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Drink of the Week: The Horsecar

Image ALT text goes here.The holidays are coming but there’s a limit to how many sweet and rich ingredients a person can or should imbibe. That’s especially true if, like me, you’re thinking about appropriate holiday cocktails while dealing with a bit of a lifelong weight issue — these posts haven’t exactly helped! — and also trying to prepare for upcoming celebratory indulgences. So, while you’re definitely free to make the more traditional holiday cocktails I’ve offered in the past, this week, I took a complete break from the flipping excess of last week’s beverage and went with something simple, and only a little bit sweet.

The Horsecar is a drink of uncertain origin as far as I can tell, but Saveur tells us it was featured in a 1956 cocktail book issued by our men’s magazine forebears over at Esquire. It’s a definite relative of the various Perfect Manhattan-esque drinks I’ve been messing with lately, combining both sweet and dry vermouths. And, yes, it’s a near replica of the Jumbo — which, by absolute sheer coincidence, was the featured drink here just barely under two years ago by about three days. Still there’s one key difference. See if you can spot it.

The Horsecar

1 ounce rye whiskey
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 ounce dry vermouth
1 dash orange bitters
1 cocktail cherry (garnish)

Not a lot of surprises here. Pour the rye, vermouths, and bitters into a cocktail shaker and mixing glass. Shake or stir, and then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Contemplate the millions of subtle variations possible when you combine liquids in differing proportions.

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Okay, so, like the Jumbo, the Horsecar is good for those who love Manhattans, but maybe sometimes find the standard version too high either in sweet vermouth or too heavy on the whiskey. The difference between the drinks is that the classic Jumbo calls for Peychaud’s bitters, which have an almost candy-like flavor, and the Horsecar calls for orange bitters, my  frequent personal choice when I’m making Perfect Manhattans. (I understand that you can also make Horsecars with Angostura-style aromatic bitters but, to be fair, that cocktail should probably be given it’s own name.)

My rye brands this time around were Rittenhouse, Old Overholt, Bulleit, and Alberta Dark Rye. My dry vermouths were Dolin’s and Martinis. My sweet vermouths were Martini, Vya, Carpano Antica, and, experimenting with a new brand, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino. The results were uniformly very nice, with floral and sweet qualities predominating. Probably the single most drinkable version contained Old Overholt — not really a personal favorite — Dolins and Carpano Antica. That version would have been the height of craft cocktail bar orthodoxy, except I shook it instead of stirring. Yes, it was clouded with ice crystals but it was also very easy on the palette without being boring.

I liked the Horsecar stirred as well. Those drinks were definitely a bit bolder in flavor, and could also be quite lovely. The only one that didn’t seem to work as well contained Alberta Dark Rye; it’s a brand I like quite a bit, but it’s a bit of a whiskey outlier and actually contains 1 percent sherry wine. Sometimes the dark horse really does come in last.

 

  

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Drink of the Week: The Imperfect Persimmon Flip

the Imperfect Persimmon Flip.If you don’t know a persimmon from a papaya, don’t feel too bad. I had not the vaguest idea of what the darn things tasted like until our in-house guinea pig here at Drink of the Week Manor brought in a gigantic box of the somewhat obscure fruit freshly picked by relatives.

Persimmons look a bit like the offspring of a tomato and a pumpkin, and taste something like an apple-pumpkin-mango hybrid; they’re pretty delicious. As they become over-ripe, they eventually develop an almost jam-like consistency and sweetness without actually rotting.

Of course, blessed with so much of this highly underrated fruit, my mind turned to cocktails. The few recipes I found online called for making persimmon purees, which flies in the face of my often stated goal of making all of these drinks something you can throw together in less than 10 minutes.

So, it was time me to get creative and whip up something simple of my own. The good news is that you don’t have to wait until your persimmon turns to jelly, all you need is a strong arm and a decent muddler, an egg, and a few basic cocktail ingredients to make yourself a really hearty, holiday season appropriate, dessert cocktail.

