Drink of the Week: The Pilar Old Cuban

The Pilar Old Cuban.A really topnotch new brand of dark rum, fresh lime juice, a little sweetness, some fresh mint leaves, champagne…what could possibly go wrong? Nothing, really. Nothing at all. It’s just…

I have to be honest with you — I don’t really feel like I’ve nailed this week’s drink, not quite. Yes, it’s refreshing and fairly well balanced, it’s base spirit is kind of spectacular, easily one of the best products I’ve ever been lucky enough to get for free. However, the final flavor profile just didn’t wow me as much as you’d expect, especially given how good the main ingredient really is and, really, how sound this recipe — a variation of a drink that’s been around for awhile — really seemed on paper.

At the same time, I have a confession to make, but we’ll get to that in the post-recipe section of this post.

The Pilar Old Cuban

2 ounces Papa Pilar’s Dark Rum
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
3/4 ounce simple syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters
6-8 fresh mint leaves
2 ounces brut champagne/dry sparkling white wine

Muddle the mint leaves lightly in a cocktail shaker. Add the rum, lime juice, simple syrup, bitters (very important or this drink will come out way too sweet…I know because I forgot them on my first attempt at this drink), lots of ice, and shake vigorously.

Strain into an extra large cocktail glass (double strain if you’re fussy about bits of mint leaf getting into the drink). Top off with two ounces of cold champagne/sparkling white wine. Toast the real life elderly Cuban person of your choice. Mine would be the late Ruben Gonzalez, the wonderful, gentlemanly pianist featured in Wim Wenders’ 1998 music documentary, “The Buena Vista Social Club.”

*****

Today’s cocktail appears to be a variation of a drink reportedly invented by famed bartender Audrey Saunders, which features a premium rum from a far better known brand and is simply known as The Old Cuban. As mentioned above, the base spirit in today’s drink is the truly extraordinary Papa Pilar’s Dark Rum, which is dynamite stuff. This very flavorful expression, which has strong hints of vanilla and a lot of molasses to it, makes a truly fantastic Old Fashioned. It’s got so much natural flavor and sweetness that you can make that drink with just 1/2 a teaspoon of raw sugar.

Nevertheless,  I chose to make the Pilar Old Cuban instead. If I really did make a mistake on this version that kept it out of the cocktail stratosphere, I’d hazard a guess that it was — and here’s my confession — my use of a pretty darn cheap champagne to finish off the drink.

Yes, I ignored the obvious disapproval of a local liquor purveyor who tried to steer me towards a $12.00 bottle of bubbly. I simply wasn’t in the mood to spend that kind of a money on an ingredient that wasn’t even really the star of the show and it’s not like I’d get to use the unused champagne on future cocktails. So, I went with a $5.00 brand that you may well have consumed at a not-too-upscale champagne brunch.  Maybe that’s what did it, or rather, didn’t quite do it.

So, it’s possible I missed the point here. Try this drink with a really good brand of champagne, especially if you’re going to be opening a bottle of the stuff anyway. You can experiment with a little less simple syrup, or try it with superfine sugar instead, maybe just a tablespoon full or slightly more. Or, you could just listen to the beautiful playing piano playing of the later Mr. Gonzalez, which makes everything perfect.

  

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Drink of the Week: The Blackthorn Cocktail (Harry Craddock Version)

The Blackthorn Cocktail.I totally blew it last week, St. Patrick’s Day wise. I decided, therefore, to atone for my sin this week with the most severe Irish whiskey based cocktail I could find. And so we present the Blackthorn Cocktail, which sounds a little bit like it was named after the villain of a 1950s swashbuckler with Burt Lancaster or Stewart Granger.

This drink appears in, among other places, Harry Craddock’s The Savoy Cocktail Book, but finding a human being who’s actually had one today will be a challenge — even many cocktail bloggers seem to avoid this one. Superstar booze maven Gary Regan adapted it into a more popular version which, to begin with, substitutes sweet vermouth for the dry stuff used in this version. Maybe we’ll get to that one eventually, but I don’t hold with some of the disdain this Blackthorn Cocktail has generated. It might not be sweet treat, but neither is a martini, and we like those, right?

The Blackthorn Coctail

1 1/2 ounces Irish whiskey
1 1/2 ounces dry vermouth
1/2 teaspoon absinthe
3 dashes Angostura/aromatic bitters

This is an easy one. Just combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with your usual massive amount of ice. Shake, yes, shake this drink vigorously and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Toast the classic cocktail purists who, for once, allow us to shake a drink that contains no citrus. Aye and begorrah!

****

I admit that the Blackthorn Cocktail is what you would call a sophisticated drink, it’s definitely not for everyone. On the other hand, it’s actually no more inaccessible than a 50/50 martini (i.e., 50% gin and 50% dry vermouth) or a Dry Manhattan, both of which have their share of similarities with the Blackthorn.

