Drink of the Week: The Corpse Reviver #2

The Corpse Reviver #2What we have here, my friends, is a failure to be creative. In my ongoing quest to deplete my liquor supplies in advance of an impending move, while also trying to keep my cocktails simple on account of my current hectic schedule, I attempted my favorite vermouth-heavy martini variation; unfortunately, it seemed that  my home supply of Noilly Prat had gone slightly off due to old age. Then I tried making up my own simple drink using an awful lot of Lillet Blanc — an underrated type of fortified wine that’s like a sweeter version of dry vermouth — and gin. The result was not so good.

Finally, I happened upon this week’s tasty yet macabre selection, but forgot to include one key ingredient. Was this the sort of accident which could lead to the creation of an entirely new drink? Alas, no. Sans fresh lemon juice, the Corpse Reviver #2 is more of a coma inducer. Fortunately, with lemon juice, this certified cocktail classic‘s certainly good enough for any living being. I just can’t claim any credit for it.

The Corpse Reviver No. 2

1 ounce gin
1 ounce Lillet Blanc
1 ounce Cointreau or triple sec
1 ounce fresh lemon juice
1-3 drops absinthe (you might be able to substitute other anise flavored liqueurs such as Pernod, Anisette, or pastis)
cocktail cherry or lemon twist (pretty optional garnish)

Combine your ingredients in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake loudly enough to raise the dead and strain into a cocktail glass that itself is as cold as death. Add the cherry or lemon twist, if you like. Toast the resurrection of your own choosing. (Fellow nonbelievers may feel free to apply the concept to their favorite sports team or political candidate.)

Alternatively, you can set the absinthe aside and add the drops of anise-flavored bitterness directly to the glass for a somewhat more pungent beverage.

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Despite the name — we’ll eventually get around to Corpse Reviver #1, I’m sure — this is a simple, sturdy, and pleasurable drink. The absinthe, which is not a personal favorite of mine, nevertheless acts as a very solid alternative to bitters and opens up the drink while the lemon juice balances out the sweetness of the Cointreau/triple sec and the Lillet Blanc. The fresh citrus might not actually bring anyone back from the grave, or even do anything for a common cold, but it is healthy and 100% guaranteed to prevent scurvy, of course.

By the way, the Corpse Reviver’s name actually comes from the fact that this was considered a “morning after” drink and/or a great a.m. pick-me-up. No comment. The first to widely document and popularize the drink was booze pioneer Harry Craddock and a key name in its more recent history is revivalist Ted Haigh, aka “Dr. Cocktail.”

If you’re looking for someone to raise to your corpse reviving glass to, one person whose done his share of onscreen corpse revival — and much more corpse creation — is the great character actor and eternal heavy Christopher Lee of “Horror of Dracula,” “The Wicker Man,” “Lord of the Rings,” and “The Man With the Golden Gun” to name only a very few. Having recently turned a still-going-strong 90, he’s in no need of revival. On the other hand, this does seem like an ideal time to give him his say on the topic of cocktails.

  

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Drink of the Week: The Lucien Gaudin

The Lucien Gaudin Last week, I decided it was time to finish off my Campari bottle in preparation for my upcoming move. I have now completed what I started — not the move, but the Campari bottle — with a really tasty classic cocktail featuring three other somewhat more common cocktail ingredients. Made correctly, this simple yet exacting cocktail named for a once world-famous fencer can parry the tastiest thrusts of all but the sharpest competitors.

The Lucien Gaudin

1 once gin
1/2 ounce Campari
1/2 ounce Cointreau or triple sec
1/2 ounce dry vermouth
Lemon twist (garnish)

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice, preferably crushed or cracked, and stir — stir, I tell you — vigorously. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add lemon twist. En garde!

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According to some older hands at the cocktail blogging game, not to mention Encyclopedia Brittanica, the late Mr. Gaudin apparently suffered from a much too sensitive ego. The story goes that the 1928 Olympic French gold medalist committed suicide in 1934 after receiving a presumably not so grievous thumb wound from a non-fencer in the course of a duel.

How much more would the champion’s ego have been hurt to find that the relatively obscure drink named after him seems to be the subject of vastly more Internet posts that his actual life or accomplishments? To be fair, it is also rumored that Gaudin, who was a banker by trade, suffered some financial reversals during those middle years of the worldwide great depression. Even so, it’s a shame he couldn’t have pulled it all back together somehow, if only for the cocktail’s sake.

