Drink of the Week: The Diamondback

The Diamondback. It’s named for a terrapin turtle, not a rattlesnake, but this is a drink with a bite. Make no mistake about that.

Showing up in print first in Ted Saucier’s 1951 cocktail guide, Bottom’s Up, the Diamondback comes from the post-war boom in cocktail culture. That’s the one that inspired people to buy those cocktail sets that were handed down to some of us by our parents, grandparents,or great-grandparents. Nevertheless, as any true cocktail snob will tell you, that was a far cry from the highpoint of pre-prohibition cocktail creativity, despite the era’s booze-loving trappings. By the 1950s, cocktails were a pretty basic matter for the most part. In a funny way, the ingredients in a Diamondback feel almost like a throwback to a much earlier time in tippling history since both rye and apple brandies became increasingly rare in U.S. stores in the second half of the 20th century. Indeed, it was apparently the house drink at a venerable East coast bar, and it’s possible it’s history actually goes back a bit further than I know.

So, yes, the makings here are bit old school for the cast of “Mad Men” but not hard to find these days,though also not exactly inexpensive; the Diamondback contains chartreuse, an herbaceous and powerful product that a bunch of monks have a monopoly on; I hope they’re doing good works with the $50.00 or so you typically have to spend on one of their bottlings. Also, being comprised of three very potent brews, one a bit outre, this is a drink that Roger Sterling, at least, might have appreciated.

The Diamondback

1 1/2 ounces rye whiskey
3/4 ounce applejack (i.e., American apple brandy)
3/4 green chartreuse
1 cocktail cherry (garnish)

Combine your ingredients in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass with plenty of ice. You can stir this one if you like, but it will come out very, very strong. I shake it. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, add your cocktail cherry. You may toast our amphibian friend, the diamondback terrapin. More than one of these drinks and you won’t be moving much faster than one.

According to cocktail blogger Doug Ford, the Diamondback was originally the Diamondback Lounge Cocktail and was the house beverage of the Lord Baltimore Hotel bar in guess-what-southeastern city? Originally, it was made with yellow chartreuse, which is milder, but most modern recipes call for the green variant. And let’s be clear, by “milder” we mean 80 proof. Green chartreuse clocks in at a stunning 110.

It gets worse, or perhaps better, because most of the people making this drink at various Internet locales are using 100 proof ryes like Rittenhouse and Laird’s Straight Apple Brandy, which is also bottled in bond, i.e., 100 proof. My gut reaction is to think that this might be a little too much of a good thing. In any case, the reality is that most of the boozes I actually had on hand this week were very slightly milder, which I thought might compensate to some degree for using the oh-so strong, but admittedly flavorful, green chartreuse.

The first time I made a Diamondback, I frankly found it a too strong. I used the last of the only 100 proof rye I had, 1776, but compensated for its strength via that fact that I’m too cheap to own a bottle of Laird’s Straight Apple Brandy at present; I went with Laird’s somewhat maligned  80 proof Applejack. (It’s blended with neutral spirits for a lighter taste which I think is very pleasant.) Then, I realized that, contrary to the cocktail snob’s dictum that drinks without juices should be always be stirred, the Diamondback was originally shaken. Especially as I don’t buy that particular dogma one little bit, I thought that made for a major improvement.

I also tried the Diamondback with 90 proof Bulleit Rye and Alberta Dark Rye. Both were just fine, but I give the slight edge to the one named after a Canadian province. It wasn’t the fact that it’s makers finally decided to send me a replacement bottle after the incident of the torn off plastic thingy, at least I don’t think it was. It’s just the gentler, sweeter flavor seemed to mellow out this fire-breathing turtle of a concoction.


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Drink of the Week: The Pink Lady

The Pink Lady should be no secret.So, if you’re English you automatically have today off because it’s Boxing Day, a post-Christmas holiday in its own right. No such luck here in the States, but it’s also just a matter of days before what has to be the U.S.A.’s biggest drinking day of the year. Hard core partiers call it “amateur night,” the rest of us call it New Year’s Eve. And what have I got for you? A drink that was once something of a punchline, though few had tasted it. Now, it’s one for the cultists, but I think that cult should be larger.

