Drink of the Week: The Bacardí Maestro Collins

The Bacardí Maestro Collins.It’s great to go out to a really good high-end bar and have drinks made with the bartender’s own personally crafted cumquat-and-cardamon bitters or her special thyme-parsley-and-Meyer-Lemon infused syrup. At the same time, there’s nothing like a super simple drink that you can easily make as home as well, and usually better, than your typical overworked bartender.

That definitely applies to this ridiculously simple and refreshing recapitulation of your basic Rum Collins, which differs from a Tom Collins only in changing the base spirit from gin. The only real difference in this version is the use of Bacardí Gran Reserva Maestro de Ron, a new super-premium expression from the creators of the USA’s most ubiquitous and time honored rum brand.

The super-premium rum scene has actually been one of the most exciting areas in contemporary boozing for some time. So, I was naturally very curious when the Bacardí people came knocking with a free bottle of product. It’s a worthy entry, definitely more flavorful, sweet, and smooth than your typical white rum. It’s very easy drinking and not too high priced, so I can imagine this going over very well on the current market. That’s particularly so as it seems to work very nicely in a number of cocktails. I enjoyed it in a daiquiri, a rum old fashioned, and, naturally, this.

 The Bacardí Maestro Collins

2 ounces Bacardí Gran Reserva Maestro de Ron (white rum)
1 ounce fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons superfine sugar
Seltzer or club soda “to fill”
Lemon wheel or twist (optional garnish)
Cocktail cherry (my suggested optional garnish)

Combine the rum, lemon juice and super-easily dissolving sugar in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake and double strain, using a food strainer to get rid of pulp as well as ice, into a collins or highball-sized glass stocked with fresh ice. Top off with the fizzy water of your choice, I liked adding a very thin lemon wheel and a cocktail cherry for a garnish. Toast anything you like, but try to keep it simple.

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The main trick to this drink is not to poo-poo the instruction to double strain/fine strain the drink. I’ve been a skeptic about this practice in the past. In this case, however, I’m here to tell you it can make all the difference. Straining out the lemon pulp also appears to strain out some of the harsher, more tart flavors. The result is a more mellow and finely balanced drink…and a very nifty booze beverage for what promises to be an extra hot summer.

  

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Drink of the Week: The Portly Blackberry

the Portly Blackberry.Let me tell you, folks, sometimes putting on this here cocktail blog is anything but a cocktail party. Sure, making outstanding drinks and occasionally getting free booze delivered by FedEx and UPS is the opposite of torture, but sometimes, well, it’s not the complete opposite.

That’s the feeling I experienced when I attempted to open a gorgeous free bottle of Alberta Rye Dark Batch. As I attempted to pull up the cork stopper, the plastic thingamajig on top broke off, leaving the bottle fully corked. When I actually went out and bought a fancy corkscrew (which I should have around anyway, though I’m no oenophile), all I managed was to push the cork inside the bottle. In fact, I’m still not sure how I’m going to store the remainder of this very good, and very interesting, whiskey.

What’s so interesting? As we learned from the first episode of “Mad Men,” the whiskey called “rye” was at one time more or less synonymous with Canadian whisky. In fact, Wikipedia tells us it’s still that way in Canada despite the fact that only a token amount of rye is in your typical Canadian whisky recipe. However, here in the U.S., rye whiskies by law have to have a much higher proportion of rye grains and the ryes that have been proliferating since the start of the ongoing cocktail renaissance would never be mistaken for Canadian Club, Crown Royal, or Seagram’s V.O. They often have a slightly peppery flavor and are a tad less sweet than bourbon, their close relative.

Alberta Rye Dark Batch is, therefore, of special interest as is passes U.S. rye muster but is manufactured by our friendly neighbors to the north and sold stateside with a little help from Beam Suntory. It is, however, no retread of your basic U.S. ryes because, like ordinary Canadian whiskys, it’s blended. In this case, however, a strong rye brew is combined with good old Old Grandad bourbon and 1% of sherry wine. Canadian whisky, often maligned by cocktailians but beloved by me, is just never going to be for fanatical purists.

