Drink of the Week: The Russian

the Russian.You know the White Russian and you probably know the Black Russian, which subtracts the diary product but leaves the Kahlua and vodka. Still, I bet the Russian, full stop, is unknown to you, as it was to me until just a few days ago.

I found this drink while pouring over my increasingly well-worn copy of Harry Craddock’s 1930 “The Savoy Cocktail Book” seeking something simple. I’m a bit overwhelmed at the day job right now — no, I don’t make my living doing this — and I really didn’t have the energy to even so much as squeeze a lemon or a lime. And so I stumbled over this little known relic of the days when vodka was a rather exotic ingredient unfamiliar to most Americans who mainly knew whiskey, gin, and probably the once ubiquitous applejack…if they ever dared to enter a speakeasy, that is.

I have no idea if the Russian — actually called “The Russian Cocktail” by Craddock, who called about 90% of his drinks the “the _____ Cocktail” — was an invention of prohibition-era booze marketers trying to popularize vodka in Western Europe and the soon-to-be post-18th Amendment U.S. (See the Moscow Mule, which came a bit later). I do know, however,  that mixing vodka with a chocolate liqueur and the right kind of gin makes for a drink that’s definitely sweet, but with just enough bite to be interesting. It’s also about as easy to make as a cocktail gets.

The Russian

3/4 ounce vodka
3/4 ounce gin
3/4 ounce cream de cacao

Combine your liquids in a cocktail shaker with a ton of ice. Shake very vigorously. Strain into a cocktail glass chilled within an inch of its life. Toast, Dostoevsky, who gave the world “The Brothers Karamazov,” “Crime and Punishment, and “The Idiot” and this perhaps tangentially related joke.

“Did you know the Russians are coming out with a new car. It’s called the Dostoyevsky?”

“Really.”

“Yeah, it’s available in a two-door and Fyodor.”

***

To be honest, this drink is about as Russian as that joke. The name notwithstanding, it’s neither the vodka or the gin that dominates this drink, it’s the creme de cacao. If you don’t love chocolate, you won’t love the Russian. That’s not to say the hard liquors don’t play crucial supporting roles.

This drink definitely works far better with a gin and a vodka able to stand up to a chocolate onslaught. My first time out, I used Sky Vodka, the last remnants of my No. 3 London Dry Gin, a flavorful and stout product, and Gionelli white creme de cacao. It was pretty darn delightful. Much less so, however, when I ran out to the local grocery story and decided to pick up a $20.00 double-sized bottle of Gordon’s Gin, which can often work delightfully in mixed drinks, including martinis. This time, however, it just didn’t have the gumption we needed. I was tempted to blame my more photogenic choice of DeKuyper’s brown creme de cacao for my insipid Russian but, on reflection, I decided the two chocolate liqueurs I used were about on par.

I next tried it with the Plymouth Gin that made the Olivette sing last week. Very good. Then, I tried it with 100 proof Smirnoff. Sweet, but strong like a Trotsky icepick.

  

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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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