Drink of the Week: The Olivette

Image ALT text goes here.I’ve slipped up again in the holiday boozing department as there’s nothing particularly Father’s Day appropriate about today’s drink. Of course, there’s also nothing particularly un-fatherly about it. If dad likes gin, olives, and isn’t averse to a tiny bit of  anisette/licorice flavor, he might just dig this very sophisticated, very boozy classic martini alternative as much as I do if you serve it up to him this Sunday.

And I do kind of dig it. I wrote last week of my moody martini disenchantment and I’ve found this drink perhaps the perhaps the perfect antidote. It features my favorite part of the martini, the olive, but it’s balanced out by tiny proportions of sugar water and the alcoholic punch in the face we call absinthe. It does come from “The Savoy Cocktail Book,” definitely one of the big daddies of the field. I’ve modified it ever so slightly to better suit my personal taste buds. More about that after today’s recipe.

The Olivette

1 1/2 ounces Plymouth Gin
1/2 teaspoon simple syrup
1/4-1/2 teaspoon absinthe
2 dashes orange bitters
1 olive (mandatory garnish)
1 lemon peel (semi-mandatory garnish)

Combine the liquid ingredients and shake the contents. (You can also stir this drink if you like…but you’d be wrong.) Strain into a chilled, smallish cocktail glass or coupe over an olive. Mr. Craddock said  you should squeeze the lemon peel on top, and I’m inclined to agree. Toast the olive, for it is green, pimento stuffed, and full of life…or, you can toast your dad if you’re so inclined.

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I find the Olivette as wonderfully sophisticated as the best traditional dry martini, yet with far more flavor going for it. While the simple syrup might seem a counterintuitive touch for a drink with an olive in it, it creates a very pleasing balance with the orange bitters (Reagan’s for me, as usual) and the very strong anisette flavor of  absinthe.

I’ve altered the Olivette from Harry Craddock’s recipe. Instead of my half and quarter teaspoons, the original calls for two dashes of simple syrup and three dashes of absinthe. I remain eternally befuddled by how I’m supposed to include a dash of something that doesn’t come from a dash bottle and too lazy/cheap to buy one just for the purpose of duplicating Mr. Craddock’s recipes. I prefer being a bit more precise anyway.

Even so, when I tried approximating the original drink with 1/4 teaspoon simple syrup and 1/2 teaspoon absinthe, I found the latter ingredient somewhat overpowered the drink. If you’re a bigger fan of licorice than me, however, you might like it this way. I liked the drink a whole lot better when I reversed the proportions and used 1/2 teaspoon of sugar and just 1/4 teaspoon absinthe — for me the ultimate example of a “little goes a long way” ingredient.

Of course, the primary and most important ingredient of the Olivette is gin, and not just any gin. Plymouth Gin is called for in, we are told by whomever felt like taking the time to count, 23 of the cocktails in “The Savoy Cocktail Book.” It is, as I wrote last year, both a style and a brand of gin. That’s because there’s only one brand of it available, so we’ve essentially got a monopoly on our hands. In this case, the monopoly works very nicely.

The ever-so-slightly less dry, fruitier flavor of gin from the English town that produced our nation’s ultra-abstemious founding Puritans really does seem to be the ideal gin for this lost classic of a drink. I say this with some authority because I also tried the Olivette with a perfectly good brand of regular London dry gin. It kind of tasted like a Dow Chemical spill.

  

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Drink of the Week: The Mai Tai

Mai TaiAs I begin writing, the winner of the U.S. presidential election is not yet known for at least another 12 hours, and people across the political spectrum are going a little insane. Well, I’m happy to say that, wherever you fall on the political spectrum, we have a drink that will help take the edge off a loss and intensify the joy of a win — at least assuming your spiritual beliefs allow you to drink alcohol. It’s also the first of the post-WWII Tiki-inspired cocktail classics I’ve dared to take on here. Wish me luck.

I owe part of this week’s column to the good people at Cruzan Rum. Along with the tasty spiced rum we featured last week, they were kind enough to send me a bottle of their Cruzan Black Strap Rum to play with. My search for an appropriate cocktail led me directly to cocktail historian David Wondrich, whose all-dark rum-based version of this ultimate South Seas inspired classic seemed a perfect vehicle for the stuff.

I also, however, deemed it necessary to try another brand of dark rum. I went with my usual reasonably priced but tasty fall back, Whaler’s. I think this recipe, which is borrowed pretty heavily from Wondrich, minus an Esquire-mag typo or two, works pretty well with both rums — but with significant differences. More about that after the recipe.

The Mai Tai

2 ounces dark rum
1 ounce fresh squeezed lime juice
1/2 ounce orange curacao
1/2 ounce almond syrup (aka orgeat)
1/8-1/4 ounce simple syrup
1 mint sprig (highly advisable garnish)

Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with lots of ice. Shake like crazy and pour the whole thing, ice and all, into a well chiled Tom Collins or large rocks glass. Enjoy with or without a lovely tropical breeze. Toss in a sprig of fresh mint, if you’ve got it, and maybe one of your spent lime wedges, too.

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The Mai Tai was not, we are told, invented anywhere really close to Tahiti but in the not-so-very tropical land of Oakland, California at the original Trader Vic’s and presumably by Mr. Vic’s himself. As presented here, it’s a lovely concoction but I can also say that your choice of dark rum will yield a considerable difference.

To be specific, Whaler’s Dark Rum is quite sweet — not quite like a liqueur but not far from something like Old Tom gin. A mai tai made with it is a lovely thing that will make you popular with a large crowd and will go down your own gullet very, very easily. On the other hand, Cruzan Black Strap Rum has a lovely molasses flavor and bouquet, but is much less sweet. The result is a more sophisticated and complex mai tai. It’s very nice, indeed, but sometimes a little sophistication goes a long way, so I’d consider upping the simple syrup quotient, though lord knows this thing has enough calories.

One more experiment you can try is toss in a very small amount of vanilla extract. The original mai tai was made with something called rock candy syrup, which was basically regular simple syrup with a tiny amount of vanilla flavor in it.

Oh, and as I finish this post, I know how the election turned out. It’s enough to drive an old bleeding heart like me not to drink, but I think I’ll have another mai tai anyway.

  

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