Drink of the Week: The Fifty-Fifty Cocktail

The Fifty Fifty Cocktail. Tastes change, my friends. As a child, I pretty much only knew yellow mustard. As I grew, I discovered Gulden’s Brown, Grey Poupon, and various other not-so-exotic variants. I quickly learned to disdain the yellow vinegary and go for the brown and/or spicy. That ended last year when I suddenly realized that nothing was better on pastrami than plain old Morehouse or French’s.

It’s also true that martinis were the first real cocktails I ever routinely ordered or made for myself. I started out with vodka martinis, grew bored and moved on to dirty vodka martinis, and later dry gin martinis — all the while tacitly admitting that my favorite part of the drink by far was the olives. By sometime shortly before the first election of Barack Obama, I grew downright snobby about gin over vodka…but now that all feels so very 2013 of me. As I write this, I’m missing my old vodka martinis, and that’s weird. To be brutally honest, I’m kind of over standard martinis right now; my go-to cocktail basic is an Old Fashioned.

Still, when nothing will do but a martini, I do have a drink I like and it flies in the face of the lionization that the super dry martini has benefited from. So, forget you Hawkeye Pierce, see you later James Bond, ta-ta-for-now Nick Charles, bon voyage Luis Bunuel — I think I’ll miss you most of all. Here is the recipe for the least dry martini on the planet. Yes, the name is the recipe.

The Fifty-Fifty Cocktail

1 1/2 to 2 ounces dry gin
1 1/2 to 2 ounces dry vermouth
1 dash orange bitters (extremely optional)
Olive or lemon twist (extremely desirable garnish)

Combine the gin and vermouth with a ton of ice in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass. I know that it is permissible, even recommended by some, to shake this drink, for “The Savoy Cocktail Book” tells me so. However, modern day cocktail snobs insist you should stir the Fifty-Fifty Cocktail instead.

(It’s crucial, by the way, to remember that vermouth doesn’t last forever once it’s been opened. By smaller bottles and refrigerate it, by all means. Don’t let it sit forever even in the fridge or  you’ll live to regret it…especially with this drink.)

Strain into a martini glass or coupe with your choice of garnish. Toast your ever-changing cocktail moods.
****

I’ve made this drink quite a few times on my own in the past. Just as before, I found that my opinion changed slightly every time I tried it.

For gin, I used Bombay Dry and No. 3 London Dry; for my dry vermouth I switched between Dolin’s and Martini. For the all important green garnish, I started with a can of rather amazing tasting anchovy stuffed olives I bought at a fantastic Armenian grocery down the street from me named, what else, Olive Market. (Could the mysterious white substance you see in the picture be anchovy paste? I sure as hell hope so.)

I then switched over to an old favorite, Trader Joe’s World’s Largest Olives…except that they seemed a bit sharper and less mellow than I remember them. Maybe that’s because they’re now a product of Spain and I pretty distinctly remember them being from Greece before. I also tried it with a lemon twist, which resulted in a gentler flavor many may prefer.

One place where my taste definitely seems to have changed is that, contrary to past experiences, I found I liked this drink better and cleaner tasting as it was in “The Savoy Cocktail Book” — sans bitters, simply gin and vermouth. I also found a slight preference for shaken over stirred, which is also different from my recent preferences regarding gin martinis. (Vodka martinis should ALWAYS be shaken, by the way, if you’re going that route. I’ll go to my deathbed feeling that way.)

All that being said, I have a hard time coming up with consistent feelings about this drink. Sometimes it feels like a huge improvement over a regular dry martini, sometimes it feels like a sort of meh drink that doesn’t even pack the same alcohol punch as a “real” martini.

So, how do I really feel about the Fifty-Fifty Cocktail? Ask me after I’ve had my next one because every time I drink one it feels a little like a whole new drink. Could it be all the permutations — different brands, bitters or no bitters — or could it just be how I’m feeling? I’m betting on the latter.

A brief addendum: I just noticed that “The Savoy Cocktail Book” calls a Fifty-Fifty Cocktail that includes orange bitters a “Dry Martini Cocktail.” Confusion rules the world!

  

You can follow us on Twitter and Facebook for content updates. Also, sign up for our email list for weekly updates and check us out on Google+ as well.

Drink of the Week: The Leatherneck Cocktail

Image ALT text goes here.Memorial Day weekend of 2014 is about to get underway. For most of us, it’s just another Monday holiday and the gateway to summer vacation time. For those of us who have lost someone important in one of America’s wars, however, it’s another kind of day entirely.

