Drink of the Week: The Liberal (modern style)

The Liberal.Yes, it won’t be shock if you’ve been paying close attention, but I’m a liberal. Not a Noam Chomsky-style ultra-progressive or a concern-trolling Tom Friedman/Joe Klein style enabler of everything that sucks. Nope, I’m just a plain old liberal with a mad crush on Rachel Maddow, personal liberty, ethnic/religious/sexual equality, not starting wars every alternate Thursday, and the concept of a mixed economy like they still have in Canada and Europe.

Why bring that up now? Well, most of us at least know that on Memorial Day, we’re really supposed to be honoring on our war dead, and Veteran’s Day is obviously about veterans, but few people of any political stripe consider that Labor Day is really supposed to be about people who have to work for a living for other, richer people. In other words, most of us. Unions are a real thing and if you like things like a 5 day week or overtime pay, you should be for improving them AND for growing them, not dismantling them.

So, since labor and liberal politics really do together, now more than ever, I can’t imagine a better drink for Labor Day weekend than the Liberal. Now, it’s not at all clear why this particular drink is called the Liberal and not the Libertarian or the Nonpartisan, but it’s definitely a drink that will make you feel like sharing the wealth, just a little. Let us begin.

The Liberal (Modern Style)

1 1/2 ounces rye or bourbon whiskey
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
1/4 ounce Torani Amer
1 dash orange bitters
1 lemon twist or maraschino cherry (desirable garnish)

Combine your whiskey, vermouth and your amaro digestif (that’s the Torani Amer) in the mixing vessel of your choice with a liberal amount of ice. Stir very vigorously and strain into a chilled cocktail glass or coupe. I’m usually very shaking-friendly, but I really don’t suggest shaking this one as it seems to come out surprisingly watered down and deflavorized if you do.

Add a decent maraschino cherry or very thin lemon twist. Since I’m a small-l liberal as well as big-L liberal, I’ll allow you to toast whomever you like. I, however, might suggest George Bernard Shaw, Molly Ivins, Groucho Marx, or Abe Lincoln, the originator of that long-dead breed, the liberal Republican.

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A brief note: today’s version is, as is so often the case, just one of a number of different recipes with wildly differing proportions. This version appears to be of more recent vintage, but I hope to be giving an older version of it whirl fairly soon. The modern Liberal is pretty nice, if you’re not allergic to cocktails that flaunt their booziness. Nevertheless, it is a drink with issues.

The first problem some of you are going to encounter is finding Torani Amer. It’s fairly easy to dig up here in lefty-coastal California at your local high-end or big box liquor emporium such as Total Wine & More or Bev-Mo, I understand, however, it’s hard to find elsewhere. I guess you’ll have to buy it online until the revolution comes.

The second problem is that nobody’s really that crazy about Torani Amer. The thing is, in some drinks, it’s just the best ingredient you’ll find. The original version of the Liberal, in fact, called for Amer Picon, a product that really doesn’t exist anymore no matter where you live. (You can still find something with that name in Europe but, by all accounts, it’s changed dramatically.)

I actually tried this drink with the far more well-liked sister beverage to Torani Amer and Amer Picon, Amaro CioCiara, and it was actually too sweet. Torani Amer it is. It’s a fact of modern liberal life that, all too often, you have to accept damn near unacceptable compromises.

  

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Drink of the Week: The Ford Cocktail, Version 2

Image ALT text goes here.As I tried to rescue the Ford Cocktail for a second week in row from my own mixed feelings, at times I was  tempted  just declare victory and move on,a la Vietnam. I am, instead, prepared to declare the coupe half-full with a sweeter version of the drink I actually like a bit better.

There’s just no point in fighting the the fact that sweetened Old Tom Gin and megasugary hazelnut liqueur Benedictine are just destined to pound the hell out of even the finest dry vermouth. I give in and declare that I actually kind of like this drink, though it will never be a personal favorite. It’s definitely a more accessible improvement over last week’s even sweeter traditional version. In addition, I’ve made what I think are a few minor improvements in a version of the drink promulgated online at Imbibe by Chicago bartender Stephen Cole

The Ford Cocktail, Version 2

2 ounces Old Tom Gin
1 ounce dry vermouth
1/2 tablespoon (1/4 ounce) Benedictine
2-3 dashes orange bitters
1 orange twist (garnish)

Combine everything but the orange twist in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Mr. Cole thinks you should stir this drink but I say you should shake it most vigorously. Then, strain it into a coupe or martini-style cocktail glass. You can add your orange twist in the traditional way — rimming the glass, twisting the orange peel over the drink to express the oils onto the surface of the beverage and then dropping the peel into the drink. Or, as Cole has it, you can discard the orange peel. I didn’t see much difference.

