Drink of the Week: The Brainstorm

the Brainstorm.So, last week we began my two-part penance for missing my St. Patrick’s Day cocktail window. Today’s drink is supposed to be the direct descendant of Alternative Ulster, but to me it’s really a completely different thing. Less sweet, more sophisticated and boozy.

The Brainstorm is definitely of the classic age of cocktails. A version  appears in 1930’s The Savoy Cocktail Book. David Wondrich, from whom I  completely stole this week’s recipe, calls it a drink of “obscure but venerable origins.” In others words, we know it’s pretty old, but we don’t know a hell of a lot else.

Still, this is a very decent concoction for anyone who likes their Irish whiskey not too dressed up, but isn’t quite up for a straight shot with a Guiness chaser. On the other hand, I have no idea why this drink is called a brainstorm, as I find it quiets the mind nicely.

The Brainstorm

2 ounces Irish whiskey
1/2 tablespoon Benedictine
1/2 tablespoon dry vermouth
1 orange twist (desirable garnish)

Combine the Irish whiskey, Benedictine (a very sweet liqueur whose ingredients are known only to an order of monks and the deity they worship), and dry vermouth in a cocktail shaker. Note, I didn’t say “cocktail shaker or mixing glass” as I usually do because, for some reason, Wondrich — who, like the majority of cocktail purists, ordinarily disdains shaking anything not containing citrus or other fresh ingredients lest it cloud the final result — states we should shake this particular drink, pretty much without explanation. So, for pity’s sake, shake this drink.

Then, as per usual, strain it into a chilled martini style glass or cocktail coupe. Add your orange twist. You may then toast your favorite Irish authors. For me it’s a battle between George Bernard Shaw and James Joyce, but if you go with Oscar Wilde, I won’t object.


I tried this one with the last of my bottle of Bushmills, as well as Kilbeggan and Concannon. I’d give a very slight edge to the milder tasting Bushmills on this drink but, really, every iteration came out fairly similar. More dry than sweet, almost forbidding, but a very respectable and serious cocktail overall. I tried boosting the Benedictine and Martini dry vermouth, as some recipes suggest, but that didn’t improve the drink. The Brainstorm wants to be dry.

I should also add that there are numerous versions of the Brainstorm that very so radically as to be almost completely different cocktails, including many with rye and bourbon. I’m sure those may be pretty good, but they’re aren’t particularly Irish, are they?


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Drink of the Week: The Ford Cocktail, Version 2

Image ALT text goes here.As I tried to rescue the Ford Cocktail for a second week in row from my own mixed feelings, at times I was  tempted  just declare victory and move on,a la Vietnam. I am, instead, prepared to declare the coupe half-full with a sweeter version of the drink I actually like a bit better.

There’s just no point in fighting the the fact that sweetened Old Tom Gin and megasugary hazelnut liqueur Benedictine are just destined to pound the hell out of even the finest dry vermouth. I give in and declare that I actually kind of like this drink, though it will never be a personal favorite. It’s definitely a more accessible improvement over last week’s even sweeter traditional version. In addition, I’ve made what I think are a few minor improvements in a version of the drink promulgated online at Imbibe by Chicago bartender Stephen Cole

The Ford Cocktail, Version 2

2 ounces Old Tom Gin
1 ounce dry vermouth
1/2 tablespoon (1/4 ounce) Benedictine
2-3 dashes orange bitters
1 orange twist (garnish)

Combine everything but the orange twist in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Mr. Cole thinks you should stir this drink but I say you should shake it most vigorously. Then, strain it into a coupe or martini-style cocktail glass. You can add your orange twist in the traditional way — rimming the glass, twisting the orange peel over the drink to express the oils onto the surface of the beverage and then dropping the peel into the drink. Or, as Cole has it, you can discard the orange peel. I didn’t see much difference.

Enjoy your drink and toast second chances. Even when they don’t exactly produce perfection, they’re a reminder that life really does go on.


I kept fiddling with the proportions of this version of the Ford Cocktail, trying to fight what initially struck me as excessive sweetness, and got exactly no place. 1/4 of an ounce (1/2 tablespoon) of Benedictine became just one teaspoon and then 1/2 half a teaspoon. The drink lost sweetness but gained neither charm nor balance. Yet, when I returned to the original Cole formulation, I gradually grew to accept, if not exactly love, the Ford.

Still, I have to differ with the Cole recipe in a couple of respects. It specifically calls out the high-end Dolin’s for its dry vermouth. I like Dolin’s quite a bit, but I found the drink might actually have been improved by the more standard, much cheaper, and slightly dryer Martini & Rossi. I usually prefer slightly more flavorful dry vermouths but, for this drink, the crispness of Martini may win.

I win as well, because I finally get to move on to another drink, and I think it might be one I not only kinda invented myself but actually like. Stay tuned.


Drink of the Week: The Ford Cocktail, Version 1

The Ford Cocktail.Happy July 4! I wish I could say I have a drink that’s a perfect salute to the ol’ red, white, and blue. Honestly, however, today’s drink has no particular connection with the holiday or even the auto manufacturer it shares a name with, nor even its enterprising, infamously antisemitic founder. It’s also a drink that, at this point, I have to say I’ve found to be just kind of okay. But I still haven’t given up and will even be revisiting the Ford Cocktail in another iteration very soon.

