Can a drink be like an old friend? Should a drink be like an old friend? It’s way too late as I’m writing this to even begin answering those questions, but I can tell you I much prefer the older version of this prohibition era cocktail to more recent iterations.
I actually first found this one in my copy of 1930′s The Savoy Cocktail Book but it appears to date back several years prior. However, later versions that are supposed to be adjusted to modern day tastes failed to impress my personal tastebuds as much as this very simple and basic drink, a rather close relative of the Negroni and the Boulevardier. Still, like an old pal, the appeal of this drink is rather simple and easy to understand – with my favorite brand of wonderfully value priced Canadian whiskey and dry vermouth lightening up my favorite controversial cocktail ingredient, oh-so-bitter, oh-so-sweet Campari.
The Old Pal
1 ounce Canadian Club Whisky
1 ounce dry vermouth
1 ounce Campari
1 lemon twist (garnish)
Combine the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass. Stir or shake vigorously – I lean slightly toward stirring on this one, for some reason – and strain into our very old pal, the chilled cocktail glass or coupe. Add your lemon twist and toast, I imagine, an old pal.
If you don’t like Campari, it’s likely that the Old Pal will be no friend of yours. While the bourbon and sweet vermouth in the Boulevardier puts up a decent fight against the Campari, Canadian Club whisky — which is very specifically called for in the original recipe — and dry Martini & Rossi or Noilly Pratt is simply no match for its undeniable flavors. Even adding a solid, high proof rye whiskey like Bulleit, and increasing its proportion, didn’t change the Old Pal nearly as much as you might think. When I tried the more recent variation, which calls for 1 ½ ounces of rye to ¾ of an ounce of Campari and vermouth, it was still very much a Campari-forward drink, only less bright, less crisp.
I should have known, you simply can’t change your Old Pal. Not that you should ever want to.
First of all, my apologies that we kind of skipped over July 4th this year. It’s not that I lack love for los Estados Unidos, it’s just that I’ve been dealing with a Mexican-inspired morass. To be specific….
If anybody out there was paying attention, last week I wound up making a carefully constructed Margarita from the Hornitos people using the wrong type of tequila. Today, I am making amends with a drink where I actually used the right type of (very good) booze. What a shocker that this drink turned out to be more than okay, but actually very good.
Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Muddle the watermelon, jalapeno, and cilantro into the melange of liquids with a fair amount of gusto. Next, add lots of ice and shake as vigorously as you can manage — you shaker will be good and full of stuff, especially if you make two at once like I did at one point.
Strain into a chilled rocks/old fashioned glass with ice cubes in it. If you don’t want your drink overly hot from the jalapeno, you probably want to double strain it — i.e., pour from your cocktail shaker’s strain into a regular food strainer. On the other hand, if you don’t mind a drink that’s a bit muy on the caliente side, than just one regular cocktail strainer should be enough. Add the lime slice garnish, and toast, if you like, Hussong’s Cantina in beautiful Ensenada, Mexico. That’s where legend tells us the first Margarita was born.
As with last week’s drink, the Seize Your Margarita is actually intended to be made with the new (to me, anyway) John DeKuyper & Sons O3 Premium Orange Liqueur. I’m guessing it has some kind of corporate tie to Hornitos but, for all I know, it might actually be even better that way. Still, it worked just fine with the el-cheapo DeKuyper triple sec I happened to have here at el casa de DOTW and might work well with whatever premium or cheap orangey liqueurs you happen to have on hand. I almost hate to suggest it, but the seize your margarita might even be okay with non-Hornitos brands of blanco tequila.
The other major alteration I made is the possible use of a teaspoon full of sugar. I got the idea because my watermelon wasn’t as sweet as I’d have liked. Even so, I was more than happy with my first version but I correctly guessed that I could be made happier still with a bit more sweetness. In fact, I wouldn’t necessarily be opposed to adding the sugar with somewhat sweeter watermelon chunks. What’s 16 calories among friends?
