurge I ever made for my bar; Luxardo was the second. It took me a while to buy it because it was pricey for me at the time, and I didn't think it was very versatile. While St. Germain popped up in bunches of cocktails and tasted amazing mixed with just about anything, I really only wanted the bottle of Luxardo to make one of my new favorite cocktails, the Aviation. I didn't think I'd be using it in much else. But boy, was I wrong. Luxardo appears in tons of classic cocktails. So many that it's one of the bottles Roger Kamholz picked for The Kitchn's 9-Bottle Bar.

Luxardo hails from the town of Zara on the Dalmatian Coast, once part of the Venetian Empire (now called Zadar and located in Croatia). Girolamo Luxardo and his wife Maria Canevari moved there from Genova in 1817 when Girolamo was appointed consular representative for the Kingdom of Sardinia (the predecessor of Italy today). Maria occupied herself by making liqueurs, and set out to perfect a recipe for a traditional Dalmatian rosolio maraschino. The result was so impressive and well-liked that Girolamo founded a distillery in 1821 to produce Luxardo.

When Zara was ceded to Yugoslavia at the end of World War II, most of its Italian population was forced to leave. Many were killed. Only a single member of the fourth generation of Luxardos survived, Giorgio Luxardo. He rebuilt the distillery in Torreglia, Italy, where it remains today. The company is still family run, and owns the largest cherry orchard in Europe.


Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur


Luxardo is a liqueur made from sour marasca cherries. Ripe cherries are combined with pits, leaves, and stems as well as honey and other secret ingredients to infuse in larchwood containers. The liqueur is then distilled in copper stills and aged for two years in Finnish ash wood vats before being diluted and sweetened. On the Luxardo label, you can see the seals of the many awards it has earned, as well as the signature of Girolamo Luxardo. The bottles are easily recognized by their straw sleeves, which protect them during shipping.

Luxardo is sweet, almost sickeningly so on its own, but it's also complex. It's not the in-your-face cherry flavor your might expect; piney and herbal notes give it a lot of depth. Its distinct flavor makes it difficult to miss in a drink, and it can easily overpower other ingredients, but in the right amounts it makes an amazing cocktail.

Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur

Price: $32

Alcohol content: 32%

Popular cocktails: Martinez, Turf Cocktail, Aviation, Red Hook, Last Word, Hemingway Daiquiri

To introduce this delicious an unusual spirit, I chose the Turf Cocktail. The addition of absinthe, two kinds of bitters, and the Luxardo gives it a strong herbal quality. It's a drink with many layers. For this reason, it may have not been the best choice to really showcase Luxardo's flavor, but it does show how nicely it can blend with other ingredients when used right.

History: A "turf club" was where well-to-do gentlemen would go to bet on horse racing around the turn of the century. As such, a number of different Turf Cocktails popped up from the various clubs, and three recipes have persisted. This is the best-known, first published in Harry Johnson's 1882 Bartender's Manual.


Turf Cocktail


Turf Cocktail

2 oz. gin
3/4 oz. dry vermouth
1/4 oz. maraschino liqueur
1 dash absinthe (I used Herbsaint)*
1 dash orange bitters

Combine ingredients in a mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir until chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass or coupe. Garnish with a lemon twist.

*Note: Be careful with your "dash" of absinthe. While bitters are made to be dispensed in dashes, it can be a trickier business with big bottles, and too much anise flavor will ruin this cocktail. As discussed in this article, also from The Kitchn, a dash is about 1/5 of a teaspoon.

Recipe from Imbibe.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Mixology Monday: Perfect 10


I'm really excited to be participating in Mixology Monday for the first time! This internet-wide cocktail challenge is open to everyone. There's a different theme each month. Aspiring mixologists like myself take a crack at inventing their own new recipe or digging up an appropriate existing one, and then all the results are rounded up on a different host blog.

This month's theme is Walk of Shame. The challenge is to take a cocktail that you are now ashamed you ever drank and re-vamp it to be something respectable. It's going to be interesting seeing what cocktails are considered to be in need of rehab. In the announcement, Whitney of Tipicular Fixings mentions the Mudslide, which is one of my upcoming posts! Well, I may not be a sophisticated tippler just yet, but I can definitely improve upon a drink or two.

I briefly toyed with the idea of choosing Sex on the Beach (I would call my version Maybe a Just a Brief Makeout Session on the Beach Because the Sand Would Get Everywhere Am I Right?) but I ultimately decided on the 7&7. If you're not familiar, this is a highly sophisticated mix of America's finest whiskey, Seagram's Seven Crown, and the bubbly, in no way artificial citrus flavor of 7-Up. It was my mom's drink of choice when I was younger. We have now both moved on to more sophisticated libations, but when I first started drinking it was an easy go-to. I remember it pretty fondly. I'd love to recreate the flavors in a more refined way.

First we need to switch out the 7-Up with the real thing: fresh lemon and lime juices, simple syrup, and club soda. Then we need to swap out the Seagram's for some decent whiskey, or at least as decent as I can afford. After a brief taste test of what I had on hand, I chose Redemption bourbon, which is a high-rye bourbon.


