Drink of the Week: The White Lady

The White Lady.Mad Men” begins it’s final season on Sunday night, and I think it might be fair to say that no television show has done as much for the cultural profile of cocktails in our time. This is despite the fact that serious cocktail cognosecnti will be quick to inform you that  the early 1960s was a good four or five decades on from the tail end of the first true heyday of cocktails, and they’ll no doubt add that the late 1960s was one Harvey Wallbanger of a lowpoint.

Even so, people who watch the cast of Matthew Weiner’s brilliant tragicomedy-cum-high-end soap quaff their Martinis, Manhattans, and Old Fashioneds with some envy aren’t wrong. “Mad Men” is, in fact, about the final last gasp of an era. While there were many things about this old era we’re all better off without, it was also the last time people knew what an Old Fashioned was without being educated on the topic by Don Draper.

It’s not that people ever stopped drinking, it’s just they became more aware of the fact that alcohol was a drug they could use among many other drugs and the fact that it was also a food, of sorts, kind of got lost for about 30-40 years. In fact, let’s face it, at their booziest Don Draper and Roger Sterling might appreciate a well crafted beverage, but both of them would take Sterno if they had to.

This week’s drink is something I think Don and Roger would appreciate as it’s dry enough and boozy enough, but I think it might also appeal to Peggy Olson, Joan Harris and, perhaps most of all, the much maligned Betty Draper. It’s refreshing enough to help you relax on a hot New York State afternoon, boozy enough to forget your every dysfunction, and low-calorie enough not to knock you off your diet. Oh, and the name….

The White Lady

2 ounces London dry gin
1/2 ounce Cointreau or triple sec
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1 egg white

Yeah, I know, egg white again. If you read me enough to get tired of reading that, then you know the drill already but here we go. We’re going to do what is known as a “dry shake” to emulsify the egg, which we’re going to combine with the gin, orange liqueur and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker by, obviously, shaking it a bit. We’re then going to add what we moderns might refer to as “a buttload” of ice and then we’re going to shake it again.

Next, we’ll strain it into a cocktail glass and we’ll toast, I imagine, Betty Draper. We will attempt to politely avoid any racial connotations, but we will fail.

***
Yes, while the White Lady’s name might put you in mind of a Dave Chappelle routine if you say it with a certain cadence, the drink itself really is pure elegance. This is a very dry drink and very tart too, but the egg white smoothes everything over far better than any “Mad Men” character attempting to paper over a sticky emotional situation. Yeah, I know I’ve sung this eggy song before, but it’s really true.

I tried this drink with three different gins and two orange liqueurs and all were, in their own way, aces. Bombay Dry Gin and Cointreau was archly classic, a bit understated. Switching to sweeter triple sec took off every sharp edge for a mellower concoction. No. 3 London Dry Gin with Cointreau put the Juniper and citrus peel flavors of a class dry gin forward in a way I really liked. Cointreau with Plymouth Gin, however, produced a shockingly disappointing result. Something just didn’t blend right there. Keep your gin dry and Londony…though Hendricks, which is actually from Scotland, might possibly work very well with this. (If anyone out there tries that, please drop me a line like a good little reader, okay?)

That’s it. I could lie and tell you all I’ll be seeing “Mad  Men” on its first broadcast with you all on Sunday night, but I’ll actually be enjoying the tale end of the Turner Classic Movies annual film festival right around then. The hope is I’ll find a way to unite my passions for cinema and cocktails there. Stay tuned!

  

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Drink of the Week: The Montenegro Sour

The Montenegro Sour. Lately, we’ve been featuring a few cocktails made with really good booze sent to me by the dark forces of the liquor-industrial complex. Today’s post is a bit different as the much appreciated gift of free booze came not from some shadowy Sidney Falco, but from Ron Shishido, a very old junior high/college buddy who’s probably taught me how to appreciate a good booze concoction as much as anyone else on this planet, including Rachel Maddow.

Amaro Montenegro is, on it’s own and served neat, quite a lovely drink. It’s a member of the amaro family of bittersweet liqueurs which occasionally pop up in cocktails. It’s popular enough in Italy to be featured in a series of slick commercials of the kind we use to sell highish-end beer in the States, and that’s for a reason. With a hard-to-pin down but relatively fruity flavor, it’s a kinder, gentler, vastly more drinkable brew than, say Torani Amer or the superior — but still two-fisted — Amaro CioCara. As bitter digestifs go, this one’s pretty sweet.