Alberta Dark Batch might be using the American “whiskey” spelling on its bottle rather the traditional Canadian “whisky” spelling, but it’s not quite the same as U.S. bred ryes. It’s smoother and a bit sweeter. It’s not super complex — you won’t catch any rye bread notes — but it earns its super premium status with a flavorful depth and smoothness. It also very good in an Old Fashioned. (Also, if you buy yours and the top breaks off the way mine did, I’m pretty sure most retailers will let you exchange it for another bottle. Getting things for free has its drawbacks!)

The Portly Blackberry — I’ve shortened it’s name from the Alberta Rye Dark Batch Portly Blackberry — is a nice, sophisticated spin on many of the improved whiskey sour recipes that have been floating around for forever. (I usually won’t have any sour that doesn’t have egg white.) It builds on that 1% of sherry wine by taking up a convenient port in the cocktail storm and throws in some fresh berries for good measure.

The Portly Blackberry

2 ounces Alberta Rye Dark Batch Whisky
1 ounce port wine
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/4 ounce simple syrup
1 dash rhubarb bitters
1 large egg white (three tablespoons of packaged egg white)
4 blackberries

Combine the lemon juice, syrup, bitters, and two of your four blackberries into a cocktail shaker. Muddle the blackberries, liberating all the juice you can. Next, dry shake (i.e., shake without ice) to emulsify the egg white, which will be easier (and arguably safer) if you use one of the many prepared pasteurized egg white products on the market.

Next, add the rye whiskey, port wine, and plenty of ice. Shake vigorously for ten seconds or more. Then, double strain it into a chilled, and quite large, coupe or cocktail glass — ideally using a standard bar strainer and a food strainer — to get rid of both the ice and blueberry pulp. Finally, add the remaining two blackberries as garnishes. Toast the difficulties of life; without them, how would we appreciate it when things were easy?

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Speaking of life’s travails, I actually came down with a small bug of some sort as I was working on the Portly Blackberry. I decided to keep going with it, but I didn’t get to try the drink as many times as I normally like to. That means, I didn’t experiment with using a Brand X rye brand.

I can tell you, however, that while I usually allow a substitution of superfine sugar for simple syrup, in this case, I can’t endorse that. Often, drinks can taste slightly sweeter in a good way when you use straight sugar as opposed to the 50/50 combination of sugar and water. Not so with the Portly Blackberry; an already fairly tart drink became excessively so. On the other hand, if you want to boost the sweetness, doubling up on the simple syrup to an entire half ounce might work for you.

Also, though I had to drive across town to find one, it’s worth it to get yourself a bottle of rhubarb bitters. I actually forgot to use them on my first go round, and the drink was definitely much improved by that very small dash. If you’re lucky enough to live in an area where such things can be found, you’ll probably end up using Fee Brothers’s bitters like I did. However, if you’re a true DIYer with more time (and cooking skills) than yours truly, you can explore making your own.

Sometimes, one way or another, you gotta work a little for your high-end cocktails.

  

Drink of the Week: The Gin and It

the Gin and It.My first ever DOTW post back in 2011 covered the Martini. It’s nevertheless taken me until just the last few weeks to start exploring the ancestry of that most iconic of cocktails, which a lot of people assume kind of begin and ends with last week’s Martinez. Still, it’s name aside, that very good but very sweet drink has more differences than similarities with the modern oh-so-dry Martini beverage. Today, I’ve found a drink that, while still pretty sweet, really does seem to be the semi-missing link between the Martinez and the Martini.

The Gin and It  — “It” being short for “Italian,” as in Italian vermouth, as in sweet vermouth — is pretty much what the name implies. While some versions weirdly call for using no ice whatsoever, my version of the drink, at least, is very close to my comparatively high-vermouth starter version of a Martini, save for the species of vermouth. It’s also just about identical to my take on a Manhattan (the second DOTW), except for using gin and not whiskey.

