Drink of the Week: The Blinker (Duffy’s Version)

the Blinker.The Blinker was one of the many moribund beverages revived by Ted Haigh in his epochal 2009 book, Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails. Haigh, in turn, found the drink in a 1934 tome by a Patrick Gavin Duffy but found it “unremarkable” and he therefore messed with it. We’ll try Haigh’s messed with version later, but we start with the unvarnished original.

The Duffy Blinker might not have knocked my socks clean off, but it really is a very nice drink enlivened by a generous portion of fresh grapefruit juice. I have to admit that the fact that I still had some extra-large citrus around after last week’s drink was my primary motivator for choosing the Blinker. I never used to like anything grapefruit but, by god, the bittersweet fruit is really growing on me. It’s certainly tasty enough in this beverage.

The Blinker (Duffy’s Version)

2 ounces bourbon
1 ounce grapefruit juice (preferably fresh)
1 teaspoon grenadine
1 lemon twist (desirable garnish)

No surprises here. You guys probably have this drill memorized by now, but here it is again…

Combine your liquids in a cocktail shaker with an excess of ice. Shake most vigorously, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add your lemon twist if you’ve got one handy. As for the toast, let’s mix things up and salute, heck, Ethel Barrymore. I just saw her for the first time in 1948′s “Portrait of Jennie” (ask your neighborhood movie geek/film buff, or your great-grandmother) and she was extremely good in it. As a Barrymore, I’d like to think she might have tried a Blinker.

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This drink worked very nicely with the two different bourbons I had time to try before I was briefly sidelined by a small cold. (As I write this, I’ve been dry for a shocking four days!) Wathen’s Kentucky Bourbon made a fine, sweet base spirit, but there was more 100 proof, bottled in bond, punch when I killed my bottle of good ol’ Old Fitzgerald’s (my favorite bourbon bargain up to now).

I will also add that I suspect it’s probably very important to use a decent grenadine in the Blinker. Ted Haigh, you see, felt the need to make a substitution for this ingredient. He might have been partly moved by the fact that so many commercially available grenadines are hard to distinguish from any other high fructose corn syrup based concoctions.

At the same time, while it’s great to spend extra dough and go gourmet, or go crazy and make your own grenadine, as some bloggers insist, there is another option. Take a little time and find a reasonably priced product that includes a little real juice, pomegranate most importantly. Master of Mixes grenadine includes pomegranite and cherry juice; it has served me well for some time and it only costs a few bucks…and, no, they haven’t been sending me free bottles in the mail. Not yet, anyway.

  

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Drink of the Week: The Ideal Cocktail

Image ALT text goes here.A long time ago, a boss of mine was discussing an upcoming project and said something to the effect that “in an ideal world, we’d complete this task in two or three days.” I said, something like, “No, in an ideal world we wouldn’t have to work at all; we’d be romping with bunnies wearing nothing but flowers and praising the Lord.”

In other words, of course, the ideal cocktail doesn’t exist. Thanks to the miracle of proper names, however, the Ideal Cocktail does exist. It’s not ideal but it’s definitely not bad. It did, though, require a bit of futzing with the proportions based on the somewhat vague instructions in the most reliable source for this early 20th century tipple, The Savoy Cocktail Book. I’m very okay with the rather stiff beverage I came up with based on Harry Craddock’s prohibition-era recipe, with just a little bit of bloggy help.

The Ideal Cocktail

2 ounces London dry gin
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 tablespoon fresh grapefruit juice
1 teaspoon maraschino liqueur
1 grapefruit twist (desirable garnish)

Combine the gin, vermouth, juice, and bittersweet cherry liqueur in a cocktail shaker and shake. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Toast the reality that, in all likelihood, there’ll never be an ideal anything. After all, if we all knew how to make the perfect cocktail, cook the perfect steak, make the perfect movie, or find the perfect love, life would either get really dull, or we’d all explode or something.

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Harry Craddock’s recipe is a bit vague by modern standards as it calls for 1 part vermouth to two parts gin, but specifically tells us to add a tablespoon of grapefruit juice regardless of how big our “parts” are. It also calls for an incredibly frustrating three dashes of maraschino, which can be anything.

