Drink of the Week: The Will Rogers

The Will Rogers. Cowboy comic, movie star, and political commentator Will Rogers was a genuine superstar in his day — think a combination of Jon Stewart and Tom Hanks — but  it’s his quotations that really sing to us right now. There’s something about the basic sanity of these little packages of genius that is a little bit extra poignant in a political moment where nothing seems to be on the table other than economic and political suicide.

“I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.” I borrow that one a lot, but it seems like the rival party could pick that one up very soon.

“There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.” Remind you of anyone?

And here’s one that’s a bit more relevant to our topic here at Drink of the Week. “Why don’t they pass a constitutional amendment prohibiting anybody from learning anything? If it works as good as Prohibition did, in five years we will have the smartest people on earth.”

And so, for this truly, madly, deeply meshugganeh moment in American politics, I bring you a quite decent cocktail right out of the pages of the Prohibition-era classic, The Savoy Cocktail Book, named after a man who was a little bit better than decent. He was sane. The drink isn’t bad, either.

The Will Rogers

2 ounces gin, preferably Plymouth Gin
1 ounce fresh squeezed orange juice
1 ounce dry vermouth
2 teaspoons orange curacao

Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a cocktail glass. Toast comedians, for they are the only reliable source of political wisdom on our small planet.

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Wikipedia tells us that this Plymouth Gin is featured in exactly 23 cocktail recipes in The Savoy Cocktail Book where, in fact, I first found today’s recipe. Leaving my decades long membership in the cult of the number 23 aside (thank you Robert Anton Wilson and William S. Burroughs) I admit to having been a bit confused by whether Plymouth was a style of gin or a brand of the gin.

Turns out the answer is, “yes.” Ever so slightly less dry and more fruity than the London dry gin most of us know, it’s made in Plymouth, a town about 190 miles from London from whence came our turkey-and-cranberry eating Puritan forebears. While there was once more than one brand of the Plymouth style of gin, today there is only Plymouth Gin; the brand and the style are now synonymous. At 82.5 proof, it’s relatively gentle compared to most premium gins, which are often closer to 90 proof or above, but stronger versions are manufactured. It’ll cost you more than even some very good brands of gin; I shelled out 28 smackers at an outstanding discount emporium out here in glamorous Van Nuys.

I made the Will Rogers using a good London style gin as well as the pricier Plymouth variety, and I have to say that extra expenditure might be worth it for cocktail perfectionists. Using very good, but more reasonably priced Bombay Dry, it was fine, but the Plymouth version had just that extra bit of, er, zazz to it. It’s a technical term for, er, tangy complexity, or something.

On the other hand, whatever you do, stay away from the alternate version of the Will Rogers which I found floating around a number of cocktail sites. That one contains 1.5 ounces of gin, half an ounce of dry vermouth, a mere tablespoon of orange juice, and a dash (let’s say half a teaspoon) of triple sec instead of curacao.  Yes, I have met a cocktail I didn’t like.

  

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Drink of the Week: The Egg Sour

Image ALT text goes here.A coworker of mine pointed out to me recently that  a good chunk of my post on eggnog from Christmas of 2011 consisted of warnings, provisos, and disclaimers about the use of raw egg. Well, I included no such warning on my post on the amazing Pisco Sour a couple of weeks back, although that used only a pretty small amount of egg white. Today, I’m throwing all caution to the proverbial wind with a drink featuring an entire egg — yolk and all. The fact that I had about 9 bird ova in the fridge threatening to go to waste earlier this week is entirely coincidental.

The Egg Sour appears to have originated in print via Jerry Thomas’s classic bartending guide from 1887 — back in the days when refrigeration was rare and penicillin was nonexistent but people knew a tasty and seriously refreshing libation when they tasted one. This drink would also fall easily into the category of a breakfast drink. While I don’t usually go in for that sort of thing, this is certainly a first-rate, and more potent, mimosa alternative.

The Egg Sour

1 ounce cognac or brandy
1 ounce orange curaçao
1/2 ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon superfine sugar
1 large egg

Combine your cognac, curaçao, lemon juice, whole egg, and sugar, in a cocktail shaker. It’s not entirely necessary but, if you like, you can beat the egg into the rest of the ingredients to aid in the blending process. (It might be more important to observe this step if you’re attempting two Egg Sours at a time.) Next, shake all of your ingredients vigorously without ice in order to ensure a good mix. When you take off the top of your shaker, you should see a nice orangey-white froth. Add ice, shake again very vigorously, and strain into a well-chilled rocks glass. Toast the chicken, or the egg, whichever you think comes first.

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Very observant readers may notice that a couple of ingredients are similar to last week’s drink, the East India House Cocktail, and that’s no coincidence. I took advantage of my newish bottle of curaçao and the lovely, and very free, fifth of Camus Ile de Ré Fine Island Cognac for this drink and it’s a lovely combination. I’m sure other brands of cognac or brandy, such as my value-priced fall back brandy, Reynal, will work extremely nicely here as well, though they may lack a certain touch of class.

