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.

  

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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!

  

5 Burger Joints Worth Traveling For

ID-10052807 By Grant Cochrane
Free digital image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhoto.net/By Grant Cochrane

It might not be the healthiest cuisine option around, but a really great burger is something that can satisfy cravings and turn a crappy day into a much more remarkable one. However, when it comes to finding a brilliant burger, there’s more to look for than just some meat on a bun. From mile-high creations filled with all sorts of goodies to simple yet elegant options that focus on quality ingredients, there are burgers all around the world that are sure to have your mouth watering and taste buds satiated in a few minutes flat. If you’re keen to travel the world trying the best burgers on offer, read on for five restaurants you should add to your bucket list.

Ferdi in Paris

This Parisian establishment is good enough for Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, who have been spotted more than once at the restaurant, and declared by Penelope Cruz to serve up the best cheeseburgers in Paris. It is also the place that some of the world’s most well-regarded fashion designers turn to when they need a good lunch — both Marc Jacobs and Christian Louboutin have been seen dining here on many occasions. Run by husband and wife-team Alicia and Jacques Fontanier, Ferdi opened in 2004 as a “strictly non chichi” venue for Parisian locals to head to for home-style comfort food, quality Spanish tapas and an extensive drinks list. The restaurant is named after the couple’s son Ferdinand and has been fitted out with eclectic, quirky decor such as their son’s old toys, humorous vintage signs and well-loved second-hand furniture. Ferdi (located near the Place de la Concord) has a warm, informal, intimate feel and is famous around the world for its cheeseburgers. The venue books out months in advance, particularly for dinner, so ensure you make a booking before you go so you can enjoy time spent at this quality restaurant. After all, the sign on the front door says it all: “Good food takes time. We have the food. Do you have the time?”

Read the rest of this entry »

  

Drink of the Week: The Leatherneck Cocktail

Image ALT text goes here.Memorial Day weekend of 2014 is about to get underway. For most of us, it’s just another Monday holiday and the gateway to summer vacation time. For those of us who have lost someone important in one of America’s wars, however, it’s another kind of day entirely.

Though it’s origins are somewhat foggy, Memorial Day began as Decoration Day, honoring the many fallen soldiers on both sides of the American Civil War.  Though it was intended as a solemn remembrance, especially given the shamefully scant number of days off most Americans get these days, you can’t blame people for spending it doing fun things like, say, making cocktails. That definitely applies to me.

The Leatherneck Cocktail is one of the beverages unearthed by famed cocktail archeologist Ted Haigh in his hugely influential Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails. As many of you probably know, a Leatherneck is a member of the United States Marine Corps, but I think it’s fair to salute anyone who’s put themselves in danger and perhaps paid the ultimate price on behalf of the rest of us.

The Leatherneck Cocktail

2 ounces blended North American whiskey
3/4 ounce blue curacao
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice.

Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Frank Farrell, a Marine turned journalist credited with creating the Leatherneck Cocktail, said you should shake this drink “violently” and that’s not half wrong. Definitely a very vigorous shaking is in order to bring out its more refreshing aspects.

Strain your Leatherneck into a cocktail glass and toast anyone you may have known who sacrificed something important in a war, anywhere in the world. If you actually don’t know anyone who’s endured that sort of a loss, toast that instead.

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A number of very familiar booze brands will probably work here. Technically, I believe, “blended” means any whiskey that’s not single malt or is also not “straight” bourbon or rye. In practice, a classic Leatherneck Cocktail must, I gather, be made with something that is North American and is neither bourbon, nor rye, nor Tennessee whiskey (e.g., Jack Daniels). Good examples would be most brands of Canadian whiskey, like my beloved Canadian Club or Seagrams VO. Seagram’s 7, which is actually U.S. made and blended, would definitely also qualify if you happen to have that around.