The Pink Lady might perhaps be known as the drink that dare not speak its name. In fact, cocktail revivalist Ted Haigh doesn’t want to put mainly drinking men off, so he calls it “The Secret Cocktail.”

Since we’re posting at the blog of an online men’s magazine, you might think I’d be tempted to keep on calling it that. Still, this isn’t a meeting of Spanky, Alfafa, and the He-Man-Woman-Haters Club and I’m here to tell you that the Pink Lady might have a feminine name, it might be frothy and refreshing, but it’s a strong and fairly tart drink that’s definitely not for sissies. It’s also got just a touch of America’s oldest booze, applejack, putting up a strong fight against a larger amount of English gin not to mention fresh lemon juice, a tiny bit of grenadine and our old friend, the egg white. Why not down a couple of these this New Year’s Eve? You just might be man enough.

The Pink Lady

1 1/2 ounces London dry gin
1/2 ounce applejack
1/2-3/4 ounce lemon juice
1 large egg white
1/2 teaspoon grenadine
1 cocktail cherry (desirable garnish)

Combine all the ingredients except the cherry in cocktail shaker. Then, it’s time for the so-called dry shake, in which you vigorously agitate the mixture without ice to properly emulsify the egg. I might add it’s possible that you can skip the dry shake if  — like I often do these days — you’re using a pre-packaged, pasteurized egg white product. It’s a bit more liquified and less viscous than egg white straight out of the shell. (3 tablespoons is usually the equivalent of a large egg white, in case you were wondering.)

Next, include lots of ice and shake again, very vigorously. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and add the cherry. Of course, if you’re drinking this next Wednesday night you can toast the New Year. Or, you can use the Pink Lady’s badly maligned name to toast the many strong women of all shades who make the world go ’round.

Since I mentioned Ted Haigh, cognoscenti won’t be surprised that this recipe is adapted from his Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, which seems to have become the basis for most Pink Lady recipes these days in any case. My tweaks were basically in terms of clarifying the measurements. (He calls for two dashes of grenadine and the juice of half a lemon. I like to be a little more specific.)

I made this drink using using the remains of my bottle of Laird’s Straight Apple Brandy (aka 100 proof applejack) and a few different gins. Tanqueray produced a fierce lady, intimidating at first but increasingly gracious on repeated encounters. Super high-end Nolet’s Gin — which I naturally didn’t pay for and which is making a cameo here in preparation for a leading role in a later post — produced a fruitier, spicier Pink Lady.

However, the prize went to the now humble, once regal, Gordon’s Gin. This underrated product was the good stuff in your grandaddy’s childhood and it’s still pretty great in the right context, and the Pink Lady is definitely that. The lower proof (80 compared to Tanqueray’s 94.6) and the lower key juniper/herbal flavor of Gordon’s makes for a smoother, sweeter drink that’s still nobody’s push-over. If you’re looking for some liquid company this year, you could do a lot worse.

Other versions of the Pink Lady you’ll find online are more like the Clover Club minus the lemon or lime juice. I’ve tried that, and let’s just say it makes the mocking treatment of this drink back in the day a bit more understandable. It’s not even a respectable “girl drink.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that.


Drink of the Week: The Applejack Old Fashioned

The Applejack Old Fashioned.I mentioned last week that I would be returning to the theme of that ultimate American hard liquor, applejack, for Thanksgiving weekend. And, so, here we are — using the once ubiquitous apple brandy for a variation on the ultimate American cocktail.

If anyone thinks I’m exaggerating when I refer to applejack as the ultimate American spirit, let it be known that no less a resource than Wikipedia tells us that a general named George Washington once asked a distiller named Robert Laird for the recipe for his brandy. The fact that today’s drink is made with Laird’s Applejack and not Washington’s Applejack either tells you something about General/President Washington’s famous integrity or his fear of early American intellectual property lawsuits.

Regardless, it doesn’t really get more American than that…Unless someone can find an image of John Wayne knocking back some of that ol’ applejack. And, if the Duke were to order a cocktail made with the stuff, I like to think it would be made something just like this.

