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 Jack Rose

the Jack Rose.Considering I’ve never noticed it on a menu, and never tried it myself until about a week ago, there’s a really good chance you’ve never had yourself a Jack Rose. In fact, this once standard drink might now be completely forgotten were it not for assorted mixed beverage historians and its appearance in two famed books: a walk-on in Ernest Hemingway’s ultra-boozy depressive classic, The Sun Also Rises, and a leading role as one of  the six basic cocktails featured in David Embury’s 1948 The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. That Embury could place this now obscure beverage alongside such ur-cocktails as the Daiquiri, the Manhattan, the Old Fashioned, and the Martini indicates that this was once a drink that appeared to have some real staying power.

So, what happened? Well, the Jack Rose is not based on whiskey, gin, or rum but on applejack, which is not a sweet cereal for kids but an American apple brandy that fell into disrepute for decades. I’m here to tell you that both the spirit and the drink are really very good — and it’s likely even better versions are out there. More on that, after the asterisks.

The Jack Rose

2 ounces applejack
1 ounce fresh lime or lemon juice
1/2 ounce grenadine
1 apple slice or cocktail cherry (optional garnish)

Combine the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake vigorously, strain into a chilled cocktail, and toast the printing press, the Internet, and all other means of storing memories. Now, nothing this good has to die forever.

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If you’ve had the French apple brandy, calvados, then you’ve had apple brandy but you haven’t had applejack. Brewed in New Jersey’s Monmouth County, Laird’s Applejack is pretty much the only game for what was once an ubiquitous American hard liquor. Apparently, part of the issue was that the traditional method of distilling hard apple cider into the applejack by freezing excess water sometimes had some seriously unfortunate chemical results. Happily, I’ve been enjoying quite a bit of Laird’s Applejack this week without the slightest threat to my life or eyesight. Indeed, I really liked the 80 proof Laird’s I was able to buy for a very reasonable price. A 100 proof version, which is very well reviewed and about $10.00 more per bottle, is theoretically available.

In any case, it’s equally good with lime or lemon juice, but don’t try a Jack Rose with pricey but much better known calvados and think you’re having a Jack Rose — a Jacques Rosé, perhaps, but not a Jack Rose. I found the calvados version of this drink a bit overdone and perfumey. With applejack, it’s a simple, balanced, refreshing drink that goes down as easy as any sophisticated cocktail you’ve ever had. It’s very nice.

I’m sure it’s possible the drink could be more fully bodied and complex with the 100 proof Laird’s. I’m also sure it could be even better with a finer grade of grenadine. Now, you can buy some very high end grenadines or you can do what all the cool cocktail kids are doing and make your own. For us poor and lazy folks, the Master of Mixes grenadine syrup is probably the best choice for about five or six bucks.

Here’s the deal. A really outstanding homemade or gourmet grenadine is mostly just a mixture of pomegranate juice and lots of sugar; most commercial grenadines seem to be a mixture of “natural and artificial flavors” and high fructose corn syrup, Master of Mixes splits the difference  with a mixture of pomegranate and cherry juice and a bit of the ol’ high fruc. I’m sure it could be improved upon, but it’s been working pretty beautifully so far in a number of cocktails here.

I know purists like David Wondrich would want me to make my own, and some day I just might. If you look around, there are plenty of recipes online if you’re so inclined — some are tantalizingly simple. However, these posts are largely dedicated to the idea that making really good cocktails at home can and should be very easy. With a decent storebought grenadine and a  tasty, inexpensive base spirit all cocktail fiends should check out, the Jack Rose is a great cocktail that you can make in about five minutes at home for, I’m guessing, less than $1.50 per drink. That’s something.

 

 

  

Drink of the Week: The Commodore

the Commodore.

One fact of boozy life that is both a source of endless fascination and constant befuddlement is that there isn’t a single cocktail recipe that is even remotely agreed upon, much less set in stone. Some may insist that an Old Fashioned is always made with exactly one teaspoon of water or club soda, one sugar cube, and two dashes of Angostura bitters. However, no one’s going to stop me from muddling an orange slice and/or cocktail cherry and maybe adding a bit more water and liking my version a bit better.

This week, I’m extra befuddled and feeling vaguely guilty. That’s not so much because of anything having to do with today’s drink but because this post is appearing just a few hours before the start of Yom Kippur and vague guilt is just a the natural state of being for ultra-secular Jews like myself.

Leaving all that tsuris aside, I can tell you that the Commodore is a worthwhile classic/pre-prohibition beverage with a softer edge, but I can’t even tell you which version I personally prefer. So, this week you get two recipes for the price of one, even if you’re really not supposed to be handling money on the high holidays. Did I mention that you’re also reading this on a Friday the 13th?

The Commodore

1 1/2 ounces bourbon
1 ounce fresh lemon juice
1 ounce white creme de cacao
1/4 teaspoon grenadine

OR

2 ounces bourbon
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
3/4 ounce white creme de cacao
1/4 teaspoon grenadine

Whichever recipe you choose, combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker, shake vigorously, and strain into a chilled champagne flute or cocktail glasses. Drink and toast our nation’s maritime armed forces or Dabney Coleman of “Boardwalk Empire.” (I’m at least two seasons behind so, please, no clues on the Commodore’s ultimate fate, please.)

