Drink of the Week: The Algonquin

the Algonquin.As a teenager, I found myself seriously infatuated with an older women. So great was the age difference that she had actually been dead since I was in kindergarten.

Legendary wit and poet laureate of dissipated enlightenment, Dorothy Parker was probably the most interesting of the literary lights that graced New York’s Algonquin Hotel’s famed round table of notable quipsters. The informal gang o’ pals also included humorist Robert Benchley (Parker’s platonic bff), and critic Alexander Wolcott. Another great wit in the group, Harpo Marx, like Teller after him, never said a word when the cameras and microphones were on, but apparently could chat up a storm on his own time.

Now, to be honest, while the Algonquin crew and especially the wondrous Ms. Parker definitely enjoyed more than their share of cocktails, there’s no evidence they actually ever sipped a single Algonquin. Still, they should have. It’s a dry, sophisticated drink, a fruity twist on the Perfect Manhattan that’s a really solid addition to the cannon of Prohibition-era beverages.

Yes, we have no indication that they ever had the drink, but also no proof that they didn’t. I chose, therefore, to print the legend. Let’s just assume that the woman who we are told said ““If all the girls who attended the Yale prom were laid end to end, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised” and the man who opined that “Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker” enjoyed an Algonquin together. It’ll taste better that way.

The Algonquin

2 ounces rye whiskey
1 ounce pineapple juice
1 ounce dry vermouth
1 maraschino cherry (desirable garnish)
1 mint leaf (optional, but intriguing, garnish)

Combine your whiskey, juice, and vermouth in a mixing vessel with the usual ton of ice. Some think you should stir it, but I say they’re wrong. Shake the dang thing vigorously and strain into a large, chilled cocktail glass. If you want smaller portions, or have small cocktail glasses, simply use 1 1/2 ounces whiskey to 3/4 ounce each pineapple juice and vermouth. Toast which ever Algonquin Round Table member you choose, but I choose the amazing Dorothy.

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The particular example of an Algonquin pictured above was not crafted by your humble boozescribe, but comes courtesy of ace mixologist, Ian, at my neighborhood watering hole, Tonga Hut. Following my instructions, Ian added a high-end Luxardo maraschino cherry and threw on a mint leaf on top, departing from the classic recipe with a Tonga Hut trademark.

Making the drink at home, I had good luck with a number of different brands. Like Ian, I found that using 100 proof Rittenhouse Rye yielded an excellent result. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Old Overholt — increasingly the default rye at craft bars nevertheless — but it still yielded a decent, if slightly more astringent, beverage. I also enjoyed killing my bottle of sweet Redemption Rye for an Algonquin’s sake.

As for vermouths, I vacillated between your basic Martini and the fancier Dolin’s. The former was smooth and relaxed while the latter added a bit of spice. Oddly enough, I think I lean towards a simpler, dryer rye for an Algonquin.

The most dramatic difference, oddly enough, was between two different brands of canned pineapple juice. (It’s against my religion, Lazy Bumism, to actually cut up and juice an whole pineapple.) There was a fairly precipitous drop in the quality of my drinks when I switched from Trader Joe’s shockingly delicious not-from-concentrate, which brags that it tastes like it would if you squeezed it yourself, to your basic Dole’s. I’m not an expert on the finer points of pineapple juice but I can tell you that the better tasting pineapple juice resulted in the better tasting Algonquin.

  

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Drink of the Week: The Rockford

Image ALT text goes here. If you’ve seen the movies you know that James Bond drank, kind of a lot. If you’ve read the books, you know there are times when James Bond drank and drank and then drank some more. If you’re a fan of “The Rockford Files” you know that Jim Rockford wasn’t a teetotaler but wasn’t anyone’s idea of a cocktail afficionado…but since he’s found himself in 1970s L.A., where Harvey Wallbangers, Long Island Ice Teas, and Sex on the Beach mostly ruled, it’s pretty hard to blame him.

