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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Drink of the Week: The Last Word

The Last Word. Have you ever really had the last word in an argument? Lord knows I haven’t….and it’s so very definitely not for a lack of words, or for a lack of arguing. Ask anyone who knows me well, I love to argue and I think it’s entirely possible to disagree without being disagreeable. In fact, I barely have to disagree with you at all to, nevertheless, disagree. You can have pretty much identical politics, taste in cultural matters, cocktails, and all the rest and I’ll still argue with you about something because life is simply too short to go around agreeing with everyone all the time.

Still, no matter how important or silly the disagreement may be — or no matter how open-and-shut the case being argued — no one ever has the last word. Certainly not MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell of TV’s The Last Word, who I used to like a lot but who has gone off the deep end on odd subjects too many times for me to take too seriously. Nor even my beloved Rachel Maddow who, aside from having similar politics to my own (therefore making her a complete genius, naturally), also helped me get into this whole cocktail thing some years ago via the cocktail segments on her old Air America show. She ctually once made today’s drink on her TV show.

Nevertheless, as I was reminded by the makers of the very drinkable No.3 London Dry Gin, we may never ever get the last word in an argument, but we can all have The Last Word, and all we really need are four ingredients.

The Last Word

3/4 ounce London dry gin
3/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
3/4 ounce green chartreuse
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
1 lime slice (optional garnish)

Combine the liquids in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake with all the vigor of your Jack Daniels-guzzling right-wing uncle facing off against your pot-smoking auntie who drives the VW station wagon with thirty bumper stickers on it. Next, strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Toast the right to be as gloriously, insanely wrong in the eyes of others as you want to be.

*****

My cocktail books are still in boxes in DOTW’s enormous archives, but I can tell you that, according to Wikipedia and a few other odd blog posts, The Last Word was a pretty much forgotten prohibition era concoction until fairly recently. We are told that renowned Seattle bartender Murray Stenson singlehandedly revived the drink enough so that the rest of us could eventually hear about it.

Now, the version we are making this week, promulgated by the makers of No. 3 London Dry Gin and Nevada mixologist Francesco Lafranconi, differs from the original only with some very specific choices of brands. Mr. Franconi suggests using No. 3 London Dry Gin, of course, and also specifically calls for Luxardo Maraschino liqueur, which is more or less the standard choice, but not the only one. More about that in a second.

If you want a really lively and complex, you might even say complicated, beverage, then the Lafranconi version of this drink is definitely one good way to go. For whatever reasons the No. 3 gin and Luxardo allow the strong herbal flavors of the chartreuse to become bolder than usual, possibly because today’s featured gin has some pretty bold citrus-peel bouquet and flavor of its own. We are told that the original version of The Last Word used bathtub gin, which we imagine must have had some fairly bold aspects of its own, but probably not the tasty and aromatic No. 3 kind.

I have to admit I couldn’t resist also trying The Last Word with a very good Brand X dry gin and Maraska Maraschino, which is nearly as tasty as Luxardo but a lot cheaper. It has a slightly simpler appeal and it’s mouth feel is a bit less rich, but it’s quite good. That less uptown version of The Last Word was milder, a bit more muted. Very decent but not quite the ultimate version of the drink. Then again, I would never expect to have the last word on The Last Word.

 

  

Drink of the Week: The Rusty Nail

the Rusty Nail.Now that we’re finally just starting to settle down just a bit here at Drink of the Week Plaza, I thought it best to dip my big toe back into the waters of a weekly blog with a drink that is about as simple and easy to make as anything worthy of calling a cocktail.

Now, if you’re looking for an Oscar tie-in, there really isn’t one, except that the characters in “American Hustle” would undoubtedly be familiar with today’s drink, which wasn’t invented in the 1970s but pretty much embodies the spirit of a time when booze was pretty much strictly a means to a sweet end. It’s also not a horrible way to wrap up the trilogy of Scotch-based cocktails we’ve been working on for these last couple posts.

Today, I present you a drink that’s absolutely guaranteed to be more pleasurable than a bout of tetanus.

The Rusty Nail

2 1/2 ounces Scotch whiskey
1/2 ounce Drambuie
1 lemon twist (optional but desirable garnish)

Get a rocks glass and fill it with ice. Add  Drambuie — a reasonably tasty and unreasonably expensive Scotch-based liqueur — and then add some Scotch. Maybe throw on a lemon twist. Toast whomever the hell you please because this drink is perfect for people too busy to toast.