Though it’s origins are somewhat foggy, Memorial Day began as Decoration Day, honoring the many fallen soldiers on both sides of the American Civil War.  Though it was intended as a solemn remembrance, especially given the shamefully scant number of days off most Americans get these days, you can’t blame people for spending it doing fun things like, say, making cocktails. That definitely applies to me.

The Leatherneck Cocktail is one of the beverages unearthed by famed cocktail archeologist Ted Haigh in his hugely influential Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails. As many of you probably know, a Leatherneck is a member of the United States Marine Corps, but I think it’s fair to salute anyone who’s put themselves in danger and perhaps paid the ultimate price on behalf of the rest of us.

The Leatherneck Cocktail

2 ounces blended North American whiskey
3/4 ounce blue curacao
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice.

Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Frank Farrell, a Marine turned journalist credited with creating the Leatherneck Cocktail, said you should shake this drink “violently” and that’s not half wrong. Definitely a very vigorous shaking is in order to bring out its more refreshing aspects.

Strain your Leatherneck into a cocktail glass and toast anyone you may have known who sacrificed something important in a war, anywhere in the world. If you actually don’t know anyone who’s endured that sort of a loss, toast that instead.

****
A number of very familiar booze brands will probably work here. Technically, I believe, “blended” means any whiskey that’s not single malt or is also not “straight” bourbon or rye. In practice, a classic Leatherneck Cocktail must, I gather, be made with something that is North American and is neither bourbon, nor rye, nor Tennessee whiskey (e.g., Jack Daniels). Good examples would be most brands of Canadian whiskey, like my beloved Canadian Club or Seagrams VO. Seagram’s 7, which is actually U.S. made and blended, would definitely also qualify if you happen to have that around.

Ted Haigh uses Crown Royal, which to me has always tasted like an ever-so-slightly smoother, higher-end version of Canadian Club. I usually have some CC on hand but didn’t this week. I did, in fact, have an actual vintage spirit on hand. It was an unopened bottle of Crown Royal dating back probably 20 years or more given to me by some beloved relatives of mine.

This testament to the very moderate drinking habits of many Jewish-Americans comes to me from two of my very favorite cousins, who know who they are and how much I appreciate their generously provided free aged booze and overall wonderful cousin-hood. My Crown Royal-based cocktail definitely made for a refreshing beverage that, I think, is a reasonable credit to our fighting forces.

Of course, this is  a very simple drink — really, a whiskey daiquiri — that could maybe be spiced up and improved in a number of ways I’m sure. Any ideas on what could constitute a Flying Leatherneck?

  

Drink of the Week: Bitters & Blonde

Bitters & Blonde.After kinda sorta creating four new classic cinema inspired cocktails, I’m definitely ready to take it easy this week with a cocktail that’s about as simple as cocktails get. It’s actually worse that that because I readily admit that this oh-so-easy recipe has been spoon-fed to me, along with some very nice photography and Papa Pilar’s rather exquisite Blonde Rum.

I’ve featured this outstanding new brand before but it deserves another go. It’s truly flavorful stuff, no mere mixer, with a delightful mega-hints of vanilla and molasses. It’s part of an exciting trend of new high-end rums, and we’ll be working with some more of those in the not very distant future.

In the meantime, just to show you I’m not entirely a tool of big premium booze, I’ll admit that I don’t think this week’s drink is necessarily the absolute best way to enjoy  Papa Pilar’s Blonde Rum. On the other hand, it’s a very nice way to enjoy it and perfect for the heat wave that’s engulfing Southern California as I write today’s post. If only it could fix my air conditioning.

Bitters & Blonde

1 1/2 ounces Papa Pilar’s Blonde Rum
3 ounces ginger beer
Angostura or other aromatic bitters
1 lime wedge (garnish)

Build this drink over plentiful crushed ice in a Tom Collins glass. Add the rum and the ginger beer and, if you feel the need, stir gently. (They’ll get together on their own even if you don’t.) Top with as much bitters as you think wise and stir no more. Toss in the lime wedge if you like.

You sip this cocktail through the bitters in the same you sip through the cream at the top of an Irish coffee. As you enjoy the icy concoction toast the fact that, while you might have to crush your own ice to follow this recipe strictly, at least you probably don’t have to buy it from an ice man like your great-grandpa had to.

