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 Diamondback

The Diamondback. It’s named for a terrapin turtle, not a rattlesnake, but this is a drink with a bite. Make no mistake about that.

Showing up in print first in Ted Saucier’s 1951 cocktail guide, Bottom’s Up, the Diamondback comes from the post-war boom in cocktail culture. That’s the one that inspired people to buy those cocktail sets that were handed down to some of us by our parents, grandparents,or great-grandparents. Nevertheless, as any true cocktail snob will tell you, that was a far cry from the highpoint of pre-prohibition cocktail creativity, despite the era’s booze-loving trappings. By the 1950s, cocktails were a pretty basic matter for the most part. In a funny way, the ingredients in a Diamondback feel almost like a throwback to a much earlier time in tippling history since both rye and apple brandies became increasingly rare in U.S. stores in the second half of the 20th century. Indeed, it was apparently the house drink at a venerable East coast bar, and it’s possible it’s history actually goes back a bit further than I know.

So, yes, the makings here are bit old school for the cast of “Mad Men” but not hard to find these days,though also not exactly inexpensive; the Diamondback contains chartreuse, an herbaceous and powerful product that a bunch of monks have a monopoly on; I hope they’re doing good works with the $50.00 or so you typically have to spend on one of their bottlings. Also, being comprised of three very potent brews, one a bit outre, this is a drink that Roger Sterling, at least, might have appreciated.

The Diamondback

1 1/2 ounces rye whiskey
3/4 ounce applejack (i.e., American apple brandy)
3/4 green chartreuse
1 cocktail cherry (garnish)

Combine your ingredients in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass with plenty of ice. You can stir this one if you like, but it will come out very, very strong. I shake it. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, add your cocktail cherry. You may toast our amphibian friend, the diamondback terrapin. More than one of these drinks and you won’t be moving much faster than one.

According to cocktail blogger Doug Ford, the Diamondback was originally the Diamondback Lounge Cocktail and was the house beverage of the Lord Baltimore Hotel bar in guess-what-southeastern city? Originally, it was made with yellow chartreuse, which is milder, but most modern recipes call for the green variant. And let’s be clear, by “milder” we mean 80 proof. Green chartreuse clocks in at a stunning 110.

It gets worse, or perhaps better, because most of the people making this drink at various Internet locales are using 100 proof ryes like Rittenhouse and Laird’s Straight Apple Brandy, which is also bottled in bond, i.e., 100 proof. My gut reaction is to think that this might be a little too much of a good thing. In any case, the reality is that most of the boozes I actually had on hand this week were very slightly milder, which I thought might compensate to some degree for using the oh-so strong, but admittedly flavorful, green chartreuse.

The first time I made a Diamondback, I frankly found it a too strong. I used the last of the only 100 proof rye I had, 1776, but compensated for its strength via that fact that I’m too cheap to own a bottle of Laird’s Straight Apple Brandy at present; I went with Laird’s somewhat maligned  80 proof Applejack. (It’s blended with neutral spirits for a lighter taste which I think is very pleasant.) Then, I realized that, contrary to the cocktail snob’s dictum that drinks without juices should be always be stirred, the Diamondback was originally shaken. Especially as I don’t buy that particular dogma one little bit, I thought that made for a major improvement.

I also tried the Diamondback with 90 proof Bulleit Rye and Alberta Dark Rye. Both were just fine, but I give the slight edge to the one named after a Canadian province. It wasn’t the fact that it’s makers finally decided to send me a replacement bottle after the incident of the torn off plastic thingy, at least I don’t think it was. It’s just the gentler, sweeter flavor seemed to mellow out this fire-breathing turtle of a concoction.


Drink of the Week: The Pink Lady

The Pink Lady should be no secret.So, if you’re English you automatically have today off because it’s Boxing Day, a post-Christmas holiday in its own right. No such luck here in the States, but it’s also just a matter of days before what has to be the U.S.A.’s biggest drinking day of the year. Hard core partiers call it “amateur night,” the rest of us call it New Year’s Eve. And what have I got for you? A drink that was once something of a punchline, though few had tasted it. Now, it’s one for the cultists, but I think that cult should be larger.

The Pink Lady might perhaps be known as the drink that dare not speak its name. In fact, cocktail revivalist Ted Haigh doesn’t want to put mainly drinking men off, so he calls it “The Secret Cocktail.”

Since we’re posting at the blog of an online men’s magazine, you might think I’d be tempted to keep on calling it that. Still, this isn’t a meeting of Spanky, Alfafa, and the He-Man-Woman-Haters Club and I’m here to tell you that the Pink Lady might have a feminine name, it might be frothy and refreshing, but it’s a strong and fairly tart drink that’s definitely not for sissies. It’s also got just a touch of America’s oldest booze, applejack, putting up a strong fight against a larger amount of English gin not to mention fresh lemon juice, a tiny bit of grenadine and our old friend, the egg white. Why not down a couple of these this New Year’s Eve? You just might be man enough.

The Pink Lady

1 1/2 ounces London dry gin
1/2 ounce applejack
1/2-3/4 ounce lemon juice
1 large egg white
1/2 teaspoon grenadine
1 cocktail cherry (desirable garnish)

Combine all the ingredients except the cherry in cocktail shaker. Then, it’s time for the so-called dry shake, in which you vigorously agitate the mixture without ice to properly emulsify the egg. I might add it’s possible that you can skip the dry shake if  — like I often do these days — you’re using a pre-packaged, pasteurized egg white product. It’s a bit more liquified and less viscous than egg white straight out of the shell. (3 tablespoons is usually the equivalent of a large egg white, in case you were wondering.)

Next, include lots of ice and shake again, very vigorously. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and add the cherry. Of course, if you’re drinking this next Wednesday night you can toast the New Year. Or, you can use the Pink Lady’s badly maligned name to toast the many strong women of all shades who make the world go ’round.

Since I mentioned Ted Haigh, cognoscenti won’t be surprised that this recipe is adapted from his Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, which seems to have become the basis for most Pink Lady recipes these days in any case. My tweaks were basically in terms of clarifying the measurements. (He calls for two dashes of grenadine and the juice of half a lemon. I like to be a little more specific.)

I made this drink using using the remains of my bottle of Laird’s Straight Apple Brandy (aka 100 proof applejack) and a few different gins. Tanqueray produced a fierce lady, intimidating at first but increasingly gracious on repeated encounters. Super high-end Nolet’s Gin — which I naturally didn’t pay for and which is making a cameo here in preparation for a leading role in a later post — produced a fruitier, spicier Pink Lady.

However, the prize went to the now humble, once regal, Gordon’s Gin. This underrated product was the good stuff in your grandaddy’s childhood and it’s still pretty great in the right context, and the Pink Lady is definitely that. The lower proof (80 compared to Tanqueray’s 94.6) and the lower key juniper/herbal flavor of Gordon’s makes for a smoother, sweeter drink that’s still nobody’s push-over. If you’re looking for some liquid company this year, you could do a lot worse.

Other versions of the Pink Lady you’ll find online are more like the Clover Club minus the lemon or lime juice. I’ve tried that, and let’s just say it makes the mocking treatment of this drink back in the day a bit more understandable. It’s not even a respectable “girl drink.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that.


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.