Why on earth would I do that? Because I’m stubborn, that’s why…and I’m determined to give it’s alternative version, with similar ingredients but radically different proportions, a try. Nevertheless, obviously this version has its fans, including cocktail archivist Ted Haigh who featured it in his super-influential tome, “Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails.” Let’s see if you want the remember this one.

The Ford Cocktail

1 ounce Old Tom Gin
1 ounce dry vermouth
3 dashes orange bitters
1/4-1/2 teaspoon Benedictine
1 orange twist (semi-mandatory garnish)

Combine the liquids in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass. You can stir vigorously with cracked ice if you want to be like Mr. Haigh, or you can do as I prefer slightly and shake it within an inch of its life. (Regular ice will probably do.) Strain the result into a chilled cocktail glass and salute Edsel Ford. Not because he or anyone in his family had anything to do with this drink, but just because he had the bad fortune to gone down in history as the name of a failed car that probably wasn’t as bad as legend made out. His brother was probably named “Ishtar.”


There isn’t a lot of room for variation with this drink as far as brands are concerned. I was using Hayman’s Old Tom Gin, by far the most widely available version of the now relatively rare sweetened gin. (It’s only competitor, as far as I can tell, is Ransom’s Old Tom Gin, which is rumored to be connected to classic cocktail super-historian David Wondrich.) For my vermouth, I used both Dolin’s and Martini, with a slight preference for the former. My orange bitters were Regans and my Benedictine was Dom. These are all outstanding products but, for the life of me, no matter what I did this drink came out…acceptable.

Probably the best version used the Dolin’s and was shaken within an inch of its life. I messed around with a bit more and bit less of the very sweet and tasty Benedictine. I found it a hair too sweet if I used a whole half teaspoon and a hair too dry at a quarter. It was way too sweet when I tried to follow the classic instructions and add three sloppy “dashes” of the liqueur…but that’s probably because I’m still too lazy or cheap to buy an eye dropper or some kind of shaker bottle.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that, while I wouldn’t stop anyone from trying to make a Ford Cocktail this July 4th weekend, you might want to stick around for the alternative version in coming weeks. Or, hell, have an Old Fashioned or two.


Drink of the Week: The Vieux Carre

The Vieux Carre.Like most Americans, I’m not exactly a polyglot. Four years of junior high and high school Spanish have been of great assistance in helping me to order  items at taco trucks; three quarters of college French allow me to chuckle knowingly to myself when “merde!” is translated as “damn!” in subtitles. So, I can’t properly pronounce the name of the Vieux Carre, but I can tell you it means “old square.” That square, as it turns out, is off of Bourbon Street in New Orleans, and this is another fine cocktail associated with America’s most intriguing cocktail capital.

Quite obviously, however, this is not in the same category as a Hurricane and it’s not the one of the scary, gigantic green drinks featured on this year’s season premiere of “Bar Rescue.” While, for me, the Vieux Carre doesn’t quite achieve the classic cocktail nirvana of a Sazerac, this is one beverage that actually gets tastier the longer you let it sit. It’s perfect for a long conversation and, by the end of it, even ever-so-justifiably-furious bar rescuer John Taffer might get mellow enough to maybe stop shouting for just a second.

The Vieux Carre

3/4 ounce rye whiskey
3/4 ounce cognac or brandy
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
1 teaspoon Benedictine
2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
2 dashes aromatic  bitters (Angostura or similar)
1 lemon twist (garnish)

Making this drink is about as easy to make as it is to get a buzz going in the French Quarter. Build over some ice cubes in a rock glass, stir, and add the lemon twist. Toast whatever or whomever you like, but do so slowly.


I’m very sorry to say that this week’s post completes my trilogy of drinks of cocktails featuring Camus’s Ile de Ré Fine Island Cognac. Sadly, that’s the case because I polished off the bottle last night. No disrespect to my value-priced go-to brandy, Reynal, but there’s a reason the Camus people get to charge the big bucks for this stuff. It’s great in a cocktail and remarkably easy and pleasurable to drink neat. Good thing I still have a few airplane bottles of various Ile de Ré expressions in my alcohol laden larder.

My rye for this double-base spirit cocktail was another new freebie favorite we’ve featured here before, the lovely Templeton Rye, previously featured in the Capone.  I usually lean towards higher proof ryes like my old pal, 100 proof Rittenhouse, but that might have been a bit much in this context; Templeton’s more mellow flavor makes it a pretty perfect match for a Vieux Carre.

I experimented quite a bit with the other ingredients. Many recipes call for more booze and somewhat less of the Benedictine — a very sweet herbal liqueur which famously mixes well with brandy. I also tried three different sweet vermouths, all favorites. The lightest was Noilly Pratt, which was very nice, but an even better result was achieved with the greatness that is Carpano Antica. (Yet another freebie previously featured here).

I also tried it with another great product I’ll be featuring later, Punt e Mes. In that instance, it sort of dominated the cocktail but, since I love, love, love me some Punt e Mes, I didn’t really mind.

One final note, apparently to really do the Vieux Carre right, some people suggest you should make it with just one very large ice cube. Sounds cool, but I guess I need to find an ice cube tray that make 3″x 3″ ice cubes.



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