Drink of the Week: The Gin Rickey

The Gin Rickey.It’s probably somewhat criminal that it’s taken me so long to get to a drink that’s as simple and classic as the Gin Rickey. Like the Martini, this is a drink that not everyone will cotton to immediately. Indeed, to be very honest I’m still working on acquiring a taste for it myself as it’s more than a little on the tart side for me. No surprise as it contains lime juice and zero sweetener.

Still, this is a drink with a little history and it certainly won’t be bad on a warm day. And, yes, I know it’s January. However, I live in North Hollywood, California and high temps on this side of the L.A. hill are in the eighties this week, so nyah, nyah, nyah East Coasters with your snow and frequently superior public transportation.

The Gin Rickey is named for one Colonel Joe Rickey, a Confederate soldier turned 19th century Democratic Party lobbyist, back when the Democrats were the party of Andrew Jackson instead of Franklin Roosevelt and the Republicans were the party of Abraham Lincoln instead of Ronald Reagan. Anyhow, it seems that Colonel Rickey was the kind of drinker who frequently needed a morning “eye-opener” to get him over the hangover hump, and somewhere along the way a helpful bartender named George A. Williamson helped him create a drink made with bourbon, seltzer water and a bit of lime juice. Over the years, however, the gin version became far more popular, with its lighter, easier to take flavor, and that’s what we’ve got here.

The Gin Rickey

1 1/2-2 ounces gin
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
2-5 ounces carbonated water
1 lime wedge or one spent lime shell (garnish)

Build over ice in Tom Collins or highball glass. partly depending on what you’ve got on hand and how much soda water and gin you’d like to use. (Highball glasses are often a bit larger.) Stir. Garnish either with a spent lime shell or, my preference, a lime wedge. Toast carbonated water, for it contains water but also air. That’s two out of four elements!

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I tried this drink a number of different ways and what we’ve got here is, basically, something like a martini. What I mean by that is that it’s a drink that requires a bit of getting used to. It may not be as boozy, but it’s somewhat tart without being at all sweet. I also mean that it seems to work fairly well when you mess around with the proportions, much as both dry and very un-dry martinis can both be perfectly great. On the upside, it is refreshing and about as low-cal as a mixed drink gets.

I tried my Gin Rickey with four different gins. I found I got the best results with both my most expensive gin on hand, Nolet’s and my least expensive, good old Gordon’s. Both added a nice herbal tang to the affair. Tanqueray, somewhere in the middle price wise but a classic product for a reason, was fine but a bit more in your face.

I also read that Old Tom Gin, which is sweetened, could also be used with a Rickey. Oddly enough, however, the little bit of sugar in Hayman’s Old Tom Gin merely set off and thereby emphasized the tartness. Not really an improvement.

The one thing I haven’t tried yet, partly because I ran out of fizzy water and kept forgetting to replace it, is the original Bourbon Ricky. Don’t worry, I’ll give that a whirl some day.

  

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Drink of the Week: The Safer Dayquil (do not combine with actual Dayquil!)

Dayquil..do not take with Tylenol!.Sometimes funny things happen in the land of drinks that make you think funny. In this case it was a very offhand Facebook remark in which I, in a fit of hubris, implied that I would come up with a proper cocktail which would for some reason be called “Dayquil.”

My remark — respectively addressing and encouraged by two of the most legendary names in all of cinephile blogdem, i.e., Dennis Cozzalio and Odie “Odienator” Henderson — at first seemed amusing but ill-considered. For one thing, I personally strongly discourage the use of actual Dayquil for people who drink with any regularity or who happen to be drinking the day of. This is because, like many modern OTC pharmaceuticals, it contains acetaminophen (Tylenol), a much too ubiquitous pain reliever associated with literally thousands of deaths because of its toxicity to the liver under a number of circumstances, including shockingly small overdoses and especially when taken in combination with alcohol or by heavy drinkers. (Note: This is NOT a particularly controversial statement, as shocking as it is. It is absolutely for real. Here’s the scoop. It was also covered on a 2013 episode of This American Life.)

That aside, I also had no idea what would be in my non-Dayquil Dayquil.

Fate stepped in when I found a recipe for a classic cocktail, the Gin Daisy, in Robert Hess’s The Essential Bartender’s Guide. I didn’t read it closely, so I missed some details regarding the preparation of the beverage. I also hadn’t realized that Hess’s Daisy is actually a greatly simplified version of a very old school mixed drink dating back to the mid-19th century.

Then, a funny thing happened. I found I liked my severely mutated Daisy, and I definitely liked it better than Hess’s already vastly simplified version. I also realized that the combination of gin, fresh lemon juice, and grenadine looked just reddish enough to remind us of that daytime cold medicine I just suggested you avoid. Also, it would give me the opportunity to trick you into reading the public service announcement above.

Mission accomplished. Now, here’s the drink…

The Safer Dayquil (use only as directed!)

