Drink of the Week: The Ideal Cocktail

Image ALT text goes here.A long time ago, a boss of mine was discussing an upcoming project and said something to the effect that “in an ideal world, we’d complete this task in two or three days.” I said, something like, “No, in an ideal world we wouldn’t have to work at all; we’d be romping with bunnies wearing nothing but flowers and praising the Lord.”

In other words, of course, the ideal cocktail doesn’t exist. Thanks to the miracle of proper names, however, the Ideal Cocktail does exist. It’s not ideal but it’s definitely not bad. It did, though, require a bit of futzing with the proportions based on the somewhat vague instructions in the most reliable source for this early 20th century tipple, The Savoy Cocktail Book. I’m very okay with the rather stiff beverage I came up with based on Harry Craddock’s prohibition-era recipe, with just a little bit of bloggy help.

The Ideal Cocktail

2 ounces London dry gin
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 tablespoon fresh grapefruit juice
1 teaspoon maraschino liqueur
1 grapefruit twist (desirable garnish)

Combine the gin, vermouth, juice, and bittersweet cherry liqueur in a cocktail shaker and shake. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Toast the reality that, in all likelihood, there’ll never be an ideal anything. After all, if we all knew how to make the perfect cocktail, cook the perfect steak, make the perfect movie, or find the perfect love, life would either get really dull, or we’d all explode or something.

***

Harry Craddock’s recipe is a bit vague by modern standards as it calls for 1 part vermouth to two parts gin, but specifically tells us to add a tablespoon of grapefruit juice regardless of how big our “parts” are. It also calls for an incredibly frustrating three dashes of maraschino, which can be anything.

When first trying this drink out, I took my cue from Erik Ellestad’s 2009 post on his Savoy Stomp blog. He interpreted 3 dashes of maraschino to equal a teaspoon of the bittersweet cherry liqueur. He also — reasonably enough — called for 1 1/2 ounces of gin and 3/4 ounce of sweet vermouth, with him using the pricey (and admittedly fantastic) Carpano Antica. I liked his orthodox take on the drink which differs from the very few other versions of this you’ll find online.

I chose my fall-back sweet vermouth, Noilly Pratt and started with Mr. Ellestad’s proportions, using a bottle of Tanqueray I’ve been itching to work with. I dismissed his suggestion to stir, not shake, the drink out of hand, however. Though I tend to be generally highly skeptical of the booze snob ban on stirring many cocktails for fear or spoiling the beauty and booziness of the drink, in this case most c-snobs actually have my back; conventional wisdom supports shaking any drink with citrus juice in it. I think it’s a necessity here.

In fact, even vigorously shaken, the Ideal Cocktail came out a bit cloying to my tastebuds at those proportions. After experimenting with both Maraska and Luxardo brands maraschino, I decided that, this time, Luxardo was definitely the better choice, justifying it’s higher price tag. More importantly, I finally settled on upping the amounts of the Tanqueray and Noilly Pratt I was using. The results were bracing and just sweet enough, though I admit that it’s a pretty stiff drink.

In an effort to make it a hair less stiff, I switched from the 94.6 proof Tanqueray  to value price, 80 proof, Gordon’s. Not bad, if less than ideal.

 

 

  

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Drink of the Week: The White Lady

The White Lady.Mad Men” begins it’s final season on Sunday night, and I think it might be fair to say that no television show has done as much for the cultural profile of cocktails in our time. This is despite the fact that serious cocktail cognosecnti will be quick to inform you that  the early 1960s was a good four or five decades on from the tail end of the first true heyday of cocktails, and they’ll no doubt add that the late 1960s was one Harvey Wallbanger of a lowpoint.

Even so, people who watch the cast of Matthew Weiner’s brilliant tragicomedy-cum-high-end soap quaff their Martinis, Manhattans, and Old Fashioneds with some envy aren’t wrong. “Mad Men” is, in fact, about the final last gasp of an era. While there were many things about this old era we’re all better off without, it was also the last time people knew what an Old Fashioned was without being educated on the topic by Don Draper.

It’s not that people ever stopped drinking, it’s just they became more aware of the fact that alcohol was a drug they could use among many other drugs and the fact that it was also a food, of sorts, kind of got lost for about 30-40 years. In fact, let’s face it, at their booziest Don Draper and Roger Sterling might appreciate a well crafted beverage, but both of them would take Sterno if they had to.

This week’s drink is something I think Don and Roger would appreciate as it’s dry enough and boozy enough, but I think it might also appeal to Peggy Olson, Joan Harris and, perhaps most of all, the much maligned Betty Draper. It’s refreshing enough to help you relax on a hot New York State afternoon, boozy enough to forget your every dysfunction, and low-calorie enough not to knock you off your diet. Oh, and the name….