Once I had something resembling a 7&7 in taste but oh-so-much-better in ingredients, I wanted to elevate it a little further. The combination of bourbon, citrus, and club soda is basically a Whiskey Collins, and not all that new. Besides, I've seen past Mixology Monday roundups, and I was a little intimidated. Surely I'd better add some Fernet Branca or smoked pineapple or something. So I used my recipe in progress as an excuse to buy something I've been eyeing for a while: Bittermen's Boston Bittahs. Let's be honest, they basically had me at the name. But I thought a bit of bitterness would round out the recipe, and the flavors of citrus and chamomile sounded like a perfect compliment to what I had cooked up. And I think it really works.

Finally, a garnish. The perfect one would be a chamomile flower, but who has those just lying around? So I had to settle for an a lemon slice and a sprig of thyme, the scent of which I thought went nicely with the cocktail.

From the 7&7, I give you... the Perfect 10. I like it, and I hope you guys do too.

UPDATE: The MXMO roundup is here!


Perfect 10

1 3/4 oz. bourbon
1 oz. simple syrup
3/4 oz. lemon juice
1/4 oz. lime juice
12 drops Bittermen's Boston Bittahs
4 oz. club soda

Combine bourbon, simple syrup, lemon and lime juices, and bitters in a shaker. Add ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a collins glass filled with ice. Top with club soda. Garnish with a chamomile flower or a lemon slice and a sprig of thyme.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Tom Collins


I don't make a Tom Collins nearly often enough. It's such a simple cocktail, and so much milder in flavor than a Gin and Tonic or Gimlet. But writing this post resurrected my love for this fizzy, refreshing gin concoction. I think part of what did it was following the instruction to garnish the drink with a cherry and an orange slice. If there's one thing I've learned from making all these cocktails by-the-book, it's not to underestimate the importance of a garnish. Just the aroma of herbs or citrus can really do something for a cocktail.

If you've never had a Tom Collins, or haven't made one in a while, now's the time. It's a perfect drink for spring and summer.

History: A drink called the John Collins with a recipe identical to that of the Tom Collins first appears in 1869 in Haney's Steward and Barkeeper's Manual. It may have been named after the head waiter of a popular London coffee house, Limmer's Old House. This possibility comes from a very obscure text from 1830 called Lyrical Musings by Frank and Charles Sheridan, in which a poem mentions Collins and his gin punch. To be honest, I can't really find much evidence that this book exists outside of some blog entries about the Tom Collins. If anyone knows more, I'd love to hear it.

The 1869 recipe specifically calls for Old Tom gin (see here for more on Old Tom), which may have been the catalyst for the name change. But there's another possibility. In 1874, a practical joke spread throughout the United States with a speed and tenacity today reserved for YouTube videos of cats riding Roombas. The joke was to ask someone "Have you seen Tom Collins?" When the person, bewildered, replied that they had not, the joker would insist that Tom, a boisterous drinker and gossip, was sitting in a nearby bar, spreading rumors about them. From the Gettysburg Compiler in 1874:

"He is talking about you in a very rough manner - calling you hard names, and altogether saying things about you that are rather calculated to induce people to believe there is nothing you wouldn't steal short of a red-hot stove."

The object was to coerce the person being questioned to storm into the bar and demand to see Tom Collins, while the questioner presumably had a good laugh in the background. (This is, no doubt, a "you had to be there" joke, "there" being 1874.) But enterprising bartenders decided to serve the victims of the joke a fizzy gin cocktail - the "Tom Collins" the patron was looking for.

Tom Collins

1 1/2 oz. gin
3/4 oz. lemon juice
3/4 oz. simple syrup
Club soda

Combine gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled and strain into an ice-filled Collins glass. Top with soda. And don't forget the garnish!

Recipe adapted (per GarnishGirl's First Rule of Mixology) from Vintage Cocktails.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Old Pal


The Old Pal is one of my favorite aperitifs. Rye, Campari, and dry vermouth combine in equal parts with notes of orange and a subtle sweetness, but mostly a strong, herbal bitterness. It's much more my style than the cocktails that pair Campari with sweet vermouth.

Speaking of, the Old Pal is a close cousin of the Boulevardier, which contains bourbon, Campari, and sweet vermouth. The Boulevardier, in turn, is essentially a Negroni with bourbon replacing gin. It's a family tree of cocktails leading way back, and also continues into to the present as mixologists continue to create variations of these classic formulas.




History: Like the Boulevardier, this cocktail comes from Harry MacElhone, proprietor of Harry's New York Bar in Paris and author of Harry's ABC of Mixing Cocktails and Barflies and Cocktails. It is popularly attributed to William "Sparrow" Robertson, a journalist and "old pal" of McElhone's (Sparrow's obituary stated that he called most people "old pal"). Like most classic cocktails, the story is murky beyond that. It is usually stated that the recipe for the Old Pal appeared in the 1922 edition of Harry's ABC, but apparently a copy of this is extremely hard to come by and most folks aren't sure. It also seems that McElhone might not have met Sparrow until 1925. A recipe similar to the Old Pal appears in the appendix of Barflies and Cocktails along with the Boulevardier, and this is probably the first real printing. See this post at Serious Eats for more details.

