I am not a difficult person to please when it comes to movies. There is a big joke among the film critics in town that we are either film critics or movie reviewers, meaning that film critics dissect everything at a subatomic level, while movie reviewers talk about whether or not they liked the film. I am squarely in the latter category.
This year, however, something was off. There are films getting a ton of film group buzz that I just didn’t get, and even worse, I found myself enjoying what was widely considered to be the worst movie of the year, but more on that later. First up, the movies I liked.
Nothing comes even close to this one. This expertly-paced account of the Boston Globe’s expose on the Catholic Church’s systematic covering up of abusive priests is top-notch storytelling, one in which the city of Boston becomes not just the backdrop, but the main character.
Ten bucks says Daniel Craig likes this film more than any of the Bond films he’s done, and with good reason. “Kingsman” is the most entertaining spy movie I’ve ever seen, and it earned this spot on my list for the church scene alone.
The bear attack. Once you’ve seen it, you can’t un-see it. Alejandro Inarritu’s film about life in the Pacific Northwest in the 1820s is every bit as hostile and unforgiving as the landscape in which it is based. There is a scene, though, where Leonardo DiCaprio’s character gets his hands on some raw meat (the first he has seen in a while), and he scarfs it down, even though there is a fire burning nearby. Dude, put it on a stick and cook that thing!
Last week’s DOTW was based on Dale DeGroff’s recipe which, in turn, seems to be largely drawn from Harry Craddock’s ultra-old schoolThe Savoy Cocktail Book. Both of those recipes start with Canadian Club whiskey for the base spirit and use miniscule amounts of Amer Picon and maraschino liqueur. Part of the problem may be that only the maraschino appears to be much the same today as it was back in 1930 when Craddock’s book came out.
I have great affection for Canadian Club but, like all the big corporate boozes, it seems, its recipe has changed slightly over the decades. I know this for a fact because my late mother — no boozer, but a very good hostess — had some 1980s CC at her place which had been neglected by her guests but which I eventually polished off only a couple of years back while she was in the hospital.
As I was grateful to note during that difficult time, 1980s vintage Canadian Club was at least 3% more soothing than today’s Canadian Club, in that it was 86 proof, not the 80 proof version you’ll find now. It’s possible that was the version Mr. DeGroff was used to, and it might have worked better. Who knows what the stuff Harry Craddock was using might have done for the drink. Amer Picon as noted last week, doesn’t really exist at all these days, here or in Europe — unless you make your own. More about the many possible substitutions after the recipe.
Today’s version of the Brooklyn is my take on a number of online recipes I found. They all begin with rye whiskey as the main ingredient and contain significantly larger proportions of the maraschino and Amer Picon substitute — 1/4 ounce might not seem like very much, but it’s a lot more than last week’s 1/4 teaspoon. Anyhow, I like this version quite a bit, even if I suspect it could be even better still.
The Brooklyn Cocktail (Second Attempt)
1 1/2 ounces rye whiskey
1/2 ounce dry vermouth
1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
1/4 ounce Torani Amer or other Amer Picon substitute (see commentary below)
1 maraschino cherry (optional garnish)
Combine the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker with quite a bit of ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled cocktail glass with your cocktail cherry, which I rather like. Sip, enjoy, and try not to think too hard about all the hard to find brands I’m going to be complaining about, starting right about…
Yes, this week is a tale of many brands and making do with second best. For starters, I talked last week about the sudden appearance of Noilly Pratt “Extra Dry,” the temporarily discarded and probably inferior Americanization of the classic French brand. It turns out my beloved Noilly Pratt “Original Dry” is no longer being stocked by BevMo in these parts, so I made do with Martini & Rossi’s Extra Dry, which I think I somewhat prefer to the simplified Noilly.
Moving on, I started out making this week’s drink with the contemporary standard for maraschino liqueur, Luxardo, but the beverage mysteriously evaporated and I had to get some more. It’s a very old brand but, since I had a hard time finding it my local BevMo and I felt like saving ten bucks, I decided to go with it’s best known competitor, Maraska. On it’s own, its a nice but less delicious liqueur than Luxardo’s maraschino, but it worked very well in the context of the Brooklyn.
