Drink of the Week: The Poker Cocktail

The Poker Cocktail.I don’t do a lot of two ingredient drinks here, and that’s for a reason. After all, I’m not sure you really need my help to make a rum and coke, a 7 and 7, or a screwdriver. Still, as with the Rusty Nail and some others I can’t think of right now, there are a fair number of two ingredient drinks that seem worth exploring. Also, it’s the day after Thanksgiving and — especially if you dared to enter a retail store of any type today — you probably want to keep things simple.

The Poker Cocktail is, as far as I can tell, one of the true obscurities contained in Harry Craddock’s “The Savoy Cocktail Book,” and I have no idea why that should be. It’s simple and, done right, it’s really quite tasty while offering the opportunity, if not the inevitability, of just a little bit of complexity. What, if anything, that has to do with poker, I couldn’t possibly tell you.

The Poker Cocktail

1 1/2 ounces white rum
1 1/2 sweet vermouth

If you are following Harry Craddock’s original recipe — and I see no reason to mess with it — combine the rum and vermouth in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake vigorously, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. No need to even think about bitters, garnishes, or other such bothersome trifles.

Alternatively, I won’t be too put out if you decide to stir your Poker Cocktail, the result will be slightly boozier and more forbidding, but you can make a case for it.


My first go at this might have been the best. The original recipe actually calls only for Italian vermouth (once synonymous with sweet vermouth) and Bacardi rum. So, I tried plain old white Barcardi and good old sweet Martini, and it was grand. Simple, yes, but tasty and, thanks to the shaking, surprisingly refreshing. Sweet, but not remotely cloying.

I also liked my results nearly as much when I went up a notch or two in class from regular Bacardi to Bacardi Maestro de Ron and also with Meyers Platinum Light. Brugal Especial Extra Dry also added an interesting bit of sophistication.

On the other hand, I was slightly less consistently pleased when I started experimenting with different vermouths. Switching from Martini to Vya was an interesting change of pace the produced a perfectly decent drink that was maybe, however, a hair less delicious. Oddly enough, Carpano Antica, which is so great in so many drinks, was also a hair or two less great when I tried it…but maybe I just haven’t found the perfect light rum to go with it. The search continues!


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Three great 2012 Napa Valley Cabernets


The king is alive and well. In this case, I’m talking about Cabernet Sauvignon, and in particular, examples from Napa Valley. While a broad array of other varietals thrive there, it’s not even debatable that Cabernet Sauvignon is the grape that grabs the lion’s share of the spotlight. When grown in the right spots, tended with care in the vineyards and the cellar, Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley can be as compelling as examples from anywhere in the world. And of course, the great offerings from Napa, which have a sense of place, are also unique in style and not replicable elsewhere. On a recent trip out there, I had occasion to sample many fine Cabernets, often from the 2012 vintage. There are some absolutely stunning specimens from 2012, and in general, it’s a vintage to keep your eye out for. Here are three that I really loved which will be perfect as gifts this holiday season, or on your table to commemorate special events, as well as alongside fabulous family meals.

Stag’s Leap 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($53)

This selection is primarily Cabernet Sauvignon (85 percent), with smaller amounts of Merlot (8 percent), Malbec (5 percent) and Petit Verdot (2 percent) blended in. Winemaker Christophe Paubert sourced fruit for this wine from several areas around Napa Valley. Barrel aging took place over 20 months in entirely French oak; 37 percent of them were new. Violets and plum aromas lead the intense nose. Red fruits and savory herbs are laced throughout. Blackberry, sweet dark chocolate and peppercorn flavors are interspersed throughout the long, persistent and balanced finish. The flavors here are very fresh and focused with excellent proportion. This is a bit of a steal in its category. Most Napa Cabernets of this quality are twice the price.


Etude 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($85)

Winemaker Jon Priest sources fruit (100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon) from several benchland vineyards to craft this wine. The vineyards are in a variety of Napa’s sub-appellations, each which bring unique qualities to the party. The goal is to create a Cabernet that reflects many of the elements found in Napa. It was aged entirely in French oak for 20 months. Black raspberry, earth and hints of toast light up the nose here. Tons of black and red fruit flavors fill the long and substantial palate, which is both powerful and elegant in nature. Espresso, minerals and dusty baker’s chocolate notes emerge on the long, pleasing finish. Firm tannins and racy acid are both part of the terrific structure.

