Drink of the Week: Nolet’s Negroni (modified)

Nolet's Negroni (Modified).Gin gets plenty of respect among cocktail aficionados — certainly more than vodka — but it’s still mainly thought of as a something best enjoyed in some kind of mixed drink, whether it’s as unvarnished as a very dry martini, a bit more gussied up as an Aviation, or in a gin and tonic, the arguable king of highballs. Unlike whiskey, brandy, tequila, and even poor, maligned vodka, almost no one drinks gin by the shot or the snifter and while premium gins abound, super-premium gins are rare birds indeed.

Still, with a price point of about $50.00 for a 750 ml bottle, Nolet’s Dry Gin is staking out a claim at the upper end of the mass gin market with a product that justifies its higher price with a flavor profile you won’t find anywhere else. I know this because I got a free bottle in the mail and I’ve been having a great deal of fun trying out this product in a number of classic drinks. Nolet’s has a fruity, spicy flavor that is noticeably light on juniper — the botanical that pretty much defines the taste and aroma of gin in the minds of most drinkers, whether they know it or not.

I’ve grown to like it in gin, but juniper has always been a fairly tough sell with me. (I still greatly prefer Irish or English Breakfast tea to juniper-heavy Earl Grey.) So, I think Nolet’s is a dandy change of pace, high price point notwithstanding. I’ve found it makes a fascinating martini (use a lemon twist) and a really terrific G&T (3 parts tonic to one part gin). Finally, they have a very nice variation on one of my very favorite gin cocktail classics created by New York bartender John McCarthy, even if I couldn’t resist tweaking it slightly.

Nolet’s Negroni

1 1/2 ounces Nolet’s Dry Gin Silver
1 ounce Campari
1 ounce sweet vermouth (Carpano Antica or Noilly Pratt or…?)
1 dash grapefruit bitters
1-2 ounces soda water (optional addition, see below)
1 orange slice (highly desirable garnish)

Mr. McCarthy’s original recipe calls for simply building this drink in a rocks glass with ice and an orange slice garnish. With plenty of stirring, this is a decent drink, though on the heavy side for my taste. On the other hand, I found myself liking this drink immensely simply by making one of two small adjustments.

First, you can serve it up — i.e., shaken with ice and strained into a cocktail glass — as I suggested was best with the original Negroni cocktail some time ago. You can also go crazy and simply follow McCarthy’s original recipe augmented with an additional bit of soda water for a boozier Negroni/Americano hybrid. You might want to use a double rocks glass to prevent overflow.

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The main difference between Nolet’s Negroni and the original is the inclusion of grapefruit bitters. Usually, the inclusion of Campari in any drink is considered bitters enough. Moreover, McCarthy’s original recipe specifies Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, which has a chocolatey, bitter undercurrent. Nevertheless, I think adding the bitters works just fine in a beveridge that can still come off a bit syrupy.

At the same time, I found I actually rather enjoyed my modified versions of this drink even more when I substituted Noilly Pratt sweet vermouth with its simpler, sweeter flavor that actually needs those grapefruit bitters to keep things grown-up. It’s entirely possible Martini or Cinzano would work well, too. Go with your mood, I say.

 

  

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Drink of the Week: The Dirty Martini

the Dirty Martini.For my first Drink of the Week post of 2015, I thought I’d go back to my deepest cocktail roots.

Long before I discovered the pleasures of a perfectly mixed Old Fashioned, I was an inveterate drinker of martinis, usually vodka martinis and always with olives. You see, I love olives quite a bit and while I didn’t love martinis right at first, I did love how I felt after I finished one and I really loved how the olives tasted after they’d been soaking in alcohol for a while.

So, when I found out people were actually using olive brine in martinis, I was quick to jump on board the bandwagon. I was reminded of this when Drink of the Week manor was graced by the presence of an old and dear friend and her family. She makes probably the best Dirty Martini I’ve had and she helped me begin the process of perfecting my own recipe for a drink that deserves more respect from cocktail cognoscenti.

