Drink of the Week: The Leatherneck Cocktail

Image ALT text goes here.Memorial Day weekend of 2014 is about to get underway. For most of us, it’s just another Monday holiday and the gateway to summer vacation time. For those of us who have lost someone important in one of America’s wars, however, it’s another kind of day entirely.

Though it’s origins are somewhat foggy, Memorial Day began as Decoration Day, honoring the many fallen soldiers on both sides of the American Civil War.  Though it was intended as a solemn remembrance, especially given the shamefully scant number of days off most Americans get these days, you can’t blame people for spending it doing fun things like, say, making cocktails. That definitely applies to me.

The Leatherneck Cocktail is one of the beverages unearthed by famed cocktail archeologist Ted Haigh in his hugely influential Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails. As many of you probably know, a Leatherneck is a member of the United States Marine Corps, but I think it’s fair to salute anyone who’s put themselves in danger and perhaps paid the ultimate price on behalf of the rest of us.

The Leatherneck Cocktail

2 ounces blended North American whiskey
3/4 ounce blue curacao
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice.

Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Frank Farrell, a Marine turned journalist credited with creating the Leatherneck Cocktail, said you should shake this drink “violently” and that’s not half wrong. Definitely a very vigorous shaking is in order to bring out its more refreshing aspects.

Strain your Leatherneck into a cocktail glass and toast anyone you may have known who sacrificed something important in a war, anywhere in the world. If you actually don’t know anyone who’s endured that sort of a loss, toast that instead.

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A number of very familiar booze brands will probably work here. Technically, I believe, “blended” means any whiskey that’s not single malt or is also not “straight” bourbon or rye. In practice, a classic Leatherneck Cocktail must, I gather, be made with something that is North American and is neither bourbon, nor rye, nor Tennessee whiskey (e.g., Jack Daniels). Good examples would be most brands of Canadian whiskey, like my beloved Canadian Club or Seagrams VO. Seagram’s 7, which is actually U.S. made and blended, would definitely also qualify if you happen to have that around.

Ted Haigh uses Crown Royal, which to me has always tasted like an ever-so-slightly smoother, higher-end version of Canadian Club. I usually have some CC on hand but didn’t this week. I did, in fact, have an actual vintage spirit on hand. It was an unopened bottle of Crown Royal dating back probably 20 years or more given to me by some beloved relatives of mine.

This testament to the very moderate drinking habits of many Jewish-Americans comes to me from two of my very favorite cousins, who know who they are and how much I appreciate their generously provided free aged booze and overall wonderful cousin-hood. My Crown Royal-based cocktail definitely made for a refreshing beverage that, I think, is a reasonable credit to our fighting forces.

Of course, this is  a very simple drink — really, a whiskey daiquiri — that could maybe be spiced up and improved in a number of ways I’m sure. Any ideas on what could constitute a Flying Leatherneck?

  

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Drink of the Week: The Elk’s Own

the Elk's Own. I am supposed to be mildly allergic to red wine. In fact, it was the discovery that wine tasting trips tended to give me a mild, brief malaise — somewhere between a feeling of actual sickness and very mild depression — that started me thinking a bit more seriously about the possibilities of hard liquor some years ago. Still, life has its way of surprising you and I’ve found a few drinks involving red wines that I’ve liked quite a bit. They mostly seem to involve egg white.

The wine in question is usually port or sherry, and that’s the case this week with a drink I found in Dale DeGroff’s The Craft of the Cocktail which he, in turn, found in the 1934 tome, The Artistry Of Mixing Drinks, written by Frank Meier of Paris’s Ritz Bar. Like most drinks of this era, it can also be found in The Savoy Cocktail Book. Most of the modernized versions you’ll find online, however, differ significantly from this week’s drink — significantly enough that I might consider actually revisiting it in a different formulation later on. In the meantime, I’m sticking with a minor variation of Mr. DeGroff’s recipe for this Friday the 13th. It’s pretty much the classic formulation in any case.

The Elk’s Own

1 ounce rye or Canadian whisky
1 ounce port
1/2 large egg white
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup of 2 teaspoons superfine sugar

Since measuring out half of the egg white of a large egg might be tricky, consider doubling up on the Elk’s Own and making two drinks. Even if it’s just you, it’s tasty enough you might want to drink both.

Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake without the ice. Then, add plenty of ice cubes and shake once more, this time quite vigorously. Strain into a cocktail glass or glasses and toast the Elks Lodge. We’re not at all sure they had anything to do with this drink, but I’m sure they could use a salute.

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I didn’t have as many chances to play around with this week’s drink as I’d have liked, so I didn’t manage to even try the more stiff/modern style version; it ups the amount of whiskey to about 1 1/2 parts and the port down to 3/4 of an ounce but uses an entire egg. Some other time, for sure.

Getting down to my choice of ingredients, I used an inexpensive bottle of tawny port that I had on hand, but some people seem to lean towards ruby port, which might be another excuse to revisit this one at a later date. For my hard liquor, I went with my beloved Canadian Club on my first try, as Mr. DeGroff specifically calls for Canadian whisky. Later, I went with the understandably very popular Redemption Rye.  As implied by the directions, I made two drinks each time using one large egg white, out of respect for the for the fact that the DeGroff recipe called for a small egg white, and where the #3$#@$ do you find a small egg these days?

My substitution of two teaspoons of sugar if you don’t have any simple syrup handy is a highly educated guess that I’m pretty sure will work. I didn’t have the opportunity to try it out during a particularly crazy week.

Every version turned out just dandy, but I have to say I especially enjoyed the less complicated charms of the DeGroff Canadian Club iteration. Redemption Rye may be the better product on its own but, for this one,  I think you can definitely save your money and reduce the alcohol volume a bit downwards if you want.

As to why this was a particularly crazy week, for starters, I successfully fought of a cold virus through the magic of zinc, drowsy Robitussin DM, no booze, and tons of sleep over last weekend. [CRUCIAL UPDATE: Actually, I wasn't successful; the cold came back with a vengeance the day before I posted this. The world must know!] More notably, I closed escrow earlier this week on the new location of Drink of the Week Central. That means my and my outsize staff of researchers, chemists, molecular gastronomists, expert horticulturalists, and inebriate engineers will be moving over the coming weeks.

It’s good news for the hardy DOTW team and should, at least, lead to better drink pictures. The alarming consequence for you, however, is that it also means we may be taking a week or two off in the coming six weeks or so — just moving all the bottles should take a solid week! You’ve been warned.

  

Drink of the Week: The Perfect Manhattan

The Perfect Manhattan. I was a little under the weather and teetotaling last week, and so I found myself late this weekend with a decision. I could take a week off from our little weekly get together. I could make a drink exactly once or maybe twice and call it a day…something I really don’t like to do. Or, I could fall back on a drink I frequently make that I somehow haven’t written up here before.

In the early days of this feature, I’ve naturally devoted a post to the standard Manhattan, perhaps the second most basic modern day cocktail after a Martini. I’ve also featured the little made Dry Manhattan. I’ve even indulged in a Paris Manhattan. However, while I’ve often referred to the potentially perfect Perfect Manhattan, I’ve never actually devoted a post on it until now.

There’s no excuse. While a regular Manhattan relies on the marriage between the sweetness of whiskey and sweet vermouth, and a Dry Manhattan is based on the counterpoint between whiskey and dry vermouth, the Perfect Manhattan splits the difference. When it comes together just right, it’s a beautiful thing.

The Perfect Manhattan

2 ounces rye, Canadian whiskey, or (possibly) bourbon
1/2 ounce dry vermouth
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
1-2 dashes bitters (aromatic or orange)
1 cocktail cherry, lemon peel, or orange peel (garnish)

Combine all the liquid ingredients in your friendly neighborhood cocktail shaker or mixing glass. Shake or stir, as is your preference, and strain into a cocktail glass. Add the garnish of your choice and contemplate the impossibility of consistent perfection and the occasional cocktail that very nearly achieves it.

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I only had time to make this a few ways…and even that was partly because I kept failing and making drinks that I deemed not quite up to snuff. To put it simply, I’m currently wondering whether bourbon is really the best choice for this drink.

I’ve had great success in the past making Perfect Manhattans with good old Canadian Club, with its mild flavor and hint of rye. This weekend, I had an absolutely fantastic result using Redemption Rye, but none of my bourbon attempts quite measured up. It was perhaps unsurprising that 100 proof Knob Creek was a bit overwhelming in such a delicate concoction, but I only sorta kinda liked my results using 80 proof (and really good) Basil Hayden. Although bourbon is sweeter than rye, for some reason the drink always wound up with a bitter edge that was more acrid than invigorating.

