Drink of the Week: The Fin de Siècle

the Fin de Siècle.“Fin de siècle” is French for “end of the century, which means that we’ve all missed our opportunity by 15 years to have a  Fin de Siècle at the most appropriate point possible, assuming we were old enough to drink in 2000. Or, if you want to look at it the other way, we’ve all got 85 years to work on preparing the perfect Fin de Siècle in time for 2100.

The truth is, however, that the real roots of this post go back not to Y2K but to last week. My copy of Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails having been destroyed by a backed-up sink…yes, I leave cocktail books on the sink sometimes and, yes, I’m paying the price…I found myself seeing a number of somewhat similar cocktails in Robert Hess’s accurately named The Essential Cocktail Guide. Like last week’s drink, today’s drink contains sweet vermouth, orange bitters, and Torani Amer, substituting for Amer Picon — easily the most commonly called-for modern day cocktail ingredient that you can’t find anywhere in North America.

The main difference, aside from the proportions, is that our base spirit is changed out from whiskey to gin. The result is a bit lighter and drier, but no less tasty and sophisticated.

The Fin de Siècle

1 1/2 ounces gin
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
1/4 ounce Torani Amer (or Amer Picon, if live in Europe or own a time machine)
1 dash orange bitters

Combined all ingredients in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass with plenty of ice. Stir vigorously — or shake, gently, if you’re feeling rebellious — and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Toast anything that has come to conclusion or shortly will, including your tasty Fin de Siècle. Nothing lasts forever, after all, least of all a good cocktail.

*****

I saw a few recipes online for this that mentioned Plymouth Gin, but most people seem to use your more garden variety London Dry style gin. I used premium (but I guess not super premium) Bombay Dry Gin and good ol’ value-priced Gordon’s Gin, both with results that were more than satisfactory.

I actually found that,much more than with the gin, my choice of sweet vermouth made a far more dramatic difference in the flavor. I was very happy with my Fin de Siècle when I used Noilly Pratt — my personal default sweet vermouth in slight preference to Martini or Cinzano. Still, there was no topping the slightly bitter, almost chocolate-like undercurrents of Carpano Antica; sometimes you just can’t argue with the cocktail snobs. If you want a sweeter drink that’s nevertheless not too offensive, I had decent luck replacing Torani Amer with Amaro CioCiara, suggested by some as another Amer Picon substitute.

Finally, yes, you can shake this drink but that’s not my preference this time around. For starters, this is second cousin to a gin martini. (We’ll be getting to it’s first cousin very soon). I really do think there may be something to the idea that shaking can “bruise” gin, i.e., add a slightly unpleasant bitterness. Mainly, though, I don’t think the additional water/ice crystals that shaking generates really flatters the Fin de Siècle. I think this may be a drink that wants to be cool, but not ice cold.

Now, have a great Memorial Day weekend. Maybe it’s a good time to remember what life could be, if only we were all nice enough and smart enough.

  

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Drink of the Week: The Liberal

the Liberal.The Liberal’s history goes back to before the turn of the 20th century, which means it’s probably dangerous to make any strong connections with modern day political affiliations, especially since this drink doesn’t have any particular story to go with it. When it comes to political labels, in any case, a lot of things have changed since 1895. That’s why modern day conservative writers feel like they can argue that they are the real liberals — as in libertarian — while today’s liberals are, in fact, fascists — a political affiliation that I’m pretty sure didn’t exist when the Liberal was first being mixed. Also, I think there’s maybe kind of a big difference between Benito Mussolini and Adlai Stevenson.

Still, as someone who has been a proud and very unapologetic actual bleeding heart liberal since the age of 12 or so, I can’t but be attracted to a drink with this name. If your politics are different than my own, however, I can reassure you that drinking the Liberal won’t impact your voting choices next year. Well, as long as you don’t drink five of them on election day, in which case you might find yourself voting for people who are dead, fictitious, or named “Huckabee.”

I can say that I like this version of the drink, which is primarily drawn from the recipe in cocktail historian Ted Haigh’s cocktail revival ur-volume, Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails. There is a stronger, larger, and less sweet version of this drink, but I don’t love it. Yes, this Liberal is open to charges of being subtly reactionary and stingy to boot. Nevertheless, our taste buds know no ideology and are immune to purity trolling. So, let’s get started.

The Liberal

3/4 ounce bourbon or rye
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
1/2 teaspoon Torani Amer
1-2 dashes orange bitters
1 cocktail cherry (very desirable garnish)

Combine the liquid ingredients in a mixing glass or a cocktail shaker. Add ice and stir vigorously. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, preferably a smaller one, and add the cocktail cherry of your choice.

