Drink of the Week: The Country Gentleman

The Country Gentleman.Although today’s drink comes to us from David Embury’s 1940s cocktail classic, “The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks,” it doesn’t really have any particular story to go with its classy provenance or courtly name. Embury just presents it as one of a series of drinks “based on an Applejack Sour.” It’s potentially a very sweet drink, at least on paper, since it includes both simple syrup (or sugar) and a very sweet orange liqueur. Still, the notoriously booze-severe Emory cautiously approves.

“With a base liquor as pungent as applejack,” Embury notes, “and with a liqueur as sharp as curacao… such addition may be possible within certain limits without rendering the cocktail too sickish sweet. With a bland liquor, such as gin or white label rum, and with a heavy fruit liqueur such as peach or apricot, this would be wholly impossible.”

On the whole, I don’t disagree. It’s a reasonably well balanced drink. Still, especially as I tend to be a bit of a baby about very tart flavors, I had a hard time finding a mix that was entirely satisfactory to me personally. Nevertheless, if you don’t mind strong citrus notes playing alongside the still under-utilized family of apple brandy boozes, this one might well be for you.

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Drink of the Week: The Applejack Rabbit

The Applejack Rabbit.So, if you’ve been wondering when I’d finally get around to finding a source for cocktails other than Harry Craddock’s 1930 “The Savoy Cocktail Book,” this is your week, more or less.

Like Craddock’s book, “The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks” by David A. Embury is one of the ur-texts of today’s cocktailian scene. Still, it is a different animal than Craddock’s tome because it’s much more than a recipe book.  Embury, you see, was not a bartender at all and, apart from this book, was not really a professional author either; he made his living as a tax lawyer. His book is essentially a lengthy and extremely opinionated exploration of the best ways to prepare and consume mixed beverages from the point of view of an enthusiastic bar patron and home booze hobbyist. Before the appearance of such latter day booze historian/philosophers as David Wondrich and Ted Haigh, there was pretty much this one single book, and — at least to my very limited knowledge — not much else if you really wanted a thoughtful look at what makes a good drink a good drink.

First published in 1948 and last updated in 1956, a lot of Embury’s book is obviously dated and/or downright inaccurate. Embury finds most tequila to be an abomination, while having some surprisingly kind words for Southern Comfort. He was absolutely certain that alcoholism and cirrhosis of the liver were unrelated illnesses. He also has a reputation for suggesting drinks that can be almost ascetic in their boozy severity.

For all that, the guy clearly knew his mixology, and this week’s drink is proof. It is actually the right amount of sweet, sour and boozy. As a non-bartender myself who is roughly the same age today as Embury was in ’48, respect must be paid, and one way to do it is with this concoction, a tasty delight that people of all cocktail denominations can love.

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Drink of the Week: The Proud Rebel (TCM Fest Salute #2)

The Proud Rebel.I know from all too personal experience that creating a new cocktail is a lot easier than crafting a compelling film story. Yet, they’re not entirely dissimilar in that sometimes you need one final ingredient to bring everything together…even if that final ingredient is a bit of a cliche. Yes, just as the too-little known 1958 western/family drama “The Proud Rebel” kind of needed the slightly contrived gunfight that ends it to bring everything together for a satisfying conclusion, the cocktail it inspired in me never really became something to be proud of until I came up with the idea of topping the thing off with soda water. 0 points for originality, but I’d rather win ugly than not win at all.

I like my drink quite a bit but I like the recently restored and sincerely entertaining film I was lucky to see at this year’s TCM Fest even more. As a pretty obvious follow-up to 1953’s “Shane,” also starring Alan Ladd, “The Proud Rebel” doesn’t get a huge number of points as groundbreaking cinema but it’s big traditionalist heart more than makes for up for it.No disrespect to the great George Stevens, who I actually think is a better director than “Proud Rebel” helmer Michael Curtiz in many respects, but in this case I prefer the quasi-knock-off to the original.

The kicker here is that, instead of chatty Brandon de Wilde as the surrogate son of ex-gunfighter Shane, we have Mr. Ladd’s real-life son, David, forced to act almost entirely without words as the progeny of a former confederate soldier struck mute by the wartime death of his mother. The 10 year-old, who would eventually become a major Hollywood player as an executive and producer, performs brilliantly not only with his legendary dad, but the film’s equally formidable leading lady, Olivia de Haviland (“The Adventures of Robin Hood” and “Gone with the Wind,” just for starters).

Oh, and there’s also a dog, played by two very convincing and charismatic canine performers (billed collectively as “King.”) And, yeah, I got choked up a couple of times. What’s it’s to you?

Sure, the movie has a somewhat disturbing undercurrent, as did many postbellum westerns, given that we’re told Alan Ladd character was once wealthy prior to the war and we all know what wealthy Southerners routinely did that, er, kinda sorta started the Civil War. Still, the drive of a father to help his son live a full life and the love of a boy for his dog pretty much transcends everything in a movie like this.

