Drink of the Week: The Capone

Image ALT text goes here.I’m not sure if it’s a good omen that the first DOTW of 2013 is celebrating Al Capone. Especially considering what we’re all about here, we might be prone to forgive the bootlegging and the gambling the man was involved with, but his probable involvement in mass murder is something we have to come down a bit harder on here at DOTW Central. On the other hand, it appears he had good taste in rye whiskey.

This week’s drink was suggested to me by a mysterious — though, I’m sure, entirely law-abiding — benefactor who was kind enough to send me a bottle of what we are told was the real original Scarface’s favorite whiskey and “the good stuff” well-heeled folks might have enjoyed at a real Chicago speakeasy during prohibition days. Made in nearby Iowa, Templeton Rye alleges itself to be a recreation of what my long-deceased reprobate Great Uncle Ben might have personally swilled at certain Chi-town establishments.

I have no idea whether or not that’s true, but I do know that this is some very good rye whiskey. A bit less peppery and less reminiscent of the stuff I eat with yellow mustard and pastrami than other ryes, it nevertheless sports a delightful potpourri of flavors with a bit more bourbon-esque sweetness than is usual. The fact that it’s 80 proof probably helps allow for a bit more gentleness than in your bonded 100 proof ryes.

As for the cocktail the Templeton people have created in the name of Al Capone, it’s much nicer than the man most people assume was behind the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre must have been.

The Capone

2 ounces Templeton Rye Whiskey
1 ounce champagne (i.e., sparkling white wine)
3/4 ounce Grand Marnier
1 dash bitters
Lemon twist (crucial garnish)

This is a pretty easy one. Combine your liquids in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass with plenty of ice. Stir vigorously and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Rim the glass with a very thin slice of lemon peel (none of the white stuff) and “twist” it over the drink to express the lemon oils into the drink. (This is actually standard practice with a twist of lemon, but I’m going into detail because it’s more important than usual.) Toast whomever you like when you sip this, but do me a favor and consider making it something or someone other than Mr. Capone. I’m going out on a limb here and expressing my vehement opposition to organized crime.

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Very, very observant readers might note here that I’m going against my usual practice and actually suggesting you use only Templeton Rye in making this particular drink. Far be it from me to curtail experimentation, but I have to say that I actually tried this drink first with a different brand of rye, a fun-size bottle of Korbel I happened upon, and Cointreau in lieu of Grand Marnier. It was nasty.

Here’s where I have to thank my benefactors again who went well above and beyond the call of duty and, in response to some of my habitual whining, actually sent me some Grand Marnier (which is very tasty but not cheap, hence my whining) as well as some very quaffable Yellow Tail Sparkling White Wine. Sure, Australia is a long way from the Champagne region of France, but it did just fine.

While the Capone turned out very nicely using the more or less originally specified ingredients, there is some wiggle room here as far as your choice of bitters goes. Your standard classic Angostura works just fine here, but there was a slight aftertaste of the wrong kind of bitterness I wasn’t overly fond of. Using the kinder, gentler Peychaud’s bitters yielded a nice enough result, however. I also had decent luck with Regan’s Orange Bitters, which I think worked nicely with the Grand Marnier.

Still, for all of that, I’m so taken with Templeton Rye, it’s reputed evil origins notwithstanding, that I’m expecting even better results when I try it in something where it can really stand out on it’s own. I’ll be having that Templeton Old Fashioned I think. Right…about…now.

  

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Boardwalk Empire Finale: We Waited All Season For This?

**SPOILER ALERT**

Last night’s season 2 finale of “Boardwalk Empire” has generated some strong reactions from fans, as Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) was killed at the end of the episode by Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi). The plot twist rivaled the death of Ned Stark in HBO’s “Game of Thrones” as one of the bigger TV surprises of 2011, though in this case the twist seemed forced and out of place.

Many fans are upset, as Jimmy was a popular character. He was a tortured soul who was an integral part of the storyline through the first two seasons. That said, I’m not bothered that the writers decided to kill him off, but I wasn’t very impressed with the way they got to this point.

Season 2 revolved around the many troubles faced by Nucky Thompson. Nothing was going right for him, and Jimmy joined forces with his father with the encouragement of his bizarre mother (Gretchen Mol) to try to take back control of Atlantic City from Nucky. From the beginning it was clear that Jimmy wasn’t cut out to be a boss. He was indecisive and didn’t have much business sense. Next to characters like Al Capone (brilliantly played by Stephen Graham) and Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza), Jimmy looked like a naive kid as he bumbled his way through a bunch of failed deals. When it came time to kill off Nucky, Jimmy didn’t have the stomach for it, though he reluctantly went along with the plan when pressed by the real gangsters and Nucky’s brother Eli.

