Drink of the Week: The Ideal Cocktail

Image ALT text goes here.A long time ago, a boss of mine was discussing an upcoming project and said something to the effect that “in an ideal world, we’d complete this task in two or three days.” I said, something like, “No, in an ideal world we wouldn’t have to work at all; we’d be romping with bunnies wearing nothing but flowers and praising the Lord.”

In other words, of course, the ideal cocktail doesn’t exist. Thanks to the miracle of proper names, however, the Ideal Cocktail does exist. It’s not ideal but it’s definitely not bad. It did, though, require a bit of futzing with the proportions based on the somewhat vague instructions in the most reliable source for this early 20th century tipple, The Savoy Cocktail Book. I’m very okay with the rather stiff beverage I came up with based on Harry Craddock’s prohibition-era recipe, with just a little bit of bloggy help.

The Ideal Cocktail

2 ounces London dry gin
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 tablespoon fresh grapefruit juice
1 teaspoon maraschino liqueur
1 grapefruit twist (desirable garnish)

Combine the gin, vermouth, juice, and bittersweet cherry liqueur in a cocktail shaker and shake. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Toast the reality that, in all likelihood, there’ll never be an ideal anything. After all, if we all knew how to make the perfect cocktail, cook the perfect steak, make the perfect movie, or find the perfect love, life would either get really dull, or we’d all explode or something.

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Harry Craddock’s recipe is a bit vague by modern standards as it calls for 1 part vermouth to two parts gin, but specifically tells us to add a tablespoon of grapefruit juice regardless of how big our “parts” are. It also calls for an incredibly frustrating three dashes of maraschino, which can be anything.

When first trying this drink out, I took my cue from Erik Ellestad’s 2009 post on his Savoy Stomp blog. He interpreted 3 dashes of maraschino to equal a teaspoon of the bittersweet cherry liqueur. He also — reasonably enough — called for 1 1/2 ounces of gin and 3/4 ounce of sweet vermouth, with him using the pricey (and admittedly fantastic) Carpano Antica. I liked his orthodox take on the drink which differs from the very few other versions of this you’ll find online.

I chose my fall-back sweet vermouth, Noilly Pratt and started with Mr. Ellestad’s proportions, using a bottle of Tanqueray I’ve been itching to work with. I dismissed his suggestion to stir, not shake, the drink out of hand, however. Though I tend to be generally highly skeptical of the booze snob ban on stirring many cocktails for fear or spoiling the beauty and booziness of the drink, in this case most c-snobs actually have my back; conventional wisdom supports shaking any drink with citrus juice in it. I think it’s a necessity here.

In fact, even vigorously shaken, the Ideal Cocktail came out a bit cloying to my tastebuds at those proportions. After experimenting with both Maraska and Luxardo brands maraschino, I decided that, this time, Luxardo was definitely the better choice, justifying it’s higher price tag. More importantly, I finally settled on upping the amounts of the Tanqueray and Noilly Pratt I was using. The results were bracing and just sweet enough, though I admit that it’s a pretty stiff drink.

In an effort to make it a hair less stiff, I switched from the 94.6 proof Tanqueray  to value price, 80 proof, Gordon’s. Not bad, if less than ideal.

 

 

  

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Drink of the Week: The Liberal (modern style)

The Liberal.Yes, it won’t be shock if you’ve been paying close attention, but I’m a liberal. Not a Noam Chomsky-style ultra-progressive or a concern-trolling Tom Friedman/Joe Klein style enabler of everything that sucks. Nope, I’m just a plain old liberal with a mad crush on Rachel Maddow, personal liberty, ethnic/religious/sexual equality, not starting wars every alternate Thursday, and the concept of a mixed economy like they still have in Canada and Europe.

Why bring that up now? Well, most of us at least know that on Memorial Day, we’re really supposed to be honoring on our war dead, and Veteran’s Day is obviously about veterans, but few people of any political stripe consider that Labor Day is really supposed to be about people who have to work for a living for other, richer people. In other words, most of us. Unions are a real thing and if you like things like a 5 day week or overtime pay, you should be for improving them AND for growing them, not dismantling them.

So, since labor and liberal politics really do together, now more than ever, I can’t imagine a better drink for Labor Day weekend than the Liberal. Now, it’s not at all clear why this particular drink is called the Liberal and not the Libertarian or the Nonpartisan, but it’s definitely a drink that will make you feel like sharing the wealth, just a little. Let us begin.

The Liberal (Modern Style)

1 1/2 ounces rye or bourbon whiskey
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
1/4 ounce Torani Amer
1 dash orange bitters
1 lemon twist or maraschino cherry (desirable garnish)

Combine your whiskey, vermouth and your amaro digestif (that’s the Torani Amer) in the mixing vessel of your choice with a liberal amount of ice. Stir very vigorously and strain into a chilled cocktail glass or coupe. I’m usually very shaking-friendly, but I really don’t suggest shaking this one as it seems to come out surprisingly watered down and deflavorized if you do.