The Imperfect Persimmon Flip

1 1/2 ounces bourbon or rye whiskey
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1/2 small persimmon (i.e., a slice of about 1″ x 2″)
1 whole large egg
1/4 ounce agave syrup
2 dashes aromatic bitters

Thoroughly muddle the persimmon half/slice in the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Unless your persimmon is super-duper ripe, you’ll need an actual muddler and some substantial elbow grease to make sure you get it sufficiently juicy and mushy. Add the other ingredients and then dry shake it all without ice to make sure the whole egg emulsifies properly, giving the drink the milky-noggy consistency you want, not the slimy consistency people who have never had drinks with egg or egg white frequently fear. Make sure you keep a tight seal on the lid because the albumin in egg white can make the top of a shaker want to fly off.

Then, add plenty of ice and shake again, this time very vigorously and for no less than 10-15 seconds. Strain into a well chilled cocktail glass or, as pictured, a smallish rocks/old fashioned glass as shown above. You’ll want to use a Hawthorn strainer that will let some chunks of persimmon through. Although flips are traditionally topped with nutmeg, I think cinnamon works better on this drink.

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If you’re wondering about why I’m calling this the Imperfect Persimmon Flip, that’s easy. It’s a flip because it has a whole egg in it. It’s imperfect because I actually started out calling this the Perfect Persimmon Flip in that, like last week’s Perfect Cocktail, it originally featured both sweet and dry vermouth. When the dry/floral flavors clashed with the sweetness of the rest of the drink, I doubled down on the sweet vermouth and found myself with a much better drink, imperfect though it is.

Now for the brands, which can make a real difference here. As you can see in the picture, I started out with Maker’s Mark, one of the sweeter, gentler premium bourbons, and Martini, pretty much the default brand for vermouth. My aromatic bitters were Angostura, another default choice.

That earlier version was not one bit bad, nor was one using Martini and 100 proof Rittenhouse Rye. I have to admit, however, that this drink only really hit the stratosphere when I went with another line-up entirely: my freebie bottle of the notably less sweet and notably stronger Wild Turkey 101 bourbon, cocktailian-approved Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, and Fee Brothers’ friendlier aromatic. The almost chocolatey bitterness of Antica and the more astringent, assertive Wild Turkey emphasized the sweeter flavors and made for a holiday-time treat that, as my generous human guinea pig put it, looked and tasted something like a drinkable, cold, pumpkin pie.

  

Drink of the Week: The Gin and It

the Gin and It.My first ever DOTW post back in 2011 covered the Martini. It’s nevertheless taken me until just the last few weeks to start exploring the ancestry of that most iconic of cocktails, which a lot of people assume kind of begin and ends with last week’s Martinez. Still, it’s name aside, that very good but very sweet drink has more differences than similarities with the modern oh-so-dry Martini beverage. Today, I’ve found a drink that, while still pretty sweet, really does seem to be the semi-missing link between the Martinez and the Martini.

The Gin and It  — “It” being short for “Italian,” as in Italian vermouth, as in sweet vermouth — is pretty much what the name implies. While some versions weirdly call for using no ice whatsoever, my version of the drink, at least, is very close to my comparatively high-vermouth starter version of a Martini, save for the species of vermouth. It’s also just about identical to my take on a Manhattan (the second DOTW), except for using gin and not whiskey.

Now, here’s the kicker. Back in 1930, Harry Craddock’s epochal The Savoy Cocktail Book, actually listed three types of Martini, one of which was called the Sweet Martini, which, like my Gin and It, calls for 2 parts gin and one part Italian vermouth. His dry version of a Martini called of one part dry vermouth and 2 parts gin. Today, of course, a dry martini typically means one with either only a hint of vermouth or even (and I don’t like this) none at all. Considering Mr. Craddock, however, it seems pretty darn likely that when the first person uttered the quip, “let’s get you out of those wet clothes and into a dry Martini” they meant a drink made with dry vermouth (perhaps Martini brand), not little or no vermouth.

Anyhow, here’s the perfect drink for anyone craving a very un-dry martini as in one that’s actually sweet….but still pretty close to an actual Martini.

The Gin and It

2 ounces gin
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1-2 dashes aromatic bitters
1 orange twist or cocktail cherry (garnish)

Combine your liquid ingredients in a mixing glass or cocktail shaker. As if to foreshadow Ian Fleming, Harry Craddock actually instructed that ALL of his martinis should be shaken, but I prefer my martinis stirred, not shaken. (Gin seems to me to take on a slightly less pleasant flavor when shaken, don’t ask me why.)  Definitely use ice. Strain into chilled cocktail glass and add the garnish of your choice, if any.

