Drink of the Week: The Horsecar

Image ALT text goes here.The holidays are coming but there’s a limit to how many sweet and rich ingredients a person can or should imbibe. That’s especially true if, like me, you’re thinking about appropriate holiday cocktails while dealing with a bit of a lifelong weight issue — these posts haven’t exactly helped! — and also trying to prepare for upcoming celebratory indulgences. So, while you’re definitely free to make the more traditional holiday cocktails I’ve offered in the past, this week, I took a complete break from the flipping excess of last week’s beverage and went with something simple, and only a little bit sweet.

The Horsecar is a drink of uncertain origin as far as I can tell, but Saveur tells us it was featured in a 1956 cocktail book issued by our men’s magazine forebears over at Esquire. It’s a definite relative of the various Perfect Manhattan-esque drinks I’ve been messing with lately, combining both sweet and dry vermouths. And, yes, it’s a near replica of the Jumbo — which, by absolute sheer coincidence, was the featured drink here just barely under two years ago by about three days. Still there’s one key difference. See if you can spot it.

The Horsecar

1 ounce rye whiskey
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 ounce dry vermouth
1 dash orange bitters
1 cocktail cherry (garnish)

Not a lot of surprises here. Pour the rye, vermouths, and bitters into a cocktail shaker and mixing glass. Shake or stir, and then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Contemplate the millions of subtle variations possible when you combine liquids in differing proportions.

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Okay, so, like the Jumbo, the Horsecar is good for those who love Manhattans, but maybe sometimes find the standard version too high either in sweet vermouth or too heavy on the whiskey. The difference between the drinks is that the classic Jumbo calls for Peychaud’s bitters, which have an almost candy-like flavor, and the Horsecar calls for orange bitters, my  frequent personal choice when I’m making Perfect Manhattans. (I understand that you can also make Horsecars with Angostura-style aromatic bitters but, to be fair, that cocktail should probably be given it’s own name.)

My rye brands this time around were Rittenhouse, Old Overholt, Bulleit, and Alberta Dark Rye. My dry vermouths were Dolin’s and Martinis. My sweet vermouths were Martini, Vya, Carpano Antica, and, experimenting with a new brand, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino. The results were uniformly very nice, with floral and sweet qualities predominating. Probably the single most drinkable version contained Old Overholt — not really a personal favorite — Dolins and Carpano Antica. That version would have been the height of craft cocktail bar orthodoxy, except I shook it instead of stirring. Yes, it was clouded with ice crystals but it was also very easy on the palette without being boring.

I liked the Horsecar stirred as well. Those drinks were definitely a bit bolder in flavor, and could also be quite lovely. The only one that didn’t seem to work as well contained Alberta Dark Rye; it’s a brand I like quite a bit, but it’s a bit of a whiskey outlier and actually contains 1 percent sherry wine. Sometimes the dark horse really does come in last.

 

  

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Drink of the Week: The Imperfect Persimmon Flip

the Imperfect Persimmon Flip.If you don’t know a persimmon from a papaya, don’t feel too bad. I had not the vaguest idea of what the darn things tasted like until our in-house guinea pig here at Drink of the Week Manor brought in a gigantic box of the somewhat obscure fruit freshly picked by relatives.

Persimmons look a bit like the offspring of a tomato and a pumpkin, and taste something like an apple-pumpkin-mango hybrid; they’re pretty delicious. As they become over-ripe, they eventually develop an almost jam-like consistency and sweetness without actually rotting.

Of course, blessed with so much of this highly underrated fruit, my mind turned to cocktails. The few recipes I found online called for making persimmon purees, which flies in the face of my often stated goal of making all of these drinks something you can throw together in less than 10 minutes.

So, it was time me to get creative and whip up something simple of my own. The good news is that you don’t have to wait until your persimmon turns to jelly, all you need is a strong arm and a decent muddler, an egg, and a few basic cocktail ingredients to make yourself a really hearty, holiday season appropriate, dessert cocktail.

The Imperfect Persimmon Flip

1 1/2 ounces bourbon or rye whiskey
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1/2 small persimmon (i.e., a slice of about 1″ x 2″)
1 whole large egg
1/4 ounce agave syrup
2 dashes aromatic bitters

Thoroughly muddle the persimmon half/slice in the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Unless your persimmon is super-duper ripe, you’ll need an actual muddler and some substantial elbow grease to make sure you get it sufficiently juicy and mushy. Add the other ingredients and then dry shake it all without ice to make sure the whole egg emulsifies properly, giving the drink the milky-noggy consistency you want, not the slimy consistency people who have never had drinks with egg or egg white frequently fear. Make sure you keep a tight seal on the lid because the albumin in egg white can make the top of a shaker want to fly off.

