Drink of the Week: The Elk’s Own

the Elk's Own. I am supposed to be mildly allergic to red wine. In fact, it was the discovery that wine tasting trips tended to give me a mild, brief malaise — somewhere between a feeling of actual sickness and very mild depression — that started me thinking a bit more seriously about the possibilities of hard liquor some years ago. Still, life has its way of surprising you and I’ve found a few drinks involving red wines that I’ve liked quite a bit. They mostly seem to involve egg white.

The wine in question is usually port or sherry, and that’s the case this week with a drink I found in Dale DeGroff’s The Craft of the Cocktail which he, in turn, found in the 1934 tome, The Artistry Of Mixing Drinks, written by Frank Meier of Paris’s Ritz Bar. Like most drinks of this era, it can also be found in The Savoy Cocktail Book. Most of the modernized versions you’ll find online, however, differ significantly from this week’s drink — significantly enough that I might consider actually revisiting it in a different formulation later on. In the meantime, I’m sticking with a minor variation of Mr. DeGroff’s recipe for this Friday the 13th. It’s pretty much the classic formulation in any case.

The Elk’s Own

1 ounce rye or Canadian whisky
1 ounce port
1/2 large egg white
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup of 2 teaspoons superfine sugar

Since measuring out half of the egg white of a large egg might be tricky, consider doubling up on the Elk’s Own and making two drinks. Even if it’s just you, it’s tasty enough you might want to drink both.

Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake without the ice. Then, add plenty of ice cubes and shake once more, this time quite vigorously. Strain into a cocktail glass or glasses and toast the Elks Lodge. We’re not at all sure they had anything to do with this drink, but I’m sure they could use a salute.

*****

I didn’t have as many chances to play around with this week’s drink as I’d have liked, so I didn’t manage to even try the more stiff/modern style version; it ups the amount of whiskey to about 1 1/2 parts and the port down to 3/4 of an ounce but uses an entire egg. Some other time, for sure.

Getting down to my choice of ingredients, I used an inexpensive bottle of tawny port that I had on hand, but some people seem to lean towards ruby port, which might be another excuse to revisit this one at a later date. For my hard liquor, I went with my beloved Canadian Club on my first try, as Mr. DeGroff specifically calls for Canadian whisky. Later, I went with the understandably very popular Redemption Rye.  As implied by the directions, I made two drinks each time using one large egg white, out of respect for the for the fact that the DeGroff recipe called for a small egg white, and where the #3$#@$ do you find a small egg these days?

My substitution of two teaspoons of sugar if you don’t have any simple syrup handy is a highly educated guess that I’m pretty sure will work. I didn’t have the opportunity to try it out during a particularly crazy week.

Every version turned out just dandy, but I have to say I especially enjoyed the less complicated charms of the DeGroff Canadian Club iteration. Redemption Rye may be the better product on its own but, for this one,  I think you can definitely save your money and reduce the alcohol volume a bit downwards if you want.

As to why this was a particularly crazy week, for starters, I successfully fought of a cold virus through the magic of zinc, drowsy Robitussin DM, no booze, and tons of sleep over last weekend. [CRUCIAL UPDATE: Actually, I wasn't successful; the cold came back with a vengeance the day before I posted this. The world must know!] More notably, I closed escrow earlier this week on the new location of Drink of the Week Central. That means my and my outsize staff of researchers, chemists, molecular gastronomists, expert horticulturalists, and inebriate engineers will be moving over the coming weeks.

It’s good news for the hardy DOTW team and should, at least, lead to better drink pictures. The alarming consequence for you, however, is that it also means we may be taking a week or two off in the coming six weeks or so — just moving all the bottles should take a solid week! You’ve been warned.

  

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A chat with Steve Schneider of “Hey Bartender”

hey_bartender_1

Celebrity chefs are old news. Even so, the idea of a celebrity bartender will strike many people as odd, even if you use the increasingly popular term “mixologist.” Nevertheless, celebrity bartenders are well on their way.

29-year-old Steve Schneider isn’t remotely a household name, but that can change. He is clearly one of the world’s best known mixologists, with more than a little rock star flair. He also pretty much walks away with the new documentary, “Hey Bartender,” which opened in New York recently and began a slow nationwide roll-out in Southern California, Seattle, Denver, Columbus and elsewhere this past Friday.

