Drink of the Week: The Fin de Siècle

the Fin de Siècle.“Fin de siècle” is French for “end of the century, which means that we’ve all missed our opportunity by 15 years to have a  Fin de Siècle at the most appropriate point possible, assuming we were old enough to drink in 2000. Or, if you want to look at it the other way, we’ve all got 85 years to work on preparing the perfect Fin de Siècle in time for 2100.

The truth is, however, that the real roots of this post go back not to Y2K but to last week. My copy of Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails having been destroyed by a backed-up sink…yes, I leave cocktail books on the sink sometimes and, yes, I’m paying the price…I found myself seeing a number of somewhat similar cocktails in Robert Hess’s accurately named The Essential Cocktail Guide. Like last week’s drink, today’s drink contains sweet vermouth, orange bitters, and Torani Amer, substituting for Amer Picon — easily the most commonly called-for modern day cocktail ingredient that you can’t find anywhere in North America.

The main difference, aside from the proportions, is that our base spirit is changed out from whiskey to gin. The result is a bit lighter and drier, but no less tasty and sophisticated.

The Fin de Siècle

1 1/2 ounces gin
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
1/4 ounce Torani Amer (or Amer Picon, if live in Europe or own a time machine)
1 dash orange bitters

Combined all ingredients in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass with plenty of ice. Stir vigorously — or shake, gently, if you’re feeling rebellious — and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Toast anything that has come to conclusion or shortly will, including your tasty Fin de Siècle. Nothing lasts forever, after all, least of all a good cocktail.

*****

I saw a few recipes online for this that mentioned Plymouth Gin, but most people seem to use your more garden variety London Dry style gin. I used premium (but I guess not super premium) Bombay Dry Gin and good ol’ value-priced Gordon’s Gin, both with results that were more than satisfactory.

I actually found that,much more than with the gin, my choice of sweet vermouth made a far more dramatic difference in the flavor. I was very happy with my Fin de Siècle when I used Noilly Pratt — my personal default sweet vermouth in slight preference to Martini or Cinzano. Still, there was no topping the slightly bitter, almost chocolate-like undercurrents of Carpano Antica; sometimes you just can’t argue with the cocktail snobs. If you want a sweeter drink that’s nevertheless not too offensive, I had decent luck replacing Torani Amer with Amaro CioCiara, suggested by some as another Amer Picon substitute.

Finally, yes, you can shake this drink but that’s not my preference this time around. For starters, this is second cousin to a gin martini. (We’ll be getting to it’s first cousin very soon). I really do think there may be something to the idea that shaking can “bruise” gin, i.e., add a slightly unpleasant bitterness. Mainly, though, I don’t think the additional water/ice crystals that shaking generates really flatters the Fin de Siècle. I think this may be a drink that wants to be cool, but not ice cold.

Now, have a great Memorial Day weekend. Maybe it’s a good time to remember what life could be, if only we were all nice enough and smart enough.

  

You can follow us on Twitter and Facebook for content updates. Also, sign up for our email list for weekly updates and check us out on Google+ as well.

Drink of the Week: The Liberal

the Liberal.The Liberal’s history goes back to before the turn of the 20th century, which means it’s probably dangerous to make any strong connections with modern day political affiliations, especially since this drink doesn’t have any particular story to go with it. When it comes to political labels, in any case, a lot of things have changed since 1895. That’s why modern day conservative writers feel like they can argue that they are the real liberals — as in libertarian — while today’s liberals are, in fact, fascists — a political affiliation that I’m pretty sure didn’t exist when the Liberal was first being mixed. Also, I think there’s maybe kind of a big difference between Benito Mussolini and Adlai Stevenson.

Still, as someone who has been a proud and very unapologetic actual bleeding heart liberal since the age of 12 or so, I can’t but be attracted to a drink with this name. If your politics are different than my own, however, I can reassure you that drinking the Liberal won’t impact your voting choices next year. Well, as long as you don’t drink five of them on election day, in which case you might find yourself voting for people who are dead, fictitious, or named “Huckabee.”

