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 Blackthorn Cocktail (Harry Craddock Version)

The Blackthorn Cocktail.I totally blew it last week, St. Patrick’s Day wise. I decided, therefore, to atone for my sin this week with the most severe Irish whiskey based cocktail I could find. And so we present the Blackthorn Cocktail, which sounds a little bit like it was named after the villain of a 1950s swashbuckler with Burt Lancaster or Stewart Granger.

This drink appears in, among other places, Harry Craddock’s The Savoy Cocktail Book, but finding a human being who’s actually had one today will be a challenge — even many cocktail bloggers seem to avoid this one. Superstar booze maven Gary Regan adapted it into a more popular version which, to begin with, substitutes sweet vermouth for the dry stuff used in this version. Maybe we’ll get to that one eventually, but I don’t hold with some of the disdain this Blackthorn Cocktail has generated. It might not be sweet treat, but neither is a martini, and we like those, right?

The Blackthorn Coctail

1 1/2 ounces Irish whiskey
1 1/2 ounces dry vermouth
1/2 teaspoon absinthe
3 dashes Angostura/aromatic bitters

This is an easy one. Just combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with your usual massive amount of ice. Shake, yes, shake this drink vigorously and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Toast the classic cocktail purists who, for once, allow us to shake a drink that contains no citrus. Aye and begorrah!

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I admit that the Blackthorn Cocktail is what you would call a sophisticated drink, it’s definitely not for everyone. On the other hand, it’s actually no more inaccessible than a 50/50 martini (i.e., 50% gin and 50% dry vermouth) or a Dry Manhattan, both of which have their share of similarities with the Blackthorn.

It does have that tiny bit of absinthe — a classic case of a little going a long way. Here, however, it goes just the right distance,. I should note that my 1/2 teaspoon of the formerly notorious wormwood liqueur is different from the original Craddock version, which calls for three dashes. Maybe I should just purchase an eye dropper, but I have no idea how I’m supposed to get a dash out of an ordinary, non-squirt top bottle. Anyhow, I liked my results this way. The licorice-like flavor of anise centers this drink.

I tried the Blackthorn Cocktail with two different Irish whiskey brands. Generally speaking, I prefer Bushmills  — love the stuff, actually — but the more assertive flavor of Kilbeggan worked very nicely and resulted in a somewhat livelier drink. As for my vermouth, I did most of my Blackthorns with Martini, which was very good. Thirsting for more adventure, I finally got around to trying the cocktails hipster’s choice these days, Dolin Dry Vermouth. It’s a less dry dry vermouth, if you follow me, that actually puts me a bit in mind of the now either hard to find or all but nonexistent stateside Noilly Pratt Original Dry Vermouth. It’s maybe a bit more complex and sells for roughly double the price. Similarly to when I used the Killlbeggans, the Dolin made for a slightly livelier, crisper libation.

  

Weekly Web Series Review: Drunk History

Derek Waters’ “Drunk History” is one of the strangest, funniest, most absurd concepts in web series history. Playing on the inherent comedy of drunken incompetence and memory loss, each of the series’ six episodes takes a different comedic actor or writer, puts way too much booze in them, and then follows their muddled, profane accounts of important historical events. The episodes then cut between these slurred, rambling monologues and dramatic reenactments of the events, featuring famous actors such as Jack Black, Will Ferrell and Zooey Deschanel. The genius of these reenactments is how closely the actors follow the exact words of the inebriated nonsense that forms the basis of their script, lip-syncing the dialogue perfectly right down to the inadvertent sniffles and hiccups of the actual speaker.

The first episode features Mark Gagliardi recounting the story of Alexander Hamilton’s famous duel with Aaron Burr after drinking a bottle of Scotch. Though it is unclear how large the bottle was, it was clearly quite a bit of liquor, as he spends most of his segment reclined on a couch with a bucket nearby, just in case. Hamilton is played by a suitably innocent-looking Michael Cera in the reenactment, but the real show-stealer is Jake Johnson in a brilliantly shifty-eyed performance as the loathsome Aaron Burr. In episode 2, Eric Falconer takes on the famous story of Benjamin Franklin‘s discovery of electricity, expounding upon his theory that it was actually Franklin’s “bastard son,” William (Clark Duke), who actually flew the legendary kite with the key tied to it. This is also the series’ first instance of vomiting in the midst of the storytelling, but not its last, so be warned that the series is not for the weak-stomached. Jack Black portrays Franklin again in a special volume 2.5 episode, in which Falconer tells a hilarious tale of Franklin’s sexual deviance.

Episode 3 features Jen Kirkman‘s account of Oney Judge (Tymberlee Hill), a female slave of George Washington (Danny McBride) that is especially funny because of the way the actors incorporate Kirkman’s frequent hiccups into their performances. The fourth episode features J.D. Ryznar‘s unwise decision to drink vodka and beer together, which obviously leads to more vomiting, and his account of the U.S. president William Henry Harrison (Paul Schneider), who died after only 32 days in office. Jen Kirkman returns for episode 5, in which Don Cheadle gives a hilarious performance as Frederick Douglass; there is something especially funny about Kirkman’s slurred words coming out of this revered actor’s mouth. Finally, in episode 6, Duncan Trussell follows six beers with a half-bottle of absinthe, and more vomiting ensues. He also tells the story of Nikola Tesla (John C. Reilly) and his contentious relationship with Thomas Edison (the always intensely weird Crispin Glover).

These are the only official episodes of the series (plus a very special Christmas episode included below), so beware of the unofficial knockoffs, most of which are pretty terrible. In fact, the one I linked to there is pretty much the only one that’s watchable, and it’s still nowhere near as good as the real thing. In addition to the recognizable stars, look for Waters’ name and also that of series director Jeremy Konner to avoid being duped.