The White Lady

2 ounces London dry gin
1/2 ounce Cointreau or triple sec
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1 egg white

Yeah, I know, egg white again. If you read me enough to get tired of reading that, then you know the drill already but here we go. We’re going to do what is known as a “dry shake” to emulsify the egg, which we’re going to combine with the gin, orange liqueur and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker by, obviously, shaking it a bit. We’re then going to add what we moderns might refer to as “a buttload” of ice and then we’re going to shake it again.

Next, we’ll strain it into a cocktail glass and we’ll toast, I imagine, Betty Draper. We will attempt to politely avoid any racial connotations, but we will fail.

***
Yes, while the White Lady’s name might put you in mind of a Dave Chappelle routine if you say it with a certain cadence, the drink itself really is pure elegance. This is a very dry drink and very tart too, but the egg white smoothes everything over far better than any “Mad Men” character attempting to paper over a sticky emotional situation. Yeah, I know I’ve sung this eggy song before, but it’s really true.

I tried this drink with three different gins and two orange liqueurs and all were, in their own way, aces. Bombay Dry Gin and Cointreau was archly classic, a bit understated. Switching to sweeter triple sec took off every sharp edge for a mellower concoction. No. 3 London Dry Gin with Cointreau put the Juniper and citrus peel flavors of a class dry gin forward in a way I really liked. Cointreau with Plymouth Gin, however, produced a shockingly disappointing result. Something just didn’t blend right there. Keep your gin dry and Londony…though Hendricks, which is actually from Scotland, might possibly work very well with this. (If anyone out there tries that, please drop me a line like a good little reader, okay?)

That’s it. I could lie and tell you all I’ll be seeing “Mad  Men” on its first broadcast with you all on Sunday night, but I’ll actually be enjoying the tale end of the Turner Classic Movies annual film festival right around then. The hope is I’ll find a way to unite my passions for cinema and cocktails there. Stay tuned!

  

Drink of the Week: The Last Word

The Last Word. Have you ever really had the last word in an argument? Lord knows I haven’t….and it’s so very definitely not for a lack of words, or for a lack of arguing. Ask anyone who knows me well, I love to argue and I think it’s entirely possible to disagree without being disagreeable. In fact, I barely have to disagree with you at all to, nevertheless, disagree. You can have pretty much identical politics, taste in cultural matters, cocktails, and all the rest and I’ll still argue with you about something because life is simply too short to go around agreeing with everyone all the time.

Still, no matter how important or silly the disagreement may be — or no matter how open-and-shut the case being argued — no one ever has the last word. Certainly not MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell of TV’s The Last Word, who I used to like a lot but who has gone off the deep end on odd subjects too many times for me to take too seriously. Nor even my beloved Rachel Maddow who, aside from having similar politics to my own (therefore making her a complete genius, naturally), also helped me get into this whole cocktail thing some years ago via the cocktail segments on her old Air America show. She ctually once made today’s drink on her TV show.

Nevertheless, as I was reminded by the makers of the very drinkable No.3 London Dry Gin, we may never ever get the last word in an argument, but we can all have The Last Word, and all we really need are four ingredients.

The Last Word

3/4 ounce London dry gin
3/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
3/4 ounce green chartreuse
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
1 lime slice (optional garnish)

Combine the liquids in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake with all the vigor of your Jack Daniels-guzzling right-wing uncle facing off against your pot-smoking auntie who drives the VW station wagon with thirty bumper stickers on it. Next, strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Toast the right to be as gloriously, insanely wrong in the eyes of others as you want to be.

*****

My cocktail books are still in boxes in DOTW’s enormous archives, but I can tell you that, according to Wikipedia and a few other odd blog posts, The Last Word was a pretty much forgotten prohibition era concoction until fairly recently. We are told that renowned Seattle bartender Murray Stenson singlehandedly revived the drink enough so that the rest of us could eventually hear about it.

Now, the version we are making this week, promulgated by the makers of No. 3 London Dry Gin and Nevada mixologist Francesco Lafranconi, differs from the original only with some very specific choices of brands. Mr. Franconi suggests using No. 3 London Dry Gin, of course, and also specifically calls for Luxardo Maraschino liqueur, which is more or less the standard choice, but not the only one. More about that in a second.

If you want a really lively and complex, you might even say complicated, beverage, then the Lafranconi version of this drink is definitely one good way to go. For whatever reasons the No. 3 gin and Luxardo allow the strong herbal flavors of the chartreuse to become bolder than usual, possibly because today’s featured gin has some pretty bold citrus-peel bouquet and flavor of its own. We are told that the original version of The Last Word used bathtub gin, which we imagine must have had some fairly bold aspects of its own, but probably not the tasty and aromatic No. 3 kind.

I have to admit I couldn’t resist also trying The Last Word with a very good Brand X dry gin and Maraska Maraschino, which is nearly as tasty as Luxardo but a lot cheaper. It has a slightly simpler appeal and it’s mouth feel is a bit less rich, but it’s quite good. That less uptown version of The Last Word was milder, a bit more muted. Very decent but not quite the ultimate version of the drink. Then again, I would never expect to have the last word on The Last Word.

 

  

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