Drink of the Week: The Suburban

The SuburbanToday’s beverage serves a dual purpose. First, it continues my ongoing interest in classic cocktails featuring more than one variety of hard liquor. Secondly, it highlights the fact that you’re erstwhile cocktail explorer will very likely be soon be exchanging one not-quite-urban home base for another. Yes, if all goes as planned I’ll soon be leaving the vast quasi-suburban enclave that is Orange County, California only to very possibly move to the  more centrally located, yet no less suburban, not-quite-city we call the San Fernando Valley — which is Los Angeles in the sense that you get to vote for the mayor of L.A.

As for the Suburban cocktail, it’s a very relaxing but ultra-sophisticated drink that won’t be too all tastes. You might call it “urbane.”

The Suburban

1 1/2 ounces rye whiskey
1/2 ounce dark rum
1/2 ounce port
1 dash aromatic bitters
1 dash orange bitters

The ingredients might be unusual but the methodology is as routine as can be. Combine your various boozes and bitters in your cocktail shaker or mixing glass with plenty of ice. Purists will insist on stirring the concoction but I say shaking will also work. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and drink a toast to Walt Disney, who envisioned fantastical wonderlands-cum-bedroom communities — most of which never came to be — in Orange County and elsewhere. (Uncle Walt’s company did finally build one planned community, Celebration, Florida, during the 1980s.)

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For this drink, I used my go-to rye, 100 proof Rittenhouse. Some recipes call specifically for Jamaican Rum, but I used the very decent (and more reasonably priced) dark Whaler’s Rum from Hawaii because that’s what I had on hand. For the exact same reasons, I also used the inexpensive tawny port I’ve been using for a number of drinks lately.

As for the history of this beverage, which dates back to the early 20th century, it apparently has more to do with horse racing than civic sprawl. Even so, for now, the self-indulgent question remains, will Drink of the Week Central end up in one of the bedroom communities of the San Fernando Valley, where my new day job is located, or will I be taking advantage of my beloved hometown’s growing subway system with a move to the vastly more cityish Hollywood/Silver Lake/Los Feliz/Koreatown axis, or will I split the difference and land in North Hollywood or Studio City?

All I can tell you is that, if suburbia be my destination, I’ll try to make it the laid back no-judgements utopian Never Never Land envisioned by Hal David and Burt Bacharach, who also sings, in his fashion, in the song below. Okay, that may be unlikely, but at cocktail hour there’s a little bit of Hasbrook Heights in every home. (The song actually starts at around 0:15.)

  

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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.

  

Drink of the Week: The Whiskey Smash

The Whiskey SmashThe Whiskey Smash is probably one of the clearest examples of a drink rescued from complete obscurity by the ongoing classic cocktail revival. Although the modern version featured in a growing number of retro-friendly bars differs enough from the recipe written up by cocktail pioneer Jerry Thomas in 1862 to be an entirely different cocktail, the more polished and slightly more elaborate version below is certainly a classic of sorts.

As it stands, the Whiskey Smash is a close relative of the Mojito and the (I swear upcoming) Mint Julep. It’s outstanding for a warm day or in a bar so crowded if feels like a warm day. Certainly if you’re a fan of whiskey, lemon, mint,  and heavy muddling, this is your drink.

The Whiskey Smash

2-3 ounces whiskey (bourbon, rye, Canadian, etc.)
1 quarter lemon, cut into four or more pieces
5 or more mint leaves
2-3 teaspoons superfine sugar
3 dashes of bitters
1/2-3/4 ounce water (optional)
1 mint sprig (semi-optional garnish)
1 maraschino cherry (very optional garnish)

Combine your whiskey, lemon pieces, superfine sugar, mint leaves and, if you like, splash of water in a cocktail shaker. (The water is really only there to approximate the 1/2 to 3/4 ounces of simple syrup most recipes call for instead of sugar, but I found the results about the same whether or not I included it.)