The real drama came when I decided to find an alternative to the easiest to find alternative to Amer Picon, Torani Amer. Most recipes suggest either Ramazotti Amaro or, as I was reminded by Facebook friend Christopher Tafoya, Amaro CioCiaro. Still, despite some very sincere attempts to be helpful by employees of West L.A.’s excellent The Wine House, the Northridge location of Total Wine and More, and even
Cavaretta’s Italian Deli in Canoga Park — which doesn’t even stock liquor — I was unable to find a bottle of either product in time for this post. There seems to be something of a temporary Amaro drought here in SoCal land.
What cannot be cured must be endured. So, what if BevMo has recently taken it upon itself to stop stocking my beloved Rittenhouse Rye…not to mention the correct style of Noilly and did I mention they’re dropping Old Fitzgerald Bourbon?…
Well, I’m trying to forgive and forget and find more reasons to drive out to West L.A. or Northridge. At least I happen to dig Bulleit’s new rye and the results with it were, on the whole, very good. I think I’ll continue to purchase it at Trader Joe’s, where it’s cheaper and I’m less annoyed.
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!
So, Drink of the Week Central has about completed its cross So-Cal move northward from far-away Anaheim and through the Orange Curtain to Van Nuys, gateway to Reseda and Studio City. I’ve also recently completed my boozeriffic Comic-Con special assignment.
At last, it is time to resume business as usual here at DOTW. We return with a drink that feels classic but is actually a rank newcomer from this still very young century.
First, however, let me say that this week’s column is brought to you by whoever was kind enough to send me a bottle of Knob Creek‘s brand spanking new rye. I know Knob Creek’s bourbon, which I like but also fear for its fire. If anything, I have to say I like their rye a lot better. Much as I love my standby 100 proof Rittenhouse Rye, the similarly potent Knob Creek does bring an extra touch of class and drinkability to the game. On its own, it’s about as sippable as I can imagine a 100 proof rye being, though records were made to be broken and all that.
Of course, give me a bottle of booze and I’ll start looking for cocktails to make with it. And so we come to a beverage that was named one of the best cocktails of this century’s first decade and is credited to bartender Enzo Errico. When a Manhattan just won’t quite do the job, it’s time to head for Brooklyn and today’s drink.
The Red Hook
2 ounces rye whiskey
1/2 ounce Punt e Mes
1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
1 maraschino cherry (optional garnish)
Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with lots of ice. Stir for a good long time — most say about thirty seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail class. Add maraschino cherry if you’ve got one. (I didn’t.) Sip and toast new beginnings. (It might actually be a small improvement, if heretical in some quarters, to shake this drink, but I was feeling traditional this week.)
While my attempts certainly turned out well using the new Knob Creek Rye, I imagine this could also work very nicely with the aformentioned Rittenhouse or, for those seeking mellower refreshment, 80 proof Old Overholt or Pikesville might well be terrific and perhaps have a less bitter edge.
Speaking of a bitter edge, I should add that this is also DOTW’s first use of Punt e Mes. It’s a more high-endish vermouth with a nice bite. It comes across as almost a more restrained, less syrupy variant of Campari and it’s delicious on its own. It’s also the reason today’s beverage doesn’t require any bitters, though some recipes call for them. I tried the Red Hook with a dash of Angostura and Regan’s Orange Bitters. Too much bitter, I thought.
I also started out with a recipe calling for equal parts Punt e Mes and maraschino. Too maraschiny. Mr. Errico’s version is better.
I should also emphasize, once again, that maraschino liqueur should in no way be confused with the syrup in which those inexpensive preserved cherries in your supermarket are packaged. Confusing the issue slightly is the fact that maraschino brand Luxardo markets its own brand of maraschino cherries. They’re anything but cheap but also quite tasty and I’m sure would be marvelous in a Red Hook, though I actually have nothing against the bright red supermarket sweetness bombs most of us grew up with.
In fact, the more I write about this, the more I wish I’d actually had a bottle of those lovely cheap cherries to complete my Red Hook on hand. Next time.