Still, I’d like to think that Jim Rockford would really enjoy the Rockford, the drink I’ve been working up here at DOTW Manor and have decided to name in honor of the now sadly deceased film and TV legend, Mr. James Garner. It’s light, brisk, tasty, super-refreshing, a bit bittersweet, and actually not too heavy on the booze — important if you’re not that much of a boozer and are also likely to run into two gunsels ready to gut punch everytime you turn a corner. If it looks a bit familiar, well, we’ll get to that after the recipe.

The Rockford

1 or 1 1/2 ounces dry vermouth
1 or 1 1/2 ounces Aperol
Soda water
Orange slice (garnish, highly desirable)

Build this one in a Tom Collins glass if you’re using 1 1/2 ounces of our main ingredients, or in a rocks/Old Fashioned glass if you’re using only 1 ounce. Pour the dry vermouth and Aperol — a light, fruity and somewhat bitter lowish-proof aperitif/liqueur that’s a huge favorite over here — over plentiful ice and an orange slice. Top off with the soda water of your choice. Stir, sip, and salute Mr. Garner and Jim Rockford. Two guys who might have really enjoyed this drink if they ever encountered it at the Chart House or Dan Tana’s, which they didn’t.

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If you really know your cocktails, you no doubt recognize the Rockford as a variation on the Americano , which combines sweet vermouth with very sweet but oh-so-bitter Campari. I love that drink with a passion and I also love coming up with variations on it, as in the Ugly Americano. My favorite weapon in this pursuit appears to be finding clever ways to substitute Aperol. I love it’s fruitiness and it’s mildness can be a real boon in the right circumstances. I actually tried a version of this drink with dry vermouth and Campari and the result was simply too bitter and not enough sweet, for me anyway.

Having perfected the drink, for my own preferences, anyway, it was time to think of a name. It was very orange so I began to think of things that were both American and orange. First, I thought of Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner and then, for equal time, the progressive website Daily Kos which just wrapped Netroots Nation (aka Comic-Con for lefty political junkies), and which is often referred to by friend, probably more than foe, as “the Great Orange Satan.”

Then, I got word of the passing of James Garner, whose politics were far more Kossack than Boehnerite, and thought, heck. Why not salute the TV private-eye who blasted open all the cliches made so many of my high school, college, and post college evenings and afternoons whiz by? So, here’s to you Jim Rockford/James Garner. Wherever you are, I hope you are enjoying your favorite beverage, whatever it is.

Rockford Files – Intro from Bret Leduc on Vimeo.

  

Drink of the Week: The Fifty-Fifty Cocktail

The Fifty Fifty Cocktail. Tastes change, my friends. As a child, I pretty much only knew yellow mustard. As I grew, I discovered Gulden’s Brown, Grey Poupon, and various other not-so-exotic variants. I quickly learned to disdain the yellow vinegary and go for the brown and/or spicy. That ended last year when I suddenly realized that nothing was better on pastrami than plain old Morehouse or French’s.

It’s also true that martinis were the first real cocktails I ever routinely ordered or made for myself. I started out with vodka martinis, grew bored and moved on to dirty vodka martinis, and later dry gin martinis — all the while tacitly admitting that my favorite part of the drink by far was the olives. By sometime shortly before the first election of Barack Obama, I grew downright snobby about gin over vodka…but now that all feels so very 2013 of me. As I write this, I’m missing my old vodka martinis, and that’s weird. To be brutally honest, I’m kind of over standard martinis right now; my go-to cocktail basic is an Old Fashioned.

Still, when nothing will do but a martini, I do have a drink I like and it flies in the face of the lionization that the super dry martini has benefited from. So, forget you Hawkeye Pierce, see you later James Bond, ta-ta-for-now Nick Charles, bon voyage Luis Bunuel — I think I’ll miss you most of all. Here is the recipe for the least dry martini on the planet. Yes, the name is the recipe.