Yet Jimmy and fellow war vet Richard Harrow (Jack Huston) never hesitated to use violence violence against others, like scalping a foul-mouthed rich guy who ridiculed Jimmy and struck him in the face with his cane as his business ventures went south. Jimmy was an enforcer, not a leader.

But there was something deeper going on, as Jimmy was fighting all sorts of demons, from his troubled childhood to his relationship with his mother to his experiences in the war. The writers tried to convey this throughout the season, and frankly it wasn’t very fun to watch. You wanted to root for Jimmy, but the wild swings in his behavior made little sense.

All of this strange behavior became easier to understand in one of the final episodes when we had a long flashback to Jimmy’s time at Princeton. The episode seemed like a waste of time until we saw the scene where Jimmy’s mother has sex with him at the end of a drunken night for both of them. Gretchen Mol’s character was always a little creepy and this took the bizarre relationship to another level. Jimmy then quits Princeton and joins the army, and the war experience finished him off on an emotional level.

Yet this entire setup leads to a moment where Jimmy lets Nucky kill him without a fight as explained by showrunner Terence Winter in a recent interview:

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Spotlight on Booze: Canadian Whisky

Make no mistake, this is not only your dad’s but also your grandfather’s whiskey. Depending on your age and where your family was during prohibition, it might even be your great-great-grandfather and/or grandmother’s whiskey. Say what you like about Canadian whisky, it’s stood the test of time.

Sometimes referred to, particularly in Canada, as rye despite the fact that it’s primarily made with corn spirits, Canadian whisky, unlike now resurgent American rye whiskey, never threatened to go away. Still, while some uninformed bartenders still think rye is just the name of a type of Jewish bread, it’s the rare bar that doesn’t stock Seagram’s V.O., Canadian Club, Crown Royal and often Black Velvet. Its the even rarer connoisseur or cocktail aficionado who will admit to being excited about them, with some liquor snobs deriding Canadian as “brown vodka.” Following their lead, younger drinkers who have taken to premium brands of bourbon and Scotch, have largely ignored it. That’s not to say unassuming Canadian Whisky has no fans among the cognoscenti. We kind of love it and no less an authority than cocktail historian David Wondrich suggests Canadian Club — a value-priced favorite of ours — as the perfect vehicle for an Old Fashioned, the most purist-friendly whiskey cocktail we know.

In any case, pop culture seems to be slowly becoming more aware of American rye whiskey’s almost-as-retro northern cousin. The 2008 primary elections saw Hillary Clinton swigging a much-discussed shot of Crown Royal, the very smooth Chivas Regal of Canadian. Though the label is angled so that the logo is just slightly out of our view, it’s clear that Canadian Club — first brewed by distilling legend Hiram Walker — is Donald Draper’s poison of choice on “Mad Men.” (In the first episode, newbie secretary Peggy Olson is informed that rye is the same as Canadian, and told it’s what her new boss drinks.) It also sure looks to be Canadian Club that washing up on the Jersey shore in HBO’s bootlegging themed early gangland drama, “Boardwalk Empire.” By law, Canadian whisky must be aged at least three years, though Canadian Club and Seagram’s V.O. are both aged for six

In fact, the popularity of Canadian whisky — which many insist must be spelled sans “e” — in the U.S. goes back to those dark days for everyone but gangsters between 1920 and 1933 when the sale and manufacture of liquor was illegal in the land of free and home of the brave, but thoroughly legal up north. Jewish-Canadian entrepreneur and liquor distributor Samuel Bronfman became wealthy and powerful beyond anyone’s wildest dreams by staying more or less on the right side of the law while doing business with the likes of Al Capone. He purchased Joseph E. Seagram’s and Sons and launched what became, for a time, a massive commercial and media empire. (It’s worth noting that the line’s flagship brand, Seagram’s 7 Crown, best known as the non-7-Up ingredient in a “7 and 7,” is not technically Canadian whisky. The U.S. version, at least, is bottled in Indiana and marketed as “an American whiskey,” whatever that is.)