As I said above, this is one seriously refreshing but, thanks to the lemon, not quite super-sweet drink. I tried doubling the sugar up to two teaspoons for people with stronger sweettooths, but the result actually tasted less sweet and pleasing to the tongue and had similar results with an entire teaspoon of simple syrup. Interesting.

This is the point in the blog when I usually comment on some cultural or personal aspect of a given beverage, but today’s drink is just tasty in a way that’s totally out of context with much of anything else. Maybe I should have spent more time defending my use of a raw egg.

  

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 Pegu Club Cocktail

The Pegu Club CocktailYou all probably know the one-liner, developed by Groucho Marx and reiterated by Woody Allen in “Annie Hall,” about not wanting to belong to any club that would have the speaker for a member. At this point, I have to admit that I certainly don’t feel like a member of the Pegu Club whether or not they’d have me. Of course, as I’m not a Britisher hanging around Rangoon circa 1920-1930, I wouldn’t expect to be had.

You see, the Pegu Club Cocktail, which apparently was favored by English imperialists messing about in Burma, aka Myanmar, has defeated me. I’ve tried it in a number of permutations and none seem to work. Sure, I still don’t have as much time at present as I’d like to experiment, but no amount of adjusting the proportions of ingredients made this thing come together for me and I have a feeling I could work with it for an entire month and not have much more luck. I’ll give you some leeway and maybe you’ll do better. It’s not like there’s anything wrong with the ingredients separately.

The Pegu Club Cocktail

1 1/2 – 2 ounces gin
1/2 – 1 ounce fresh squeezed lime juice
1/2 – 1 ounce orange liqueur (Orange Curacao, Triple Sec, Cointreau, etc.)
1-2 dashes Orange Bitters
1-2 dashes Aromatic Bitters (Angostura, etc.)

Combines ingredients in a cocktail shaker and pour into a chilled cocktail shaker. I’d suggest you toast Aung San Suu Kyi but, in my opinion, she deserves a better balanced drink.

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Do I sound bitter? Well, after finding myself underwhelmed by The Maiden’s Prayer a couple of weeks back, I’m just starting to wonder how debilitating Project Empty My Liquor Cabinet Pre Moving is going to continue to be. Well, the good news is that it will be over soon. Drink of the Week Central looks to be moving from Northwest Orange County to the central San Fernando Valley community of Van Nuys within a matter of weeks. Huzzah.

Nevertheless, I will offer one suggestion should you be curious to try this one for yourself: be darn sure not to forget your bitters. As it is, the orange liqueur or the lime juice has a tendency to completely dominate this drink depending on your proportions and never in a particularly good way, no matter what my choice of liqueur seemed to be. (I didn’t, however, try Grand Marnier, so who knows.) Without bitters, as my old buddy Kevin learned one Sunday recently, this can be on freakin’ syrupy drink if you lean on the liqueurish side of the spectrum. Serves me right for effectively celebrating British adventurism so close to the 4th of July.

I guess that’s it. I wonder if any great cocktails were invented in Van Nuys. No doubt we’ll be finding out the answer to that one together.

  

Drink of the Week: Between the Sheets

Between the SheetsLast time I was here we were talking about the distinguished history of the Mint Julep and referencing poet John Milton and his rather obscure poem, “Comus” (actually a masque if you want to get technical). Well, you can forget those high flown references this week because we’re getting down and dirty with a classic drink with no such poetic connotations.

Yes, before there was Sex on the Beach and the Screaming Orgasm there was this week’s bluntly named — at least by prohibition era standards, anyways — libation. On the other hand, it’s also probably a lot more appropriate for Mother’s Day weekend than you might care too think, given that cocktails like this are very often the mother of motherhood, if you will.

Between the Sheets

1 ounce brandy or cognac
1 ounce white rum
1 ounce Cointreau or triple sec
1/2 an ounce (or less) fresh squeezed lemon juice

Combine brandy/cognac, rum, lemon juice, and triple sec or Cointreau in a shaker with lots of ice. Shake vigorously and pour into our old friend, the pre-chilled cocktail glass. Shake, put on some Marvin Gaye, Barry White, Beyoncé, or Perry Como (don’t say I don’t give you people some options) and sip sensuously.

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Between the Sheets is an unusual drink not only for its pre-1970s salaciousness, but in that it’s in the small but fascinating family of multiple base spirit cocktails with its rum/brandy combo. Admittedly, however, this is not as much to my personal taste as the Saratoga — which features brandy and rye — from a few weeks back, but it will do.

I tried it several different ways but no clear favorite emerged. The version with inexpensive Bols triple sec was not cloying, as some drinks made with it can be. Using the high end triple sec, Cointreau, added a classy but not super-enthralling note of complex bitterness. Both drinks were fine but when I got a bit more experimental and used orange curacao, which I generally tend to prefer to triple sec, the drink became annoyingly super-sweet. Not sexy at all.

It might not be a huge personal favorite of mine, but I encourage you to give Between the Sheets a shot. It’s a tasty enough drink and a reminder of the healthy, natural activity that brought us all into the world so we can enjoy cocktails and feel guilty about not calling our mother’s enough.

Now, a behind the scenes look at the making of the cocktail we call humanity.

  

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