Drink of the Week: The Marconi Wireless

the Marconi Wireless.I’m fond of quoting Arthur C. Clarke’s famous truism that any sufficiently advanced technology will be indistinguishable from magic. Well, despite a pretty good K-12 and college education courtesy of the great state of California, I’ll never quite understand in any visceral way how sound and images can be transmitted literally through the air. Yes, even old-fashioned low-tech radio seems like magic to me.

Indeed, wireless radio transmission must have seemed quite a magical miracle in the early 20th century and certainly worthy of its own cocktail. You can nevertheless argue that inventor Guglielmo Marconi was shortchanged in the mixed drink department because his liquid memorial is actually, like last week’s Añejo Manhattan, a pretty direct lift of one of boozedom’s most basic cocktails, albeit with just a couple of very simple alterations.

It’s the difference in base spirits that drew my attention in this case. The Marconi Wireless replaces Manhattanite whiskey with applejack, the apple brandy that appears to be America’s first truly indigenous spirit. Having just bought myself perhaps the most authentic of the very few remaining applejack products on the market, I was definitely raring to give this one a try. It might not be as masterful a cocktail as the Jack Rose, but it’s super easy to make and will tantalize the tired tastebuds of even fairly jaded cocktail snobs.

The Marconi Wireless

2 ounces applejack
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1-2 dashes orange bitters
1 cocktail cherry (desirable garnish)

Combine the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass. Shake or stir vigorously as you prefer, and strain into a cocktail shaker. I guess you have no choice but to toast Signor Marconi who, after all, made mass entertainment as we know more or less still know it possible.

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I usually like to try at least two different brands of my base spirit but sadly there’s basically one brand of American apple brandy on the market, and it’s Laird’s. I used their 80 proof blended applejack on the Jack Rose and was quite delighted with the results. However, I’ve been meaning to try out their 100 proof unblended Laird’s Straight Apple Brandy and it’s definitely even better, especially if you don’t mind a little alcoholic burn. (Apart from a regional brand, also manufactured by Laird’s, called Captain Applejack which may or may not be identical to Laird’s, the only real competition to applejack is France’s apple brandy, Calvados.)

On the other hand, I was able to mess around a bit with my vermouths. As you might expect, the solid and popularly priced Noilly Pratt produced a simple yet sophisticated result while the more expensive and voguish Carpano Antica added a more complex, bitter bass note to this fine Manhattan transfer.

  

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Drink of the Week: The Añejo Manhattan

The Añejo Manhattan.I love tequila probably more than gin and and almost as much as whiskey and rum. Indeed, the first cocktail I ever had that made me realize there was a real art to this sort of thing was a fabled prickly pear margarita I enjoyed some time some time around Y2K at the long gone Las Vegas branch of the fabled Santa Fe, New Mexico restaurant, Anasazi. The only reason I don’t feature the fabled Mexican derivative of the blue agave plant as often as other base spirits is that it’s a pretty late arrival to the U.S.’s long cocktail party. There simply aren’t as many interesting recipes for it as for standard Yanqui boozes.

Still, as high quality tequila has grown ever more accessible, there’s absolutely no reason we can’t move beyond the Margarita which, let there be no mistake, is as great as any classic cocktail when made in the proper way.  (Shaken, not blended!)

As by far the best known high end tequila, it makes sense that today’s cocktail comes to us courtesy of Patrón. Here’s where I have to mention that I was gifted by the tequila titans not only with their very tasty, very smooth and extremely mellow añejo, but with a holiday gift box that also offers artisanal aromatic bitters from Dashfire and some very nice coupe glasses you might see pictured here from time to time. Even so, I don’t think I was overly swayed when I say that, if you use the right vermouth and the right amount of bitters, this is one heck of a variation on a cocktail super classic.

The Añejo Manhattan

2 ounces añejo tequila (presumably Patrón)
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1-2 dashes aromatic bitters (Dashfire Brandy Old Fashioned Bitters, if you’ve got it)
orange peel or cocktail cherry (highly desirable garnishes)

Yes, this is pretty much a Manhattan with the aged tequila subbing for whiskey. So, make this pretty much as you would a regular Manhattan. Combine all of the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass. Stir or shake, depending on your personal preference. Patrón says you should shake it gently if you’re going that route, which worked fine for me.

Strain into a well-chilled cocktail glass. Add your orange peel or cocktail cherry, sip, and salute the great nation of Mexico. Like los Estados Unidos, it’s a country with many problems but also one of the world’s most fascinating culturas.

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I initially tried this drink pretty much as per Patrón, using Noilly Pratt sweet vermouth and the Dashfire bitters, which are sweeter and smokier than your basic Angostura type, with the distinct presence of cloves. It a very nice change of pace from the usual Manhattan. Still, when I tried it again using the more expensive, more bitter and more complex Carpano Antica, which has become the go-to sweet vermouth for many a cocktail snob, I suddenly remembered why that was the case. The slightly bitter, chocolatey bottom took that iteration of the drink into the stratosphere.

