Drink of the Week: The Knickerbocker

The Knickerbocker.In terms of nomenclature, today’s drink is a nice segue from our last drink of the week, the Algonquin. That drink was (probably) named for the historic Manhattan hotel and its bar. The Knickerbocker is named for the archaic nickname for all New Yorkers, i.e., a Knickerbocker was once to NYC as a Hoosier is to Indiana. If you’re a tri-state area basketball fan, you probably know all this already.

On the other hand, it’s also the completion of something of a trilogy with two other recent posts, the Blinker and the Monkey Gland. The common thread in these three drinks is a revived cocktail sweetener I’ve only recently become aware of: raspberry syrup. We’re not talking about just any raspberry syrup but specifically the stuff that’s manufactured by purveyors of jams and jellies and intended mainly to be poured over ice cream.

The Knickerbocker always seems to feature gold rum and raspberry syrup but, beyond that’s it’s another one of those drinks where the recipes vary so greatly they’re barely the same drink. Here’s the version I went with, which I pretty much ripped off entirely from cocktail superhistorian David Wondrich. See what you think.

The Knickerbocker

2 1/2 ounces golden rum
1/2 ounce lime juice
1 1/2 teaspoons raspberry syrup
1/2 teaspoon orange curacao
1 spent lime wedge and whatever berries you can find — interesting but not necessarily essential garnishes

Place the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake very vigorously. Dump the contents, ice and all, into a double-sized rocks/old fashioned glass. Add the garnishes listed or other fruits of your choice if you’re feeling adventurous. Toast whatever you like, I’m out of ideas this week.

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I actually started my Knickerbocker holiday with the version featured in Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, which drew me into my raspberry syrup madness in the first place. That one featured an entire ounce of lemon juice with more sweet ingredients to compensate. I found it both too sweet and too sour.

By comparison, Mr. Wondrich’s version was a bracing, somewhat macho, treat, which makes sense as Ted Haigh tells us the full name of the drink is the Knickbocker a la monsieur — apparently there’s a Knickerbocker out there that was originally intended strictly for les mesdames. (I’d probably love it, I’m a girl-drink drunk at heart.)

While there may be tons of variations of the Knickbocker out there, anytime I tried to vary the Wondrich recipe ever so slightly, I came up a loser. Deciding to switch my ultra-thick Smuckers raspberry for the more easily dissolved Torani raspberry syrup yielded an unpleasant medicinal taste. Chastened to some degree, I experimented with an additional half teaspoon full of the Smuckers. Another bust that actually tasted less sweet; I don’t even know how that’s possible.

I did have fun throwing in various kinds of (overpriced but tasty) berries into the drink. They are such a part of this particular iteration of the Knickerbocker that Dave Wondrich actually suggests serving the drink with a straw and tiny spoon for the berries…personally, I can see the spoon but I’m not a big fan of straws with this sort of beverage. I want the ice to be a bit more forward, I guess.

I also learned something new. You must refrigerate your supermarket raspberries and never, ever leave them in your car for a few hours on a 70+ degree afternoon, unless you like your berries better after they’ve grown fur.

  

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Drink of the Week: The Algonquin

the Algonquin.As a teenager, I found myself seriously infatuated with an older women. So great was the age difference that she had actually been dead since I was in kindergarten.

Legendary wit and poet laureate of dissipated enlightenment, Dorothy Parker was probably the most interesting of the literary lights that graced New York’s Algonquin Hotel’s famed round table of notable quipsters. The informal gang o’ pals also included humorist Robert Benchley (Parker’s platonic bff), and critic Alexander Wolcott. Another great wit in the group, Harpo Marx, like Teller after him, never said a word when the cameras and microphones were on, but apparently could chat up a storm on his own time.

Now, to be honest, while the Algonquin crew and especially the wondrous Ms. Parker definitely enjoyed more than their share of cocktails, there’s no evidence they actually ever sipped a single Algonquin. Still, they should have. It’s a dry, sophisticated drink, a fruity twist on the Perfect Manhattan that’s a really solid addition to the cannon of Prohibition-era beverages.

Yes, we have no indication that they ever had the drink, but also no proof that they didn’t. I chose, therefore, to print the legend. Let’s just assume that the woman who we are told said ““If all the girls who attended the Yale prom were laid end to end, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised” and the man who opined that “Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker” enjoyed an Algonquin together. It’ll taste better that way.