  

Drink of the Week: The Corpse Reviver #2

The Corpse Reviver #2What we have here, my friends, is a failure to be creative. In my ongoing quest to deplete my liquor supplies in advance of an impending move, while also trying to keep my cocktails simple on account of my current hectic schedule, I attempted my favorite vermouth-heavy martini variation; unfortunately, it seemed that  my home supply of Noilly Prat had gone slightly off due to old age. Then I tried making up my own simple drink using an awful lot of Lillet Blanc — an underrated type of fortified wine that’s like a sweeter version of dry vermouth — and gin. The result was not so good.

Finally, I happened upon this week’s tasty yet macabre selection, but forgot to include one key ingredient. Was this the sort of accident which could lead to the creation of an entirely new drink? Alas, no. Sans fresh lemon juice, the Corpse Reviver #2 is more of a coma inducer. Fortunately, with lemon juice, this certified cocktail classic‘s certainly good enough for any living being. I just can’t claim any credit for it.

The Corpse Reviver No. 2

1 ounce gin
1 ounce Lillet Blanc
1 ounce Cointreau or triple sec
1 ounce fresh lemon juice
1-3 drops absinthe (you might be able to substitute other anise flavored liqueurs such as Pernod, Anisette, or pastis)
cocktail cherry or lemon twist (pretty optional garnish)

Combine your ingredients in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake loudly enough to raise the dead and strain into a cocktail glass that itself is as cold as death. Add the cherry or lemon twist, if you like. Toast the resurrection of your own choosing. (Fellow nonbelievers may feel free to apply the concept to their favorite sports team or political candidate.)

Alternatively, you can set the absinthe aside and add the drops of anise-flavored bitterness directly to the glass for a somewhat more pungent beverage.

***
Despite the name — we’ll eventually get around to Corpse Reviver #1, I’m sure — this is a simple, sturdy, and pleasurable drink. The absinthe, which is not a personal favorite of mine, nevertheless acts as a very solid alternative to bitters and opens up the drink while the lemon juice balances out the sweetness of the Cointreau/triple sec and the Lillet Blanc. The fresh citrus might not actually bring anyone back from the grave, or even do anything for a common cold, but it is healthy and 100% guaranteed to prevent scurvy, of course.

By the way, the Corpse Reviver’s name actually comes from the fact that this was considered a “morning after” drink and/or a great a.m. pick-me-up. No comment. The first to widely document and popularize the drink was booze pioneer Harry Craddock and a key name in its more recent history is revivalist Ted Haigh, aka “Dr. Cocktail.”

If you’re looking for someone to raise to your corpse reviving glass to, one person whose done his share of onscreen corpse revival — and much more corpse creation — is the great character actor and eternal heavy Christopher Lee of “Horror of Dracula,” “The Wicker Man,” “Lord of the Rings,” and “The Man With the Golden Gun” to name only a very few. Having recently turned a still-going-strong 90, he’s in no need of revival. On the other hand, this does seem like an ideal time to give him his say on the topic of cocktails.

  

Drink of the Week: The Brain-Duster

The Brain-DusterSometimes you just go with a drink to match your mood, and Brain-Dusted is about how I feel this week as my man-flu of last week slowly drifts away. It’s also a great way for me to get rid of the cheap brand of absinthe I picked up a while back, only to find I preferred using Herbsaint in my sazeracs after all.

Aside from the recipe posted by cocktail historian Dave Wondrich, some versions uses pastis or Pernod, which like absinthe are very heavy on the licorice-tasting herb, anise, but which I don’t have in my already well stocked liquor cabinet. One iteration actually increased the proportion of absinthe. If you’ve ever tried it, you know that a little goes a long way, even if you want your brain thoroughly dusted. Another recipe I found a mention of added simple syrup, and I just don’t think adding any additional sugar was needed given the high proportion of sweet vermouth and the relatively sweet and mellow nature of my cheap absinthe. (The brand I used is merely 92 proof; most absinthes are well over 110 and some go as high as 140.)

I stuck with something fairly close to the Wondrich take. Even so, my version of the drink is a bit different than Wondrich’s, but I’ll discuss that after the recipe.

The Brain-Duster

1 ounce whiskey (Canadian or rye, very preferably 100 proof)
1 ounce absinthe
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 dash aromatic bitters
1 maraschino cherry (optional garnish)

Combine ingredients in a metal cocktail shaker. (If you use a plastic shaker, it’ll take a million washings to get rid of anise/licorice smell of the absinthe.) If you use cracked or crushed ice, stir for a good long time. If you use regular ice, shake for a good long time. Strain into a martini glass with a maraschino cherry for a bit of extra sweetness.

If you really want to get into the brain-dusted vein, you might consider accompanying your beverage with some Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd. Now that’s brain-dusted.

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Mr. Wondrich suggested a 100 proof rye and the Rittenhouse Rye I had on hand should have fitted the bill perfectly. It was nice but still overpowered by the anise flavor of absinthe. (I’m not a big licorice lover, so take that into account.)

The next night, however, I tried with my new friend and a close relative of a heavy duty rye, 100 proof Canadian Club (last discussed here), I was suddenly quite found of the Brain-Duster. I also tried it with regular Canadian Club, and it wasn’t half bad, but 80 proof whiskey and 92 proof absinthe doesn’t quite make for the kind of brain-dusting I needed this week. On the other hand, I tried substituting Bushmills to make this a Hearn, as per Wondrich, which didn’t work for me at all. Maybe with a stronger absinthe…

Oh, and since that 100 proof Canadian Club is very likely not available at your local liquor purveyor, here’s one place that claims to have it online for a very reasonable price. Drink up.

  

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