Old Pal

1 oz. rye
1 oz. Campari
1 oz. dry vermouth

Combine ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Stir until chilled strain into a cocktail glass or coupe and garnish with an orange peel. Toast your old pals.

Recipe from Punch.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Sazerac



The Sazerac is a classic New Orleans cocktail. It's reminiscent of an Old Fashioned, but the addition of anise-flavored liqueur gives it extra depth. It was originally made with absinthe and Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils cognac, which gave the drink its name. Cognac became hard to come by during the grape blight in France in the late 19th century, so at some point it was replaced by rye. Absinthe was banned in the United States in 1912, so this ingredient was also replaced with other anise-flavored liqueurs. When Herbsaint began production in New Orleans in 1934, it became the common ingredient. I make my Sazeracs with rye and Herbsaint, and I'm pretty happy with the result.

History: I thought I was pretty clear about the history of the Sazerac, and the version I knew went something like this: Sewell T. Taylor, the proprietor of the Merchants Exchange Coffee House in New Orleans, sold his establishment to a fellow named Aaron Bird and began importing liquor. One of the popular liquors he imported was the aforementioned Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils cognac, after which Bird decided to rename the Coffee House. He invented the Sazerac there sometime before 1870. Even David Wondrich supported this account. But it turns out that the history of the Sazerac is so convoluted that even he was fooled at first. For an incredibly in-depth account of this twisting and muddled history, check out this piece by Robert F. Moss. For those who are ready to stop reading and get drinking, I'll do my best to summarize.

Sewell T. Taylor, who supposedly sold his shop to Aaron Bird, does have a connection to a Merchant's Exchange Coffee House (there were at least three in New Orleans during the time period in question). He managed the Exchange's liquor. Around 1850, he opened his own shop across the street that imported and sold liquor - including Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils cognac, which was already popular in the city. It was this establishment, not a Coffee House, that Aaron Bird took over when Taylor died, but only for the three years before he also died. But neither one of them appears to have developed the cocktail recipe in question.

The real source of the Sazerac is probably back at the Merchant's Exchange, which did change its name to the Sazerac Coffee House in the late 1850's. It was a large establishment, which leads to further confusion as to its address; it took up 14-16 Royal Street and 11-13 Exchange Place. It certainly served Sazerac cognac, probably as a cocktail with sugar and Peychaud's bitters. All we're missing is the absinthe.

Thomas H. Handy, who once worked as a clerk at Sewell's importing business, took over the Sazerac Coffee House in 1871. By 1878, he was so badly in debt that he sold the business to Vincent Micas, who also bought out Peychaud's. Micas and Handy became rivals when Handy started his own liquor import business and his own line of bitters. Handy still owned the building that contained the Sazerac Coffee House, and in 1882 Micas moved the establishment (now called the Sazerac Barroom) to Camp Street, and Handy demolished the building and built his own Sazerac House on the same site.

It was at Handy's Sazerac House that the Sazerac cocktail as we know it was born. The earliest written record of it being served appears to be at what was essentially a frat party, the 16th biennial conference of Alpha Tau Omega in 1898. By this point, Handy had died and his business had been taken over by his investor William McQuoid. The first written recipe appears in William T. Boothby's The World's Drinks and How to Mix Them in 1908. It calls for cognac, not rye, and Seiner bitters rather than Peychaud's, Handy's, or any others. (Incidentally, see Moss's article for the story of the nasty lawsuit between Handy and Anthony Commander of Commander's Palace fame over the design of their bitters labels).


The entrance to the Sazerac Bar in the Roosevelt Hotel, New Orleans

One place that was not even remotely involved in the creation of the Sazerac is the Sazerac Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel, though it certainly has a colorful history of its own. I visited it for the first time this past December, and was entranced by the gorgeous classic New Orleans atmosphere and the theatrics of the white-suited bartenders. While you can get an excellent Sazerac at the Roosevelt (made with either rye or cognac), the bar purchased the rights to the use the name from the Sazerac company (the same company once owned by Handy, as far as I know) in the 1940's and relocated to what was the Roosevelt's Main Bar in 1959. The Main Bar had been a favorite haunt of Huey P. Long, who would order the Ramos Gin Fizz.

And that is the true story of the Sazerac. A bit less romantic, a bit more vague, but probably far more accurate. And still a great piece of New Orleans history.

Sazerac
2 oz. rye
1 sugar cube
2 dashes Peychaud's bitters
1 dash Angostura bitters
Herbsaint rinse

Lighty moisten the sugar cube and place at the bottom of a rocks glass. Crush with a muddler. (If you don't have sugar cubes, use 3/4 tsp. sugar.) Add rye and bitters, then fill with ice. Stir. Pour a dash of Herbsaint into a second glass and swirl to coat the sides, or spritz the glass with Herbsaint using a small spray bottle. Strain the cocktail into this glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Recipe adapted from Esquire.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Bottle Buy: St. Germain


If you're looking to splurge on a new addition to your bar, St. Germain is the one. Not only will it be the most gorgeous bottle on your shelf, but it's also one you'll find yourself reaching for time and time again. At this point, I consider it something of a necessity.