It does have that tiny bit of absinthe — a classic case of a little going a long way. Here, however, it goes just the right distance,. I should note that my 1/2 teaspoon of the formerly notorious wormwood liqueur is different from the original Craddock version, which calls for three dashes. Maybe I should just purchase an eye dropper, but I have no idea how I’m supposed to get a dash out of an ordinary, non-squirt top bottle. Anyhow, I liked my results this way. The licorice-like flavor of anise centers this drink.

I tried the Blackthorn Cocktail with two different Irish whiskey brands. Generally speaking, I prefer Bushmills  — love the stuff, actually — but the more assertive flavor of Kilbeggan worked very nicely and resulted in a somewhat livelier drink. As for my vermouth, I did most of my Blackthorns with Martini, which was very good. Thirsting for more adventure, I finally got around to trying the cocktails hipster’s choice these days, Dolin Dry Vermouth. It’s a less dry dry vermouth, if you follow me, that actually puts me a bit in mind of the now either hard to find or all but nonexistent stateside Noilly Pratt Original Dry Vermouth. It’s maybe a bit more complex and sells for roughly double the price. Similarly to when I used the Killlbeggans, the Dolin made for a slightly livelier, crisper libation.

  

Drink of the Week: The Pilar Daiquiri

The Pilar Daiquiri.So, the first thing you’re likely to notice about today’s drink is that there’s nothing remotely Irish or St. Patrick’s Dayish about it. I admit it — I prepare these posts at least a week or so ahead, and it’s sometimes easy to get a bit mixed up about the calendar. Also, I have to admit, I don’t hang out in bars all that much — shocking, yes, I know — and, even if I did, the Irish community here in L.A. isn’t exactly as prominent as if I were in Boston or New Orleans or New York. You get a lot more reminders about the coming of Cinco de Mayo down here than St. Paddy’s Day.

So, rather than trying to trump up a Irish connection that’s complete blarney, I’ll just straight up admit that this week’s really terrific drink is mostly Cuban in origin and comes to us from the promotional team behind a really outstanding pair of new rums with a pedigree that extends to the modern day heirs of no less than daiquiri drinker #1, Papa Hemingway himself. He was said to love a good daiquiri. If so, he would definitely have loved this one.

The Pilar Daiquiri

1 1/2 ounces Papa Pilar’s Blonde Rum
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce fresh grapefruit juice
1 teaspoon maraschino
1 teaspoon sugar

Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Maybe stir a bit to dissolve the sugar (not needed if you’re using C&H Superfine as I do). Shake and strain into a cocktail glass. Toast Papa Hemingway and all writers, including the less tortured ones.

****

Now, folks, you should understand that when freebies greet me, I feel both grateful and slightly corrupted. Also, many times we get recipes that, while quite good, could actually work with any number of brands. Nevertheless, this little number really does seem to be expressly made to complement the qualities of the dang remarkable Papa Pilar’s Blonde.

The combination of flavors from the grapefruit and maraschino liqueur in addition to the more traditional lime juice and sugar, really blends together with this uniquely flavorful blonde rum, which is delightfully heavy on notes of molasses and sports a bit of an oceanic twang.  Honestly, unless you’ve got a similar blonde rum around (are there any?) I’d stick with the simpler original daiquiri recipe I offered many moons ago.

On the other hand, if you’re going to make the investment in Papa Pilar’s, and I certainly would encourage that, I demand you make this drink right away — and yeah, that includes shelling out extra for the maraschino liqueur. That one little teaspoon of slightly bitter cherry deliciousness is important, as I learned when I accidentally cut the proportion of in half while making a two PP daiquiris for myself and a very old friend who had stopped by. Cutting the amount from one teaspoon to merely 1/2 a teaspoon threw off the drink’s balance and the result was less balanced and very tart than I would prefer, though the friend was polite about it. Every drop of maraschino is sacred but, if you need to save money, you can go with the cheaper Maraska Maraschino and leave the Luxardo for fools like me who can’t resist luxy things.

This is a drink you want to make right. It’s refreshing and nearly perfectly balanced bewteen sweet, tart, and the bittterness of the grapefruit. It’s A-1, even if I can’t try to fob it off as Papa O’Hemingway’s Irish Brew or what not.

  

Drink of the Week: The Last Word

The Last Word. Have you ever really had the last word in an argument? Lord knows I haven’t….and it’s so very definitely not for a lack of words, or for a lack of arguing. Ask anyone who knows me well, I love to argue and I think it’s entirely possible to disagree without being disagreeable. In fact, I barely have to disagree with you at all to, nevertheless, disagree. You can have pretty much identical politics, taste in cultural matters, cocktails, and all the rest and I’ll still argue with you about something because life is simply too short to go around agreeing with everyone all the time.

Still, no matter how important or silly the disagreement may be — or no matter how open-and-shut the case being argued — no one ever has the last word. Certainly not MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell of TV’s The Last Word, who I used to like a lot but who has gone off the deep end on odd subjects too many times for me to take too seriously. Nor even my beloved Rachel Maddow who, aside from having similar politics to my own (therefore making her a complete genius, naturally), also helped me get into this whole cocktail thing some years ago via the cocktail segments on her old Air America show. She ctually once made today’s drink on her TV show.