After that, however, I had a hard time recapturing the magic of that second attempt. Later on, I actually found myself enjoying this drink more with Noilly Pratt and, despite my picture, I think the addition of cocktail cherry suits the flavor more than an orange peel but then, like everything else, I’m likely to change my mind on that point, too.

 

 

  

Drink of the Week: The Ramos Gin Fizz

the Ramos Gin Fizz.It’s the day after Thanksgiving and, if you seriously overdid it in the alcohol department while getting into a drunken political argument with your uncle Dave, you should probably lay off the booze completely today. Have a nice glass of orange juice maybe. Even so, for many a boozer, the solution to too much booze is just a little more booze, delivered with a thoughtfully prepared cushion of sugar and fat.

I admit it, the sugar, egg white, and milk fat in the drink originally referred to as the New Orleans Gin Fizz tends to soften the drink’s alcoholic blow much in the manner of that slimmer, more vitamin-rich hang-over classic, the Bloody Mary. Still, you don’t have to be a degenerate drinker to enjoy this labor intensive, slightly tart refresher, the best known member of the large category of drinks knowns as fizzes, and yet another American classic associated with the wondrous city of New Orleans.

The Ramos Gin Fizz

2 ounces gin
1 large egg white
1-3 ounces seltzer water (for the fizz!)
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce heavy cream or half-and-half
1/2 ounce simple syrup or 2 1/2 teaspoons sugar (will taste slightly sweeter)
2-3 drops orange flower water (definitely optional, I say)

Combine all of the ingredients, except the carbonated water, in a sturdy cocktail shaker. Follow our usual egg white procedure and dry shake for about 10-20 second. Be careful because that egg white wants to make the top of your shaker pop off sometimes.

Next, following our usual procedure, add lots of ice and shake again. Usually a vigorous 10-20 seconds or so would be sufficient here, but in a nod to tradition — which we’ll be discussing below — try to go as long as you can before your arms feel like they’re about to fall off and your hands freeze. I managed about 45 seconds on my own and pretty much doubled that with the help of a friend.

Strain into a Tom Collins style glass or something similar, and add the all-important seltzer water to give your fizz it’s fizz. Toast the long tradition of strong-armed bartenders.

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Okay, now everyone will tell you that you actually need to shake the Ramos Gin Fizz with ice, no dry shaking allowed, for a minimum of one minute, and preferably two, three, or 12 minutes. For that last number, you’d apparently be following the instructions of Mr. Henry Ramos himself, who famously employed a relay of 12 bartenders to prepare just one famous fizz.

I smell more than a bit of hype here. Regular readers know I’m no stranger to using egg white in cocktails. My recipe is largely adapted and adjusted a bit from a few I found online, including from purist David Wondrich and a more modern Epicurious. I, however, see no reason for self-torture to make the Ramos Fizz. Shaking for two minutes might not sound like a lot but, once you try doing it yourself, you’ll realize it’s not hard to reach your limit. “Why kill yourself?” I ask

Speaking of killing yourself, Mr. Wondrich insists you have to use heavy cream for this and derides the substitution of mere half-and-half. Having tried it both ways, I have to say that I actually prefer it with the somewhat less suicidally fattening/artery clogging half-and-half. The heavy cream, for me, is, well, a bit heavy.

On the other hand, I prepared the straight-up Wondrich take with a friend, who loved it just the way it was. I have to admit that the Ramos Fizz is slightly tart for my personal taste, but that’s the way to drink it. “King Cocktail” Dale DeGroff’s version actually calls for a LOT of simple syrup — an entire shot’s worth at 1 1/2 ounces  — while using regular homogenized milk. That didn’t solve the tartness problem for me, while also feeling thin.

In any case, I found that pretty much every version I made of this drink was satisfying, refreshing, and surprisingly non-buzz inducing — we can thank all those extra fat and sugar calories for that, I suppose.

I tried a Ramos Fizz with both Tanqueray and Gordon’s gin, without it making it much of a difference. I also forgot to include the orange flower water a couple of times and noticed almost no difference, which worries me. One time, I forgot the include the gin. That made a difference. The scary part was, it was less tart and I liked it!

  

Drink of the Week: The Coffee Cocktail

The Coffee Cocktail.For my final post before the Thanksigiving holiday, I offer you a delicious after dinner (or breakfast!) drink that will nevertheless do absolutely nothing to counter your turkey/mash potato coma. You see, just as the chocolatey egg cream you can get at your nearest Jewish deli has neither egg nor cream, the Coffee Cocktail has no coffee. Moreover, when it was invented some time in the 1880s or so, it wasn’t even actually a cocktail, because back then that required the presence of bitters.