St. Germain is an elderflower liqueur. These tiny white flowers are hand-picked in the French Alps and, according to the makers of this charming concoction, bicycled to a nearby village before being shipped to the distillery. A tiny bicycler appears on the label above the name as an homage to this. Despite this old-fashioned process, St. Germain is a modern spirit - it was created in 2007. It was the first really new liqueur to come out in a long time, and its popularity exploded. By the time I had heard of it, it was already so ubiquitous that I assumed it had been around for a century.


What does elderflower taste like? St. Germain calls itself "La vie Parisienne en bouteille" ("The Parisian life in a bottle"), and this description seems oddly fitting when you taste it. It's very sweet and floral, with strong notes of pear. I find it too sweet to drink on its own (though people do), but added to a cocktail it is sheer perfection. It blends well with other ingredients. More than that, it blends unexpectedly with other ingredients. My favorite St. Germain cocktails so far are the Maximillian Affair, which pairs it with smoky mezcal, and the Battle of Trafalgar, which combines it with Pimm's and Batavia Arrack. It is perfect in both.

St. Germain

Price: $40
Alcohol Content: 20%
Popular Cocktails: St. Germain Cocktail/Hummingbird, St. Germain and Champagne

To really get a feel for St. Germain and it's dreamy taste, it's best to keep the cocktail simple, like the one below. The Vieux Mot, invented by Don Lee at PDT in New York, uses gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup to give the St. Germain the lead role. Vieux Mot literally means "old word" in French, but it refers to an old wise or witty saying.


Incidentally, a company in Somerville, MA is now making their own elderflower liqueur from American elderflowers called St. Elder. It has a slightly higher alcohol content. Tasting both next to each other, I'm afraid there was just no contest. The St. Elder just didn't have the harmonious flavor of the St. Germain, and wasn't as smooth. In a cocktail, though, I'm sure the difference would be subtle. I've already seen it replacing St. Germain in cocktails at Russell House Tavern, and I imagine it will continue to grow in popularity, given that it's half the price.

That bottle, though... I might just have to pour the St. Elder into an empty St. Germain bottle for display purposes.

Vieux Mot

1 1/2 oz. gin
1/2 oz. St. Germain
3/4 oz. lemon juice
1/2 oz. simple syrup

Combine all ingredients in a shaker over ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a coupe glass. No garnish.

Recipe adapted from The PDT Cocktail Book.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Margarita


A real margarita is a lot simpler than I thought. I knew that the frozen concoctions I've ordered at Mexican restaurants were not exactly authentic (though boy are they good), but I had no idea just how bare-bones the original cocktail was. Tequila, lime, triple sec. That's it. Add some simple syrup if it's too sour for you, salt the rim if you want. But a margarita is pretty basic. And delicious. Like its cousins, the Gimlet and the Daiquiri, the Margarita is a great way to enjoy its spotlight spirit, tequila. It's also like a blank canvas - thus the many variations you see. I can't wait to try a few.

History: If you begin to research the history of the Margarita, the first thing that becomes abundantly clear is that no one knows the history of the Margarita. Like other cocktails that follow the formula of alcohol + lime juice + sweetener, it may have been thought up a number of times. But here are the many possibilities for the recipe we now all know and love:

1. The Texas Socialite. The first mention of the Margarita in print was in 1953 in Esquire magazine. The magazine credits Margaret "Margarita" Sames, a Dallas socialite, with inventing the cocktail for a party in 1948 that was attended by a number of influential hoteliers and restraunteurs. But most cocktail historians seem to think it originates much earlier, most prominently because of a Jose Cuervo ad in 1945 that mentioned the drink.

2. The Allergic Actress. A fellow named Carlos "Danny" Herrera claimed credit for inventing the cocktail at his restaurant outside of Tijuana, Rancho la Gloria, in 1938. He whipped it up it for a dancer and aspiring actress named Marjorie King who wanted a cocktail but was allergic to all types of alcohol other than tequila (if your bullshit radar is going off, it probably should be). Regardless of what Miss King's allergies were, Herrera is enough of a contender that his 1992 obituary claimed he invented the drink.

3. The Ambassador's Daughter. A bartender named Don Carlos Orozco was working at Hussong's Cantina in Esenada, Mexico in 1941 when the daughter of the German ambassador, Margarita Henkel, came in to ask for a cocktail. Don Carlos had been experimenting with some recipes, and when she enjoyed his concoction, he named it "Margarita" after her.

4. The Mexican Milkman. Mexican bartender Francisco "Pancho" Morales may have invented the Margarita in Juarez at Tommy's Place Bar in 1942. Morales later immigrated to the United States, where he worked as a milkman for 25 years.

