Drink of the Week: The Rusty Nail

the Rusty Nail.Now that we’re finally just starting to settle down just a bit here at Drink of the Week Plaza, I thought it best to dip my big toe back into the waters of a weekly blog with a drink that is about as simple and easy to make as anything worthy of calling a cocktail.

Now, if you’re looking for an Oscar tie-in, there really isn’t one, except that the characters in “American Hustle” would undoubtedly be familiar with today’s drink, which wasn’t invented in the 1970s but pretty much embodies the spirit of a time when booze was pretty much strictly a means to a sweet end. It’s also not a horrible way to wrap up the trilogy of Scotch-based cocktails we’ve been working on for these last couple posts.

Today, I present you a drink that’s absolutely guaranteed to be more pleasurable than a bout of tetanus.

The Rusty Nail

2 1/2 ounces Scotch whiskey
1/2 ounce Drambuie
1 lemon twist (optional but desirable garnish)

Get a rocks glass and fill it with ice. Add  Drambuie — a reasonably tasty and unreasonably expensive Scotch-based liqueur — and then add some Scotch. Maybe throw on a lemon twist. Toast whomever the hell you please because this drink is perfect for people too busy to toast.

*****

In terms of ingredients and how to mix them, there are three big questions with the Rusty Nail. One is the brand of Scotch. David Wondrich tells us, not surprisingly, blended Scotches like your dad and grandpa drank are best for a Rusty Nail.  We’re talking Johnny Walker, Cutty Sark, Dewar’s and the like. I actually tried a very good single malt and my mouth instantly knew that something was amiss. Too much smoke, too much fire.

The next question is your proportion of Drambuie to Scotch. While I have a sweet tooth, I find using equal parts Scotch and Drambuie — as many older recipes have it — way, way, way too sweet. Even Wondrich’s 1/2 to 2 seemed a bit sweeter to me than I would prefer. Moreover, the boozy guru’s demand that we mix, instead of layering in, the ingredients wasn’t really working for me either. That, by the way, indicates the third big question of the Rusy Nail.

At that point, I found inspiration in my new neighborhood, or technically the next neighborhood over, as I visited a very accomplished 1970s boozery and eatery with surprisingly great food. I speak of Studio City’s the Oyster House — home of, among other tasty 1970s-esque delicacies, very delish oyster shooters, six for $6.00. Bartender Greg (at least I think it was Greg) made me a drink that was, I’m guessing, 1/2 to 2 1/2, in which he poured the Drambuie first and some Dewar’s White Label second. The result was pretty lovely, with the Drambuie at the bottom of the drink acting like a dessert t following the bracing, icy Scotch.  I went home and tried the same thing but with Grant’s, and the results were just about as good.

So what have we learned today? Well, I’m learning my new neighborhood has more than one great hangout in it. That’s lesson enough.

  

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Drink of the Week: The Perfect Gentlemen

The Perfect Gentlemen.Yes, Drink of the Week is back this week, but work on the new location at Drink of the Week Plaza continues and I’m really not even remotely settled in yet. Odds are, it’ll be a few weeks before I get back on a more regular, weekly boozing schedule. Even so, I was tempted away by one of my boozy benefactors to come back with a special Valentine’s Day edition of DOTW and a really delicious recipe they gave me absolutely for free. It’s a doozy.

This week’s selection is as sweet and delicious as love itself and, if you drink enough of it, is guaranteed to enlarge your heart…with cholesterol. Very honestly, however, it’s tasty enough that you may might not mind. No joke, the anonymous mixologist who developed this for the Laphroaig Scotch Whiskey people knew what the hell he or she was doing.

The Perfect Gentlemen

1 1⁄2 ounces Laphroaig 10-Year-Old Scotch Whisky
3⁄4 ounce dark crème de cacao
1 1⁄2 ounces heavy cream
2-3 dashes orange bitters
Chocolate shavings (highly desirable garnish)

Combine everything but the garnish in a cocktail shaker with a ton of ice. Shake with all the vigor of a new romance, and strain into a cocktail glass. (The Laphroaig people think it should be stemless.) Top with some chocolate shavings. Toast whoever you’re looking at…and mean it, even if you’re looking in the mirror.

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Like our last great drink,  this week’s selection is a warm and loving finger directly in the eye of the idea that there are no great Scotch based cocktails. What’s really interesting about the Perfect Gentlemen is that it really does seem to be best with this very particular brand, which I’ll admit to having quite a crush on. Yes, it’s true  I got my bottle of Laphroaig 10-Year-Old Scotch Whisky for free but the distinctively ultra-smokey flavor, with a hint of sweetness and a bit of vegetables too, has really grown on me. I might even purchase a bottle some day with my own money!