When you come right down to it, when you throw tequila, watermelon and jalapenos together, it’s kind of hard to go too terribly wrong. The balance of sweet and hot is one I’ve always found hard to resist. Indeed, I have yet to meet a jalapeno margarita I didn’t like, and that includes a beverage full of the usually hated sour mixes and what not that I actually enjoyed recently at the Mexican-style bar at the Orleans Hotel in Las Vegas.
Still, the Seize Your Margarita is definitely much, much better than that prefab jalapeno margarita — and good for you too, what with all scurvy-fighting fresh fruit and vegetable extractions mixing with the health-giving power of tequila. In fact, if you’re feeling a bit of a post-fireworks let down this cinco de Julio, give it a try.
The suspense is over. I’m 95% over my cold and back in the saddle and boozing again, this time with another cocktail provided by one of my mysterious liquor-supplying benefactors.
In this case, the liquor is Hornitos Plata tequila, which I’m really glad I got. I really think tequila might be my very favorite spirit to drink straight and this is some good stuff for a relatively reasonable price – I gather between $20 and $30. It’s got a kind of spicy, sweet underside to it for a blanco tequila, as well as the more expected pungency. It’s bracing, and that’s good.
I also appreciate that this drink brings me back in touch with Anjou pears. Even though I’ve always loved pears, I’d had so many bad experiences buying them in supermarkets I’ve mostly avoided them until called to do so by this week’s drink. It turns out the ones in my local discount food emporium are actually not half bad these days. Good to know.
But now we have a big problem. Just as I was writing those last words, I realized that I’d misread the recipe in one key respect. The drink I’ve been making all week is actually supposed to be made with Hornitos presumably more mellow Reposado Tequila, not the Plata, which is the only kind of Hornitos I have here! So, consider this week’s drink a bit of an off-the-cuff and entirely accidental collaboration between me and Hornitos’ in-house mixologist. Let’s see how things go.
The Hornitos Kickstarter Margarita (as muddled beyond all recognition by DOTW)
Combine all the ingredients, garnish excepted, in a cocktail shaker. Muddle the pear slices into the booze. Add ice cubes. Shake very vigorously and strain — Hornitos’ original recipe calls for you to run it through an additional strainer but I like the microscopic pear bits — into a chilled cocktail glass, with ice cubes. (It’s not usual to put ice in coupes or cocktail/martini glasses, but it works better this way, in this case)
Sip and toast either Belgium or France, one of the two nations thought to be responsible for the ever so tasty Anjou pear.
Okay, so aside from my using the wrong expression of Hornitos for this drink, the original recipe calls for John DeKuyper & Sons O3 Premium Orange Liqueur. Since no one was sending me that, however, I used the plain old DeKuyper Triple Sec which I happened to have on hand. I would have tried it with Cointreau, too, but I ran out of that on a failed experiment with the Hornitos Plata.
The final adjustment is that I reduced the amount of lemon juice from 3/4 of an ounce to 1/2 ounce. It was simply too tart for me at the original strength, your taste buds may well differ.
As for this version of the drink, it’s not a stemwinder of a Kickstarter. However, considering how badly I screwed the pooch on matching the original recipe, it’s not half bad. Just don’t do what I did one or two times and forget the bitters; they’re absolutely crucial in terms of giving the thing some body. It’s also kind of cool to use bitters in a Margarita which, for a purist, makes it more of a “real” cocktail.
Okay, so it could have been worse, but I’ll be returning to the well next week for a somewhat less bastardized Hornitos margarita variation. Stay tuned!
I know this will probably drive me out of the cocktail writers’ club, but this week’s recipe-centric DOTW was preempted by a cold. I know this will make me sound a bit wussy to some of you, but I personally do not find that alcohol “kills the germs.” It’s more like granting them superpowers. Moreover, when I’m sick, some generic Alka-Seltzer Plus more or less does me just fine. In short, liquor has not passed these lips in over a week.
On the other hand, being sick also allowed me to wipe my DVR clean of “Mad Men” episodes…including episode 12, “The Quality of Mercy,” which my device decided to turn off about 1/3 of the way through the episode. I tried recording it again last night, but the show my DVR thought was “Mad Men” turned out to be CSI or NCIS or SVU or something else with letters or what not. I’m sure I’ll catch up with it all by next Sunday. The point is that “Mad Men” is whipping up more controversy and hysteria than ever, and it’s lovable/hatable alcoholic antihero/hero, Don Draper, has done more than his share to revive interest in classic cocktails in general and one ultra-classic, in particular, the Old Fashioned.