5. Rita Hayworth at the Race Track. Two different possibilities trace the Margarita back to Danny Negrete, who worked at the Agua Caliente Race Track in Tijuana. He may have invented the Margarita in 1936 as a wedding present for his new sister-in-law, whose name was (can you guess?) Margarita. Or he may have named it for Rita Hayworth (Rita being short for Margarita), who performed at the track in the 1930's.

6. The Absentminded Irishman. There appears to be an entire category of cocktails that I need to get to know: a "Daisy" is essentially a spirit + citrus + sweetener + club soda. Back in the 30's, they were made with gin, rum, brandy, basically anything - except tequila. The story goes that a new cocktail was invented when an Iowa newspaper editor, James Graham, and his wife went to Tijuana on vacation. They were in a bar run by an Irishman named Madden who was known for serving Daisies. The word "tequila" is unfortunately never mentioned in the story, but it is Mexico, and Madden confessed to Graham that he invented the drink in question when he grabbed the wrong bottle off the shelf. If you stretch your imagination to believe the wrong bottle was tequila, then the Tequila Daisy becomes the predecessor of the Margarita - margarita is the Spanish word for "daisy." It's surprising to me that the Graham's hometown of Moville, Iowa could possibly be the Margarita's gateway to America, but this one comes from David Wondrich, so I'm inclined to believe. In 1936, the Syracuse Herald ran a recipe for a Tequila Daisy, and the evolution of the Margarita may have proceeded from there, whether or not Madden was involved.

There you have it; the many origin stories of the Margarita. And that's still not all; I haven't even investigated where the idea of salting the rim of the glass came from, or the what is the origin of the iconic, upside-down sombrero-shaped margarita glass. Questions for another time. But now when someone asks you where the Margarita came from, you can say - with certainty - "I have no idea."

Margarita

2 oz. tequila
1 oz. Cointreau or triple sec
3/4 oz. lime juice
1/2 oz. simple syrup, if desired.

Combine ingredients in a shaker. Add ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice, a cocktail glass, or a margarita glass. If salt is desired, first rub the edge of the glass with a wedge of lime and invert it into a plate of coarse salt to coat the rim. Garnish with a wedge of lime. Toast to Margarita, whoever she is.

Recipe adapted from Vintage Cocktails.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Champagne Cocktail


I am a sucker for sparkling wine, and the quintissential champagne cocktail is called simply that, the Champagne Cocktail. The recipe is ridiculously simple: soak a sugar cube in bitters, top with champagne, and garnish with a lemon twist. I've updated my own recipe to use orange bitters and an orange twist, which I think adds a lovely, fragrant dimension to this simple but delicious concoction. You could try other types of bitters as well; it's a nice blank canvas. Either put the sugar cube on a plate and let a few drops soak in, or hold it to the top of the bottle and invert the bottle for a couple of seconds.


As for what champagne to use, people go both ways; some insist that you should never, under any circumstances, consume cheap champagne, whereas I am of the opinion that there are no circumstances in which any champagne should be left unconsumed. Besides, I'm still at a point in my life where, if I was lucky enough to have a bottle of expensive champagne, I wouldn't want to corrupt it with anything else. So I say make it with the good stuff if you've got it, but it's a great way to dress up cheap champagne and turn it into something special.


History: The original recipe appeared in Jerry Thomas' Bon Vivant's Companion (a book you'll be hearing more about) in 1862. It was apparently Bette Davis' favorite drink. She is quoted as saying, "There comes a time in every life when the only thing that helps is a glass of champagne." Sounds like she might have been in grad school too.


Champagne Cocktail

1 sugar cube
Several dashes orange bitters
Sparkling wine
Orange twist

Soak the sugar cube with 2-3 dashes of bitters. Drop it into a champagne flute. Top with sparkling wine. Rub the orange peel around the edges and drop it in. Sip and feel glamorous.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Boulevardier



I recently wrote about how I am not a fan of the Negroni, a classic Italian cocktail made of Campari, gin, and sweet vermouth. But given its popularity, I felt like there had to be some tweaks to the recipe that might help me come around. So I turned to one of its close relatives: the Boulevardier. To make one, swap the gin in the Negroni out for bourbon and add a little extra for good measure. I like it much more than its cousin. I feel like the gin in a Negroni just steps back and lets the Campari and sweet vermouth duke it out with their strong flavors, whereas the bourbon in the Boulevardier helps to meld the two into something more drinkable. The Boulevardier is also the bridge between the Negroni and a Manhattan, which contains bourbon, sweet vermouth, and bitters - easily my favorite of the trio. But all are worth trying.

History: The Boulevardier hails from the famous Harry's New York Bar in Paris. There is so much to say about this venerable institution that it deserves its own post, so I'll stick to this cocktail for now. The recipe appeared in Harry MacElhone's 1927 book Barflies and Cocktails and is credited to Erskine Gwynn, a rich young American who had come to Paris to start a magazine called The Boulevardier. The word refers to a social, fashionable young man, just the sort of person Gwynn styled himself to be.