Now, here’s the kicker. Back in 1930, Harry Craddock’s epochal The Savoy Cocktail Book, actually listed three types of Martini, one of which was called the Sweet Martini, which, like my Gin and It, calls for 2 parts gin and one part Italian vermouth. His dry version of a Martini called of one part dry vermouth and 2 parts gin. Today, of course, a dry martini typically means one with either only a hint of vermouth or even (and I don’t like this) none at all. Considering Mr. Craddock, however, it seems pretty darn likely that when the first person uttered the quip, “let’s get you out of those wet clothes and into a dry Martini” they meant a drink made with dry vermouth (perhaps Martini brand), not little or no vermouth.

Anyhow, here’s the perfect drink for anyone craving a very un-dry martini as in one that’s actually sweet….but still pretty close to an actual Martini.

The Gin and It

2 ounces gin
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1-2 dashes aromatic bitters
1 orange twist or cocktail cherry (garnish)

Combine your liquid ingredients in a mixing glass or cocktail shaker. As if to foreshadow Ian Fleming, Harry Craddock actually instructed that ALL of his martinis should be shaken, but I prefer my martinis stirred, not shaken. (Gin seems to me to take on a slightly less pleasant flavor when shaken, don’t ask me why.)  Definitely use ice. Strain into chilled cocktail glass and add the garnish of your choice, if any.

Toast vermouth, both sweet and dry. It is one of the most honorable, yet misunderstood and unfairly maligned of cocktail ingredients.

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While notably less complex than the Martinez, the Gin and It is also a bit drier, at least at my proportions. (Many versions call for equal parts gin and sweet vermouth.) It pretty much tastes like a Manhattan made with gin, and that’s not a bad thing . I tried this with Bombay Gin, Gordon’s Gin, Carpano Antica and, yes, Martini. While I can’t say any version of the drink rocked my world — I actually enjoyed the Martinez a great deal more — the best version was made was the higher end ingredients; I suppose that’s not a surprise. I also haven’t a clue why this drink isn’t as least as well known as, say, a Gimlet.

I will speculate, however, that the idea being promulgated in some quarters of the Internet that the platonic form of the Gin and It is made without ice might have something do with the idea. Suffice it to say, the room temperature Gin and It is not for everyone, and, this case, the everyone it’s not for includes me. It’s not that it tastes bad, it’s just that there’s a reason we dilute and chill this stuff with ice.

  

Drink of the Week: The Martinez

the Martinez.You’ve got relatives, I’ve got relatives. Everyone’s got relatives. The interesting thing about them is that they can have a great many of the same components that we do; at the same time, the final result can have you shaking your head and wondering how the #$@#$# it is that you share any chromosomes at all with these people.

I believe that it’s almost a given that last week’s drink, the Fin de Siècle, was one relative of the modern day Martini However, because of the similarity in its name, the Martinez may arguably be a more direct descendent, or at least the far better known relative. The naming of the Martinez itself, it’s generally believed, has something to do with the Bay Area suburb of Martinez, California. Oddly enough, however, while Northern Californians typically pronounce the city’s name as “Mar-TEEN-is,” the way most of us pronounce the very common Spanish surname, Robert Hess and others typically call the drink the “Martin-ez.”

At the exact same time, in terms of the actual flavor of the drinks, there’s next to no similarity, beyond containing gin. This is a sweet and actually very accessible drink that uses sweet vermouth (often referred to in cocktail books as Italian vermouth) instead of dry vermouth (aka French vermouth).

In any case, the version I’m presenting is significantly less sweet than many of the earlier versions for two reasons. Many variations — including a very decent one proffered by master bartender Robert Hess — actually include more sweet vermouth than gin, while mine is kinda sorta almost like a sweet version of the beverage now known as the Fitty-Fitty. Just as important, many versions of the Martinez including most of the older ones, call for Old Tom Gin — basically your standard London dry, rendered un-dry by some sugar water. As you might guess, that version is very, very sweet.

I rather like the iteration below, approachably sweet while still being nicely balanced and usually quite potent.

The Martinez

1 1/2 ounces dry gin
1 1/2 ounces sweet vermouth
1 smidgen Maraschino liqueur
1 dash orange bitters
1 lemon twist (borderline essential garnish)

Add the prescribed amount of dry gin and sweet vermouth to a mixing glass or cocktail shaker. Next, do what Robert Hess does and just barely tip the Maraschino bottle over and pour as little as you possibly can of the bittersweet cherry liqueur and also add a regular dash of orange bitters.