Muddle it all rather intensely, paying special attention to give a good mushing to the lemon pieces — this is a “smash” after all. You can take it a bit easier on the mint if you like. Make sure, however, that your sugar is dissolved in the liquid, which should happen without too much effort if you’re using superfine sugar and not cheating with ordinary table sugar.

Add lots of ice — cracked or crushed ice is probably better — and shake vigorously. Strain into a well chilled old fashioned glass with a few ice cubes in it. Because of all the lemon, mint, and crushed ice you may have to exercise a bit more patience at the straining stage, but your forebearance will shortly be rewarded. If you’d like an extra dash of sweetness and color, add a maraschino cherry along with the semi-obligatory mint-spring.

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I found the results remarkably consistent regardless of which whiskey I used, though I found using Buffalo Trace bourbon resulted in a slightly more mellow and interesting smash than the super-reasonably priced Evan Williams I picked up for a ten spot. 100 proof whiskeys seem to work well here, and I had good luck using my standby Rittenhouse Rye as well as the hard to find 100 proof Canadian Club I’m lucky enough to have. (You can buy it online here.) I also found that this one drink that worked very nicely not only with traditional aromatic bitters like Angostura, but also with the bottle of Fee Brothers Celery Bitters I recently picked up. (Speaking of revived classics, as I understand it, celery bitters pretty much disappeared between sometime in the middle of prohibition and, believe it or not, 2008.)

I’ve also noticed there’s something of a fetish among bartenders not to end up with bits of mint in the final, strained drink. It happened to me a lot of the time, and it wasn’t a problem  either in terms of taste or aesthetics, in my view.

And just a reminder that you will really need a good, solid muddler suitable for lemon smashing as described so long ago in our guide to bar implements. If you don’t have one, you can improvise but you want something solid. A freshly washed hammer used with extreme caution, perhaps.

 

  

Drink of the Week: The Meyer-Canadian Semi-Sour

The Meyer-Canadian Semi-SourYou’ve never heard of the today’s Drink of the Week for a very good reason. The Meyer-Canadian Semi Sour, as I’ve named it (any other suggestions?) is the first DOTW that is pretty much entirely my own variation on a cocktail classic.  While I wouldn’t say this was a great invention that happened by accident, I did sort of stumble over it.

As I hinted at in my post on the whiskey sour some time ago, I find that particular cocktail staple to be extremely sour. Truth in advertising, I guess, but while many love it, for me it’s a drink for which I feel more respect than affection. Then, one day last week, I saw a small sack of Meyer Lemons on sale for a reasonable price at my local branch of the newish Southwestern grocery chain, Fresh and Easy. If you’re a foodie, you may know this seasonal citrus as an ingredient favored by such culinary legends as Alice Waters. I just like the idea of a lemon that’s partly an orange.

Searching around for cocktails made with the juice of the crossbreed fruit, I tried one drink which I may return to if I can find another bag. On a whim, I then decided to try out my own version of a whiskey sour, using the juice of this decidedly sweeter lemon which, unlike the fruit that Trini Lopez sang about, is entirely possible to eat. For some reason I decided to use slightly less juice than most recipes call for, slightly more sugar and about double the egg white.  Since I’d already had one drink, I decided to steer away from the hundred proof boozes I’ve been leaning toward and just go with good old 80 proof Canadian Club. The result was, for me, a small slice of near paradise.

The Meyer-Canadian Semi-Sour

2 ounces Canadian Club whisky
3/4 ounce (or slightly less) freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons superfine sugar
1 large egg white
1 maraschino cherry (garnish)

Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker without ice. Shake vigorously to ensure that the egg white is fully emulsified — you should have a nice yellow froth going. Add ice and shake again, even more vigorously and longer. Pour into a chilled martini, wine, or rocks glass with a maraschino cherry for color and an added dash of sweetness. Try not to drink it all it once.