Boulevardier

1 1/2 oz. bourbon
1 oz. Campari
1 oz. sweet vermouth

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass over ice. Stir until chilled. Strain into a coupe glass and garnish with an orange slice.

Recipe from Imbibe.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Gin & Tonic


Writing so much about gin yesterday had me craving a Gin & Tonic. It's a delightfully simple cocktail (the entire recipe is in the name, after all), but it's classic and refreshing, and certainly deserves a place in your repertoire.

With a cocktail this simple, the ingredients you use take on more importance. As I mentioned in yesterday's post, every gin is going to be flavored with different botanicals and so will give your Gin & Tonic a slightly different taste. Different brands of tonic water also have slightly different tastes and may pair better with certain gins. I've never splurged beyond the usual Schweppes or Canada Dry before, but for this post I went out and bought a pack of Fever Tree, which G&T aficionados swear by. I don't know if it's just the trendy packaging and tiny bottles, but I think it really elevates the drink to something special. It's got a milder but more complex flavor. It's not that I'll never buy a bottle of Schweppes again, but Fever Tree is a worthy splurge. As for gin, I usually reach for Tanqueray, but I'm looking forward to trying out some others.


Huffington Post did a fun taste-test of a number of different combinations of gin and tonic brands. Their favorite was Gordon's with Fever Tree. For more expensive gin, they preferred Canada Dry tonic, which didn't overwhelm the gin's flavor. What I like most about this analysis is that it really shows how the flavors in both the gin and tonic can really change the cocktail. Even the garnish can do a great deal. I've always reached for lime, but when I broke into the second bottle of tonic I used lemon instead and liked it a lot better. Less conventional options include cucumbers, herbs, and even olives or tomatoes. Some gin lovers say to compliment the botanicals used in the gin, while others say to try and contrast them. I say try it all and figure out what you like.




History: I love a good cocktail story, and the Gin & Tonic has a fantastic one. It begins with the Quechua people of Peru. They used the bark of the cinchona tree, which they called quina-quina, as a muscle relaxant that stopped shivering. They would mix it with sweetened water to make its bitter taste more palatable. A Jesuit priest named Agostino Salumbrino sent some of the bark to Rome, suggesting that it might be used to ease the shakes of feverish malaria patients. In a remarkable coincidence, the bark did not just stop the shivering of malaria patients; it actually cured them, through an entirely different mechanism. Two French scientists eventually isolated the medicinal compound in the bark, naming it quinine after the Quechua word for the tree.

As the British expanded into India in the 19th century, quinine became used as a malaria prophylaxis, meaning it was taken before exposure to the disease to prevent infection. Even on its own, the quinine was still bitter, so British soldiers mixed it with sugar, soda water, lime, and their gin ration. So the Gin & Tonic was born. By 1858, tonic water was being produced commercially and marketed to the growing number of Brits in India and other tropical countries. It was apparently something of an acquired taste, as it became a popular cocktail. Once it was not being consumed for medicinal purposes, the amount of quinine in tonic water was reduced to its current levels for a taste that is much less bitter (so, on your next tropical vacation, please don't consider a daily G&T a viable alternative to your usual dose of malarone).

Gin & Tonic

1.5 oz. gin
3.5 oz. tonic (or to taste)

Pour gin into a rocks glass. Fill glass with ice. Top with tonic water. Garnish with a lime or lemon twist. Avoid malaria.


Monday, April 6, 2015

Bar School: Gin


I always thought I had a good handle on gin. There didn't seem to be that many different varieties; I felt like I knew the major players. It wasn't until I started researching that I realized how much there is to it. For one thing, it's not just Tanqueray vs. Bombay Sapphire anymore. There are a number of new small-batch brands out on the market, many of which are incredibly affordable. And the history of gin is fascinating.

The basics: gin is a spirit made from a mixture of malted grains such as barley, wheat, corn, and rye. It is flavored with herbs, particularly juniper, which gives it its name (the Dutch word for juniper is jenever). Though just about all the gin you probably drink is London Dry Gin, there are actually several different types.

Genever, or Holland Gin, is the ancestor of modern gin, and may date back to the 13th century. It was produced in Belgium and the Netherlands by distilling malt wine, a liquor made from fermenting malted grains. Because the product of this process didn't taste very good, distillers added sugar and herbs, including juniper berries, to make it palatable. This mixture was originally sold as a medicinal remedy. While there are still several producers in Europe, the only Genever you're likely to see in the United States is the Dutch brand Bols Genever. I've never tasted it, but Roger Kamholtz at The Kitchn's excellent Nine Bottle Bar series describes Genever as having a "funky, sweet, almost bready character." Interesting.

Old Tom Gin is the result of Genever being brought to England. It became particularly popular during the early 18th century, when the country heavily taxed imported spirits. Gin became the drink of the poor, made from grains that weren't good enough for brewing beer. Supposedly a black cat on a sign outside a drinking establishment indicated that gin was served there, thus the nickname "Old Tom." The spirit was so popular that this period is now known as the Gin Craze.

