Drink of the Week: The Pilar Daiquiri

The Pilar Daiquiri.So, the first thing you’re likely to notice about today’s drink is that there’s nothing remotely Irish or St. Patrick’s Dayish about it. I admit it — I prepare these posts at least a week or so ahead, and it’s sometimes easy to get a bit mixed up about the calendar. Also, I have to admit, I don’t hang out in bars all that much — shocking, yes, I know — and, even if I did, the Irish community here in L.A. isn’t exactly as prominent as if I were in Boston or New Orleans or New York. You get a lot more reminders about the coming of Cinco de Mayo down here than St. Paddy’s Day.

So, rather than trying to trump up a Irish connection that’s complete blarney, I’ll just straight up admit that this week’s really terrific drink is mostly Cuban in origin and comes to us from the promotional team behind a really outstanding pair of new rums with a pedigree that extends to the modern day heirs of no less than daiquiri drinker #1, Papa Hemingway himself. He was said to love a good daiquiri. If so, he would definitely have loved this one.

The Pilar Daiquiri

1 1/2 ounces Papa Pilar’s Blonde Rum
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce fresh grapefruit juice
1 teaspoon maraschino
1 teaspoon sugar

Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Maybe stir a bit to dissolve the sugar (not needed if you’re using C&H Superfine as I do). Shake and strain into a cocktail glass. Toast Papa Hemingway and all writers, including the less tortured ones.

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Now, folks, you should understand that when freebies greet me, I feel both grateful and slightly corrupted. Also, many times we get recipes that, while quite good, could actually work with any number of brands. Nevertheless, this little number really does seem to be expressly made to complement the qualities of the dang remarkable Papa Pilar’s Blonde.

The combination of flavors from the grapefruit and maraschino liqueur in addition to the more traditional lime juice and sugar, really blends together with this uniquely flavorful blonde rum, which is delightfully heavy on notes of molasses and sports a bit of an oceanic twang.  Honestly, unless you’ve got a similar blonde rum around (are there any?) I’d stick with the simpler original daiquiri recipe I offered many moons ago.

On the other hand, if you’re going to make the investment in Papa Pilar’s, and I certainly would encourage that, I demand you make this drink right away — and yeah, that includes shelling out extra for the maraschino liqueur. That one little teaspoon of slightly bitter cherry deliciousness is important, as I learned when I accidentally cut the proportion of in half while making a two PP daiquiris for myself and a very old friend who had stopped by. Cutting the amount from one teaspoon to merely 1/2 a teaspoon threw off the drink’s balance and the result was less balanced and very tart than I would prefer, though the friend was polite about it. Every drop of maraschino is sacred but, if you need to save money, you can go with the cheaper Maraska Maraschino and leave the Luxardo for fools like me who can’t resist luxy things.

This is a drink you want to make right. It’s refreshing and nearly perfectly balanced bewteen sweet, tart, and the bittterness of the grapefruit. It’s A-1, even if I can’t try to fob it off as Papa O’Hemingway’s Irish Brew or what not.

  

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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.

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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.

 

  

Drink of the Week: The East India House Cocktail

The East India House Cocktail. It’s not exactly a secret around here that I greatly lean towards cocktails as opposed to drinking even truly fine spirits straight. Still, it’s fairly obvious even to me why the best cognacs and other high end brandies are among the most popular of all beverages to enjoy neat. Certainly that applies to the Ile de Ré Fine Island Cognac from the Camus line of fine cognacs with which I was recently blessed by the Powers that Booze.

The PR materials for this brandy emphasize the fact that this particular cognac actually comes from a tiny island off the coast of France which is legally included in the Cognac appellation. My grasp of French geography is nowhere near strong enough for me to know if this is a bit of alcoholic loophole, but no one seems to be complaining about the quality of this cognac which, we are told has a “maritime” feeling and a dash of iodine in its flavor. I’ve never drunk iodine, so I wouldn’t know, but this is definitely about as sippable as any brandy or cognac I’ve enjoyed, and there is a bit of similarity to a good, slightly smokey Scotch I’m sure many will enjoy. It’s also very, very good with an equal part of brandy’s best known significant other, Benedictine.

