Drink of the Week: The Honolulu

the Honolulu

Last month, I was faced with the challenge of coming up with a cocktail to justify those free bottles of Booker’s and Baker’s bourbon that the Jim Beam Small Batch folks so kindly sent my way. This week, I have another — and I think even better — cocktail usage for these justifiably widely praised high-proof and moderately pricey bourbons.

The Beam folks might insist that the best way to enjoy these bourbons is with just a splash of water or an ice cube, but I think they really work well in this week’s drink. It’s a bitters-free variation on the Manhattan (originally featured on BE here) that really comes into its own with a bourbon packed with flavor, and alcohol, than on an ordinary 80-90 proofer. It’s also about as simple as a cocktail gets.

The Honolulu

1 ounce bourbon
1 ounce dry vermouth
1 ounce sweet vermouth
Lemon twist (garnish)

Combine in the bourbon and vermouth in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Depending on your preference, stir or shake (I shake) vigorously. Strain into a highly chilled cocktail glass, add the lemon twist, and drink. You may also ponder what the connection could possibly between this drink and the famed Hawaiian metropolis. I haven’t a clue.

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At least using Booker’s or Baker’s, this is a very refined drink for people who enjoy a lot of intriguing flavors dancing across the tongue. While using the very high-proof Booker’s resulted in a gentle-yet-tongue tickling beverage with a subtly spicy flavor, I actually leaned towards the version I made with Baker’s. At 107 proof, Baker’s is practically children’s fare compared to the massive 128.5 power of Booker’s, but at least using the Martini vermouths I had on hand, the result was actually more complex and intriguing.

I did try to experiment with this drink by substituting Punt e Mes for the sweet vermouth and adding a Badabing cherry. You know how they say that most experiments fail? Stick with the traditional Honolulu. This is a cocktail that’s interesting enough to entertain the brain while powerful enough to (oh so pleasantly) dull it. No reason to mess with something this good.

Say goodnight, Gracie and Eleanor.

[Writer's note: I'd like to dedicate this post to my mother, Charlotte Bows Westal, who went on to the great Coconut Grove in the sky at age 84, shortly after this post was put together earlier this week. Mom was never a really a writer, a big drinker, or a connoisseur, but she knew the value of good grammar and a well-stocked bar -- even if she wasn't above pouring the cheap stuff into bottles of the good stuff or reading questionable bestsellers. She would have liked today's clip, too, I think. Maybe she even saw it on the big screen back in '39.]

  

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Drink of the Week: The Ugly Americano

The Ugly Americano

I admit it, I’ve gone mad and, like last week, this one’s mine. Yes, I’ve gone mad with the power to create my own drinks — even if no one but me actually tries them — and a bit insane over how tasty this Aperol stuff I picked up a few weeks ago is. I can’t claim credit for the sweetly piquant liqueur’s first DOTW appearance two weeks back, the Aperol Americano, as it’s a common enough substitution. This week, however, I’ve changed things up enough that I think it’s possible that I can claim to have created a variation on a classic original.

This drink is, of course, based on the Americano, a real favorite of mine. I have, however, switched out the two main ingredients. Once again, I’ve replaced Campari with it’s milder but more complex cousin, Aperol. This time, however, I’ve also replaced ordinary sweet vermouth with Punt e Mes, a much bolder sort of vermouth with more than a hint of Aperol/Campari-esque bitter sweetness. It’s also often used as a substitute for vermouth in drinks like the Americano.

Even so, the particular drink below hasn’t been featured anywhere that I know of…though, come to think of it, it probably has been tried and written up someplace. I just hope I never hear about it, because I love this drink so much I want to hog as much credit for it as possible. That’s also why I’ve upped the proportions a bit from the typical Americano. For one thing, Aperol has less alcohol than Campari. More important, however, an Ugly Americano should be slightly excessive.

The Ugly Americano

1 1/2 ounces Aperol
1 1/2 ounces Punt e Mes
Soda water
Orange slice (highly recommended garnish)

Pour the Aperol and Punt e Mes over ice in a chilled Tom Collins/highball or similarly sized glass. Add the orange slice and top off with soda water. (Following the snobby practice of Ian Fleming, I used Perrier this time around, as it was on sale.) Stir for a moment and sip. Ummh, good.

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Yes, with this drink I throw all objectivity to the four winds. I pat myself on the back and follow it with a hearty, though weird, self-embrace.

That might be going a bit far in the eyes of others, but I really do think this drink has real potential. It’s sweeter than an Americano but I think it maintains its respectability by adding even more complexity than the original. Seriously, folks, this drink is so tasty I can’t possibly be the first person to have tried it. Right?

  

Drink of the Week: The Red Hook

the Red Hook So, Drink of the Week Central has about completed its cross So-Cal move northward from far-away Anaheim and through the Orange Curtain to Van Nuys, gateway to Reseda and Studio City. I’ve also recently completed my boozeriffic Comic-Con special assignment.

At last, it is time to resume business as usual here at DOTW. We return with a drink that feels classic but is actually a rank newcomer from this still very young century.

First, however, let me say that this week’s column is brought to you by whoever was kind enough to send me a bottle of Knob Creek‘s brand spanking new rye. I know Knob Creek’s bourbon, which I like but also fear for its fire. If anything, I have to say I like their rye a lot better. Much as I love my standby 100 proof Rittenhouse Rye, the similarly potent Knob Creek does bring an extra touch of class and drinkability to the game. On its own, it’s about as sippable as I can imagine a 100 proof rye being, though records were made to be broken and all that.

Of course, give me a bottle of booze and I’ll start looking for cocktails to make with it. And so we come to a beverage that was named one of the best cocktails of this century’s first decade and is credited to bartender Enzo Errico. When a Manhattan just won’t quite do the job, it’s time to head for Brooklyn and today’s drink.

The Red Hook

2 ounces rye whiskey
1/2 ounce Punt e Mes
1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
1 maraschino cherry (optional garnish)

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with lots of ice. Stir for a good long time — most say about thirty seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail class. Add maraschino cherry if you’ve got one. (I didn’t.) Sip and toast new beginnings. (It might actually be a small improvement, if heretical in some quarters, to shake this drink, but I was feeling traditional this week.)

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While my attempts certainly turned out well using the new Knob Creek Rye, I imagine this could also work very nicely with the aformentioned Rittenhouse or, for those seeking mellower refreshment, 80 proof Old Overholt or Pikesville might well be terrific and perhaps have a less bitter edge.

Speaking of a bitter edge, I should add that this is also DOTW’s first use of Punt e Mes. It’s a more high-endish vermouth with a nice bite. It comes across as almost a more restrained, less syrupy variant of Campari and it’s delicious on its own. It’s also the reason today’s beverage doesn’t require any bitters, though some recipes call for them. I tried the Red Hook with a dash of Angostura and Regan’s Orange Bitters. Too much bitter, I thought.

I also started out with a recipe calling for equal parts Punt e Mes and maraschino. Too maraschiny. Mr. Errico’s version is better.

I should also emphasize, once again, that maraschino liqueur should in no way be confused with the syrup in which those inexpensive preserved cherries in your supermarket are packaged. Confusing the issue slightly is the fact that maraschino brand Luxardo markets its own brand of maraschino cherries. They’re anything but cheap but also quite tasty and I’m sure would be marvelous in a Red Hook, though I actually have nothing against the bright red supermarket sweetness bombs most of us grew up with.

In fact, the more I write about this, the more I wish I’d actually had a bottle of those lovely cheap cherries to complete my Red Hook on hand. Next time.

  

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