Directed by Douglas Tirola (“All In: The Poker Movie”), the film is a charming, rough around the edges, information-rich treat for anyone who’s interested in the idea that cocktails might be more than a matter of pouring booze into a cup. Such famed cocktail mavens as Dale DeGroff and my personal favorite, David Wondrich, are featured, as are many of the nation’s best bartenders. Yet it’s Schneider who dominates the film with his journey from downtrodden former Marine – his career was cut short by a severely traumatic training accident – to the multiple-prize winning principal bartender of New York’s supremely acclaimed Employees Only bar.

It’s a bit much to call Schneider the Bruce Springsteen of bartenders, but his salt-of-the-earth, bridge-and-tunnel mixture of sincere pride and humility feels very familiar, and he does not lack for showmanship – he even sports a hammer that might remind some of a certain Norse thunder god. “Hey Bartender” captures the man’s skill, bravado, and iron-clad work ethic, but it doesn’t quite capture the generosity or enthusiasm that I encountered when I got to talk to him via coast-to-coast telephony not long ago.

Bullz-Eye: Congratulations. Everything seems to be going right. Aside from the movie, I understand you’ve won another contest.

Steve Schneider: Yeah, I just won a competition a couple of weeks ago in Chicago with Anthony Bourdain. It was fun. Anytime you get a chance to go to Chicago, it’s fun.

BE: By the way, I’m not sure. Exactly where are you from, originally?

SS: I was born in Bergen County, in Jersey.

BE: So you’re basically a Tri-State area boy.

SS: Yes, I am.

BE: Boy, I have so much to ask and I’m not sure what to start with.

SS: Let it ride, you know. Whatever you need.

BE: Okay, cool. It’s actually to the credit of the film, they don’t make a big deal about your hammer, but I think people want to know about the hammer anyways.

SS: It’s more of a symbol than it is a tool. I mean, it’s a great tool to use. It’s used to crush ice. We have a machine to do it. It’s good for a home bartender or a bar that’s a little slower. You can afford to put ice in a canvas bag and crush it and make juleps or swizzles or any other types of drink that require crushed ice to make it really cold.

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Drink of the Week: The Brooklyn Cocktail (Second Attempt)

The Brooklyn. If at first you don’t completely succeed…

Last week’s DOTW was based on Dale DeGroff’s recipe which, in turn, seems to be largely drawn from Harry Craddock’s ultra-old school The Savoy Cocktail Book. Both of those recipes start with Canadian Club whiskey for the base spirit and use miniscule amounts of Amer Picon and maraschino liqueur. Part of the problem may be that only the maraschino appears to be much the same today as it was back in 1930 when Craddock’s book came out.

I have great affection for Canadian Club but, like all the big corporate boozes, it seems, its recipe has changed slightly over the decades. I know this for a fact because my late mother — no boozer, but a very good hostess — had some 1980s CC at her place which had been neglected by her guests but which I eventually polished off only a couple of years back while she was in the hospital.

As I was grateful to note during that difficult time, 1980s vintage Canadian Club was at least 3% more soothing than today’s Canadian Club, in that it was 86 proof, not the 80 proof version you’ll find now. It’s possible that was the version Mr. DeGroff was used to, and it might have worked better. Who knows what the stuff Harry Craddock was using might have done for the drink. Amer Picon as noted last week, doesn’t really exist at all these days, here or in Europe — unless you make your own. More about the many possible substitutions after the recipe.

Today’s version of the Brooklyn is my take on a number of online recipes I found. They all begin with rye whiskey as the main ingredient and contain significantly larger proportions of the maraschino and Amer Picon substitute — 1/4 ounce might not seem like very much, but it’s a lot more than last week’s 1/4 teaspoon. Anyhow, I like this version quite a bit, even if I suspect it could be even better still.

The Brooklyn Cocktail (Second Attempt)

1 1/2 ounces rye whiskey
1/2 ounce dry vermouth
1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
1/4 ounce Torani Amer or other Amer Picon substitute (see commentary below)
1 maraschino cherry (optional garnish)

Combine the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker with quite a bit of ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled cocktail glass with your cocktail cherry, which I rather like. Sip, enjoy, and try not to think too hard about all the hard to find brands I’m going to be complaining about, starting right about…

****

…Now.

