Drink of the Week: The Ford Cocktail, Version 2

Image ALT text goes here.As I tried to rescue the Ford Cocktail for a second week in row from my own mixed feelings, at times I was  tempted  just declare victory and move on,a la Vietnam. I am, instead, prepared to declare the coupe half-full with a sweeter version of the drink I actually like a bit better.

There’s just no point in fighting the the fact that sweetened Old Tom Gin and megasugary hazelnut liqueur Benedictine are just destined to pound the hell out of even the finest dry vermouth. I give in and declare that I actually kind of like this drink, though it will never be a personal favorite. It’s definitely a more accessible improvement over last week’s even sweeter traditional version. In addition, I’ve made what I think are a few minor improvements in a version of the drink promulgated online at Imbibe by Chicago bartender Stephen Cole

The Ford Cocktail, Version 2

2 ounces Old Tom Gin
1 ounce dry vermouth
1/2 tablespoon (1/4 ounce) Benedictine
2-3 dashes orange bitters
1 orange twist (garnish)

Combine everything but the orange twist in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Mr. Cole thinks you should stir this drink but I say you should shake it most vigorously. Then, strain it into a coupe or martini-style cocktail glass. You can add your orange twist in the traditional way — rimming the glass, twisting the orange peel over the drink to express the oils onto the surface of the beverage and then dropping the peel into the drink. Or, as Cole has it, you can discard the orange peel. I didn’t see much difference.

Enjoy your drink and toast second chances. Even when they don’t exactly produce perfection, they’re a reminder that life really does go on.

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I kept fiddling with the proportions of this version of the Ford Cocktail, trying to fight what initially struck me as excessive sweetness, and got exactly no place. 1/4 of an ounce (1/2 tablespoon) of Benedictine became just one teaspoon and then 1/2 half a teaspoon. The drink lost sweetness but gained neither charm nor balance. Yet, when I returned to the original Cole formulation, I gradually grew to accept, if not exactly love, the Ford.

Still, I have to differ with the Cole recipe in a couple of respects. It specifically calls out the high-end Dolin’s for its dry vermouth. I like Dolin’s quite a bit, but I found the drink might actually have been improved by the more standard, much cheaper, and slightly dryer Martini & Rossi. I usually prefer slightly more flavorful dry vermouths but, for this drink, the crispness of Martini may win.

I win as well, because I finally get to move on to another drink, and I think it might be one I not only kinda invented myself but actually like. Stay tuned.

  

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Drink of the Week: The Ford Cocktail, Version 1

The Ford Cocktail.Happy July 4! I wish I could say I have a drink that’s a perfect salute to the ol’ red, white, and blue. Honestly, however, today’s drink has no particular connection with the holiday or even the auto manufacturer it shares a name with, nor even its enterprising, infamously antisemitic founder. It’s also a drink that, at this point, I have to say I’ve found to be just kind of okay. But I still haven’t given up and will even be revisiting the Ford Cocktail in another iteration very soon.

Why on earth would I do that? Because I’m stubborn, that’s why…and I’m determined to give it’s alternative version, with similar ingredients but radically different proportions, a try. Nevertheless, obviously this version has its fans, including cocktail archivist Ted Haigh who featured it in his super-influential tome, “Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails.” Let’s see if you want the remember this one.

The Ford Cocktail

1 ounce Old Tom Gin
1 ounce dry vermouth
3 dashes orange bitters
1/4-1/2 teaspoon Benedictine
1 orange twist (semi-mandatory garnish)

Combine the liquids in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass. You can stir vigorously with cracked ice if you want to be like Mr. Haigh, or you can do as I prefer slightly and shake it within an inch of its life. (Regular ice will probably do.) Strain the result into a chilled cocktail glass and salute Edsel Ford. Not because he or anyone in his family had anything to do with this drink, but just because he had the bad fortune to gone down in history as the name of a failed car that probably wasn’t as bad as legend made out. His brother was probably named “Ishtar.”