Well, at least the Lucien Gaudin is a dandy drink. Just be sure to be as accurate with your measurements as a duelist needs to be with his thrusts. When I strayed even slightly and by accident from the proportions listed above, the cocktail was nowhere near as refreshing.

Oddly, I also found that, while the common reasoning given for stirring rather than shaking the drink is strictly aesthetic, it also seemed to taste a lot better without the “clouding” that so bothers boozy aesthetes. I’ve no idea why that would be, though I suppose the emphasis on presentation in cocktails has some solid psychological underpinnings. I did find, however, that while Cointreau yielded the more interesting flavor,  a version made with far cheaper Bols Triple Sec was also extremely nice. So, there’s that much leeway, at least.

In any event, even if the late Mr. Gaudin has gotten the short of the stick both from himself and from sporting history, we at least remember him here.

  

Drink of the Week: The Campari Cocktail

The Campari CocktailSo, you’re starting a new job requiring a long enough commute from your home that it will ultimately require a costly move. Then, the second day of your aforementioned lengthy commute, your car starts hesitating in stop-and-start cross county traffic. Next thing you know, you’re staring down the barrel of a big, big transmission repair bill while suddenly finding yourself with a rented Ford Focus in your driveway instead of your charmingly banged-up Buick.

When that happens, you don’t want a drink that requires a lot of fuss. It’s better if it trying it out helps finish up some nearly empty bottles, lightening your liquor load on your impending cross-megalopolis move.

So, I’ll spare you the usual classic cocktail history lesson as well as the tortured connection to current events or this weekend’s holiday. (Could any cocktail possibly be appropriate for Memorial Day, anyway?) This is clearly a time when you — by which I obviously mean “I” — want my evening cocktail to be simple, stimulating for the taste buds, and strong — which is why I’ve gone and doubled the amounts for my version of today’s DOTW. Feel free to halve it if you’re situation is different or if you’ll be driving anytime soon.

The Campari Cocktail

2 ounces Campari
1 1/2 ounces vodka (preferably 100 proof)
2 dashes aromatic bitters
Lemon or orange twist (fairly optional garnish)

Combine Campari, vodka, and bitters in a cocktail shaker. Shake as vigorously as you can manage and strain into — what else? — a chilled cocktail glass. If you like, throw in a lemon or orange twist — it can’t hurt and it might help. Sip and, if you you’re not likely to give a significant amount of your personal worth to a mechanic, thank your freaking lucky stars.

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I’ve praised the oh-so-sweet and then oh-so-bitter one-two punch of Campari before while discussing the hugely underappreciated Negroni as well as the oh-so-refreshing Americano. As the name implies, here’s a drink where the Campari flavor is really and truly front and center, perhaps too much for some folks. Certainly, replacing the gin in the Negroni with vodka (and actually using less of it), doesn’t do anything to complicate the drink or stand in the way of the Campari flavors, even if they could use a bit of leavening. That’s why I think I found adding in the stronger flavor of 100 proof Smirnoff resulted in a more satisfying taste experience as well as a more effective attitude adjuster.

Vodka-disliking cocktail snobs won’t be surprised that, while I’ve tried this drink with a number of brands, the results with the 80 proof vodkas, however, didn’t vary by much. Indeed, the very cheap Seagram’s and the much more high-endish Kettle One I used to make it didn’t really change the experience by that much. Still, since I like Campari, I’m declaring that a reason to like this drink. In fact, next week’s drink will also feature it, but it’ll be just a mite more complex…unless something else happens to my car.

  

Drink of the Week: Income Tax

Income TaxI was born on April 15, which means that, most years, when my birthday doesn’t fall on an Easter Sunday it falls on the United States anti-holiday that is income tax day. Being an ides of April baby also means that each and every year I am also reminded of the sinking of the Titantic and the death of Abraham Lincoln.

This year, we all get until 4/17 to turn in our taxes. However, as Saturday becomes Sunday 4/15, I’ll be at the Turner Classic Movies festival in Hollywood where I’ll have a choice between an actual movie about the sinking of the Titanic (1958′s “A Night to Remember”) or I can contemplate my mortality via an avant gardish science fiction movie in which character actor John Randolph has a mid-life crisis and becomes Rock Hudson. (That’s John Frankenheimer’s 1966 “Seconds.”) Movies are about escape, you know.

