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.

 

  

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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.

  

Drink of the Week: The Ward 8

Ward 8The next presidential/congressional election isn’t until next year, but politics is in the air as Republicans debate and the president makes his case. All things considered with the state of our union these days, that’s reason enough to take to strong drink, classic or otherwise.

The Ward 8 hails from the fine city of Boston and appears to have been somehow involved in a late 19th century election during the period we now call the Gilded Age. Many believe that our current time period kind of rhymes with that time when money ruled the day, and that’s all I’m going to say right now. As for the drink, it’s pretty tasty and a refreshing repast after you’ve been walking precincts or taking whatever your personal political poison may be.

The Ward 8

2 ounces rye or Canadian whiskey
1/2-3/4 ounces fresh lemon juice
1/2-3/4 ounce orange juice
1 teaspoon grenadine syrup
1 maraschino cherry (optional garnish)
1 Massachusetts flag (extremely optional inedible garnish)

This one’s easy, once you’ve finished squeezing your juices. (Vastly less filthy a process than I’ve just made it sound.) Simply combine the whiskey, juice, and the teaspoon of grenadine in a cocktail shaker and shake it down like a corrupt pol, pour into a chilled martini glass. Add a cherry and if you’re a resident of the Bay State who takes such matters seriously, add that flag if you must. Just don’t try it eating it along with the cherry.

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I tried this drink with both more and less juice and found that it worked fairly well at all levels, but I lean towards the idea that more may be more in this case. I also ran out of oranges during one go-round an used tangelo juice instead. It wasn’t half bad.

  

Drink of the Week: The Whiskey Sour

whiskey sourSours are an entire family of cocktail which mostly utilize some combination of lemon juice and sugar. (The sour mix used by many bartenders is, in my experience, slightly revolting.). The Latin American favorite, the pisco sour, is probably a better known drink in many quarters these days, but the whiskey sour has been one of the standard cocktails since cocktails have become popular. Oddly enough, it’s possible that both of these cocktail favorites actually began in Peru.

The Whiskey Sour

2 ounces whiskey (bourbon, rye, Canadian, etc.)
1/2-1 ounce fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon superfine sugar
About 1/2 of an egg white  (semi-optional)
Maraschino cherry or orange slice (optional garnishes)

Dissolve sugar in whiskey and lemon juice and add egg white.  Shake vigorously. You should see a light froth on top of the liquid.

Note that I haven’t mentioned ice at this point. It is important to keep the whiskey, lemon juice and egg white at near room temperature in order for the egg to properly emulsify. Once you’ve shaken the liquid thoroughly, however, it is time to add ice and shake again very vigorously. Strain into a chilled martini, rocks or, if you’re really serious about it, a sour glass.  Add garnishes if you’ve got them.

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Two provisos. One — the “sour” in “whiskey sour” is a serious kind of sour and thus, this drink is not for tartphobes.  Even as an increasingly hardy beverage connoisseur, I found the pucker factor on my whiskey sours to be a bit much, especially without the egg white.

Which brings us to the second proviso. I’m sure some reading this will react strongly against the use of raw egg whites, which can be a bit controversial because of the very small but not quite nonexistent risk of salmonella poisoning. If you’re especially concerned for whatever reason — and if your immune system is compromised or your health is generally shaky, I would be somewhat concerned — you might consider using pasteurized or powdered egg whites or just making the drink without it.

However, be aware that the risk of contaminated egg whites, especially if they are reasonably fresh and kept refrigerated, is actually fairly infinitesimal; whites are less vulnerable than yolks to bacteria and the overall incidence of salmonella has been going down. Also, though I can’t speak to the science of the point, bartenders argue that the alcohol and lemon juice will tend to kill any dangerous microscopic critters. In any case, I’ve been drinking this stuff all week and, aside from being extremely tired of the flavor of lemon juice, I’m doing just fine.

  

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