Drink of the Week: The Round Robin

The Round Robin.Are you into absinthe? I’m definitely not averse to it as a little-goes-a-very-long-way ingredient in a numerous drinks, but I can’t say that I’m a fan of it in it’s classic mode of preparation. It’s not just it’s strength and bitterness, it’s the fact that I’m not even a fan of licorice candy, let alone industrial-strength anise and fennel.

On the other hand, if there’s one ingredient I’ve found in my alcoholic wanderings that can transform a potentially repulsive drink into a taste treat, it’s a raw egg white, properly emulsified. This week’s drink, which comes I know not from where, puts that theory to the test in a big, big way. Let’s get this wormword and poultry-product party started.

The Round Robin

1 ounce brandy
1 ounce absinthe
1 egg white
1 teaspoon superfine sugar

Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker. To emulsify the egg white, shake vigorously without ice. Then, add ice, shake vigorously again, and strain into a wine glass. Toast the legalization of absinthe back in the mid-2000s when people started to figure out that the stuff is no more (or less) dangerous than other types of booze. Prohibition never works.

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Well, I guess this is another vote from me for the miraculous properties of raw eggs  in cocktails as, on balance, I really like this drink. In fact, I like this drink so much that, even though I’d have a hard time finding a difference between good absinthe and bad absinthe, I’d almost spend the $70 or more it takes to buy some of the putative good stuff just to try it in a Round Robin.

Why? Well, just as an Old Fashioned humanizes even a very strong bourbon or rye, the Round Robin actually makes the bitter licorice on steroids flavor of absinthe not only tolerable but fascinating.

While I only have one brand of absinthe on hand and it’s not supposed to be that good — I gather than aficionados of the wormwood liquor find Absinthe Ordinaire to be appropriately named at a mere 92 proof — I did try different brandies out. Killing my bottle of St. Remy worked just fine but a Ile de Ré Fine Island Cognac worked even better.

However, the one big change I made from my usual habit was was using a pasteurized brand of egg white I picked up at my local Trader Joe’s (3 tablespoons of the stuff is said to approximate one egg white). While the the seemingly low viscosity of the stuff looked suspect, the fact of the matter is that it worked just as well as the stuff you get directly from the chicken…and I know my friend from the local health department would agree that salmonella is about the last thing I need right now. I’m usually not one to worry about such stuff, but if you’d been through as many perfect storms I’ve been through over the last six months, you might be a bit extra cautious yourself.

Coming up next: An adventure with pasteurized whole eggs and a coffee drink with zero caffeine and no decaffeinated coffee, either.

  

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Drink of the Week: The Ritz Cocktail

the Ritz Cocktail. What are you willing to give up for a cocktail? If you live in Los Angeles, the answer for the casual fancier of serious mixed beverages might be as high as $17.00 in some joints. If you’re one of the people who actually makes his living trying to make really good cocktails, however, the price might be a little higher still.

As I’m learning from an upcoming film I’m probably embargoed from discussing in any detail, the documentary “Hey Bartender,” the business of dispensing booze can take from a person’s life, but it can also give. However, the price I’m thinking about right now has mostly to do with the garnish — yes, the garnish — of today’s drink.

Fire is involved, and so is my right hand. I like my right hand. It’s helping me type this blog post and it does other nice things for me from time to time. But more about that later. (The garnish, I mean.)

The Ritz Cocktail was created by a cocktail legend I’m not sure I’ve even mentioned here before, and that’s largely due to the fact that I’m still a relative newbie to serious boozing. Although he’s not quite a household name — even his Wikipedia page is a still a stub — Dale DeGroff is credited by lots of folks as spearheading the revival of the lost art of the American cocktail. This started back in the 1980s, when he was at the Rainbow Rock at Manhattan’s 30 Rock, I was still in school, and most of the oldest of you all were lucky to be past the zygote stage….and DeGroff is still a relatively young man for a living legend. Well, his Wiki doesn’t give his age, so it’s hard to be sure.

Today’s drink is contained in DeGroff’s epochal 2002 tome, The Craft of the Cocktail. It’s named in honor of the several legendary bars of the famed Ritz hotel chain founded by César Ritz. Much as Mr. DeGroff has been dubbed “King Cocktail,” Mr. Ritz was dubbed “king of hoteliers, and hotelier to kings.” So far as I know, however, he had nothing to do with the cracker.

The Ritz Cocktail (the slightly heretical and debased version)

3/4-1 ounce cognac, or brandy alternative
1/2 ounce Cointreau
1/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
Champagne or sparkling white wine alternative
Flamed orange peel (garnish, to be explained!)

