Drink of the Week: The Blackthorn Cocktail (Harry Craddock Version)

The Blackthorn Cocktail.I totally blew it last week, St. Patrick’s Day wise. I decided, therefore, to atone for my sin this week with the most severe Irish whiskey based cocktail I could find. And so we present the Blackthorn Cocktail, which sounds a little bit like it was named after the villain of a 1950s swashbuckler with Burt Lancaster or Stewart Granger.

This drink appears in, among other places, Harry Craddock’s The Savoy Cocktail Book, but finding a human being who’s actually had one today will be a challenge — even many cocktail bloggers seem to avoid this one. Superstar booze maven Gary Regan adapted it into a more popular version which, to begin with, substitutes sweet vermouth for the dry stuff used in this version. Maybe we’ll get to that one eventually, but I don’t hold with some of the disdain this Blackthorn Cocktail has generated. It might not be sweet treat, but neither is a martini, and we like those, right?

The Blackthorn Coctail

1 1/2 ounces Irish whiskey
1 1/2 ounces dry vermouth
1/2 teaspoon absinthe
3 dashes Angostura/aromatic bitters

This is an easy one. Just combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with your usual massive amount of ice. Shake, yes, shake this drink vigorously and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Toast the classic cocktail purists who, for once, allow us to shake a drink that contains no citrus. Aye and begorrah!

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I admit that the Blackthorn Cocktail is what you would call a sophisticated drink, it’s definitely not for everyone. On the other hand, it’s actually no more inaccessible than a 50/50 martini (i.e., 50% gin and 50% dry vermouth) or a Dry Manhattan, both of which have their share of similarities with the Blackthorn.

It does have that tiny bit of absinthe — a classic case of a little going a long way. Here, however, it goes just the right distance,. I should note that my 1/2 teaspoon of the formerly notorious wormwood liqueur is different from the original Craddock version, which calls for three dashes. Maybe I should just purchase an eye dropper, but I have no idea how I’m supposed to get a dash out of an ordinary, non-squirt top bottle. Anyhow, I liked my results this way. The licorice-like flavor of anise centers this drink.

I tried the Blackthorn Cocktail with two different Irish whiskey brands. Generally speaking, I prefer Bushmills  — love the stuff, actually — but the more assertive flavor of Kilbeggan worked very nicely and resulted in a somewhat livelier drink. As for my vermouth, I did most of my Blackthorns with Martini, which was very good. Thirsting for more adventure, I finally got around to trying the cocktails hipster’s choice these days, Dolin Dry Vermouth. It’s a less dry dry vermouth, if you follow me, that actually puts me a bit in mind of the now either hard to find or all but nonexistent stateside Noilly Pratt Original Dry Vermouth. It’s maybe a bit more complex and sells for roughly double the price. Similarly to when I used the Killlbeggans, the Dolin made for a slightly livelier, crisper libation.

  

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Drink of the Week: The Tipperary

The Tippeary. If you’ve heard of the Irish town of Tipperary, and you’re not from Ireland or the UK, odds are it isn’t because of this cocktail but because of the song, “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.” Gary Regan surmises that the drink is actually older than the song, but in my opinion the drink has aged at least as well as the somewhat treacly yet lovable English music hall ditty of World War I vintage.

With its combination of base spirit, sweet vermouth, and a small portion of the flavorful ringer that, in this case, is green Chartreuse — and its lack of bitters — it’s a fairly close relative of last week’s original Corpse Reviver. It’s also worth noting as being another of the very small but apparently growing group of cocktails to be made with Irish whiskey.

A few years ago, I found myself in an Irish pub in San Diego and I asked the bartender if he knew any Irish whiskey cocktails aside from Irish coffee. He had no idea. Well, now if you find yourself in an Irish bar, here’s another suggestion (assuming they’ve got some green chartreuse on hand).

The Tipperary

2 oz. Irish whiskey
3/4 oz. sweet vermouth
1/2 oz. green Chartreuse
Lemon twist (garnish)

Combine the ingredients, stir, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. (A wine glass may also do for this one.) Add the lemon twist, sip, and salute the sweetest girl you know.

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I can’t explain why, but I just couldn’t bring myself to try this one shaken, but I can’t stop you from doing so. As for brands, I tried both the classic Bushmills and the two less familiar brands that we’ve been playing with here in recent weeks, Concannon and Kilbeggan. While Bushmills is my actual favorite of the three — none of them are remotely bad — I was surprised to see that it was the darkhorse Concannon that held up most formidably among the onslaught of sweet vermouth and Chartreuse.

As for the vermouth, Carpano Antica, once again, beautifully dominated the drink, but Noilly Pratt, as usual, produced a nice harmony as well. If you feel tempted to try other proportions, feel free. There are numerous variations of this drink online that I wish I had time to play with. Gary Regan’s involves rinsing the glass with Chartreuse and then dumping the remains, which sounds a bit wasteful but might well be worth giving a try.