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There isn’t a lot of room for variation with this drink as far as brands are concerned. I was using Hayman’s Old Tom Gin, by far the most widely available version of the now relatively rare sweetened gin. (It’s only competitor, as far as I can tell, is Ransom’s Old Tom Gin, which is rumored to be connected to classic cocktail super-historian David Wondrich.) For my vermouth, I used both Dolin’s and Martini, with a slight preference for the former. My orange bitters were Regans and my Benedictine was Dom. These are all outstanding products but, for the life of me, no matter what I did this drink came out…acceptable.

Probably the best version used the Dolin’s and was shaken within an inch of its life. I messed around with a bit more and bit less of the very sweet and tasty Benedictine. I found it a hair too sweet if I used a whole half teaspoon and a hair too dry at a quarter. It was way too sweet when I tried to follow the classic instructions and add three sloppy “dashes” of the liqueur…but that’s probably because I’m still too lazy or cheap to buy an eye dropper or some kind of shaker bottle.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that, while I wouldn’t stop anyone from trying to make a Ford Cocktail this July 4th weekend, you might want to stick around for the alternative version in coming weeks. Or, hell, have an Old Fashioned or two.

  

Drink of the Week: The Russian

the Russian.You know the White Russian and you probably know the Black Russian, which subtracts the diary product but leaves the Kahlua and vodka. Still, I bet the Russian, full stop, is unknown to you, as it was to me until just a few days ago.

I found this drink while pouring over my increasingly well-worn copy of Harry Craddock’s 1930 “The Savoy Cocktail Book” seeking something simple. I’m a bit overwhelmed at the day job right now — no, I don’t make my living doing this — and I really didn’t have the energy to even so much as squeeze a lemon or a lime. And so I stumbled over this little known relic of the days when vodka was a rather exotic ingredient unfamiliar to most Americans who mainly knew whiskey, gin, and probably the once ubiquitous applejack…if they ever dared to enter a speakeasy, that is.

I have no idea if the Russian — actually called “The Russian Cocktail” by Craddock, who called about 90% of his drinks the “the _____ Cocktail” — was an invention of prohibition-era booze marketers trying to popularize vodka in Western Europe and the soon-to-be post-18th Amendment U.S. (See the Moscow Mule, which came a bit later). I do know, however,  that mixing vodka with a chocolate liqueur and the right kind of gin makes for a drink that’s definitely sweet, but with just enough bite to be interesting. It’s also about as easy to make as a cocktail gets.

The Russian

3/4 ounce vodka
3/4 ounce gin
3/4 ounce cream de cacao

Combine your liquids in a cocktail shaker with a ton of ice. Shake very vigorously. Strain into a cocktail glass chilled within an inch of its life. Toast, Dostoevsky, who gave the world “The Brothers Karamazov,” “Crime and Punishment, and “The Idiot” and this perhaps tangentially related joke.

“Did you know the Russians are coming out with a new car. It’s called the Dostoyevsky?”

“Really.”

“Yeah, it’s available in a two-door and Fyodor.”

***

To be honest, this drink is about as Russian as that joke. The name notwithstanding, it’s neither the vodka or the gin that dominates this drink, it’s the creme de cacao. If you don’t love chocolate, you won’t love the Russian. That’s not to say the hard liquors don’t play crucial supporting roles.

This drink definitely works far better with a gin and a vodka able to stand up to a chocolate onslaught. My first time out, I used Sky Vodka, the last remnants of my No. 3 London Dry Gin, a flavorful and stout product, and Gionelli white creme de cacao. It was pretty darn delightful. Much less so, however, when I ran out to the local grocery story and decided to pick up a $20.00 double-sized bottle of Gordon’s Gin, which can often work delightfully in mixed drinks, including martinis. This time, however, it just didn’t have the gumption we needed. I was tempted to blame my more photogenic choice of DeKuyper’s brown creme de cacao for my insipid Russian but, on reflection, I decided the two chocolate liqueurs I used were about on par.