All of which is a long-winded and self-indulgent way to get to this week’s cocktail, named for a day most of us agree is far worse luck than a Friday the 13th like today but which most of us agree is necessary in some form. Thus, the cocktail classic represents the healthy orange sweet of it — the roads, bridges, schools, fire and police protection we get in return for our taxes — and the bitters of actually paying them. If you note a strong similarity to another drink covered here, you aren’t hallucinating. Believe it or not, Income Tax is both the bitter and the better of the two.

Income Tax

2 ounces gin
1 ounce orange juice (fresh squeezed, for sure)
1/2 ounce dry vermouth
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
1-3 dashes aromatic bitters
1 orange slice (optional garnish, but since you’re squeezing the orange already…)

As with the Bronx, people are over the map on proportions, and I certainly encourage readers to experiment to their heart’s content with more or less sweet and dry vermouth, OJ, and gin. Nevertheless, especially with the addition of bitters, I found this easy to remember and straight forward version was actually quite the best.

A few notes on ingredients. I’m using Tanqueray (94.6 proof) right now, though I’m sure this will work as well with most other high proof gins such as Bombay Dry or Beefeater. With an 80 proof gin like Gordon’s, it might be a bit sweeter which can either be a good or bad thing. I tried making my Income Tax using both traditional Angostura bitters as well as Fee Brother’s aromatic bitters and it came out fine with both.

I even ran out of my usual Noilly Pratt sweet vermouth — which for some reason Bev-Mo in Orange County, CA has stopped carrying, darn them — and went to an inferior brand that I had sitting around. Still very nice. Like tax day itself, this drink can be attacked but it will never be killed. Would that that were true for the folks on the Titanic and, of course, Old Abe. Fortunately, the magic of cinema can take care of that.

  

Spotlight on Booze: Gin

It’s lost some commercial ground to vodka over the decades, but the revival of interest in classic cocktails has given gin a boost lately. In any case, this venerable liquor remains the standard clear alcohol among serious cocktail aficionados, who strongly prefer its more complex flavor and swear it’s the only true main ingredient in a martini.

Gin is distilled from grain, usually wheat or rye, and starts out as a fairly plain spirit probably not so different from vodka. After that, “distilled gins” are then distilled a second time with various flavorings. That slightly perfume-like aroma you’ve noticed comes primarily from juniper berries. That’s only for starters, as gin manufacturers use a pretty vast assortment of herbs and other botanicals ranging from licorice root to grapefruit peels. Some ultra-cheap brands are “compound gins.” These gins are not redistilled, but simply have tiny infusions added — they’re basically gin-flavored alcohol.

Most modern gins are “dry” and manufactured in England; these gins legally may not contain any added sugar and that aids in the liquor’s superb mixability. As far as we can tell, however, there isn’t much predictable difference between “London dry, “extra dry,” and other similar designations. “Plymouth” gins technically only have to come from the coastal town, but they tend to have a somewhat more complex, pungent, and slightly sweeter flavor profile. Largely produced in Holland and Belgium, genever is a less strong gin variant popular in central Europe. With plenty of added sugar, you can still find very sweet “old Tom” gin if you look hard. Speaking of sweet, you’ve likely had a slurp or two or of “sloe gin,” actually a liqueur made with gin or cheaper neutral spirits mixed with sloe berries. Most brands of gin are between 84 and 92 proof (42-46 percent alcohol), but a number of less upscale mass market brands are available at 80 proof or even less.

Like all types of booze, gin is available in a number of price levels, but there’s not really any such thing as a super premium gin. While you can easily spend $150.00 or much more on a bottle of small batch bourbon or single malt Scotch, if you find a bottle of regular size bottle of gin selling for more than $50.00, you’re probably paying mostly for ultra-fancy packaging. Some of the best and/or most popular premium gins include Tanqueray Ten, Plymouth (a brand as well as style of gin), and Bombay Sapphire. Just as good or better, in our opinion, are the mid-priced premiums, available in some states at discounters like Costco, Bev-Mo and Trader Joe’s. These include Tanqueray, Bombay Dry Gin (less heavy on the perfumey juniper berries than Sapphire), and Hendricks, an increasingly popular Scottish gin we like quite a bit. A bit cheaper, still quite good, and very rich in “Mad Men”-style classic street cred, is Beefeater.

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