I believe that my friend’s recipe is a state secret, but here’s mine.

The Dirty Martini

2 ounces vodka
1 tablespoon olive brine
1 teaspoon dry vermouth
1-3 olives (near mandatory garnish)

Combine all the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake very vigorously, probably until your hands are freezing. Strain into chilled cocktail/martini glass. Add at least one olive. Toast the mighty and so underrated fruit of the olive tree; it is tasty and nutritious and where would Italian food be without it’s oil?

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Careful observers will note I’ve left out gin…and gin is often listed as a possible ingredient in a Dirty Martini. As an official cocktail snob since 2011, I generally now tend to prefer gin over vodka, which is essentially unflavored. However, the herbal flavors included in gins simply don’t blend very well with olive brine, which adds plenty of flavor of it’s own in any case. Also, I don’t really like to shake my gin martinis (sorry, 007!) but I ALWAYS shake my vodka martinis (Thank you, Mr. Bond!) — and the Dirty Martini demands to be shaken.

Still, while vodka might not have the complexity of a gin or whiskey, that doesn’t mean all vodkas are the same. I mostly used a favorite old standby, Skyy Vodka and found the results predictably clean and crisp. I also tried 100 proof Smirnoff, which added a bit more alcoholic heat, but wasn’t bad, either.

Still, what might matter the most in a Dirty Martini is your choice of olives and olive brines. I had great luck recently with both conventional, pimento-stuff martini olives from California’s Armstrong Olives, and BevMo’s jalapeno and garlic stuff olives, a gift from my old pal. In the past, I’ve used everything from sometimes surprisingly good supermarket brands to Trader Joe’s excellent cocktail olives from Greece (the ones that come in the larger bottle are more mellow and definitely superior).

I will say that, for more salty brines, you might want to consider using less than a tablespoon. Also, unless you’re a complete expert in making these — and I’m not — you want to use precise measurements. I tried eyeballing this one at my friends’ house last Christmas Eve. The results were horrifically over-dirty. I’m surprised Booze Claus didn’t leave coal in my stocking the next morning.

  

Drink of the Week: The Pink Lady

The Pink Lady should be no secret.So, if you’re English you automatically have today off because it’s Boxing Day, a post-Christmas holiday in its own right. No such luck here in the States, but it’s also just a matter of days before what has to be the U.S.A.’s biggest drinking day of the year. Hard core partiers call it “amateur night,” the rest of us call it New Year’s Eve. And what have I got for you? A drink that was once something of a punchline, though few had tasted it. Now, it’s one for the cultists, but I think that cult should be larger.

The Pink Lady might perhaps be known as the drink that dare not speak its name. In fact, cocktail revivalist Ted Haigh doesn’t want to put mainly drinking men off, so he calls it “The Secret Cocktail.”

Since we’re posting at the blog of an online men’s magazine, you might think I’d be tempted to keep on calling it that. Still, this isn’t a meeting of Spanky, Alfafa, and the He-Man-Woman-Haters Club and I’m here to tell you that the Pink Lady might have a feminine name, it might be frothy and refreshing, but it’s a strong and fairly tart drink that’s definitely not for sissies. It’s also got just a touch of America’s oldest booze, applejack, putting up a strong fight against a larger amount of English gin not to mention fresh lemon juice, a tiny bit of grenadine and our old friend, the egg white. Why not down a couple of these this New Year’s Eve? You just might be man enough.

The Pink Lady

1 1/2 ounces London dry gin
1/2 ounce applejack
1/2-3/4 ounce lemon juice
1 large egg white
1/2 teaspoon grenadine
1 cocktail cherry (desirable garnish)

Combine all the ingredients except the cherry in cocktail shaker. Then, it’s time for the so-called dry shake, in which you vigorously agitate the mixture without ice to properly emulsify the egg. I might add it’s possible that you can skip the dry shake if  — like I often do these days — you’re using a pre-packaged, pasteurized egg white product. It’s a bit more liquified and less viscous than egg white straight out of the shell. (3 tablespoons is usually the equivalent of a large egg white, in case you were wondering.)