Toast vermouth, both sweet and dry. It is one of the most honorable, yet misunderstood and unfairly maligned of cocktail ingredients.

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While notably less complex than the Martinez, the Gin and It is also a bit drier, at least at my proportions. (Many versions call for equal parts gin and sweet vermouth.) It pretty much tastes like a Manhattan made with gin, and that’s not a bad thing . I tried this with Bombay Gin, Gordon’s Gin, Carpano Antica and, yes, Martini. While I can’t say any version of the drink rocked my world — I actually enjoyed the Martinez a great deal more — the best version was made was the higher end ingredients; I suppose that’s not a surprise. I also haven’t a clue why this drink isn’t as least as well known as, say, a Gimlet.

I will speculate, however, that the idea being promulgated in some quarters of the Internet that the platonic form of the Gin and It is made without ice might have something do with the idea. Suffice it to say, the room temperature Gin and It is not for everyone, and, this case, the everyone it’s not for includes me. It’s not that it tastes bad, it’s just that there’s a reason we dilute and chill this stuff with ice.

  

Drink of the Week: The Martinez

the Martinez.You’ve got relatives, I’ve got relatives. Everyone’s got relatives. The interesting thing about them is that they can have a great many of the same components that we do; at the same time, the final result can have you shaking your head and wondering how the #$@#$# it is that you share any chromosomes at all with these people.

I believe that it’s almost a given that last week’s drink, the Fin de Siècle, was one relative of the modern day Martini However, because of the similarity in its name, the Martinez may arguably be a more direct descendent, or at least the far better known relative. The naming of the Martinez itself, it’s generally believed, has something to do with the Bay Area suburb of Martinez, California. Oddly enough, however, while Northern Californians typically pronounce the city’s name as “Mar-TEEN-is,” the way most of us pronounce the very common Spanish surname, Robert Hess and others typically call the drink the “Martin-ez.”

At the exact same time, in terms of the actual flavor of the drinks, there’s next to no similarity, beyond containing gin. This is a sweet and actually very accessible drink that uses sweet vermouth (often referred to in cocktail books as Italian vermouth) instead of dry vermouth (aka French vermouth).

In any case, the version I’m presenting is significantly less sweet than many of the earlier versions for two reasons. Many variations — including a very decent one proffered by master bartender Robert Hess — actually include more sweet vermouth than gin, while mine is kinda sorta almost like a sweet version of the beverage now known as the Fitty-Fitty. Just as important, many versions of the Martinez including most of the older ones, call for Old Tom Gin — basically your standard London dry, rendered un-dry by some sugar water. As you might guess, that version is very, very sweet.

I rather like the iteration below, approachably sweet while still being nicely balanced and usually quite potent.

The Martinez

1 1/2 ounces dry gin
1 1/2 ounces sweet vermouth
1 smidgen Maraschino liqueur
1 dash orange bitters
1 lemon twist (borderline essential garnish)

Add the prescribed amount of dry gin and sweet vermouth to a mixing glass or cocktail shaker. Next, do what Robert Hess does and just barely tip the Maraschino bottle over and pour as little as you possibly can of the bittersweet cherry liqueur and also add a regular dash of orange bitters.

Stir vigorously, or shake if you prefer to maybe cut the sweetness a bit. (I lean towards stirring here.) Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and be sure to add your lemon twist in the proper manner, running the outside of the peel around the rim of the glass and then twisting it, shiny side down, over the drink to express the oils into your drink. It definitely helps to take the edge off the sweetness. Orange twists, which are sometimes called for, don’t work as well, I found.

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I know my picture above features Noilly Pratt — and the results with this drink were very good. Still, to really make your Martinez shine, I’ve got to once again speak up for Carpano Antica,which definitely takes the drink in a more mature and well-balanced direction. This time, also, for some reason I noticed a dramatic distinction between the two brands of gin I was using; the premium Bombay Dry was a distinct improvement over the very decent, but less notably less flavorful (and cheaper) Gordon’s Gin.

Now, returning to the question of whether the Martinez is the most direct descendent of the Martini…I personally don’t think so. Next week we’ll be concluding with a drink that actually might be the missing link between the Martinez and the Martini. Stay tuned.