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?

  

You can follow us on Twitter and Facebook for content updates. Also, sign up for our email list for weekly updates and check us out on Google+ as well.

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: 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!

****

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.

  

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.

****

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.

****

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.

  

Related Posts