Drink of the Week: The Perfect Cocktail

The Perfect Cocktail.Let’s get this out of the way: the Perfect Cocktail is not the perfect cocktail, but you already knew that. It is, however, not one bit bad.

My guess would be that this little known selection from Harry Craddock’s 1930 “The Savoy Cocktail Book,” such as it is, is either named after the Perfect Manhattan or I suppose it could be a precursor. What they both have in common is a combination of sweet and dry vermouth combined with a spirit…though the proportion of hard liquor is less than it would be if were something closer to a sweet or dry martini. It’s a fairly tasty concoction if you use the right ingredients and it’s not too terribly strong, which is sometimes a very good thing. Also, the simple symmetry of its ingredients is, if not actually perfect, pretty snazzy.

The Perfect Cocktail

1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 ounce dry vermouth
1 ounce gin

Combine the liquids in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. If you insist, it is also okay to stir this in a shaker or mixing glass and then strain the slightly prettier, but less icy, liquid into that same chilled glass.

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In preparation for the Perfect Cocktail, I made sure I was well stocked with various types of vermouths — all purchased in small bottles to maximize freshness. (Yes, I’m going to remind you, yet again, to always refrigerate your opened vermouth bottles and to try and use them up within a month or two, if possible.) Since the vermouths actually predominate in this drink, they’re obviously the most important ingredients.

I used Martini and Dolin for my dry vermouths; Martini, Vya, and Carpano Antica were my sweet choices. Overall, the more expensive options seemed to work notably better, with the possible exception of Vya. Martini Extra Dry seemed to pose a special issue, as the Perfect Cocktail seemed to accentuate some of its more imperfect bitter flavors.

My gins this time around were Bombay Dry, Gordon’s, and Plymouth. A slight edge went to the latter. Using Dolin, Plymouth (slightly less dry than you standard dry gin), and Carpano seemed to yield the best result, with the most piquant combination of sweet, floral and more mouth-friendly bitter flavors.

Though I usually suggest stirring gin-centric beverages, I liked this a lot better shaken. That’s probably because it’s really the vermouths that are the star of the show, with the sweet vermouth being the most dominant. It might be worth trying this drink even if you’re out of gin but have some vodka on hand.

I also experimented with using a cocktail cherry. I can’t say it helped noticeably, but neither did it hurt. So, if you’re looking for an excuse to use a cocktail cherry — and some of them are better than you might think — you might as well use it for the Perfect Cocktail.

  

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2015 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.

BACARDÍ Gran Reserva Maestro de Ron

If you’re looking for a simple way to class up your bar without breaking the bank, Bacardi’s new Gran Reserva Maestro de Ron is a great addition for under $25. This newly released white rum is crafted to be a high-end mixer, adding a touch of sophistication to the classic cocktails made at home. Besides casually mentioning the “Gran Reserva” label to describe your concoction, you can further impress your guests with the knowledge that the rum has been double aged; it’s initially aged for a year and blended, then returned to white oak barrels for an additional three months. While immediately flavorful upon tasting with light and fruity notes, we found its bite to be a little strong to be sipped on its own. However, stay true to its calling as a mixer, whether in cubas libres, mojitos or daiquiris, and you can’t go wrong. The Gran Reserva was created to pay tribute to the Master Blenders at Bacardi, but everyone might think they passed on some of their distilling secrets to you as well.

Basil Hayden’s Bourbon

Master Distiller Basil Hayden Sr. experimented with the addition of rye to bourbon in 1796, believing the spicy flavor profile of the grain would strikingly complement the sweeter, corn-heavy mash bill, and more than 200 years later, we’re still celebrating his decision one drink at a time. While Basil Hayden’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is the lowest proof (80 proof, 40% ABV) in Jim Beam’s Small Batch collection, it brings a near double dose of rye (27%) compared to the others. The resulting flavor profile is “blessed with rich hints of peppermint, notes of pepper, slight citrus overtones and a spicy, warming finish.” If that doesn’t sound inviting during the holidays, we’re not sure what does. We can’t get enough of this bourbon, preferring to drink it neat from a bourbon snifter to maximize its aroma and flavor. But we were also very pleased using it as a mixer in Manhattans, allowing for the rye to add an extra layer of depth to the drink. Putting this all together in a nicely packaged bottle, Basil Hayden’s is that bourbon you break out on special occasions like the holidays.

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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.

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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!

  

Three great 2012 Napa Valley Cabernets

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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.

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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.

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

  

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!

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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.

  

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