Drink of the Week: Bram Stoker’s Capitan

Bram Stoker's Capitan.Halloween this year is a bit awkwardly placed, arriving next Thursday and forcing me to do my annual spooky-themed cocktail a bit too early for true relevance. I suppose people who throw Halloween parties are having the same kind of issue, having to decide whether to throw their soirees the weekend before or the weekend after.

Well, the awkwardness is only going  to get more awkward. I originally had a more appropriately named drink to present you. However, a beverage that had been presented to me by a mysterious benefactor, and which sounded pretty tasty,  just didn’t work at all when I tried it out at the Drink of the Week laboratory. Instead, I’m going with yet another in long line of little known classics.

Today’s beverage is the time-honored but much lesser known companion to the wondrous Pisco Sour, the Capitan. I’ve renamed it after the Dracula creator in the spirit of the holiday and my propensity for silly movie-related in-jokes.

Bram Stoker’s Capitan (The Capitan)

2 ounces Pisco
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 dash aromatic bitters
1 cocktail cherry (garnish)

Regular cocktailers will see pretty quickly that this is basically a Pisco Manhattan, so the directions are pretty much the same as the way I’d suggest you’d make a Manhattan. Combine the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add the cherry, and toast Bram Stoker or the deceased horror author of your choice — Edgar Allen Poe, Mary Shelley, Shirley Jackson, Richard Matheson or, yes, even Bram Stoker even if he actually wasn’t that great a writer.

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Much as many horror tales are about paying off a dark debt, today’s drink is the result of free booze given to me by the makers of Porton Pisco, easily the best known Pisco here in the States and, not surprisingly, made to please the Yanqui palate. Though I had to admit that, it’s not something I’d quaff straight up by choice, that also applies to most gins. All that really matters is that it works very nicely in the right cocktail. That definitely includes the absolutely wonderful Pisco Sour we made here some time ago.

Pisco has a lot of truly unusual flavor notes which seem to work best in the appropriately popular sour, but the Capitan is a lively second best. Some recipes call for equal parts Pisco and sweet vermouth, but I prefer more Manhattan-esque proportions. It’s makes for a tangy, but reasonably stiff, change of pace.

Now, here is the time in this post when I really should have something in particular to say about Halloween, but I don’t have much to add. Except that, if you’re lucky enough to live in certain American cities, then you will very soon be able to check out the long-long awaited and probably final version of what would probably be my favorite horror film of all time, if I actually considered it a horror film. Still, I get it because marketing a movie as “dark comparative religions thriller, with music” would be a tough sell for the 1973′s “The Wicker Man.”

It’s also a good time mention one of that film’s stars, the great Christopher Lee, 91 and still at it, thank goodness. He  sings a bit in “The Wicker Man,” but not about cocktails. So, once again, I present a favorite clip where he does sing about our very favorite subject.

Trick, or treat?

 

  

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Drink of the Week: The Bijou

The Bijou. Last week, I invoked the literal spirit of Will Rogers to deal with the insanity that seemed to be sweeping our nation’s capital. As I begin writing this week, it’s starting to appear that some sanity is returning. That’s something we’ll be drinking to this week, with a genuine antique that’s approved of by many of the cocktail cognoscenti. I just wish I loved this one a bit more than I do.

I stumbled over the Bijou in my increasingly well worn copy of Harry Craddock’s The Savoy Cocktail Book, but it’s history goes back to turn of the 20th Century, we are told, when it was included in a manual by bartending legend Harry Johnson. On this political week, it’s worth mentioning that it also got a big shot in the arm back in 2009 when cocktail loving MSNBC icon Rachel Maddow made one for Jimmy Fallon. Alas, I never saw that segment and it’s been pulled from Hulu for some reason. (I blame the Koch brothers.)

I, therefore, have no way of knowing if the woman who accompanies many of my dinners — and whose old Air America radio show helped me to discover the classic cocktail spirit — introduced some twist in her preparation which made the drink sing a bit more for her and Fallon than it does for me. The version I’ve been making is worth is worth a try even if I didn’t love it to death.