Beer Street and Gin Lane, two prints by William Hogarth, 1751

While we now have these back-alley establishments to thank for our Martinis and Negronis, not everyone was so keen on this new spirit at the time. Daniel Defoe, the author of Robinson Crusoe, wrote an essay on this practice in which he declared "that the Liquor call'd Geneva is mortal in it self, and that the Juniper-Berries put into it are Poison." He argues for the consumption of beer instead, which, unlike Gin, "destroys no Health, wastes no Time, spends no Money, weakens no Understandings." (I wonder what kind of beer he was drinking.) Propaganda such as the prints above, entitled Beer Street and Gin Lane, discouraged consumption of the much stronger spirit. Guess which print is Gin Lane. Hint: it's not the one where everybody is fat, happy, and producing great art.

Old Tom is considered the "missing link" between Genever and London Dry Gin. It is intermediate in flavor, not as sweet as Genever or as dry as London Dry. It's not clear to me at what point Genever became Old Tom in England, but it was likely a gradual evolution of taste. Old Tom in its current formulation was developed in the 19th century. It was extremely popular in the early American cocktail movement, lending its name to the Tom Collins and generally being used where we would use London Dry Gin today. It began to be replaced as a preference for drier cocktails developed. It is, however, experiencing a comeback in the current craft cocktail movement, and you can almost certainly find a bottle at your local liquor store.

London Dry Gin is the gin that you are used to drinking. It was developed in the 19th century along with an improved distillation process that made a much better-tasting spirit that didn't need sugar to mask its inferior flavor. It remained less popular than Old Tom until the 20th century, when it became the first choice for most cocktails. Its name comes from its birthplace; London Dry does not have to be made in London (and today, most of it isn't).

Plymouth Gin, on the other hand, specifically refers to gin that is made in Plymouth, England, though it is basically London Dry style. Gin production there goes back to the days of the gin craze. Today there is only one distillery, which produces Plymouth brand.

Sloe Gin is made with a fruit called sloe or blackthorn instead of juniper. Unlike other gins, it is bright red in color. Sloe was common in England during the Gin Craze, and so was used as flavoring. One of the notable cocktails invented with Sloe Gin is the Sloe Gin Fizz. Like Old Tom, it stopped being widely produced in the 20th century, but is experiencing a comeback. Plymouth now makes a Sloe Gin as well as their traditional Plymouth Gin.

On top of all this, there is an emerging category of American Dry Gin that is produced in the US and has less juniper flavor than London Dry; examples include Aviation and Bluecoat.

Individual gins have a lot of variation in flavor due to the different botanicals used to flavor them. Bombay Sapphire, for example, is flavored with almond, lemon peel, licorice, juniper, orris root, angelica, coriander, cassia, cubeb, and grains of paradise, while Hendricks uses yarrow, juniper, elderflower, angelica, orange peel, caraway, coriander, chamomile, cubeb, orris root, and lemon, followed by an infusion of rose and cucumber. These individual flavor profiles mean that certain gins can be better suited for certain cocktails (Hendricks in anything containing cucumber, for example).

Right now the only gin in my bar is a bottle of Tanqueray, but I'm itching to try some others. Ford's and St. George are currently at the top of my list. What's your favorite gin?





Friday, April 3, 2015

Negroni


Every now and then in the course of my cocktail explorations, I come across something that I just really don't like, much as I want to. The Negroni is one of those things.

Sure, it's a classic cocktail. It evokes summer evenings in Italy, sipping this blend of gin, Campari, and vermouth on the terrace of your villa. And maybe if I made one under those circumstances, I'd come around. But something about this particular combination of the bitter Campari with the sweet vermouth just does not work for me. Apparently I'm not entirely alone; bartender and blogger Naren Young said of the drink, "There are very few cocktails where the words 'acquired taste' are more appropriate than with the Negroni." I guess I'll just have to keep going to Italy and ordering them until I like them.

But don't let my distaste steer you away from trying this recipe. Many cocktail connoisseurs insist that it is their favorite drink. Maybe it will be yours too.

History: The Negroni was named after its creator, an Italian Count named Camillo Negroni. He was the sort of guy you'd really enjoy swapping tales with over a drink - he'd probably tell you about the time he spent in America gambling and working as a rodeo cowboy. After he returned to Florence, his birthplace, he became friends with the bartender of Caffe Casoni, Fosco Scarselli. One day in 1919 he went to the bar for a drink and asked for the popular Americano cocktail (Campari, sweet vermouth, and soda water) - but, as a cowboy does, he ordered it with gin instead of soda. The rest, as they say, is history; soon all of Florence was ordering their Americanos "the Negroni way."

This story was considered little more than a fable until an Italian bartender named Lucca Picchi researched the tale in depth. His book, Sulle Tracce del Conte: La Vera Storia del Cocktail Negroni ("On the Trail of the Count: The True Story of the Negroni Cocktail") is currently only available in Italian, but it supports the popular story and fleshes out its history. (It's also a great example of just how much history a single cocktail can have; I feel like I could write a pretty entertaining book on any of these.)

