Drink of the Week: The Stinger

The Stinger.During my pre-cocktailian days, I’d often get tired of my usual scewdrivers, Bloody Marys, and dirty martinis and ask the barkeep if he or she could think of anything good. The answer was, nearly always, a blank stare. The fact that not a single one ever suggested a Stinger to me is something of a minor crime.

Here is a drink that is about as easy to make as any decent cocktail I’ve ever had and not lacking in some sweet mass appeal. It’s also got some sophistication to it, but it can be delightfully good with the cheap stuff. It is definitely one of the great  mass appeal drinks perfect for the truly lazy or over-stressed bartender, which means you can try ordering this at your local dive or TGIF-type bar and it might even taste good.

The Stinger

2 1/4 ounces brandy
3/4 ounce white creme de menthe

Combine in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass and consider what you’ll do with the all the time you’ve saved on this drink.

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Unless you make your own, it seems like there’s not a whole lot of alternatives when it comes to creme de menthe, and the seriously inexpensive DeKuyper product I was using is pretty much the standard. So, with this drink it’s the choice of brandy that can make a big difference, though I have to say I never had a bad Stinger.

Even so, the best brandy seems to yield the best results. So, my best Stinger was made with a reasonably priced bottle of Maison Rouge Cognac. A surprisingly close second was a downright cheap bottle of Pierre Duchene Napolean Brandy from Trader Joe’s, which is actually cheaper than my usual TJ default, Reynal, and most would say less good. I still thought it worked very nicely. A not at all poor third place was E&J VSOP, which I would never consider drinking on its own, but was still fine in a Stinger.

I also had a very nice Stinger (pictured above) when I found myself near my Orange County digs at the pricey but lovable Antonello’s in Santa Ana. I went all Ian Fleming on our waiter, demanding a drink that was 2 parts brandy and a half part creme de menthe. I have no idea whether or not Antonello’s followed my instructions, or what brands they used, but it definitely came out as as a sweetly sophisticated treat, all sweet and winey but with a backbone.

Before I go, I have to add that today’s recipe is pretty much a direct steal from David Wondrich but, in any case, the Stinger is a drink that allows for adjustment to personal taste. For starters, if you find measuring out 2 1/4 ounces too precise and annoying, feel free to just go with 2 ounces of brandy and 1/2 ounce creme de menthe and, if that doesn’t float your boat, feel free to mess around with the proportions. I will say, however, that you should be reasonably sparing of the creme de menthe, whatever you do.

Also, if you’ve only got the green kind of creme de menthe, it’s probably okay to use that. Robert Hess, however, says you should only do that to a Stinger during the holidays. What’s the next holiday?

  

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Drink of the Week: The Pall Mall Cocktail

The Pall Mall Cocktail. Since I generally write pretty favorably about these Drinks of the Week, you might be forgiven if you assume that I am like the proud daddy who loves all his boozy children equally. That, my tippling brothers and sisters, is simply not the case.

Among newer drinks — especially drinks that have been pitched to me by the alcoholic industrial complex — I try never to steer you towards anything that I wouldn’t gladly make for myself. However, I am more inclusive when it comes to older drinks. Heck, someday I might even try out recipes for some very well known drinks I personally dislike, such as the highly-effective but (usually) mildly disgusting Long Island Ice Team or the incredibly over-sweet Harvey Wallbanger.

Those drinks hail from the 1970s — a golden era for most film lovers but the very nadir of the dark ages for cocktailians. Today’s drink, however, comes to us from the 1930s or earlier and is yet another of the thousands of recipes featured in “The Savoy Cocktail Book.” It might be named after the cigarette brand, it might not.

It does, however, introduce me to a cocktail ingredient that, as far as I can remember, I have never previously tasted. I speak of creme de menthe, a liqueur  that is basically just mint and/or mint flavoring, alcohol, and sugar. As you might guess, it tastes like a liquid candy cane. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Well, I’ll be figuring that one out over the coming weeks.

In the meantime, let’s get started on this week’s drink.

The Pall Mall Cocktail

1 ounce Plymouth Gin (standard London dry might not be a sin)
1 ounce dry vermouth
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 teaspoon white creme de menthe
1 dash orange bitters

Combine all the ingredient in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Prepare for a surprisingly minty experience and drink up!

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I have to admit that my first go-round with the Pall Mall Cocktail was more than a little alarming. The only creme de menthe I had on hand, from an airplane bottle bought at a bargain price, was of the bright green variety, which you are not supposed to use in Pall Mall Cocktail and for good reason. The result was in a drink that looked only slightly better than what happened a day or two later when my sink backed up. It tasted slightly better than it looked, but that was obviously no great praise. The bittersweet notes in Carpano Antica also seemed to be a big problem. My housemate/guinea pig liked it even less than me.