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I also sampled the then unnamed Meyer-Canadian Semi-Sour with both 100 proof Canadian Club and Rittenhouse Rye, a personal favorite, but the stronger flavor of the 100 proof stuff overwhelmed it in both cases. 80 proof Canadian Club seems to be the perfect thing here, and I suspect this would work almost as well with one of CC’s competitors. I even more strongly suspect it would be outstanding with Crown Royal, if you’ve got that kind of money to throw around. It’s a shame I can’t try it with the 86 proof Canadian Club that my grandma used to drink back in the last century and which presumably was closer to whatever Don Draper was swigging decades prior, but the contemporary version works so nicely that I have a hard time complaining very much.

Of course, since this drink uses raw egg whites, the usual provisos apply that I covered in the whiskey sour post. There’s very, very, very little too worry about for most people though I know there’s tons of raw egg phobes out there. On the other hand, if you have a significantly compromised immune system or are pregnant or otherwise very touchy healthwise, you may want to either use pasteurized egg whites or simply avoid this drink. (Actually, if you’re pregnant, I’m not sure you’re even allowed to read this.)

By the way, if you can’t find Meyer Lemons in your area at the moment and are suddenly determined to try them, you can order a very large quantity here.

  

Drink of the Week: The Brain-Duster

The Brain-DusterSometimes you just go with a drink to match your mood, and Brain-Dusted is about how I feel this week as my man-flu of last week slowly drifts away. It’s also a great way for me to get rid of the cheap brand of absinthe I picked up a while back, only to find I preferred using Herbsaint in my sazeracs after all.

Aside from the recipe posted by cocktail historian Dave Wondrich, some versions uses pastis or Pernod, which like absinthe are very heavy on the licorice-tasting herb, anise, but which I don’t have in my already well stocked liquor cabinet. One iteration actually increased the proportion of absinthe. If you’ve ever tried it, you know that a little goes a long way, even if you want your brain thoroughly dusted. Another recipe I found a mention of added simple syrup, and I just don’t think adding any additional sugar was needed given the high proportion of sweet vermouth and the relatively sweet and mellow nature of my cheap absinthe. (The brand I used is merely 92 proof; most absinthes are well over 110 and some go as high as 140.)

I stuck with something fairly close to the Wondrich take. Even so, my version of the drink is a bit different than Wondrich’s, but I’ll discuss that after the recipe.

The Brain-Duster

1 ounce whiskey (Canadian or rye, very preferably 100 proof)
1 ounce absinthe
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 dash aromatic bitters
1 maraschino cherry (optional garnish)

Combine ingredients in a metal cocktail shaker. (If you use a plastic shaker, it’ll take a million washings to get rid of anise/licorice smell of the absinthe.) If you use cracked or crushed ice, stir for a good long time. If you use regular ice, shake for a good long time. Strain into a martini glass with a maraschino cherry for a bit of extra sweetness.

If you really want to get into the brain-dusted vein, you might consider accompanying your beverage with some Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd. Now that’s brain-dusted.

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Mr. Wondrich suggested a 100 proof rye and the Rittenhouse Rye I had on hand should have fitted the bill perfectly. It was nice but still overpowered by the anise flavor of absinthe. (I’m not a big licorice lover, so take that into account.)

The next night, however, I tried with my new friend and a close relative of a heavy duty rye, 100 proof Canadian Club (last discussed here), I was suddenly quite found of the Brain-Duster. I also tried it with regular Canadian Club, and it wasn’t half bad, but 80 proof whiskey and 92 proof absinthe doesn’t quite make for the kind of brain-dusting I needed this week. On the other hand, I tried substituting Bushmills to make this a Hearn, as per Wondrich, which didn’t work for me at all. Maybe with a stronger absinthe…

Oh, and since that 100 proof Canadian Club is very likely not available at your local liquor purveyor, here’s one place that claims to have it online for a very reasonable price. Drink up.

  

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