The Bijou

1 ounce Plymouth Gin or regular London dry gin
1 ounce Chartreuse
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 dash orange bitters

Combine your ingredients in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass, stir fairly vigorously, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. This week, let’s consider a toast to pure, sweet sanity as we down this complex semi-treat.

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The key ingredient in today’s drink is Chartreuse, also called Green Chartreuse to distinguish it from the milder Yellow Chartreuse. First featured here in star bartender Julie Reiner’s Shamrock Sour, this 110 proof liqueur beloved of cocktail aficionados and, apparently, Quentin Tarantino, is a prime example of a little going a long way. It’s a very herbal, very sweet, and very complex little bugger and gin doesn’t really stand a chance against it.

Since this is one of the 23 recipes in the Savoy book specifically calling for Plymouth Gin, I tried it that way a couple of times. Most recipes, however, call for the usual London style gin. I used Bombay Dry, which is what I have on hand these days, and I found it a bit crisper and more brash that way. Really, though, I  liked the drink about the same with both gins.

You may want to experiment with various garnishes. I tried a cheap maraschino cheery once, which didn’t hurt. Rightly renowned cocktail guru Robert Hess, who is obsessed with presentation to a point I tend to disagree with, calls for an elaborate orange peel, which does look pretty and probably wouldn’t hurt the flavor. I do have to reluctantly admit, however, that this drink really doesn’t benefit from shaking. Don’t ask me why, though I’ll never buy Hess’s argument that “clouding” drinks with ice crystals by shaking them is some kind of cocktail fate-worse-than-death.

Hess is also one of many to point out the word “bijou” means jewel in French, which to him means the drink is supposed to look jewel-like and, yes, be completely unclouded. Movie geek that I am, I associate the term with the frequent name for old theaters. Despite being namesakes, Robert Hess and I clearly don’t think that much alike, though he is absolutely correct when he adds the Bijou is extremely Chartreuse forward.

Some things really are kind of inarguable.Up is not down and day is not night though, as we’ve all learned, you can stop some people from claiming just that. I don’t know about you, but after everything we’ve been through, I could use a drink, any drink.

  

Drink of the Week: The Will Rogers

The Will Rogers. Cowboy comic, movie star, and political commentator Will Rogers was a genuine superstar in his day — think a combination of Jon Stewart and Tom Hanks — but  it’s his quotations that really sing to us right now. There’s something about the basic sanity of these little packages of genius that is a little bit extra poignant in a political moment where nothing seems to be on the table other than economic and political suicide.

“I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.” I borrow that one a lot, but it seems like the rival party could pick that one up very soon.

“There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.” Remind you of anyone?

And here’s one that’s a bit more relevant to our topic here at Drink of the Week. “Why don’t they pass a constitutional amendment prohibiting anybody from learning anything? If it works as good as Prohibition did, in five years we will have the smartest people on earth.”

And so, for this truly, madly, deeply meshugganeh moment in American politics, I bring you a quite decent cocktail right out of the pages of the Prohibition-era classic, The Savoy Cocktail Book, named after a man who was a little bit better than decent. He was sane. The drink isn’t bad, either.

The Will Rogers

2 ounces gin, preferably Plymouth Gin
1 ounce fresh squeezed orange juice
1 ounce dry vermouth
2 teaspoons orange curacao

Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a cocktail glass. Toast comedians, for they are the only reliable source of political wisdom on our small planet.

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Wikipedia tells us that this Plymouth Gin is featured in exactly 23 cocktail recipes in The Savoy Cocktail Book where, in fact, I first found today’s recipe. Leaving my decades long membership in the cult of the number 23 aside (thank you Robert Anton Wilson and William S. Burroughs) I admit to having been a bit confused by whether Plymouth was a style of gin or a brand of the gin.

Turns out the answer is, “yes.” Ever so slightly less dry and more fruity than the London dry gin most of us know, it’s made in Plymouth, a town about 190 miles from London from whence came our turkey-and-cranberry eating Puritan forebears. While there was once more than one brand of the Plymouth style of gin, today there is only Plymouth Gin; the brand and the style are now synonymous. At 82.5 proof, it’s relatively gentle compared to most premium gins, which are often closer to 90 proof or above, but stronger versions are manufactured. It’ll cost you more than even some very good brands of gin; I shelled out 28 smackers at an outstanding discount emporium out here in glamorous Van Nuys.

