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 Firework Fizz

the Firework Fizz.We’ve been missing/ignoring a lot of holidays lately here at DOTW. However, with everything that’s been going on our country lately — a time when it’s tempting to pull out the Charles Dickens and talk about it being both the best of times and the worst of times — I don’t think it would be right to avoid the annual celebration of all that’s really good about our nation.

Moving on, regular readers may be happy to now that, beyond this link to a cocktail from three months back, I’ll make no references to any musical comedy-dramas featuring our founding fathers. Instead, I’m pleased to present a drink that some nameless genius associated with Hornitos Tequila has come up with.

While I’m fond of presenting cocktails that are, well, way old, the presumably rather new Firework Fizz is truly classic in its simplicity and thoroughly delightful in its flavor. Really, it’s not the free booze from the Hornitos people talking when I say it’s good enough to join any list of classic cocktails. With a relatively low amount of booze and a very high level of flavorful refreshment, not to mention two actual entire pieces of fresh fruit, it’s about as perfect a cocktail as you make on a hot July 4th. Let’s not waste any more time.

The Firework Fizz

1 1/4 ounce Hornitos Plata Tequila
2 strawberries
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup or 2 1/2 teaspoons superfine sugar
1 big splash of soda water

Combine the tequila, one of your two strawberries, lemon juice, and sweetener to a cocktail shaker. Muddle the strawberry into a gorgeous, juice-laden pulp. Add ice and shake very vigorously. Strain into a collins or highball type-glass filled with fresh ice — be sure to use a traditional bar strainer. The strainers that come with home cocktail shakers won’t work because the strawberry pulp will block the tiny holes and, for this drink, I think you want as much strawberry pulp as possible to end up in the beverage.

After the straining is done, top off with soda water, add the other strawberry as a garnish, sip slowly and toast a country that’s big enough to allow that tequila is every bit as American a base spirit as bourbon, rye, or applejack. It just is.

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I tried this with a Brand X tequila fairly comparable to Hornitos in terms of price, and it wasn’t terrible. Still, it does seem to work especially with the brand that brung it.

My one major suggestion with this drink is to ignore the temptation to stir the thing, though it won’t be the end of the world if you do. Indeed, the photography Hornitos sent, and that I chose not to use, had a light pink hue that seemed to imply that you’re supposed to stir it. I used my own, much less professional image because it’s closer to the way I think the Firework Fizz should look. I found it much more interesting to let the soda sit on top and gently make its way down. That way you start off with a slightly strawberry/lemon/tequila flavored soda and slowly find yourself enjoying a delightful candy center.

Happy Independence Day everyone and, remember, no one can “get their country back” because it already belongs to all of us.

;

  

Drink of the Week: The Parisian Cocktail

the Parisian Cocktail.A while ago, I picked up a half-size bottle of Mathilde brand cassis (black currant) liqueur. Often referred to with some pretension as “creme de cassis” in recipes, the distinction between creme de cassis and just plain cassis seems vague at best. Anyhow, though extremely sweet, my plain old cassis had a nice flavor and I decided it was time to give it a whirl in an appropriate cocktail setting.

Also known as the Paris Cocktail, the Parisian shows up in the 1930 The Savoy Cocktail Book and Dale DeGroff’s much more recent The Craft of the Cocktail. However, a 2009 Savoy Stomp blog post by Erik Ellestad traces the drink to a slightly earlier 1929 recipe published by Harry MacElhone. He’s the “Harry” of Paris’s famed Harry’s New York Bar, so I guess this drink might actually be consumed by actual Parisians.

French cocktailing bonafides or not, I did find the original recipe a bit overly sweet. So, partly by accident and partly inspired by the slight monkeying with the recipe Mr. Ellestad performed, I came up with a version I prefer. It’s a bit lighter and more refreshing — and still plenty sweet; almost a high end gin and juice, if you will, even if this version has more vermouth than gin.

The Parisian Cocktail

1 1/2 ounces dry vermouth (aka French vermouth)
3/4 ounce cassis
3/4 ounce gin
1 lemon peel (optional, but I think very desirable, garnish)

Combine your liquids in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Since cassis is so fruity, the cocktail gods seem to agree that this drink demands to be shaken. Do so vigorously. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and, I say, add a traditional twist of lemon to cut the sweetness just a bit.

