Drink of the Week: The Brainstorm

the Brainstorm.So, last week we began my two-part penance for missing my St. Patrick’s Day cocktail window. Today’s drink is supposed to be the direct descendant of Alternative Ulster, but to me it’s really a completely different thing. Less sweet, more sophisticated and boozy.

The Brainstorm is definitely of the classic age of cocktails. A versionĀ  appears in 1930’s The Savoy Cocktail Book. David Wondrich, from whom IĀ  completely stole this week’s recipe, calls it a drink of “obscure but venerable origins.” In others words, we know it’s pretty old, but we don’t know a hell of a lot else.

Still, this is a very decent concoction for anyone who likes their Irish whiskey not too dressed up, but isn’t quite up for a straight shot with a Guiness chaser. On the other hand, I have no idea why this drink is called a brainstorm, as I find it quiets the mind nicely.

The Brainstorm

2 ounces Irish whiskey
1/2 tablespoon Benedictine
1/2 tablespoon dry vermouth
1 orange twist (desirable garnish)

Combine the Irish whiskey, Benedictine (a very sweet liqueur whose ingredients are known only to an order of monks and the deity they worship), and dry vermouth in a cocktail shaker. Note, I didn’t say “cocktail shaker or mixing glass” as I usually do because, for some reason, Wondrich — who, like the majority of cocktail purists, ordinarily disdains shaking anything not containing citrus or other fresh ingredients lest it cloud the final result — states we should shake this particular drink, pretty much without explanation. So, for pity’s sake, shake this drink.

Then, as per usual, strain it into a chilled martini style glass or cocktail coupe. Add your orange twist. You may then toast your favorite Irish authors. For me it’s a battle between George Bernard Shaw and James Joyce, but if you go with Oscar Wilde, I won’t object.

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I tried this one with the last of my bottle of Bushmills, as well as Kilbeggan and Concannon. I’d give a very slight edge to the milder tasting Bushmills on this drink but, really, every iteration came out fairly similar. More dry than sweet, almost forbidding, but a very respectable and serious cocktail overall. I tried boosting the Benedictine and Martini dry vermouth, as some recipes suggest, but that didn’t improve the drink. The Brainstorm wants to be dry.

I should also add that there are numerous versions of the Brainstorm that very so radically as to be almost completely different cocktails, including many with rye and bourbon. I’m sure those may be pretty good, but they’re aren’t particularly Irish, are they?

  

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Drink of the Week: Alternative Ulster

Alternative Ulster.As I noted towards the end of last week’s post, I tragically missed St. Patrick’s Day this year. That’s sort of unfortunate since it’s probably the U.S.A.’s second biggest drinking holiday following New Year’s, though here in the Southwestern edge of the United States, Cinco de Mayo might be bigger. (Or not. I’m a cocktail blogger, not a demographer, damnit!)

In any case, I am attempting to make amends with a pair of posts featuring Irish whiskey. Considering that it’s smoother, sweater and less smokey than its Scottish cousin, it’s a bit of mystery to me why there aren’t more popular cocktails featuring this mythic force behind one of the world’s most fascinating nations and peoples. It’s time to do my part to make up for that sad fact.

Today’s cocktail is actually a variation on a classic cocktail we’ll be exploring next week, the Brainstorm. I started with the latter day version, though, because it features Amaro Montenegro. I got to enjoy this popular European liqueur thanks to a gift from a wise and good friend some time ago — and I had just barely enough left to use it in one more cocktail, even though I’m pretty sure I’ve only used it for a DOTW once before. That’s because the bittersweet orangey member of the amaro family of liqueurs is much to my liking with just a little bit of soda water or on the rocks. If you enjoy Aperol, and boy do I ever, definitely give this one a try.

As I learned via Kindred Cocktails, Alternative Ulster was developed by New York bartender Joshua Perez. It appears to have borrowed it’s name from the punk rock anthem by Northern Ireland’s Stiff Little Fingers, or perhaps the now defunct music magazine that also borrowed it’s name.

It’s a lively and simple little cocktail that’s fairly bracing and balanced between the sweet and bitter, as befits its Irish and pop-punk rock heritage. I like it and maybe you will, too.

Alternative Ulster

1 1/2 ounces Irish whiskey
3/4 ounce Amaro Montenegro
3/4 ounce dry vermouth
1 dash orange bitters
1 lemon twist (highly advisable garnish)

Combine all of the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass with plenty of ice. Either stir vigorously or shake and strain into a well-chilled coupe or martini-style cocktail glass. Add your lemon twist and enjoy.