Read the rest of this entry »

  

Drink of the Week: The Vieux Carre

The Vieux Carre.Like most Americans, I’m not exactly a polyglot. Four years of junior high and high school Spanish have been of great assistance in helping me to order  items at taco trucks; three quarters of college French allow me to chuckle knowingly to myself when “merde!” is translated as “damn!” in subtitles. So, I can’t properly pronounce the name of the Vieux Carre, but I can tell you it means “old square.” That square, as it turns out, is off of Bourbon Street in New Orleans, and this is another fine cocktail associated with America’s most intriguing cocktail capital.

Quite obviously, however, this is not in the same category as a Hurricane and it’s not the one of the scary, gigantic green drinks featured on this year’s season premiere of “Bar Rescue.” While, for me, the Vieux Carre doesn’t quite achieve the classic cocktail nirvana of a Sazerac, this is one beverage that actually gets tastier the longer you let it sit. It’s perfect for a long conversation and, by the end of it, even ever-so-justifiably-furious bar rescuer John Taffer might get mellow enough to maybe stop shouting for just a second.

The Vieux Carre

3/4 ounce rye whiskey
3/4 ounce cognac or brandy
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
1 teaspoon Benedictine
2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
2 dashes aromatic  bitters (Angostura or similar)
1 lemon twist (garnish)

Making this drink is about as easy to make as it is to get a buzz going in the French Quarter. Build over some ice cubes in a rock glass, stir, and add the lemon twist. Toast whatever or whomever you like, but do so slowly.

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I’m very sorry to say that this week’s post completes my trilogy of drinks of cocktails featuring Camus’s Ile de Ré Fine Island Cognac. Sadly, that’s the case because I polished off the bottle last night. No disrespect to my value-priced go-to brandy, Reynal, but there’s a reason the Camus people get to charge the big bucks for this stuff. It’s great in a cocktail and remarkably easy and pleasurable to drink neat. Good thing I still have a few airplane bottles of various Ile de Ré expressions in my alcohol laden larder.

My rye for this double-base spirit cocktail was another new freebie favorite we’ve featured here before, the lovely Templeton Rye, previously featured in the Capone.  I usually lean towards higher proof ryes like my old pal, 100 proof Rittenhouse, but that might have been a bit much in this context; Templeton’s more mellow flavor makes it a pretty perfect match for a Vieux Carre.

I experimented quite a bit with the other ingredients. Many recipes call for more booze and somewhat less of the Benedictine — a very sweet herbal liqueur which famously mixes well with brandy. I also tried three different sweet vermouths, all favorites. The lightest was Noilly Pratt, which was very nice, but an even better result was achieved with the greatness that is Carpano Antica. (Yet another freebie previously featured here).

I also tried it with another great product I’ll be featuring later, Punt e Mes. In that instance, it sort of dominated the cocktail but, since I love, love, love me some Punt e Mes, I didn’t really mind.

One final note, apparently to really do the Vieux Carre right, some people suggest you should make it with just one very large ice cube. Sounds cool, but I guess I need to find an ice cube tray that make 3″x 3″ ice cubes.

Anyhow, a moment of non-silence for my forever spent bottle of fine cognac. Mr. Gillespie, it’s time for a little Cognac blues.

  

Drink of the Week: The Egg Sour

Image ALT text goes here.A coworker of mine pointed out to me recently that  a good chunk of my post on eggnog from Christmas of 2011 consisted of warnings, provisos, and disclaimers about the use of raw egg. Well, I included no such warning on my post on the amazing Pisco Sour a couple of weeks back, although that used only a pretty small amount of egg white. Today, I’m throwing all caution to the proverbial wind with a drink featuring an entire egg — yolk and all. The fact that I had about 9 bird ova in the fridge threatening to go to waste earlier this week is entirely coincidental.

The Egg Sour appears to have originated in print via Jerry Thomas’s classic bartending guide from 1887 — back in the days when refrigeration was rare and penicillin was nonexistent but people knew a tasty and seriously refreshing libation when they tasted one. This drink would also fall easily into the category of a breakfast drink. While I don’t usually go in for that sort of thing, this is certainly a first-rate, and more potent, mimosa alternative.

The Egg Sour

1 ounce cognac or brandy
1 ounce orange curaçao
1/2 ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon superfine sugar
1 large egg

Combine your cognac, curaçao, lemon juice, whole egg, and sugar, in a cocktail shaker. It’s not entirely necessary but, if you like, you can beat the egg into the rest of the ingredients to aid in the blending process. (It might be more important to observe this step if you’re attempting two Egg Sours at a time.) Next, shake all of your ingredients vigorously without ice in order to ensure a good mix. When you take off the top of your shaker, you should see a nice orangey-white froth. Add ice, shake again very vigorously, and strain into a well-chilled rocks glass. Toast the chicken, or the egg, whichever you think comes first.