****

As I alluded to just now, the only slightly tricky aspect of this drink is coming up with the crushed ice if, like me, you don’t have a crushed ice-maker and are making an aversion to blenders into your personal trademark. What works best for me these days is putting ice into a plastic bag and whacking it with a hammer-like implement of some sort…but not too hard. You don’t want to break the bag and send all the ice flying, which happens a great deal of the time if you’re not careful.

I tried Bitters & Blonde with a few different brands of ginger beer — a generally delicious product that also happens to be just as expensive as many brands of actual beer. All my attempts came out about the same regardless of the ginger beer though, and that’s because the bitters tend to dominate. In fact, I enjoyed my Bitters & Blonde more when I switched from uber-ubiquitous Angostura to Fee Brothers Old Fashioned Aromatic Bitters. I found it imparted an almost peppermint-like back taste that worked well with the rest of it.

Still, this drink might not be for you if you’re not mad about bitters. If you prefer a more subtle use of the stuff — and even if you don’t — may I suggest an Old Fashioned with the Papa Pilar Blonde?

Just muddle a teaspoon full of sugar (I used turbinado) with just a dash or two of bitters (Fee Brothers, I’d suggest) and an orange slice in a rocks glass. Next, add two teaspoons of soda water and lots of ice, and, finally 2 ounces of the Papa Pilar’s Blonde and stir. If you can go wrong with that one, I have no help for you.

  

Drink of the Week: Ward No. 5 (TCM Fest Salute #4)

Ward No. 5.You can make a case that the final drink inspired by some of the best films I was lucky enough to see at this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival is easily the best of the batch — the rest of which you can see for yourself here, here, and here. I wouldn’t say, however, that it’s worthy of the film that inspired it. That’s only because the movie that inspired is so stratospherically its own thing that it stands out among other film classics. If I had to make a choice, I’d much rather you saw the movie than tried my drink. Fortunately, however, there’s no reason you can’t do both!

You can read a little bit about my impressions of “A Matter of Life and Death” from five years back in my review of a DVD set, “The Films of Michael Powell” (fortunately still available from Amazon for a reasonable price, and also as a DVD rental from Netflix). Suffice it to say the film was the personal favorite of an English filmmaker who was every bit the equal of such contemporaries as Alfred Hitchcock and David Lean. He famously befriended Martin Scorsese and married his editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, but his latter day influence extends far beyond that. The important thing is that he made film as a form of healing magic with a dash of wry, realistic humanism that was witty, occasionally sensual (but not quite sensuous), and nearly always as British as British could be — but he did so with the help of a brilliant WWII-era expat Hungarian screenwriter/producer named Emeric Pressburger.

In “A Matter of Life and Death” (alternately titled “Stairway to Heaven,” way pre-Led Zeppelin), a young poet and war-hero (David Niven) who really should have perished along with his plane, finds himself very literally on trial for his life and his love of a American radio operator (Kim Hunter) while undergoing post WWII-era neurosurgery. It all happens in Ward No. 5 and I thought that would be a fine name for a drink that revives the mind and the soul and won’t be too horrific for the body, either.

Ward No. 5

1 1/2 ounces Bombay Dry Gin
3/4 ounce fresh squeezed orange juice
3/4 ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice
3/4 ounce ginger liqueur (Dekuyper Mixologist Collection Ginger)
1 teaspoon grenadine (Master of Mixes)
1 pitted cherry (garnish)

Combine the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker, shake vigorously, and strain into a good size cocktail glass. Toast life, but also death — without one, you can’t really have the other.

****
Cocktail enthusiasts may suss out that this drink is a slight variation on the very coincidentally named Ward 8, a lesser known classic-era cocktail — a mite tart for my taste — that I covered back in ’11. I’ve replaced the North American whiskey of the original for supremely English gin but kept the life-giving fresh citrus juices. Shaving off half an ounce of hard booze, I’ve also added the healthy properties of ginger…okay, ginger liqueur, but the alcohol is needed to salve the mind, right?

It’s a refreshing concoction but fairly sensitive and delicate. I tried changing out the Bombay Dry Gin for a very good but more elaborately flavorful gin and it throw the balance off in a way I wasn’t sure about. I also tried the drink with only 1/2 an ounce each of the orange and lemon juices and that result let a bit more of the gin’s perfume through.

I went with a more refreshing and accessible take on Ward No. 5. I don’t know what effect using a different brand of ginger liqueur would have on this drink because I only had one around, but the brand I’m using is very tasty. I’m not saying that only because I got it free, though freebies always do taste that much sweeter.