The Fifty-Fifty Cocktail

1 1/2 to 2 ounces dry gin
1 1/2 to 2 ounces dry vermouth
1 dash orange bitters (extremely optional)
Olive or lemon twist (extremely desirable garnish)

Combine the gin and vermouth with a ton of ice in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass. I know that it is permissible, even recommended by some, to shake this drink, for “The Savoy Cocktail Book” tells me so. However, modern day cocktail snobs insist you should stir the Fifty-Fifty Cocktail instead.

(It’s crucial, by the way, to remember that vermouth doesn’t last forever once it’s been opened. By smaller bottles and refrigerate it, by all means. Don’t let it sit forever even in the fridge or  you’ll live to regret it…especially with this drink.)

Strain into a martini glass or coupe with your choice of garnish. Toast your ever-changing cocktail moods.
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I’ve made this drink quite a few times on my own in the past. Just as before, I found that my opinion changed slightly every time I tried it.

For gin, I used Bombay Dry and No. 3 London Dry; for my dry vermouth I switched between Dolin’s and Martini. For the all important green garnish, I started with a can of rather amazing tasting anchovy stuffed olives I bought at a fantastic Armenian grocery down the street from me named, what else, Olive Market. (Could the mysterious white substance you see in the picture be anchovy paste? I sure as hell hope so.)

I then switched over to an old favorite, Trader Joe’s World’s Largest Olives…except that they seemed a bit sharper and less mellow than I remember them. Maybe that’s because they’re now a product of Spain and I pretty distinctly remember them being from Greece before. I also tried it with a lemon twist, which resulted in a gentler flavor many may prefer.

One place where my taste definitely seems to have changed is that, contrary to past experiences, I found I liked this drink better and cleaner tasting as it was in “The Savoy Cocktail Book” — sans bitters, simply gin and vermouth. I also found a slight preference for shaken over stirred, which is also different from my recent preferences regarding gin martinis. (Vodka martinis should ALWAYS be shaken, by the way, if you’re going that route. I’ll go to my deathbed feeling that way.)

All that being said, I have a hard time coming up with consistent feelings about this drink. Sometimes it feels like a huge improvement over a regular dry martini, sometimes it feels like a sort of meh drink that doesn’t even pack the same alcohol punch as a “real” martini.

So, how do I really feel about the Fifty-Fifty Cocktail? Ask me after I’ve had my next one because every time I drink one it feels a little like a whole new drink. Could it be all the permutations — different brands, bitters or no bitters — or could it just be how I’m feeling? I’m betting on the latter.

A brief addendum: I just noticed that “The Savoy Cocktail Book” calls a Fifty-Fifty Cocktail that includes orange bitters a “Dry Martini Cocktail.” Confusion rules the world!

  

Drink of the Week: The Rye Sierra

The Great Unnamed Beer and Rye Cocktail. It’s just possible that it has escaped your attention up to this moment, but today is International Beer Day. Of course, for many people, truly every day is International Beer Day, or at least every Sunday during football season.

The ironic thing is that beer, which was once just about the least respected of alcoholic brews in the United States, has achieved more of its props with the rise of craft beer, microbrews and what not. These days, many people who wouldn’t know the first thing about a genuine Old Fashioned or Sazerac and who might freak out if confronted with the ultra-bitter/ultra-sweet flavor of Campari, included in this week’s DOTW, have no problem with the more familiar but no less bitter flavors of some dark beers.

Be calm, however. There’s no need for conflict as I’m happy to say that beer and cocktails are proving to be two great things that, if handled properly, can go great together. Today’s beverage is a delightfully refreshing case in point.

Though it came to me without a name, like the good native son of the West that I am, I have christened today’s beverage the Rye Sierra, after its two main ingredients. It comes courtesy of a mysterious benefactor connected to the makers of the very excellent Templeton Rye Whiskey. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale gets a plug, too — even if I had to spring for my own bottle.

My first attempt at this drink was a true delight, but you’ve got to be certain you don’t fall from a great height with this one. Just make sure you bring plenty of ice and don’t overuse the swizzle stick.