I next tried it with the Plymouth Gin that made the Olivette sing last week. Very good. Then, I tried it with 100 proof Smirnoff. Sweet, but strong like a Trotsky icepick.

  

Drink of the Week: The Olivette

Image ALT text goes here.I’ve slipped up again in the holiday boozing department as there’s nothing particularly Father’s Day appropriate about today’s drink. Of course, there’s also nothing particularly un-fatherly about it. If dad likes gin, olives, and isn’t averse to a tiny bit of  anisette/licorice flavor, he might just dig this very sophisticated, very boozy classic martini alternative as much as I do if you serve it up to him this Sunday.

And I do kind of dig it. I wrote last week of my moody martini disenchantment and I’ve found this drink perhaps the perhaps the perfect antidote. It features my favorite part of the martini, the olive, but it’s balanced out by tiny proportions of sugar water and the alcoholic punch in the face we call absinthe. It does come from “The Savoy Cocktail Book,” definitely one of the big daddies of the field. I’ve modified it ever so slightly to better suit my personal taste buds. More about that after today’s recipe.

The Olivette

1 1/2 ounces Plymouth Gin
1/2 teaspoon simple syrup
1/4-1/2 teaspoon absinthe
2 dashes orange bitters
1 olive (mandatory garnish)
1 lemon peel (semi-mandatory garnish)

Combine the liquid ingredients and shake the contents. (You can also stir this drink if you like…but you’d be wrong.) Strain into a chilled, smallish cocktail glass or coupe over an olive. Mr. Craddock said  you should squeeze the lemon peel on top, and I’m inclined to agree. Toast the olive, for it is green, pimento stuffed, and full of life…or, you can toast your dad if you’re so inclined.

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I find the Olivette as wonderfully sophisticated as the best traditional dry martini, yet with far more flavor going for it. While the simple syrup might seem a counterintuitive touch for a drink with an olive in it, it creates a very pleasing balance with the orange bitters (Reagan’s for me, as usual) and the very strong anisette flavor of  absinthe.

I’ve altered the Olivette from Harry Craddock’s recipe. Instead of my half and quarter teaspoons, the original calls for two dashes of simple syrup and three dashes of absinthe. I remain eternally befuddled by how I’m supposed to include a dash of something that doesn’t come from a dash bottle and too lazy/cheap to buy one just for the purpose of duplicating Mr. Craddock’s recipes. I prefer being a bit more precise anyway.

Even so, when I tried approximating the original drink with 1/4 teaspoon simple syrup and 1/2 teaspoon absinthe, I found the latter ingredient somewhat overpowered the drink. If you’re a bigger fan of licorice than me, however, you might like it this way. I liked the drink a whole lot better when I reversed the proportions and used 1/2 teaspoon of sugar and just 1/4 teaspoon absinthe — for me the ultimate example of a “little goes a long way” ingredient.

Of course, the primary and most important ingredient of the Olivette is gin, and not just any gin. Plymouth Gin is called for in, we are told by whomever felt like taking the time to count, 23 of the cocktails in “The Savoy Cocktail Book.” It is, as I wrote last year, both a style and a brand of gin. That’s because there’s only one brand of it available, so we’ve essentially got a monopoly on our hands. In this case, the monopoly works very nicely.

The ever-so-slightly less dry, fruitier flavor of gin from the English town that produced our nation’s ultra-abstemious founding Puritans really does seem to be the ideal gin for this lost classic of a drink. I say this with some authority because I also tried the Olivette with a perfectly good brand of regular London dry gin. It kind of tasted like a Dow Chemical spill.

