Drink of the Week: The Gin Rickey

The Gin Rickey.It’s probably somewhat criminal that it’s taken me so long to get to a drink that’s as simple and classic as the Gin Rickey. Like the Martini, this is a drink that not everyone will cotton to immediately. Indeed, to be very honest I’m still working on acquiring a taste for it myself as it’s more than a little on the tart side for me. No surprise as it contains lime juice and zero sweetener.

Still, this is a drink with a little history and it certainly won’t be bad on a warm day. And, yes, I know it’s January. However, I live in North Hollywood, California and high temps on this side of the L.A. hill are in the eighties this week, so nyah, nyah, nyah East Coasters with your snow and frequently superior public transportation.

The Gin Rickey is named for one Colonel Joe Rickey, a Confederate soldier turned 19th century Democratic Party lobbyist, back when the Democrats were the party of Andrew Jackson instead of Franklin Roosevelt and the Republicans were the party of Abraham Lincoln instead of Ronald Reagan. Anyhow, it seems that Colonel Rickey was the kind of drinker who frequently needed a morning “eye-opener” to get him over the hangover hump, and somewhere along the way a helpful bartender named George A. Williamson helped him create a drink made with bourbon, seltzer water and a bit of lime juice. Over the years, however, the gin version became far more popular, with its lighter, easier to take flavor, and that’s what we’ve got here.

The Gin Rickey

1 1/2-2 ounces gin
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
2-5 ounces carbonated water
1 lime wedge or one spent lime shell (garnish)

Build over ice in Tom Collins or highball glass. partly depending on what you’ve got on hand and how much soda water and gin you’d like to use. (Highball glasses are often a bit larger.) Stir. Garnish either with a spent lime shell or, my preference, a lime wedge. Toast carbonated water, for it contains water but also air. That’s two out of four elements!

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I tried this drink a number of different ways and what we’ve got here is, basically, something like a martini. What I mean by that is that it’s a drink that requires a bit of getting used to. It may not be as boozy, but it’s somewhat tart without being at all sweet. I also mean that it seems to work fairly well when you mess around with the proportions, much as both dry and very un-dry martinis can both be perfectly great. On the upside, it is refreshing and about as low-cal as a mixed drink gets.

I tried my Gin Rickey with four different gins. I found I got the best results with both my most expensive gin on hand, Nolet’s and my least expensive, good old Gordon’s. Both added a nice herbal tang to the affair. Tanqueray, somewhere in the middle price wise but a classic product for a reason, was fine but a bit more in your face.

I also read that Old Tom Gin, which is sweetened, could also be used with a Rickey. Oddly enough, however, the little bit of sugar in Hayman’s Old Tom Gin merely set off and thereby emphasized the tartness. Not really an improvement.

The one thing I haven’t tried yet, partly because I ran out of fizzy water and kept forgetting to replace it, is the original Bourbon Ricky. Don’t worry, I’ll give that a whirl some day.

  

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Drink of the Week: Shock Me

Shock Me.Since the Superbowl is just about upon us, a beer-based recipe seems like a good idea and, guess what, we’re in luck.

You see, with the aid of divine providence (which I’m agnostic about), not to mention Google and Epicurious (which I’m pretty sure exist), I stumbled upon a beverage that was damn near irresistible. Seriously, this drink is so sweetly easygoing and deceptively gentle and refreshing, you WILL want seconds and thirds and you DO want to make sure you’ve got some extra beds handy at your Superbowl party…or at least make sure you’ve got Lyft or Uber good and downloaded for everyone’s ride home.

Developed by bartenders at Virginia’s Virtue Feed & Grain, the only actually shocking thing about Shock Me is that it’s not a staple of every bar in the land. It’s rich and full bodied comfort booze of the highest order.

Shock Me

2 ounces brown ale
1 ounce bourbon whiskey
1 teaspoon Southern Comfort
1 teaspoon maple syrup

Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass. I think it’s okay to stir this very vigorously, but I would not shake it since ale is carbonated, after all. Strain into a well-chilled Old Fashioned/rocks glass, the smaller the better. Sip and toast American football, American booze, or anything else American. Also contemplate why it is that movies with word “American” in the title always seem to do better at the box office.

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Cocktails are largely a U.S. invention. Even so, this is a drink with an unusually American cast to it. So, even though Brown ale is an olde English favorite, it makes sense that the original recipe for this calls for Brooklyn Brown Ale over, say, Newcastle. That brew isn’t available in my North Hollywood locality, so I went with Get Up Offa that Brown Ale from L.A.’s own Golden Road Brewery, perhaps the best (only?) good ale I’ve had from a can. It worked beautifully.

For my whiskey, I first went with Evan Williams, which isĀ  becoming the well bourbon at many of your better bars for a reason. It also worked with the slightly snootier Wathen’s Kentucky Bourbon I had on hand as well, though the result arguably had more of an edge. Since Maker’s Mark is mentioned in the original recipe, I’m sure that would work extremely well also.

