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.
I know this will probably drive me out of the cocktail writers’ club, but this week’s recipe-centric DOTW was preempted by a cold. I know this will make me sound a bit wussy to some of you, but I personally do not find that alcohol “kills the germs.” It’s more like granting them superpowers. Moreover, when I’m sick, some generic Alka-Seltzer Plus more or less does me just fine. In short, liquor has not passed these lips in over a week.
On the other hand, being sick also allowed me to wipe my DVR clean of “Mad Men” episodes…including episode 12, “The Quality of Mercy,” which my device decided to turn off about 1/3 of the way through the episode. I tried recording it again last night, but the show my DVR thought was “Mad Men” turned out to be CSI or NCIS or SVU or something else with letters or what not. I’m sure I’ll catch up with it all by next Sunday. The point is that “Mad Men” is whipping up more controversy and hysteria than ever, and it’s lovable/hatable alcoholic antihero/hero, Don Draper, has done more than his share to revive interest in classic cocktails in general and one ultra-classic, in particular, the Old Fashioned.
If you want a recipe, as such, you can find not one but actually two if you read my last look at the Old Fashioned closely. That was just a little over two years ago, but the two approaches to the drink in it remain pretty close to the way I often make it now…except I’m slightly more open-minded about the use of soda water. Still, I say keep it minimal if you use it at all.
On the other hand, that’s not quite what Mr. Draper does in this memorable scene from a long-ago season when he makes a new and short-lived friend in Conrad Hilton by making him an Old Fashioned. Yes, we’re breaking the format this week and in lieu of a recipe, you’re getting this legendary moment in televisionary cocktailing.
Now, watching this again, it occurs to me I’ve never made an Old Fashioned precisely this way. Don uses a bit more soda water than I would prefer. And note how he doesn’t really stir it, but just sort of dashes the bar spoon on the ice cubes a couple of times. On the other hand, his wetting of one sugar cube per glass (they look like rather large brown sugar cubes to me) with Angostura bitters and then muddling them is absolutely classic. The fact that he includes a cheap, bright red, non-Luxardo maraschino cherry in his muddling would, on the other hand, horrify many in the crafty cocktail set, but I don’t think it’s a problem.
No, if I were drinking tonight, I’d probably make pretty much exactly that drink, though I’ve never been a big Old Overholt guy. This rye has become the craft bar standard recently — I can’t speak for its popularity in 1963 — but I prefer my bonded Rittenhouse Rye or Don Draper’s favorite not-quite-rye, Canadian Club. (CC, by the way, sponsors a brief tutorial with their version of an Old Fashioned as an extra on the Blu-Ray/DVD of “Mad Men” Season Five.) Right now, I’d be using Bulleit’s Rye, because that’s what I’ve got. I’m sure it would be decent.
And that’s actually the thing about an Old Fashioned — even more than a Martini or a Manhattan, it’s sturdy and flexible. Paradoxically, it’s also easy to foul up completely, as most non-craft bars do, if you use too much sweetener, water, or even whiskey. One teaspoon for two ounces of whiskey is pretty much the right proportion, and it’s definitely also the maximum if you’re muddling fruit. Also never, ever, use the syrup that comes with the sweet-supermarket maraschino cherries as your sweetener. Don’t.
Still, like I said, there’s that a lot of leeway with your Old Fashioned. You can make the very severe kind with only a teaspoon full of soda water, a sugar cube, bitters, and not very much ice — or, the fashionable craft bar favorite, one giant and slow to dilute cube — or you can make the lusher version I mostly lean towards, in which I muddle an orange slice and maybe a cherry, too, while throwing in a splash or two, or three, of plain water and enough ice to fill my rocks glass.
There’s an idea out there that there’s one way to make a perfect Martini or Old Fashioned, and I’m here to tell you that’s balderdash. I’ve mad dozens of these drinks in dozens of ways — I’ve even served an Old Fashioned up, shaken, as if it was a Martini or Manhattan — and it nearly always works, at least a little bit.
At bars, I’ve had two truly great Old Fashioneds. One was for probably $15.00 at a very high end joint in Century City on November 4th, 2008 and used Michter’s Rye (or maybe Bourbon). The other was a $3.00 happy hour beverage with the well bourbon (Evan Williams, I think) by a nameless bartender at the Hudson in West Hollywood several months back. I’m sure they were made in completely different ways.
So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that these recipes — all of them — are guidelines. I’ve veered between the various poles of making Old Fashioneds and I’ve yet to find a consistently great way to make the drink, but some of my tries have been very good. Some have also been disappointing. I still think the official recipe I wrote two years back is the most reliable, but my results always vary.
It’s pretty much the same way as it goes with a great television series like “Mad Men.” Maybe the season closer will be a real humdinger, or maybe it won’t. We should all just relax and let it be whatever it is.
Unless, of course, the nuttier online tea-leaf readers are right and the Manson Family or stand-ins really do end up killing Megan Draper. That, my friends, would be more stupid than sweetening your Old Fashioned with two tablespoons of the cheap maraschino cherry syrup.
If you don’t think cocktails can be austere, then you’ve obviously never tasted a dry martini. It might be hard to believe for cocktail old timers but, to a newcomer, a dry gin martini is as forebidding as a Bartok quartet, a Maoist-period Jean-Luc Godard film, or a Jackson Pollack painting. If I wasn’t a born olive lover — and if I didn’t feel wonderfully tipsy after drinking them — I might never have discovered martinis myself.
Other drinks can offer more stylistic possibilities. A Manhattan can be as inviting as a Capra comedy or, if you seriously dial back the sweet vermouth, as demanding as Thomas Mann’s Dr. Faustus — a book I actually read and can almost remember. I’m guessing the Brooklyn Cocktail, a definite member of the Manhattan family, might be in that category, as the proportions vary really dramatically.