Subsequent tries with a more standard Martini sweet vermouth and DeKuyper’s white creme de menthe, proved a lot better, or least more inoffensive. Make no mistake, however, that little teaspoon of creme de menthe dominates the flavor of this drink, and it doesn’t always play well with the herbal flavor in the gin and dry vermouth, especially.

Finally, a note on gin. This is one of a bunch of recipes found in The Savoy Cocktail book that call specifically for Plymouth Gin. These days, that refers to both a style of gin and a brand, as the only brand of Plymouth style gin these days is, in fact, Plymouth Gin. (It’s herbal flavors are probably every so slightly fruitier than what you’ll find in the kind of gins you’re likely used to.) So, I mostly used Plymouth when making these drinks. However, using Bombay Dry Gin didn’t ruin the drink, at least assuming it wasn’t ruined to begin with.

  

Drink of the Week: The Miner’s Son

The Miner's Son.I have no idea why Minneapolis bartender Marco Zappia chose to name his drink the Miner’s Son. The closest thing I can find to a cultural reference in the name is that it’s also the name of a restaurant in North Bay, Ontario — so maybe that’s it, and maybe it isn’t. I do know, however, that Zappia’s concoction makes very nice use of a mixer I haven’t really explored at all.

I like tea probably slightly more than the next person, so I guess it’s somewhat surprising that I haven’t really been on top of the not-really-new trend towards using both hot and cold teas in various mixed drinks. Don’t ask me why I’ve been so remiss, but at least I was finally nudged along by a gloriously free bottle of Famous Grouse Scotch, the best selling Scotch in the UK, paired with something called Owl’s Brew The Famous Mint Tea, a very tasty product designed to be combined with the aforementioned whiskey.

I have to say that I agree with apparently most of the population of the British Isles that the Famous Grouse is an extremely likable Scotch. I just might start using as a default here at Casa de DOTW, and I already mentioned that the Owl’s Brew Mint Tea is pleasant on the tongue — it’s also extremely sweet. However, I’m not at this point 100% sold on combining it with Scotch on its own, as the Owl’s Brew bottle suggests. It’s not bad, it’s just that this mysteriously named recipe, which adds a bit of lemon and seltzer to the mix, is what really seems to bring out the best in all these good products.

The Miner’s Son

1 1/2 ounces The Famous Grouse Blended Scotch Whisky
3/4 ounce Owl’s Brew The Famous Mint Tea
1/2 ounce simple syrup
1/3 ounce fresh lemon juice
2 ounces seltzer water
1 lemon twist (garnish)

Combine all the liquid ingredients in a Collins glass, though I think a double rocks or perhaps a smallish highball glass will also work in a pinch. Stir, and add your lemon twist, which Mr. Zappia would like you to properly express, I suspect. (Here are some good instructions on that score, though I would argue us non-pros are just fine using a vegetable peeler and dispensing with the fancy knife work.)

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The weather is about as cool as it gets out here on the West Coast right now. Even so, the Miner’s Son makes for a nearly irresistible libation and it’s appeal will only increase when El Nino finally makes his exit. It’s a blend of sweet, tangy, minty, and, uh, tea-y flavors that’s pretty darn hard to resist.

On the theory of not fixing what ain’t remotely broke, I dispensed with my tradition of trying the drink out with a Brand X base spirit. I did, however, try it with half a tablespoon of superfine sugar in place of simple syrup. Despite having exactly the same amount of calories, that came out slightly less sweet …and, arguably, a bit better.

On another experiment, however, I found that, while the terms “seltzer,” “club soda,” and “soda water” tend to be used almost interchangeably at times, in this case it might be best to stick to the strict meaning of seltzer water, which is simply plain carbonated water. Club soda, by contrast, contains some additional sodium. Using it seemed to throw the balance of the drink slightly off. Sometimes tiny differences aren’t all that minuscule.

  

Drink of the Week: The Twelve-Mile Limit

the Twelve-Mile Limit.During the first few years of prohibition, seafaring bootleggers attempting to import contraband booze into the U.S. could rely on a three-mile limit…the point beyond which American legal jurisdiction ended and alcohol became legal. In an effort to make the logistics of illegal import more challenging, a 1924 law extended the limit to a full 12 miles. Presumably, the new law made things harder both on rum-runners and legitimate cruise lines and their thirsty passengers.

As recounted in the 21st century by Ted Haigh in his uber-influential “Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails,” globetrotting journalist Tommy Millard therefore took it upon himself to up the ante on a previously existing Three Mile Limit cocktail (aka the Three Miler). Milard was apparently quite the gadabout and man about whatever town he happened to be in who, as one fellow journo put it, moved about like “a leaf on the wind.”