I could go on a bit more about this drink, but there’s really not that much to say. It’s been a sad and bittersweet week for those of us in the writing and media game as Roger Ebert’s death still hangs heavy in the air. Roger had stopped drinking before he became as world famous as he was destined to be and I’m not sure if it’s even right to mention him here. At the same time, it doesn’t seem right not to mention him here, and he did enjoy spending time in a good bar even after he stopped actually drinking.

It’s even odder to post a clip from a classic TV show rather than a classic movie — except, of course, that Roger was also part of a truly great TV show — but this is the best usage of the most famous song about Tipperary that I know. It’s also about the ending of something wonderful.

  

Drink of the Week: The Fáilte

The Fáilte.If you’re looking from tips on how to pronounce the name of this week’s drink, you’re barking up the wrong tree. For one thing, my secretive communications with the dark forces that provide me with free booze and some very decent cocktails from time to time are all done via e-mail and gaelic doesn’t happen to be one of my languages. (My languages include English and, of course, fluent Pig Latin.) I’m pretty sure, it’s not pronounced “the faulty,” however.

I do know that it was developed for Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey, a brand which we’ve featured here before but of which you should not be ashamed to be ignorant. It had very limited distribution here in the States prior to be being picked up by the Jim Beam liquor monolith last year. Now, this brand is getting enough attention that even I’m hearing about it repeatedly and getting bottles thrown at me.  The whiskey itself is a very decent choice, particularly for Irish whiskey fans who might be looking for reasonably priced alternatives to the two very well known — and admittedly very lovable — iconic Irish brands. I also appreciate the effort they’re taking to making up more Irish whiskey cocktails.

Today’s drink was actually created by Declan Byrne. Aside from having a very cool  name that makes me think he might be actor Gabriel Byrne’s cooler older brother, he’s the President of the Irish Bartender’s Association. I imagine that to be an extremely august body, similar to the Jewish Tsuris Purveyor’s Guild. It’s actually a pretty delightful drink, though we discovered one controversial element, which we’ll deal with after the recipe below. Also, fáilte means “welcome,” which is nice.

The Fáilte

2 ounces Irish whiskey (preferably Kilbeggan, naturally)
1/2 ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/3 ounce amaretto liqueur
1/4 ounce cherry syrup
2-5 dashes chocolate bitters

Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker, add ice and shake as if possessed by a mad leprechaun. Or, if that’s a bit too much, shaking vigorously will also do. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Sip and contemplate how very rarely chocolate and whiskey have been combined.

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Which brings us to the interesting apparent disagreement regarding the Fáilte. I’ve actually altered the recipe above from Mr. Byrne’s original to allow for somewhat less of the chocolate bitters for a very specific reason — I didn’t really care for this drink when I went with the full five dashes. However, I liked it a lot when it cut the dashes down to 2, 3, or even 4. While I fully expected the combination of Irish whiskey and chocolate to be a case of two great things that go great together, for me, the flavor of the Fee Brothers Aztec Chocolate Bitters I was using just dominated the drink in a way I didn’t find at all pleasant.

Wondering if perhaps I was using the wrong type of chocolate bitters, I found that my source at Kilbeggan had actually used exactly the same brand as I and loved the result. Could our taste buds be so different? Maybe. Or maybe it was something to do with the fact that they were using Monin cherry syrup and Luxardo amaretto, while I was using Torani cherry syrup and Disaronno amaretto. These are all pretty standard brands; could the flavor be so different? Well, I’m too cheap/poorly paid to find out, so I resorted to cutting down a bit on the chocolate bitters and the result was pretty darn good. Might the five dashes be perfect with those different brands? Could the flavors be so different?

Readers are, of course, fáilte, to try out both combinations of brands and amounts of bitters for themselves, but I found what works for me.

  

Drink of the Week: The Conhattan

The Conhattan. With St. Patrick’s Day 2013 nearly upon us, we’re featuring the second of two cocktails that claim some sort of association with the Emerald Isle and it’s descendents in the vast Irish diaspora. Last week, we had the delightful, but in no way particularly Irish, Shamrock Sour.

The Conhattan was suggested to me by a representative of a newish brand of Irish whiskey which has divided critics to a certain extent and actually boasts a connection with the town of Livermore. Livermore is not, I must tell you, located near Dublin or in County Cork, but in County Alameda in Northern California, a relative stone’s throw from Oakland and San Francisco. Aside from being the home of the famous/notorious nuclear weapons laboratory, it’s also the home of Concannon Winery, which is legitimately Irish-American but also, well, a winery.

