Drink of the Week: The Blinker (Dr. Cocktail’s Version)

Dr. Cocktail's Blinker.If there is a more confusing matter in the world of cocktails than the naming of beverages, I haven’t come across it. It’s hard enough that the proportions of such basic drinks as the Martini and the Manhattan are so highly variable depending on which book or bartender you consult. It also doesn’t help that we cocktail writers can’t stop ourselves from continually messing with recipes to the point where two drinks with the exact same name and ancestry may have little in common, give or take an ingredient. At the same time, you might have two drinks with completely different names but which differ in only the slightest way. (Mr. Martini, meet Mr. Gibson.)

So, last week I brought you the original version of the Blinker, or something close to it, and I mentioned that famed cocktail historian Ted Haigh had unearthed this drink. Despite being a true revivalist, Haigh felt the drink needed an improvement, if not an actual update.

For starters, while the original version appears to have called for either bourbon or rye. (I limited myself to bourbon last week.) Haigh’s version is strictly rye. The original also had grenadine as its sweetener. Haigh’s version, which he has since christened “Dr. Cocktail’s Blinker,” contained not just raspberry syrup, but a very particular species of it. This is the stuff that tastes rather like jam, only without any trace of actual fruit, and which some people pour over ice cream. Apparently, it was an old school substitute for grenadine, and it certainly sounded like it was worth a try.

The Blinker, aka Dr. Cocktail’s Blinker

2 ounces rye whiskey
1 ounce fresh grapefruit juice
1 teaspoon raspberry syrup
1 lemon peel (garnish)

No surprises in terms of preparation. Combine the rye, juice, and syrup in cocktail shaker. You might want to stir it a bit before adding the ice to make sure the syrup dissolves, especially if it’s been kept in the refrigerator. Then add about a ton of ice and, well, you know the rest. Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled cocktail glass, throw in the lemon twist. Toast Dr. Cocktail/Ted Haigh, if only because he is the creator of by far the most popular modern day version of the Blinker.

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All in all, I have to agree with Ted Haigh that his tweaked version of the Blinker is superior. Rye is just a hair less sweet than bourbon and noticeably more peppery, and it makes a bracing contrast with the bittersweet grapefruit juice and the just-plain sweet raspberry syrup. For the sake of experimentation, I tried the Dr. Cocktail Blinker drink with bourbon, and it was a no go. Not awful, just not so good. My ryes produced nice but highly varying results. I used Old Overholt (Haigh’s preference), Rittenhouse  (my 100 proof default rye), and slightly more upscale/moderne Redemption rye.

Even more interesting is his choice of the jam-like raspberry syrup over grenadine. I used Smucker’s brand because it was the only choice the supermarket I happened to be in had, and it was fine. It’s a simpler kind of sweetness than a decent grenadine, and I think it really does make a better choice in a drink that’s already buzzing with the contrasting flavors of rye and grapefruit.

  

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Drink of the Week: The Blinker (Duffy’s Version)

the Blinker.The Blinker was one of the many moribund beverages revived by Ted Haigh in his epochal 2009 book, Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails. Haigh, in turn, found the drink in a 1934 tome by a Patrick Gavin Duffy but found it “unremarkable” and he therefore messed with it. We’ll try Haigh’s messed with version later, but we start with the unvarnished original.

The Duffy Blinker might not have knocked my socks clean off, but it really is a very nice drink enlivened by a generous portion of fresh grapefruit juice. I have to admit that the fact that I still had some extra-large citrus around after last week’s drink was my primary motivator for choosing the Blinker. I never used to like anything grapefruit but, by god, the bittersweet fruit is really growing on me. It’s certainly tasty enough in this beverage.

The Blinker (Duffy’s Version)

2 ounces bourbon
1 ounce grapefruit juice (preferably fresh)
1 teaspoon grenadine
1 lemon twist (desirable garnish)

No surprises here. You guys probably have this drill memorized by now, but here it is again…

Combine your liquids in a cocktail shaker with an excess of ice. Shake most vigorously, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add your lemon twist if you’ve got one handy. As for the toast, let’s mix things up and salute, heck, Ethel Barrymore. I just saw her for the first time in 1948′s “Portrait of Jennie” (ask your neighborhood movie geek/film buff, or your great-grandmother) and she was extremely good in it. As a Barrymore, I’d like to think she might have tried a Blinker.

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This drink worked very nicely with the two different bourbons I had time to try before I was briefly sidelined by a small cold. (As I write this, I’ve been dry for a shocking four days!) Wathen’s Kentucky Bourbon made a fine, sweet base spirit, but there was more 100 proof, bottled in bond, punch when I killed my bottle of good ol’ Old Fitzgerald’s (my favorite bourbon bargain up to now).