When first trying this drink out, I took my cue from Erik Ellestad’s 2009 post on his Savoy Stomp blog. He interpreted 3 dashes of maraschino to equal a teaspoon of the bittersweet cherry liqueur. He also — reasonably enough — called for 1 1/2 ounces of gin and 3/4 ounce of sweet vermouth, with him using the pricey (and admittedly fantastic) Carpano Antica. I liked his orthodox take on the drink which differs from the very few other versions of this you’ll find online.

I chose my fall-back sweet vermouth, Noilly Pratt and started with Mr. Ellestad’s proportions, using a bottle of Tanqueray I’ve been itching to work with. I dismissed his suggestion to stir, not shake, the drink out of hand, however. Though I tend to be generally highly skeptical of the booze snob ban on stirring many cocktails for fear or spoiling the beauty and booziness of the drink, in this case most c-snobs actually have my back; conventional wisdom supports shaking any drink with citrus juice in it. I think it’s a necessity here.

In fact, even vigorously shaken, the Ideal Cocktail came out a bit cloying to my tastebuds at those proportions. After experimenting with both Maraska and Luxardo brands maraschino, I decided that, this time, Luxardo was definitely the better choice, justifying it’s higher price tag. More importantly, I finally settled on upping the amounts of the Tanqueray and Noilly Pratt I was using. The results were bracing and just sweet enough, though I admit that it’s a pretty stiff drink.

In an effort to make it a hair less stiff, I switched from the 94.6 proof Tanqueray  to value price, 80 proof, Gordon’s. Not bad, if less than ideal.

 

 

  

The Selvarey Chicago Fizz

Selvarey Chicago Fizz. Today’s drink is the most deliciously nutritious and possibly (though not definitely) the last of the cocktails we’ll be featuring here with a base booze provided by the skilled distillers of Selvarey White Rum. If you missed my earlier experiments with this brand, all I can say is that it’s a genuine Panamanian treat from a company which also boasts darn good taste in cocktails.

The Selvarey Chicago Fizz differs from most of the other Chicago Fizz recipes you’ll find online in that’s it’s made with Selvarey White Rum, instead of a sweeter dark rum. The result is a beverage that’s almost perfectly balanced between sweet and tart flavors. I’m not sure about actually curing a hangover, but if you’re determined to have a cocktail in the morning, which means you’re either drinking too much, on vacation, or both, this may be the most outstanding choice possible.

The Selvarey Chicago Fizz

1 ounce Selvarey White Rum
1 ounce tawny port wine
3/4 ounce lemon juice
1 raw egg white or 1 ounce of pasteurized egg white
1/2 ounce simple syrup or 2 1/2 teaspoons superfine sugar
Soda water

Combine all the ingredients except the soda water in a cocktail shaker, without ice. “Dry shake” without the ice to emulsify the egg. Then shake again, very vigorously and now with plenty of ice. Strain into a chilled Tom Collins-style glass. Top off with that soda water (preferably chilled) you’ve been holding back and you’ll find yourself with a nice “head” on your fizz. Sipp and salute the concept of carbonated water, without which life would be just a little bit more flat.

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I usually talk about ingredients in this section, but this time I’ll offer a note about your bartending equipment first. You’ll likely have better results with your Chicago Fizz if you use an old fashioned separate cocktail strainer like the pro bartenders use, rather than the built in kind. The pre-fizz portion of the drink is thick enough that’s it’s tricky to get out of those tiny holes at the top of the shaker. Regular readers will remember that I’ve made many drinks with egg whites, but this seemed to be more of an issue this week than with other egg white cocktails — either that, or I’m just losing my patience.

Fizzes are an entire mixed drink category I’ve barely touched on. What’s interesting is that the inclusion of relatively small amount of soda water renders a pretty massive change, and I don’t just mean bubbles.