Stir vigorously, or shake if you prefer to maybe cut the sweetness a bit. (I lean towards stirring here.) Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and be sure to add your lemon twist in the proper manner, running the outside of the peel around the rim of the glass and then twisting it, shiny side down, over the drink to express the oils into your drink. It definitely helps to take the edge off the sweetness. Orange twists, which are sometimes called for, don’t work as well, I found.

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I know my picture above features Noilly Pratt — and the results with this drink were very good. Still, to really make your Martinez shine, I’ve got to once again speak up for Carpano Antica,which definitely takes the drink in a more mature and well-balanced direction. This time, also, for some reason I noticed a dramatic distinction between the two brands of gin I was using; the premium Bombay Dry was a distinct improvement over the very decent, but less notably less flavorful (and cheaper) Gordon’s Gin.

Now, returning to the question of whether the Martinez is the most direct descendent of the Martini…I personally don’t think so. Next week we’ll be concluding with a drink that actually might be the missing link between the Martinez and the Martini. Stay tuned.

  

Drink of the Week: The Fin de Siècle

the Fin de Siècle.“Fin de siècle” is French for “end of the century, which means that we’ve all missed our opportunity by 15 years to have a  Fin de Siècle at the most appropriate point possible, assuming we were old enough to drink in 2000. Or, if you want to look at it the other way, we’ve all got 85 years to work on preparing the perfect Fin de Siècle in time for 2100.

The truth is, however, that the real roots of this post go back not to Y2K but to last week. My copy of Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails having been destroyed by a backed-up sink…yes, I leave cocktail books on the sink sometimes and, yes, I’m paying the price…I found myself seeing a number of somewhat similar cocktails in Robert Hess’s accurately named The Essential Cocktail Guide. Like last week’s drink, today’s drink contains sweet vermouth, orange bitters, and Torani Amer, substituting for Amer Picon — easily the most commonly called-for modern day cocktail ingredient that you can’t find anywhere in North America.

The main difference, aside from the proportions, is that our base spirit is changed out from whiskey to gin. The result is a bit lighter and drier, but no less tasty and sophisticated.

The Fin de Siècle

1 1/2 ounces gin
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
1/4 ounce Torani Amer (or Amer Picon, if live in Europe or own a time machine)
1 dash orange bitters

Combined all ingredients in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass with plenty of ice. Stir vigorously — or shake, gently, if you’re feeling rebellious — and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Toast anything that has come to conclusion or shortly will, including your tasty Fin de Siècle. Nothing lasts forever, after all, least of all a good cocktail.

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I saw a few recipes online for this that mentioned Plymouth Gin, but most people seem to use your more garden variety London Dry style gin. I used premium (but I guess not super premium) Bombay Dry Gin and good ol’ value-priced Gordon’s Gin, both with results that were more than satisfactory.

I actually found that,much more than with the gin, my choice of sweet vermouth made a far more dramatic difference in the flavor. I was very happy with my Fin de Siècle when I used Noilly Pratt — my personal default sweet vermouth in slight preference to Martini or Cinzano. Still, there was no topping the slightly bitter, almost chocolate-like undercurrents of Carpano Antica; sometimes you just can’t argue with the cocktail snobs. If you want a sweeter drink that’s nevertheless not too offensive, I had decent luck replacing Torani Amer with Amaro CioCiara, suggested by some as another Amer Picon substitute.

Finally, yes, you can shake this drink but that’s not my preference this time around. For starters, this is second cousin to a gin martini. (We’ll be getting to it’s first cousin very soon). I really do think there may be something to the idea that shaking can “bruise” gin, i.e., add a slightly unpleasant bitterness. Mainly, though, I don’t think the additional water/ice crystals that shaking generates really flatters the Fin de Siècle. I think this may be a drink that wants to be cool, but not ice cold.

Now, have a great Memorial Day weekend. Maybe it’s a good time to remember what life could be, if only we were all nice enough and smart enough.

  

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