Then, add plenty of ice and shake again, this time very vigorously and for no less than 10-15 seconds. Strain into a well chilled cocktail glass or, as pictured, a smallish rocks/old fashioned glass as shown above. You’ll want to use a Hawthorn strainer that will let some chunks of persimmon through. Although flips are traditionally topped with nutmeg, I think cinnamon works better on this drink.

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If you’re wondering about why I’m calling this the Imperfect Persimmon Flip, that’s easy. It’s a flip because it has a whole egg in it. It’s imperfect because I actually started out calling this the Perfect Persimmon Flip in that, like last week’s Perfect Cocktail, it originally featured both sweet and dry vermouth. When the dry/floral flavors clashed with the sweetness of the rest of the drink, I doubled down on the sweet vermouth and found myself with a much better drink, imperfect though it is.

Now for the brands, which can make a real difference here. As you can see in the picture, I started out with Maker’s Mark, one of the sweeter, gentler premium bourbons, and Martini, pretty much the default brand for vermouth. My aromatic bitters were Angostura, another default choice.

That earlier version was not one bit bad, nor was one using Martini and 100 proof Rittenhouse Rye. I have to admit, however, that this drink only really hit the stratosphere when I went with another line-up entirely: my freebie bottle of the notably less sweet and notably stronger Wild Turkey 101 bourbon, cocktailian-approved Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, and Fee Brothers’ friendlier aromatic. The almost chocolatey bitterness of Antica and the more astringent, assertive Wild Turkey emphasized the sweeter flavors and made for a holiday-time treat that, as my generous human guinea pig put it, looked and tasted something like a drinkable, cold, pumpkin pie.

  

Drink of the Week: The Perfect Cocktail

The Perfect Cocktail.Let’s get this out of the way: the Perfect Cocktail is not the perfect cocktail, but you already knew that. It is, however, not one bit bad.

My guess would be that this little known selection from Harry Craddock’s 1930 “The Savoy Cocktail Book,” such as it is, is either named after the Perfect Manhattan or I suppose it could be a precursor. What they both have in common is a combination of sweet and dry vermouth combined with a spirit…though the proportion of hard liquor is less than it would be if were something closer to a sweet or dry martini. It’s a fairly tasty concoction if you use the right ingredients and it’s not too terribly strong, which is sometimes a very good thing. Also, the simple symmetry of its ingredients is, if not actually perfect, pretty snazzy.

The Perfect Cocktail

1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 ounce dry vermouth
1 ounce gin

Combine the liquids in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. If you insist, it is also okay to stir this in a shaker or mixing glass and then strain the slightly prettier, but less icy, liquid into that same chilled glass.

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In preparation for the Perfect Cocktail, I made sure I was well stocked with various types of vermouths — all purchased in small bottles to maximize freshness. (Yes, I’m going to remind you, yet again, to always refrigerate your opened vermouth bottles and to try and use them up within a month or two, if possible.) Since the vermouths actually predominate in this drink, they’re obviously the most important ingredients.

I used Martini and Dolin for my dry vermouths; Martini, Vya, and Carpano Antica were my sweet choices. Overall, the more expensive options seemed to work notably better, with the possible exception of Vya. Martini Extra Dry seemed to pose a special issue, as the Perfect Cocktail seemed to accentuate some of its more imperfect bitter flavors.

My gins this time around were Bombay Dry, Gordon’s, and Plymouth. A slight edge went to the latter. Using Dolin, Plymouth (slightly less dry than you standard dry gin), and Carpano seemed to yield the best result, with the most piquant combination of sweet, floral and more mouth-friendly bitter flavors.

Though I usually suggest stirring gin-centric beverages, I liked this a lot better shaken. That’s probably because it’s really the vermouths that are the star of the show, with the sweet vermouth being the most dominant. It might be worth trying this drink even if you’re out of gin but have some vodka on hand.

I also experimented with using a cocktail cherry. I can’t say it helped noticeably, but neither did it hurt. So, if you’re looking for an excuse to use a cocktail cherry — and some of them are better than you might think — you might as well use it for the Perfect Cocktail.

  

Drink of the Week: The Poker Cocktail

The Poker Cocktail.I don’t do a lot of two ingredient drinks here, and that’s for a reason. After all, I’m not sure you really need my help to make a rum and coke, a 7 and 7, or a screwdriver. Still, as with the Rusty Nail and some others I can’t think of right now, there are a fair number of two ingredient drinks that seem worth exploring. Also, it’s the day after Thanksgiving and — especially if you dared to enter a retail store of any type today — you probably want to keep things simple.