A cocktail featuring an egg white usually has a lovely, soft and milky texture. Adding the fizzy water, however, causes the egg white to separate from the rest of the drink, which produces a head which is similar to what you might find in root beer or, even more to the point, that non-alcoholic New York/Jewish deli favorite, an egg cream. (If you know your deli beverages, you’re aware that an egg cream  contains chocolate syrup but no egg and no cream, but it has a very nice foamy head owing to the presence of milk and seltzer.)

In the case of the Selvarey Chicago Fizz, or the Jacques Straub 1914 take on the Chicago Fizz to the boozy historians, the result is fruity, not too sweet and — relatively speaking — not too heavy on the booze. In fact, it’s so not too sweet that I wouldn’t blame you if you amped up the amount of simple syrup or sugar.

Finally, it is definitely permissible to try this with other brands of white rum. I gave it a shot with a far older premium brand and, while I preferred the lighter, sweeter touch of the Selvarey, it wasn’t bad with Brand X. In any case, using a rum to your liking, not to mention a good tawny port (not my particular area of expertise; I used a brand called Almiro), will likely yield a better drink. Follow your instincts.

  

Drink of the Week: The Liberal (modern style)

The Liberal.Yes, it won’t be shock if you’ve been paying close attention, but I’m a liberal. Not a Noam Chomsky-style ultra-progressive or a concern-trolling Tom Friedman/Joe Klein style enabler of everything that sucks. Nope, I’m just a plain old liberal with a mad crush on Rachel Maddow, personal liberty, ethnic/religious/sexual equality, not starting wars every alternate Thursday, and the concept of a mixed economy like they still have in Canada and Europe.

Why bring that up now? Well, most of us at least know that on Memorial Day, we’re really supposed to be honoring on our war dead, and Veteran’s Day is obviously about veterans, but few people of any political stripe consider that Labor Day is really supposed to be about people who have to work for a living for other, richer people. In other words, most of us. Unions are a real thing and if you like things like a 5 day week or overtime pay, you should be for improving them AND for growing them, not dismantling them.

So, since labor and liberal politics really do together, now more than ever, I can’t imagine a better drink for Labor Day weekend than the Liberal. Now, it’s not at all clear why this particular drink is called the Liberal and not the Libertarian or the Nonpartisan, but it’s definitely a drink that will make you feel like sharing the wealth, just a little. Let us begin.

The Liberal (Modern Style)

1 1/2 ounces rye or bourbon whiskey
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
1/4 ounce Torani Amer
1 dash orange bitters
1 lemon twist or maraschino cherry (desirable garnish)

Combine your whiskey, vermouth and your amaro digestif (that’s the Torani Amer) in the mixing vessel of your choice with a liberal amount of ice. Stir very vigorously and strain into a chilled cocktail glass or coupe. I’m usually very shaking-friendly, but I really don’t suggest shaking this one as it seems to come out surprisingly watered down and deflavorized if you do.

Add a decent maraschino cherry or very thin lemon twist. Since I’m a small-l liberal as well as big-L liberal, I’ll allow you to toast whomever you like. I, however, might suggest George Bernard Shaw, Molly Ivins, Groucho Marx, or Abe Lincoln, the originator of that long-dead breed, the liberal Republican.

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A brief note: today’s version is, as is so often the case, just one of a number of different recipes with wildly differing proportions. This version appears to be of more recent vintage, but I hope to be giving an older version of it whirl fairly soon. The modern Liberal is pretty nice, if you’re not allergic to cocktails that flaunt their booziness. Nevertheless, it is a drink with issues.

The first problem some of you are going to encounter is finding Torani Amer. It’s fairly easy to dig up here in lefty-coastal California at your local high-end or big box liquor emporium such as Total Wine & More or Bev-Mo, I understand, however, it’s hard to find elsewhere. I guess you’ll have to buy it online until the revolution comes.

The second problem is that nobody’s really that crazy about Torani Amer. The thing is, in some drinks, it’s just the best ingredient you’ll find. The original version of the Liberal, in fact, called for Amer Picon, a product that really doesn’t exist anymore no matter where you live. (You can still find something with that name in Europe but, by all accounts, it’s changed dramatically.)