Add a decent maraschino cherry or very thin lemon twist. Since I’m a small-l liberal as well as big-L liberal, I’ll allow you to toast whomever you like. I, however, might suggest George Bernard Shaw, Molly Ivins, Groucho Marx, or Abe Lincoln, the originator of that long-dead breed, the liberal Republican.

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A brief note: today’s version is, as is so often the case, just one of a number of different recipes with wildly differing proportions. This version appears to be of more recent vintage, but I hope to be giving an older version of it whirl fairly soon. The modern Liberal is pretty nice, if you’re not allergic to cocktails that flaunt their booziness. Nevertheless, it is a drink with issues.

The first problem some of you are going to encounter is finding Torani Amer. It’s fairly easy to dig up here in lefty-coastal California at your local high-end or big box liquor emporium such as Total Wine & More or Bev-Mo, I understand, however, it’s hard to find elsewhere. I guess you’ll have to buy it online until the revolution comes.

The second problem is that nobody’s really that crazy about Torani Amer. The thing is, in some drinks, it’s just the best ingredient you’ll find. The original version of the Liberal, in fact, called for Amer Picon, a product that really doesn’t exist anymore no matter where you live. (You can still find something with that name in Europe but, by all accounts, it’s changed dramatically.)

I actually tried this drink with the far more well-liked sister beverage to Torani Amer and Amer Picon, Amaro CioCiara, and it was actually too sweet. Torani Amer it is. It’s a fact of modern liberal life that, all too often, you have to accept damn near unacceptable compromises.

  

Drink of the Week: The Corpse Reviver #1 (Revisited)

Corpse Reviver. Yes, we’ve been down this road before at DOTW, but our vehicle has had parts of its engine replaced. First, we covered the Corpse Reviver #2, and then we eventually got around to the far lesser known original Corpse Reviver. However, I’ve decided to take another look at the original version of the drink, owing to my recent discovery of an ingredient I’ve been shamelessly ignoring up until very recently: applejack, an American brandy that fell out of favor during prohibition.

As you may recall, the idea behind the entire Corpse Reviver family of beverages is to be, if not the hair of the dog that bit you, a big, wet kiss from the entire beast. Savoy Cocktail Book author Harry Craddock informs us that this particular Corpse Reviver is “to be taken before 11 a.m., or whenever steam and energy are needed.” Alas it contains no caffeine or B-vitamins, and I’m almost never hungover, so it provides me personally with far more relaxation than “steam.”

The Craddock Corpse Reviver recipe called for either applejack or calvados, it’s more complicated French cousin. The first time around, I went with the latter, since buying the pricey French stuff seemed like enough of an expense and most recipes I found online seemed to imply that there wasn’t much of a difference between the two brandies.

That’s all changed. As discussed previously, I’m falling hard for the one surviving applejack brand, Laird’s. Moreover, since we’re looking down the musket barrel of Thanksgiving, I’m thinking that a two week look at this very old 100% North American hard liquor is the thing to do at DOTW,

So, I’m here to tell you that, if you keep your Corpse Reviver nice and simple and use applejack and not calvados, you’ll have a drink that’s more pleasant than other versions — even if its resurrection inducing qualities remain in grave doubt.

The Corpse Reviver #1 (Revisited)
1 1/2 ounces brandy or cognac
3/4 ounce applejack
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth (preferably Noilly Pratt or something similar, maybe Martini & Rossi)

Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker or, if you like, a mixing glass. Then either shake or stir — I lean towards shaking — and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Toast Walt Disney, Marvel Comics and their various descendants and imitators for their ability to revive our favorite seemingly dead fictional pals again and again and again.

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I tried my Laird’s Applejack laced Corpse Reviver first with the remains of my bottle of Noilly Pratt sweet vermouth and it was subtly delightful, even as it was time to toss my wonderful and hard to find half-size bottle away. I loved the simpler, less abrasive take on the first Corpse Reviver, which I think has never really taken off partly because many versions of it are more fruity and complex than drinkable.

Indeed, when I tried a higher end sweet vermouth, Dolin, it didn’t come together for me at all; nor was the bitter-bottomed Punt e Mes, a huge favorite of mine, a particular success. It really does seem as if a simpler but tasty American apple brandy also requires a simpler but tasty French sweet vermouth.

Now’s the time at Drink of the Week when we dance.

 

  

Drink of the Week: Bram Stoker’s Capitan

Bram Stoker's Capitan.Halloween this year is a bit awkwardly placed, arriving next Thursday and forcing me to do my annual spooky-themed cocktail a bit too early for true relevance. I suppose people who throw Halloween parties are having the same kind of issue, having to decide whether to throw their soirees the weekend before or the weekend after.

