Drink of the Week: The Diamondback

The Diamondback. It’s named for a terrapin turtle, not a rattlesnake, but this is a drink with a bite. Make no mistake about that.

Showing up in print first in Ted Saucier’s 1951 cocktail guide, Bottom’s Up, the Diamondback comes from the post-war boom in cocktail culture. That’s the one that inspired people to buy those cocktail sets that were handed down to some of us by our parents, grandparents,or great-grandparents. Nevertheless, as any true cocktail snob will tell you, that was a far cry from the highpoint of pre-prohibition cocktail creativity, despite the era’s booze-loving trappings. By the 1950s, cocktails were a pretty basic matter for the most part. In a funny way, the ingredients in a Diamondback feel almost like a throwback to a much earlier time in tippling history since both rye and apple brandies became increasingly rare in U.S. stores in the second half of the 20th century. Indeed, it was apparently the house drink at a venerable East coast bar, and it’s possible it’s history actually goes back a bit further than I know.

So, yes, the makings here are bit old school for the cast of “Mad Men” but not hard to find these days,though also not exactly inexpensive; the Diamondback contains chartreuse, an herbaceous and powerful product that a bunch of monks have a monopoly on; I hope they’re doing good works with the $50.00 or so you typically have to spend on one of their bottlings. Also, being comprised of three very potent brews, one a bit outre, this is a drink that Roger Sterling, at least, might have appreciated.

The Diamondback

1 1/2 ounces rye whiskey
3/4 ounce applejack (i.e., American apple brandy)
3/4 green chartreuse
1 cocktail cherry (garnish)

Combine your ingredients in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass with plenty of ice. You can stir this one if you like, but it will come out very, very strong. I shake it. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, add your cocktail cherry. You may toast our amphibian friend, the diamondback terrapin. More than one of these drinks and you won’t be moving much faster than one.

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According to cocktail blogger Doug Ford, the Diamondback was originally the Diamondback Lounge Cocktail and was the house beverage of the Lord Baltimore Hotel bar in guess-what-southeastern city? Originally, it was made with yellow chartreuse, which is milder, but most modern recipes call for the green variant. And let’s be clear, by “milder” we mean 80 proof. Green chartreuse clocks in at a stunning 110.

It gets worse, or perhaps better, because most of the people making this drink at various Internet locales are using 100 proof ryes like Rittenhouse and Laird’s Straight Apple Brandy, which is also bottled in bond, i.e., 100 proof. My gut reaction is to think that this might be a little too much of a good thing. In any case, the reality is that most of the boozes I actually had on hand this week were very slightly milder, which I thought might compensate to some degree for using the oh-so strong, but admittedly flavorful, green chartreuse.

The first time I made a Diamondback, I frankly found it a too strong. I used the last of the only 100 proof rye I had, 1776, but compensated for its strength via that fact that I’m too cheap to own a bottle of Laird’s Straight Apple Brandy at present; I went with Laird’s somewhat maligned  80 proof Applejack. (It’s blended with neutral spirits for a lighter taste which I think is very pleasant.) Then, I realized that, contrary to the cocktail snob’s dictum that drinks without juices should be always be stirred, the Diamondback was originally shaken. Especially as I don’t buy that particular dogma one little bit, I thought that made for a major improvement.

I also tried the Diamondback with 90 proof Bulleit Rye and Alberta Dark Rye. Both were just fine, but I give the slight edge to the one named after a Canadian province. It wasn’t the fact that it’s makers finally decided to send me a replacement bottle after the incident of the torn off plastic thingy, at least I don’t think it was. It’s just the gentler, sweeter flavor seemed to mellow out this fire-breathing turtle of a concoction.

  

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Drink of the Week: Pago Pago (a la Selvarey)

Image ALT text goes here.If you’ve been reading these posts regularly you know that I tend to lean strongly towards anything that makes good cocktails easier, simpler, or cheaper.