If you want a recipe, as such, you can find not one but actually two if you read my last look at the Old Fashioned closely. That was just a little over two years ago, but the two approaches to the drink in it remain pretty close to the way I often make it now…except I’m slightly more open-minded about the use of soda water. Still, I say keep it minimal if you use it at all.
On the other hand, that’s not quite what Mr. Draper does in this memorable scene from a long-ago season when he makes a new and short-lived friend in Conrad Hilton by making him an Old Fashioned. Yes, we’re breaking the format this week and in lieu of a recipe, you’re getting this legendary moment in televisionary cocktailing.
Now, watching this again, it occurs to me I’ve never made an Old Fashioned precisely this way. Don uses a bit more soda water than I would prefer. And note how he doesn’t really stir it, but just sort of dashes the bar spoon on the ice cubes a couple of times. On the other hand, his wetting of one sugar cube per glass (they look like rather large brown sugar cubes to me) with Angostura bitters and then muddling them is absolutely classic. The fact that he includes a cheap, bright red, non-Luxardo maraschino cherry in his muddling would, on the other hand, horrify many in the crafty cocktail set, but I don’t think it’s a problem.
No, if I were drinking tonight, I’d probably make pretty much exactly that drink, though I’ve never been a big Old Overholt guy. This rye has become the craft bar standard recently — I can’t speak for its popularity in 1963 — but I prefer my bonded Rittenhouse Rye or Don Draper’s favorite not-quite-rye, Canadian Club. (CC, by the way, sponsors a brief tutorial with their version of an Old Fashioned as an extra on the Blu-Ray/DVD of “Mad Men” Season Five.) Right now, I’d be using Bulleit’s Rye, because that’s what I’ve got. I’m sure it would be decent.
And that’s actually the thing about an Old Fashioned — even more than a Martini or a Manhattan, it’s sturdy and flexible. Paradoxically, it’s also easy to foul up completely, as most non-craft bars do, if you use too much sweetener, water, or even whiskey. One teaspoon for two ounces of whiskey is pretty much the right proportion, and it’s definitely also the maximum if you’re muddling fruit. Also never, ever, use the syrup that comes with the sweet-supermarket maraschino cherries as your sweetener. Don’t.
Still, like I said, there’s that a lot of leeway with your Old Fashioned. You can make the very severe kind with only a teaspoon full of soda water, a sugar cube, bitters, and not very much ice — or, the fashionable craft bar favorite, one giant and slow to dilute cube — or you can make the lusher version I mostly lean towards, in which I muddle an orange slice and maybe a cherry, too, while throwing in a splash or two, or three, of plain water and enough ice to fill my rocks glass.
There’s an idea out there that there’s one way to make a perfect Martini or Old Fashioned, and I’m here to tell you that’s balderdash. I’ve mad dozens of these drinks in dozens of ways — I’ve even served an Old Fashioned up, shaken, as if it was a Martini or Manhattan — and it nearly always works, at least a little bit.
At bars, I’ve had two truly great Old Fashioneds. One was for probably $15.00 at a very high end joint in Century City on November 4th, 2008 and used Michter’s Rye (or maybe Bourbon). The other was a $3.00 happy hour beverage with the well bourbon (Evan Williams, I think) by a nameless bartender at the Hudson in West Hollywood several months back. I’m sure they were made in completely different ways.
So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that these recipes — all of them — are guidelines. I’ve veered between the various poles of making Old Fashioneds and I’ve yet to find a consistently great way to make the drink, but some of my tries have been very good. Some have also been disappointing. I still think the official recipe I wrote two years back is the most reliable, but my results always vary.
It’s pretty much the same way as it goes with a great television series like “Mad Men.” Maybe the season closer will be a real humdinger, or maybe it won’t. We should all just relax and let it be whatever it is.