Ted Haigh uses Crown Royal, which to me has always tasted like an ever-so-slightly smoother, higher-end version of Canadian Club. I usually have some CC on hand but didn’t this week. I did, in fact, have an actual vintage spirit on hand. It was an unopened bottle of Crown Royal dating back probably 20 years or more given to me by some beloved relatives of mine.

This testament to the very moderate drinking habits of many Jewish-Americans comes to me from two of my very favorite cousins, who know who they are and how much I appreciate their generously provided free aged booze and overall wonderful cousin-hood. My Crown Royal-based cocktail definitely made for a refreshing beverage that, I think, is a reasonable credit to our fighting forces.

Of course, this is  a very simple drink — really, a whiskey daiquiri — that could maybe be spiced up and improved in a number of ways I’m sure. Any ideas on what could constitute a Flying Leatherneck?

  

Drink of the Week: Bitters & Blonde

Bitters & Blonde.After kinda sorta creating four new classic cinema inspired cocktails, I’m definitely ready to take it easy this week with a cocktail that’s about as simple as cocktails get. It’s actually worse that that because I readily admit that this oh-so-easy recipe has been spoon-fed to me, along with some very nice photography and Papa Pilar’s rather exquisite Blonde Rum.

I’ve featured this outstanding new brand before but it deserves another go. It’s truly flavorful stuff, no mere mixer, with a delightful mega-hints of vanilla and molasses. It’s part of an exciting trend of new high-end rums, and we’ll be working with some more of those in the not very distant future.

In the meantime, just to show you I’m not entirely a tool of big premium booze, I’ll admit that I don’t think this week’s drink is necessarily the absolute best way to enjoy  Papa Pilar’s Blonde Rum. On the other hand, it’s a very nice way to enjoy it and perfect for the heat wave that’s engulfing Southern California as I write today’s post. If only it could fix my air conditioning.

Bitters & Blonde

1 1/2 ounces Papa Pilar’s Blonde Rum
3 ounces ginger beer
Angostura or other aromatic bitters
1 lime wedge (garnish)

Build this drink over plentiful crushed ice in a Tom Collins glass. Add the rum and the ginger beer and, if you feel the need, stir gently. (They’ll get together on their own even if you don’t.) Top with as much bitters as you think wise and stir no more. Toss in the lime wedge if you like.

You sip this cocktail through the bitters in the same you sip through the cream at the top of an Irish coffee. As you enjoy the icy concoction toast the fact that, while you might have to crush your own ice to follow this recipe strictly, at least you probably don’t have to buy it from an ice man like your great-grandpa had to.

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As I alluded to just now, the only slightly tricky aspect of this drink is coming up with the crushed ice if, like me, you don’t have a crushed ice-maker and are making an aversion to blenders into your personal trademark. What works best for me these days is putting ice into a plastic bag and whacking it with a hammer-like implement of some sort…but not too hard. You don’t want to break the bag and send all the ice flying, which happens a great deal of the time if you’re not careful.

I tried Bitters & Blonde with a few different brands of ginger beer — a generally delicious product that also happens to be just as expensive as many brands of actual beer. All my attempts came out about the same regardless of the ginger beer though, and that’s because the bitters tend to dominate. In fact, I enjoyed my Bitters & Blonde more when I switched from uber-ubiquitous Angostura to Fee Brothers Old Fashioned Aromatic Bitters. I found it imparted an almost peppermint-like back taste that worked well with the rest of it.

Still, this drink might not be for you if you’re not mad about bitters. If you prefer a more subtle use of the stuff — and even if you don’t — may I suggest an Old Fashioned with the Papa Pilar Blonde?

Just muddle a teaspoon full of sugar (I used turbinado) with just a dash or two of bitters (Fee Brothers, I’d suggest) and an orange slice in a rocks glass. Next, add two teaspoons of soda water and lots of ice, and, finally 2 ounces of the Papa Pilar’s Blonde and stir. If you can go wrong with that one, I have no help for you.

  

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