Since it’s primarily blended and is generally not a very complex kind of a whiskey, it’s likely that Canadian will never have the cachet of bourbon, rye, or Scotch, but its hipness quotient may be improving slightly. Canadian Club has shrewdly played on its history with a series of attention-grabbing print ads with the slogan “Damn right, your dad drank it.” The ads alluded to the allegedly racy lifestyles of fathers of yore and used actual family photographs from Canadian Club employees.

As for cocktail and liquor aficionados, New York Times writer Robert Simonson blogged some time ago that his contacts in the gourmet and mixology worlds became obviously bored at the mere mention of Canadian whisky. However, Simonson’s April 2011 article details how there are real changes brewing in the world of Canadian booze. He specifically cites the highly acclaimed Forty Creek distillery and also attempts by better known makers of Canadian whiskey to brew blends that will appeal to drinkers used to the more complex flavors of today’s premium whiskeys.

Forty Creek does appear to be the most prevalent of the “new style” Canadian whisky manufacturers and we were able to pick up a bottle on sale at out local big-box beverage emporium. Our reaction was a bit mixed; we still think Canadian Club is more tasty and given its extremely low price, difficult to beat. Even so, we anxiously await the arrival of more and better Canadian whiskys. It’s time to see if our polite and funny friends to our north can create some premium whiskeys that will give some real competition to Kentucky and Tennessee, not to mention Scotland and Ireland.

  

Boardwalk Empire 2.1 – Welcome Back to Sodom by the Sea

Greetings, all, and welcome back to Prohibition-era Atlantic City. Since the Season 1 DVD set of “Boardwalk Empire” has yet to emerge, I have to admit that my memory on what went on when last we saw Nucky Thompson and the rest of the gang isn’t as fresh as it perhaps ought to be, so I’m hoping that your recollections are similarly imprecise. If not, then lord knows I’ll hear about it, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed and just dive right in, shall I?

The first sight we see this season is a bunch of kids running through the surf, picking up…a bottle? I think it was a bottle. Maybe it’s just because I was watching the episode as an advance screener, but it was so damned dark that I honestly couldn’t tell exactly what they were picking it up. But, hey, it’s a show about running bootleg liquor during Prohibition, so a bottle makes about as much sense as anything else, and I’m going to take a similar stab in the dark and presume that what they’re moving onto trucks in the next shot is crates of the same stuff. Basically, the whole segment is intended to give us a quick look at what all of the usual suspects are doing nowadays, and it looks for the most part that they’re still doing about the same thing they were when we left them. Nucky’s still enjoying the 24-hour party while Margaret remains at home, Jimmy’s busy handling the transport of product to Chalky White, Eli’s recovering from his wounds, Agent Van Alden’s with his wife, and…hey, wow, look how much more energy the Commodore’s got! Amazing how reinvigorated one can be when they stop ingesting poison, huh? Unfortunately, it isn’t long before all of the joviality is replaced by tragedy, with Chalky’s operation being abruptly machine-gunned into oblivion by a bunch of KKK members. Pretty horrifying stuff, and although Chalky manages to make it out alive, he’s rightfully pissed about what’s gone down. (At least he manages to take one of his attackers down before they drive away.)

Nucky and Margaret may be making this relationship work, but it’s clearly having a toll on the kids. After pulling an all-nighter, Nucky arrives to find Teddy ensconced under the dining room table, refusing to go to school because he’s been so traumatized by the nuns, but Nucky talks him out by sharing his own past educational experiences, leaving the adults to enjoy a bit of tense conversation amongst themselves. It might’ve shifted into a little bit of loving, but thanks to the nattering of the children, Nucky bails out, leaving Margaret understandable frustrated. Uh-oh, Teddy, you’re in trouble…

Looking in on Angela and Jimmy, it’s clear that Angela’s still an emotional wreck after losing out on the lesbian love of her life at the tail end of last season. She might be trying to put on the façade of family happiness, but there’s misery dripping from every word out of her mouth, and she obviously has no tolerance for Jimmy’s mother, Gillian. Speaking of which, how incredibly creepy was it when, apropos of nothing, she announced that she used to kiss Jimmy’s wee winkie once upon a time. Talk about your awkward revelations. Meanwhile, in Chicago, Capone’s still got a chip on his shoulder when it comes to people perceiving him as Johnny Torrio’s lackey, as evidenced by his reaction to George Remus, whose ridiculous tendency to refer to himself in the third person completely confuses Capone. Remus submits a plan to help Torrio do an end-run around Nucky Thompson, which Torrio accepts, quickly passing the buck to Capone on the matter of informing Nucky that his services will no longer be required.

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