As for your toast, I can’t tell you what to think or do, but you might consider the people who brought us the 8 hour day, the 40 hour work week, the minimum wage, child labor laws, and now accessible healthcare (guaranteed 100% death panel free). If you’d rather not have those things, you can still drink this, of course, but make sure you drink it from a clean glass and don’t get sick and lose your job, because then you’ll be on your own.

****

In his book,Ted Haigh calls for using 100 proof Wild Turkey, Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, and 3 dashes of Amer Picon, which brings up a few issues. For starters, there’s no such thing as 100 proof Wild Turkey these days, not precisely. Instead, we have Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon and Rye. I’m not sure which he meant, or whether the rye was even available when he first recreated the recipe. Since I had the 101 proof bourbon on hand already on hand left over from my pre-Derby Day post, that’s what I used first, along with the always excellent, if pricey, Carpano. Amer Picon is simply impossible to obtain, so I went with the most common substitute, Torani Amer, which is easily obtainable here in California, in any case. As for three dashes…how much is that and where I am supposed to find an amaro in a bottle with a dasher top?

Having made my adjustments, my first attempt at a Liberal was pretty excellent. Sweet, but not one bit cloying and complex enough for slow sipping, with a chocolatey undercurrent thanks to the Carpano. I followed it up with other versions, including ones with 1776 100 proof rye and my cheaper default sweet vermouth, Noilly Pratt. They were less rich in flavor, but still had plenty of complex, more floral, notes to keep your mouth good and busy.

One thing about this drink that surprised me, however, is that it really doesn’t seem to work shaken, which is my usual contrarian preference with the drink’s fairly close relative, the Manhattan. No, this one time the cocktail cognoscenti dogma about stirring over shaking drinks without juice in them proves to be correct. As usual, I could not care less about “clouding” drinks by shaking them. However, I do care a lot about flavor, and the Liberal simply tastes better that way. When I figure out how that reflects my political/philosophical leanings, I’ll let you know.

 

  

Drink of the Week: The Hanky Panky

Image ALT text goes here.If Christmas is a movie directed by Frank Capra as in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” then New Year’s and New Year’s Eve is a movie directed by Billy Wilder as in “The Apartment.” One is a holiday about what’s really important: family, love, friendship, and being good to your fellow man. The other is a holiday about what’s really important: sex, drinking, and being able to look at yourself in the mirror after the sex and the drinking have run their inevitable course. I don’t think there’s any mystery why a drink named the Hanky Panky caught my eye as a possible New Year’s beverage.

One thing that’s certain about 2013 is that we’ll almost certainly have to take the bitter with the sweet, and so the Hanky Panky contains the time-tested but increasingly trendy cult beverage, Fernet Branca. An old time digestif that’s been discovered by those infernal cocktail hipsters, Fernet Branca is yet another of the beverages that came my way through the holiday miracle of publicity. It’s kind of thrilling to have it on hand, as I’d never tried it before just a few days ago.

On its own, Fernet is a beverage not for the faint of heart or even, I think, many of the fairly stout of heart. I’m not saying it doesn’t taste good — drinking it straight is, shall we say, a strangely invigorating sensory experience beyond taste. In my case, that invariably includes a few facial expressions reminiscent of Red Skelton selling Guzzler’s Gin. On the other hand, it’s basically used in this drink as bitters and, on that level, it’s mighty dandy. In cocktails, proportion is everything.

The Hanky Panky itself is a good to superb drink but also mighty stiff…so much so, you might consider cutting this one in half, or not, depending on your plans.

The Hanky Panky

1 1/2 ounces gin or brandy/cognac
1 1/2 ounces sweet vermouth
1/4 ounce Fernet Branka
1 orange twist (extremely necessary garnish)

Combine your liquid ingredients in a mixing glass or cocktail shaker. Stir vigorously — I never discourage shaking, but I stuck with stirring on this one for instinctive reasons — and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add your orange peel, being sure to twist it over the drink to express a bit of that elusive citrus oil I keep reading about into the drink. I really think the additional bit of citrus flavor added by the twist is crucial here.

Sip, toasting the New Year and Ada Coleman, the legendary Savoy Hotel bartender who created the Hanky Panky.

***

I tried this drink in several versions of the above. All were good and one version came close to knocking my socks off. We’ll start with that one, which turned out to be the least tried out version of the drink, which is usually listed as containing strictly gin but was, we are told, first made with Cognac.

Fernet Branca.While I’m too cheap to buy the finest Cognac, I used my sturdy and very reasonably priced fallback brandy of Reynal (with offices in the Cognac region of France) which you can buy for about $12.00 at Trader Joe’s and BevMo.  The Reynal and the wondrous Carpano Antica I featured last week made such beautiful music together with Fernet Branca, I had to wonder at how this drink came to be pretty strictly identified with gin.