In the Perfect Gentlemen, the evocative smoke of the single malt Scotch cuts through the sweet creaminess of the crème de cacao chocolate liqueur and the heavy cream in just the right way. I tried the drink with a very decent inexpensive blended Scotch and found the results to be, relatively speaking, dullsville. I’m totally sold on the Laphroaig for the Perfect Gentlemen and would suggest you try it that way, if at all possible.

I also strongly suggest you don’t skip the chocolate shavings. This is Valentine’s Day after all, and chocolate really does seem to be related to love in some unusual way.  Cheapskates will be happy to know that you don’t necessary have to use a fancy or expensive brand. My shavings were produced by taking a dull knife to a Hershey Bar.

I do have to admit, however, that my second Perfect Gentleman was, while still delicious, ever so slightly less rapturous than my first. My measurements may have been slightly off that time because my usual measuring jigger is still packed away somewhere. Or, maybe, it’s just that there’s no topping that first blush of true romance. Happy Valentine’s Day, anyway.

  

Drink of the Week: Blood and Sand

Blood and Sand. If you notice a sort of philosophic air to this post, let’s say that’s because life and death is swirling around Drink of the Week. People in my sphere are being born and others have made their last appearance after good and long lives, and that’s not all. This will be the final entry in Drink of the Week written before our departure from DOTW Central in exciting Van Nuys and our arrival at what we sure hope will be more permanent digs at DOTW Plaza in exotic North Hollywood.

Expect a DOTW return to a more regular schedule in a few weeks. In the meantime, here’s maybe one of the very finest and also most crowd-pleasing cocktails we’ve done here. And, yes, it features Scotch. Such things are possible.

I’ve been circling Blood and Sand, an infrequently revived classic, apparently named for the hugely successful 1922 bullfighting melodrama (viewable via YouTube), for several months. I’ve been biding my time because I had figured out a true Blood and Sand almost had to feature the juice of a blood orange, a fruit which has a relatively brief winter season. Yes, most recipes simply call for orange juice, but now it’s clear to me that the juice of the smaller purple fleshed orange, which looks exactly like grape juice, is the life’s blood of a truly outstanding Blood and Sand. Regular OJ is also definitely an option, but we’ll get to the issues around that later.

Blood and Sand

1 ounce Scotch whiskey
1 ounce fresh blood orange juice or, if it’s all you’ve got, regular orange juice
1 ounce Cherry Herring
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 orange twist (garnish)

Combine the Scotch, citrus juice, Cherry Herring — a very delicious liqueur you’ll be seeing more of here — and sweet vermouth in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake as vigorously as a toreador torturing a testosterone-laden bovine and strain into a not too small chilled cocktail glass, adding your orange twist. Feel free to reduce the ingredients down to 3/4 of an ounce if  you want a smaller drink. If you’re a silent film fan, you can certainly toast the charismatic star of the first version of the movie, Blood and Sand, Rudolph Valentino, who famously had his own dance with death much too early. Or, you can simply toast getting to enjoy another day on this earth and being able to sample this super-spiffy drink.

*****

I’ve been doing a bit of research and it’s hard to find any solid info behind my assumption that blood orange juice was part of the original Blood and Sand, whenever and wherever it was made. The recipe that I basically stole from the prohibition-era The Savoy Cocktail Book makes no mention of blood orange, nor does Ted Haigh in his Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails. On the other hand, the cocktail enthusiast who contributed the Wikipedia stub on the drink specifically mentions blood orange juice, as do several bloggers.

I think it’s very safe to figure that the original Blood and Sand had some real blood orange in it and it makes an enormous difference. The tangier flavor of the blood orange, which has a hint of grapefruit to it, is just the perfect balance for the sweeter ingredients, particularly the Cherry Herring. Although my picture doesn’t do it much justice, it also looks vastly better this way — a deep red, as opposed to a muddy orange.

Speaking of Cherry Herring, it is typically used for the cherry brandy mentioned in a lot of recipes. This is confusing because brandy is usually a distilled spirit that’s a million miles from a liqueur. Apparently, somewhere along the way, cherry brandy, cherry flavored brandy, and cherry liqueurs have all become oddly interchangeable with, I guess, the exception of cherry-derived kirsch, or kirschwasser, brandy. In any case, Cherry Herring, a standby cocktail ingredient you’ll be seeing here again, has become the standard for a Blood and Sand.