Today, I’m here to tell you that the bottle of the Selvarey Cacao Rum I was gifted with by the gods of publicity is something of a deal at it’s midline premium price and at a lower than average 70 proof.  That’s because it’s a truly tasty, yet tasteful, flavored spirit with a fine chocolatey flavor that will work for a lot of people sipped neat or just on the rocks, even if they’re the sort who normally would never drink anything straight up. It’s also true because, as a rather chocolate flavored rum, it’s something of a twofer in that it can seemingly be used in any cocktail that ordinarily calls for both white rum and the ever popular chocolate flavored liqueur, creme de cacao.

Which leads to this adaptation/simplification of a drink more commonly made not only with rum and chocolate liqueur, but muddled pineapple slices. That sounds lovely enough to check out here some time but, for today, we’re keeping it simple with a drink that is both lively, complex, chocolately and floral, thanks to a dash of green chartreuse. It’s pretty nice.

Pago Pago (a la Selvarey)

2 ounces Selvarey Cacao Rum
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce green chartreuse
1/2 ounce simple syrup or 1 tablespoon of superfine sugar
1 lime wheel (moderately optional garnish)

Combine the chocolate rum, lime juice, chartreuse (a floral liqueur beloved of fancy tipplers everywhere), and sweetener in a cocktail shaker with a lots of ice. Do the natural thing and shake it within an inch of your life and pour the result into a chilled cocktail glass. I know I usually give you something to toast, so let’s salute the capital of American Samao, which probably has nothing much to do with this drink but I’m sure it’s very lovely.

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I made this drink a a number of times. Aside from the time I found myself lime-less and used lemon juice instead (not bad!) I didn’t mess around too much with this drink, except for trying out superfine sugar instead of simple syrup.

1/2 ounce of Master of Mixes simple syrup has forty calories while a tablespoon of sugar has 38 calories but removing the small amount of water from the mixes results in a slightly sweeter beverage that I found slightly more balanced. I guess you could call that a win-win, very much like the drink itself.

  

Drink of the Week: The Last Word

The Last Word. Have you ever really had the last word in an argument? Lord knows I haven’t….and it’s so very definitely not for a lack of words, or for a lack of arguing. Ask anyone who knows me well, I love to argue and I think it’s entirely possible to disagree without being disagreeable. In fact, I barely have to disagree with you at all to, nevertheless, disagree. You can have pretty much identical politics, taste in cultural matters, cocktails, and all the rest and I’ll still argue with you about something because life is simply too short to go around agreeing with everyone all the time.

Still, no matter how important or silly the disagreement may be — or no matter how open-and-shut the case being argued — no one ever has the last word. Certainly not MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell of TV’s The Last Word, who I used to like a lot but who has gone off the deep end on odd subjects too many times for me to take too seriously. Nor even my beloved Rachel Maddow who, aside from having similar politics to my own (therefore making her a complete genius, naturally), also helped me get into this whole cocktail thing some years ago via the cocktail segments on her old Air America show. She ctually once made today’s drink on her TV show.

Nevertheless, as I was reminded by the makers of the very drinkable No.3 London Dry Gin, we may never ever get the last word in an argument, but we can all have The Last Word, and all we really need are four ingredients.

The Last Word

3/4 ounce London dry gin
3/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
3/4 ounce green chartreuse
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
1 lime slice (optional garnish)

Combine the liquids in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake with all the vigor of your Jack Daniels-guzzling right-wing uncle facing off against your pot-smoking auntie who drives the VW station wagon with thirty bumper stickers on it. Next, strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Toast the right to be as gloriously, insanely wrong in the eyes of others as you want to be.

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My cocktail books are still in boxes in DOTW’s enormous archives, but I can tell you that, according to Wikipedia and a few other odd blog posts, The Last Word was a pretty much forgotten prohibition era concoction until fairly recently. We are told that renowned Seattle bartender Murray Stenson singlehandedly revived the drink enough so that the rest of us could eventually hear about it.

Now, the version we are making this week, promulgated by the makers of No. 3 London Dry Gin and Nevada mixologist Francesco Lafranconi, differs from the original only with some very specific choices of brands. Mr. Franconi suggests using No. 3 London Dry Gin, of course, and also specifically calls for Luxardo Maraschino liqueur, which is more or less the standard choice, but not the only one. More about that in a second.

