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!

  

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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.

****

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.

****

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.

  

Drink of the Week: The Old Pal

the Old Pal.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.

  

Drink of the Week: The Honolulu

the Honolulu

Last month, I was faced with the challenge of coming up with a cocktail to justify those free bottles of Booker’s and Baker’s bourbon that the Jim Beam Small Batch folks so kindly sent my way. This week, I have another — and I think even better — cocktail usage for these justifiably widely praised high-proof and moderately pricey bourbons.

The Beam folks might insist that the best way to enjoy these bourbons is with just a splash of water or an ice cube, but I think they really work well in this week’s drink. It’s a bitters-free variation on the Manhattan (originally featured on BE here) that really comes into its own with a bourbon packed with flavor, and alcohol, than on an ordinary 80-90 proofer. It’s also about as simple as a cocktail gets.

The Honolulu

1 ounce bourbon
1 ounce dry vermouth
1 ounce sweet vermouth
Lemon twist (garnish)

Combine in the bourbon and vermouth in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Depending on your preference, stir or shake (I shake) vigorously. Strain into a highly chilled cocktail glass, add the lemon twist, and drink. You may also ponder what the connection could possibly between this drink and the famed Hawaiian metropolis. I haven’t a clue.

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At least using Booker’s or Baker’s, this is a very refined drink for people who enjoy a lot of intriguing flavors dancing across the tongue. While using the very high-proof Booker’s resulted in a gentle-yet-tongue tickling beverage with a subtly spicy flavor, I actually leaned towards the version I made with Baker’s. At 107 proof, Baker’s is practically children’s fare compared to the massive 128.5 power of Booker’s, but at least using the Martini vermouths I had on hand, the result was actually more complex and intriguing.

I did try to experiment with this drink by substituting Punt e Mes for the sweet vermouth and adding a Badabing cherry. You know how they say that most experiments fail? Stick with the traditional Honolulu. This is a cocktail that’s interesting enough to entertain the brain while powerful enough to (oh so pleasantly) dull it. No reason to mess with something this good.

Say goodnight, Gracie and Eleanor.

[Writer's note: I'd like to dedicate this post to my mother, Charlotte Bows Westal, who went on to the great Coconut Grove in the sky at age 84, shortly after this post was put together earlier this week. Mom was never a really a writer, a big drinker, or a connoisseur, but she knew the value of good grammar and a well-stocked bar -- even if she wasn't above pouring the cheap stuff into bottles of the good stuff or reading questionable bestsellers. She would have liked today's clip, too, I think. Maybe she even saw it on the big screen back in '39.]

  

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