*****

In terms of ingredients and how to mix them, there are three big questions with the Rusty Nail. One is the brand of Scotch. David Wondrich tells us, not surprisingly, blended Scotches like your dad and grandpa drank are best for a Rusty Nail.  We’re talking Johnny Walker, Cutty Sark, Dewar’s and the like. I actually tried a very good single malt and my mouth instantly knew that something was amiss. Too much smoke, too much fire.

The next question is your proportion of Drambuie to Scotch. While I have a sweet tooth, I find using equal parts Scotch and Drambuie — as many older recipes have it — way, way, way too sweet. Even Wondrich’s 1/2 to 2 seemed a bit sweeter to me than I would prefer. Moreover, the boozy guru’s demand that we mix, instead of layering in, the ingredients wasn’t really working for me either. That, by the way, indicates the third big question of the Rusy Nail.

At that point, I found inspiration in my new neighborhood, or technically the next neighborhood over, as I visited a very accomplished 1970s boozery and eatery with surprisingly great food. I speak of Studio City’s the Oyster House — home of, among other tasty 1970s-esque delicacies, very delish oyster shooters, six for $6.00. Bartender Greg (at least I think it was Greg) made me a drink that was, I’m guessing, 1/2 to 2 1/2, in which he poured the Drambuie first and some Dewar’s White Label second. The result was pretty lovely, with the Drambuie at the bottom of the drink acting like a dessert t following the bracing, icy Scotch.  I went home and tried the same thing but with Grant’s, and the results were just about as good.

So what have we learned today? Well, I’m learning my new neighborhood has more than one great hangout in it. That’s lesson enough.

  

Drink of the Week: The Perfect Gentlemen

The Perfect Gentlemen.Yes, Drink of the Week is back this week, but work on the new location at Drink of the Week Plaza continues and I’m really not even remotely settled in yet. Odds are, it’ll be a few weeks before I get back on a more regular, weekly boozing schedule. Even so, I was tempted away by one of my boozy benefactors to come back with a special Valentine’s Day edition of DOTW and a really delicious recipe they gave me absolutely for free. It’s a doozy.

This week’s selection is as sweet and delicious as love itself and, if you drink enough of it, is guaranteed to enlarge your heart…with cholesterol. Very honestly, however, it’s tasty enough that you may might not mind. No joke, the anonymous mixologist who developed this for the Laphroaig Scotch Whiskey people knew what the hell he or she was doing.

The Perfect Gentlemen

1 1⁄2 ounces Laphroaig 10-Year-Old Scotch Whisky
3⁄4 ounce dark crème de cacao
1 1⁄2 ounces heavy cream
2-3 dashes orange bitters
Chocolate shavings (highly desirable garnish)

Combine everything but the garnish in a cocktail shaker with a ton of ice. Shake with all the vigor of a new romance, and strain into a cocktail glass. (The Laphroaig people think it should be stemless.) Top with some chocolate shavings. Toast whoever you’re looking at…and mean it, even if you’re looking in the mirror.

****

Like our last great drink,  this week’s selection is a warm and loving finger directly in the eye of the idea that there are no great Scotch based cocktails. What’s really interesting about the Perfect Gentlemen is that it really does seem to be best with this very particular brand, which I’ll admit to having quite a crush on. Yes, it’s true  I got my bottle of Laphroaig 10-Year-Old Scotch Whisky for free but the distinctively ultra-smokey flavor, with a hint of sweetness and a bit of vegetables too, has really grown on me. I might even purchase a bottle some day with my own money!

In the Perfect Gentlemen, the evocative smoke of the single malt Scotch cuts through the sweet creaminess of the crème de cacao chocolate liqueur and the heavy cream in just the right way. I tried the drink with a very decent inexpensive blended Scotch and found the results to be, relatively speaking, dullsville. I’m totally sold on the Laphroaig for the Perfect Gentlemen and would suggest you try it that way, if at all possible.

I also strongly suggest you don’t skip the chocolate shavings. This is Valentine’s Day after all, and chocolate really does seem to be related to love in some unusual way.  Cheapskates will be happy to know that you don’t necessary have to use a fancy or expensive brand. My shavings were produced by taking a dull knife to a Hershey Bar.

I do have to admit, however, that my second Perfect Gentleman was, while still delicious, ever so slightly less rapturous than my first. My measurements may have been slightly off that time because my usual measuring jigger is still packed away somewhere. Or, maybe, it’s just that there’s no topping that first blush of true romance. Happy Valentine’s Day, anyway.