As for the drink, and yeah, there really is a drink buried in here, it’s kind of an Old Fashioned striking out out its own. This beverage lives up to it’s name. It does not back down and it takes care of what’s important.

The Proud Rebel

1 1/2 ounces Laird’s Applejack
1/2 ounce Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve
1 teaspoon Southern Comfort
1 teaspoon maple syrup
1-2 ounces soda water
2 apple slices
1 dash aromatic bitters

Muddle an apple slice in a shaker, it might take a little bit of effort, but the more juice you get out of it, the better. Next, add all of the liquid ingredients, except for the carbonated water, together with plenty of ice. Shake vigorously, and strain — just once, no need for any highfalutin’ double straining — into a rocks glass with ice. Then, add your second apple slice as a garnish and top off with soda water, stirring gently. Toast the basic yet crucial ties that can, in a really good story, make themes as potentially bland as family ties and simple human decency enormously compelling.


I decided that applejack should make a return after being prominently featured in last week’s selection because, as I said last week, this might just be the most American of all base spirits…though many would certainly argue that rye or bourbon whiskey should have that honor. Splitting the difference, I’ve once again combined the two, this time spicing up my relatively mild blended 80 proof Laird’s with the 120 proof Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve, which I happened to have on hand because of the kindly gods of PR who send me free stuff.

As I said above, adding the maple syrup, Southern Comfort, and crushed apple slice, made for an okay modification of an Old Fashioned…but just okay. It really needed an ounce or so of carbonated water to push the thing over the top. And it fits the movie, too. Because Alan Ladd’s character really is a proud guy, too proud at times. And fizzy water is proud, too? Right? Well, it’s fizzy.


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 an 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 discussion taking place amongst your taste buds, 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


Drink of the Week: Jack Maple Egg Nog

Jack Maple Egg Nog. Christmas is nearly upon us and today we have a tasty yet fairly traditional spin on the ultimate yuletide cocktail. Better yet, unlike most members of the egg nog/egg flip family, the Jack Maple Egg Nog is a true cocktail in the classic sense in that it includes bitters.

It’s a good thing because there is almost too much sweetness to be had in a recipe I purloined directly from the Laird’s Applejack web site. Don’t scoff. One thing I’ve learned from being corrupted by numerous free bottles is that the mixologists who make up the recipes offered up by booze manufacturers tend to know their stuff, which makes sense because the whole idea is get you drink the product. The only sad part is that I still had to pay for my bottle of 100 proof Laird’s Straight Apple Brandy.

Not that I minded. 100 proof applejack definitely ranks with the great American boozes and this nog variation is a pretty wonderful way to use the U.S.A.’s oldest base spirit.

Jack Maple Egg Nog

2 ounces applejack
2 ounces heavy cream or half-and-half, or some combination thereof
3/4 ounce maple syrup
1 whole large egg
1 dash Fee Brothers Aromatic Bitters
Ground nutmeg (crucial garnish)

If you’re familiar with the “dry shake” technique of working with eggs in drinks, this may sound old hat, but for the benefit of newbies, here we go.

Combine the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker without ice. Shake vigorously, long enough to emulsify the whole egg and blend it with the dairy. Add ice, shake even more vigorously for as long as you can manage. Strain into a chilled rocks glass or something similar — the original recipe calls for a mug. Sprinkle with a small amount of ground nutmeg…not too much. Toast the spirit of fun and friendship of the holidays, also that diet you’ll be starting and the gym you’ll be joining first thing on December 26, or maybe January 5.


I stuck with my bottle of 100 proof Laird’s Straight for this drink, but I’m pretty sure Laird’s blended, but stil very tasty, 80 proof Applejack migh even be a bit of an improvement in some respects. Yes, the 100 proof is the superior beverage in terms of rich apple flavor. However, there may be a little bit more burn than some folks like with their egg nog, so a gentler spirit might be your preference. I  recommend, however, that you stick with Fee Brothers Aromatic bitters as opposed to the more standard Angostura. The former has more of a festive, ginger-spicy edge.

And then there’s the matter of butterfat and your choice of dairy products. To be specific, most half-and-half is about 12 percent fat, compared to roughly 38% percent fat in whipping cream.  We’re talking the difference between about 75 calories in two ounces of liquid if you use half-and-half to over 200 if you go with the heavy cream…and that’s in addition to the egg, the maple syrup, and oh yeah, the booze! Still, in exchange for all those calories, you get a deliciously creamy buffer between you and the alcohol.

The friend who helped me sample a few versions of this drink thinks that, in this case, more is more and you should stick with two ounces of heavy cream. I think my favorite version of the Jack Maple involved one ounce of cream and one once of half and half. It was a bit lighter and more refreshing than the ultra-fat version, while still being heavy enough to do the job. Still, I tried to see if I could reduce the enormous amount of butterfat in a proper nog. At one point, I experimented with just using 2% percent milk. We won’t talk about that.


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