Perhaps because it’s so readily drinkable all on its own, I had a hard time finding a cocktail made with this particular amaro. However, Food and Wine bloggers Carey Jones and John McCarthy came to the rescue with a few recipes. I chose one featuring my all-time favorite non-alcoholic cocktail ingredient, egg white.

I’m not sure the drink is so accurately named, however. Whatever alleged citrus flavor there is comes from the mysterious herbal blend from which Amaro Montenegro is made, so it’s really more bitter, in a good way, than sour.

On the plus side, that means no potentially messy juice squeezing is required this time around and that definitely speeds up the cocktailing process. That’s good because I’m breaking my usual rule against recipes requiring home-made syrups. Yes, there’s a tiny bit of extra work involved, but be bold and read on.

The Montenegro Sour

1 ounce Montenegro Amaro
1 1/2 ounces bourbon
1 fresh egg white or equivalent (see below)
1/2 ounce honey syrup (see below)
1 dash aromatic bitters, Angostura or similar

Combine the Amaro Montenegro, bourbon, syrup, and bitters in cocktail shaker. First, as always with egg or egg white cocktails, we do a “dry” shake without ice to emulsify it. Then, we shake again, very vigorously and with plenty of ice, and strain it into a chilled cocktail glass or smallish rocks glass. We then enjoy this delightfully refreshing beverage and toast our amaro’s namesake, Princess Elena of Montenegro, the World War II-era queen consort of Italy known, for the most part anyway, for her good works.

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Despite the fact that I often tell publicists with recipes that make-it-yourself syrups are off the table, I decided to make an exception this week for a couple of reasons.

First. the honey syrup for this recipe is ridiculously easy to make. Just mix equal parts honey and hot water, then stir. I put 1/4 cup of honey and that much water in the microwave for 30 seconds, stirred the stuff, and then put it in the freezer for a few minutes so it wouldn’t be too hot. Low on both muss and fuss.

The second reason we’re using the honey syrup is that I actually tried this drink more than once with my usual Master of Mixes Simple Syrup and it just didn’t do the trick. Too simple. Apparently, you need that little bit of honey flavor to complement the bourbon and amaro.

I used three different brands of bourbon. The always outstanding 80 proof Basel Hayden’s yielded a nectary result that went down very easy indeed. 94 proof Wathen’s, a brand that’s I recently bought out of curiosity and which I’m quite liking, produced a boozier, but also more full bodied, result.

Finally, there was the version using an old DOTW favorite that’s been returning to my local stores of late, “bottled in bond” 100 proof Old Fitzgerald, which remains the best bourbon bargain I’ve found at, in my case, less than $15.00 for a bottle. It produced a sweet, tangy, and very punchy attitude adjuster that, at that particular moment, was very much what the doctor ordered. Admittedly, however, that doctor would not be a liver specialist.

Finally, I have to add a few more words on the enormous power of egg whites to really transform a drink. Contrary to the common assumption, whites in drinks are not even slightly slimy but add a smooth, almost milky, froth to a drink. The froth smooths over the rough edges of the other flavors and unites them as well as anything I’ve ever experienced.

Still, many folks resist, and not all of their reasons are bad. I’ve been talking to an expert or two lately about what I still believe are the very low risks of using raw egg white. However, I’ve been told that, for people who are concerned, caution may still be in order especially right now for a number of reasons, cost-related reductions in government inspection among them, no doubt. (God forbid big government should stand in the way of a microbe’s ability to grow and prosper in a free-market environment.)

I just crack open a large egg and maybe wash the shell first. However, people with real health concerns of any kind  about this should very definitely consider using about 1-1.5 ounces of one of the many brands of pasteurized egg white on the market.

  

Drink of the Week: The Pilar Old Cuban

The Pilar Old Cuban.A really topnotch new brand of dark rum, fresh lime juice, a little sweetness, some fresh mint leaves, champagne…what could possibly go wrong? Nothing, really. Nothing at all. It’s just…

I have to be honest with you — I don’t really feel like I’ve nailed this week’s drink, not quite. Yes, it’s refreshing and fairly well balanced, it’s base spirit is kind of spectacular, easily one of the best products I’ve ever been lucky enough to get for free. However, the final flavor profile just didn’t wow me as much as you’d expect, especially given how good the main ingredient really is and, really, how sound this recipe — a variation of a drink that’s been around for awhile — really seemed on paper.