  

Drink of the Week: The Fifty-Fifty Cocktail

The Fifty Fifty Cocktail. Tastes change, my friends. As a child, I pretty much only knew yellow mustard. As I grew, I discovered Gulden’s Brown, Grey Poupon, and various other not-so-exotic variants. I quickly learned to disdain the yellow vinegary and go for the brown and/or spicy. That ended last year when I suddenly realized that nothing was better on pastrami than plain old Morehouse or French’s.

It’s also true that martinis were the first real cocktails I ever routinely ordered or made for myself. I started out with vodka martinis, grew bored and moved on to dirty vodka martinis, and later dry gin martinis — all the while tacitly admitting that my favorite part of the drink by far was the olives. By sometime shortly before the first election of Barack Obama, I grew downright snobby about gin over vodka…but now that all feels so very 2013 of me. As I write this, I’m missing my old vodka martinis, and that’s weird. To be brutally honest, I’m kind of over standard martinis right now; my go-to cocktail basic is an Old Fashioned.

Still, when nothing will do but a martini, I do have a drink I like and it flies in the face of the lionization that the super dry martini has benefited from. So, forget you Hawkeye Pierce, see you later James Bond, ta-ta-for-now Nick Charles, bon voyage Luis Bunuel — I think I’ll miss you most of all. Here is the recipe for the least dry martini on the planet. Yes, the name is the recipe.

The Fifty-Fifty Cocktail

1 1/2 to 2 ounces dry gin
1 1/2 to 2 ounces dry vermouth
1 dash orange bitters (extremely optional)
Olive or lemon twist (extremely desirable garnish)

Combine the gin and vermouth with a ton of ice in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass. I know that it is permissible, even recommended by some, to shake this drink, for “The Savoy Cocktail Book” tells me so. However, modern day cocktail snobs insist you should stir the Fifty-Fifty Cocktail instead.

(It’s crucial, by the way, to remember that vermouth doesn’t last forever once it’s been opened. By smaller bottles and refrigerate it, by all means. Don’t let it sit forever even in the fridge or  you’ll live to regret it…especially with this drink.)

Strain into a martini glass or coupe with your choice of garnish. Toast your ever-changing cocktail moods.
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I’ve made this drink quite a few times on my own in the past. Just as before, I found that my opinion changed slightly every time I tried it.

For gin, I used Bombay Dry and No. 3 London Dry; for my dry vermouth I switched between Dolin’s and Martini. For the all important green garnish, I started with a can of rather amazing tasting anchovy stuffed olives I bought at a fantastic Armenian grocery down the street from me named, what else, Olive Market. (Could the mysterious white substance you see in the picture be anchovy paste? I sure as hell hope so.)

I then switched over to an old favorite, Trader Joe’s World’s Largest Olives…except that they seemed a bit sharper and less mellow than I remember them. Maybe that’s because they’re now a product of Spain and I pretty distinctly remember them being from Greece before. I also tried it with a lemon twist, which resulted in a gentler flavor many may prefer.

One place where my taste definitely seems to have changed is that, contrary to past experiences, I found I liked this drink better and cleaner tasting as it was in “The Savoy Cocktail Book” — sans bitters, simply gin and vermouth. I also found a slight preference for shaken over stirred, which is also different from my recent preferences regarding gin martinis. (Vodka martinis should ALWAYS be shaken, by the way, if you’re going that route. I’ll go to my deathbed feeling that way.)

All that being said, I have a hard time coming up with consistent feelings about this drink. Sometimes it feels like a huge improvement over a regular dry martini, sometimes it feels like a sort of meh drink that doesn’t even pack the same alcohol punch as a “real” martini.

So, how do I really feel about the Fifty-Fifty Cocktail? Ask me after I’ve had my next one because every time I drink one it feels a little like a whole new drink. Could it be all the permutations — different brands, bitters or no bitters — or could it just be how I’m feeling? I’m betting on the latter.

A brief addendum: I just noticed that “The Savoy Cocktail Book” calls a Fifty-Fifty Cocktail that includes orange bitters a “Dry Martini Cocktail.” Confusion rules the world!

  

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