Next, include lots of ice and shake again, very vigorously. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and add the cherry. Of course, if you’re drinking this next Wednesday night you can toast the New Year. Or, you can use the Pink Lady’s badly maligned name to toast the many strong women of all shades who make the world go ’round.

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Since I mentioned Ted Haigh, cognoscenti won’t be surprised that this recipe is adapted from his Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, which seems to have become the basis for most Pink Lady recipes these days in any case. My tweaks were basically in terms of clarifying the measurements. (He calls for two dashes of grenadine and the juice of half a lemon. I like to be a little more specific.)

I made this drink using using the remains of my bottle of Laird’s Straight Apple Brandy (aka 100 proof applejack) and a few different gins. Tanqueray produced a fierce lady, intimidating at first but increasingly gracious on repeated encounters. Super high-end Nolet’s Gin — which I naturally didn’t pay for and which is making a cameo here in preparation for a leading role in a later post — produced a fruitier, spicier Pink Lady.

However, the prize went to the now humble, once regal, Gordon’s Gin. This underrated product was the good stuff in your grandaddy’s childhood and it’s still pretty great in the right context, and the Pink Lady is definitely that. The lower proof (80 compared to Tanqueray’s 94.6) and the lower key juniper/herbal flavor of Gordon’s makes for a smoother, sweeter drink that’s still nobody’s push-over. If you’re looking for some liquid company this year, you could do a lot worse.

Other versions of the Pink Lady you’ll find online are more like the Clover Club minus the lemon or lime juice. I’ve tried that, and let’s just say it makes the mocking treatment of this drink back in the day a bit more understandable. It’s not even a respectable “girl drink.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

  

Drink of the Week: Jack Maple Egg Nog

Jack Maple Egg Nog. Christmas is nearly upon us and today we have a tasty yet fairly traditional spin on the ultimate yuletide cocktail. Better yet, unlike most members of the egg nog/egg flip family, the Jack Maple Egg Nog is a true cocktail in the classic sense in that it includes bitters.

It’s a good thing because there is almost too much sweetness to be had in a recipe I purloined directly from the Laird’s Applejack web site. Don’t scoff. One thing I’ve learned from being corrupted by numerous free bottles is that the mixologists who make up the recipes offered up by booze manufacturers tend to know their stuff, which makes sense because the whole idea is get you drink the product. The only sad part is that I still had to pay for my bottle of 100 proof Laird’s Straight Apple Brandy.

Not that I minded. 100 proof applejack definitely ranks with the great American boozes and this nog variation is a pretty wonderful way to use the U.S.A.’s oldest base spirit.

Jack Maple Egg Nog

2 ounces applejack
2 ounces heavy cream or half-and-half, or some combination thereof
3/4 ounce maple syrup
1 whole large egg
1 dash Fee Brothers Aromatic Bitters
Ground nutmeg (crucial garnish)

If you’re familiar with the “dry shake” technique of working with eggs in drinks, this may sound old hat, but for the benefit of newbies, here we go.

Combine the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker without ice. Shake vigorously, long enough to emulsify the whole egg and blend it with the dairy. Add ice, shake even more vigorously for as long as you can manage. Strain into a chilled rocks glass or something similar — the original recipe calls for a mug. Sprinkle with a small amount of ground nutmeg…not too much. Toast the spirit of fun and friendship of the holidays, also that diet you’ll be starting and the gym you’ll be joining first thing on December 26, or maybe January 5.