Getting back to my own adventures with this drink, whenever I used the blood orange, I found it pretty indestructible — sweet, of course, but with a nectar-of-the-gods sort of complexity to it. For my Scotch, I mostly used Grant’s, a very good, basic choice for this type of drink. (I’m sure any standard brand — Johnnie Walker, Cutty Sark, etc. — will also work just great.) Though some discourage the use of smokier Scotchs, I also found that the strong smoke flavor of Laphroaig 10 Year Old, featured here previously, added a very nice undercurrent to the drink; it also saved an unblooded Blood and Sand from being even slightly cloying when I tried it with regular orange juice.

But that still left the problem of what to do with the still enjoyable, but arguably overly sweet flavor, of the non-blood orange Blood and Sand when you’re using a less smokey Scotch. One decent solution comes from Dale DeGroff’s The Craft of the Cocktail. He reduces all the ingredients, save the OJ, to 3/4 of an ounce, making for lighter, more refreshing but still darn sweet concoction. (He also flames the orange twist…but then DeGroff always fires up his orange peels.)

Ted Haigh proposes a slightly boozier alternative which I haven’t had a chance to experiment with as yet. He proposes an ounce each of juice and Scotch, but reduces the cherry liqueur and sweet vermouth down to 3/4 ounce, while adding a super-sweet cocktail cherry to the mix. Let’s all give that one a try when blood oranges finally go out of season.

  

Drink of the Week: The High and Dry

High and Dry.Yes, Drink of the Week has been away. And, yes, we’ll be away again as we continue our slower pace while DOTW Central relocates to its new digs at DOTW Plaza. Still, I’m finding some time to work new drinks into my schedule between chats with contractors (“It’s going to cost HOW much?”) and figuring out just what an HOA actually is.

One type of drink I’ll be trying to give you more of in 2014 are tiki-inspired and rum-based drinks, at least some of the easier ones. That will partly be because my own interest has been peaked by my soon-to-be neighbors at the mostly downright excellent North Hollywood lounge, Tonga Hut, as well as the far pricier and tonier, but also pretty downright great, Cana Rum Bar in not-so-far away away Downtown Los Angeles. Towards that end, today we have a drink which has just a touch of tiki about it, and which came with a bottle of really good rum attached to it, fairly literally.

The brand is Brugal Extra Dry, the white rum relative of the outstanding Brugal 1888 we’ve featured here on a couple of occasions. It’s unusual for a white rum in that it’s flavorful enough you might actually want to drink the stuff straight on the rocks our maybe with a splash of soda. Nevertheless, we’re about cocktails here, and this particular cocktail is a really delightful tiki-esque treat that would be really easy to make if it were for the slightly tricky business of muddling an apple slice when you don’t quite have a proper muddler handy. Fortunately this drink, created by New York bartender Trevor Schneider and modified very slightly by yours truly, is worth a little effort.

The High and Dry

2 ounces Brugal Extra Dry Rum or standard white rum
1/2 ounce Velvet Falernum
1/2 ounce simple syrup or 2 1/4 teaspoons superfine sugar
1 ounce fresh lime juice
2 apple wedges (one for garnish)
2 ounces soda water
3 dashes Angostura or other aromatic bitters

Muddle (smash) one of your apple wedges in the bottom of cocktail shaker. Add all of the other ingredients, soda excluded. Throw in lots of ice and shake with great vigor. Strain over fresh ice into a Tom Collins or similar type glass. Top off with about 2 ounces of soda water and add your leftover apple slice for garnish. Toast the makers of fine rum, all over the world

*****

I should start by saying that my version of this recipe differs in a few minor ways from the original recipe. For starters, I interpreted the original version’s “cane syrup” to mean a simple syrup made with cane sugar, which I suspect is not precisely the same thing as cane syrup — a thought which didn’t occur to me until the point where I was just about to start writing this post. Never mind, because the results were fantastic every with plain old sugar water. When I substituted an equivalent amount of superfine C&H, the results were also just dandy; perhaps slightly sweeter.

Also, the original recipe called for just one ounce of club soda. I found that it didn’t matter whether I used club soda or seltzer water but that about two ounces produced a more enjoyably refreshing concoction than just one. Since it’s the only healthy ingredient aside from the lime juice, I saw no reason to be stingy.

All I all, I really like the High and Dry. I found it to be a very reliably refreshing concoction that goes down real easy and will be a perfect summertime libation a few months hence. My test subjects enjoyed it very much and they found the combination of sweet, sour, tangy, and spicy/complex notes to be as delightful as I did. I also found it to be the kind of drink that doesn’t completely fall apart if you screw some small part of it up. Which is my way of saying I forgot to add the bitters a couple of times, and another time was forced to use mostly flat soda water, and it was still pretty darn good.