I made the Will Rogers using a good London style gin as well as the pricier Plymouth variety, and I have to say that extra expenditure might be worth it for cocktail perfectionists. Using very good, but more reasonably priced Bombay Dry, it was fine, but the Plymouth version had just that extra bit of, er, zazz to it. It’s a technical term for, er, tangy complexity, or something.

On the other hand, whatever you do, stay away from the alternate version of the Will Rogers which I found floating around a number of cocktail sites. That one contains 1.5 ounces of gin, half an ounce of dry vermouth, a mere tablespoon of orange juice, and a dash (let’s say half a teaspoon) of triple sec instead of curacao.  Yes, I have met a cocktail I didn’t like.

  

Drink of the Week: The Perfect Manhattan

The Perfect Manhattan. I was a little under the weather and teetotaling last week, and so I found myself late this weekend with a decision. I could take a week off from our little weekly get together. I could make a drink exactly once or maybe twice and call it a day…something I really don’t like to do. Or, I could fall back on a drink I frequently make that I somehow haven’t written up here before.

In the early days of this feature, I’ve naturally devoted a post to the standard Manhattan, perhaps the second most basic modern day cocktail after a Martini. I’ve also featured the little made Dry Manhattan. I’ve even indulged in a Paris Manhattan. However, while I’ve often referred to the potentially perfect Perfect Manhattan, I’ve never actually devoted a post on it until now.

There’s no excuse. While a regular Manhattan relies on the marriage between the sweetness of whiskey and sweet vermouth, and a Dry Manhattan is based on the counterpoint between whiskey and dry vermouth, the Perfect Manhattan splits the difference. When it comes together just right, it’s a beautiful thing.

The Perfect Manhattan

2 ounces rye, Canadian whiskey, or (possibly) bourbon
1/2 ounce dry vermouth
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
1-2 dashes bitters (aromatic or orange)
1 cocktail cherry, lemon peel, or orange peel (garnish)

Combine all the liquid ingredients in your friendly neighborhood cocktail shaker or mixing glass. Shake or stir, as is your preference, and strain into a cocktail glass. Add the garnish of your choice and contemplate the impossibility of consistent perfection and the occasional cocktail that very nearly achieves it.

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I only had time to make this a few ways…and even that was partly because I kept failing and making drinks that I deemed not quite up to snuff. To put it simply, I’m currently wondering whether bourbon is really the best choice for this drink.

I’ve had great success in the past making Perfect Manhattans with good old Canadian Club, with its mild flavor and hint of rye. This weekend, I had an absolutely fantastic result using Redemption Rye, but none of my bourbon attempts quite measured up. It was perhaps unsurprising that 100 proof Knob Creek was a bit overwhelming in such a delicate concoction, but I only sorta kinda liked my results using 80 proof (and really good) Basil Hayden. Although bourbon is sweeter than rye, for some reason the drink always wound up with a bitter edge that was more acrid than invigorating.

I also messed around a bit with a choice of bitters. I have had more success in the past using orange bitters than traditional aromatic bitters, i.e., Angostura. This time, however, I decided to go aromatic, but I alternated between Angostura and Fee Brother’s kinder and gentler aromatic bitters, and I declare the bros the winners. This is a drink that calls for gentler flavors.

So, this variation on an eternal classic is nowhere near as surefire as a traditional Manhattan, but when it works, it works. The slightly sweet flavors dance across your tongue and engage with the woody complexity inherent in even a merely decent whiskey. And, if a dry Manhattan is just too dry for you, and a regular Manhattan is just too sweet, then a well calibrated Perfect Manhattan may very well be almost kind of nearly just about perfect.

  

Drink of the Week: The Flip

The (Gin) Flip.If you read up on your truly classic cocktails, you’ll find that, like sours and highballs, a flip is not just one drink but an entire category of drinks. The Egg Sour, for example, is actually a delicious hybrid of a sour and a flip. A sour, you see, always contains fresh lemon or lime juice. A flip always contains a raw egg.