Shock Me marks the first time DOTW has had anything to do with Southern Comfort. This is a much maligned and very American liqueur that I hadn’t had since college days and which is, admittedly, sweet to the point of absurdity. However, when you stretch it’s mix of honey, vanilla, and whiskey-like flavors out properly, it’s an important member of this particular party.

That also true of the maple syrup, like beer and raw egg another all rare cocktail ingredient I’m a real sucker for. I should add that when I say “maple syrup” I mean the straight stuff, not your mass market commercial pancakes syrups like Log Cabin or Mrs. Butterworth. If they contain any actual maple or maple derivatives at all, they’re keeping it a secret.

  

Drink of the Week: The Safer Dayquil (do not combine with actual Dayquil!)

Dayquil..do not take with Tylenol!.Sometimes funny things happen in the land of drinks that make you think funny. In this case it was a very offhand Facebook remark in which I, in a fit of hubris, implied that I would come up with a proper cocktail which would for some reason be called “Dayquil.”

My remark — respectively addressing and encouraged by two of the most legendary names in all of cinephile blogdem, i.e., Dennis Cozzalio and Odie “Odienator” Henderson — at first seemed amusing but ill-considered. For one thing, I personally strongly discourage the use of actual Dayquil for people who drink with any regularity or who happen to be drinking the day of. This is because, like many modern OTC pharmaceuticals, it contains acetaminophen (Tylenol), a much too ubiquitous pain reliever associated with literally thousands of deaths because of its toxicity to the liver under a number of circumstances, including shockingly small overdoses and especially when taken in combination with alcohol or by heavy drinkers. (Note: This is NOT a particularly controversial statement, as shocking as it is. It is absolutely for real. Here’s the scoop. It was also covered on a 2013 episode of This American Life.)

That aside, I also had no idea what would be in my non-Dayquil Dayquil.

Fate stepped in when I found a recipe for a classic cocktail, the Gin Daisy, in Robert Hess’s The Essential Bartender’s Guide. I didn’t read it closely, so I missed some details regarding the preparation of the beverage. I also hadn’t realized that Hess’s Daisy is actually a greatly simplified version of a very old school mixed drink dating back to the mid-19th century.

Then, a funny thing happened. I found I liked my severely mutated Daisy, and I definitely liked it better than Hess’s already vastly simplified version. I also realized that the combination of gin, fresh lemon juice, and grenadine looked just reddish enough to remind us of that daytime cold medicine I just suggested you avoid. Also, it would give me the opportunity to trick you into reading the public service announcement above.

Mission accomplished. Now, here’s the drink…

The Safer Dayquil (use only as directed!)

2.5 ounces gin
1 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce grenadine
1 lemon twist (important garnish)

Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with lots of ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with the lemon twist. Be sure to do the classic cocktail thing and run the shiny side of the lemon peel around the rim of the glass before tossing it in, it seems to help this one kind of a lot. Sip and give a small toast to your liver; it needs all the support it can get, and as little acetaminophen as possible.

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Given the large amount of gin, and the fact that many gins are over 90 proof, this is a pretty potent drink that will give your liver a real run for its money all on it’s own. It’s nevertheless a drink that nicely balances boozy, sweet, and tart tastes.

I had the greatest success using that free bottle of super-high-end Nolet’s Dry Gin featured here last week. The fruitier, low-juniper flavor complements the lemon and grenadine of the Safer Dayquil very nicely. Tanqueray worked almost as well. If you want a less ultra-potent drink, I can also recommend 80 proof and value-priced Gordon’s Gin for this one. Just lay off the real Dayquil.

  

Drink of the Week: Nolet’s Negroni (modified)

Nolet's Negroni (Modified).Gin gets plenty of respect among cocktail aficionados — certainly more than vodka — but it’s still mainly thought of as a something best enjoyed in some kind of mixed drink, whether it’s as unvarnished as a very dry martini, a bit more gussied up as an Aviation, or in a gin and tonic, the arguable king of highballs. Unlike whiskey, brandy, tequila, and even poor, maligned vodka, almost no one drinks gin by the shot or the snifter and while premium gins abound, super-premium gins are rare birds indeed.

Still, with a price point of about $50.00 for a 750 ml bottle, Nolet’s Dry Gin is staking out a claim at the upper end of the mass gin market with a product that justifies its higher price with a flavor profile you won’t find anywhere else. I know this because I got a free bottle in the mail and I’ve been having a great deal of fun trying out this product in a number of classic drinks. Nolet’s has a fruity, spicy flavor that is noticeably light on juniper — the botanical that pretty much defines the taste and aroma of gin in the minds of most drinkers, whether they know it or not.