The Poker Cocktail is, as far as I can tell, one of the true obscurities contained in Harry Craddock’s “The Savoy Cocktail Book,” and I have no idea why that should be. It’s simple and, done right, it’s really quite tasty while offering the opportunity, if not the inevitability, of just a little bit of complexity. What, if anything, that has to do with poker, I couldn’t possibly tell you.

The Poker Cocktail

1 1/2 ounces white rum
1 1/2 sweet vermouth

If you are following Harry Craddock’s original recipe — and I see no reason to mess with it — combine the rum and vermouth in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake vigorously, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. No need to even think about bitters, garnishes, or other such bothersome trifles.

Alternatively, I won’t be too put out if you decide to stir your Poker Cocktail, the result will be slightly boozier and more forbidding, but you can make a case for it.

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My first go at this might have been the best. The original recipe actually calls only for Italian vermouth (once synonymous with sweet vermouth) and Bacardi rum. So, I tried plain old white Barcardi and good old sweet Martini, and it was grand. Simple, yes, but tasty and, thanks to the shaking, surprisingly refreshing. Sweet, but not remotely cloying.

I also liked my results nearly as much when I went up a notch or two in class from regular Bacardi to Bacardi Maestro de Ron and also with Meyers Platinum Light. Brugal Especial Extra Dry also added an interesting bit of sophistication.

On the other hand, I was slightly less consistently pleased when I started experimenting with different vermouths. Switching from Martini to Vya was an interesting change of pace the produced a perfectly decent drink that was maybe, however, a hair less delicious. Oddly enough, Carpano Antica, which is so great in so many drinks, was also a hair or two less great when I tried it…but maybe I just haven’t found the perfect light rum to go with it. The search continues!

  

Drink of the Week: The Hornitos Harvest

the Hornitos Harvest.It’s still several days away but, before you know it, Thanksgiving will be here and you’ll want something to drink. You could do worse than the Hornitos Harvest. It’s fortifying enough that it won’t get you comatose before the turkey and mashed potatoes do their number on you, but also strong enough that you should be able to properly adjust your attitude and be a little more forgiving of your family’s refusal to be anything other than your family. It also tastes good.

The star of our little show is Hornitos Black Barrel Tequila, which has magically found it’s way to my mailbox gratis and been featured here previously. With a richly bitter, woody edge that might please bourbon and Scotch drinkers, it’s definitely one of the more complex tequilas you’re going to find for around $30.00 for a fifth. Still, the question posed by the Hornitos Harvest is when we can cheat just a little bit on the cocktail truism that fresh juices are an absolute must. We’ll get a bit more into that after the recipe.

The Hornitos Harvest

2 ounces Hornitos Black Barrel Tequila
1 ounce pomegranate juice
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup or 2 1/2 teaspoons superfine sugar
1 lime slice (garnish)

Combine all of the ingredients, save for the lime slice, in a cocktail shaker. Shake for a good ten seconds or so, and strain into a rocks/old fashioned glass with fresh ice in it, and maybe also a nice lime slice. Give thanks that you’re lucky enough to enjoy tasty pinkish-reddish drinks!

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The big question here is whether to try and juice your own pomegranates or go with the prepackaged stuff. I used bottled juice my first time out and, for whatever reason was slightly put off by my first try at the Hornitos Harvest. Somewhat harsher, more bitter flavors seemed to predominate in an otherwise very promising drink.

Blaming the non-fresh juice I was using, despite the fact that it really doesn’t taste at all bad on its own, I decided to give juicing a pomegranate a try. Mind you, one of my guiding principles in these posts is that no recipe should require readers to spend more than a few minutes to make a drink.”(Almost) no home made syrup, no DIY bitters, infusions, or liqueurs, and definitely no blenders!” is pretty much my watchword.

Fortunately, I found all it took was just a little bit of elbow grease and a tolerance for mess to juice a pomegranate using a manual citrus juicer. My next attempt at the Hornitos Harvest turned out to be a lovely balance between sweet, tart, and bitter/woody flavors that only got better on each subsequent try. Also, the color with fresh juice was brighter and a bit more colorful in the glass.

Then, I decided to try the unthinkable and killed my Black Barrel bottle for one more try with the exact same bottled juice I’d used on my first attempt. Turns out, this time I liked the results almost as much as the fresh pomegranate juice version. Go figure.

  

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