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I stuck with my bottle of 100 proof Laird’s Straight for this drink, but I’m pretty sure Laird’s blended, but stil very tasty, 80 proof Applejack migh even be a bit of an improvement in some respects. Yes, the 100 proof is the superior beverage in terms of rich apple flavor. However, there may be a little bit more burn than some folks like with their egg nog, so a gentler spirit might be your preference. I  recommend, however, that you stick with Fee Brothers Aromatic bitters as opposed to the more standard Angostura. The former has more of a festive, ginger-spicy edge.

And then there’s the matter of butterfat and your choice of dairy products. To be specific, most half-and-half is about 12 percent fat, compared to roughly 38% percent fat in whipping cream.  We’re talking the difference between about 75 calories in two ounces of liquid if you use half-and-half to over 200 if you go with the heavy cream…and that’s in addition to the egg, the maple syrup, and oh yeah, the booze! Still, in exchange for all those calories, you get a deliciously creamy buffer between you and the alcohol.

The friend who helped me sample a few versions of this drink thinks that, in this case, more is more and you should stick with two ounces of heavy cream. I think my favorite version of the Jack Maple involved one ounce of cream and one once of half and half. It was a bit lighter and more refreshing than the ultra-fat version, while still being heavy enough to do the job. Still, I tried to see if I could reduce the enormous amount of butterfat in a proper nog. At one point, I experimented with just using 2% percent milk. We won’t talk about that.

  

2014 Holiday Gift Guide: Booze

Walk into any liquor store and you’ll see hundreds of options. You can zero in on someone’s favorite drink when picking a gift, or you can get creative and choose something they wouldn’t buy for themselves. Also, remember that you don’t want to come to a party empty-handed, so get in the habit of at least bringing a bottle.

And for more gift ideas, check out the other categories in our Holiday Gift Guide.

Roca Patrón Silver

roca_patron

It’s only been 15 or 20 years since high-end tequilas began to compete against Cognac and single-malt Scotch for supremacy among world-class sipping experiences, with often outstanding and highly accessible results. Already by far the best known premium tequila in the U.S., Patrón is upping their game even more with a new line of super-premium boozes, Roca Patrón, named for the stone wheels used to extract the juice of the blue agave plant. Unlike añejos and reposadas, silver (aka white) tequilas are un-aged and generally best used for cocktails and shots. At an MSRP of $69.00, however, Roca Patrón Silver is definitely no freshman-year bender fodder and a great gift for the man or woman who’s sipped nearly everything. The Patrón people describe the flavor as sweet, “with notes of black pepper, pumpkin and lime tea.” We taste mainly the honey-like flavor of the agave, but isn’t that the whole point of quality tequila? Not too stuffy to accompany a little grapefruit soda or perhaps even a perfectly a well-balanced classic margarita (shaken, not blended!), this definitely qualifies as not just the good stuff, but the very good stuff. Aged Roca Patrón Reposada and Roca Patrón Añejo are available at commensurately higher price tags.

Patrón’s Holiday Classic Cocktails Kit

patron_cocktails

Once maligned by the ignorant, tequila has emerged as every bit the equal of whiskey, gin and, yes, Cognac, as the basis for a truly tip-top cocktail – and we don’t just mean a classic margarita either, as marvelous as those can be. Now, the biggest name in premium tequila is marketing its own variation on one of the ultimate cocktail classics, the Añejo Manhattan, which substitutes aged tequila for the usual bourbon, rye or Canadian whiskey. This set (MSRP $54.99) includes a bottle of flavorful mellow Patrón Añejo, two very sturdy, large coupe glasses (a more rounded old-school variation on today’s standard martini glasses) and Dashfire Brandy Old Fashioned Bitters. The latter is a tantalizing alternative to standard Angostura aromatic bitters with a strong accent of smokey cloves; no self-respecting Manhattan is remotely complete without bitters, and this artisanal brand is an outstanding choice. All your giftee needs to add is a cocktail shaker/mixing glass, some sweet vermouth (ideally Carpano Antica), lots and lots of ice, and we’re off to the races! A strong gift selection for any open-minded cocktail enthusiast.

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