Drink of the Week: The Egg (TCM Fest Salute #1)

The Egg.Yes, it’s time for another four-part  salute to the just now bygone Turner Classic Movies Festival of 2015. For the second year in a row, I’ll be presenting cocktails of my own creation inspired by some of the amazing films I saw this year. (If you’re interested in last year’s selections, start here and work your way backwards.)

We’re starting with a drink inspired by the restoration I was personally most anxious to see, not because it’s a particularly well made film but because it’s such a strong piece of material that all producer Jack L. Warner had to do was buy a Broadway show lock stock and barrel, including all of the original cast, and just throw it up on the screen, which is pretty much exactly what happened.

I speak of 1972’s film version of”1776,” a musical which began with and odd conceit by history teacher turned Brill Building songwriter Sherman Edwards. It suggested that a play about the creation and signing of Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence should involve singing and some fairly broad comedy along with the more serious history lesson. It’s a childhood favorite I (and a bunch of my friends, for some reason) have carried on into adulthood, and it seems like the perfect inspiration for a drink that’s as messy as our nation’s history. It’s basically a flip, a drink as old school as it gets, while being more than a bit radical in terms of its many ingredients.

Yes, I’ve found yet another excuse to make a drink using the world’s most delightfully controversial cocktail ingredient. That’s because today’s drink takes it’s name from my favorite song in “1776,” which compares to the birth of a nation to the birth of it’s national bird…and you know where little birds come from.

The Egg

3/4 ounce Laird’s Applejack
3/4 ounce 1776 Rye Whiskey
1/2 ounce Cherry Herring
1/2 ounce Cynar
1 teaspoon cherry syrup (Torani)
1 teaspoon raspberry syrup (Torani)
1 whole egg
3-4 drops Peychaud’s Bitters (important garnish)

Combine the egg and all the liquid ingredients other than the bitters in a cocktail shaker. Shake without ice to emulsify the egg. Add lots of ice and shake again, much more vigorously this time. Strain into a chilled wine glass. Wait for just a moment as a small cap of foam will appear at the top of the glass. Add 3-4 drops of bright red Peychaud’s Bitters to the top for color. Toast the many flavors that comprise this problematic but fabulous country.

*******

Now, on to the ingredients. Rye, perhaps even more than bourbon, is probably the most authentically North American whiskey and, well, I simply couldn’t ignore the highly coincidental brand name, 1776. Applejack, basically American-style apple brandy, was largely forgotten until recently but it’s the quintessential early American spirit. A version of it was made and sold by no less than George Washington himself. (Yes, General Washington had little to do with the declaration and is not physically present in the play or film “1776,” but he nevertheless plays an important off-screen/off-stage role.)

The rest of my selections here take their cue from the fact that Declaration of Independence author Thomas Jefferson was a farmer who was personally quite partial to vegetables and fruit over meats and such. Cynar is a bittersweet liqueur that’s well known to the cocktail cognoscenti as being derived from artichokes, which were grown at Jefferson’s Monticello along with, you guessed it, raspberries and cherries. Peychaud’s bitters were selected largely for their bright red/pink color but also because they hail from the city of New Orleans, circa 1830. That capital of cocktailing was, of course, acquired for our great nation a few decades after 1776 by President Jefferson as part of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase

Now, I readily admit that there’s nothing in particular in my drink that represents John Adams, the actual protagonist of “1776,” or the great sage and comedy relief of the piece, Benjamin Franklin. Yet, if you dare to try this drink out for yourself — and I think you really should — you’ll find a lively and enjoyable debate going on in your tongue, and these were three men who all definitely had their own distinctive points of view. Unfettered debate, with or without rancor, is the very heart of this nation at its best and, this time, I think it’s also the heart of a good drink. I’ll also say that there is no way on earth this drink would work were it not for the unifying factor of the whole egg, which can paper over a million gustatory conflicts.

If you try the Egg and hate it, well, that’s okay. We can’t win every argument. And maybe the dove or the turkey really should have been our national bird. To find out what I mean, observe the mastery of William Daniels as John Adams, Ken Howard as Jefferson, and the late, great Howard da Silva as Franklin, as they discuss the matter at hand

  

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Drink of the Week: The Brainstorm

the Brainstorm.So, last week we began my two-part penance for missing my St. Patrick’s Day cocktail window. Today’s drink is supposed to be the direct descendant of Alternative Ulster, but to me it’s really a completely different thing. Less sweet, more sophisticated and boozy.