Well, the awkwardness is only going  to get more awkward. I originally had a more appropriately named drink to present you. However, a beverage that had been presented to me by a mysterious benefactor, and which sounded pretty tasty,  just didn’t work at all when I tried it out at the Drink of the Week laboratory. Instead, I’m going with yet another in long line of little known classics.

Today’s beverage is the time-honored but much lesser known companion to the wondrous Pisco Sour, the Capitan. I’ve renamed it after the Dracula creator in the spirit of the holiday and my propensity for silly movie-related in-jokes.

Bram Stoker’s Capitan (The Capitan)

2 ounces Pisco
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 dash aromatic bitters
1 cocktail cherry (garnish)

Regular cocktailers will see pretty quickly that this is basically a Pisco Manhattan, so the directions are pretty much the same as the way I’d suggest you’d make a Manhattan. Combine the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add the cherry, and toast Bram Stoker or the deceased horror author of your choice — Edgar Allen Poe, Mary Shelley, Shirley Jackson, Richard Matheson or, yes, even Bram Stoker even if he actually wasn’t that great a writer.

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Much as many horror tales are about paying off a dark debt, today’s drink is the result of free booze given to me by the makers of Porton Pisco, easily the best known Pisco here in the States and, not surprisingly, made to please the Yanqui palate. Though I had to admit that, it’s not something I’d quaff straight up by choice, that also applies to most gins. All that really matters is that it works very nicely in the right cocktail. That definitely includes the absolutely wonderful Pisco Sour we made here some time ago.

Pisco has a lot of truly unusual flavor notes which seem to work best in the appropriately popular sour, but the Capitan is a lively second best. Some recipes call for equal parts Pisco and sweet vermouth, but I prefer more Manhattan-esque proportions. It’s makes for a tangy, but reasonably stiff, change of pace.

Now, here is the time in this post when I really should have something in particular to say about Halloween, but I don’t have much to add. Except that, if you’re lucky enough to live in certain American cities, then you will very soon be able to check out the long-long awaited and probably final version of what would probably be my favorite horror film of all time, if I actually considered it a horror film. Still, I get it because marketing a movie as “dark comparative religions thriller, with music” would be a tough sell for the 1973′s “The Wicker Man.”

It’s also a good time mention one of that film’s stars, the great Christopher Lee, 91 and still at it, thank goodness. He  sings a bit in “The Wicker Man,” but not about cocktails. So, once again, I present a favorite clip where he does sing about our very favorite subject.

Trick, or treat?

 

  

Drink of the Week: The Fernet Branca Cocktail

The Fernet Branca Cocktail. I think it’s fair to say that probably no one really likes martinis as beginning drinkers. Vodka martinis might go down a bit easier than gin, but to neophytes, martinis taste pretty much like straight booze, and not in a good way. No wonder most of us start with rum and Coke, screwdrivers, the hated (by me…even when I was drinking them) Long Island Ice Teas, and my early favorite, Kamikazes (I’ll probably do that one eventually). Indeed, the only reason I developed my early affection for vodka martinis, which later graduated to gin, was that I really love olives and found green ones tasted extra-delicious after soaking in alcohol for a bit. So, it was sort of refreshing to find that I can still acquire a taste, as this week’s drink did not go down well initially.

I wasn’t alone. Frankly, the Fernet Branca Cocktail doesn’t seem to have many fans. I got it from Harry Craddock’s classic Savoy Cocktail Book, which regular readers will note I’ve been referring to a lot recently. Still, this particular drink is more esoteric than most. Indeed, the only online reference I could find was a 2008 post from Erik Ellestad’s Savoy Stomp blog. Ellestad’s project (still ongoing as far as I can tell) is to make every cocktail in Craddock’s recipe-filled tome. He didn’t seem overly fond of this one. Still, I got to sorta like the drink named for perhaps the ultimate cult liqueur.

The Fernet Branca Cocktail

3/4 ounce Fernet Branca
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth (or, maybe, Punt e Mes)
1 1/2 ounce gin

Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with tons of ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a cocktail shaker. Sip slowly, perhaps toasting St. Patrick, who was not only the patron saint of the Irish, but also of second chances.

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Harry Craddock promotes this drink as a hangover cure, and it’s true that Fernet began its life as a stomach medicine. Nevertheless, my initial reaction was that, while it might not be an effective cure for hangovers, it was probably nasty enough it might prevent future ones by discouraging you from drinking at all.

I tried it again. This time, though, I used one of my favorite ingredients, Punt e Mes, a delicious vermouth with more of a bitter edge than most brands. I seemed to like it better now. Was the chocolatey bitterness of the Punt e Mes somehow cancelling out the more acrid/medicinal flavor of the Fernet? Well, then I tried it again with good ol’ sweet Noilly Pratt and I found I liked it better still. I guess I was just getting used to it.

Now, will the Fernet Branca Cocktail ever become a personal go-to drink for me the way a martini is now? I really don’t think so. Still, it is a way to acquaint ourselves with the many odd, and I do mean odd, flavors of Fernet.

  

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