Drink of the Week: The White Elephant (a la Wondrich)

the White Elephant.I sing now, for the umpteenth time, of the raw egg white, feared by many, adored by classic cocktail aficionados, and a sure way to get me to sit up and pay attention to almost any cocktail.

That’s a good thing, because this week’s drink could definitely use a little love. I stumbled over it at the massive bevatorium assembled by David Wondrich for Esquire and was immediately grabbed by the drink’s eggy simplicity. I was also struck by the immense terseness of the usually voluble Wondrich’s eight-word take: “A wet martini with a head; see the Hearst.”

What could a drink do to be both worthy of inclusion, yet apparently unworthy of sufficient verbiage — or even a reasonably accurate graphic? Was both Wondrich and the Esquire art department tired and on deadline? Was he forced to grudgingly submit to pressure to include this drink from the vast and shadowy gin-sweet vermouth-and-egg-white-industrial-complex?

Finally, why was every other cocktail I could find on line called “White Elephant” a completely different concoction that usually involved ingredients like coconut milk, white creme de cacao, heavy cream, white rum, and other things that are very, very white and nothing but white? This drink, as my brilliant photographic work reveals, is not precisely white, as elephants go. What gives? Who knows, but clearly the first thing to do is try the damn drink.

The White Elephant a la Wondrich

2 ounces gin
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 egg white
1 cherry (garnish)

The drill is basically the same as for every cocktail involving egg whites or eggs. Combine the gin, vermouth, and egg white in a cocktail shaker, but with no ice. Shake well to emulsify the egg, then add ice and really shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass or reasonable facsimile. Add a cherry for a bit of extra sweetness and color, and toast the pachyderm of your choice.

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I have to say that while I thoroughly enjoy this drink and find it nicely refreshing yet neither too sweet nor too anything else, I can see what it maybe hasn’t taken off and has become, yes, a white elephant of a mixed drink. It’s not really sweet enough for the sweets lovers, nor is it boozy, complex, bitter, or tart enough for many a cocktail snob. It’s nevertheless got plenty of booze in it, and the combination of egg white, liquid, and ice guarantees it all goes down in the most delightful way. A wet martini not only with a head, but with a wonderfully comfy ova cushion.

I did try messing around a bit with ingredients and proportions. Lowering the amount of gin by half an ounce didn’t really hurt the drink, but the increase in sweetness turned out to be minimal. The results using both of my two fall back sweet vermouths, Noilly-Pratt and Carpano Antica, were just fine, though this time I leaned ever so slightly towards the lighter touch of Noilly-Pratt. Still, the only really wrong move I made was adding bitters. So often, bitters can really save a drink; sometimes, however, it’s just the reverse.

So, why is the White Elephant so benighted that even a chatty cocktail historian has almost nothing to say about it? I think it’s the name. Not only is it unflattering, it’s inaccurate. This elephant is not white. It’s another color entirely.

  

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Drink of the Week: The Tipperary

The Tippeary. If you’ve heard of the Irish town of Tipperary, and you’re not from Ireland or the UK, odds are it isn’t because of this cocktail but because of the song, “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.” Gary Regan surmises that the drink is actually older than the song, but in my opinion the drink has aged at least as well as the somewhat treacly yet lovable English music hall ditty of World War I vintage.

With its combination of base spirit, sweet vermouth, and a small portion of the flavorful ringer that, in this case, is green Chartreuse — and its lack of bitters — it’s a fairly close relative of last week’s original Corpse Reviver. It’s also worth noting as being another of the very small but apparently growing group of cocktails to be made with Irish whiskey.

A few years ago, I found myself in an Irish pub in San Diego and I asked the bartender if he knew any Irish whiskey cocktails aside from Irish coffee. He had no idea. Well, now if you find yourself in an Irish bar, here’s another suggestion (assuming they’ve got some green chartreuse on hand).

The Tipperary

2 oz. Irish whiskey
3/4 oz. sweet vermouth
1/2 oz. green Chartreuse
Lemon twist (garnish)

Combine the ingredients, stir, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. (A wine glass may also do for this one.) Add the lemon twist, sip, and salute the sweetest girl you know.

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I can’t explain why, but I just couldn’t bring myself to try this one shaken, but I can’t stop you from doing so. As for brands, I tried both the classic Bushmills and the two less familiar brands that we’ve been playing with here in recent weeks, Concannon and Kilbeggan. While Bushmills is my actual favorite of the three — none of them are remotely bad — I was surprised to see that it was the darkhorse Concannon that held up most formidably among the onslaught of sweet vermouth and Chartreuse.

As for the vermouth, Carpano Antica, once again, beautifully dominated the drink, but Noilly Pratt, as usual, produced a nice harmony as well. If you feel tempted to try other proportions, feel free. There are numerous variations of this drink online that I wish I had time to play with. Gary Regan’s involves rinsing the glass with Chartreuse and then dumping the remains, which sounds a bit wasteful but might well be worth giving a try.