Well, gin is pretty much England’s official booze, give or take a Guinness, and the Hanky Panky is nevertheless quite good that way, too. It was very definitely a more pleasurable and interesting drink with the wondrous but relatively pricey Carpano (usually about $27-$30.00 for a big bottle), but it worked just fine with our old pals, Martini & Rossi (about $10.00 a bottle). There’s no point at all, however, on trying to skimp on the Fernet Branca. Love it or hate it, there’s no hanky and no panky without it.

The only version I can’t vouch yet, since I haven’t had a chance to try it, is brandy with the more proletarian sweet vermouth listed above, but I can’t imagine any version is particularly unlovable. After all, isn’t it true that, like pizza, even bad Hanky Panky is still Hanky Panky?

****

Since this post is for New Year’s, I want to end with an appropriate entertainment. The connection here is that Ada Coleman worked at the Savoy’s American Bar, which was the hang-out of the legendary D’Oyly Carte Opera Company. As hardcore musical comedy geeks, and everyone whose seen Mike Leigh’s 1999 smash “Topsy-Turvy,” knows, that highly dramatic opera company was widely associated with the work of W.S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan, whose particular gifts for combining music and often rather silly comedy foreshadowed everyone from Cole Porter to those South Park guys. While the connection might not be immediately apparent, I can’t think of a more apt accompaniment to your Hanky Panky than the scene below. Happy New Year, everyone.

P.S.You can see a more orthodox production of the same G&S tune from “Topsy-Turvy” here.

  

Drink of the Week: The Jumbo

The Jumbo.It’s a weird world out there as December 2012 heads to a close, but this week at DOTW Central our theme is holiday bounty. An example of that would be the bounteous bottle of Carpano Antica I received from a mysterious publicity benefactor late last week. For those not in the know about this sweet vermouth with a more complex, dark chocolate-like undercurrent, it’s become increasingly ubiquitous in the craft and classic cocktail scene. Some may find it more bitter than sweet, and its growing popularity probably says something about us cocktail snobs, which is not to say it isn’t completely tasty all on its own. Carpano made a guest appearance in last week’s beverage where it actually kind of saved the day with its not so hidden depths. More about it later.

And what better drink to celebrate holiday and the benevolence of whatever cosmic powers you may or may not believe in than the Jumbo, a drink comprised of a trinity of historically benevolent boozes? Better yet, while last year’s more traditional Christmas cocktail threatened to make me jumbo — I’m not exactly microscopic right now — today’s drink is relatively quite low cal and 100% fat free. It’s also super easy to make and even easier to memorize the ingredients and proportions. So, hooray for all that.

The Jumbo

1 ounce rye whiskey
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 ounce dry vermouth
1-2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
1 cocktail cherry (optional garnish)

Combine the liquids in the most festive cocktail shaker or mixing glass you can find and then either shake or stir — I’m feeling ecumenical this week but I’d still shake it — for a good long time. Then, strain into ye olde chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a cherry. If you’re a cheapskate like me, it’s likely to resemble Santa’s nose but, I have to admit, it will taste better if it looks more like, well, a black cherry. Sip in honor of a great holiday and, let’s hope, a better new year.

*****

carpano antica.I actually tried this drink with two different vermouths and got two fascinating and kind of delightful results. With Carpano Antica, it was a not-so-sweet but charming drink with a rich, deep undercurrent.With Martini & Rossi, the universal fall-back sweet and not at all bitter vermouth, it was light and enjoyable — your basic good natured, cocktail treat. A more easy going Manhattan. I  actually think both versions are perfectly legitimate and, in their way, almost entirely different drinks. Just another testament to the infinite variability of cocktails. My rye this time, by the way, was the new Knob Creek rye, which I’ve been really enjoying.

Speaking of ingredients, I once again need to speak up for bitters, in this case Peychaud’s. I mistakenly got the idea from something I read somewhere that at least some people made the Jumbo without bitters. And, so, I made versions of this that were completely bitter free and it was, well, a pale experience. Let me tell you folks, while Angostura/aromatic type bitters will do okay in a pinch, it really takes the lighter and more cheerful Peychaud’s to make the Jumbo sing.  Also, I found out, just as this was being posted, that some folks go with a bit more whiskey and dry vermouth and a bit less of the sweet vermouth, so if you find these versions too sweet, feel free to try out a drier Jumbo.

Finally, since the holiday is almost upon us, let’s end with a song. Remember, folks, only three drinking days left until even more drinking days.

One singer is gone and the other is still with us and it’s not who anyone would have guessed. Life and death are beyond predictability; we don’t have a choice about that,  but that’s also all the more reason to cherish life.  On the other hand, that doesn’t mean you have to necessarily overdo it, at least not most of the time.

  

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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