The Brainstorm is definitely of the classic age of cocktails. A version  appears in 1930’s The Savoy Cocktail Book. David Wondrich, from whom I  completely stole this week’s recipe, calls it a drink of “obscure but venerable origins.” In others words, we know it’s pretty old, but we don’t know a hell of a lot else.

Still, this is a very decent concoction for anyone who likes their Irish whiskey not too dressed up, but isn’t quite up for a straight shot with a Guiness chaser. On the other hand, I have no idea why this drink is called a brainstorm, as I find it quiets the mind nicely.

The Brainstorm

2 ounces Irish whiskey
1/2 tablespoon Benedictine
1/2 tablespoon dry vermouth
1 orange twist (desirable garnish)

Combine the Irish whiskey, Benedictine (a very sweet liqueur whose ingredients are known only to an order of monks and the deity they worship), and dry vermouth in a cocktail shaker. Note, I didn’t say “cocktail shaker or mixing glass” as I usually do because, for some reason, Wondrich — who, like the majority of cocktail purists, ordinarily disdains shaking anything not containing citrus or other fresh ingredients lest it cloud the final result — states we should shake this particular drink, pretty much without explanation. So, for pity’s sake, shake this drink.

Then, as per usual, strain it into a chilled martini style glass or cocktail coupe. Add your orange twist. You may then toast your favorite Irish authors. For me it’s a battle between George Bernard Shaw and James Joyce, but if you go with Oscar Wilde, I won’t object.

****

I tried this one with the last of my bottle of Bushmills, as well as Kilbeggan and Concannon. I’d give a very slight edge to the milder tasting Bushmills on this drink but, really, every iteration came out fairly similar. More dry than sweet, almost forbidding, but a very respectable and serious cocktail overall. I tried boosting the Benedictine and Martini dry vermouth, as some recipes suggest, but that didn’t improve the drink. The Brainstorm wants to be dry.

I should also add that there are numerous versions of the Brainstorm that very so radically as to be almost completely different cocktails, including many with rye and bourbon. I’m sure those may be pretty good, but they’re aren’t particularly Irish, are they?

  

Drink of the Week: Alternative Ulster

Alternative Ulster.As I noted towards the end of last week’s post, I tragically missed St. Patrick’s Day this year. That’s sort of unfortunate since it’s probably the U.S.A.’s second biggest drinking holiday following New Year’s, though here in the Southwestern edge of the United States, Cinco de Mayo might be bigger. (Or not. I’m a cocktail blogger, not a demographer, damnit!)

In any case, I am attempting to make amends with a pair of posts featuring Irish whiskey. Considering that it’s smoother, sweater and less smokey than its Scottish cousin, it’s a bit of mystery to me why there aren’t more popular cocktails featuring this mythic force behind one of the world’s most fascinating nations and peoples. It’s time to do my part to make up for that sad fact.

Today’s cocktail is actually a variation on a classic cocktail we’ll be exploring next week, the Brainstorm. I started with the latter day version, though, because it features Amaro Montenegro. I got to enjoy this popular European liqueur thanks to a gift from a wise and good friend some time ago — and I had just barely enough left to use it in one more cocktail, even though I’m pretty sure I’ve only used it for a DOTW once before. That’s because the bittersweet orangey member of the amaro family of liqueurs is much to my liking with just a little bit of soda water or on the rocks. If you enjoy Aperol, and boy do I ever, definitely give this one a try.

As I learned via Kindred Cocktails, Alternative Ulster was developed by New York bartender Joshua Perez. It appears to have borrowed it’s name from the punk rock anthem by Northern Ireland’s Stiff Little Fingers, or perhaps the now defunct music magazine that also borrowed it’s name.

It’s a lively and simple little cocktail that’s fairly bracing and balanced between the sweet and bitter, as befits its Irish and pop-punk rock heritage. I like it and maybe you will, too.

Alternative Ulster

1 1/2 ounces Irish whiskey
3/4 ounce Amaro Montenegro
3/4 ounce dry vermouth
1 dash orange bitters
1 lemon twist (highly advisable garnish)

Combine all of the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass with plenty of ice. Either stir vigorously or shake and strain into a well-chilled coupe or martini-style cocktail glass. Add your lemon twist and enjoy.