Image ALT text goes here.Aside from the Brugal Extra Dry, the other key alcoholic ingredient in the High and Dry is Falernum. If you’re a tiki cocktail afficionado, you’re familiar with the stuff but, otherwise, probably not. It’s an extremely sweet liqueur — almost a syrup — which is no surprise as it is made from sugar cane syrup and includes a few assorted spices which wouldn’t be out of place in your favorite cookies, candies, or eggnog. I understand there are much better regarded Falernums out there if you know where to find it, and some ambitious folks even make their own. However, the standard is John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum and I think it’s pretty tasty stuff. (It’s not bad with some soda water and ice, if you’re feeling like a slightly alcoholic cream-ish soda.)

While this drink was created for Brugal Extra Dry, and it’s a truly excellent rum that’s definitely superior on its own to some of the cheaper, better known brands of white rum, I also have to admit I experimented by making a High and Dry with one of those very Brand X rums. I found the results to be about as delicious. Forgive me.

 

 

  

New Year’s Cocktails — Another Drink of the Week Holiday Special

Last week‘s special selection of Christmas drink suggestions were all united by one special ingredient: fat!

While such yuletide standbys as eggnog and hot buttered rum also make excellent New Year’s party favors, it’s possible you’ve had enough rich food during the last several days for a lifetime. So, let’s focus on drinks that might rough up your liver a little but which will leave you arteries alone. And, for our special star ingredient, I’m thinking that we’ll go with that most festive, bubbliest, and Auld Lang Syny-est of cocktail ingredients: champagne, or it’s more or less identical twin, sparkling white wine.

Though a great many old school and more recent craft concoctions feature bubbly, by far the most popular and venerable champagne infused cocktail is the French 75. Conceived in 1915 at Harry’s Bar and quaffed by many of the Lost Generation writers who might have encountered the original and far more deadly French 75 on the battlefield, this drink is a classic in every sense of the word. It’s classy, fun, and — if you drink them in Hemingway/Fitzgerald proportions — will blow you sweetly to kingdom come.
French 75.

The French 75

1 ounce gin
1/2 ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons superfine sugar or 1/2 ounce simple syrup
Champagne/sparkling white wine
1 lemon twist (garnish)

Combine the gin, juice, and sugar or syrup in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake with vigor and strain into a champagne glass. Top off with roughly 2-3 ounces of the dry sparkling white wine of your choice along with the lemon twist.

This is a really sturdy drink that can take a little punishment. You certainly don’t need to use the finest champagne — a half-way acceptable dry sparkling white wine should do the trick. As for the gin, anything from Tanqueray, Beefeater, Bombay to value-priced Gordon’s should do the trick. Also, some bartenders substitute brandy or cognac, but I still haven’t gotten around to trying that myself.

Another alternative is to go with one of the simplest, yet oddly undersung of champagne cocktails, which is to say, the Champagne Cocktail. If you’ve heard it referred to in movies like “Casablanca,” you might imagine it’s a fancy concoction. In fact, it’s anything but and is actually considered a way to class up some slightly flat bubbly. You can read the orginal post, but making is just a matter of dropping a sugar cube into a champagne flute, whetting it with some Angostura/aromatic bitters, and pouring champagne over it.

On the other hand, let’s say you’re not up for any of the hard stuff, yet maybe you’d like a fizzy white wine cocktail that’s not just fizzy white wine. For that, I give you this alluring liquid lady.

The Italian Mistress.

The Italian Mistress

1/2 ounce Punt e Mes
1/4 ounce simple syrup or 1 teaspoon superfine sugar
3-4 dashes Angostura bitters
Sparkling white wine/champagne
1 orange twist (garnish)

For those of you who may not be up on your fancy fortified wines, Punt e Mes is essentially a sweet vermouth with a stronger bitter edge that’s almost chocolately; I love it dearly.  Start your Italian Mistress by combining the Punt e Mes with the bitters and syrup/sugar in a champagne flute. If you’re using sugar, make sure it’s good and dissolved. Fill the rest of the glass with your sparkling white wine and add the orange twist. If you’re fluteless, a regular champagne glass might do, but be aware that they’re usually smaller so you might want to adjust your proportions.

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Of course, these drinks are only a few ideas out of thousands. One of the beauties of New Year’s Eve is that pretty much any mixed alcoholic beverage is in keeping with the night. It’s a great time to dust off such easy-to-make warhorses as the Manhattan, Old Fashioned, Martini, or Margarita. Just make sure you make ‘em the right way — like I tell you to!

  

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