Yes, this week is a tale of many brands and making do with second best. For starters, I talked last week about the sudden appearance of Noilly Pratt “Extra Dry,” the temporarily discarded and probably inferior Americanization of the classic French brand. It turns out my beloved Noilly Pratt “Original Dry” is no longer being stocked by BevMo in these parts, so I made do with Martini & Rossi’s Extra Dry, which I think I somewhat prefer to the simplified Noilly.

Moving on, I started out making this week’s drink with the contemporary standard for maraschino liqueur, Luxardo, but the beverage mysteriously evaporated and I had to get some more. It’s a very old brand but, since I had a hard time finding it my local BevMo and I felt like saving ten bucks, I decided to go with it’s best known competitor, Maraska. On it’s own, its a nice but less delicious liqueur than Luxardo’s maraschino, but it worked very well in the context of the Brooklyn.

The real drama came when I decided to find an alternative to the easiest to find alternative to Amer Picon, Torani Amer. Most recipes suggest either Ramazotti Amaro or, as I was reminded by Facebook friend Christopher Tafoya, Amaro CioCiaro. Still, despite some very sincere attempts to be helpful by employees of West L.A.’s excellent The Wine House, the Northridge location of Total Wine and More, and even
Cavaretta’s Italian Deli in Canoga Park — which doesn’t even stock liquor — I was unable to find a bottle of either product in time for this post. There seems to be something of a temporary Amaro drought here in SoCal land.

What cannot be cured must be endured. So, what if BevMo has recently taken it upon itself to stop stocking my beloved Rittenhouse Rye…not to mention the correct style of Noilly and did I mention they’re dropping Old Fitzgerald Bourbon?…

Well, I’m trying to forgive and forget and find more reasons to drive out to West L.A. or Northridge. At least I happen to dig Bulleit’s new rye and the results with it were, on the whole, very good. I think I’ll continue to purchase it at Trader Joe’s, where it’s cheaper and I’m less annoyed.

  

Drink of the Week: The Brooklyn Cocktail (First Attempt)

The Brooklyn Cocktail. If you don’t think cocktails can be austere, then you’ve obviously never tasted a dry martini. It might be hard to believe for cocktail old timers but, to a newcomer, a dry gin martini is as forebidding as a Bartok quartet, a Maoist-period Jean-Luc Godard film, or a Jackson Pollack painting. If I wasn’t a born olive lover — and if I didn’t feel wonderfully tipsy after drinking them — I might never have discovered martinis myself.

Other drinks can offer more stylistic possibilities. A Manhattan can be as inviting as a Capra comedy or, if you seriously dial back the sweet vermouth, as demanding as Thomas Mann’s Dr. Faustus — a book I actually read and can almost remember. I’m guessing the Brooklyn Cocktail, a definite member of the Manhattan family, might be in that category, as the proportions vary really dramatically.

Today’s NYC-centric drink is another recipe I found in Dale DeGroff’s seminal The Craft of the Cocktail. It’s part of the some cocktail catching-up I’ve been inspired to do by the likably imperfect documentary, Hey Bartender. The film on the still nascent craft cocktail scene will be starting a very slow roll-out today (6/7/13) in New York, and then the following Friday in Los Angeles, and a few other odd cities. Stayed tuned here for an interview featuring a major player in the film.

In the meantime, I present the cocktail I’ve been struggling with this week, and I do mean struggling — though I think this one can be really good if you make sure the stars align properly. I only managed it once. That’s why I’m just watching “Hey Bartender,” and not appearing in it.

The Brooklyn Cocktail (modified DeGroff version)

2 ounces Canadian Club whiskey
1 ounce dry vermouth
1/4 teaspoon maraschino liqueur
1/4 teaspoon Torani Amer (or Amer Picon, if you’ve somehow got it)
1 lemon twist (garnish)

Combine everything but the lemon twist in a cocktail shaker. Add lots of ice and then do what the Good Lord put cocktail shakers on earth for, and shake the darn thing. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and toast the best bartender you know, who probably will get better results than you with this drink.

******

My first Brooklyn Cocktail turned out to be my best, though I diverged from Mr. DeGroff’s recipe in one major, but respectful, sense. Instead of classic Canadian Club, I used some of my prized small batch Canadian Club Sherry Cask with the last of the dry Noilly Pratt I had on hand.