Today, I celebrate the fact that, after losing my first copy of Ted Haigh’s book to a water-filled sink, another copy has arrived at my doorstop with this potent, but actually quite tasty beverage. Even today, it’s probably best consumed when the authorities are well out of reach.

The Twelve-Mile Limit

1 ounce white rum
1/2 ounce rye whiskey
1/2 ounce brandy
1/2 ounce grenadine
1/2 ounce lemon juice
1 lemon twist (garnish)

Combine all of the non-garnish ingredients in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. (I like to start to with the grenadine, to make sure all of the thick syrup finds it’s way from the measuring jigger to the drink.) Shake vigorously, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add the lemon twist and salute your freedom to be the highly responsible boozer you are.

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When it comes to brands, different writers seem to have strong preferences for what works best in a Twelve-Mile limit. Mr. Haigh suggests that Appleton White Rum and Hennessy VS brandy are his favorites for this drink. Writing in 2010, rum blogger Matt Robold thought a bolder rum was in order and offered El Dorado 3 Year Old or Montanya Platino. The following year, blogger Doug Ford used Mount Gay Eclipse Silver rum, Sazerac rye, and Courvoisier VSOP brandy.

I used what I had in the house. My first version included Bacardi Maestro de Ron, 100 proof Rittenhouse Rye, and my default Reynal Brandy. That come out a bit tart for my taste. I had more fun with the next, version where I went with the slightly less potent Bulleit Rye and Meyer’s Light Rum, producing a much more pleasantly mellow libation. A less high end version featuring plain old regular light Bacardi and Old Overholt rye was simple, but nicely balanced between sweet, tart, and boozy flavors.

One more note. Despite what you might read on some blogs, making your own grenadine is a great thing to do if you’re itching to go all DIY, but it’s in no way a necessity. I just try to make sure I’m using something with at least some real pomegranate juice in. Right now, I’m using Sonoma Syrup, but my usual default, Master of Mixes, would very likely have been about as good. For some reason, the online prices I’m seeing for the latter are MUCH higher that what I remember paying for it at my local BevMo! Nevertheless, avoid the all-artificial super cheapy stuff, if you can.

And now a moment of silence on behalf of long deceased journalists and other leaves on the wind.

  

Drink of the Week: Picon Punch

Picon Punch.Happy New Year! By now, a lot of you are probably wondering about the wisdom of ever having another alcoholic beverage. Some of you, perhaps, are just getting started. Either way, I hope you’re having a good, but also highly survivable, first day of 2016.

Apparently invented and perpetuated by Basque settlers and their descendants in California and Nevada, Picon Punch as you and I are likely to enjoy it is something of an approximation. That is because it’s traditional chief ingredient isn’t really available in the United States or, arguably, anywhere else.

You see, even if you are able to grab a bottle of Amer Picon from France, we are told, the original formula was drastically altered by lowering the amount of alcohol. If you’d like a reasonably authentic Picon Punch, your two choices are doing a great deal of research and work to try and make your own version of the now borderline nonexistent real thing, or you can do what almost everyone does and use Torani Amer. That’s an amaro manufactured by a company far better known for making the syrups that both bars and old-style indie coffee houses rely on —  almond flavored orgeat, for example. Torani Amer is available here in California and perhaps nearby Southwestern states, presumably to feed the appetites of the still robust Basque community.

In other words, if you find yourself in the still largely rural areas around Bakersfield, your musical choices should be local country legends Merle Haggard and Buck Owens. Your cocktail choice might as well be a Picon Punch especially since, as booze historian Ted Haigh wrote a few years ago, nearly every bar in Bakersfield stocks Torani Amer.

Picon Punch

2 or 2 1/2 ounces Torani Amer (Amer Picon substitute)
1 teaspoon or 1 ounce brandy (float)
1 teaspoon grenadine
Soda water
lemon peel (optional garnish)

Combine the Torani Amer and grenadine in a collins or highball type glass, stir. Add soda water and ice, but leave a little bit of room on top for your brandy float. Stir again, if you like (I like) and add your brandy float. Sip and wish the world, which has such marvels as Picon Punch in it, a very happy new year.

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So, I basically tried two versions of Picon Punch: a super-potent iteration featuring 2 and 1/2 ounces of the nearly 80 proof Torani Amer and a full ounce of brandy on top, and a kinder, gentler variant with only 2 ounces of the Amer and a teaspoon of brandy. Both were very respectable and oddly refreshing, considering the amount of booze. The second version tasted slightly better, but I felt better after the first version.

There is another version of Picon Punch, offered by Robert Hess in The Essential Bartender’s Guide. On the one hand, it contains some lemon juice, so I guess it’s technically more of a true punch, which usually contains one or more fruit juices. Still, I gather than this nearly juice-free version is the one the Basque folks actually drink. If you’ve ever had Basque food, you know these are a people who enjoy hearty flavors. I’ll stick with their version for now.

  

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