The Applejack Old Fashioned

2.5 ounces applejack
1/2 teaspoon maple syrup
1 orange slice
2 teaspoons soda water
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Okay, it’s more or less your basic Old Fashioned drill, muddled orange version, with a few modifications. The most obvious change is that I’ve included an additional half ounce of booze to account for the lightness in flavor of 80 proof applejack. (If you’re lucky enough to to have Laird’s bonded 100 proof version, which I’ve yet to try, two ounces is probably more than sufficient.)

Start by muddling your orange slice in the bottom of a rocks/old fashioned glass. Add all the liquid ingredients and some very large ice cubes. Stir for a good long time to get a little water into the drink, and sip. Toast doing anything other than shopping this weekend.


Most of the recipes I found for Applejack Old Fashioneds called for at east twice as much maple syrup and no orange muddling, though some did add a lemon twist to the concoction. For me, an entire teaspoon meant that the maple simply took over the drink. Many recipes also called for Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel Bitters, a variation on the Angostura/aromatic bitters theme that I found slightly over-bitter and distracting.  I’ll go with the usual, this time. (Yes, I know. When I took the picture, I didn’t know I’d end up feeling that way re: the choice of bitters!)

On the other hand, I know that orange muddling in Old Fashioneds is somewhat frowned upon in certain classic cocktail quarters these days, but I like my Old Fashioneds that way, gosh darn it. Also, cutting the maple in half and adding a bit of less concentrated sweetness from the orange seemed like the way to go for this particular drink. So did doubling the classic single teaspoon of soda water and bumping the carbonation up ever so slightly. The result was a really nice drink that is as U.S.A./American as drinks get, especially if you’re maple syrup is from Vermont and not from the oh-so-foreign climes of Canada.




Drink of the Week: The Corpse Reviver #1 (Revisited)

Corpse Reviver. Yes, we’ve been down this road before at DOTW, but our vehicle has had parts of its engine replaced. First, we covered the Corpse Reviver #2, and then we eventually got around to the far lesser known original Corpse Reviver. However, I’ve decided to take another look at the original version of the drink, owing to my recent discovery of an ingredient I’ve been shamelessly ignoring up until very recently: applejack, an American brandy that fell out of favor during prohibition.

As you may recall, the idea behind the entire Corpse Reviver family of beverages is to be, if not the hair of the dog that bit you, a big, wet kiss from the entire beast. Savoy Cocktail Book author Harry Craddock informs us that this particular Corpse Reviver is “to be taken before 11 a.m., or whenever steam and energy are needed.” Alas it contains no caffeine or B-vitamins, and I’m almost never hungover, so it provides me personally with far more relaxation than “steam.”

The Craddock Corpse Reviver recipe called for either applejack or calvados, it’s more complicated French cousin. The first time around, I went with the latter, since buying the pricey French stuff seemed like enough of an expense and most recipes I found online seemed to imply that there wasn’t much of a difference between the two brandies.

That’s all changed. As discussed previously, I’m falling hard for the one surviving applejack brand, Laird’s. Moreover, since we’re looking down the musket barrel of Thanksgiving, I’m thinking that a two week look at this very old 100% North American hard liquor is the thing to do at DOTW,

So, I’m here to tell you that, if you keep your Corpse Reviver nice and simple and use applejack and not calvados, you’ll have a drink that’s more pleasant than other versions — even if its resurrection inducing qualities remain in grave doubt.

The Corpse Reviver #1 (Revisited)
1 1/2 ounces brandy or cognac
3/4 ounce applejack
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth (preferably Noilly Pratt or something similar, maybe Martini & Rossi)

Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker or, if you like, a mixing glass. Then either shake or stir — I lean towards shaking — and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Toast Walt Disney, Marvel Comics and their various descendants and imitators for their ability to revive our favorite seemingly dead fictional pals again and again and again.


I tried my Laird’s Applejack laced Corpse Reviver first with the remains of my bottle of Noilly Pratt sweet vermouth and it was subtly delightful, even as it was time to toss my wonderful and hard to find half-size bottle away. I loved the simpler, less abrasive take on the first Corpse Reviver, which I think has never really taken off partly because many versions of it are more fruity and complex than drinkable.