Nevertheless, as I was reminded by the makers of the very drinkable No.3 London Dry Gin, we may never ever get the last word in an argument, but we can all have The Last Word, and all we really need are four ingredients.

The Last Word

3/4 ounce London dry gin
3/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
3/4 ounce green chartreuse
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
1 lime slice (optional garnish)

Combine the liquids in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake with all the vigor of your Jack Daniels-guzzling right-wing uncle facing off against your pot-smoking auntie who drives the VW station wagon with thirty bumper stickers on it. Next, strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Toast the right to be as gloriously, insanely wrong in the eyes of others as you want to be.

*****

My cocktail books are still in boxes in DOTW’s enormous archives, but I can tell you that, according to Wikipedia and a few other odd blog posts, The Last Word was a pretty much forgotten prohibition era concoction until fairly recently. We are told that renowned Seattle bartender Murray Stenson singlehandedly revived the drink enough so that the rest of us could eventually hear about it.

Now, the version we are making this week, promulgated by the makers of No. 3 London Dry Gin and Nevada mixologist Francesco Lafranconi, differs from the original only with some very specific choices of brands. Mr. Franconi suggests using No. 3 London Dry Gin, of course, and also specifically calls for Luxardo Maraschino liqueur, which is more or less the standard choice, but not the only one. More about that in a second.

If you want a really lively and complex, you might even say complicated, beverage, then the Lafranconi version of this drink is definitely one good way to go. For whatever reasons the No. 3 gin and Luxardo allow the strong herbal flavors of the chartreuse to become bolder than usual, possibly because today’s featured gin has some pretty bold citrus-peel bouquet and flavor of its own. We are told that the original version of The Last Word used bathtub gin, which we imagine must have had some fairly bold aspects of its own, but probably not the tasty and aromatic No. 3 kind.

I have to admit I couldn’t resist also trying The Last Word with a very good Brand X dry gin and Maraska Maraschino, which is nearly as tasty as Luxardo but a lot cheaper. It has a slightly simpler appeal and it’s mouth feel is a bit less rich, but it’s quite good. That less uptown version of The Last Word was milder, a bit more muted. Very decent but not quite the ultimate version of the drink. Then again, I would never expect to have the last word on The Last Word.

 

  

Drink of the Week: The Rusty Nail

the Rusty Nail.Now that we’re finally just starting to settle down just a bit here at Drink of the Week Plaza, I thought it best to dip my big toe back into the waters of a weekly blog with a drink that is about as simple and easy to make as anything worthy of calling a cocktail.

Now, if you’re looking for an Oscar tie-in, there really isn’t one, except that the characters in “American Hustle” would undoubtedly be familiar with today’s drink, which wasn’t invented in the 1970s but pretty much embodies the spirit of a time when booze was pretty much strictly a means to a sweet end. It’s also not a horrible way to wrap up the trilogy of Scotch-based cocktails we’ve been working on for these last couple posts.

Today, I present you a drink that’s absolutely guaranteed to be more pleasurable than a bout of tetanus.

The Rusty Nail

2 1/2 ounces Scotch whiskey
1/2 ounce Drambuie
1 lemon twist (optional but desirable garnish)

Get a rocks glass and fill it with ice. Add  Drambuie — a reasonably tasty and unreasonably expensive Scotch-based liqueur — and then add some Scotch. Maybe throw on a lemon twist. Toast whomever the hell you please because this drink is perfect for people too busy to toast.

*****

In terms of ingredients and how to mix them, there are three big questions with the Rusty Nail. One is the brand of Scotch. David Wondrich tells us, not surprisingly, blended Scotches like your dad and grandpa drank are best for a Rusty Nail.  We’re talking Johnny Walker, Cutty Sark, Dewar’s and the like. I actually tried a very good single malt and my mouth instantly knew that something was amiss. Too much smoke, too much fire.

The next question is your proportion of Drambuie to Scotch. While I have a sweet tooth, I find using equal parts Scotch and Drambuie — as many older recipes have it — way, way, way too sweet. Even Wondrich’s 1/2 to 2 seemed a bit sweeter to me than I would prefer. Moreover, the boozy guru’s demand that we mix, instead of layering in, the ingredients wasn’t really working for me either. That, by the way, indicates the third big question of the Rusy Nail.

At that point, I found inspiration in my new neighborhood, or technically the next neighborhood over, as I visited a very accomplished 1970s boozery and eatery with surprisingly great food. I speak of Studio City’s the Oyster House — home of, among other tasty 1970s-esque delicacies, very delish oyster shooters, six for $6.00. Bartender Greg (at least I think it was Greg) made me a drink that was, I’m guessing, 1/2 to 2 1/2, in which he poured the Drambuie first and some Dewar’s White Label second. The result was pretty lovely, with the Drambuie at the bottom of the drink acting like a dessert t following the bracing, icy Scotch.  I went home and tried the same thing but with Grant’s, and the results were just about as good.

So what have we learned today? Well, I’m learning my new neighborhood has more than one great hangout in it. That’s lesson enough.

  

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