Enjoy your drink and toast second chances. Even when they don’t exactly produce perfection, they’re a reminder that life really does go on.

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I kept fiddling with the proportions of this version of the Ford Cocktail, trying to fight what initially struck me as excessive sweetness, and got exactly no place. 1/4 of an ounce (1/2 tablespoon) of Benedictine became just one teaspoon and then 1/2 half a teaspoon. The drink lost sweetness but gained neither charm nor balance. Yet, when I returned to the original Cole formulation, I gradually grew to accept, if not exactly love, the Ford.

Still, I have to differ with the Cole recipe in a couple of respects. It specifically calls out the high-end Dolin’s for its dry vermouth. I like Dolin’s quite a bit, but I found the drink might actually have been improved by the more standard, much cheaper, and slightly dryer Martini & Rossi. I usually prefer slightly more flavorful dry vermouths but, for this drink, the crispness of Martini may win.

I win as well, because I finally get to move on to another drink, and I think it might be one I not only kinda invented myself but actually like. Stay tuned.

  

Drink of the Week: The Ford Cocktail, Version 1

The Ford Cocktail.Happy July 4! I wish I could say I have a drink that’s a perfect salute to the ol’ red, white, and blue. Honestly, however, today’s drink has no particular connection with the holiday or even the auto manufacturer it shares a name with, nor even its enterprising, infamously antisemitic founder. It’s also a drink that, at this point, I have to say I’ve found to be just kind of okay. But I still haven’t given up and will even be revisiting the Ford Cocktail in another iteration very soon.

Why on earth would I do that? Because I’m stubborn, that’s why…and I’m determined to give it’s alternative version, with similar ingredients but radically different proportions, a try. Nevertheless, obviously this version has its fans, including cocktail archivist Ted Haigh who featured it in his super-influential tome, “Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails.” Let’s see if you want the remember this one.

The Ford Cocktail

1 ounce Old Tom Gin
1 ounce dry vermouth
3 dashes orange bitters
1/4-1/2 teaspoon Benedictine
1 orange twist (semi-mandatory garnish)

Combine the liquids in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass. You can stir vigorously with cracked ice if you want to be like Mr. Haigh, or you can do as I prefer slightly and shake it within an inch of its life. (Regular ice will probably do.) Strain the result into a chilled cocktail glass and salute Edsel Ford. Not because he or anyone in his family had anything to do with this drink, but just because he had the bad fortune to gone down in history as the name of a failed car that probably wasn’t as bad as legend made out. His brother was probably named “Ishtar.”

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There isn’t a lot of room for variation with this drink as far as brands are concerned. I was using Hayman’s Old Tom Gin, by far the most widely available version of the now relatively rare sweetened gin. (It’s only competitor, as far as I can tell, is Ransom’s Old Tom Gin, which is rumored to be connected to classic cocktail super-historian David Wondrich.) For my vermouth, I used both Dolin’s and Martini, with a slight preference for the former. My orange bitters were Regans and my Benedictine was Dom. These are all outstanding products but, for the life of me, no matter what I did this drink came out…acceptable.

Probably the best version used the Dolin’s and was shaken within an inch of its life. I messed around with a bit more and bit less of the very sweet and tasty Benedictine. I found it a hair too sweet if I used a whole half teaspoon and a hair too dry at a quarter. It was way too sweet when I tried to follow the classic instructions and add three sloppy “dashes” of the liqueur…but that’s probably because I’m still too lazy or cheap to buy an eye dropper or some kind of shaker bottle.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that, while I wouldn’t stop anyone from trying to make a Ford Cocktail this July 4th weekend, you might want to stick around for the alternative version in coming weeks. Or, hell, have an Old Fashioned or two.

  

Drink of the Week: The Olivette

Image ALT text goes here.I’ve slipped up again in the holiday boozing department as there’s nothing particularly Father’s Day appropriate about today’s drink. Of course, there’s also nothing particularly un-fatherly about it. If dad likes gin, olives, and isn’t averse to a tiny bit of  anisette/licorice flavor, he might just dig this very sophisticated, very boozy classic martini alternative as much as I do if you serve it up to him this Sunday.

And I do kind of dig it. I wrote last week of my moody martini disenchantment and I’ve found this drink perhaps the perhaps the perfect antidote. It features my favorite part of the martini, the olive, but it’s balanced out by tiny proportions of sugar water and the alcoholic punch in the face we call absinthe. It does come from “The Savoy Cocktail Book,” definitely one of the big daddies of the field. I’ve modified it ever so slightly to better suit my personal taste buds. More about that after today’s recipe.