Unless, of course, the nuttier online tea-leaf readers are right and the Manson Family or stand-ins really do end up killing Megan Draper. That, my friends, would be more stupid than sweetening your Old Fashioned with two tablespoons of the cheap maraschino cherry syrup.
Last week’s DOTW was based on Dale DeGroff’s recipe which, in turn, seems to be largely drawn from Harry Craddock’s ultra-old schoolThe Savoy Cocktail Book. Both of those recipes start with Canadian Club whiskey for the base spirit and use miniscule amounts of Amer Picon and maraschino liqueur. Part of the problem may be that only the maraschino appears to be much the same today as it was back in 1930 when Craddock’s book came out.
I have great affection for Canadian Club but, like all the big corporate boozes, it seems, its recipe has changed slightly over the decades. I know this for a fact because my late mother — no boozer, but a very good hostess — had some 1980s CC at her place which had been neglected by her guests but which I eventually polished off only a couple of years back while she was in the hospital.
As I was grateful to note during that difficult time, 1980s vintage Canadian Club was at least 3% more soothing than today’s Canadian Club, in that it was 86 proof, not the 80 proof version you’ll find now. It’s possible that was the version Mr. DeGroff was used to, and it might have worked better. Who knows what the stuff Harry Craddock was using might have done for the drink. Amer Picon as noted last week, doesn’t really exist at all these days, here or in Europe — unless you make your own. More about the many possible substitutions after the recipe.
Today’s version of the Brooklyn is my take on a number of online recipes I found. They all begin with rye whiskey as the main ingredient and contain significantly larger proportions of the maraschino and Amer Picon substitute — 1/4 ounce might not seem like very much, but it’s a lot more than last week’s 1/4 teaspoon. Anyhow, I like this version quite a bit, even if I suspect it could be even better still.
The Brooklyn Cocktail (Second Attempt)
1 1/2 ounces rye whiskey
1/2 ounce dry vermouth
1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
1/4 ounce Torani Amer or other Amer Picon substitute (see commentary below)
1 maraschino cherry (optional garnish)
Combine the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker with quite a bit of ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled cocktail glass with your cocktail cherry, which I rather like. Sip, enjoy, and try not to think too hard about all the hard to find brands I’m going to be complaining about, starting right about…
Yes, this week is a tale of many brands and making do with second best. For starters, I talked last week about the sudden appearance of Noilly Pratt “Extra Dry,” the temporarily discarded and probably inferior Americanization of the classic French brand. It turns out my beloved Noilly Pratt “Original Dry” is no longer being stocked by BevMo in these parts, so I made do with Martini & Rossi’s Extra Dry, which I think I somewhat prefer to the simplified Noilly.
Moving on, I started out making this week’s drink with the contemporary standard for maraschino liqueur, Luxardo, but the beverage mysteriously evaporated and I had to get some more. It’s a very old brand but, since I had a hard time finding it my local BevMo and I felt like saving ten bucks, I decided to go with it’s best known competitor, Maraska. On it’s own, its a nice but less delicious liqueur than Luxardo’s maraschino, but it worked very well in the context of the Brooklyn.
The real drama came when I decided to find an alternative to the easiest to find alternative to Amer Picon, Torani Amer. Most recipes suggest either Ramazotti Amaro or, as I was reminded by Facebook friend Christopher Tafoya, Amaro CioCiaro. Still, despite some very sincere attempts to be helpful by employees of West L.A.’s excellent The Wine House, the Northridge location of Total Wine and More, and even
Cavaretta’s Italian Deli in Canoga Park — which doesn’t even stock liquor — I was unable to find a bottle of either product in time for this post. There seems to be something of a temporary Amaro drought here in SoCal land.
What cannot be cured must be endured. So, what if BevMo has recently taken it upon itself to stop stocking my beloved Rittenhouse Rye…not to mention the correct style of Noilly and did I mention they’re dropping Old Fitzgerald Bourbon?…
Well, I’m trying to forgive and forget and find more reasons to drive out to West L.A. or Northridge. At least I happen to dig Bulleit’s new rye and the results with it were, on the whole, very good. I think I’ll continue to purchase it at Trader Joe’s, where it’s cheaper and I’m less annoyed.