New Year’s Cocktails — Another Drink of the Week Holiday Special

Last week‘s special selection of Christmas drink suggestions were all united by one special ingredient: fat!

While such yuletide standbys as eggnog and hot buttered rum also make excellent New Year’s party favors, it’s possible you’ve had enough rich food during the last several days for a lifetime. So, let’s focus on drinks that might rough up your liver a little but which will leave you arteries alone. And, for our special star ingredient, I’m thinking that we’ll go with that most festive, bubbliest, and Auld Lang Syny-est of cocktail ingredients: champagne, or it’s more or less identical twin, sparkling white wine.

Though a great many old school and more recent craft concoctions feature bubbly, by far the most popular and venerable champagne infused cocktail is the French 75. Conceived in 1915 at Harry’s Bar and quaffed by many of the Lost Generation writers who might have encountered the original and far more deadly French 75 on the battlefield, this drink is a classic in every sense of the word. It’s classy, fun, and — if you drink them in Hemingway/Fitzgerald proportions — will blow you sweetly to kingdom come.
French 75.

The French 75

1 ounce gin
1/2 ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons superfine sugar or 1/2 ounce simple syrup
Champagne/sparkling white wine
1 lemon twist (garnish)

Combine the gin, juice, and sugar or syrup in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake with vigor and strain into a champagne glass. Top off with roughly 2-3 ounces of the dry sparkling white wine of your choice along with the lemon twist.

This is a really sturdy drink that can take a little punishment. You certainly don’t need to use the finest champagne — a half-way acceptable dry sparkling white wine should do the trick. As for the gin, anything from Tanqueray, Beefeater, Bombay to value-priced Gordon’s should do the trick. Also, some bartenders substitute brandy or cognac, but I still haven’t gotten around to trying that myself.

Another alternative is to go with one of the simplest, yet oddly undersung of champagne cocktails, which is to say, the Champagne Cocktail. If you’ve heard it referred to in movies like “Casablanca,” you might imagine it’s a fancy concoction. In fact, it’s anything but and is actually considered a way to class up some slightly flat bubbly. You can read the orginal post, but making is just a matter of dropping a sugar cube into a champagne flute, whetting it with some Angostura/aromatic bitters, and pouring champagne over it.

On the other hand, let’s say you’re not up for any of the hard stuff, yet maybe you’d like a fizzy white wine cocktail that’s not just fizzy white wine. For that, I give you this alluring liquid lady.

The Italian Mistress.

The Italian Mistress

1/2 ounce Punt e Mes
1/4 ounce simple syrup or 1 teaspoon superfine sugar
3-4 dashes Angostura bitters
Sparkling white wine/champagne
1 orange twist (garnish)

For those of you who may not be up on your fancy fortified wines, Punt e Mes is essentially a sweet vermouth with a stronger bitter edge that’s almost chocolately; I love it dearly.  Start your Italian Mistress by combining the Punt e Mes with the bitters and syrup/sugar in a champagne flute. If you’re using sugar, make sure it’s good and dissolved. Fill the rest of the glass with your sparkling white wine and add the orange twist. If you’re fluteless, a regular champagne glass might do, but be aware that they’re usually smaller so you might want to adjust your proportions.

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Of course, these drinks are only a few ideas out of thousands. One of the beauties of New Year’s Eve is that pretty much any mixed alcoholic beverage is in keeping with the night. It’s a great time to dust off such easy-to-make warhorses as the Manhattan, Old Fashioned, Martini, or Margarita. Just make sure you make ‘em the right way — like I tell you to!

  

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Drink of the Week: The Fernet Branca Cocktail

The Fernet Branca Cocktail. I think it’s fair to say that probably no one really likes martinis as beginning drinkers. Vodka martinis might go down a bit easier than gin, but to neophytes, martinis taste pretty much like straight booze, and not in a good way. No wonder most of us start with rum and Coke, screwdrivers, the hated (by me…even when I was drinking them) Long Island Ice Teas, and my early favorite, Kamikazes (I’ll probably do that one eventually). Indeed, the only reason I developed my early affection for vodka martinis, which later graduated to gin, was that I really love olives and found green ones tasted extra-delicious after soaking in alcohol for a bit. So, it was sort of refreshing to find that I can still acquire a taste, as this week’s drink did not go down well initially.

I wasn’t alone. Frankly, the Fernet Branca Cocktail doesn’t seem to have many fans. I got it from Harry Craddock’s classic Savoy Cocktail Book, which regular readers will note I’ve been referring to a lot recently. Still, this particular drink is more esoteric than most. Indeed, the only online reference I could find was a 2008 post from Erik Ellestad’s Savoy Stomp blog. Ellestad’s project (still ongoing as far as I can tell) is to make every cocktail in Craddock’s recipe-filled tome. He didn’t seem overly fond of this one. Still, I got to sorta like the drink named for perhaps the ultimate cult liqueur.