This whiskey is made in Ireland, of course, by a distiller who finishes the whiskey in actual petite sirah barrels from Cali. As for the taste, it might not strike everyone as particularly Irish. While this video argues differently, to me, Concannon Irish Whiskey is probably best enjoyed by those who lean toward Scotch and find Jameson and Bushmills a bit overly soft. It’s very decent, but a bit astringent like a Scotch, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

In fact, I think the astringency may just be essential to today’s drink, a very sweet variation on a Manhattan but which differs a great deal from the more classic Irish Whiskey Manhattan, which we featured last year at this time. This time, this whiskey is mellowed not by sweet vermouth, but by a very popular cocktail ingredient we’ve never featured here before — St. Germain elderflower liqueur. Anyhow, let’s get started with a concoction created for Concannon by Dublin mixologist Gillian Boyle.

The Conhattan

1 1/2 ounces Concannon Irish Whiskey
1 ounce St. Germain
1 teaspoon Noilly Prat dry vermouth
2-3 dashes Angostura Bitters
1 orange twist (garnish)
1 cocktail cherry (somewhat optional garnish)

Put all liquid ingredients into a mixing glass or cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Ms. Boyle would have stir just until the drink is “evenly diluted” but I say stir as long as you like, or be a heretic like me and shake the thing. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, add the orange peel and, if you like, the cherry, and toast your favorite Irish or Irish-American person, real or imagined.

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I often strip out most of the brand names from my recipes because I like to offer readers the freedom to try out drinks with their own brands and not feel tied to what I happen to be using. This time, however, I really think it’s best to mostly stick with the script as provided by Boyle. I haven’t actually had the opportunity to try the Conhattan with other products, but I strongly suspect this drink would completely fall apart if you attempted it with say, Bushmills or Jameson’s. Much as I adore those highly approachable whiskeys, I strongly suspect that they wouldn’t stand up to this much St. Germain, which is complex but also extremely sweet. Also, you’d have to change the name (“The Bushhattan”??). You could probably cheat by using another brand of dry vermouth than Noilly Pratt, but since it’s been a favorite go-to brand of mine for years now, I see no reason to diverge there.

On the other hand, I am offering readers the option of raising or lowering the amount of St. Germain, for a very simple reason. Very frankly, though I am no stranger to the tooth that is sweet, I found the original recipe, which called for a full ounce of liqueur, overly sweet — good enough for DOTW but very far from a personal favorite.Reducing it to 1/2 ounce, however, produced an extremely nice cocktail on which I’m proud to place my personal stamp of approval. At that amount, the light touch of the elderflower is just sweet enough to properly soften the kick of the Concannon without muffling it outright.

It’s all about balance. Indeed, there’s a place for sweetness on St. Patrick’s Day, as director John Ford — the ultimate Irish-American mythmaker — undoubtedly would have agreed.

  

Drink of the Week: The Emerald

The EmeraldSay what you will about me, I am a man of peace. That is why I come to you, this St. Patrick’s Day eve, with a small suggestion. If you should, for some reason, find yourself at an actual Irish bar or pub tomorrow night, please resist the urge to order two drinks, which I will now name.

Now, I actually very much like the beverage we in the States and in England call the Black and Tan, which combines Guinness stout with Bass or another pale ale. It’s sort of the cappuccino of beer. However, as Ben and Jerry found out a a few years back, the name is pretty much the equivalent of naming a Jewish deli sandwich a Marauding Cossack. You see, just as the Cossacks weren’t known for their kindness to Russian Jews, the English Black and Tan militia men were not known for their gentleness to Irish folks during the nation’s war of independence from the British, circa 1920-22. As for the drink known as an Irish Car Bomb, let’s just leave that one alone.

Instead, may we suggest this really very nice little beverage named for the Emerald Isle. Yes, knowledgeable readers will notice a more than slight similarity with a far better known classic cocktail, but that will only make it easier to order if your barman is not familiar — and he likely won’t be.

The Emerald

2 ounces Irish whiskey
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1-3 dashes orange bitters
1 maraschino cherry (very optional garnish)

Combine whiskey, vermouth, and bitters in a cocktail shaker. Shake or stir, as is your preference, into a chilled martini/cocktail glass. Toast, preferably while listening to the Pogues, the Chieftains, the Dubliners, or Van Morrison.

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Now, yes, this is pretty obviously a slight variation on a Manhattan, but the Irish whiskey makes for a drink that goes down as easy as watching John Ford’s “The Quiet Man” on a Sunday afternoon and ordering this non-offensive drink will avoid any situations out of “The Wind that Shakes the Barley.”

As I alluded to above, it’s also a pretty obscure drink. Indeed, every recipe I could find online seems to come pretty directly from, Esquire‘s David Wondrich who, I promise, won’t be mentioned next week for a change. It’s worth noting, however, that he points out the use of orange bitters is also potentially controversial, if you know a little Irish history. I do think, however, your bartender will charitably assume you mean orange fruit and not Orangemen when you request a Manhattan made with Irish whiskey and Regan‘s Orange Bitters.

And now, some music to drink the Emerald by.

  

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