At the same time, I have a confession to make, but we’ll get to that in the post-recipe section of this post.

The Pilar Old Cuban

2 ounces Papa Pilar’s Dark Rum
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
3/4 ounce simple syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters
6-8 fresh mint leaves
2 ounces brut champagne/dry sparkling white wine

Muddle the mint leaves lightly in a cocktail shaker. Add the rum, lime juice, simple syrup, bitters (very important or this drink will come out way too sweet…I know because I forgot them on my first attempt at this drink), lots of ice, and shake vigorously.

Strain into an extra large cocktail glass (double strain if you’re fussy about bits of mint leaf getting into the drink). Top off with two ounces of cold champagne/sparkling white wine. Toast the real life elderly Cuban person of your choice. Mine would be the late Ruben Gonzalez, the wonderful, gentlemanly pianist featured in Wim Wenders’ 1998 music documentary, “The Buena Vista Social Club.”

*****

Today’s cocktail appears to be a variation of a drink reportedly invented by famed bartender Audrey Saunders, which features a premium rum from a far better known brand and is simply known as The Old Cuban. As mentioned above, the base spirit in today’s drink is the truly extraordinary Papa Pilar’s Dark Rum, which is dynamite stuff. This very flavorful expression, which has strong hints of vanilla and a lot of molasses to it, makes a truly fantastic Old Fashioned. It’s got so much natural flavor and sweetness that you can make that drink with just 1/2 a teaspoon of raw sugar.

Nevertheless,  I chose to make the Pilar Old Cuban instead. If I really did make a mistake on this version that kept it out of the cocktail stratosphere, I’d hazard a guess that it was — and here’s my confession — my use of a pretty darn cheap champagne to finish off the drink.

Yes, I ignored the obvious disapproval of a local liquor purveyor who tried to steer me towards a $12.00 bottle of bubbly. I simply wasn’t in the mood to spend that kind of a money on an ingredient that wasn’t even really the star of the show and it’s not like I’d get to use the unused champagne on future cocktails. So, I went with a $5.00 brand that you may well have consumed at a not-too-upscale champagne brunch.  Maybe that’s what did it, or rather, didn’t quite do it.

So, it’s possible I missed the point here. Try this drink with a really good brand of champagne, especially if you’re going to be opening a bottle of the stuff anyway. You can experiment with a little less simple syrup, or try it with superfine sugar instead, maybe just a tablespoon full or slightly more. Or, you could just listen to the beautiful playing piano playing of the later Mr. Gonzalez, which makes everything perfect.

  

Drink of the Week: The Blackthorn Cocktail (Harry Craddock Version)

The Blackthorn Cocktail.I totally blew it last week, St. Patrick’s Day wise. I decided, therefore, to atone for my sin this week with the most severe Irish whiskey based cocktail I could find. And so we present the Blackthorn Cocktail, which sounds a little bit like it was named after the villain of a 1950s swashbuckler with Burt Lancaster or Stewart Granger.

This drink appears in, among other places, Harry Craddock’s The Savoy Cocktail Book, but finding a human being who’s actually had one today will be a challenge — even many cocktail bloggers seem to avoid this one. Superstar booze maven Gary Regan adapted it into a more popular version which, to begin with, substitutes sweet vermouth for the dry stuff used in this version. Maybe we’ll get to that one eventually, but I don’t hold with some of the disdain this Blackthorn Cocktail has generated. It might not be sweet treat, but neither is a martini, and we like those, right?

The Blackthorn Coctail

1 1/2 ounces Irish whiskey
1 1/2 ounces dry vermouth
1/2 teaspoon absinthe
3 dashes Angostura/aromatic bitters

This is an easy one. Just combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with your usual massive amount of ice. Shake, yes, shake this drink vigorously and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Toast the classic cocktail purists who, for once, allow us to shake a drink that contains no citrus. Aye and begorrah!

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I admit that the Blackthorn Cocktail is what you would call a sophisticated drink, it’s definitely not for everyone. On the other hand, it’s actually no more inaccessible than a 50/50 martini (i.e., 50% gin and 50% dry vermouth) or a Dry Manhattan, both of which have their share of similarities with the Blackthorn.

