Drink of the Week: Income Tax

Income TaxI was born on April 15, which means that, most years, when my birthday doesn’t fall on an Easter Sunday it falls on the United States anti-holiday that is income tax day. Being an ides of April baby also means that each and every year I am also reminded of the sinking of the Titantic and the death of Abraham Lincoln.

This year, we all get until 4/17 to turn in our taxes. However, as Saturday becomes Sunday 4/15, I’ll be at the Turner Classic Movies festival in Hollywood where I’ll have a choice between an actual movie about the sinking of the Titanic (1958′s “A Night to Remember”) or I can contemplate my mortality via an avant gardish science fiction movie in which character actor John Randolph has a mid-life crisis and becomes Rock Hudson. (That’s John Frankenheimer’s 1966 “Seconds.”) Movies are about escape, you know.

All of which is a long-winded and self-indulgent way to get to this week’s cocktail, named for a day most of us agree is far worse luck than a Friday the 13th like today but which most of us agree is necessary in some form. Thus, the cocktail classic represents the healthy orange sweet of it — the roads, bridges, schools, fire and police protection we get in return for our taxes — and the bitters of actually paying them. If you note a strong similarity to another drink covered here, you aren’t hallucinating. Believe it or not, Income Tax is both the bitter and the better of the two.

Income Tax

2 ounces gin
1 ounce orange juice (fresh squeezed, for sure)
1/2 ounce dry vermouth
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
1-3 dashes aromatic bitters
1 orange slice (optional garnish, but since you’re squeezing the orange already…)

As with the Bronx, people are over the map on proportions, and I certainly encourage readers to experiment to their heart’s content with more or less sweet and dry vermouth, OJ, and gin. Nevertheless, especially with the addition of bitters, I found this easy to remember and straight forward version was actually quite the best.

A few notes on ingredients. I’m using Tanqueray (94.6 proof) right now, though I’m sure this will work as well with most other high proof gins such as Bombay Dry or Beefeater. With an 80 proof gin like Gordon’s, it might be a bit sweeter which can either be a good or bad thing. I tried making my Income Tax using both traditional Angostura bitters as well as Fee Brother’s aromatic bitters and it came out fine with both.

I even ran out of my usual Noilly Pratt sweet vermouth — which for some reason Bev-Mo in Orange County, CA has stopped carrying, darn them — and went to an inferior brand that I had sitting around. Still very nice. Like tax day itself, this drink can be attacked but it will never be killed. Would that that were true for the folks on the Titanic and, of course, Old Abe. Fortunately, the magic of cinema can take care of that.

  

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Drink of the Week: The Saratoga

The SaratogaA couple of years back I was in a restaurant bar in L.A.’s Chinatown known for it’s Tiki-style specialties. Not sure what to order, I asked the bartender, an older gentlemen who clearly knew what was what in that venerable Asian-American enclave, what cocktail he liked most to make. “Beer,” he told me, utterly straightfaced. Forget it, Bob, it’s, well, you know where.

In my experience, most bartenders aren’t really big on offering up suggestions that go beyond the best known drinks. That leaves it up to more adventurous imbibers to suggest something a bit different. The only problem is that it’s kind of hard to remember the ingredients and exact proportions of most great cocktails. Not so with today’s slightly unusual but also highly symmetrical dual-spirit concoction. If you can remember “equal parts brandy, rye, and sweet vermouth and bitters” you’ve got this drink mostly down.

My Good Friday 2012 drink is also about as classic as they come. It dates back to 1887 and the second of Jerry Thomas’s seminal 19th century cocktail guides. The name, I gather, comes from Saratoga Springs in Upstate New York. Once upon a time, the town combined spa-like resorts, natural beauty, and also a healthy business in gambling, and not only at the famed race track. In any case, the drink is an outstanding variation on the Manhattan and so simple even the most distracted and busy bartender should be able to manage it — well, assuming the bar even stocks rye.

The Saratoga

1 ounce rye whiskey
1 ounce brandy or cognac
1 ounce sweet vermouth
2 dashes aromatic bitters
1 thinly sliced lemon wheel (borderline essential garnish)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Combine the rye, brandy, vermouth and a dash of two of bitters in a cocktail shaker with lots of ice. Stir or shake it vigorously, and strain the results into a chilled cocktail glass, preferably with the lemon wheel already sitting it in it — not perched on the side of the glass. Sip and contemplate how much harder it must have been to get a hold of the large quantities of ice necessary for good cocktails in 1887.

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I used Rittenhouse Rye which, being 100 proof, stands up really well to the combined sweetness of my beloved Noilly Pratt red vermouth and the wonderfully value priced Reynal brandy. I found the lemon slice to be an essential component. It’s one garnish that really does kind of make the drink, for me anyway. You might also want to give lemon peel/zest a try.

I did do a little experimenting. At the suggestion of a 2009 post on the Alcademics blog, I tried it with some Scotch (the Glenrothes). It was nice, but not quite as nice as with rye. I also tried it with some very good bourbon (Buffalo Trace) which was, however, a bust as bourbon is probably about as sweet as brandy.

  

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