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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Drink of the Week: The Parisian Cocktail

the Parisian Cocktail.A while ago, I picked up a half-size bottle of Mathilde brand cassis (black currant) liqueur. Often referred to with some pretension as “creme de cassis” in recipes, the distinction between creme de cassis and just plain cassis seems vague at best. Anyhow, though extremely sweet, my plain old cassis had a nice flavor and I decided it was time to give it a whirl in an appropriate cocktail setting.

Also known as the Paris Cocktail, the Parisian shows up in the 1930 The Savoy Cocktail Book and Dale DeGroff’s much more recent The Craft of the Cocktail. However, a 2009 Savoy Stomp blog post by Erik Ellestad traces the drink to a slightly earlier 1929 recipe published by Harry MacElhone. He’s the “Harry” of Paris’s famed Harry’s New York Bar, so I guess this drink might actually be consumed by actual Parisians.

French cocktailing bonafides or not, I did find the original recipe a bit overly sweet. So, partly by accident and partly inspired by the slight monkeying with the recipe Mr. Ellestad performed, I came up with a version I prefer. It’s a bit lighter and more refreshing — and still plenty sweet; almost a high end gin and juice, if you will, even if this version has more vermouth than gin.

The Parisian Cocktail

1 1/2 ounces dry vermouth (aka French vermouth)
3/4 ounce cassis
3/4 ounce gin
1 lemon peel (optional, but I think very desirable, garnish)

Combine your liquids in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Since cassis is so fruity, the cocktail gods seem to agree that this drink demands to be shaken. Do so vigorously. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and, I say, add a traditional twist of lemon to cut the sweetness just a bit.

As for your toast, toast Paris, of course. People who’ve been there say it’s amazing and the rest of us have the dreams of Paris we get from the movies and what not. That’s pretty okay, too.

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If you want to try the classic version of the Paris/Parisian Cocktail, just use equal parts of all three primary ingredients, i.e., one ounce each. You’ll find that it’s a fairly tasty drink but very, very, sweet. Definitely use the lemon twist garnish in tha case. (Dale DeGroff suggests using his signature flamed lemon peel, if you’re feeling brave.)

Since I only have one brand of cassis and dry vermouth on hand, I didn’t get to play around with different brands as much as I might have. However, I did find that this version of the Parisian works very nicely with either Bombay Dry Gin or the very inexpensive, but still quite decent, Gordon’s Gin. The latter variation especially reminded me of a classier, more drinkable version of the first alcoholic beverage I ever consumed.

Yes, if you were ever wondering what Manischewitz Concord Grape would taste like if it were actually good, the Parisian Cocktail is close as you’re likely to get. And Paris, Las Vegas is as close to Paris as I’m likely to get any time soon. C’est la vie.

  

Drink of the Week: The Gin and It

the Gin and It.My first ever DOTW post back in 2011 covered the Martini. It’s nevertheless taken me until just the last few weeks to start exploring the ancestry of that most iconic of cocktails, which a lot of people assume kind of begin and ends with last week’s Martinez. Still, it’s name aside, that very good but very sweet drink has more differences than similarities with the modern oh-so-dry Martini beverage. Today, I’ve found a drink that, while still pretty sweet, really does seem to be the semi-missing link between the Martinez and the Martini.

The Gin and It  — “It” being short for “Italian,” as in Italian vermouth, as in sweet vermouth — is pretty much what the name implies. While some versions weirdly call for using no ice whatsoever, my version of the drink, at least, is very close to my comparatively high-vermouth starter version of a Martini, save for the species of vermouth. It’s also just about identical to my take on a Manhattan (the second DOTW), except for using gin and not whiskey.

Now, here’s the kicker. Back in 1930, Harry Craddock’s epochal The Savoy Cocktail Book, actually listed three types of Martini, one of which was called the Sweet Martini, which, like my Gin and It, calls for 2 parts gin and one part Italian vermouth. His dry version of a Martini called of one part dry vermouth and 2 parts gin. Today, of course, a dry martini typically means one with either only a hint of vermouth or even (and I don’t like this) none at all. Considering Mr. Craddock, however, it seems pretty darn likely that when the first person uttered the quip, “let’s get you out of those wet clothes and into a dry Martini” they meant a drink made with dry vermouth (perhaps Martini brand), not little or no vermouth.