Beringer 2012 Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($165)

This offering is almost entirely Cabernet Sauvignon (98 percent), with splashes of Cabernet Franc (1 percent) and Petit Verdot (1 percent) blended in. More than half of the fruit is from Howell Mountain, with smaller contributions from St. Helena, Rutherford, Spring Mountain and Mount Veeder. It was aged more than 19 months in French oak (95 percent) new, and one year in bottle prior to release. Toasty oak leads the nose, followed by copious black fruit aromas. The palate is stuffed with black cherry, raspberry, spices galore and bits of mineral. Sweet dark chocolate, earth and additional bits of toast emerge on the long, somewhat lusty finish. The 2012 vintage is a great example of what is a classic and somewhat legendary Napa Valley Cabernet.

These wines are a stellar trio. Tasting them side by side would be a fascinating window into a few of the various styles of Napa Valley Cabernet. However, even if you just taste a single one, you can’t go wrong regardless. They’re all excellent in their own way. The Beringer is the one most attuned to long term cellaring; it’ll go 15 to 20 years at a minimum. The Etude will drink well for 6 to 8 years, and the Stag’s Leap falls somewhere in the middle with a likely useful drinking window of about 12 years. They’re all delicious, and they’re all well made. Choose one or more of them based on your taste buds and budget.

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Drink of the Week: The Hornitos Harvest

the Hornitos Harvest.It’s still several days away but, before you know it, Thanksgiving will be here and you’ll want something to drink. You could do worse than the Hornitos Harvest. It’s fortifying enough that it won’t get you comatose before the turkey and mashed potatoes do their number on you, but also strong enough that you should be able to properly adjust your attitude and be a little more forgiving of your family’s refusal to be anything other than your family. It also tastes good.

The star of our little show is Hornitos Black Barrel Tequila, which has magically found it’s way to my mailbox gratis and been featured here previously. With a richly bitter, woody edge that might please bourbon and Scotch drinkers, it’s definitely one of the more complex tequilas you’re going to find for around $30.00 for a fifth. Still, the question posed by the Hornitos Harvest is when we can cheat just a little bit on the cocktail truism that fresh juices are an absolute must. We’ll get a bit more into that after the recipe.

The Hornitos Harvest

2 ounces Hornitos Black Barrel Tequila
1 ounce pomegranate juice
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup or 2 1/2 teaspoons superfine sugar
1 lime slice (garnish)

Combine all of the ingredients, save for the lime slice, in a cocktail shaker. Shake for a good ten seconds or so, and strain into a rocks/old fashioned glass with fresh ice in it, and maybe also a nice lime slice. Give thanks that you’re lucky enough to enjoy tasty pinkish-reddish drinks!

The big question here is whether to try and juice your own pomegranates or go with the prepackaged stuff. I used bottled juice my first time out and, for whatever reason was slightly put off by my first try at the Hornitos Harvest. Somewhat harsher, more bitter flavors seemed to predominate in an otherwise very promising drink.

Blaming the non-fresh juice I was using, despite the fact that it really doesn’t taste at all bad on its own, I decided to give juicing a pomegranate a try. Mind you, one of my guiding principles in these posts is that no recipe should require readers to spend more than a few minutes to make a drink.”(Almost) no home made syrup, no DIY bitters, infusions, or liqueurs, and definitely no blenders!” is pretty much my watchword.

Fortunately, I found all it took was just a little bit of elbow grease and a tolerance for mess to juice a pomegranate using a manual citrus juicer. My next attempt at the Hornitos Harvest turned out to be a lovely balance between sweet, tart, and bitter/woody flavors that only got better on each subsequent try. Also, the color with fresh juice was brighter and a bit more colorful in the glass.

Then, I decided to try the unthinkable and killed my Black Barrel bottle for one more try with the exact same bottled juice I’d used on my first attempt. Turns out, this time I liked the results almost as much as the fresh pomegranate juice version. Go figure.


Drink of the Week: The Casino Royale (Rebooted)

The Casino Royale (Rebooted).Though I’ve written about 007-related matters quite a few times on this here site, including the matter of Bond and booze, I actually haven’t seen “Spectre” yet.

Nevertheless, amid all the Internet back-and-forth about the latest entry in this most mammoth of all film franchises, it seemed apt that I stumbled upon a drink apparently named after the slim but exciting pulp novel that started it all…and then restarted the whole thing when it was finally turned into a canonical James Bond movie called “Casino Royale.” (At least on paper, Ian Fleming’s novel was actually adapted twice before that, but it’s a very long story why neither of those two productions, one a live TV broadcast and the other a lavishly misbegotten 1960s cinema curio, actually “count.”)