As for the toast, why not salute Northern Irish peace? When I was kid, solving “the troubles” was often compared to Middle East peace in terms of difficulty. Yet, this April the world will be celebrating the 17th anniversary of the 1998 agreements that really did seem to end this much too lengthy near civil war. Maybe someday, probably not any time too soon, I fear, we can have some similar luck of the Irish in other places where hatred and fear still seems to rule. It’s worth drinking to.

****

While Mr. Perez’s original recipe suggests using Jameson Irish whiskey and Dolin’s dry vermouth, I didn’t have either of those on hand. Instead I used Martini for my vermouth and three different brands of demon whiskey: Bushmills, Kilbeggan, and Concannon. All three worked fine, though I lean slightly more in favor of the results that I got using the latter two brands. They had a bit more bite to them, leading to tangier final products.

Also, though I usually lean towards shaking over stirring, this time I think bartender Perez perhaps had it right by suggesting stirring this drink. Don’t ask me why, but it just seemed to come out every so slightly better that way. Just make sure you stir a lot and make sure your glass is very thoroughly chilled.

And now, this is the time at Drink of the Week when we pogo.

 

  

Drink of the Week: Basil Hayden’s Power Play

Basil Hayden's Power Play.This week we finally come to the end of a cycle of posts featuring a number of good-to-fantastic cocktails, all courtesy of the gods of booze publicity and the free bottles of booze they are kind enough to occasionally send me. This week’s drink is a very tasty way to end the series and is intended as a sort of salute to the relatively new season of what I imagine has to be the most popular of all web-only television series, Beau Willimon’s bass-heavy, caustically compelling “House of Cards.”

Basil Hayden’s Power Play caught my eye not so much because of the promotion tied in with the latest adventures of the ultra-ruthless Democratic pol-on-the-rise played by the great Kevin Spacey, but because of one very unusual cocktail ingredient. You see, we’re actually a week late for the premiere of the new season and I’m only just now caught up with season one. However, the combination of one of the USA’s great bourbons and the inclusion of root beer was the grabber.

I’ve often wondered why, unlike ginger ale/ginger beer, cola, and 7-Up/Sprite, root beer and cream soda never seem to make an appearance in cocktails. And, yes, these are easily my two favorite sodas. Let’s give it a try.

Basil Hayden’s® Power Play

1 1/2 ounces Basil Hayden’s Bourbon
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
3/4 ounce simple syrup
2 drops of vanilla extract
2 splashes of root beer
1 lemon rind slice (highly advisable garnish)

Combine the bourbon, lemon juice, simple syrup, vanilla extract and one splash of your favorite root beer in a double sized rocks/old fashioned glass with plenty of ice. Pour into a cocktail shaker, mixing glass, or really any receptacle large enough to hold the entire drink. Do not shake, but instead pour directly back into your double rocks glass. Add another splash of root beer and  your lemon rind garnish for a bit of additional ruthlessness. Toast the fact that you are almost certainly a much nicer and/or less broken person than Frank Underwood or almost anyone he knows. It might be fun and, sadly, educational, to watch political thrillers about conscience-challenged humans, but niceness is underrated!

******

First of all, I usually hesitate to actually include the names of booze brands — no matter how excellent — in the names of the cocktails we use here, even if that’s the name I’m given by its purveyors. However, there’s already another drink called the Power Play, which is very different from this one. Also, as is my usual practice, I tried this with a good Brand X bourbon and it was disappointing. Stick with the call brand this time.

Justifying it’s super-premium price tag, Basil Hayden’s is one of the very few bourbons I’ll drink semi-straight (on the rocks, say) by choice. It’s got a Scotch-like astringency to it and is less sweet than a lot of other bourbons. That’s important because, between the simple syrup and the root beer, this is a pretty sweet concotion and sweeter bourbons are a real problem here.

I also typically like to give readers an option to switch out simple syrup with suger as a way to may life easier. That substitution didn’t work either. You can always simply combine a heaping tablespoon of easily dissolved superfine sugar with an equal amount of water and mix them together for simple syrup on the fly.

Finally, I wish I could report you to you how this drink worked with various brands of root beer. I love root beer at least as much as I love my favorite cocktails and there are a number of brands I like more than the others. Still, the stuff is, to me, far more addictively irresistible than booze, and I feared the impact on my blood sugar if I bought more than one brand. I fortunately found a half-size six pack of my beloved ultimate default root beer, A&W, and stuck with that. It was mighty good as long as I didn’t overdo the splashes.

And one last thing. I know, I know, this post has nothing to do with St. Patrick’s Day this Tuesday. I’m sorry…I failed to give the calendar a look before it was too late. Frank would try to capitalize on my weakness, but I hope you’ll be more forgiving and not try to blow my house down.