Anyhow, here’s the perfect drink for anyone craving a very un-dry martini as in one that’s actually sweet….but still pretty close to an actual Martini.

The Gin and It

2 ounces gin
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1-2 dashes aromatic bitters
1 orange twist or cocktail cherry (garnish)

Combine your liquid ingredients in a mixing glass or cocktail shaker. As if to foreshadow Ian Fleming, Harry Craddock actually instructed that ALL of his martinis should be shaken, but I prefer my martinis stirred, not shaken. (Gin seems to me to take on a slightly less pleasant flavor when shaken, don’t ask me why.)  Definitely use ice. Strain into chilled cocktail glass and add the garnish of your choice, if any.

Toast vermouth, both sweet and dry. It is one of the most honorable, yet misunderstood and unfairly maligned of cocktail ingredients.

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While notably less complex than the Martinez, the Gin and It is also a bit drier, at least at my proportions. (Many versions call for equal parts gin and sweet vermouth.) It pretty much tastes like a Manhattan made with gin, and that’s not a bad thing . I tried this with Bombay Gin, Gordon’s Gin, Carpano Antica and, yes, Martini. While I can’t say any version of the drink rocked my world — I actually enjoyed the Martinez a great deal more — the best version was made was the higher end ingredients; I suppose that’s not a surprise. I also haven’t a clue why this drink isn’t as least as well known as, say, a Gimlet.

I will speculate, however, that the idea being promulgated in some quarters of the Internet that the platonic form of the Gin and It is made without ice might have something do with the idea. Suffice it to say, the room temperature Gin and It is not for everyone, and, this case, the everyone it’s not for includes me. It’s not that it tastes bad, it’s just that there’s a reason we dilute and chill this stuff with ice.

  

Drink of the Week: The Martinez

the Martinez.You’ve got relatives, I’ve got relatives. Everyone’s got relatives. The interesting thing about them is that they can have a great many of the same components that we do; at the same time, the final result can have you shaking your head and wondering how the #$@#$# it is that you share any chromosomes at all with these people.

I believe that it’s almost a given that last week’s drink, the Fin de Siècle, was one relative of the modern day Martini However, because of the similarity in its name, the Martinez may arguably be a more direct descendent, or at least the far better known relative. The naming of the Martinez itself, it’s generally believed, has something to do with the Bay Area suburb of Martinez, California. Oddly enough, however, while Northern Californians typically pronounce the city’s name as “Mar-TEEN-is,” the way most of us pronounce the very common Spanish surname, Robert Hess and others typically call the drink the “Martin-ez.”

At the exact same time, in terms of the actual flavor of the drinks, there’s next to no similarity, beyond containing gin. This is a sweet and actually very accessible drink that uses sweet vermouth (often referred to in cocktail books as Italian vermouth) instead of dry vermouth (aka French vermouth).

In any case, the version I’m presenting is significantly less sweet than many of the earlier versions for two reasons. Many variations — including a very decent one proffered by master bartender Robert Hess — actually include more sweet vermouth than gin, while mine is kinda sorta almost like a sweet version of the beverage now known as the Fitty-Fitty. Just as important, many versions of the Martinez including most of the older ones, call for Old Tom Gin — basically your standard London dry, rendered un-dry by some sugar water. As you might guess, that version is very, very sweet.

I rather like the iteration below, approachably sweet while still being nicely balanced and usually quite potent.

The Martinez

1 1/2 ounces dry gin
1 1/2 ounces sweet vermouth
1 smidgen Maraschino liqueur
1 dash orange bitters
1 lemon twist (borderline essential garnish)

Add the prescribed amount of dry gin and sweet vermouth to a mixing glass or cocktail shaker. Next, do what Robert Hess does and just barely tip the Maraschino bottle over and pour as little as you possibly can of the bittersweet cherry liqueur and also add a regular dash of orange bitters.