However, the drink itself turned out to be a little too serious, perhaps — a charge that’s also been leveled against some of the more recent Bond films as well, though not necessarily by me. Still, I took it upon myself to lighten things up. In the movies, maintaining the balance between light and dark elements in something like a Bond film can be pretty difficult to pull off. In an over-tart/under-sweetened drink, however, it’s really just a matter of boosting up one of the sweeter ingredients and maybe doing a Mary Poppins and adding just a spoonful of sugar. To wit…

The Casino Royale (Rebooted)

2 ounces gin
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon superfine sugar
1 dash orange bitters
1 orange slice (optional garnish)

Combine the gin, juice, liqueur, egg yolk and sugar into a cocktail shaker. Dry shake (shake without ice) to emulsify the yolk. Add ice and shake again very vigorously. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. If the oranges from your supermarket are sufficiently sweet, consider adding a slice for a garnish. If not, don’t sweat it. There’s enough going on in this drink.


For the record, the original version of the Casino Royale, which I found on various web sites, contains only one teaspoon of maraschino and no other sweetener of any sort. That version is not for everyone and I’m not even sure it’s for me. On the other hand, it’s definitely less fattening and great for people who don’t mind very tart drinks softened by an almost yogurt-like softness, courtesy of the egg yolk.

Still, though it might be less kind to my waistline and my A1C, I like my sweetened up version. It worked very well with a few different gins. Bombay Dry, Plymouth, and value-priced Gordon’s all produced dandy results, lending the drink the right floral/boozy backdrop. I also had good results with both Maraska and Luxardo maraschino. The latter was more sweetly inviting, with a vaguely vanilla-esque back-taste. Luxardo added more overtly complex flavors in ways I simply don’t have the vocabulary to fully describe right at this moment, other than to say it was kind of interesting.

Now, it’s time for an appropriate musical interlude from one of the worst spy movies with one of the best scores not composed by Sir John Barry.


Drink of the Week: The Quaker’s Cocktail

The Quaker's Cocktail.It’s probably not a big surprise that someone who writes a cocktail blog would be a nonbeliever, although there’s also no denying the connection between various groups within the Judeo-Christian tradition and demon heavenly alcohol. Think of your Benedictine  and Chartruse monks, and, Lord help us, the Manishewitz that introduced me to recreational mind-altering substances one Passover night long ago.

Yet, this agnostic secular Jew with occasional pantheistic fantasies — on a dark night of the soul, I might cry out for the help of the Force or whatever it is that Mr. Spock communes with — has nothing but good feelings about the Society of Friends, better known as the Quaker faith. Sure, it gave us Richard Nixon, who clearly was not overly governed by its pacifistic teachings, but all the Quakers I’ve met personally have been the kind of mighty nice folks who occasionally give Christianity a good name.

I’ve also had nothing but good feelings about this little known concoction, a delightful exercise in friendly persuasion I stumbled over in The Savoy Cocktail Book. Like most of the Quaker folk I’ve come across, this is a smart, simple little drink that’s tasty yet, for a cocktail, oddly wholesome. It also embodies the Society of Friends’ admonishment that attitude adjustment only be done in moderation. This is a drink that is strong enough to be relaxing, tasty enough to be satisfying, but also one that is relatively low calorie and not too big in the buzz department if you keep it to just one.

The Quaker’s Cocktail

3/4 ounce brandy
3/4 ounce light rum
1/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/4 ounce raspberry syrup

Combine the liquids and syrup in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake vigorously, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Contemplate the lovely flavors that _________________ graced our planet with and maybe even think about the many reasons why it would really be a far better place if we could figure out a way to study war no more.

It’s a fairly frequent experience with me that I love a drink the first couple of times I have it, and then find myself less entranced over time. This actually didn’t happen with the Quaker’s Cocktail. Indeed, every time I tried the drink my feelings about it’s near perfect balance of sweet and tart flavors only grew more positive. Results were consistently delightful with both inexpensive Reynal and even cheaper Martell brandy.

My rums ran a broad gamut and while higher end products such as Myers Light Rum, Papa Pilar’s Blonde Rum, and Bacardi Maestro de Ron all yielded outstanding results, the same could also be said for plain old Bacardi light rum. I also tried both Torani raspberry syrup and the more old fashioned and viscous Smucker’s style. The Torani version distributed the sweetness a bit more efficiently, but both were dandy.

All I can really say is that this is good drink that should be a lot better known…much as I really wish there were as many members of the Society of Friends as there are, say, Southern Baptists. Really, I have no idea if many actual Quakers have ever enjoyed a Quaker’s Cocktail, but I really think it would deepen anyone’s appreciation of creation.


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