I actually tried this drink with the far more well-liked sister beverage to Torani Amer and Amer Picon, Amaro CioCiara, and it was actually too sweet. Torani Amer it is. It’s a fact of modern liberal life that, all too often, you have to accept damn near unacceptable compromises.

  

Hall makes tasty Napa Valley wines

Hall Napa Valley currently produces about 120,000 cases of wine per year. They have been making wine in Napa since they opened their winery in 2005. Just this spring, the Halls launched a new facility in St. Helena. This new winery and tasting room was built on a site that has a 150-year history in Napa Valley wine making. The Halls still maintain their original, intimate location in Rutherford and continue to make some wines there, but the new facility allows them to host a variety of events as well as have more people visit and taste wine on a daily basis. On a recent trip to Napa Valley I stopped at Hall St. Helena, toured their new facility and grounds, and of course tasted through their current portfolio. Here are some wines from their Napa Valley collection that I enjoyed. These selections are widely available all over the country.

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Hall Napa Valley 2013 Sauvignon Blanc – All of the fruit for this wine was sourced within Napa Valley. It’s composed of entirely Sauvignon Blanc. Fermentation and aging took place in stainless steel; there was no oak influence on this offering. It has a suggested retail price of $24. Bright, ripe gooseberry aromas practically explode from the nose of this Sauvignon Blanc. Citrus and stone fruit aromas abound as well. The palate is rich and refreshing with both tropical and citrus zest flavors playing big roles. Hints of crème fraiche, white and green peppercorn and a touch of grass mark the finish, which is clean and crisp with racy acidity. The Hall Sauvignon Blanc will work equally well paired with light summery foods or all by itself as an aperitif.

Hall Napa Valley 2011 Merlot – The fruit for this wine was sourced at two vineyard sites within Napa Valley. In addition to Merlot (95 percent), it contains some Petit Verdot (5 percent) as well. After fermentation, it was aged on French oak for 20 months; 45 percent of the barrels were new. This Merlot has a suggested retail price of $33. Bright red cherry aromas are supported by bits of spice on the highly engaging nose of this Merlot. The palate is stuffed with both red and black cherry, as well as chicory and black tea characteristics. Kirsch liqueur interspersed with hints of sweet chocolate are in play on the above average finish. This is a fine example of Merlot that is loaded with varietal character and has terrific structure. It’s delicious now and will drink well over the next five years.

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Hall Napa Valley 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon – This offering is composed of fruit sourced throughout Napa Valley. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon (91 percent), some Merlot (8 percent) and Petit Verdot (1 percent) were blended in. After fermentation it was barrel-aged over 18 months in exclusively French oak; 55 percent of the barrels were new. This Cabernet has a suggested retail price of $50. Roasted coffee and berry aromas are prominent on the nose here. Blackberry, cherry and wisps of mission fig make up the substantial palate. Earth and gingerbread spices, along with a bit of brown sugar, all emerge on the persistent finish. Napa Valley Cabernet comes in all shapes, sizes and price points. This is a substantial one for the $50 category. It’s delicious now and will evolve and drink well for six to eight years.

The most important thing to me about these wines it that they are each a fine and genuine reflection of Napa Valley. Each individual offering speaks not only of the grape variety in question, but also of the place the fruit was grown. To varying degrees these are varieties Napa Valley is well known for. Cabernet Sauvignon is king there, and this selection is made in a classic style. Sauvignon Blanc has been hugely popular in Napa for years, but still it’s on the rise. Where most every tasting room seemed to once have a multitude of Chardonnays (many still do of course), it’s increasingly common to see multiple expressions of Sauvignon Blanc at one winery. Merlot — when done right, like this example — can be as well structured and complex as good Cabernet. These wines from Hall are also fairly priced for the quality they represent. And their wide availability helps make them solid go-to choices. In addition to these wines, Hall produced a range of selections in what they call the Artisan Collection. This higher end tier features vineyard designate as well as proprietary wines. So if you’re looking for genuine Napa Valley Wine, Hall should be on your radar.

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

  

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