I’ve grown to like it in gin, but juniper has always been a fairly tough sell with me. (I still greatly prefer Irish or English Breakfast tea to juniper-heavy Earl Grey.) So, I think Nolet’s is a dandy change of pace, high price point notwithstanding. I’ve found it makes a fascinating martini (use a lemon twist) and a really terrific G&T (3 parts tonic to one part gin). Finally, they have a very nice variation on one of my very favorite gin cocktail classics created by New York bartender John McCarthy, even if I couldn’t resist tweaking it slightly.

Nolet’s Negroni

1 1/2 ounces Nolet’s Dry Gin Silver
1 ounce Campari
1 ounce sweet vermouth (Carpano Antica or Noilly Pratt or…?)
1 dash grapefruit bitters
1-2 ounces soda water (optional addition, see below)
1 orange slice (highly desirable garnish)

Mr. McCarthy’s original recipe calls for simply building this drink in a rocks glass with ice and an orange slice garnish. With plenty of stirring, this is a decent drink, though on the heavy side for my taste. On the other hand, I found myself liking this drink immensely simply by making one of two small adjustments.

First, you can serve it up — i.e., shaken with ice and strained into a cocktail glass — as I suggested was best with the original Negroni cocktail some time ago. You can also go crazy and simply follow McCarthy’s original recipe augmented with an additional bit of soda water for a boozier Negroni/Americano hybrid. You might want to use a double rocks glass to prevent overflow.

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The main difference between Nolet’s Negroni and the original is the inclusion of grapefruit bitters. Usually, the inclusion of Campari in any drink is considered bitters enough. Moreover, McCarthy’s original recipe specifies Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, which has a chocolatey, bitter undercurrent. Nevertheless, I think adding the bitters works just fine in a beveridge that can still come off a bit syrupy.

At the same time, I found I actually rather enjoyed my modified versions of this drink even more when I substituted Noilly Pratt sweet vermouth with its simpler, sweeter flavor that actually needs those grapefruit bitters to keep things grown-up. It’s entirely possible Martini or Cinzano would work well, too. Go with your mood, I say.

 

  

Drink of the Week: The Dirty Martini

the Dirty Martini.For my first Drink of the Week post of 2015, I thought I’d go back to my deepest cocktail roots.

Long before I discovered the pleasures of a perfectly mixed Old Fashioned, I was an inveterate drinker of martinis, usually vodka martinis and always with olives. You see, I love olives quite a bit and while I didn’t love martinis right at first, I did love how I felt after I finished one and I really loved how the olives tasted after they’d been soaking in alcohol for a while.

So, when I found out people were actually using olive brine in martinis, I was quick to jump on board the bandwagon. I was reminded of this when Drink of the Week manor was graced by the presence of an old and dear friend and her family. She makes probably the best Dirty Martini I’ve had and she helped me begin the process of perfecting my own recipe for a drink that deserves more respect from cocktail cognoscenti.

I believe that my friend’s recipe is a state secret, but here’s mine.

The Dirty Martini

2 ounces vodka
1 tablespoon olive brine
1 teaspoon dry vermouth
1-3 olives (near mandatory garnish)

Combine all the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake very vigorously, probably until your hands are freezing. Strain into chilled cocktail/martini glass. Add at least one olive. Toast the mighty and so underrated fruit of the olive tree; it is tasty and nutritious and where would Italian food be without it’s oil?

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Careful observers will note I’ve left out gin…and gin is often listed as a possible ingredient in a Dirty Martini. As an official cocktail snob since 2011, I generally now tend to prefer gin over vodka, which is essentially unflavored. However, the herbal flavors included in gins simply don’t blend very well with olive brine, which adds plenty of flavor of it’s own in any case. Also, I don’t really like to shake my gin martinis (sorry, 007!) but I ALWAYS shake my vodka martinis (Thank you, Mr. Bond!) — and the Dirty Martini demands to be shaken.

Still, while vodka might not have the complexity of a gin or whiskey, that doesn’t mean all vodkas are the same. I mostly used a favorite old standby, Skyy Vodka and found the results predictably clean and crisp. I also tried 100 proof Smirnoff, which added a bit more alcoholic heat, but wasn’t bad, either.

Still, what might matter the most in a Dirty Martini is your choice of olives and olive brines. I had great luck recently with both conventional, pimento-stuff martini olives from California’s Armstrong Olives, and BevMo’s jalapeno and garlic stuff olives, a gift from my old pal. In the past, I’ve used everything from sometimes surprisingly good supermarket brands to Trader Joe’s excellent cocktail olives from Greece (the ones that come in the larger bottle are more mellow and definitely superior).

I will say that, for more salty brines, you might want to consider using less than a tablespoon. Also, unless you’re a complete expert in making these — and I’m not — you want to use precise measurements. I tried eyeballing this one at my friends’ house last Christmas Eve. The results were horrifically over-dirty. I’m surprised Booze Claus didn’t leave coal in my stocking the next morning.

  

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