The Fernet Branca Cocktail

3/4 ounce Fernet Branca
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth (or, maybe, Punt e Mes)
1 1/2 ounce gin

Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with tons of ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a cocktail shaker. Sip slowly, perhaps toasting St. Patrick, who was not only the patron saint of the Irish, but also of second chances.

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Harry Craddock promotes this drink as a hangover cure, and it’s true that Fernet began its life as a stomach medicine. Nevertheless, my initial reaction was that, while it might not be an effective cure for hangovers, it was probably nasty enough it might prevent future ones by discouraging you from drinking at all.

I tried it again. This time, though, I used one of my favorite ingredients, Punt e Mes, a delicious vermouth with more of a bitter edge than most brands. I seemed to like it better now. Was the chocolatey bitterness of the Punt e Mes somehow cancelling out the more acrid/medicinal flavor of the Fernet? Well, then I tried it again with good ol’ sweet Noilly Pratt and I found I liked it better still. I guess I was just getting used to it.

Now, will the Fernet Branca Cocktail ever become a personal go-to drink for me the way a martini is now? I really don’t think so. Still, it is a way to acquaint ourselves with the many odd, and I do mean odd, flavors of Fernet.

  

Drink of the Week: The Corpse Reviver

The Corpse Reviver. As promised when I took on the Corpse Reviver #2 last June, I’ve finally gotten around to the less known apparent original drink to bear the name. While my first attempts at a Corpse Reviver made it easy to see why it has been eclipsed by the gin and Lillet Blanc based sequel, with the right ingredients it really can wake up your taste buds and temporarily enliven your soul. We’ll simply ignore the fact that I happen to be writing most of this post on Easter Sunday of 2013.

In any case, the real reason for the name is that this drink is supposedly a hangover cure — though it’s not so much hair of the dog as a good chunk of the canine. Nevertheless, let us begin the revival.

The Corpse Reviver

1 1/2 ounces brandy or cognac
3/4 ounce Calvados or another apple brandy
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth

Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass. Although I’m generally in favor of shaking over stirring, I say you should stir your Corpse Reviver. Little ice crystals are the last thing you want in this drink. Nevertheless, stir vigorously and strain into a chilled cocktail glass and drink — to life, I suppose.

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I messed around with the ingredients a lot on this one, but I used only one type of apple brandy. Calvados seems to be the classic choice of apple brandy for this drink and the Calvados Coquerel I’m using is expensive enough for half a fifth that I wasn’t in the mood to try out any competitors or more downhome variations. (Some recipes call for applejack.) I had just enough left over Ile de Ré Fine Island Cognac on hand to make one very sophisticated, yet perhaps too understated, version of the drink using my standard Noilly Pratt sweet vermouth.

I moved on to my personal favorite value brandy, Reynal, which isn’t made with genuine Cognac grapes but which is produced by a company with offices in the French town of Cognac. Using the Noilly Pratt vermouth along with the Calvados yielded an acceptable, but very unspectacular drink.

However, I still had some Carpano Antica on hand that had been thrown my way by mysterious benefactors — improperly stored due to a massive snafu on my part but still acceptable for use. That yielded a lovely result, with the bittersweet, chocolate-like character of the high end vermouth providing a very nice bottom against the lighter, boozier notes of the brandies. I was less pleased — but still pleased — when I tried the exact same drink with another favorite, Punt e Mes, which is in many respects very similar to Carpano but a bit sharper edged. Try it with one of those.

Now, we come to the point in these weekly missives where I usually like to make some kind of a quip or draw some larger conclusion about the drink. With a name like the Corpse Reviver, I suppose you’d expect that. The problem is that I really have no “larger” thoughts right now other than the fact that I certainly do not recommend this drink as a breakfast beverage. Maybe the gods of cinema can give me a hand.

  

The Italian Mistress

The Italian Mistress.I’m guessing that, even if you weren’t getting hammered specifically on Conhattans or Shamrock Sours last weekend, at least a few of you were overindulging. For your sake, I’m hoping you weren’t overdoing it on bad green beer (is there ever good green beer?) and, if you were doing shots, I’m hoping it was on the good Irish stuff. (I’m personally partial to Bushmills.)

All of that is now in the past, and it’s time to recuperate with a drink that — unusually for DOTW — features not a single drop of hard liquor. Just some of my personal favorite mildly alcoholic grape derivatives. One of them happens to be this week’s sponsor, an old favorite of mine previously featured here several times, most memorably (to me) in the Ugly Americano. I speak of Punt e Mes, which basically tastes like regular sweet vermouth imbued with the spirit of the best dark chocolate you ever had.

Also, as readers of an online men’s magazine, you guys have got to love the name of this week’s tasty but tempestuous beverage.