All in all, in rather proud of Ward No. 5, but I’m humbled by the beautiful, funny and tragically delightful movie that inspired it. I’m also rather happy to present the scene that gave me the idea for this final TCM-esque beverage.

  

Drink of the Week: The Quiet Man (TCM Fest Salute #3)

This is part three of our salute to the TCM Classic Film Fest (see parts one and two here and here). This week, a quandary was solved by my realization that the annual double-act of drinking related arguable holidays, Derby Day and Cinco de Mayo, are just about upon us, though I’m afraid the Mexican-American holiday is going to get short shrift este año.

I was struggling with another drink when it occurred to me suddenly that the film I’d planned to cover the final week of my salute, John Ford’s ultimate two-fisted romantic comedy, “The Quiet Man,” was also perfect for the annual running of the Kentucky Derby. That’s because, like nearly all John Ford films, strong drink features prominently and there’s an exciting horse race scene, though it tends to overshadowed by the film’s legendary fistfight between leading man John Wayne and comic antagonist Victor McGlaglen.

Directed by America’s cinematic Shakespeare, John Ford, and written by his frequent undersung collaborator, the great Frank S. Nugent, “The Quiet Man” is a tale of a guilt-ridden Irish-American boxer (Wayne, of course) who escapes to the old sod after accidentally killing a man in the ring. He finds true love of a very feisty and sexy sort with a very feisty and sexy young clan matriarch (O’Hara, naturally). The twist is that, thanks to the selfishness of her thuggish older brother (McLaglen), he also finds that the only thing that will save his new marriage is practicing the not-at-all-so-sweet science of fisticuffs. It’s also a comedy, made back when you didn’t have to label a film a “dramedy” just because it has a few serious moments and a decent story.

Since the film is the ultimate celebration of the rather intimate connection between Ireland and the U.S., as well as between man and woman and fightin’ man and fightin’ man, a drink that unites the sweet whiskies of Ireland and the U.S.A. while packing a slow punch seems appropriate. It’s also appropriate to admit that absent or two very minor variations, it’s a total rip-off of the Derby Day classic, the Mint Julep. Still, I think it’s a maybe a nice change of pace.

The Quiet Man

1 1/2 ounces Old Fitzgerald Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (Bottled in Bond)
1 1/2 ounces Bushmills
1 teaspoon super fine sugar
5-8 fresh mint leaves
1 teaspoon (or maybe 1/2?) Campari or Aperol

Start with the sugar and mint leaves and, if you’re feeling quirky, the Campari or Aperol bittersweet liqueur. Muddle the mint leaves with the lightest of touches in the bottom of a rocks glass. Next, add your twin whiskeys, many smallish ice cubes and stir enough to really get things nice and icey.

As for our toast…let’s see, we’ve got John Wayne, horse racing, Maureen O’Hara, John Ford, the Marquis of Queensbury, Frank S. Nugent…Yeah, that’s it. Frank S. Nugent. It could be the first time a screenwriter who never became a director was toasted by the public, though it sure wouldn’t be the the first time a screenwriter got toasted.

****

I have to admit I don’t feel like I quite finished the job on this drink as far as the Campari or Aperol are concerned, which I added for a bittersweet edge. I was tempted to write that you could leave them out entirely, but I wasn’t too happy with that version, either. Try one, or the other, or maybe experiment with another liqueur choice of your own. I like this drink, but it’s a work in progress.

I feel a bit more satisfied with my choice of brands, which this week I’m making a part of the official recipe. Old Fitzgerald Bourbon definitely has the right Irish ring to it, and it’s also a wonderful, underrated product that you can actually afford. Moreover, the fact that it’s 100 proof ensures that a Quiet Man really will pack just a bit more punch than a standard julep.

As for Bushmills, I’m sure Jamesons or another Irish whiskey would do and I won’t even get into the silly “Bushmills is protestant whiskey” argument. In any case, “The Quiet Man” depicts an ecumenical mid-century Ireland where Roman Catholics and a tiny minority of  Church of Ireland believers get along quite famously.

Really, though, the surest way to ensure that you have a really good time with this drink is to actually enjoy it while watching the brilliant 2012 4k restoration of “The Quiet Man,” which you can do via Amazon or, right here below. I think springing for the HD version makes sense here. You’ll see.

  

Related Posts