As for your toast, toast Paris, of course. People who’ve been there say it’s amazing and the rest of us have the dreams of Paris we get from the movies and what not. That’s pretty okay, too.

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If you want to try the classic version of the Paris/Parisian Cocktail, just use equal parts of all three primary ingredients, i.e., one ounce each. You’ll find that it’s a fairly tasty drink but very, very, sweet. Definitely use the lemon twist garnish in tha case. (Dale DeGroff suggests using his signature flamed lemon peel, if you’re feeling brave.)

Since I only have one brand of cassis and dry vermouth on hand, I didn’t get to play around with different brands as much as I might have. However, I did find that this version of the Parisian works very nicely with either Bombay Dry Gin or the very inexpensive, but still quite decent, Gordon’s Gin. The latter variation especially reminded me of a classier, more drinkable version of the first alcoholic beverage I ever consumed.

Yes, if you were ever wondering what Manischewitz Concord Grape would taste like if it were actually good, the Parisian Cocktail is close as you’re likely to get. And Paris, Las Vegas is as close to Paris as I’m likely to get any time soon. C’est la vie.

  

Drink of the Week: The Bacardí Maestro Collins

The Bacardí Maestro Collins.It’s great to go out to a really good high-end bar and have drinks made with the bartender’s own personally crafted cumquat-and-cardamon bitters or her special thyme-parsley-and-Meyer-Lemon infused syrup. At the same time, there’s nothing like a super simple drink that you can easily make as home as well, and usually better, than your typical overworked bartender.

That definitely applies to this ridiculously simple and refreshing recapitulation of your basic Rum Collins, which differs from a Tom Collins only in changing the base spirit from gin. The only real difference in this version is the use of Bacardí Gran Reserva Maestro de Ron, a new super-premium expression from the creators of the USA’s most ubiquitous and time honored rum brand.

The super-premium rum scene has actually been one of the most exciting areas in contemporary boozing for some time. So, I was naturally very curious when the Bacardí people came knocking with a free bottle of product. It’s a worthy entry, definitely more flavorful, sweet, and smooth than your typical white rum. It’s very easy drinking and not too high priced, so I can imagine this going over very well on the current market. That’s particularly so as it seems to work very nicely in a number of cocktails. I enjoyed it in a daiquiri, a rum old fashioned, and, naturally, this.

 The Bacardí Maestro Collins

2 ounces Bacardí Gran Reserva Maestro de Ron (white rum)
1 ounce fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons superfine sugar
Seltzer or club soda “to fill”
Lemon wheel or twist (optional garnish)
Cocktail cherry (my suggested optional garnish)

Combine the rum, lemon juice and super-easily dissolving sugar in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake and double strain, using a food strainer to get rid of pulp as well as ice, into a collins or highball-sized glass stocked with fresh ice. Top off with the fizzy water of your choice, I liked adding a very thin lemon wheel and a cocktail cherry for a garnish. Toast anything you like, but try to keep it simple.

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The main trick to this drink is not to poo-poo the instruction to double strain/fine strain the drink. I’ve been a skeptic about this practice in the past. In this case, however, I’m here to tell you it can make all the difference. Straining out the lemon pulp also appears to strain out some of the harsher, more tart flavors. The result is a more mellow and finely balanced drink…and a very nifty booze beverage for what promises to be an extra hot summer.

  

Drink of the Week: The Portly Blackberry

the Portly Blackberry.Let me tell you, folks, sometimes putting on this here cocktail blog is anything but a cocktail party. Sure, making outstanding drinks and occasionally getting free booze delivered by FedEx and UPS is the opposite of torture, but sometimes, well, it’s not the complete opposite.

That’s the feeling I experienced when I attempted to open a gorgeous free bottle of Alberta Rye Dark Batch. As I attempted to pull up the cork stopper, the plastic thingamajig on top broke off, leaving the bottle fully corked. When I actually went out and bought a fancy corkscrew (which I should have around anyway, though I’m no oenophile), all I managed was to push the cork inside the bottle. In fact, I’m still not sure how I’m going to store the remainder of this very good, and very interesting, whiskey.