I can say that I like this version of the drink, which is primarily drawn from the recipe in cocktail historian Ted Haigh’s cocktail revival ur-volume, Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails. There is a stronger, larger, and less sweet version of this drink, but I don’t love it. Yes, this Liberal is open to charges of being subtly reactionary and stingy to boot. Nevertheless, our taste buds know no ideology and are immune to purity trolling. So, let’s get started.

The Liberal

3/4 ounce bourbon or rye
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
1/2 teaspoon Torani Amer
1-2 dashes orange bitters
1 cocktail cherry (very desirable garnish)

Combine the liquid ingredients in a mixing glass or a cocktail shaker. Add ice and stir vigorously. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, preferably a smaller one, and add the cocktail cherry of your choice.

As for your toast, I can’t tell you what to think or do, but you might consider the people who brought us the 8 hour day, the 40 hour work week, the minimum wage, child labor laws, and now accessible healthcare (guaranteed 100% death panel free). If you’d rather not have those things, you can still drink this, of course, but make sure you drink it from a clean glass and don’t get sick and lose your job, because then you’ll be on your own.

****

In his book,Ted Haigh calls for using 100 proof Wild Turkey, Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, and 3 dashes of Amer Picon, which brings up a few issues. For starters, there’s no such thing as 100 proof Wild Turkey these days, not precisely. Instead, we have Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon and Rye. I’m not sure which he meant, or whether the rye was even available when he first recreated the recipe. Since I had the 101 proof bourbon on hand already on hand left over from my pre-Derby Day post, that’s what I used first, along with the always excellent, if pricey, Carpano. Amer Picon is simply impossible to obtain, so I went with the most common substitute, Torani Amer, which is easily obtainable here in California, in any case. As for three dashes…how much is that and where I am supposed to find an amaro in a bottle with a dasher top?

Having made my adjustments, my first attempt at a Liberal was pretty excellent. Sweet, but not one bit cloying and complex enough for slow sipping, with a chocolatey undercurrent thanks to the Carpano. I followed it up with other versions, including ones with 1776 100 proof rye and my cheaper default sweet vermouth, Noilly Pratt. They were less rich in flavor, but still had plenty of complex, more floral, notes to keep your mouth good and busy.

One thing about this drink that surprised me, however, is that it really doesn’t seem to work shaken, which is my usual contrarian preference with the drink’s fairly close relative, the Manhattan. No, this one time the cocktail cognoscenti dogma about stirring over shaking drinks without juice in them proves to be correct. As usual, I could not care less about “clouding” drinks by shaking them. However, I do care a lot about flavor, and the Liberal simply tastes better that way. When I figure out how that reflects my political/philosophical leanings, I’ll let you know.

 

  

Drink of the Week: The Spicy Cerveza Cocktail

the Spicy Cerveza Cocktail.I’m sure that many will never forgive my decision last week to favor Derby Day over Cinco de Mayo which, alas and alack, passed us by last Tuesday. Still, this week I have been gifted by the PR gods of Big Cocktail with a drink so muy delicioso that it’s worth celebrating on el Ocho de Mayo, el Nuevo de Mayo, or pretty much any day of the year.

As the name implies to anyone with a basic Los Angeleno knowledge of the Spanish language, the Spicy Cerveza Cocktail contains, you guessed it, beer. While I’ve been messing around with cocktails combining brews with various hard liquors for some time, the combination of Hornitos Plata Tequila — last featured here back on el Cinco de Julio — and the good Mexican lager of your choice makes for a drink that manages to be flavorful, refreshing, and pretty strong. Kind of like a more macho variation on a really good margarita. Let’s get started.

The Spicy Cerveza Cocktail

1 1/2 ounces Hornitos Plata Tequila (“plata” means the clear stuff)
4 ounces Mexican lager
1/2 ounce lime juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup (2 1/2 teaspoons of superfine sugar will also work)
1 slice of fresh jalapeno
Salt

Start with a good sized glass — I had the best luck using a double rocks glass — rimmed with salt. Toss in your jalapeno slice and muddle it with a certain degree of vigor. Next, combine tequila, lime juice and simple syrup/sugar in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake very vigorously. Strain into your glass, which by now should be filled with sufficient ice…but leaving room for four ounces of your all-important cerveza. Top the drink with the beer, and begin to sip, but not too quickly.This is a drink that benefits from taking your time.

