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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Drink of the Week: The Rob Roy

The Rob RoyFor the second week in a row, I’m revisiting classic variations of classic cocktails that have been mentioned here before but not fully explored. Though supposedly created by an anonymous bartender at New York’s Waldorf Hotel and named for the legendary hero of Scottish folklore, the Rob Roy is a pretty clear case of cocktail plagiarism at its finest. All it really is the Manhattan but made with Scotch rather than with rye, bourbon, or Canadian whisky. Still, as I noted in the second edition of DOTW, a Manhattan is really just a martini made with whiskey and capitalizing on the natural sweetness of rye, bourbon and Canadian whiskey, as opposed to the dry tang of modern day gin.

I also said at the time that I hadn’t figured out yet how to make a Rob Roy taste any good. It did take some time to revisit some recipes and experiment a bit with the more smokey and biting flavor of the Scottish brew in comparison to the sweeter rye and the almost-candy-like-in-comparison bourbon. Here’s the trick as I see it right now: We still use bitters, but we use them more sparingly.

The Rob Roy

2 ounces Scotch whisky
1/2-1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 dash bitters (angostura or orange)
maraschino cherry or lemon peel (garnish)

Add Scotch, vermouth, and bitters — using a light hand on the bitters — in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake most vigorously and strain into a pre-chilled cocktail class and sip, preferably while pouring over a volume of Robert Burns’ poetry.

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It’s true that the best laid plans o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley, and the hole in my plans was that I ran out of my beloved dry Noilly Pratt and forgot to try the dry version of the Rob Roy, which appears to be more popular than the less frequently discussed dry Manhattan. Both drinks simply use dry vermouth in place of the sweet variety and, traditionally, change the garnish from the cherry to a lemon peel or, if you’re me, an olive. If so, I would be extra careful with using Angostura bitters especially as Scotch is already a relatively harsh brew compared to North American whiskeys.

In general, though, to reiterate, the major distinction I would make between the Rob Roy and the Manhattan is that I strongly counsel being stingy with bitters on a Rob Roy, while I counsel greater generosity with them on Manhattans. Scotch is a pretty tough form of booze all on its own.

  

Drink of the Week: The Vodka Martini

vodka martiniSo, this all started when, through the kindness of a smart and generous publicist working for Diageo, two bottles of very good vodka found their way to my door. Ketel One is the solid and very popular brand of premium liquor you probably all know, with its bright, clean taste. With a bit more complexity and bite than we usually associate with what was once marketed as “white whisky,” certified organic Moon Mountain Vodka, a small batch liquor, also came my way. Both are superior vodkas which, I’m certain, would do very well in any good vodka cocktail from a Bloody Mary to a Moscow Mule. Still, I decided to first enjoy them in probably their purest cocktail form, the vodka martini.

Now, careful readers with long memories may recall that we covered the martini — both gin and vodka — in the first ever edition of DOTW. Nevertheless, we didn’t really give the vodka variation its proper attention as a sturdy cocktail in its own right. (Many will insist it’s not the same drink and they’re not half wrong.) Today, we correct that oversight with, really, the first cocktail that ever became “my” drink and only partially because I grew up with James Bond on the brain. You’ll note that we’re using significantly less vermouth this time around.

The Vodka Martini

3 ounces vodka
1 teaspoon to 1/2 ounce dry vermouth
1 dash of orange bitters (optional)
Lemon twist or olive garnish

Combine vodka and a tiny, or teeny-tiny, amount of vermouth in a cocktail shaker. Also consider throwing in a very small amount of orange bitters. This may be heretical in some quarters, but we like our vodka martinis seriously cloudy with ice crystals, especially since we’re keeping the vermouth to a minimum this time, so all of these liquids should be poured over crushed ice, if you can manage it. Then shake like crazy for as long as you can stand to. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass with olives or a twist of lemon, though we prefer olives. Sip slowly, this is essentially two drinks in one. (Use 100 proof vodka only at your own risk.)

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I have to admit to some small consternation when trying this at home that I never quite reached the level of smooth perfection that my very longstanding and extremely good friend, hostess par excellance Dr. R., achieves regularly with her vodka martinis. Apparently, however, her secret involves using just a smidge of olive brine, which technically makes her drink a dirty martini.

I love dirty martinis and I’m sure I’ll cover them at some point later on, but that doesn’t mean you have to wait. Apparently, her trick is to just use a drop of vermouth, and a touch of brine and lots and lots of crushed ice — and no bitters. I like my version but, I have to admit, her’s is pretty damn perfect.

As for which brand of vodka worked better…that depends. The Moon Mountain is better for those who really like to know they’re imbibing alcohol while being kind to the environment, while the Ketel One is slightly preferable for those who’d like to pretend they’re drinking an intoxicating iceberg.

  

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