I also messed around a bit with a choice of bitters. I have had more success in the past using orange bitters than traditional aromatic bitters, i.e., Angostura. This time, however, I decided to go aromatic, but I alternated between Angostura and Fee Brother’s kinder and gentler aromatic bitters, and I declare the bros the winners. This is a drink that calls for gentler flavors.

So, this variation on an eternal classic is nowhere near as surefire as a traditional Manhattan, but when it works, it works. The slightly sweet flavors dance across your tongue and engage with the woody complexity inherent in even a merely decent whiskey. And, if a dry Manhattan is just too dry for you, and a regular Manhattan is just too sweet, then a well calibrated Perfect Manhattan may very well be almost kind of nearly just about perfect.

  

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.

  

Drink of the Week: The Brooklyn (Canadian Club Sherry Cask Iteration)

The Brooklyn (Canadian Club Sherry Cask).This probably isn’t the first time, but we’re doing things a bit bass ackward this week.  That’s what happens when someone is nice enough to send something for free along with a recipe, and then that recipe turns out to be a very acceptable variation on a classic which we haven’t gotten to here yet. So, we’re doing the variation first. We’ll get to the “real” drink later.

In the case of this week’s drink, my old friends — and I do mean “friends” — at Canadian Club saw fit to send me another of their very nice off-the-beaten track expressions and one I hadn’t tried before, Canadian Club Sherry Cask. It’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect, a slightly more complex variation on their highly underrated original whiskey. It boasts a very nice sherry finish and just enough extra alcohol to be interesting at 82.6 proof, as opposed to the usual 80 proof. It’s actually very drinkable just on the rocks and I’m sure would work nicely in most of your basic cocktails. It was nice — almost too nice and gentle — in an Old Fashioned. I imagine it would make a delicious Manhattan, but I’ll have to try that one out.

As for this week’s drink, a traditional Brooklyn is made with rye whiskey, a more peppery flavored relatively distant relative of Canadian whiskey. It also features dry vermouth. This version features sweet vermouth, and the proportions are different as well. It’s safe to say that the Canadian Club Brooklyn is a lot sweeter than the classic. I’m sure a lot of people will prefer it.

The Brooklyn (CC Sherry Cask)

1 ounce Canadian Club Sherry Cask Whiskey (Regular Canadian Club might also work, as might rye — but I can’t vouch for them)
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
1/4 ounce Torani Amer
1/4 ounce Luxardo maraschino liqueur
Maraschino cherry (garnish)

Combine the whiskey, vermouth, Torani Amer, and maraschino liqueur in a cocktail shaker or similar vessel. If you’re a purist stir; if you’re me, shake. Strain into a chilled cocktail over your preferred cocktail cherry. Contemplate the fact that that, considering the way people are constantly tinkering with drinks, there’s no way I’ll ever run out of drinks to write about.

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Canadian Club Sherry Cask. Now is the time at Drink of the Week when we discuss ingredients and their discontents. For starters, both the classic recipes with dry vermouth and rye and the one I received from Canadian Club contain a little known bittersweet liqueur called Amer Picon.

There are only two problems with this. First, Amer Picon’s recipe has changed so much over the years that some expert mixologists no longer recognize it as a proper ingredient for a Brooklyn. Also, Amer Picon is unavailable in the United States. On the other hand, many consider the 78 proof digestif, Torani Amer, to be far closer to the original Amer Picon recipe…and you can pick it up about $10 or $11 at BevMo. So, I used that.

My first tries were made using the universal fall back sweet vermouth, Martini & Rossi. It was very drinkable, if a bit medicinal…in a good way, I think. Less like Robitussin and more like some of the now forgotten medicines my mom gave me back in the Paleozoic era when rock and roll was still slightly controversial.

Then, as fortune would have it, a long awaited bottle of Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth arrived from another benefactor. We’ll be discussing this stunning fortified beverage again very soon but, trust me, it’s worth the extra money if you’re into sweet vermouth. In this version of a Brooklyn, well, it was kind of perfect. Gone was the pleasant but non-idyllic medicine flavor and in it’s place was a lovely chocolatey undercurrent. This is the way to make this particular drink, I think.

  

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