Drink of the Week: The Chicago Sour

The Chicago SourI’ve confessed here before to the fact that even a pretty well made classic whiskey sour is not exactly my favorite concoction. Still, I’m starting to think that maybe the fault is with the particular recipes I’ve been sampling and that it is possible to make an entirely delightful standard whiskey sour…or maybe you need a little something extra. That’s the approach of this really kind of beautiful creation crafted for the high end bourbon, Angel’s Envy, by noted bartender Freddie Sarkis of Chicago gastropub Sable Kitchen and Bar.

As I noted in an earlier post, Angel’s Envy is bourbon for serious bourbon lovers that is finished in port wine caskets, and the fact that they sent me a free bottle hardly influences my opinion at all! This creation, which uses just a bit of plain old red wine, instead of the port featured in other Angel’s Envy recipes, is also delicious enough to make me forget the fact that I took myself off red wine several years back. It’s really, really good.

The Chicago Sour

2 ounces Angel’s Envy bourbon
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
3/4 ounce simple syrup
1 egg white
Red wine

Combine bourbon, lemon juice, egg white and simple syrup in cocktail shaker. Before adding ice, shake the contents vigorously to fully emulsify the egg white. Make sure your shaker is well sealed because egg tends to make plastic cocktail shakers want to pop open for some reason that a chemist or physicist could probably explain. Now add ice and shake again even more vigorously. Strain into a chilled cocktail/martini/champagne glass. “Float” — which I think means “lightly pour” — a very small amount of red table wine. Drink and toast Mr. Sarkis, who has come up with one mean cocktail.

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The Chicago Sour made with Angel's EnvyThe recipe as promoted by Angel’s Envy doesn’t specify the type of red wine or the size of the egg — I used the white of a medium egg because medium eggs were on sale at my local supermarket a few days before along with an extremely cheap Cabernet that’s probably slightly below the quality of ordinary two buck Chuck and and exactly the same price. The result, nevertheless, was pretty magnificent. (Please note the usual raw egg caveats apply — the risk of contamination is very low, but people with certain health issues should use pasteurized eggs.)

Regular readers will also note that I departed from my prior habit of using superfine sugar and water in preference to simple syrup because I’m feeling lazy and I found some for an acceptable price that was actually made with cane sugar. Still, I imagine you could substitute about a tablespoon of sugar and 1/2 an ounce of water and it would likely come out as tasty as anything else from our nation’s former second city, as saluted below by two Italian-American lounge singers of some note.

  

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Drink of the Week: The Angel’s Decree

the Angel's DecreeDespite the fact that many U.S. denominations frown on booze or ban it outright, it’s nevertheless no surprise that Christian imagery has found its way into the argot of whiskey distillers based in some of the most devout regions on the planet. “The Angel’s share” refers to a certain small percentage of whiskey that seeps into the wood in barrels and usually evaporates.

It’s become a minor trend to refer to this phenomenon. A bourbon fancier’s magazine is named for it, Jim Beam has found a way to extract the bourbon back out of the wood and perversely named it the Devil’s Cut. Meanwhile, famed bourbon distiller Lincoln Henderson, previously associated with the fine brands Old Forester and Woodford Reserve, has crafted a Kentucky straight bourbon he calls the Angel’s Envy.

The booze press has been very kind to this bourbon and for good reason. It’s designed for the serious whiskey lover and is described as being ultra small-batch and super premium. By intelligent design, it’s not as smooth as some products but it mostly justifies its large, but not enormous, price (about $45.00 in most places) by being plenty flavorful. It makes for an excellent Manhattan, quite a sturdy Old Fashioned, and I imagine it would work equally well in most classic bourbon cocktails. It’s also excellent with just a little bit of soda water.

Still, there’s always room for innovation. Henderson and his colleagues finish their product in casks previously used for port, and there is a hint of the richness of the dessert wine in the whiskey’s flavor. Logically enough, port is a significant ingredient in a number of recipes they’ve developed, including the one below that’s pretty ideal for the unseasonably warm weather going on in parts of the Midwest, even if it’s actually a bit cooler than usual here in sunny So Cal. In any case, this beverage is a nice one and simple enough for any soul.

The Angel’s Decree

1 1/2 ounces Angel’s Envy bourbon
1/2 ounce port
1-2 dashes aromatic bitters
ginger ale

Combine bourbon, port, and bitters in a smallish Tom Collins glass with ice cubes and stir. Top off with ginger ale…it’s more interesting if you don’t stir it again at this point. Sip and ask for divine guidance on whether or not your soul will be safe if you try this very tasty concoction with another brand of bourbon.

