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Drink of the Week: The Brooklyn Cocktail (First Attempt)

The Brooklyn Cocktail. If you don’t think cocktails can be austere, then you’ve obviously never tasted a dry martini. It might be hard to believe for cocktail old timers but, to a newcomer, a dry gin martini is as forebidding as a Bartok quartet, a Maoist-period Jean-Luc Godard film, or a Jackson Pollack painting. If I wasn’t a born olive lover — and if I didn’t feel wonderfully tipsy after drinking them — I might never have discovered martinis myself.

Other drinks can offer more stylistic possibilities. A Manhattan can be as inviting as a Capra comedy or, if you seriously dial back the sweet vermouth, as demanding as Thomas Mann’s Dr. Faustus — a book I actually read and can almost remember. I’m guessing the Brooklyn Cocktail, a definite member of the Manhattan family, might be in that category, as the proportions vary really dramatically.

Today’s NYC-centric drink is another recipe I found in Dale DeGroff’s seminal The Craft of the Cocktail. It’s part of the some cocktail catching-up I’ve been inspired to do by the likably imperfect documentary, Hey Bartender. The film on the still nascent craft cocktail scene will be starting a very slow roll-out today (6/7/13) in New York, and then the following Friday in Los Angeles, and a few other odd cities. Stayed tuned here for an interview featuring a major player in the film.

In the meantime, I present the cocktail I’ve been struggling with this week, and I do mean struggling — though I think this one can be really good if you make sure the stars align properly. I only managed it once. That’s why I’m just watching “Hey Bartender,” and not appearing in it.

The Brooklyn Cocktail (modified DeGroff version)

2 ounces Canadian Club whiskey
1 ounce dry vermouth
1/4 teaspoon maraschino liqueur
1/4 teaspoon Torani Amer (or Amer Picon, if you’ve somehow got it)
1 lemon twist (garnish)

Combine everything but the lemon twist in a cocktail shaker. Add lots of ice and then do what the Good Lord put cocktail shakers on earth for, and shake the darn thing. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and toast the best bartender you know, who probably will get better results than you with this drink.

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My first Brooklyn Cocktail turned out to be my best, though I diverged from Mr. DeGroff’s recipe in one major, but respectful, sense. Instead of classic Canadian Club, I used some of my prized small batch Canadian Club Sherry Cask with the last of the dry Noilly Pratt I had on hand.

DeGroff’s original recipe, published in 2002, calls for a “dash” of the maraschino liqueur and the Amer Picon digestif. Aside from the fact that Amer Picon is not actually available in the U.S. these days, I have no idea how you’re supposed to properly get a dash out of a bottle that doesn’t have a spout on it. So, in this draft, it’s 1/4 of a teaspoon of maraschino and Torani Amer, an alleged replica of Amer Picon.

So far so good, but I thought there was room for improvement and I┬ástill hadn’t tried it with standard Canadian Club, a brand I actually kind of love. First, however, I had to get myself some more dry vermouth. When I went for my beloved Noilly Pratt at BevMo, I failed to properly register the different coloring of the cap. Turns out, I was purchasing something called Noilly Pratt “extra dry.”

A little research showed that the French dry vermouth I’ve fallen in love over the last few years is, indeed, the original Noilly Pratt recipe that goes back to 1813 — but one that’s only been available in the States since 2009. It seems we vulgar Americans weren’t good enough for the original stuff during the late 20th and early 21st centuries, and we had to be given a drier, simpler vermouth until we were deemed ready for the real thing. Now, that Americanized and simplified (I don’t want to say “dumbed down”) vermouth is back on the market.

I was ready to march right back to BevMo and swap it out for an (easier to keep fresh) half-sized bottle of Martini & Rossi, until I theorized that the recipe was written in 2002, and probably used many years prior to that. Perhaps the extra dry Noilly Pratt was actually what Dale DeGroff used. I definitely prefer the older French recipe, but cocktails are always much more than the sum of their parts, and that’s why I love them.

So, I made my next Brooklyn Cocktail with Canadian Club and the extra dry Noilly Pratt. Disappointingly, the austerity of the drink wasn’t really enlivened by much of anything else. It wasn’t bad, just not terribly enjoyable. Still, that version was much better than what I got when I tried doubling up on my dashes of maraschino and Torani Amer. That drink actually was downright disappointing and a bit mediciney.

What now? I’m going to try the more traditional recipe I’ve seen online, which called for rye whiskey instead of Canadian Club…and I’m going to see if I can’t find my beloved NP “original dry,” damn it, at a local liquor store. Stay tuned!

  

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