If you Google “improved cocktail,” you will find a number of somewhat differing drinks featuring the most venerable of the base spirits (i.e., whiskey, brandy and gin) or genever, aka “Holland gin.” That’s because, as Michael Dietsch puts it, improved cocktails are more of a template and less of a recipe. Still, I’ve just found that the “improved” model is a pretty amazing template with which to build a recipe.
If the name seems odd to you, it’s important to remember that the actual meaning of the word “cocktail” has changed since the Gilded Age heyday of 19th century bartending. If you walk into a bar today and ask for a cocktail, your confused bartender is likely to say, “Sure, which one of the hundreds of thousands of potentials drinks do you mean?”
If, however, you walked into ur-bartender Jerry Thomas’s bar circa 1876 and asked for a cocktail, you’d find yourself with what we now call an Old Fashioned, a base spirit with sugar or syrup, bitters, maybe a bit of water and a garnish. That was a cocktail. Drinks that didn’t contain bitters were not yet considered cocktails — they were just mixed drinks, and some cocktailians still prefer that terminology. Specifically, if you had ordered last week’s drink at Mr. Thomas’s bar, you would have likely asked for a Holland Gin Cocktail, the once popular term for the spirit thatevolved into the dry English-style gins we all know. When you started adding other forms of booze to it, you were getting a bit fancy. Hence, the Improved Cocktail.
Before there was gin, there was genever — sometimes also called jenever — a concoction that is similar and yet different from the ubiquitous clear booze we now enjoy in our martinis and G&Ts. One obvious geographical difference is that most gins are now made in England or thereabouts, and by law, a liquor can only be marketed as genever if it’s from the Netherlands or Belgium. Only a few brands can be found at all in the United States and, so far, I’ve only seen one on store shelves: Bols Genever. The flavor is definitely different; the manufacturing process is more similar to whiskey, and many detect a more malty flavor.
There’s quite a bit more history on how Dutch genever became English gin, and you can learn some of it in a post I wrote a few years back. However, I never actually owned a bottle of the stuff until this week, when curiosity finally got the better of me and I purchased a bottle of Bols. In Europe, I understand that genever is often served more or less in the same way that whiskey or vodka is traditionally consumed there — more or less straight, possibly with a beer chaser or with a small amount of sugar. It’s use in cocktails is something I’m still learning about, though I know it has been mentioned in some of the oldest cocktail books.
I am, however, under the impression that Old Fashioneds are one popular way to serve genever, and the ur-cocktail seems like a pretty good place to start with one of the ur-liquors. At the same time, genever isn’t whiskey, so you might want to vary the recipe ever so slightly from the basic whiskey Old Fashioned. Or, maybe you don’t.
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Jim Beam Bourbon, the world’s #1 best-selling bourbon, is changing the game again, taking its knack for bourbon innovation and breaking into the tech market with a first-of-its-kind Jim Beam Apple Watch.
At the start of Labor Day weekend 2014, I gave you the updated version of the Liberal, a classic cocktail that I still think fits very nicely with a holiday that was created to honor the American labor movement, but which was also placed on the calendar pretty far from International Workers Day (May 1), a holiday associated with labor movements that had more radical connections. As a center-left type who will very definitely NOT be voting for Jill Stein this coming November, I am quite comfortable being described as an old school bleeding heart liberal, and so I am happy to now be providing the old school version of the drink, more or less cribbed from Ted Haigh’s essential “Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails.” On the other hand, I’m sure conservatives could enjoy this drink as well; at least it’s not called The Progressive.
This version differs from the update I presented two years back in that it has equal parts of both whiskey and sweet vermouth, rather than emphasizing the base spirit, placing it a bit further from its roots as a variation on a Manhattan. It’s definitely a bit sweeter than the updated version, but I’m sure most people would prefer the older model for that very reason. See what you think.
Combine the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass and either stir or shake vigorously, depending on your preference. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and add the cherry if you’ve got it. Salute your right to drink your cocktail shaken, stirred or at all, regardless of your race, religion (or lack thereof), gender identity or sexual preference.
When I get into online debates with my fellow left-leaners or culture geeks, I’ll often think to myself (or say in words) that their argument lacks a sense of proportion. Indeed, proportion is possibly the single most important part of any position or, very definitely, any mixed drink. That’s why high-end craft bars will often gladly tell you all the ingredients in a drink while steadfastly refusing to provide the proportions, because therein lies the keys to the cocktail kingdom.
So, that’s how it is I’m presenting two drinks in a row that have the same name and the same ingredients. I would, however, argue that last week’s version of the Jasmine Cocktail, substantially tweaked by Robert Hess, is a much different beverage from this week’s, which was first created in the 1990s by Washington bartender Paul Harrington. It’s definitely much stronger on the lemon flavor and much less so on the contributions of the two liqueurs included in both drinks, but see for yourself.
Combine the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Shake very vigoriously and strain into a chilled, smallish cocktail glass. Salute the fruit of the lemon tree, which is impossible to eat on its own, but so darn useful for making so many things taste better.