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Allow me to explain the nature of this week’s cocktail cockup. Returning to the scene of the crime that was my recent Clover Club triology, my first try at the Commodore was a recipe taken almost exactly from Robert Hess’s The Essential Cocktail Guide, the second of the two recipes you see above. Made with Four Roses bourbon from a nearly empty bottle, it was pretty wonderful, with the chocolate from the creme de cacao doing a merry dance with the bourbon and citrius as the grenadine added just a hint of additional color. (The one change I made in Hess’s recipe is rendering his “dash” of grenadine as a quarter teaspoon.)

Subsequent research, however, provided me with two discoveries. Firstly, there are actually a number of barely related classic-era cocktails called “Commodore,” including one with rum and egg white I might well be trying pretty soon, and a version from The Savoy Cocktail Book that is basically just a super simple Canadian whiskey sour. Secondly, I discovered that the Hess recipe was actually a refinement of a somewhat less boozy cocktail from an era when good bourbon was probably a little harder to find than in these times of alcoholic plenty.

So, that led me to the first recipe of the cocktail you see above. While I found that I enjoyed it well enough, one of my in-house guinea pigs found it a bit over-citrusy and I had to admit it wasn’t quite the subtle taste treat I remembered from my first try at the Commodore. I found, however, that when I switched out the lighter 80 proof Four Roses I started with for some 100 proof Knob Creek, I liked that version a lot better.  Still, that first drink, the one with more whiskey and less lemon, was so strong in my memory that it would still just have to my recommendation to the denizens of DOTW land.

That, however, went all to hell when I tried the Hess recipe again. A super-boozy attempt using two whole ounces of Knob Creek was, to my mouth, a bitter tasting non-starter which I tossed out.  I then went with what I thought would be a sure thing — Basil Hayden, which is both 80 proof and an absolutely outstanding bourbon that usually mixes superbly. For whatever reason, using it with the Robert Hess recipe was okay but far from spectacular. Since I’m out of Four Roses, it’s hard to know whether my love of that first Commodore was just the thrill of the new, or a repeatable phenomenon, as long as I stuck with just the right bourbon. So, despite being a bit citrusy and overtart, I think I’ll have less to atone for, and will  have a slightly better chance of being inscribed in the Cocktail Book of Life, if I steer readers towards the older recipe I listed first. Got that?

Shana tova, everybody.

  

Drink of the Week: The Clover Club (The Rasp-Wiki Take)

The Clover Club (again). If you have a deep aversion to déjà vu, I advise you to take a break from today’s and, yes, next week’s posts. (I haven’t decided yet about the week after that!)

You see, I’ve always been fascinated by how seemingly very small changes in cocktails can make very big differences. I also was, to be honest, fairly embarrassed to find out at close to the last minute last week that the Clover Club recipes I got from two bonafide cocktail book classics, Harry Craddock’s prohibition era Savoy Cocktail Book and Robert Hess’s vastly more recent The Essential Cocktail Guide, could be seen as  minority takes on the drink.

It turned out that most of the presumably classic recipes I found online, such as the one featured on Wikipedia, suggested rather strongly that raspberry syrup, not grenadine, was the default sweetener/pinker-upper for this refreshing, too little known cocktail treat. I basically had to try this version out, and so we have today’s pinker, tangier take on the Clover Club.

What’s the difference between a little grenadine or a little raspberry syrup? I’ll tell you on the flip side.

The Clover Club (the Rasp-Wiki Take)

1 1/2 ounces gin
1/2-3/4 ounces fresh lemon juice
1 egg white
1/4 ounce raspberry syrup

Once again, we combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker, sans ice. Once again, we shake the luke-cool concoction to properly emulsify the egg. Once that’s done, we add some ice and shake again, very vigorously, to add much needed ice water to the mix. Then, it’s naturally time to strain the drink into a chilled cocktail glass. Our toast? How about to second (and third) chances?

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So, which is better, the grenadine or the raspberry syrup iteration? If I had to choose, I think I’d go with last week’s grenadine. This raspberry adds a delightful tang I really enjoyed, but it was less sturdy in the sense it doesn’t really stand up to as much variation. Last week, I found my favorite version employed 3/4 of an ounce of lime juice although (a bit less) lemon juice was just fine. This time around, I’m counseling readers to skip the lime completely. For me at least, it just didn’t work. Lime juice has some additional flavors that just don’t blend with the raspberry.

My favorite version of this drink, however, did use the entire 3/4 ounce of lemon juice, which I suppose is odd given my tart-phobia. I’m guessing there’s something about the dryness of the lemon juice blending with the tangier raspberry-derived flavor. Ultimately, it’s a mystery.

And, speaking of mysteries, yes, will be trying another ever-so-slight variation of this week’s beverage next week. Next time around, we introduce something entirely new…a garnish! Stay tuned.

  

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