If you want a really lively and complex, you might even say complicated, beverage, then the Lafranconi version of this drink is definitely one good way to go. For whatever reasons the No. 3 gin and Luxardo allow the strong herbal flavors of the chartreuse to become bolder than usual, possibly because today’s featured gin has some pretty bold citrus-peel bouquet and flavor of its own. We are told that the original version of The Last Word used bathtub gin, which we imagine must have had some fairly bold aspects of its own, but probably not the tasty and aromatic No. 3 kind.

I have to admit I couldn’t resist also trying The Last Word with a very good Brand X dry gin and Maraska Maraschino, which is nearly as tasty as Luxardo but a lot cheaper. It has a slightly simpler appeal and it’s mouth feel is a bit less rich, but it’s quite good. That less uptown version of The Last Word was milder, a bit more muted. Very decent but not quite the ultimate version of the drink. Then again, I would never expect to have the last word on The Last Word.

 

  

Drink of the Week: The Bijou

The Bijou. Last week, I invoked the literal spirit of Will Rogers to deal with the insanity that seemed to be sweeping our nation’s capital. As I begin writing this week, it’s starting to appear that some sanity is returning. That’s something we’ll be drinking to this week, with a genuine antique that’s approved of by many of the cocktail cognoscenti. I just wish I loved this one a bit more than I do.

I stumbled over the Bijou in my increasingly well worn copy of Harry Craddock’s The Savoy Cocktail Book, but it’s history goes back to turn of the 20th Century, we are told, when it was included in a manual by bartending legend Harry Johnson. On this political week, it’s worth mentioning that it also got a big shot in the arm back in 2009 when cocktail loving MSNBC icon Rachel Maddow made one for Jimmy Fallon. Alas, I never saw that segment and it’s been pulled from Hulu for some reason. (I blame the Koch brothers.)

I, therefore, have no way of knowing if the woman who accompanies many of my dinners — and whose old Air America radio show helped me to discover the classic cocktail spirit — introduced some twist in her preparation which made the drink sing a bit more for her and Fallon than it does for me. The version I’ve been making is worth is worth a try even if I didn’t love it to death.

The Bijou

1 ounce Plymouth Gin or regular London dry gin
1 ounce Chartreuse
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 dash orange bitters

Combine your ingredients in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass, stir fairly vigorously, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. This week, let’s consider a toast to pure, sweet sanity as we down this complex semi-treat.

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The key ingredient in today’s drink is Chartreuse, also called Green Chartreuse to distinguish it from the milder Yellow Chartreuse. First featured here in star bartender Julie Reiner’s Shamrock Sour, this 110 proof liqueur beloved of cocktail aficionados and, apparently, Quentin Tarantino, is a prime example of a little going a long way. It’s a very herbal, very sweet, and very complex little bugger and gin doesn’t really stand a chance against it.

Since this is one of the 23 recipes in the Savoy book specifically calling for Plymouth Gin, I tried it that way a couple of times. Most recipes, however, call for the usual London style gin. I used Bombay Dry, which is what I have on hand these days, and I found it a bit crisper and more brash that way. Really, though, I  liked the drink about the same with both gins.

You may want to experiment with various garnishes. I tried a cheap maraschino cheery once, which didn’t hurt. Rightly renowned cocktail guru Robert Hess, who is obsessed with presentation to a point I tend to disagree with, calls for an elaborate orange peel, which does look pretty and probably wouldn’t hurt the flavor. I do have to reluctantly admit, however, that this drink really doesn’t benefit from shaking. Don’t ask me why, though I’ll never buy Hess’s argument that “clouding” drinks with ice crystals by shaking them is some kind of cocktail fate-worse-than-death.

Hess is also one of many to point out the word “bijou” means jewel in French, which to him means the drink is supposed to look jewel-like and, yes, be completely unclouded. Movie geek that I am, I associate the term with the frequent name for old theaters. Despite being namesakes, Robert Hess and I clearly don’t think that much alike, though he is absolutely correct when he adds the Bijou is extremely Chartreuse forward.

Some things really are kind of inarguable.Up is not down and day is not night though, as we’ve all learned, you can stop some people from claiming just that. I don’t know about you, but after everything we’ve been through, I could use a drink, any drink.

  

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