Indeed, when I tried a higher end sweet vermouth, Dolin, it didn’t come together for me at all; nor was the bitter-bottomed Punt e Mes, a huge favorite of mine, a particular success. It really does seem as if a simpler but tasty American apple brandy also requires a simpler but tasty French sweet vermouth.

Now’s the time at Drink of the Week when we dance.



Drink of the Week: The Jack Rose

the Jack Rose.Considering I’ve never noticed it on a menu, and never tried it myself until about a week ago, there’s a really good chance you’ve never had yourself a Jack Rose. In fact, this once standard drink might now be completely forgotten were it not for assorted mixed beverage historians and its appearance in two famed books: a walk-on in Ernest Hemingway’s ultra-boozy depressive classic, The Sun Also Rises, and a leading role as one of  the six basic cocktails featured in David Embury’s 1948 The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. That Embury could place this now obscure beverage alongside such ur-cocktails as the Daiquiri, the Manhattan, the Old Fashioned, and the Martini indicates that this was once a drink that appeared to have some real staying power.

So, what happened? Well, the Jack Rose is not based on whiskey, gin, or rum but on applejack, which is not a sweet cereal for kids but an American apple brandy that fell into disrepute for decades. I’m here to tell you that both the spirit and the drink are really very good — and it’s likely even better versions are out there. More on that, after the asterisks.

The Jack Rose

2 ounces applejack
1 ounce fresh lime or lemon juice
1/2 ounce grenadine
1 apple slice or cocktail cherry (optional garnish)

Combine the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake vigorously, strain into a chilled cocktail, and toast the printing press, the Internet, and all other means of storing memories. Now, nothing this good has to die forever.


If you’ve had the French apple brandy, calvados, then you’ve had apple brandy but you haven’t had applejack. Brewed in New Jersey’s Monmouth County, Laird’s Applejack is pretty much the only game for what was once an ubiquitous American hard liquor. Apparently, part of the issue was that the traditional method of distilling hard apple cider into the applejack by freezing excess water sometimes had some seriously unfortunate chemical results. Happily, I’ve been enjoying quite a bit of Laird’s Applejack this week without the slightest threat to my life or eyesight. Indeed, I really liked the 80 proof Laird’s I was able to buy for a very reasonable price. A 100 proof version, which is very well reviewed and about $10.00 more per bottle, is theoretically available.

In any case, it’s equally good with lime or lemon juice, but don’t try a Jack Rose with pricey but much better known calvados and think you’re having a Jack Rose — a Jacques Rosé, perhaps, but not a Jack Rose. I found the calvados version of this drink a bit overdone and perfumey. With applejack, it’s a simple, balanced, refreshing drink that goes down as easy as any sophisticated cocktail you’ve ever had. It’s very nice.

I’m sure it’s possible the drink could be more fully bodied and complex with the 100 proof Laird’s. I’m also sure it could be even better with a finer grade of grenadine. Now, you can buy some very high end grenadines or you can do what all the cool cocktail kids are doing and make your own. For us poor and lazy folks, the Master of Mixes grenadine syrup is probably the best choice for about five or six bucks.

Here’s the deal. A really outstanding homemade or gourmet grenadine is mostly just a mixture of pomegranate juice and lots of sugar; most commercial grenadines seem to be a mixture of “natural and artificial flavors” and high fructose corn syrup, Master of Mixes splits the difference  with a mixture of pomegranate and cherry juice and a bit of the ol’ high fruc. I’m sure it could be improved upon, but it’s been working pretty beautifully so far in a number of cocktails here.

I know purists like David Wondrich would want me to make my own, and some day I just might. If you look around, there are plenty of recipes online if you’re so inclined — some are tantalizingly simple. However, these posts are largely dedicated to the idea that making really good cocktails at home can and should be very easy. With a decent storebought grenadine and a  tasty, inexpensive base spirit all cocktail fiends should check out, the Jack Rose is a great cocktail that you can make in about five minutes at home for, I’m guessing, less than $1.50 per drink. That’s something.




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