Stir vigorously, or shake if you prefer to maybe cut the sweetness a bit. (I lean towards stirring here.) Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and be sure to add your lemon twist in the proper manner, running the outside of the peel around the rim of the glass and then twisting it, shiny side down, over the drink to express the oils into your drink. It definitely helps to take the edge off the sweetness. Orange twists, which are sometimes called for, don’t work as well, I found.

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I know my picture above features Noilly Pratt — and the results with this drink were very good. Still, to really make your Martinez shine, I’ve got to once again speak up for Carpano Antica,which definitely takes the drink in a more mature and well-balanced direction. This time, also, for some reason I noticed a dramatic distinction between the two brands of gin I was using; the premium Bombay Dry was a distinct improvement over the very decent, but less notably less flavorful (and cheaper) Gordon’s Gin.

Now, returning to the question of whether the Martinez is the most direct descendent of the Martini…I personally don’t think so. Next week we’ll be concluding with a drink that actually might be the missing link between the Martinez and the Martini. Stay tuned.

  

Drink of the Week: The Fin de Siècle

the Fin de Siècle.“Fin de siècle” is French for “end of the century, which means that we’ve all missed our opportunity by 15 years to have a  Fin de Siècle at the most appropriate point possible, assuming we were old enough to drink in 2000. Or, if you want to look at it the other way, we’ve all got 85 years to work on preparing the perfect Fin de Siècle in time for 2100.

The truth is, however, that the real roots of this post go back not to Y2K but to last week. My copy of Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails having been destroyed by a backed-up sink…yes, I leave cocktail books on the sink sometimes and, yes, I’m paying the price…I found myself seeing a number of somewhat similar cocktails in Robert Hess’s accurately named The Essential Cocktail Guide. Like last week’s drink, today’s drink contains sweet vermouth, orange bitters, and Torani Amer, substituting for Amer Picon — easily the most commonly called-for modern day cocktail ingredient that you can’t find anywhere in North America.

The main difference, aside from the proportions, is that our base spirit is changed out from whiskey to gin. The result is a bit lighter and drier, but no less tasty and sophisticated.

The Fin de Siècle

1 1/2 ounces gin
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
1/4 ounce Torani Amer (or Amer Picon, if live in Europe or own a time machine)
1 dash orange bitters

Combined all ingredients in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass with plenty of ice. Stir vigorously — or shake, gently, if you’re feeling rebellious — and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Toast anything that has come to conclusion or shortly will, including your tasty Fin de Siècle. Nothing lasts forever, after all, least of all a good cocktail.

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I saw a few recipes online for this that mentioned Plymouth Gin, but most people seem to use your more garden variety London Dry style gin. I used premium (but I guess not super premium) Bombay Dry Gin and good ol’ value-priced Gordon’s Gin, both with results that were more than satisfactory.

I actually found that,much more than with the gin, my choice of sweet vermouth made a far more dramatic difference in the flavor. I was very happy with my Fin de Siècle when I used Noilly Pratt — my personal default sweet vermouth in slight preference to Martini or Cinzano. Still, there was no topping the slightly bitter, almost chocolate-like undercurrents of Carpano Antica; sometimes you just can’t argue with the cocktail snobs. If you want a sweeter drink that’s nevertheless not too offensive, I had decent luck replacing Torani Amer with Amaro CioCiara, suggested by some as another Amer Picon substitute.

Finally, yes, you can shake this drink but that’s not my preference this time around. For starters, this is second cousin to a gin martini. (We’ll be getting to it’s first cousin very soon). I really do think there may be something to the idea that shaking can “bruise” gin, i.e., add a slightly unpleasant bitterness. Mainly, though, I don’t think the additional water/ice crystals that shaking generates really flatters the Fin de Siècle. I think this may be a drink that wants to be cool, but not ice cold.

Now, have a great Memorial Day weekend. Maybe it’s a good time to remember what life could be, if only we were all nice enough and smart enough.

  

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