The Italian Mistress

1/2 ounce Punt e Mes
1/4 ounce simple syrup
3-4 dashes Angostura Bitters
Sparkling white wine
1 orange twist (garnish)

Combine the Punt e Mes, bitters and syrup in the bottom of champagne flute or, if you haven’t got one, a regular champagne glass — in which case you might want to reduce the proportions of syrup and vermouth as flutes tend to be larger. (If you don’t have any simple syrup on hand, by the way, a dissolved teaspoon or less of superfine sugar will also work.) Top off with the sparkling white wine…very carefully. Excess foam can be a factor.

Once your drink is fully poured, add your orange twist. Now, sip and salute the Italian mistresses of the world, not that we have anything but good thoughts for Italian wives and girlfriends.

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This is a pretty simple and straightforward drink, which is one reason why I like it. However, the recipe that came to me simply said it was to be built in a champagne glass, so I originally made this in a smaller regular champagne glass which I also happen to use as a cocktail glass, since it’s essentially the same thing. (The Y-shaped martini glass is a relatively modern invention. Nick and Nora Charles drank their martinis and Manhattans from champagne glasses/coupes and so do I, most of the time.)

It was only when I received the picture above that I realized I was using a slightly wrong glass. I have to admit it was a better balanced drink in the flute, but the version in the champagne glass did put the Punt e Mes a bit more forward, and that’s realy never a bad thing.The one thing I will say is never stint on the bitters on this one. Though Punt e Mes has more than its share of bitter notes, the Angostura is definitely needed to sort of counter-intuitively smooth things over.

The one place where I may have gone wrong was on my choice of bubbly. I stumbled over a very cheap genuine Champagne which had a slightly unpleasant bitterness to it and which I therefore can’t quite recommend.  Still, the drink was sturdy enough to absorb that small blow. After all, any Italian mistress should be able to deal with a bit of French unpleasantness.

Now, we mambo.

  

Drink of the Week: The Vieux Carre

The Vieux Carre.Like most Americans, I’m not exactly a polyglot. Four years of junior high and high school Spanish have been of great assistance in helping me to order  items at taco trucks; three quarters of college French allow me to chuckle knowingly to myself when “merde!” is translated as “damn!” in subtitles. So, I can’t properly pronounce the name of the Vieux Carre, but I can tell you it means “old square.” That square, as it turns out, is off of Bourbon Street in New Orleans, and this is another fine cocktail associated with America’s most intriguing cocktail capital.

Quite obviously, however, this is not in the same category as a Hurricane and it’s not the one of the scary, gigantic green drinks featured on this year’s season premiere of “Bar Rescue.” While, for me, the Vieux Carre doesn’t quite achieve the classic cocktail nirvana of a Sazerac, this is one beverage that actually gets tastier the longer you let it sit. It’s perfect for a long conversation and, by the end of it, even ever-so-justifiably-furious bar rescuer John Taffer might get mellow enough to maybe stop shouting for just a second.

The Vieux Carre

3/4 ounce rye whiskey
3/4 ounce cognac or brandy
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
1 teaspoon Benedictine
2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
2 dashes aromatic  bitters (Angostura or similar)
1 lemon twist (garnish)

Making this drink is about as easy to make as it is to get a buzz going in the French Quarter. Build over some ice cubes in a rock glass, stir, and add the lemon twist. Toast whatever or whomever you like, but do so slowly.

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I’m very sorry to say that this week’s post completes my trilogy of drinks of cocktails featuring Camus’s Ile de Ré Fine Island Cognac. Sadly, that’s the case because I polished off the bottle last night. No disrespect to my value-priced go-to brandy, Reynal, but there’s a reason the Camus people get to charge the big bucks for this stuff. It’s great in a cocktail and remarkably easy and pleasurable to drink neat. Good thing I still have a few airplane bottles of various Ile de Ré expressions in my alcohol laden larder.

My rye for this double-base spirit cocktail was another new freebie favorite we’ve featured here before, the lovely Templeton Rye, previously featured in the Capone.  I usually lean towards higher proof ryes like my old pal, 100 proof Rittenhouse, but that might have been a bit much in this context; Templeton’s more mellow flavor makes it a pretty perfect match for a Vieux Carre.

I experimented quite a bit with the other ingredients. Many recipes call for more booze and somewhat less of the Benedictine — a very sweet herbal liqueur which famously mixes well with brandy. I also tried three different sweet vermouths, all favorites. The lightest was Noilly Pratt, which was very nice, but an even better result was achieved with the greatness that is Carpano Antica. (Yet another freebie previously featured here).

I also tried it with another great product I’ll be featuring later, Punt e Mes. In that instance, it sort of dominated the cocktail but, since I love, love, love me some Punt e Mes, I didn’t really mind.

One final note, apparently to really do the Vieux Carre right, some people suggest you should make it with just one very large ice cube. Sounds cool, but I guess I need to find an ice cube tray that make 3″x 3″ ice cubes.

Anyhow, a moment of non-silence for my forever spent bottle of fine cognac. Mr. Gillespie, it’s time for a little Cognac blues.

  

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