What it is, however, is shockingly delicious. Think a winey, lighter, fruitier egg nog. In fact, it’s so good I simply can’t decide between the two recipes I found, so I’m giving you both recipes this week in an act of outrageous pre-Turkey Day bounty. It’s got a whole egg in it, but thanks to the miracle of pasteurized eggs, there’s really no reason any tippler should avoid this.

The Coffee Cocktail

1 1/2 ounces brandy
1 1/2 ounces port
1 whole large egg
1 teaspoon sugar
grated nutmeg

OR

2-3 ounces port
1 ounce brandy
1 whole egg
1 teaspoon sugar
grated nutmeg

Combine the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Dry shake (i.e., without ice) to properly emulsify the egg. If done properly, it will disappear in a lovely beige-to-light purple froth. Then, add lots of ice and shake again. Strain into a chilled wine glass or goblet and sprinkle a bit of grated nutmeg on top. Toast the fact that you’re lucky enough to have shelter and be able to enjoy life’s simpler pleasures, such as a really delicious and refreshing not-quite-cocktail complete with all the nutrition of a whole egg.

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I mostly made this with the remains of my bottle of St. Remy Brandy and, later, a very inexpensive bottle of a brand called Hartley, made by the Sazarac company. It’s sweetness was actually a very nice complement to the drink.

Still, the big decision a Coffee Cocktail drinker has to make is between tawny and ruby port. The first recipe above is drawn mainly from Robert Hess’s The Essential Bartender’s Guide (you can also see him make it in this video). Hess actually calls for simple syrup, but I found substituting a similar amount of actual sugar added just the right amount of additional sweetness to a drink that just wants to be that way.  He, however, does not specify a type of port. “Any port in a storm,” he suggests.

The second recipe is based on Ted “Dr. Cocktail” Haigh’s recipe in his Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, reviving the drink first memorialized in 1887 by the legendary Jerry Thomas. He specifically calls for ruby port.

My own verdict: Stick with the tawny on the first version, it’s mellower, and the results look slightly more coffee-like, as the ruby port makes a drink that’s far more purple than beige. I loved both tawny and ruby port on the second, Haighian take.

As for my egg, yes, it was pasteurized and, especially if you can find super-safe eggs on sale at your liquor supermarket the way I did, you might as well go that way if you’re making this on the big holiday. Our digestive systems take enough Thanksgiving punishment…but I definitely wouldn’t discourage hardier souls from using a regular, garden variety egg. The Coffee Cocktail is worth a tiny risk.

  

Drink of the Week: The Round Robin

The Round Robin.Are you into absinthe? I’m definitely not averse to it as a little-goes-a-very-long-way ingredient in a numerous drinks, but I can’t say that I’m a fan of it in it’s classic mode of preparation. It’s not just it’s strength and bitterness, it’s the fact that I’m not even a fan of licorice candy, let alone industrial-strength anise and fennel.

On the other hand, if there’s one ingredient I’ve found in my alcoholic wanderings that can transform a potentially repulsive drink into a taste treat, it’s a raw egg white, properly emulsified. This week’s drink, which comes I know not from where, puts that theory to the test in a big, big way. Let’s get this wormword and poultry-product party started.

The Round Robin

1 ounce brandy
1 ounce absinthe
1 egg white
1 teaspoon superfine sugar

Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker. To emulsify the egg white, shake vigorously without ice. Then, add ice, shake vigorously again, and strain into a wine glass. Toast the legalization of absinthe back in the mid-2000s when people started to figure out that the stuff is no more (or less) dangerous than other types of booze. Prohibition never works.

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Well, I guess this is another vote from me for the miraculous properties of raw eggs  in cocktails as, on balance, I really like this drink. In fact, I like this drink so much that, even though I’d have a hard time finding a difference between good absinthe and bad absinthe, I’d almost spend the $70 or more it takes to buy some of the putative good stuff just to try it in a Round Robin.

Why? Well, just as an Old Fashioned humanizes even a very strong bourbon or rye, the Round Robin actually makes the bitter licorice on steroids flavor of absinthe not only tolerable but fascinating.

While I only have one brand of absinthe on hand and it’s not supposed to be that good — I gather than aficionados of the wormwood liquor find Absinthe Ordinaire to be appropriately named at a mere 92 proof — I did try different brandies out. Killing my bottle of St. Remy worked just fine but a Ile de Ré Fine Island Cognac worked even better.

However, the one big change I made from my usual habit was was using a pasteurized brand of egg white I picked up at my local Trader Joe’s (3 tablespoons of the stuff is said to approximate one egg white). While the the seemingly low viscosity of the stuff looked suspect, the fact of the matter is that it worked just as well as the stuff you get directly from the chicken…and I know my friend from the local health department would agree that salmonella is about the last thing I need right now. I’m usually not one to worry about such stuff, but if you’d been through as many perfect storms I’ve been through over the last six months, you might be a bit extra cautious yourself.

Coming up next: An adventure with pasteurized whole eggs and a coffee drink with zero caffeine and no decaffeinated coffee, either.

  

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