I will also add that I suspect it’s probably very important to use a decent grenadine in the Blinker. Ted Haigh, you see, felt the need to make a substitution for this ingredient. He might have been partly moved by the fact that so many commercially available grenadines are hard to distinguish from any other high fructose corn syrup based concoctions.

At the same time, while it’s great to spend extra dough and go gourmet, or go crazy and make your own grenadine, as some bloggers insist, there is another option. Take a little time and find a reasonably priced product that includes a little real juice, pomegranate most importantly. Master of Mixes grenadine includes pomegranite and cherry juice; it has served me well for some time and it only costs a few bucks…and, no, they haven’t been sending me free bottles in the mail. Not yet, anyway.

  

Drink of the Week: The Shamrock Sour

the Shamrock Sour. Okay, we admit that St. Patrick’s Day is nearly a fortnight away, but the tireless promoters of the alcoholic industrial complex have been hard at work plying me with bottles of top-quality hooch and some intriguing holiday themed recipes to go with them. In this case, we’re talking about my personal favorite member of the Jim Beam Small batch family, Basil Hayden’s. Yes, it’s only 80 proof and therefore less overtly flavoriffic than a typical high quality bourbon, but it mixes so harmoniously, I really can’t say anything bad about it. It’s definitely one bourbon that’s worth trying with just a bit of cold water or maybe some ice cubes. Sort of like a sweeter version of a very nice Scotch.

Nor do I have anything but nice things to say about the Shamrock Sour, a lively variation on a timeless tonic developed by New York mixologist and proprietor, Julie Reiner, who appears to be something of a budding superstar in the bar game. I can’t think of a better final chapter to wrap up the quartet of delicious sours I’ve been featuring in recent weeks.

Now, I would agree with naysayers that the Irish/St. Patrick’s Day bonafides of any bourbon-based beverage are very seriously in doubt — it’s not like Kentucky is any kind of Irish-American enclave. On a more superficial level, the Shamrock Sour isn’t even particularly emerald colored, a bit of very expensive but worth it green chartreuse notwithstanding. Still, if the choice is between good taste and thematic consistency, I have to go with the taste. On the other hand, we’ll be trying out another drink using actual Irish whiskey as the big boozing day approaches. For now, however, I wholly endorse the Shamrock Sour for St. Patrick’s Day, or any other day. Authenticity, be darned.

The Shamrock Sour

2 ounces bourbon (preferably Basil Hayden’s®, naturally)
1/2 ounce green chartreuse
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce grapefruit juice, preferably fresh
1/4 ounce agave nectar
1/4 ounce water (to mix with the agave nectar)
1/4 ounce egg white
1 lemon wheel (highly desirable garnish)
1 sprig of fresh mint (even more desirable garnish)

Combine bourbon, chartreuse — a highly distinctive a-little-goes-a-long-way liqueur whose complete formula is known only to a pair of monks in France’s Chartreuse Mountains — and juice in a cocktail shaker. Mix the agave nectar with an equal amount of water to make 1/2 ounce of agave syrup. Add the egg white and, as usual with egg cocktails, shake vigorously before you have added ice.

Then, add ice, shake again very vigorously and pour over fresh ice into a fairly good size rocks glass. Add a lemon wheel and mint sprigs, which I think is actually an important part of the flavor here, particularly the mint. Toast the people of Ireland (who gave us James Joyce), the people of Kentucky (who gave us two of my favorite character of recent pop culture, Raylan Givens and Abraham Lincoln), and why not throw in those Carthusian monks and Julie Reiner while you’re at. I know I’m grateful to all of them.

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This really is an especially well-balanced whiskey sour variation. Aside from the good booze, the agave, and the all important (though viscous and therefore tricky to measure out), egg white, the secret ingredient in here is the grapefruit. In fact, I have to credit this drink for dispelling my childish dislike of the bittersweet citrus fruit with legendarily healthy properties. I hated the stuff as a child and always remembered it as just bitter and ultra tart. I’m embarrassed to say that I haven’t tried eating the stuff in years. Apart from this drink, I find I now am increasingly tolerant of the stuff. It’s actually about as sweet as it is bitter, sorta kinda like the citrus equivalent of Campari or Aperol.

It’s healthy too. In fact, now I understand that grapefruit might actually help fight type 2 diabetes, an illness genetics — and my outsize enjoyment of food and drink — suggest I might fall prey to. Is it possible this is a drink that could save my life? Well, I’m definitely going to use that excuse the next time I make it.

  

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