Drink of the Week: The Old Pal

the Old Pal.Can a drink be like an old friend? Should a drink be like an old friend? It’s way too late as I’m writing this to even begin answering those questions, but I can tell you I much prefer the older version of this prohibition era cocktail to more recent iterations.

I actually first found this one in my copy of 1930’s The Savoy Cocktail Book but it appears to date back several years prior. However, later versions that are supposed to be adjusted to modern day tastes failed to impress my personal tastebuds as much as this very simple and basic drink, a rather close relative of the Negroni and the Boulevardier. Still, like an old pal, the appeal of this drink is rather simple and easy to understand – with my favorite brand of wonderfully value priced Canadian whiskey and dry vermouth lightening up my favorite controversial cocktail ingredient, oh-so-bitter, oh-so-sweet Campari.

The Old Pal

1 ounce Canadian Club Whisky
1 ounce dry vermouth
1 ounce Campari
1 lemon twist (garnish)

Combine the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass. Stir or shake vigorously – I lean slightly toward stirring on this one, for some reason – and strain into our very old pal, the chilled cocktail glass or coupe. Add your lemon twist and toast, I imagine, an old pal.


If you don’t like Campari, it’s likely that the Old Pal will be no friend of yours. While the bourbon and sweet vermouth in the Boulevardier puts up a decent fight against the Campari, Canadian Club whisky — which is very specifically called for in the original recipe — and dry Martini & Rossi or Noilly Pratt is simply no match for its undeniable  flavors. Even adding a solid, high proof rye whiskey like Bulleit, and increasing its proportion, didn’t change the Old Pal nearly as much as you might think. When I tried the more recent variation, which calls for 1 ½ ounces of rye to ¾ of an ounce of Campari and vermouth, it was still very much a Campari-forward drink, only less bright, less crisp.

I should have known, you simply can’t change your Old Pal. Not that you should ever want to.


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The Bulleit Rye Mint Julep for Derby weekend

Bulleit Rye Mint JulepWe love celebrating the Kentucky Derby, and one critical component has to be enjoying a Mint Julep which is the drink you’ll see everywhere during Derby weekend.

Here’s a great recipe:

1.5 oz. Bulleit Rye
2 oz. Stirrings Simple Syrup
Fresh mint leaves

Preparation: Muddle mint leaves, Stirrings Simple Syrup and crushed ice in rocks glass. Add Bulleit Rye and fill glass with ice. Pour into cocktail shaker, shake vigorously and serve in rocks glass with fresh mint garnish.

Of course, a big part of Derby weekend is betting on the race, and the folks at Bulleit teamed up with professional handicapper Tony Gold to give us six tips on picking a Derby winner:

1. Peaking performance: The most important rule of all is to find the horse that will peak in the Derby meaning, look for horses who improved with each race with either a strong first, second or third finish after a long layoff, with more room to improve. You can eliminate half the field simply by doing this.
2. Age factor: If the horse is two years old and hasn’t raced, the chances of it winning are slim. These are not fully mature horses and getting to a mile and a quarter requires much conditioning.
3. Time comparison: Log resulting times from each horse’s last prep race with the rest of the board.
4. Prep race outcomes: Look at what prep races historically produce the most winners.
5. Jockey experience: Consider the jockey’s skill set from previous races. The derby is a large field and a good experienced jockey can position a horse well early and avoid trouble, which can make or a break a horse’s chances.
6. Tactical speed: A Derby winner will jump early and can be found somewhere from mid-field to the second or third place by halfway around the course.

Of course, your girlfriend might do better just picking based on a cool name, but that’s what makes this race so much fun. Enjoy!


Drink of the Week: The Jumbo

The Jumbo.It’s a weird world out there as December 2012 heads to a close, but this week at DOTW Central our theme is holiday bounty. An example of that would be the bounteous bottle of Carpano Antica I received from a mysterious publicity benefactor late last week. For those not in the know about this sweet vermouth with a more complex, dark chocolate-like undercurrent, it’s become increasingly ubiquitous in the craft and classic cocktail scene. Some may find it more bitter than sweet, and its growing popularity probably says something about us cocktail snobs, which is not to say it isn’t completely tasty all on its own. Carpano made a guest appearance in last week’s beverage where it actually kind of saved the day with its not so hidden depths. More about it later.

And what better drink to celebrate holiday and the benevolence of whatever cosmic powers you may or may not believe in than the Jumbo, a drink comprised of a trinity of historically benevolent boozes? Better yet, while last year’s more traditional Christmas cocktail threatened to make me jumbo — I’m not exactly microscopic right now — today’s drink is relatively quite low cal and 100% fat free. It’s also super easy to make and even easier to memorize the ingredients and proportions. So, hooray for all that.

The Jumbo

1 ounce rye whiskey
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 ounce dry vermouth
1-2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
1 cocktail cherry (optional garnish)

Combine the liquids in the most festive cocktail shaker or mixing glass you can find and then either shake or stir — I’m feeling ecumenical this week but I’d still shake it — for a good long time. Then, strain into ye olde chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a cherry. If you’re a cheapskate like me, it’s likely to resemble Santa’s nose but, I have to admit, it will taste better if it looks more like, well, a black cherry. Sip in honor of a great holiday and, let’s hope, a better new year.


carpano antica.I actually tried this drink with two different vermouths and got two fascinating and kind of delightful results. With Carpano Antica, it was a not-so-sweet but charming drink with a rich, deep undercurrent.With Martini & Rossi, the universal fall-back sweet and not at all bitter vermouth, it was light and enjoyable — your basic good natured, cocktail treat. A more easy going Manhattan. I  actually think both versions are perfectly legitimate and, in their way, almost entirely different drinks. Just another testament to the infinite variability of cocktails. My rye this time, by the way, was the new Knob Creek rye, which I’ve been really enjoying.

Speaking of ingredients, I once again need to speak up for bitters, in this case Peychaud’s. I mistakenly got the idea from something I read somewhere that at least some people made the Jumbo without bitters. And, so, I made versions of this that were completely bitter free and it was, well, a pale experience. Let me tell you folks, while Angostura/aromatic type bitters will do okay in a pinch, it really takes the lighter and more cheerful Peychaud’s to make the Jumbo sing.  Also, I found out, just as this was being posted, that some folks go with a bit more whiskey and dry vermouth and a bit less of the sweet vermouth, so if you find these versions too sweet, feel free to try out a drier Jumbo.

Finally, since the holiday is almost upon us, let’s end with a song. Remember, folks, only three drinking days left until even more drinking days.

One singer is gone and the other is still with us and it’s not who anyone would have guessed. Life and death are beyond predictability; we don’t have a choice about that,  but that’s also all the more reason to cherish life.  On the other hand, that doesn’t mean you have to necessarily overdo it, at least not most of the time.


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.)

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.)


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.


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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