Today’s NYC-centric drink is another recipe I found in Dale DeGroff’s seminal The Craft of the Cocktail. It’s part of the some cocktail catching-up I’ve been inspired to do by the likably imperfect documentary, Hey Bartender. The film on the still nascent craft cocktail scene will be starting a very slow roll-out today (6/7/13) in New York, and then the following Friday in Los Angeles, and a few other odd cities. Stayed tuned here for an interview featuring a major player in the film.
In the meantime, I present the cocktail I’ve been struggling with this week, and I do mean struggling — though I think this one can be really good if you make sure the stars align properly. I only managed it once. That’s why I’m just watching “Hey Bartender,” and not appearing in it.
The Brooklyn Cocktail (modified DeGroff version)
2 ounces Canadian Club whiskey
1 ounce dry vermouth
1/4 teaspoon maraschino liqueur
1/4 teaspoon Torani Amer (or Amer Picon, if you’ve somehow got it)
1 lemon twist (garnish)
Combine everything but the lemon twist in a cocktail shaker. Add lots of ice and then do what the Good Lord put cocktail shakers on earth for, and shake the darn thing. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and toast the best bartender you know, who probably will get better results than you with this drink.
My first Brooklyn Cocktail turned out to be my best, though I diverged from Mr. DeGroff’s recipe in one major, but respectful, sense. Instead of classic Canadian Club, I used some of my prized small batch Canadian Club Sherry Cask with the last of the dry Noilly Pratt I had on hand.
DeGroff’s original recipe, published in 2002, calls for a “dash” of the maraschino liqueur and the Amer Picon digestif. Aside from the fact that Amer Picon is not actually available in the U.S. these days, I have no idea how you’re supposed to properly get a dash out of a bottle that doesn’t have a spout on it. So, in this draft, it’s 1/4 of a teaspoon of maraschino and Torani Amer, an alleged replica of Amer Picon.
So far so good, but I thought there was room for improvement and I still hadn’t tried it with standard Canadian Club, a brand I actually kind of love. First, however, I had to get myself some more dry vermouth. When I went for my beloved Noilly Pratt at BevMo, I failed to properly register the different coloring of the cap. Turns out, I was purchasing something called Noilly Pratt “extra dry.”
A little research showed that the French dry vermouth I’ve fallen in love over the last few years is, indeed, the original Noilly Pratt recipe that goes back to 1813 — but one that’s only been available in the States since 2009. It seems we vulgar Americans weren’t good enough for the original stuff during the late 20th and early 21st centuries, and we had to be given a drier, simpler vermouth until we were deemed ready for the real thing. Now, that Americanized and simplified (I don’t want to say “dumbed down”) vermouth is back on the market.
I was ready to march right back to BevMo and swap it out for an (easier to keep fresh) half-sized bottle of Martini & Rossi, until I theorized that the recipe was written in 2002, and probably used many years prior to that. Perhaps the extra dry Noilly Pratt was actually what Dale DeGroff used. I definitely prefer the older French recipe, but cocktails are always much more than the sum of their parts, and that’s why I love them.
So, I made my next Brooklyn Cocktail with Canadian Club and the extra dry Noilly Pratt. Disappointingly, the austerity of the drink wasn’t really enlivened by much of anything else. It wasn’t bad, just not terribly enjoyable. Still, that version was much better than what I got when I tried doubling up on my dashes of maraschino and Torani Amer. That drink actually was downright disappointing and a bit mediciney.
What now? I’m going to try the more traditional recipe I’ve seen online, which called for rye whiskey instead of Canadian Club…and I’m going to see if I can’t find my beloved NP “original dry,” damn it, at a local liquor store. Stay tuned!
What are you willing to give up for a cocktail? If you live in Los Angeles, the answer for the casual fancier of serious mixed beverages might be as high as $17.00 in some joints. If you’re one of the people who actually makes his living trying to make really good cocktails, however, the price might be a little higher still.
As I’m learning from an upcoming film I’m probably embargoed from discussing in any detail, the documentary “Hey Bartender,” the business of dispensing booze can take from a person’s life, but it can also give. However, the price I’m thinking about right now has mostly to do with the garnish — yes, the garnish — of today’s drink.
Fire is involved, and so is my right hand. I like my right hand. It’s helping me type this blog post and it does other nice things for me from time to time. But more about that later. (The garnish, I mean.)
The Ritz Cocktail was created by a cocktail legend I’m not sure I’ve even mentioned here before, and that’s largely due to the fact that I’m still a relative newbie to serious boozing. Although he’s not quite a household name — even his Wikipedia page is a still a stub — Dale DeGroff is credited by lots of folks as spearheading the revival of the lost art of the American cocktail. This started back in the 1980s, when he was at the Rainbow Rock at Manhattan’s 30 Rock, I was still in school, and most of the oldest of you all were lucky to be past the zygote stage….and DeGroff is still a relatively young man for a living legend. Well, his Wiki doesn’t give his age, so it’s hard to be sure.
Today’s drink is contained in DeGroff’s epochal 2002 tome, The Craft of the Cocktail. It’s named in honor of the several legendary bars of the famed Ritz hotel chain founded by César Ritz. Much as Mr. DeGroff has been dubbed “King Cocktail,” Mr. Ritz was dubbed “king of hoteliers, and hotelier to kings.” So far as I know, however, he had nothing to do with the cracker.
The Ritz Cocktail (the slightly heretical and debased version)
3/4-1 ounce cognac, or brandy alternative
1/2 ounce Cointreau
1/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
Champagne or sparkling white wine alternative
Flamed orange peel (garnish, to be explained!)