The Algonquin

2 ounces rye whiskey
1 ounce pineapple juice
1 ounce dry vermouth
1 maraschino cherry (desirable garnish)
1 mint leaf (optional, but intriguing, garnish)

Combine your whiskey, juice, and vermouth in a mixing vessel with the usual ton of ice. Some think you should stir it, but I say they’re wrong. Shake the dang thing vigorously and strain into a large, chilled cocktail glass. If you want smaller portions, or have small cocktail glasses, simply use 1 1/2 ounces whiskey to 3/4 ounce each pineapple juice and vermouth. Toast which ever Algonquin Round Table member you choose, but I choose the amazing Dorothy.

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The particular example of an Algonquin pictured above was not crafted by your humble boozescribe, but comes courtesy of ace mixologist, Ian, at my neighborhood watering hole, Tonga Hut. Following my instructions, Ian added a high-end Luxardo maraschino cherry and threw on a mint leaf on top, departing from the classic recipe with a Tonga Hut trademark.

Making the drink at home, I had good luck with a number of different brands. Like Ian, I found that using 100 proof Rittenhouse Rye yielded an excellent result. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Old Overholt — increasingly the default rye at craft bars nevertheless — but it still yielded a decent, if slightly more astringent, beverage. I also enjoyed killing my bottle of sweet Redemption Rye for an Algonquin’s sake.

As for vermouths, I vacillated between your basic Martini and the fancier Dolin’s. The former was smooth and relaxed while the latter added a bit of spice. Oddly enough, I think I lean towards a simpler, dryer rye for an Algonquin.

The most dramatic difference, oddly enough, was between two different brands of canned pineapple juice. (It’s against my religion, Lazy Bumism, to actually cut up and juice an whole pineapple.) There was a fairly precipitous drop in the quality of my drinks when I switched from Trader Joe’s shockingly delicious not-from-concentrate, which brags that it tastes like it would if you squeezed it yourself, to your basic Dole’s. I’m not an expert on the finer points of pineapple juice but I can tell you that the better tasting pineapple juice resulted in the better tasting Algonquin.

  

Drink of the Week: The Monkey Gland

the Monkey Gland.Never fear, absolutely no simians were harmed in the making of today’s DOTW. The Monkey Gland is, in fact, a sly wink to a prohibition-era alleged health treatment which, for a time, was seriously in vogue with the (maybe not so) smart set. It did, in fact, call for the transplantation or grafting of the testicular tissue of a presumably very unhappy primate onto the testicular tissue of a slightly less unhappy primate, i.e., a male human being. Say what you will about modern day snake oil supplements and the like, they rarely cause intense groin pain.

What drew me to today’s cocktail was not any interest in the potency properties of primate parts, but in finding another drink where I could substitute my new bottle of raspberry syrup for grenadine after last week’s adventure with Dr. Cocktail’s Blinker. I admit to having enough of a sweet tooth that I was contemplating using my Smucker’s syrup in lieu of jam by soaking pieces of bread with it. Better by far to use a much smaller amount of it as a sweetener in a drink I’m going to be consuming anyway.

That’s not to say I didn’t give a fair hearing to the more traditional choice of grenadine, but let’s just say I was prejudiced in favor of the old school substitution.

The Monkey Gland

2 ounces London dry gin
1 ounce fresh orange juice
1/4 ounce (1 1/2 teaspoons) grenadine or raspberry syrup
1/4 teaspoon or 1 dash absinthe
1 orange peel (desirable garnish)

Combine all your liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker, perhaps stirring first if your using the kind of thick, cold raspberry syrup I was. Shake for a good, long time and strain into chilled cocktail glass or coupe. Add your orange peel and toast our much maligned cousins in the animal kingdom. Yes, we are related to them. Admit it, you resemble monkeys and apes at least as much as you resemble your uncle who always smells vaguely of fried eggs.

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This version of the Monkey Gland comes to us primarily from cocktail super-maven Robert Hess, who — and I mean this in the most flattering way possible — has always struck me as Martha Stewart’s boozier, slightly more relaxed twin brother. The drink in its updated version appears in Hess’s truly essential The Essential Bartender’s Guide, as well as in one of Mr. Hess’s eminently watchable online videos. It’s creation is usually credited to Harry MacElhone of Paris’s legendary Harry’s Bar. Mr. Hess, however, says the Monkey Gland was first mixed by Frank Meyer, the almost as legendary bartender at the nearby Hotel Ritz.