I could go on a bit more about this drink, but there’s really not that much to say. It’s been a sad and bittersweet week for those of us in the writing and media game as Roger Ebert’s death still hangs heavy in the air. Roger had stopped drinking before he became as world famous as he was destined to be and I’m not sure if it’s even right to mention him here. At the same time, it doesn’t seem right not to mention him here, and he did enjoy spending time in a good bar even after he stopped actually drinking.

It’s even odder to post a clip from a classic TV show rather than a classic movie — except, of course, that Roger was also part of a truly great TV show — but this is the best usage of the most famous song about Tipperary that I know. It’s also about the ending of something wonderful.

  

Drink of the Week: The Corpse Reviver

The Corpse Reviver. As promised when I took on the Corpse Reviver #2 last June, I’ve finally gotten around to the less known apparent original drink to bear the name. While my first attempts at a Corpse Reviver made it easy to see why it has been eclipsed by the gin and Lillet Blanc based sequel, with the right ingredients it really can wake up your taste buds and temporarily enliven your soul. We’ll simply ignore the fact that I happen to be writing most of this post on Easter Sunday of 2013.

In any case, the real reason for the name is that this drink is supposedly a hangover cure — though it’s not so much hair of the dog as a good chunk of the canine. Nevertheless, let us begin the revival.

The Corpse Reviver

1 1/2 ounces brandy or cognac
3/4 ounce Calvados or another apple brandy
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth

Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass. Although I’m generally in favor of shaking over stirring, I say you should stir your Corpse Reviver. Little ice crystals are the last thing you want in this drink. Nevertheless, stir vigorously and strain into a chilled cocktail glass and drink — to life, I suppose.

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I messed around with the ingredients a lot on this one, but I used only one type of apple brandy. Calvados seems to be the classic choice of apple brandy for this drink and the Calvados Coquerel I’m using is expensive enough for half a fifth that I wasn’t in the mood to try out any competitors or more downhome variations. (Some recipes call for applejack.) I had just enough left over Ile de Ré Fine Island Cognac on hand to make one very sophisticated, yet perhaps too understated, version of the drink using my standard Noilly Pratt sweet vermouth.

I moved on to my personal favorite value brandy, Reynal, which isn’t made with genuine Cognac grapes but which is produced by a company with offices in the French town of Cognac. Using the Noilly Pratt vermouth along with the Calvados yielded an acceptable, but very unspectacular drink.

However, I still had some Carpano Antica on hand that had been thrown my way by mysterious benefactors — improperly stored due to a massive snafu on my part but still acceptable for use. That yielded a lovely result, with the bittersweet, chocolate-like character of the high end vermouth providing a very nice bottom against the lighter, boozier notes of the brandies. I was less pleased — but still pleased — when I tried the exact same drink with another favorite, Punt e Mes, which is in many respects very similar to Carpano but a bit sharper edged. Try it with one of those.

Now, we come to the point in these weekly missives where I usually like to make some kind of a quip or draw some larger conclusion about the drink. With a name like the Corpse Reviver, I suppose you’d expect that. The problem is that I really have no “larger” thoughts right now other than the fact that I certainly do not recommend this drink as a breakfast beverage. Maybe the gods of cinema can give me a hand.

  

Drink of the Week: The Vieux Carre

The Vieux Carre.Like most Americans, I’m not exactly a polyglot. Four years of junior high and high school Spanish have been of great assistance in helping me to order  items at taco trucks; three quarters of college French allow me to chuckle knowingly to myself when “merde!” is translated as “damn!” in subtitles. So, I can’t properly pronounce the name of the Vieux Carre, but I can tell you it means “old square.” That square, as it turns out, is off of Bourbon Street in New Orleans, and this is another fine cocktail associated with America’s most intriguing cocktail capital.

Quite obviously, however, this is not in the same category as a Hurricane and it’s not the one of the scary, gigantic green drinks featured on this year’s season premiere of “Bar Rescue.” While, for me, the Vieux Carre doesn’t quite achieve the classic cocktail nirvana of a Sazerac, this is one beverage that actually gets tastier the longer you let it sit. It’s perfect for a long conversation and, by the end of it, even ever-so-justifiably-furious bar rescuer John Taffer might get mellow enough to maybe stop shouting for just a second.

The Vieux Carre

3/4 ounce rye whiskey
3/4 ounce cognac or brandy
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
1 teaspoon Benedictine
2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
2 dashes aromatic  bitters (Angostura or similar)
1 lemon twist (garnish)

Making this drink is about as easy to make as it is to get a buzz going in the French Quarter. Build over some ice cubes in a rock glass, stir, and add the lemon twist. Toast whatever or whomever you like, but do so slowly.