******

This is also a beverage that develops as you drink it. If you’re the patient type, sip slowly. You’ll start out mostly tasting the beer but, as you go,you’ll get closer to the chewy tequila/lime/sugar/jalapeno center. The cool part is that the fizziness of the Mexican lager will still be there as you continue. If you’re impatient to get to the drink’s margarita center, though, feel free to stir it, but do so very gently.

Finally, this is a drink that can stand up to some variation. For my beers, I went with Corona and Pacifico, and both were just dandy. I suspect Dos Equis, Tecate, et al, will also be just fine. Since this drink comes to from the PR gods who have gifted me with a free bottle or two, I naturally recommend you use Hornitos Plata as your tequila and not just because I’ve been corrupted; its very slight sweetness complements the Spicy Cerveza Cocktail pretty beautifully. However, I did experiment with a very well known Brand X plata on one try, and the results were not horrific.

  

Drink of the Week: The Grandstand Julep

the Grandstand Julep.The first week in May is always a dilemma in the making here at Drink of the Week Plaza as it actually pits two of the year’s biggest drinking excuses holidays against each other. Since tomorrow is Derby Day and Cinco de Mayo is in the middle of next week, I’m going to start with that and follow it up with a belated Mexican-themed cocktail for next week. Not ideal, I know. It is, of course, entirely coincidental that mysterious forces bribed gifted me with a free bottle of Wild Turkey 101 Straight Bourbon and this week’s intriguing, imaginative variation on a traditional Mint Julep.

Though I still have a spot soft for good Old Fitzgerald when you can find it, I have to admit that this expression of one of the best known names in American whiskey is about as good a high-proof bourbon as you’re likely to get for under $20.00 for a fifth. It offers a very nice balance of sweet and tough flavors that have made for plenty of good reviews and a number of good cocktails.

Which brings us to this week’s variation on the ultimate Derby Day classic. It pairs the bourbon with, of all things, an artichoke-derived amaro-style liqueur beloved of the cocktail cognoscenti. Can these two crazy ingredients have a shot at a long and happy life together? Let’s find out.

The Grandstand Julep

1 1/2 ounces Cynar
3/4 ounce Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon
1/2 ounce simple syrup
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce fresh grapefruit juice
12 mint leaves
2 ounces soda water
2 dashes Fee Brother’s Grapefruit Bitters

Build this one in a julep cup if you’ve got one and a good size rocks glass if you don’t. (I don’t!) Combine the Cynar, Wild Turkey, juice, mint leaves (given the differing sizes of mint leaves, the number is an approximation at best), and simple syrup…you can also substitute two and half teaspoons of superfine sugar if that’s easier. Gently muddle the leaves in the liquid.

Next, add crushed ice, follow with the soda water and then top the whole thing off with the grapefruit bitters. Start to sip slowly and toast our equine friends. Alternatively, you can toast W.C. Fields, who is supposed to have said that horse sense is what keeps horses from betting on people.

*****

While you could theoretically try this drink with another bourbon (it better be a strong one), there isn’t much room for messing around with the main ingredients here. Mainly that’s because there’s only one one type of Cynar available and it’s made by the manufacturers of Campari.

The exception is actually your ice, which really does need to be crushed. I’m lazy and tried this drink several times with ordinary ice and found it tasty and relatively well balanced but bordering on cloying. Crushing the ice, while admittedly a bit of a hassle, opened the drink up and took the edge off the very sweet/very bitter flavors. My only other advice is not to drink this one too fast. You want to let that crushed ice melt a bit. Take your time with this one and leave the racing to the horsies.

  

Drink of the Week: The Reign of Terror (TCM Fest Salute #4)

The Reign of Terror.If there’s something that unites film geeks and cocktail enthusiasts, it’s an interest in the aged and the obscure. Yes, a lot of lost old movies and cocktails were lost for a good reason — not everything can last beyond its time. Nevertheless, there are still plenty of buried gems and few things in life are more fun for any kind of enthusiast than unearthing one of them.