  

Drink of the Week: Blood and Sand

Blood and Sand. If you notice a sort of philosophic air to this post, let’s say that’s because life and death is swirling around Drink of the Week. People in my sphere are being born and others have made their last appearance after good and long lives, and that’s not all. This will be the final entry in Drink of the Week written before our departure from DOTW Central in exciting Van Nuys and our arrival at what we sure hope will be more permanent digs at DOTW Plaza in exotic North Hollywood.

Expect a DOTW return to a more regular schedule in a few weeks. In the meantime, here’s maybe one of the very finest and also most crowd-pleasing cocktails we’ve done here. And, yes, it features Scotch. Such things are possible.

I’ve been circling Blood and Sand, an infrequently revived classic, apparently named for the hugely successful 1922 bullfighting melodrama (viewable via YouTube), for several months. I’ve been biding my time because I had figured out a true Blood and Sand almost had to feature the juice of a blood orange, a fruit which has a relatively brief winter season. Yes, most recipes simply call for orange juice, but now it’s clear to me that the juice of the smaller purple fleshed orange, which looks exactly like grape juice, is the life’s blood of a truly outstanding Blood and Sand. Regular OJ is also definitely an option, but we’ll get to the issues around that later.

Blood and Sand

1 ounce Scotch whiskey
1 ounce fresh blood orange juice or, if it’s all you’ve got, regular orange juice
1 ounce Cherry Herring
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 orange twist (garnish)

Combine the Scotch, citrus juice, Cherry Herring — a very delicious liqueur you’ll be seeing more of here — and sweet vermouth in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake as vigorously as a toreador torturing a testosterone-laden bovine and strain into a not too small chilled cocktail glass, adding your orange twist. Feel free to reduce the ingredients down to 3/4 of an ounce if  you want a smaller drink. If you’re a silent film fan, you can certainly toast the charismatic star of the first version of the movie, Blood and Sand, Rudolph Valentino, who famously had his own dance with death much too early. Or, you can simply toast getting to enjoy another day on this earth and being able to sample this super-spiffy drink.

*****

I’ve been doing a bit of research and it’s hard to find any solid info behind my assumption that blood orange juice was part of the original Blood and Sand, whenever and wherever it was made. The recipe that I basically stole from the prohibition-era The Savoy Cocktail Book makes no mention of blood orange, nor does Ted Haigh in his Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails. On the other hand, the cocktail enthusiast who contributed the Wikipedia stub on the drink specifically mentions blood orange juice, as do several bloggers.

I think it’s very safe to figure that the original Blood and Sand had some real blood orange in it and it makes an enormous difference. The tangier flavor of the blood orange, which has a hint of grapefruit to it, is just the perfect balance for the sweeter ingredients, particularly the Cherry Herring. Although my picture doesn’t do it much justice, it also looks vastly better this way — a deep red, as opposed to a muddy orange.

Speaking of Cherry Herring, it is typically used for the cherry brandy mentioned in a lot of recipes. This is confusing because brandy is usually a distilled spirit that’s a million miles from a liqueur. Apparently, somewhere along the way, cherry brandy, cherry flavored brandy, and cherry liqueurs have all become oddly interchangeable with, I guess, the exception of cherry-derived kirsch, or kirschwasser, brandy. In any case, Cherry Herring, a standby cocktail ingredient you’ll be seeing here again, has become the standard for a Blood and Sand.

Getting back to my own adventures with this drink, whenever I used the blood orange, I found it pretty indestructible — sweet, of course, but with a nectar-of-the-gods sort of complexity to it. For my Scotch, I mostly used Grant’s, a very good, basic choice for this type of drink. (I’m sure any standard brand — Johnnie Walker, Cutty Sark, etc. — will also work just great.) Though some discourage the use of smokier Scotchs, I also found that the strong smoke flavor of Laphroaig 10 Year Old, featured here previously, added a very nice undercurrent to the drink; it also saved an unblooded Blood and Sand from being even slightly cloying when I tried it with regular orange juice.

But that still left the problem of what to do with the still enjoyable, but arguably overly sweet flavor, of the non-blood orange Blood and Sand when you’re using a less smokey Scotch. One decent solution comes from Dale DeGroff’s The Craft of the Cocktail. He reduces all the ingredients, save the OJ, to 3/4 of an ounce, making for lighter, more refreshing but still darn sweet concoction. (He also flames the orange twist…but then DeGroff always fires up his orange peels.)

Ted Haigh proposes a slightly boozier alternative which I haven’t had a chance to experiment with as yet. He proposes an ounce each of juice and Scotch, but reduces the cherry liqueur and sweet vermouth down to 3/4 ounce, while adding a super-sweet cocktail cherry to the mix. Let’s all give that one a try when blood oranges finally go out of season.

  

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