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I’m very sorry to say that this week’s post completes my trilogy of drinks of cocktails featuring Camus’s Ile de Ré Fine Island Cognac. Sadly, that’s the case because I polished off the bottle last night. No disrespect to my value-priced go-to brandy, Reynal, but there’s a reason the Camus people get to charge the big bucks for this stuff. It’s great in a cocktail and remarkably easy and pleasurable to drink neat. Good thing I still have a few airplane bottles of various Ile de Ré expressions in my alcohol laden larder.

My rye for this double-base spirit cocktail was another new freebie favorite we’ve featured here before, the lovely Templeton Rye, previously featured in the Capone.  I usually lean towards higher proof ryes like my old pal, 100 proof Rittenhouse, but that might have been a bit much in this context; Templeton’s more mellow flavor makes it a pretty perfect match for a Vieux Carre.

I experimented quite a bit with the other ingredients. Many recipes call for more booze and somewhat less of the Benedictine — a very sweet herbal liqueur which famously mixes well with brandy. I also tried three different sweet vermouths, all favorites. The lightest was Noilly Pratt, which was very nice, but an even better result was achieved with the greatness that is Carpano Antica. (Yet another freebie previously featured here).

I also tried it with another great product I’ll be featuring later, Punt e Mes. In that instance, it sort of dominated the cocktail but, since I love, love, love me some Punt e Mes, I didn’t really mind.

One final note, apparently to really do the Vieux Carre right, some people suggest you should make it with just one very large ice cube. Sounds cool, but I guess I need to find an ice cube tray that make 3″x 3″ ice cubes.

Anyhow, a moment of non-silence for my forever spent bottle of fine cognac. Mr. Gillespie, it’s time for a little Cognac blues.

  

Drink of the Week: The Manhattan

the Dry ManhattanWe’re continuing with the old reliables in our second week here at Drink of the Week central. The Manhattan, which may really have originated on the island in New York City, is really just a sweet inversion of last week’s beverage, the martini. It merely substitutes whiskey for gin or vodka, sweet vermouth for dry vermouth, and a maraschino cherry for the olive. Since it can be fairly sweet, it’s a more accessible drink than a martini. It was a favorite of the “Sex and the City” crew, but we love it anyway.

Here’s our starter recipe:

The Manhattan

2 ounces whiskey (bourbon, rye, Canadian, etc.)
1 ounce sweet vermouth
2-3 dashes Angostura or Regan’s Orange Bitters
Maraschino cherry or lemon peel as garnish

Pour your whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters over ice cubes into a shaker. Shake or stir very vigorously for as long as you can stand it and pour into chilled martini or wide-mouthed champagne glass, garnish with cherry or lemon peel.

The shaking vs. stirring debate is less intense here than on the martini, but it exists. Some — including MSNBC host and drink maven Rachel Maddow — make an aesthetic argument. They argue that shaking “clouds” the drink and therefore ruins its presentation. We, however, love the white froth that shaking produces — it’s more visible if you use a healthy amount of Angostura bitters — which reminds us of the crema you get on a well-brewed cup of espresso. It’s also true that the shaking temporarily produces those clouds (actually small bubbles), but they are gone soon enough and the icy coolness of a well shaken Manhattan is irresistible.

Whatever you do, though you may want to limit them for various reasons, never eschew the bitters completely. If you do, your punishment will be a sickly sweet beverage. As for the type of bitters, we personally prefer Angostura with bourbon or rye, and Regan’s Orange with the lighter (less sweet) Canadian or American whiskey.

Actually, though, even with a few dashes of bitters the above recipe may be too sweet for many. One solution is to simply use only half as much sweet vermouth, but also perhaps reducing the amount of bitters down to one dash to keep the drink from being too harsh. Another possibility, one we prefer, is to find a good, 90 proof or higher bourbon or rye that can stand up to all that sweetness. Another excellent alternative is the “perfect Manhattan” in which, instead of one ounce of sweet vermouth, you use half an ounce of sweet vermouth and half an ounce of dry vermouth. Especially in conjunction with Canadian whiskey — Crown Royal or the just-about-as-g00d Canadian Club, in any case — we’ve found it to be pretty close to its name. Depending on your preference, you may want to limit the bitters on this one.

If you use Scotch, the drink is called a Rob Roy, but we’ve yet to figure out how to make it taste good. Something about the smokiness of Scotch doesn’t seem to quite work for us, but we’ll give it another shot some day.

A word about vermouth. Use a good one like Martini & Rossi or, our personal fallback choice, Noilly Pratt. We know the super cheap brands like Gallo are tempting and don’t taste bad, but it’s really worth it to spend a whole $8-$10.00 for 750 milliliters of a decent brand. If you really want to go to town, there are some outstanding higher end vermouths which usually sell for well over double that price. A brand like Carpano Antica can make a perfectly amazing Manhattan, even when used with a plebeian and inexpensive rye like Old Overholt. The only problem is that Carpano tastes so good on its own and you might just want to scarf the stuff straight.

  

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