Nevertheless, while many consider it a sacrilege to make cocktails out of really outstanding cognac, breaking that particular taboo is a big part of the name of the game here at DOTW Central. Even so, we’ve managed to find a very nice cocktail that permits the cognac to be the star of the show, adding a number of sweeteners in small amounts to make for an intriguing and very drinkable whole. While not the equal of the mighty Cognac Sazerac, todays drink is worthy of the status of a very good second-tier classic.

The East India House Cocktail

2 oz cognac (or brandy, if you are an impoverished peon who doesn’t get free booze in the mail)
1 tsp. pineapple juice
1 tsp. superfine sugar
1 tsp. orange curaçao
1 tsp. maraschino liqeuer
1-2 dashes aromatic or Peychaud’s bitters
1 cherry or lemon twist (fairly optional garnish)

Combine the ingredients in a cocktail sugar, stir briefly to dissolve the superfine sugar. Add ice, shake vigorously and strain into a well chilled cocktail glass. If you’re looking for something to toast, you might consider the phylloxera louse. While it’s not typical to salute a vine-eating vermin, this wingless insect was kind enough to leave the Ile de Ré alone back in the 1850s even as it was munching up mainland wine crops. I’m not 100% sure this is relevant to the quality of the island’s cognac today; I just like saluting lice.

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There are several versions of this drink, also sometimes referred to simply as the “East India Cocktail,” so feel free to experiment. Some versions I stumbled upon call for raspberry syrup in place of the pineapple and sugar, which sounds worth a try. Robert Hess of “The Cocktail Spirit,” dispenses with the sugar and just goes with the pineapple juice, though the original recipe called for pineapple syrup (i.e., pineapple juice and sugar). I found his version a bit lacking.

While I’m a fan of all of the ingredients, I’m not certain I’ve found the perfect mix here, so I definitely encourage further experimentation. If anyone out there has better luck with different proportions, I’d love to hear about it. I will say my favorite version featured Angostura bitters and a lemon twist, but every permutation I tried worked fairly well.

For those of you wondering about the name of this week’s drink, the East India House was a real place in London. It was the headquarters of the East India Company, which was crucial in the development of British Imperialism from the Renaissance up through the 19th century, when it was nationalized by the English parliament.

Especially if you’re of Indian or Chinese extraction or just really into human rights, you might consider a drink with a name like that to be a distasteful celebration of oppression. However, another drink I considered making this week was called the “Antebullum Mint Julep” which we are told was a drink commonly enjoyed at pre-Civil War Southern Plantations. What next, I wonder. “The Gestapo Cocktail” or, perhaps less offensively, “The Spanish Inquisition”? as you may be aware, at least that last cocktail has the virtue of being forever unexpected.

  

Drink of the Week: The Casino

Image ALT text goes here.As start to I write this, I’ve just finished watching the third presidential debate and I’m contemplating the power of the Etch-a-Sketch. Just as Mitt Romney somehow made a significant slice of the electorate forget everything that happened prior to debate #1, now left-leaners like your humble tippler are hoping debates #2 and #3 will make everyone forget that first one.

And what does this have to do with today’s Drink of the Week? Well, let’s just say that after what I’ve been through the last few weeks, it’s time to move on — from the bourbon drinks I’ve been promoting here week after week and lots of other things besides. Also, this week, I’ve personally paid for every single ingredient. For this week, at least, we’re freebie free.

Today’s drink features a base spirit so classic it had all but disappeared until a few years back, and it’s one I’ve been dying to try for ages: Old Tom gin. It’s London dry gin’s much sweeter cousin which apparently includes a bit of simple syrup in the mix. Original Old Tom gins were apparently mostly gins that had sugar added to them to cover up some nasty flavors. Today’s very nice version — which really isn’t bad on its own — is from Hayman’s Distillers.

I was also rather taken with the name of today’s cocktail. I’ve been feeling like it’s time for a long-delayed return trip to my one-time near-second home of Las Vegas. If things go badly at the 21 and craps tables for me, and well they might, this drink could certainly help remove some of the sting.

