Drink of the Week: The Ritz Cocktail

the Ritz Cocktail. What are you willing to give up for a cocktail? If you live in Los Angeles, the answer for the casual fancier of serious mixed beverages might be as high as $17.00 in some joints. If you’re one of the people who actually makes his living trying to make really good cocktails, however, the price might be a little higher still.

As I’m learning from an upcoming film I’m probably embargoed from discussing in any detail, the documentary “Hey Bartender,” the business of dispensing booze can take from a person’s life, but it can also give. However, the price I’m thinking about right now has mostly to do with the garnish — yes, the garnish — of today’s drink.

Fire is involved, and so is my right hand. I like my right hand. It’s helping me type this blog post and it does other nice things for me from time to time. But more about that later. (The garnish, I mean.)

The Ritz Cocktail was created by a cocktail legend I’m not sure I’ve even mentioned here before, and that’s largely due to the fact that I’m still a relative newbie to serious boozing. Although he’s not quite a household name — even his Wikipedia page is a still a stub — Dale DeGroff is credited by lots of folks as spearheading the revival of the lost art of the American cocktail. This started back in the 1980s, when he was at the Rainbow Rock at Manhattan’s 30 Rock, I was still in school, and most of the oldest of you all were lucky to be past the zygote stage….and DeGroff is still a relatively young man for a living legend. Well, his Wiki doesn’t give his age, so it’s hard to be sure.

Today’s drink is contained in DeGroff’s epochal 2002 tome, The Craft of the Cocktail. It’s named in honor of the several legendary bars of the famed Ritz hotel chain founded by César Ritz. Much as Mr. DeGroff has been dubbed “King Cocktail,” Mr. Ritz was dubbed “king of hoteliers, and hotelier to kings.” So far as I know, however, he had nothing to do with the cracker.

The Ritz Cocktail (the slightly heretical and debased version)

3/4-1 ounce cognac, or brandy alternative
1/2 ounce Cointreau
1/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
Champagne or sparkling white wine alternative
Flamed orange peel (garnish, to be explained!)

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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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