What’s so interesting? As we learned from the first episode of “Mad Men,” the whiskey called “rye” was at one time more or less synonymous with Canadian whisky. In fact, Wikipedia tells us it’s still that way in Canada despite the fact that only a token amount of rye is in your typical Canadian whisky recipe. However, here in the U.S., rye whiskies by law have to have a much higher proportion of rye grains and the ryes that have been proliferating since the start of the ongoing cocktail renaissance would never be mistaken for Canadian Club, Crown Royal, or Seagram’s V.O. They often have a slightly peppery flavor and are a tad less sweet than bourbon, their close relative.

Alberta Rye Dark Batch is, therefore, of special interest as is passes U.S. rye muster but is manufactured by our friendly neighbors to the north and sold stateside with a little help from Beam Suntory. It is, however, no retread of your basic U.S. ryes because, like ordinary Canadian whiskys, it’s blended. In this case, however, a strong rye brew is combined with good old Old Grandad bourbon and 1% of sherry wine. Canadian whisky, often maligned by cocktailians but beloved by me, is just never going to be for fanatical purists.

Alberta Dark Batch might be using the American “whiskey” spelling on its bottle rather the traditional Canadian “whisky” spelling, but it’s not quite the same as U.S. bred ryes. It’s smoother and a bit sweeter. It’s not super complex — you won’t catch any rye bread notes — but it earns its super premium status with a flavorful depth and smoothness. It also very good in an Old Fashioned. (Also, if you buy yours and the top breaks off the way mine did, I’m pretty sure most retailers will let you exchange it for another bottle. Getting things for free has its drawbacks!)

The Portly Blackberry — I’ve shortened it’s name from the Alberta Rye Dark Batch Portly Blackberry — is a nice, sophisticated spin on many of the improved whiskey sour recipes that have been floating around for forever. (I usually won’t have any sour that doesn’t have egg white.) It builds on that 1% of sherry wine by taking up a convenient port in the cocktail storm and throws in some fresh berries for good measure.

The Portly Blackberry

2 ounces Alberta Rye Dark Batch Whisky
1 ounce port wine
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/4 ounce simple syrup
1 dash rhubarb bitters
1 large egg white (three tablespoons of packaged egg white)
4 blackberries

Combine the lemon juice, syrup, bitters, and two of your four blackberries into a cocktail shaker. Muddle the blackberries, liberating all the juice you can. Next, dry shake (i.e., shake without ice) to emulsify the egg white, which will be easier (and arguably safer) if you use one of the many prepared pasteurized egg white products on the market.

Next, add the rye whiskey, port wine, and plenty of ice. Shake vigorously for ten seconds or more. Then, double strain it into a chilled, and quite large, coupe or cocktail glass — ideally using a standard bar strainer and a food strainer — to get rid of both the ice and blueberry pulp. Finally, add the remaining two blackberries as garnishes. Toast the difficulties of life; without them, how would we appreciate it when things were easy?

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Speaking of life’s travails, I actually came down with a small bug of some sort as I was working on the Portly Blackberry. I decided to keep going with it, but I didn’t get to try the drink as many times as I normally like to. That means, I didn’t experiment with using a Brand X rye brand.

I can tell you, however, that while I usually allow a substitution of superfine sugar for simple syrup, in this case, I can’t endorse that. Often, drinks can taste slightly sweeter in a good way when you use straight sugar as opposed to the 50/50 combination of sugar and water. Not so with the Portly Blackberry; an already fairly tart drink became excessively so. On the other hand, if you want to boost the sweetness, doubling up on the simple syrup to an entire half ounce might work for you.

Also, though I had to drive across town to find one, it’s worth it to get yourself a bottle of rhubarb bitters. I actually forgot to use them on my first go round, and the drink was definitely much improved by that very small dash. If you’re lucky enough to live in an area where such things can be found, you’ll probably end up using Fee Brothers’s bitters like I did. However, if you’re a true DIYer with more time (and cooking skills) than yours truly, you can explore making your own.

Sometimes, one way or another, you gotta work a little for your high-end cocktails.

  

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