The Olivette

1 1/2 ounces Plymouth Gin
1/2 teaspoon simple syrup
1/4-1/2 teaspoon absinthe
2 dashes orange bitters
1 olive (mandatory garnish)
1 lemon peel (semi-mandatory garnish)

Combine the liquid ingredients and shake the contents. (You can also stir this drink if you like…but you’d be wrong.) Strain into a chilled, smallish cocktail glass or coupe over an olive. Mr. Craddock said  you should squeeze the lemon peel on top, and I’m inclined to agree. Toast the olive, for it is green, pimento stuffed, and full of life…or, you can toast your dad if you’re so inclined.

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I find the Olivette as wonderfully sophisticated as the best traditional dry martini, yet with far more flavor going for it. While the simple syrup might seem a counterintuitive touch for a drink with an olive in it, it creates a very pleasing balance with the orange bitters (Reagan’s for me, as usual) and the very strong anisette flavor of  absinthe.

I’ve altered the Olivette from Harry Craddock’s recipe. Instead of my half and quarter teaspoons, the original calls for two dashes of simple syrup and three dashes of absinthe. I remain eternally befuddled by how I’m supposed to include a dash of something that doesn’t come from a dash bottle and too lazy/cheap to buy one just for the purpose of duplicating Mr. Craddock’s recipes. I prefer being a bit more precise anyway.

Even so, when I tried approximating the original drink with 1/4 teaspoon simple syrup and 1/2 teaspoon absinthe, I found the latter ingredient somewhat overpowered the drink. If you’re a bigger fan of licorice than me, however, you might like it this way. I liked the drink a whole lot better when I reversed the proportions and used 1/2 teaspoon of sugar and just 1/4 teaspoon absinthe — for me the ultimate example of a “little goes a long way” ingredient.

Of course, the primary and most important ingredient of the Olivette is gin, and not just any gin. Plymouth Gin is called for in, we are told by whomever felt like taking the time to count, 23 of the cocktails in “The Savoy Cocktail Book.” It is, as I wrote last year, both a style and a brand of gin. That’s because there’s only one brand of it available, so we’ve essentially got a monopoly on our hands. In this case, the monopoly works very nicely.

The ever-so-slightly less dry, fruitier flavor of gin from the English town that produced our nation’s ultra-abstemious founding Puritans really does seem to be the ideal gin for this lost classic of a drink. I say this with some authority because I also tried the Olivette with a perfectly good brand of regular London dry gin. It kind of tasted like a Dow Chemical spill.

  

Drink of the Week: The Suburban

The SuburbanToday’s beverage serves a dual purpose. First, it continues my ongoing interest in classic cocktails featuring more than one variety of hard liquor. Secondly, it highlights the fact that you’re erstwhile cocktail explorer will very likely be soon be exchanging one not-quite-urban home base for another. Yes, if all goes as planned I’ll soon be leaving the vast quasi-suburban enclave that is Orange County, California only to very possibly move to the  more centrally located, yet no less suburban, not-quite-city we call the San Fernando Valley — which is Los Angeles in the sense that you get to vote for the mayor of L.A.

As for the Suburban cocktail, it’s a very relaxing but ultra-sophisticated drink that won’t be too all tastes. You might call it “urbane.”

The Suburban

1 1/2 ounces rye whiskey
1/2 ounce dark rum
1/2 ounce port
1 dash aromatic bitters
1 dash orange bitters

The ingredients might be unusual but the methodology is as routine as can be. Combine your various boozes and bitters in your cocktail shaker or mixing glass with plenty of ice. Purists will insist on stirring the concoction but I say shaking will also work. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and drink a toast to Walt Disney, who envisioned fantastical wonderlands-cum-bedroom communities — most of which never came to be — in Orange County and elsewhere. (Uncle Walt’s company did finally build one planned community, Celebration, Florida, during the 1980s.)

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For this drink, I used my go-to rye, 100 proof Rittenhouse. Some recipes call specifically for Jamaican Rum, but I used the very decent (and more reasonably priced) dark Whaler’s Rum from Hawaii because that’s what I had on hand. For the exact same reasons, I also used the inexpensive tawny port I’ve been using for a number of drinks lately.

As for the history of this beverage, which dates back to the early 20th century, it apparently has more to do with horse racing than civic sprawl. Even so, for now, the self-indulgent question remains, will Drink of the Week Central end up in one of the bedroom communities of the San Fernando Valley, where my new day job is located, or will I be taking advantage of my beloved hometown’s growing subway system with a move to the vastly more cityish Hollywood/Silver Lake/Los Feliz/Koreatown axis, or will I split the difference and land in North Hollywood or Studio City?

All I can tell you is that, if suburbia be my destination, I’ll try to make it the laid back no-judgements utopian Never Never Land envisioned by Hal David and Burt Bacharach, who also sings, in his fashion, in the song below. Okay, that may be unlikely, but at cocktail hour there’s a little bit of Hasbrook Heights in every home. (The song actually starts at around 0:15.)

  

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