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Very observant readers may notice that a couple of ingredients are similar to last week’s drink, the East India House Cocktail, and that’s no coincidence. I took advantage of my newish bottle of curaçao and the lovely, and very free, fifth of Camus Ile de Ré Fine Island Cognac for this drink and it’s a lovely combination. I’m sure other brands of cognac or brandy, such as my value-priced fall back brandy, Reynal, will work extremely nicely here as well, though they may lack a certain touch of class.

As I said above, this is one seriously refreshing but, thanks to the lemon, not quite super-sweet drink. I tried doubling the sugar up to two teaspoons for people with stronger sweettooths, but the result actually tasted less sweet and pleasing to the tongue and had similar results with an entire teaspoon of simple syrup. Interesting.

This is the point in the blog when I usually comment on some cultural or personal aspect of a given beverage, but today’s drink is just tasty in a way that’s totally out of context with much of anything else. Maybe I should have spent more time defending my use of a raw egg.

  

Drink of the Week: The East India House Cocktail

The East India House Cocktail. It’s not exactly a secret around here that I greatly lean towards cocktails as opposed to drinking even truly fine spirits straight. Still, it’s fairly obvious even to me why the best cognacs and other high end brandies are among the most popular of all beverages to enjoy neat. Certainly that applies to the Ile de Ré Fine Island Cognac from the Camus line of fine cognacs with which I was recently blessed by the Powers that Booze.

The PR materials for this brandy emphasize the fact that this particular cognac actually comes from a tiny island off the coast of France which is legally included in the Cognac appellation. My grasp of French geography is nowhere near strong enough for me to know if this is a bit of alcoholic loophole, but no one seems to be complaining about the quality of this cognac which, we are told has a “maritime” feeling and a dash of iodine in its flavor. I’ve never drunk iodine, so I wouldn’t know, but this is definitely about as sippable as any brandy or cognac I’ve enjoyed, and there is a bit of similarity to a good, slightly smokey Scotch I’m sure many will enjoy. It’s also very, very good with an equal part of brandy’s best known significant other, Benedictine.

Nevertheless, while many consider it a sacrilege to make cocktails out of really outstanding cognac, breaking that particular taboo is a big part of the name of the game here at DOTW Central. Even so, we’ve managed to find a very nice cocktail that permits the cognac to be the star of the show, adding a number of sweeteners in small amounts to make for an intriguing and very drinkable whole. While not the equal of the mighty Cognac Sazerac, todays drink is worthy of the status of a very good second-tier classic.

The East India House Cocktail

2 oz cognac (or brandy, if you are an impoverished peon who doesn’t get free booze in the mail)
1 tsp. pineapple juice
1 tsp. superfine sugar
1 tsp. orange curaçao
1 tsp. maraschino liqeuer
1-2 dashes aromatic or Peychaud’s bitters
1 cherry or lemon twist (fairly optional garnish)

Combine the ingredients in a cocktail sugar, stir briefly to dissolve the superfine sugar. Add ice, shake vigorously and strain into a well chilled cocktail glass. If you’re looking for something to toast, you might consider the phylloxera louse. While it’s not typical to salute a vine-eating vermin, this wingless insect was kind enough to leave the Ile de Ré alone back in the 1850s even as it was munching up mainland wine crops. I’m not 100% sure this is relevant to the quality of the island’s cognac today; I just like saluting lice.

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There are several versions of this drink, also sometimes referred to simply as the “East India Cocktail,” so feel free to experiment. Some versions I stumbled upon call for raspberry syrup in place of the pineapple and sugar, which sounds worth a try. Robert Hess of “The Cocktail Spirit,” dispenses with the sugar and just goes with the pineapple juice, though the original recipe called for pineapple syrup (i.e., pineapple juice and sugar). I found his version a bit lacking.

While I’m a fan of all of the ingredients, I’m not certain I’ve found the perfect mix here, so I definitely encourage further experimentation. If anyone out there has better luck with different proportions, I’d love to hear about it. I will say my favorite version featured Angostura bitters and a lemon twist, but every permutation I tried worked fairly well.

For those of you wondering about the name of this week’s drink, the East India House was a real place in London. It was the headquarters of the East India Company, which was crucial in the development of British Imperialism from the Renaissance up through the 19th century, when it was nationalized by the English parliament.

Especially if you’re of Indian or Chinese extraction or just really into human rights, you might consider a drink with a name like that to be a distasteful celebration of oppression. However, another drink I considered making this week was called the “Antebullum Mint Julep” which we are told was a drink commonly enjoyed at pre-Civil War Southern Plantations. What next, I wonder. “The Gestapo Cocktail” or, perhaps less offensively, “The Spanish Inquisition”? as you may be aware, at least that last cocktail has the virtue of being forever unexpected.

  

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