  

Drink of the Week: The Cru-Zen

the Cru-Zen.People keep sending me free bottles of booze and recipes to go with them, and I keep noting that many of the cocktails developed to promote liquor brands are extremely good…all the better to market the product, after all. I just wish I could tell you the name of the genius who came up with this week’s drink, because I think it’s really superb.

Yes, it features egg white, which never hurts with me, but it’s also introduces some other new ingredients, including bianco (white) vermouth, a product I’ve often seen at my area’s big box liquor stores but which I’ve only just now tried. As the immortal Mr. Spock might have said if he could ever get beyond his Saurian brandy, it’s fascinating stuff and deserves to be featured in a lot more cocktails. Expecting me to be working on that in coming weeks.

Moving on, this week’s sponsor-booze is Cruzan Aged Light Rum, an extremely decent mixing rum with a nicely low price point that’s very comparable to the somewhat less complex nationally known light rums. It’s a bit less dry than some of its competitors, with definite hints of vanilla and maybe some extra alcoholic burn. It therefore arguably makes an excellent base spirit foil for an otherwise gentle drink.

I honestly think the Cru-Zen has the right stuff to become a new cocktail classic for sophisticated sippers seeking out a truly balanced beverage. It’s a thoughtful, more sweet than sour mixture that’s at least as worth contemplating as the sound of one hand clapping.

The Cru-Zen

1 1/2 ounces light rum
1/2 ounce bianco vermouth
1/2 ounce chamomile syrup (see the instructions below)
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1 egg white
1-2 dashes of bitters

Before we can started, a word about that chamomile syrup. I usually strictly avoid any drink that demands I make my own syrup. I like to keep things simple because I don’t want to scare readers away from making these drinks, and also because I’m lazy myself. Still, I broke my own rule because this drink sounded great (I was right) and the camomile syrup is ridiculously easy to make. You just submerge a single pure chamomile teabag in four ounces of boiling water for five minutes, as if you’re making a double strength cup of herb tea. Next, you add four ounces (half a cup) of sugar, stirred a little bit, and voila, syrup…though you probably want to stick it in the fridge for a little bit before actually using it.

Okay, so to make our Cru-Zen, we combine our syrup, rum, and all the other liquid ingredients including egg white. (If you’re using pasteurized commercial egg white, like I generally do, use three tablespoons to approximate one large egg, sans yolk.) First, “dry” shake it without ice, as always being careful to prevent messy explosions powered — I think — by the albumin in egg white. Then, add your ice and shake again very vigorously for about ten seconds.

Next, double strain it into a well chilled cocktail coupe or regular style martini glass. By “double strain” I mean simply running the liquid through a regular fine mesh strainer as well as the standard cocktail strainer to remove any stray lemon juice pulp. You should wind up with a very nice head foam on top. Finally, add one or two drops of aromatic bitters — Angostura works beautifully here — as a garnish, exactly as you would when making a Pisco Sour. You can toast your favorite zen master or public school teacher, you’ll be in a good mood regardless.

***

Lest there be any confusion, I think this is a really amazing drink and a rather sturdy one as well. It was designed for the more flavor-heavy Cruzan rum, but I tried it with an extremely well known, plainer but smoother brand X white rum, and the result was almost equally delightful. I would, however, counsel anyone to stick to the instruction regarding the double straining.

I was initially skeptical that it was necessary to strain out the near-microscopic bits of lemon pulp that might end up in single-strained version of the Cru-Zen, but then I tried eschewing the additional strainer, and the result wasn’t nearly as good. Apparently, the pulp emphasized the lemon notes and drowned out a number of other flavors.

Also, it’s crucial not to get confused here about what bianco vermouth, sometimes called white vermouth, actually is. The dry vermouth you should use in your martini might also be white, but it’s not bianco. It is actually even sweeter than ordinary red sweet vermouth. Since this was my first bianco experience, I decided to go with the ultimate default brand of Martini and Rossi.

I tend to think of Martini as being a good but basic brand, but I nevertheless found it to be a full bodied product; it’s not surprising to find out that bianco vermouths are hugely popular in Europe, drunk on the rocks with maybe a lemon twist or with carbonated water as a spritzer. A good portion of the really subtle, you might even say zen, aspects of this drink have to do with the many floral flavor notes you’ll find in this product. It’s a beverage I plan to explore further, for sure.

 

  

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