The Rye Sierra

1 ounce Templeton Rye Whiskey
4 ounces Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
1/2 ounce Campari
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice

Combine the rye, lemon juice, and Campari in a double rocks glass (i.e., like a regular Old Fashioned tumbler, but about twice as big). Stir, and add plenty of ice. Top off with four ounces of the very lovely Sierra Nevada Pale Ale — resist any urges to stir it again at this point. Just let the brew site on top of the summit where it belongs. Salute the mountain range of your choice.

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If ever there was a drink perfect for a hot day where you’re allowed to eat nothing but popcorn, salted nuts, and wasabi peas, this might well be it. Still, I must reiterate that you are to use plenty of ice and zero stirring is allowed after you have added the beer. Much in the way an Irish Coffee must only be enjoyed through its cap of heavy cream, the rye, Campari, and lemony goodness must only be enjoyed through the ale.

Finally, I realize that a lot of you out there don’t have any double rocks glasses. I actually ran out and bought a couple myself for $3.99 each. That’s because I’m a professional. You amateurs out there can simply cut the proportions in half and drink this out of a regular rocks glass, even if you’re buzz will take twice as long that way.

Also, you have my permission to try this with other brands of rye. I did — and I bet it would have worked great too if I didn’t find out too late someone in my house had Bogarted most of the ice.

  

Drink of the Week: The Jupiter

the Jupiter. Sometimes the hardest thing about writing and preparing for DOTW is simply picking out the drink. I can spend, it seems, many hours online trolling for a cocktail that won’t take hours to make and where I won’t have to spend an arm and a leg buying several expensive ingredients I barely have room for at stately DOTW Manor.

So, I alway love it when some cool person suggests a possible mixed drink or cocktail (people I read keep telling me there’s a difference) for me to try. In fact, if anybody would like to  come up with a suggestion for a drink that hasn’t been featured before in comments or e-mail, I promise to give it a fair hearing.

In this case, the cool person suggesting the drink was the highly esteemed Christopher Tafoya, Facebook friend, mutual real life friend with other real life friends, and cocktail enthusiast. Christopher provided an interesting find that’s forcing me to diverge from orthodoxy just a bit, while only forcing me to purchase one very interesting and odd new ingredient. It’s also got a name with just enough of a touch of science fiction to it to make it semi-appropriate for the week of Comic-Con. That’s where I’ll be by the time you read this, and also the reason this series will be taking a break next week. Anyhow, here’s this week’s cosmic selection.

The Jupiter

1 1/2 ounces dry gin
1/2-3/4 ounce dry vermouth
1 teaspoon fresh squeezed orange juice
1 teaspoon parfait amour

This one’s as easy to make as they come. Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Shake. Strain into a cocktail glass. Sip, preferably while listening to the music of the spheres or at least Richard or Johan Strauss.

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Remember when I implied my take was a bit heretical? Well, credit for the revival of the Jupiter in recent years goes mainly to the revered Ted Haigh, author of Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, who picked the drink out from a number of older tomes. He, however, declared that it was the one drink in his entire book requiring the most precision. Depart by even the difference between a measuring teaspoon and a dining teaspoon and, as far as Haigh is concerned, the drink is mostly done for.

Part of the reason for that is Parfait Amour. This somewhat obscure and not too easily found liqueur, extracted from exotic oranges and vanilla pods, is both very sweet and very purple. It also gives the Jupiter it’s slightly grey, otherworldly hue. I can’t disagree with Haigh that a little goes a long way, but I’d like just a little more, proportionally speaking.

So, when Mr. Tafoya let me know that a slightly different recipe existed — I’d looked in a number of places and had seen exactly the same recipe he first gave me — I had to give the alternative version a try. What a shock that it turned out to be, to my taste buds, quite a bit better. Basically, I found that a quarter of an ounce less vermouth made for what I found to be a brighter, more enjoyable beverage.

So, dear readers, I’m giving you a choice: 1/2 or 3/4 ounce of dry vermouth. Which drink would the evolved Dave Bowman choose?

See you in two weeks, star children.

  

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