2.5 ounces gin
1 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce grenadine
1 lemon twist (important garnish)

Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with lots of ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with the lemon twist. Be sure to do the classic cocktail thing and run the shiny side of the lemon peel around the rim of the glass before tossing it in, it seems to help this one kind of a lot. Sip and give a small toast to your liver; it needs all the support it can get, and as little acetaminophen as possible.

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Given the large amount of gin, and the fact that many gins are over 90 proof, this is a pretty potent drink that will give your liver a real run for its money all on it’s own. It’s nevertheless a drink that nicely balances boozy, sweet, and tart tastes.

I had the greatest success using that free bottle of super-high-end Nolet’s Dry Gin featured here last week. The fruitier, low-juniper flavor complements the lemon and grenadine of the Safer Dayquil very nicely. Tanqueray worked almost as well. If you want a less ultra-potent drink, I can also recommend 80 proof and value-priced Gordon’s Gin for this one. Just lay off the real Dayquil.

  

Drink of the Week: The Ramos Gin Fizz

the Ramos Gin Fizz.It’s the day after Thanksgiving and, if you seriously overdid it in the alcohol department while getting into a drunken political argument with your uncle Dave, you should probably lay off the booze completely today. Have a nice glass of orange juice maybe. Even so, for many a boozer, the solution to too much booze is just a little more booze, delivered with a thoughtfully prepared cushion of sugar and fat.

I admit it, the sugar, egg white, and milk fat in the drink originally referred to as the New Orleans Gin Fizz tends to soften the drink’s alcoholic blow much in the manner of that slimmer, more vitamin-rich hang-over classic, the Bloody Mary. Still, you don’t have to be a degenerate drinker to enjoy this labor intensive, slightly tart refresher, the best known member of the large category of drinks knowns as fizzes, and yet another American classic associated with the wondrous city of New Orleans.

The Ramos Gin Fizz

2 ounces gin
1 large egg white
1-3 ounces seltzer water (for the fizz!)
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce heavy cream or half-and-half
1/2 ounce simple syrup or 2 1/2 teaspoons sugar (will taste slightly sweeter)
2-3 drops orange flower water (definitely optional, I say)

Combine all of the ingredients, except the carbonated water, in a sturdy cocktail shaker. Follow our usual egg white procedure and dry shake for about 10-20 second. Be careful because that egg white wants to make the top of your shaker pop off sometimes.

Next, following our usual procedure, add lots of ice and shake again. Usually a vigorous 10-20 seconds or so would be sufficient here, but in a nod to tradition — which we’ll be discussing below — try to go as long as you can before your arms feel like they’re about to fall off and your hands freeze. I managed about 45 seconds on my own and pretty much doubled that with the help of a friend.

Strain into a Tom Collins style glass or something similar, and add the all-important seltzer water to give your fizz it’s fizz. Toast the long tradition of strong-armed bartenders.

***
Okay, now everyone will tell you that you actually need to shake the Ramos Gin Fizz with ice, no dry shaking allowed, for a minimum of one minute, and preferably two, three, or 12 minutes. For that last number, you’d apparently be following the instructions of Mr. Henry Ramos himself, who famously employed a relay of 12 bartenders to prepare just one famous fizz.

I smell more than a bit of hype here. Regular readers know I’m no stranger to using egg white in cocktails. My recipe is largely adapted and adjusted a bit from a few I found online, including from purist David Wondrich and a more modern Epicurious. I, however, see no reason for self-torture to make the Ramos Fizz. Shaking for two minutes might not sound like a lot but, once you try doing it yourself, you’ll realize it’s not hard to reach your limit. “Why kill yourself?” I ask

Speaking of killing yourself, Mr. Wondrich insists you have to use heavy cream for this and derides the substitution of mere half-and-half. Having tried it both ways, I have to say that I actually prefer it with the somewhat less suicidally fattening/artery clogging half-and-half. The heavy cream, for me, is, well, a bit heavy.

On the other hand, I prepared the straight-up Wondrich take with a friend, who loved it just the way it was. I have to admit that the Ramos Fizz is slightly tart for my personal taste, but that’s the way to drink it. “King Cocktail” Dale DeGroff’s version actually calls for a LOT of simple syrup — an entire shot’s worth at 1 1/2 ouncesĀ  — while using regular homogenized milk. That didn’t solve the tartness problem for me, while also feeling thin.

In any case, I found that pretty much every version I made of this drink was satisfying, refreshing, and surprisingly non-buzz inducing — we can thank all those extra fat and sugar calories for that, I suppose.

I tried a Ramos Fizz with both Tanqueray and Gordon’s gin, without it making it much of a difference. I also forgot to include the orange flower water a couple of times and noticed almost no difference, which worries me. One time, I forgot the include the gin. That made a difference. The scary part was, it was less tart and I liked it!

  

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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