The original Monkey Gland called for equal parts gin and orange juice and commensurately less sweetener. I was tempted to give that a try but then I wouldn’t be using so much of my raspberry syrup up, and we couldn’t have that. Also, I’ve been enjoying my bottle of Tanqueray and who needs to cover that colossus of London gins up with too much OJ? Nevertheless, I did also try this drink with cheaper, merely 80 proof, Gordon’s Gin, and it was a taste treat in it’s own right.

The difference was actually more pronounced between the Monkey Glands I made using my default Master of Mixes grenadine and the raspberry syrup. It produced a gentler, subtler, slightly sweet taste I really enjoyed, especially when paired with the a-little-goes-a-super-long-way annis/licorice flavor of absinthe. So, yes, once again, advantage Smuckers.

And one final note, there’s also a South African barbecue sauce which goes by the name of Monkey Gland. It’s also 100% primate free but also contains no gin. You win some, you lose some.

  

Drink of the Week: The Blinker (Dr. Cocktail’s Version)

Dr. Cocktail's Blinker.If there is a more confusing matter in the world of cocktails than the naming of beverages, I haven’t come across it. It’s hard enough that the proportions of such basic drinks as the Martini and the Manhattan are so highly variable depending on which book or bartender you consult. It also doesn’t help that we cocktail writers can’t stop ourselves from continually messing with recipes to the point where two drinks with the exact same name and ancestry may have little in common, give or take an ingredient. At the same time, you might have two drinks with completely different names but which differ in only the slightest way. (Mr. Martini, meet Mr. Gibson.)

So, last week I brought you the original version of the Blinker, or something close to it, and I mentioned that famed cocktail historian Ted Haigh had unearthed this drink. Despite being a true revivalist, Haigh felt the drink needed an improvement, if not an actual update.

For starters, while the original version appears to have called for either bourbon or rye. (I limited myself to bourbon last week.) Haigh’s version is strictly rye. The original also had grenadine as its sweetener. Haigh’s version, which he has since christened “Dr. Cocktail’s Blinker,” contained not just raspberry syrup, but a very particular species of it. This is the stuff that tastes rather like jam, only without any trace of actual fruit, and which some people pour over ice cream. Apparently, it was an old school substitute for grenadine, and it certainly sounded like it was worth a try.

The Blinker, aka Dr. Cocktail’s Blinker

2 ounces rye whiskey
1 ounce fresh grapefruit juice
1 teaspoon raspberry syrup
1 lemon peel (garnish)

No surprises in terms of preparation. Combine the rye, juice, and syrup in cocktail shaker. You might want to stir it a bit before adding the ice to make sure the syrup dissolves, especially if it’s been kept in the refrigerator. Then add about a ton of ice and, well, you know the rest. Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled cocktail glass, throw in the lemon twist. Toast Dr. Cocktail/Ted Haigh, if only because he is the creator of by far the most popular modern day version of the Blinker.

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All in all, I have to agree with Ted Haigh that his tweaked version of the Blinker is superior. Rye is just a hair less sweet than bourbon and noticeably more peppery, and it makes a bracing contrast with the bittersweet grapefruit juice and the just-plain sweet raspberry syrup. For the sake of experimentation, I tried the Dr. Cocktail Blinker drink with bourbon, and it was a no go. Not awful, just not so good. My ryes produced nice but highly varying results. I used Old Overholt (Haigh’s preference), Rittenhouse  (my 100 proof default rye), and slightly more upscale/moderne Redemption rye.

Even more interesting is his choice of the jam-like raspberry syrup over grenadine. I used Smucker’s brand because it was the only choice the supermarket I happened to be in had, and it was fine. It’s a simpler kind of sweetness than a decent grenadine, and I think it really does make a better choice in a drink that’s already buzzing with the contrasting flavors of rye and grapefruit.

  

Sapporo and Baseball

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If you’re fortunate to make it to the ballpark as the baseball playoffs get started, I have a beer suggestion for you if you’re looking to try something other than the bland offerings usually offered while you’re in your seats.

I’ve been a fan of Sapporo for years as I was introduced to this beer when I started enjoying sushi. Sapporo is the top selling Asian beer in the States so it’s one of the offerings you’ll usually find at sushi restaurant. Now baseball fans can experience Sapporo at the ballpark as it’s on the beer menus at Washington’s Nationals Park, San Francisco’s AT&T Park, Seattle’s Safeco Field and Angels Stadium of Anaheim as well as Dempsey’s Restaurant, across from Baltimore’s Camden Yards.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

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