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I really like the Angel’s Decree but, at the risk of sounding as if I’m in a state of heretical despair, I’m not sure it loves me. My issues with all true red wines — they make me feel, if I may use a technical term, icky — are what drove me to explore cocktails in the first place. Port is easily my favorite kind of red wine but, as I learned again this week, it’s still red and even in very small doses for me leads to feelings that are short of heavenly. That, however, should not stop you from enjoying the drink.

The good news for me is that the sweet vermouth you use in a Manhattan only looks red. (The color is mostly from the caramel used to give it’s sweetness.) I think that’s how I’ll largely be taking my Angel’s Envy. Regardless, I trust no celestial being will be in hot pursuit of my footwear as a result.

  

Drink of the Week: The Whiskey Smash

The Whiskey SmashThe Whiskey Smash is probably one of the clearest examples of a drink rescued from complete obscurity by the ongoing classic cocktail revival. Although the modern version featured in a growing number of retro-friendly bars differs enough from the recipe written up by cocktail pioneer Jerry Thomas in 1862 to be an entirely different cocktail, the more polished and slightly more elaborate version below is certainly a classic of sorts.

As it stands, the Whiskey Smash is a close relative of the Mojito and the (I swear upcoming) Mint Julep. It’s outstanding for a warm day or in a bar so crowded if feels like a warm day. Certainly if you’re a fan of whiskey, lemon, mint,  and heavy muddling, this is your drink.

The Whiskey Smash

2-3 ounces whiskey (bourbon, rye, Canadian, etc.)
1 quarter lemon, cut into four or more pieces
5 or more mint leaves
2-3 teaspoons superfine sugar
3 dashes of bitters
1/2-3/4 ounce water (optional)
1 mint sprig (semi-optional garnish)
1 maraschino cherry (very optional garnish)

Combine your whiskey, lemon pieces, superfine sugar, mint leaves and, if you like, splash of water in a cocktail shaker. (The water is really only there to approximate the 1/2 to 3/4 ounces of simple syrup most recipes call for instead of sugar, but I found the results about the same whether or not I included it.)

Muddle it all rather intensely, paying special attention to give a good mushing to the lemon pieces — this is a “smash” after all. You can take it a bit easier on the mint if you like. Make sure, however, that your sugar is dissolved in the liquid, which should happen without too much effort if you’re using superfine sugar and not cheating with ordinary table sugar.

Add lots of ice — cracked or crushed ice is probably better — and shake vigorously. Strain into a well chilled old fashioned glass with a few ice cubes in it. Because of all the lemon, mint, and crushed ice you may have to exercise a bit more patience at the straining stage, but your forebearance will shortly be rewarded. If you’d like an extra dash of sweetness and color, add a maraschino cherry along with the semi-obligatory mint-spring.

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I found the results remarkably consistent regardless of which whiskey I used, though I found using Buffalo Trace bourbon resulted in a slightly more mellow and interesting smash than the super-reasonably priced Evan Williams I picked up for a ten spot. 100 proof whiskeys seem to work well here, and I had good luck using my standby Rittenhouse Rye as well as the hard to find 100 proof Canadian Club I’m lucky enough to have. (You can buy it online here.) I also found that this one drink that worked very nicely not only with traditional aromatic bitters like Angostura, but also with the bottle of Fee Brothers Celery Bitters I recently picked up. (Speaking of revived classics, as I understand it, celery bitters pretty much disappeared between sometime in the middle of prohibition and, believe it or not, 2008.)

I’ve also noticed there’s something of a fetish among bartenders not to end up with bits of mint in the final, strained drink. It happened to me a lot of the time, and it wasn’t a problem  either in terms of taste or aesthetics, in my view.

And just a reminder that you will really need a good, solid muddler suitable for lemon smashing as described so long ago in our guide to bar implements. If you don’t have one, you can improvise but you want something solid. A freshly washed hammer used with extreme caution, perhaps.

 

  

Drink of the Week: The Dry Manhattan

the Dry Manhattan It is time to correct an old oversight this Friday the 13th. It seems that way back on the second DOTW, in which I dealt with that sturdiest of classic cocktails, the Manhattan, I failed to mention one of the most important of the classic variations. The Dry Manhattan eschews the usual sweet vermouth in favor of dry vermouth for what amounts to a very sophisticated drink that is essentially a whiskey martini for true cocktail snobs sophisticates. As far as I’m concerned, it’s nothing but good luck for whoever drinks it.