The Casino

2 ounces Old Tom gin
1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
1/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
2 dashes orange bitters
1 lemon twist (garnisth)

Combine the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass with lots of ice and stir vigorously. (You can shake if you like, and you know I usually like to shake, but here I really don’t find it necessary.) Pour into a chilled cocktail/martini glass, add lemon twist, and drink a toast to the right kind of big changes and better luck.

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First of all, since I haven’t seen it in too many other places, I pretty much followed the lead of a 2008 blog post on Old Tom gin by England’s Jay Hepburn, but it should be noted there are other versions of this drink, in fact it can be tinkered with quite a bit.

For example, I know from my own experiments that this drink can also work very nicely with regular gin (I was using Beefeater), though I’m not sure if you still want to use the bitters. On the other hand, there is a super dry version of this drink that uses only dashes of the lemon juice and maraschino but throws in a cherry as the garnish. I’m sure that could work too and I might try it that way sometime.

On the other hand, the first time I made this, I forgot to use bitters with both the Old Tom and my London dry gin version and found it extremely drinkable. The casino seems to be a drink that can take an awful lot of abuse and not really be harmed. More proof that the house always wins.

  

Drink of the Week: The Aviation (à la Craddock)

The AviationThe Aviation is one classic cocktail with a schizoid past. Everyone seems to agree now that the first known version of the drink appeared in 1911 in a recipe book written by New York bartender Hugo Ensslin. This original version called for gin, lemon juice, maraschino, and Creme de Violette, a liqueur made from the actual violet flower. It disappeared from American shelves at some point in the decades that followed.

You might think that would be it for the Aviation, but another version also appeared some 19 years in Harry Craddock’s better known Savoy Cocktail Book. This version omitted the Creme de Violette. As the classic era of cocktails passed into history, it became the standard Avaiation cocktail for the few remaining aficionados who cared about such things.

That was not the end of the story because, probably driven by the 21st century cocktail revival, Creme de Violette started to return to some U.S. liquor stores about five years back. A couple of years later, another all-but forgotten violet-based liqueur, Creme Yvette, was recreated and is now served in Aviations made at many a fine bar.

However, for all the years between 1930 and 2007 and even at many bars right now, somehow refined drinkers made and are making do with the not quite original version, which really isn’t bad at all. So, we shall start with the Craddock version and save the Ennslin iteration for later. Note to boozy publicists who might be reading — I await the magical free bottle(s) of Creme de Violette or the (more expensive) Creme Yvette.

The Aviation (Savoy style)

2 ounces gin
1/2 ounce to 1 ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/3 ounce to 1 ounce maraschino liqueur

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. If you’re not completely in love with the cocktail, look at something purple.

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Please note, once again, that maraschino liqueur. which contains a very interesting combination of sweet cherry flavor but also some subtle bitter notes, should never be confused with the bright red syrup that goes around the highly preserved cherries you can buy at the supermarket. You’ll also note that I’ve wimped out a bit and given you quite a bit of latitude regarding just how much lemon juice and maraschino to use. I have my reasons.

The fact of the matter is that, inspired by the wide variation in recipes I found online, I tried this drink in numerous permutations. While I lean very slightly towards those using a bit less maraschino and somewhat less than the maximum amount of lemon juice (say, 1/2 to 3/4 of an ounce), they all turned out very decently. At the same time, none of my Aviations were quite thrilling as if, perhaps, they were maybe missing something. We will see at some future date.

In the meantime, I would like to thank my Facebook friend, Christopher Tafoya, who gave me some very useful pointers. Also, as I assume the Aviation was, at some point, in someone’s mind, connected with the once new and very dangerous phenomenon of human flight, I’m leaving you with a clip from the best film ever about hard-drinking pioneer aviators, Howard Hawks “Only Angels Have Wings,” from the fabled movie year of 1939.

As for the answer to the question in the clip: “Who’s Joe?” Depending on you look at it he’s either Noah Berry, Jr., who later played James Garner’s dad on “The Rockford Files,” or he’s some dead guy in the movie.

  

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