It does have that tiny bit of absinthe — a classic case of a little going a long way. Here, however, it goes just the right distance,. I should note that my 1/2 teaspoon of the formerly notorious wormwood liqueur is different from the original Craddock version, which calls for three dashes. Maybe I should just purchase an eye dropper, but I have no idea how I’m supposed to get a dash out of an ordinary, non-squirt top bottle. Anyhow, I liked my results this way. The licorice-like flavor of anise centers this drink.

I tried the Blackthorn Cocktail with two different Irish whiskey brands. Generally speaking, I prefer Bushmills  — love the stuff, actually — but the more assertive flavor of Kilbeggan worked very nicely and resulted in a somewhat livelier drink. As for my vermouth, I did most of my Blackthorns with Martini, which was very good. Thirsting for more adventure, I finally got around to trying the cocktails hipster’s choice these days, Dolin Dry Vermouth. It’s a less dry dry vermouth, if you follow me, that actually puts me a bit in mind of the now either hard to find or all but nonexistent stateside Noilly Pratt Original Dry Vermouth. It’s maybe a bit more complex and sells for roughly double the price. Similarly to when I used the Killlbeggans, the Dolin made for a slightly livelier, crisper libation.

  

Drink of the Week: The Pilar Daiquiri

The Pilar Daiquiri.So, the first thing you’re likely to notice about today’s drink is that there’s nothing remotely Irish or St. Patrick’s Dayish about it. I admit it — I prepare these posts at least a week or so ahead, and it’s sometimes easy to get a bit mixed up about the calendar. Also, I have to admit, I don’t hang out in bars all that much — shocking, yes, I know — and, even if I did, the Irish community here in L.A. isn’t exactly as prominent as if I were in Boston or New Orleans or New York. You get a lot more reminders about the coming of Cinco de Mayo down here than St. Paddy’s Day.

So, rather than trying to trump up a Irish connection that’s complete blarney, I’ll just straight up admit that this week’s really terrific drink is mostly Cuban in origin and comes to us from the promotional team behind a really outstanding pair of new rums with a pedigree that extends to the modern day heirs of no less than daiquiri drinker #1, Papa Hemingway himself. He was said to love a good daiquiri. If so, he would definitely have loved this one.

The Pilar Daiquiri

1 1/2 ounces Papa Pilar’s Blonde Rum
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce fresh grapefruit juice
1 teaspoon maraschino
1 teaspoon sugar

Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Maybe stir a bit to dissolve the sugar (not needed if you’re using C&H Superfine as I do). Shake and strain into a cocktail glass. Toast Papa Hemingway and all writers, including the less tortured ones.

****

Now, folks, you should understand that when freebies greet me, I feel both grateful and slightly corrupted. Also, many times we get recipes that, while quite good, could actually work with any number of brands. Nevertheless, this little number really does seem to be expressly made to complement the qualities of the dang remarkable Papa Pilar’s Blonde.

The combination of flavors from the grapefruit and maraschino liqueur in addition to the more traditional lime juice and sugar, really blends together with this uniquely flavorful blonde rum, which is delightfully heavy on notes of molasses and sports a bit of an oceanic twang.  Honestly, unless you’ve got a similar blonde rum around (are there any?) I’d stick with the simpler original daiquiri recipe I offered many moons ago.

On the other hand, if you’re going to make the investment in Papa Pilar’s, and I certainly would encourage that, I demand you make this drink right away — and yeah, that includes shelling out extra for the maraschino liqueur. That one little teaspoon of slightly bitter cherry deliciousness is important, as I learned when I accidentally cut the proportion of in half while making a two PP daiquiris for myself and a very old friend who had stopped by. Cutting the amount from one teaspoon to merely 1/2 a teaspoon threw off the drink’s balance and the result was less balanced and very tart than I would prefer, though the friend was polite about it. Every drop of maraschino is sacred but, if you need to save money, you can go with the cheaper Maraska Maraschino and leave the Luxardo for fools like me who can’t resist luxy things.

This is a drink you want to make right. It’s refreshing and nearly perfectly balanced bewteen sweet, tart, and the bittterness of the grapefruit. It’s A-1, even if I can’t try to fob it off as Papa O’Hemingway’s Irish Brew or what not.

  

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