In an article for SFGate, Gaz Regan traces the history of the Negroni several cocktails back to its spritous ancestors. The Negroni, as I just explained, was a modification of the Americano. The Americano, in turn, was a "long drink" or "tall drink" version of the Milano-Torino, which was equal parts Campari and sweet vermouth. And this drink was based on the Torino-Milano, which was a mix of Campari and another type of Italian bitters called Amano Cora. When you considering that there are multiple cocktails based on the Negroni (the Old Pal and Boulevardier, for example), you start to see a lineage much like a family tree.

Incidentally, Caffe Casoni is now owned by Roberto Cavalli, and has been renamed Caffe Giacosa. But you can still get a Negroni there.

Negroni

1 oz. gin
1 oz. Campari
1 oz. sweet vermouth

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir. Strain into a cocktail glass or into a rocks glass filled with ice. Garnish with an orange slice.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Daiquiri



Having grown up in Louisiana, I think of a "Daiquiri" as a bright red concoction served frozen in a giant styrofoam cup, possibly from a drive-thru window. But this bears little resemblance to the actual cocktail, except perhaps for the inclusion of rum. A real Daiquiri is a simple mix of rum, lime juice, and sugar. It's similar to the Gimlet and the Margarita, which replace the rum with gin and tequila, respectively. While it's a far cry from a flashy craft cocktail, this simple mixture is classic, refreshing, and very drinkable. It also provides a blank canvas for all sorts of variations that I look forward to trying in the future.

History: Most historians agree that, given its common ingredients, the Daiquiri was probably invented multiple times. Rum was a widely available spirit in the Caribbean, and sailors drank lime juice to prevent scurvy. Mixing the two together with some sugar is just good sense. But the Daiquiri that rose to widespread popularity hails from Cuba, and gets its name from an iron mine outside of Santiago. I've found several versions of the story of its creation that at first seem like disparate accounts, but after some digging I think I've figured out how they all fit together - take it with a grain of salt. Jennings Cox, an American mining engineer, was working at the Daiquiri mine when he received a visit from F. D. Pagliuchi, another engineer of unclear nationality. Pagliuchi was interested in reviving some abandoned mines in the area. Cox couldn't get his hands on any gin (the fashionable spirit of the time), and he was worried about serving Pagliuchi the local rum. So he mixed up a cocktail with lime and sugar to class it up. They named the concoction after the mine.

The Daiquiri was brought to the United States in 1902 by Congressman William A. Chanler. He had just gone to Cuba to check on his new investment, the El Cobre copper mine. Intrigued, I tried to find out more about the mine and came across some old documents that list Pagliuchi as involved in its purchase and restoration. So it's possible that Chanler was introduced to the Daiquiri by one of its creators. He brought the drink back to the best clubs in New York, where it became a classic cocktail.

Daiquiri

2 oz. white rum
3/4 oz. simple syrup
3/4 oz. lime juice

Combine all ingredients in a shaker over ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a wedge of lime.

Recipe from Vintage Cocktails.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Whiskey Smash



There's nothing I love more than a crowd-pleasing cocktail, and the Whiskey Smash definitely fits the bill. Its creator, Dale DeGroff, recommends it for people who say they don't like whiskey, and I agree: they'll probably be halfway to the bottom of the glass before they even think ask what's in it. The combination of mint, lemon juice, and simple syrup is delicious and refreshing. It's somehow light and citrusy enough for warm summer afternoons yet still fit for cold winter evenings (like the one on which I made them for this post).

This recipe can definitely be altered to suit your taste. I made a batch with a friend and we found the original a bit too sweet, so we changed it to feature the bourbon more. If you think it's too strong, increase the lemon and simple syrup.

History: A smash is a type of julep. This makes sense, as the only ingredient separating the cocktail below from a Mint Julep is the lemon. The similarity makes it difficult to say when the smash was really invented. Harry Johnson's 1888 Bartender's Manual includes a recipe for an Old Style Whiskey Smash using sugar, water, mint, whiskey, and a garnish of seasonal fruit. As this is the first recorded mention of the Whiskey Smash that I can find, it's intriguing that he calls it "old style." It is very similar to Jerry Thomas' Whiskey Julep recipe from the 1862 Bon Vivant's Companion. When he revised the book in 1887, Thomas added the Whiskey Smash to his repertoire. It was, ironically, a modern Mint Julep; his Mint Julep recipe called for a dash of rum and all sorts of fruit garnishes, whereas the Whiskey Smash was kept simple. Over time, the Whiskey Smash faded into obscurity and the Mint Julep was simplified down to its current form. Then Dale DeGroff, affectionately known as the father of modern mixology, resurrected the Whiskey Smash with the addition of lemon. And thank goodness he did.

Whiskey Smash

2 oz. bourbon
3/4 oz. lemon juice
3/4 oz. simple syrup
five mint leaves

Muddle mint leaves in a shaker with lemon juice and simple syrup. Add whiskey and fill shaker with ice. Shake until chilled. Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice. Garnish with a spring of mint.

Recipe adapted from Vintage Cocktails.