Even if you’re a reasonably sophisticated cocktail sipper, odds are, the closest you’ve gotten to a flip is freshly made Eggnog, which is actually closer to a flip than you might think. Usually called a Gin Flip, Whiskey Flip, Port Flip, etc. the recipe really doesn’t change a whole lot, because it doesn’t really have to. I’ve gone on and on here about the wonders of egg white in cocktails; it’s no surprise, then, that a whole egg is no less delicious. Imagine a lighter, fluffier, more refreshing and somewhat less fattening version of Eggnog and you’ll be on the right track.

The Flip

1 whole egg
1 1/2 – 2 ounces gin, whiskey, rum, port, sherry, etc.
1-3 teaspoons sugar or 1/4-1/2 ounce simple syrup
Grated nutmeg (fairly mandatory garnish)

Combine the egg, booze and sweetener in a cocktail shaker. Use less sugar/simple syrup — one teaspoon or 1/4 ounce of syrup –if you’re booze is something sweet, like port or sherry. You can also use less sugar if you’re simply allergic to sweet drinks. (Cocktail guru Robert Hess, whose taste sometimes leans towards the austere, calls for just one teaspoon of sugar, even when your base liquor is gin; I think that’s going overboard, or underboard, as the case may be.)

Shake vigorously without ice to properly emulsify the egg. Add lots of ice and shake again, even more vigorously. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, smallish rocks glass, or a wine glass. Top with nutmeg and toast our fine, feathered egg producing friends.

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I’m giving you a fair amount of range on how to make this, but you’ll have to use just a little bit of your own common sense about your taste buds to make the very best of this. Since I have an admitted sweet tooth, the most surefire version of this for me involved only 1 1/2 ounces of a spirit and an entire tablespoon (three teaspoons) of sugar or the liquid near equivalent of 1/2 ounce of simple syrup.

In the case of port, however, I found that one teaspoon of sugar was plenty of additional sweetness. Flips have also been made using ordinary wine which presumably is less sweet than port, so I’d suggest using maybe two or three teaspoons with all but the sweetest wines.

I did find that using the full 2 ounces of whiskey with a tablespoon of sugar did result in a wonderfully balanced drink that was a bit less of a dessert, but that using the same amount of gin wasn’t as much fun as it should have been. At least when I tried it with some Plymouth Gin I’d just purchased, the boozy, tangier aspects of the gin overwhelmed the sweeter, very refreshing aspects of the concoction.

I had a similar problem when I tried a flip with just 1 1/2 ounces of 100 proof Knob Creek bourbon, which was simply overpowering where even 2 full ounces of 80 proof Basil Hayden had been just about perfect. On the other hand, the 94 proof Redemption Rye I tried, which is maybe a bit sweeter than other ryes, was also pretty perfect. I’m sure less expensive brands like Jim Beam, Evan Williams, or my old pal, Canadian Club, would also be pretty awesome.

Leaving aside the booze and getting to the real nitty gritty, I used a large supermarket egg in all of my adventures. While I have to note that all the usual raw egg provisos apply (if you’re immune compromised in some way, please use pasteurized eggs), I should also add that some of the older recipes call for a small egg, which are pretty hard to find these days. For me, however, while an extra large and certainly a jumbo egg would probably be too much of a good thing for a drink this size, a large egg is about perfect.

Also, a lot of recipes insist on using freshly grated nutmeg for the garnish. I have no doubt that any flip would be better that way, but I’m too lazy/busy to bother with that and I suspect you are too.

It’s perfectly fine to use regular grocery store nutmeg, which is what I did. I’d hate to think of anyone being intimidated into not making this drink, which is for the most part not much harder to make than a Martini or a Manhattan. Touches like fresh nutmeg are why we spend borderline absurd amounts of money for a drink in a great craft cocktail bar; they aren’t a requirement at home.

Finally, readers who read a lot cocktail recipes will notice I haven’t made any mention of adding cream to a flip. I contemplated trying this drink that way, despite the calories, because I’m sure it would be delicious. I decided not to, because I’m even more certain it would have been Eggnog.

 

  

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