So it is with the final film in my set of cocktails inspired directly by movies I saw at this year’s Turner Classic Movies festival. Newly restored and salvaged from footnote status, 1949’s “The Reign of Terror” is also known as “The Black Book.” The latter title describes the film’s McGuffin, a book of men marked for death which will bring about the destruction of a powerful criminal mastermind, if only it can be found. The fact that the perp in question is named Maximilien Robespierre and the setting is not postwar L.A. or NYC but 18th century Paris might give you a clue about how unusual this directorial effort from cinephile favorite Anthony Mann (“T-Men,” “Winchester ‘73”) really is.

At this point, Mann was chiefly making low budget film noirs. However, the Walter Wanger production company had a bunch of period sets left over from the big budget “Joan of Arc” starring Ingrid Bergman. In the interest of thrift, they decided that it made sense to capitalize on the vogue for darkly themed and lit expressionistic crime films by making a  cloak and dagger noir drama that just happens to be set during the most murderous portions of the French Revolution.

“Reign of  Terror” stars the usually affable Robert Cummings as a hardened operative of anti-terror forces and Arlene Dahl as the woman he doesn’t really trust to help him in his efforts to prevent Robespierre from appointing himself dictator of France. Very wisely, no French accents are attempted and noir super-cinematographer John Alton transforms 15th century sets into 18th century ones by using black and white cinema’s most powerful weapon: darkness. It’s a dandy drama that anyone who digs expressionistic cinema must check out when they can.

Oh, you wanted a cocktail, not a film review? I get it. So, here we go with a drink that was kindly whipped up for me by Ian, ace bartender at Tonga Hut, my neighborhood hang and one of L.A.’s oldest surviving tiki bars. Ian elaborated on my idea that the Reign of Terror cocktail should contain some Fernet Branca, arguably the most terrifyingly bitter and astringent of cocktail makings, and made me a dandy drink. I spent the rest of the week getting the proportions down and making one doubtful improvement. Here is the result.

The Reign of Terror

3/4 ounce brandy
3/4 ounce gin
1/2 ounce Fernet Branca
1/2 ounce Benedictine
1/2 egg white
1/2 teaspoon absinthe (very optional rinse)
1-2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
1 lemon twist (important garnish)

Combine all the liquid ingredients, except the absinthe, in a cocktail shaker. Since this drink has some egg white, you’ll want to dry shake (shake without ice cubes) first…though that may not be 100 percent necessary if, like me, you’re using prepackaged pasteurized egg white. Next, add plenty of ice cubes, shake again, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass which, if you want, may have been rinsed with absinthe as you would with a Sazarac. (Extra fancy coupes like the one pictured may be especially appropriate for this beverage.) Add the lemon twist. Sip and toast anyone who can figure out why it’s not nice to decapitate people just because they disagree with you.

****

The goal with the ingredients was to be a little bit terrifying and a little bit French. I’m not quite sure I quite made it on the latter point. For starters, it’s just occurring to me right now that Fernet Branca is actually Italian in origin. As for the brandies we used, Ian chose a cognac, which is always from the Cognac region of France, but then I went with the Hartley brandy I had on hand at home, which turns out to be from Italy also. I later opted for Reynal, my value-priced default brandy, which is bills itself as “rare old French brandy.” Gin is usually from England, of course; I used Tanqueray, Gordon’s, and Nolet’s, which sounds French but is actually Dutch. Peychaud’s bitters is more Creole than French. In other words, my cocktail is not so French as I might like, but then the movie “Reign of Terror” is about as français as a French dip sandwich.

I will say, however, that the drink has perhaps a slight hint of terror but also enough sweet smoothness to be very drinkable thanks to the Benedictine (which is French) and the egg white. On the down side, I’ve grown increasingly negative on the one big change I made to Ian’s recipe, which was the absinthe rinse. More and more, I think it just gets in the way of the almost chocolatey flavor of the Reign of Terror. Maybe give it a try both ways — assuming you’ve got the absinthe on hand in the first place — and see what you think.

Getting back to that half an egg white, I can see where that would be pretty terrifying for would-be bartenders since no one sells half-eggs. The solution is to either make two cocktails at once and double up on all your ingredients, or to use 1 1/2 tablespoons of packaged egg white. Not so terrifying, really.

  

Related Posts