Drink of the Week: The Diamondback

The Diamondback. It’s named for a terrapin turtle, not a rattlesnake, but this is a drink with a bite. Make no mistake about that.

Showing up in print first in Ted Saucier’s 1951 cocktail guide, Bottom’s Up, the Diamondback comes from the post-war boom in cocktail culture. That’s the one that inspired people to buy those cocktail sets that were handed down to some of us by our parents, grandparents,or great-grandparents. Nevertheless, as any true cocktail snob will tell you, that was a far cry from the highpoint of pre-prohibition cocktail creativity, despite the era’s booze-loving trappings. By the 1950s, cocktails were a pretty basic matter for the most part. In a funny way, the ingredients in a Diamondback feel almost like a throwback to a much earlier time in tippling history since both rye and apple brandies became increasingly rare in U.S. stores in the second half of the 20th century. Indeed, it was apparently the house drink at a venerable East coast bar, and it’s possible it’s history actually goes back a bit further than I know.

So, yes, the makings here are bit old school for the cast of “Mad Men” but not hard to find these days,though also not exactly inexpensive; the Diamondback contains chartreuse, an herbaceous and powerful product that a bunch of monks have a monopoly on; I hope they’re doing good works with the $50.00 or so you typically have to spend on one of their bottlings. Also, being comprised of three very potent brews, one a bit outre, this is a drink that Roger Sterling, at least, might have appreciated.

The Diamondback

1 1/2 ounces rye whiskey
3/4 ounce applejack (i.e., American apple brandy)
3/4 green chartreuse
1 cocktail cherry (garnish)

Combine your ingredients in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass with plenty of ice. You can stir this one if you like, but it will come out very, very strong. I shake it. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, add your cocktail cherry. You may toast our amphibian friend, the diamondback terrapin. More than one of these drinks and you won’t be moving much faster than one.

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According to cocktail blogger Doug Ford, the Diamondback was originally the Diamondback Lounge Cocktail and was the house beverage of the Lord Baltimore Hotel bar in guess-what-southeastern city? Originally, it was made with yellow chartreuse, which is milder, but most modern recipes call for the green variant. And let’s be clear, by “milder” we mean 80 proof. Green chartreuse clocks in at a stunning 110.

It gets worse, or perhaps better, because most of the people making this drink at various Internet locales are using 100 proof ryes like Rittenhouse and Laird’s Straight Apple Brandy, which is also bottled in bond, i.e., 100 proof. My gut reaction is to think that this might be a little too much of a good thing. In any case, the reality is that most of the boozes I actually had on hand this week were very slightly milder, which I thought might compensate to some degree for using the oh-so strong, but admittedly flavorful, green chartreuse.

The first time I made a Diamondback, I frankly found it a too strong. I used the last of the only 100 proof rye I had, 1776, but compensated for its strength via that fact that I’m too cheap to own a bottle of Laird’s Straight Apple Brandy at present; I went with Laird’s somewhat maligned  80 proof Applejack. (It’s blended with neutral spirits for a lighter taste which I think is very pleasant.) Then, I realized that, contrary to the cocktail snob’s dictum that drinks without juices should be always be stirred, the Diamondback was originally shaken. Especially as I don’t buy that particular dogma one little bit, I thought that made for a major improvement.

I also tried the Diamondback with 90 proof Bulleit Rye and Alberta Dark Rye. Both were just fine, but I give the slight edge to the one named after a Canadian province. It wasn’t the fact that it’s makers finally decided to send me a replacement bottle after the incident of the torn off plastic thingy, at least I don’t think it was. It’s just the gentler, sweeter flavor seemed to mellow out this fire-breathing turtle of a concoction.

  

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Drink of the Week: The Old Pal

the Old Pal.Can a drink be like an old friend? Should a drink be like an old friend? It’s way too late as I’m writing this to even begin answering those questions, but I can tell you I much prefer the older version of this prohibition era cocktail to more recent iterations.

I actually first found this one in my copy of 1930’s The Savoy Cocktail Book but it appears to date back several years prior. However, later versions that are supposed to be adjusted to modern day tastes failed to impress my personal tastebuds as much as this very simple and basic drink, a rather close relative of the Negroni and the Boulevardier. Still, like an old pal, the appeal of this drink is rather simple and easy to understand – with my favorite brand of wonderfully value priced Canadian whiskey and dry vermouth lightening up my favorite controversial cocktail ingredient, oh-so-bitter, oh-so-sweet Campari.

The Old Pal

1 ounce Canadian Club Whisky
1 ounce dry vermouth
1 ounce Campari
1 lemon twist (garnish)

Combine the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass. Stir or shake vigorously – I lean slightly toward stirring on this one, for some reason – and strain into our very old pal, the chilled cocktail glass or coupe. Add your lemon twist and toast, I imagine, an old pal.

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If you don’t like Campari, it’s likely that the Old Pal will be no friend of yours. While the bourbon and sweet vermouth in the Boulevardier puts up a decent fight against the Campari, Canadian Club whisky — which is very specifically called for in the original recipe — and dry Martini & Rossi or Noilly Pratt is simply no match for its undeniable  flavors. Even adding a solid, high proof rye whiskey like Bulleit, and increasing its proportion, didn’t change the Old Pal nearly as much as you might think. When I tried the more recent variation, which calls for 1 ½ ounces of rye to ¾ of an ounce of Campari and vermouth, it was still very much a Campari-forward drink, only less bright, less crisp.

I should have known, you simply can’t change your Old Pal. Not that you should ever want to.

  

The Bulleit Rye Mint Julep for Derby weekend

Bulleit Rye Mint JulepWe love celebrating the Kentucky Derby, and one critical component has to be enjoying a Mint Julep which is the drink you’ll see everywhere during Derby weekend.

Here’s a great recipe:

Ingredients:
1.5 oz. Bulleit Rye
2 oz. Stirrings Simple Syrup
Fresh mint leaves

Preparation: Muddle mint leaves, Stirrings Simple Syrup and crushed ice in rocks glass. Add Bulleit Rye and fill glass with ice. Pour into cocktail shaker, shake vigorously and serve in rocks glass with fresh mint garnish.

Of course, a big part of Derby weekend is betting on the race, and the folks at Bulleit teamed up with professional handicapper Tony Gold to give us six tips on picking a Derby winner:

1. Peaking performance: The most important rule of all is to find the horse that will peak in the Derby meaning, look for horses who improved with each race with either a strong first, second or third finish after a long layoff, with more room to improve. You can eliminate half the field simply by doing this.
2. Age factor: If the horse is two years old and hasn’t raced, the chances of it winning are slim. These are not fully mature horses and getting to a mile and a quarter requires much conditioning.
3. Time comparison: Log resulting times from each horse’s last prep race with the rest of the board.
4. Prep race outcomes: Look at what prep races historically produce the most winners.
5. Jockey experience: Consider the jockey’s skill set from previous races. The derby is a large field and a good experienced jockey can position a horse well early and avoid trouble, which can make or a break a horse’s chances.
6. Tactical speed: A Derby winner will jump early and can be found somewhere from mid-field to the second or third place by halfway around the course.

Of course, your girlfriend might do better just picking based on a cool name, but that’s what makes this race so much fun. Enjoy!

  

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