The occasion for me revisiting this drink at this time is bottle of the very hard to find 100 proof version of Canadian Club that was very kindly sent to me by my personal good whisky fairy employed by Hiram Walker. It’s good stuff, maybe the best base I’ve found yet for this particular drink. We’ll get back to that later. First, the drink itself.

The Dry Manhattan

1.5 ounces whiskey (Canadian, rye, or bourbon)
3/4 ounce dry vermouth
1 dash Fee’s Old Fashioned Aromatic Bitters or Angostura
Lemon twist (garnish)

Pour your whiskey, dry vermouth (as always, Noilly Pratt is my personal default choice here), and bitters over ice cubes into a shaker. Shake or, if you simply can’t abide clouding, stir very vigorously for as long as you can stand it and pour into a chilled martini or wide-mouthed champagne glass. Rim the glass with a lemon twist and toss it into the drink. Best enjoyed with Dinah Washington’s rendition of Rodgers and Hart’s “Manhattan.”

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Okay, let’s talk ingredients. First of all, I haven’t tried it this way lately, but I’m pretty sure this would also work with Scotch, though that would actually be a dry Rob Roy. Still, I’m of the opinion that Canadian whiskey in general and Canadian Club in particular might be better than bourbon and possibly even rye.

I will say that the stronger, slightly more complicated and oaky flavor of the 100 proof version of Canadian Club might possibly work best of all. I’m really liking this stuff in general and I can’t wait to try it in a sweeter type of Manhattan. However, you should be aware that, at least here in the States, this stuff isn’t easy to come by even at your local big box beverage retailer. You can, however, purchase it online from select vendors, and I was able to find it just now for an extremely reasonable price at the website of Denver-based Argonaut Liquor.

Of course, this drink will also work with the 80 proof stuff just fine. Especially if you’re going that route, you might well want to round up the portions to 2 ounces of whiskey and 1 ounce of dry vermouth. In that instance a second dash of bitters might not be the worst thing if you’re a bitters sort of person.

Speaking of bitters, you’ll note that instead of suggesting the traditional Angostura brand of aromatic brew, I’ve given preference to the lesser known Fee Brothers brand. I recently picked up a bottle of this on a whim when I was visiting an unfamiliar liquor emporium far away from my usual digs and have kind of fallen in love in love with it. For my money, it’s flavor, though still apparently dominated by angostura bark, is a bit more subtle than its venerable competitor. It’s definitely tailor made for a drink like this which can’t stand up to too much straight bitterness, though regular Angostura will still work. I found using Regan’s Orange Bitters, however, to be a somewhat overpowering citrus experience when combined with the lemon peel.

One final variation, if you’re as mad for olives as I am, you can really go the whiskey martini route here and using an olive or two or three as your garnish in place of the lemon twist. It won’t be anywhere near as good as this drink in terms of sophisticated complexity, but it will be olive laden. Sometimes, that’s all I need.

  

Drink of the Week: Eggnog

eggnogI have a confession to make.  Despite my enormous love of all things sweet and milk fatty, I was fully prepared to bale on what has to be the ultimate seasonal drink. I have to admit there were concerns for my waistline — you guys have no idea how much weight I gained as a child knocking back the carton based non-alcoholic stuff. Also, as I grew older, I usually was disappointed by the spiked nog I’d had at parties. Somehow, the booze always seemed to destroy the cheap and creamy charm of the store bought nog. It was like putting vodka in chocolate milk. (I’d rather have a shot and choco-moo chaser, thank you.)

Still, the real reason I was going to go AWOL on eggnog was that I was simply intimidated. I imagined fresh eggnog to be a very complicated drink to make; a drink that might even force me to break my no-blenders rule, classic drink though it be. The online recipes telling me that I had to start with a 6 or more eggs, separate the yolks from the whites and perform various operations on them only reinforced that assumption.

Then, however, I started Googling “eggnog for one” and a great revelation came to me. Really, all this drink is a raw egg — provisos and disclaimers to come — milk, sugar, vanilla flavor, and booze. I have to say that, even if I have a sentimental attachment for the gooey store bought stuff, this shockingly easy, if slightly messy, home made version beats that all to heck.

So, here goes, the drink recipe I never thought I’d post.

Eggnog

1.5 ounces of your choice of cognac/brandy, bourbon, Canadian whiskey, or rum
1 large egg
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 ounce heavy cream (optional)
2 ounces full fat milk if not using heavy cream; with cream use 1.5 ounces
4-5 teaspoons superfine or powdered sugar
Ground nutmeg (garnish)
1 cinnamon stick (optional garnish)

Read the rest of this entry »

  

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