As for the toast, why not salute Northern Irish peace? When I was kid, solving “the troubles” was often compared to Middle East peace in terms of difficulty. Yet, this April the world will be celebrating the 17th anniversary of the 1998 agreements that really did seem to end this much too lengthy near civil war. Maybe someday, probably not any time too soon, I fear, we can have some similar luck of the Irish in other places where hatred and fear still seems to rule. It’s worth drinking to.

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While Mr. Perez’s original recipe suggests using Jameson Irish whiskey and Dolin’s dry vermouth, I didn’t have either of those on hand. Instead I used Martini for my vermouth and three different brands of demon whiskey: Bushmills, Kilbeggan, and Concannon. All three worked fine, though I lean slightly more in favor of the results that I got using the latter two brands. They had a bit more bite to them, leading to tangier final products.

Also, though I usually lean towards shaking over stirring, this time I think bartender Perez perhaps had it right by suggesting stirring this drink. Don’t ask me why, but it just seemed to come out every so slightly better that way. Just make sure you stir a lot and make sure your glass is very thoroughly chilled.

And now, this is the time at Drink of the Week when we pogo.

 

  

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 Conhattan

The Conhattan. With St. Patrick’s Day 2013 nearly upon us, we’re featuring the second of two cocktails that claim some sort of association with the Emerald Isle and it’s descendents in the vast Irish diaspora. Last week, we had the delightful, but in no way particularly Irish, Shamrock Sour.

The Conhattan was suggested to me by a representative of a newish brand of Irish whiskey which has divided critics to a certain extent and actually boasts a connection with the town of Livermore. Livermore is not, I must tell you, located near Dublin or in County Cork, but in County Alameda in Northern California, a relative stone’s throw from Oakland and San Francisco. Aside from being the home of the famous/notorious nuclear weapons laboratory, it’s also the home of Concannon Winery, which is legitimately Irish-American but also, well, a winery.

This whiskey is made in Ireland, of course, by a distiller who finishes the whiskey in actual petite sirah barrels from Cali. As for the taste, it might not strike everyone as particularly Irish. While this video argues differently, to me, Concannon Irish Whiskey is probably best enjoyed by those who lean toward Scotch and find Jameson and Bushmills a bit overly soft. It’s very decent, but a bit astringent like a Scotch, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

In fact, I think the astringency may just be essential to today’s drink, a very sweet variation on a Manhattan but which differs a great deal from the more classic Irish Whiskey Manhattan, which we featured last year at this time. This time, this whiskey is mellowed not by sweet vermouth, but by a very popular cocktail ingredient we’ve never featured here before — St. Germain elderflower liqueur. Anyhow, let’s get started with a concoction created for Concannon by Dublin mixologist Gillian Boyle.

The Conhattan

1 1/2 ounces Concannon Irish Whiskey
1 ounce St. Germain
1 teaspoon Noilly Prat dry vermouth
2-3 dashes Angostura Bitters
1 orange twist (garnish)
1 cocktail cherry (somewhat optional garnish)

Put all liquid ingredients into a mixing glass or cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Ms. Boyle would have stir just until the drink is “evenly diluted” but I say stir as long as you like, or be a heretic like me and shake the thing. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, add the orange peel and, if you like, the cherry, and toast your favorite Irish or Irish-American person, real or imagined.

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I often strip out most of the brand names from my recipes because I like to offer readers the freedom to try out drinks with their own brands and not feel tied to what I happen to be using. This time, however, I really think it’s best to mostly stick with the script as provided by Boyle. I haven’t actually had the opportunity to try the Conhattan with other products, but I strongly suspect this drink would completely fall apart if you attempted it with say, Bushmills or Jameson’s. Much as I adore those highly approachable whiskeys, I strongly suspect that they wouldn’t stand up to this much St. Germain, which is complex but also extremely sweet. Also, you’d have to change the name (“The Bushhattan”??). You could probably cheat by using another brand of dry vermouth than Noilly Pratt, but since it’s been a favorite go-to brand of mine for years now, I see no reason to diverge there.

On the other hand, I am offering readers the option of raising or lowering the amount of St. Germain, for a very simple reason. Very frankly, though I am no stranger to the tooth that is sweet, I found the original recipe, which called for a full ounce of liqueur, overly sweet — good enough for DOTW but very far from a personal favorite.Reducing it to 1/2 ounce, however, produced an extremely nice cocktail on which I’m proud to place my personal stamp of approval. At that amount, the light touch of the elderflower is just sweet enough to properly soften the kick of the Concannon without muffling it outright.

It’s all about balance. Indeed, there’s a place for sweetness on St. Patrick’s Day, as director John Ford — the ultimate Irish-American mythmaker — undoubtedly would have agreed.

  

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