Drink of the Week: The Rockford

Image ALT text goes here. If you’ve seen the movies you know that James Bond drank, kind of a lot. If you’ve read the books, you know there are times when James Bond drank and drank and then drank some more. If you’re a fan of “The Rockford Files” you know that Jim Rockford wasn’t a teetotaler but wasn’t anyone’s idea of a cocktail afficionado…but since he’s found himself in 1970s L.A., where Harvey Wallbangers, Long Island Ice Teas, and Sex on the Beach mostly ruled, it’s pretty hard to blame him.

Still, I’d like to think that Jim Rockford would really enjoy the Rockford, the drink I’ve been working up here at DOTW Manor and have decided to name in honor of the now sadly deceased film and TV legend, Mr. James Garner. It’s light, brisk, tasty, super-refreshing, a bit bittersweet, and actually not too heavy on the booze — important if you’re not that much of a boozer and are also likely to run into two gunsels ready to gut punch everytime you turn a corner. If it looks a bit familiar, well, we’ll get to that after the recipe.

The Rockford

1 or 1 1/2 ounces dry vermouth
1 or 1 1/2 ounces Aperol
Soda water
Orange slice (garnish, highly desirable)

Build this one in a Tom Collins glass if you’re using 1 1/2 ounces of our main ingredients, or in a rocks/Old Fashioned glass if you’re using only 1 ounce. Pour the dry vermouth and Aperol — a light, fruity and somewhat bitter lowish-proof aperitif/liqueur that’s a huge favorite over here — over plentiful ice and an orange slice. Top off with the soda water of your choice. Stir, sip, and salute Mr. Garner and Jim Rockford. Two guys who might have really enjoyed this drink if they ever encountered it at the Chart House or Dan Tana’s, which they didn’t.

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If you really know your cocktails, you no doubt recognize the Rockford as a variation on the Americano , which combines sweet vermouth with very sweet but oh-so-bitter Campari. I love that drink with a passion and I also love coming up with variations on it, as in the Ugly Americano. My favorite weapon in this pursuit appears to be finding clever ways to substitute Aperol. I love it’s fruitiness and it’s mildness can be a real boon in the right circumstances. I actually tried a version of this drink with dry vermouth and Campari and the result was simply too bitter and not enough sweet, for me anyway.

Having perfected the drink, for my own preferences, anyway, it was time to think of a name. It was very orange so I began to think of things that were both American and orange. First, I thought of Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner and then, for equal time, to the progressive website Daily Kos which just wrapped Netroots Nation (aka Comic-Con for lefty political junkies), and which is often referred to by friend, probably more than foe, as “the Great Orange Satan.”

Then, I got word of the passing of James Garner, whose only politics were far more Kossack than Boehnerite, and thought, heck. Why not salute the TV private-eye who blasted open all the cliches made so many of my high school, college, and post college evenings and afternoons whiz by? So, here’s to you Jim Rockford/James Garner. Wherever you are, I hope you are enjoying your favorite beverage, whatever it is.

Rockford Files – Intro from Bret Leduc on Vimeo.

  

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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.

  

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.

  

Ironstone Vineyards Has Something for Every Taste Bud

The Kautz family has been farming grapes in California for more than 65 years. With more than 5,000 acres under vine, they’re one of the largest growers in the state. In addition to selling fruit, for more than 25 of those years they have also been making their own wine. Ironstone Vineyards is located in the Sierra Foothills. They farm their property sustainably as shepherds of the land they inhabit. Their portfolio features a wide range of wines, many available nationally, as well as a few limited releases found in their tasting room. Here’s a look at four of my favorites among their current offerings.

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Ironstone Vineyards 2012 Ironstone Reserve Chardonnay – The fruit for this wine came from Sierra Foothills vineyards that have been in the family for four generations. This offering is 100 percent Chardonnay. The fruit was hand-selected and gently pressed. Barrel aging occurred entirely in French oak; bottle aging followed prior to release. About 1,000 cases of this wine were produced, and it has a suggested retail price of $19.99. Bright apple, white fig and gentle crème brulee aromas are all part of the nose of this Chardonnay. The palate is studded with Asian pear and a potpourri of different apple characteristics. Reminders of Challah bread and pie crust lead the above average finish, which also shows off wisps of cinnamon, butter and rugelach spices.

Ironstone Vineyards 2012 Old Vines Zinfandel – All of the fruit for this wine came from Mokelumne River, a sub-appellation of Lodi. In addition to Zinfandel (92 percent), a small amount of Petite Sirah (8 percent) was blended in. Barrel aging took place over 6 months in entirely French oak. About 15,000 cases of this Zinfandel were produced, and it has a suggested retail price of $11.99. The boisterous nose of this Zinfandel is led by violet, plum and red raspberry aromas. The aromas are so welcoming they practically demand you take a sip. When you do, you’ll find red and black raspberry, which is a just a wee bit of a jam element. Blackberry and blueberry flavors are present, along with black pepper and clove spices. All of these flavors continue through the finish which has reasonable length. This is a crowd-pleasing wine that goes down easy. You could pair this wine with a lot of full-flavored foods such as BBQ, but for me this is a perfect Tuesday-night-with-pizza wine.

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Ironstone Vineyards 2012 Petite Sirah – The fruit for this wine was sourced in the same sub-appellation that the above Zinfandel came from. After fermentation the wine was aged for 2 months in new French oak. About 5,000 cases of this wine were produced, and it has a suggested retail price of $11.99. The moment you pour this wine it has that beautiful deep purple hue that more than any other varietal brings to mind grape juice. Deep, concentrated dark fruit aromas are joined by vanilla and a hint of bay leaf. Lots of dark and brooding flavors are in play throughout the densely flavored palate; plum, blueberry and blackberry are prominent. White pepper, cardamom and minerals are all in evidence on the solid finish. Medium tannins give easily with some air. Decanting this wine for 30 minutes really allows it to open up. This is a big mouthful of delicious flavor for less than $12.

Ironstone Vineyards 2011 Obsession Red – The fruit for this wine was sourced in both the Sierra Foothills and Lodi, California. This blend is comprised of Merlot (50 percent), Zinfandel (40 percent), and Petite Sirah (10 percent). After fermentation the wine was aged in French oak for 3 months prior to bottling. About 2,500 cases of this release were produced, and it has a suggested retail price of $14.99. Plum, blueberry and plum pudding spice elements are all present on the nose. The palate is full-bodied with black cherry elements leading a veritable boatload of sweet fruit flavors. Espresso, chocolate dipped cherries and copious spices are all present on the finish. This trio of grapes comes together to form a wine with sweet, dark fruit and good structure. BBQ season is coming, and you can pair this with anything that comes off your grill.

This quartet offers a small window into the array of offerings Ironstone produces. Their wines are quite fairly priced for the quality in their respective categories. The Chardonnay is a tremendous value. The bottom line is that if you wanted to buy a Napa Valley Chardonnay of that quality and depth, you would most often need to spend $40 to $50. That makes the Ironstone Reserve Chardonnay a very smart buy for fans of that grape. Many of their wines are available on shelves all over the U.S., so check them out; it’s likely to lead to a tasty good deal.

Check out Gabe’s View for more wine reviews, and follow Gabe on Twitter!

  

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.”

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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.

  

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