DeGroff’s original recipe, published in 2002, calls for a “dash” of the maraschino liqueur and the Amer Picon digestif. Aside from the fact that Amer Picon is not actually available in the U.S. these days, I have no idea how you’re supposed to properly get a dash out of a bottle that doesn’t have a spout on it. So, in this draft, it’s 1/4 of a teaspoon of maraschino and Torani Amer, an alleged replica of Amer Picon.

So far so good, but I thought there was room for improvement and I still hadn’t tried it with standard Canadian Club, a brand I actually kind of love. First, however, I had to get myself some more dry vermouth. When I went for my beloved Noilly Pratt at BevMo, I failed to properly register the different coloring of the cap. Turns out, I was purchasing something called Noilly Pratt “extra dry.”

A little research showed that the French dry vermouth I’ve fallen in love over the last few years is, indeed, the original Noilly Pratt recipe that goes back to 1813 — but one that’s only been available in the States since 2009. It seems we vulgar Americans weren’t good enough for the original stuff during the late 20th and early 21st centuries, and we had to be given a drier, simpler vermouth until we were deemed ready for the real thing. Now, that Americanized and simplified (I don’t want to say “dumbed down”) vermouth is back on the market.

I was ready to march right back to BevMo and swap it out for an (easier to keep fresh) half-sized bottle of Martini & Rossi, until I theorized that the recipe was written in 2002, and probably used many years prior to that. Perhaps the extra dry Noilly Pratt was actually what Dale DeGroff used. I definitely prefer the older French recipe, but cocktails are always much more than the sum of their parts, and that’s why I love them.

So, I made my next Brooklyn Cocktail with Canadian Club and the extra dry Noilly Pratt. Disappointingly, the austerity of the drink wasn’t really enlivened by much of anything else. It wasn’t bad, just not terribly enjoyable. Still, that version was much better than what I got when I tried doubling up on my dashes of maraschino and Torani Amer. That drink actually was downright disappointing and a bit mediciney.

What now? I’m going to try the more traditional recipe I’ve seen online, which called for rye whiskey instead of Canadian Club…and I’m going to see if I can’t find my beloved NP “original dry,” damn it, at a local liquor store. Stay tuned!

  

Drink of the Week: The Ritz Cocktail

the Ritz Cocktail. What are you willing to give up for a cocktail? If you live in Los Angeles, the answer for the casual fancier of serious mixed beverages might be as high as $17.00 in some joints. If you’re one of the people who actually makes his living trying to make really good cocktails, however, the price might be a little higher still.

As I’m learning from an upcoming film I’m probably embargoed from discussing in any detail, the documentary “Hey Bartender,” the business of dispensing booze can take from a person’s life, but it can also give. However, the price I’m thinking about right now has mostly to do with the garnish — yes, the garnish — of today’s drink.

Fire is involved, and so is my right hand. I like my right hand. It’s helping me type this blog post and it does other nice things for me from time to time. But more about that later. (The garnish, I mean.)

The Ritz Cocktail was created by a cocktail legend I’m not sure I’ve even mentioned here before, and that’s largely due to the fact that I’m still a relative newbie to serious boozing. Although he’s not quite a household name — even his Wikipedia page is a still a stub — Dale DeGroff is credited by lots of folks as spearheading the revival of the lost art of the American cocktail. This started back in the 1980s, when he was at the Rainbow Rock at Manhattan’s 30 Rock, I was still in school, and most of the oldest of you all were lucky to be past the zygote stage….and DeGroff is still a relatively young man for a living legend. Well, his Wiki doesn’t give his age, so it’s hard to be sure.

Today’s drink is contained in DeGroff’s epochal 2002 tome, The Craft of the Cocktail. It’s named in honor of the several legendary bars of the famed Ritz hotel chain founded by César Ritz. Much as Mr. DeGroff has been dubbed “King Cocktail,” Mr. Ritz was dubbed “king of hoteliers, and hotelier to kings.” So far as I know, however, he had nothing to do with the cracker.

The Ritz Cocktail (the slightly heretical and debased version)

3/4-1 ounce cognac, or brandy alternative
1/2 ounce Cointreau
1/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
Champagne or sparkling white wine alternative
Flamed orange peel (garnish, to be explained!)

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