Drink of the Week: The Vieux Carre

The Vieux Carre.Like most Americans, I’m not exactly a polyglot. Four years of junior high and high school Spanish have been of great assistance in helping me to order  items at taco trucks; three quarters of college French allow me to chuckle knowingly to myself when “merde!” is translated as “damn!” in subtitles. So, I can’t properly pronounce the name of the Vieux Carre, but I can tell you it means “old square.” That square, as it turns out, is off of Bourbon Street in New Orleans, and this is another fine cocktail associated with America’s most intriguing cocktail capital.

Quite obviously, however, this is not in the same category as a Hurricane and it’s not the one of the scary, gigantic green drinks featured on this year’s season premiere of “Bar Rescue.” While, for me, the Vieux Carre doesn’t quite achieve the classic cocktail nirvana of a Sazerac, this is one beverage that actually gets tastier the longer you let it sit. It’s perfect for a long conversation and, by the end of it, even ever-so-justifiably-furious bar rescuer John Taffer might get mellow enough to maybe stop shouting for just a second.

The Vieux Carre

3/4 ounce rye whiskey
3/4 ounce cognac or brandy
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
1 teaspoon Benedictine
2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
2 dashes aromatic  bitters (Angostura or similar)
1 lemon twist (garnish)

Making this drink is about as easy to make as it is to get a buzz going in the French Quarter. Build over some ice cubes in a rock glass, stir, and add the lemon twist. Toast whatever or whomever you like, but do so slowly.

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I’m very sorry to say that this week’s post completes my trilogy of drinks of cocktails featuring Camus’s Ile de Ré Fine Island Cognac. Sadly, that’s the case because I polished off the bottle last night. No disrespect to my value-priced go-to brandy, Reynal, but there’s a reason the Camus people get to charge the big bucks for this stuff. It’s great in a cocktail and remarkably easy and pleasurable to drink neat. Good thing I still have a few airplane bottles of various Ile de Ré expressions in my alcohol laden larder.

My rye for this double-base spirit cocktail was another new freebie favorite we’ve featured here before, the lovely Templeton Rye, previously featured in the Capone.  I usually lean towards higher proof ryes like my old pal, 100 proof Rittenhouse, but that might have been a bit much in this context; Templeton’s more mellow flavor makes it a pretty perfect match for a Vieux Carre.

I experimented quite a bit with the other ingredients. Many recipes call for more booze and somewhat less of the Benedictine — a very sweet herbal liqueur which famously mixes well with brandy. I also tried three different sweet vermouths, all favorites. The lightest was Noilly Pratt, which was very nice, but an even better result was achieved with the greatness that is Carpano Antica. (Yet another freebie previously featured here).

I also tried it with another great product I’ll be featuring later, Punt e Mes. In that instance, it sort of dominated the cocktail but, since I love, love, love me some Punt e Mes, I didn’t really mind.

One final note, apparently to really do the Vieux Carre right, some people suggest you should make it with just one very large ice cube. Sounds cool, but I guess I need to find an ice cube tray that make 3″x 3″ ice cubes.

Anyhow, a moment of non-silence for my forever spent bottle of fine cognac. Mr. Gillespie, it’s time for a little Cognac blues.

  

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Drink of the Week: The Hanky Panky

Image ALT text goes here.If Christmas is a movie directed by Frank Capra as in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” then New Year’s and New Year’s Eve is a movie directed by Billy Wilder as in “The Apartment.” One is a holiday about what’s really important: family, love, friendship, and being good to your fellow man. The other is a holiday about what’s really important: sex, drinking, and being able to look at yourself in the mirror after the sex and the drinking have run their inevitable course. I don’t think there’s any mystery why a drink named the Hanky Panky caught my eye as a possible New Year’s beverage.

One thing that’s certain about 2013 is that we’ll almost certainly have to take the bitter with the sweet, and so the Hanky Panky contains the time-tested but increasingly trendy cult beverage, Fernet Branca. An old time digestif that’s been discovered by those infernal cocktail hipsters, Fernet Branca is yet another of the beverages that came my way through the holiday miracle of publicity. It’s kind of thrilling to have it on hand, as I’d never tried it before just a few days ago.

On its own, Fernet is a beverage not for the faint of heart or even, I think, many of the fairly stout of heart. I’m not saying it doesn’t taste good — drinking it straight is, shall we say, a strangely invigorating sensory experience beyond taste. In my case, that invariably includes a few facial expressions reminiscent of Red Skelton selling Guzzler’s Gin. On the other hand, it’s basically used in this drink as bitters and, on that level, it’s mighty dandy. In cocktails, proportion is everything.

The Hanky Panky itself is a good to superb drink but also mighty stiff…so much so, you might consider cutting this one in half, or not, depending on your plans.

The Hanky Panky

1 1/2 ounces gin or brandy/cognac
1 1/2 ounces sweet vermouth
1/4 ounce Fernet Branka
1 orange twist (extremely necessary garnish)

Combine your liquid ingredients in a mixing glass or cocktail shaker. Stir vigorously — I never discourage shaking, but I stuck with stirring on this one for instinctive reasons — and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add your orange peel, being sure to twist it over the drink to express a bit of that elusive citrus oil I keep reading about into the drink. I really think the additional bit of citrus flavor added by the twist is crucial here.

Sip, toasting the New Year and Ada Coleman, the legendary Savoy Hotel bartender who created the Hanky Panky.

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I tried this drink in several versions of the above. All were good and one version came close to knocking my socks off. We’ll start with that one, which turned out to be the least tried out version of the drink, which is usually listed as containing strictly gin but was, we are told, first made with Cognac.

Fernet Branca.While I’m too cheap to buy the finest Cognac, I used my sturdy and very reasonably priced fallback brandy of Reynal (with offices in the Cognac region of France) which you can buy for about $12.00 at Trader Joe’s and BevMo.  The Reynal and the wondrous Carpano Antica I featured last week made such beautiful music together with Fernet Branca, I had to wonder at how this drink came to be pretty strictly identified with gin.

Well, gin is pretty much England’s official booze, give or take a Guinness, and the Hanky Panky is nevertheless quite good that way, too. It was very definitely a more pleasurable and interesting drink with the wondrous but relatively pricey Carpano (usually about $27-$30.00 for a big bottle), but it worked just fine with our old pals, Martini & Rossi (about $10.00 a bottle). There’s no point at all, however, on trying to skimp on the Fernet Branca. Love it or hate it, there’s no hanky and no panky without it.

The only version I can’t vouch yet, since I haven’t had a chance to try it, is brandy with the more proletarian sweet vermouth listed above, but I can’t imagine any version is particularly unlovable. After all, isn’t it true that, like pizza, even bad Hanky Panky is still Hanky Panky?

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Since this post is for New Year’s, I want to end with an appropriate entertainment. The connection here is that Ada Coleman worked at the Savoy’s American Bar, which was the hang-out of the legendary D’Oyly Carte Opera Company. As hardcore musical comedy geeks, and everyone whose seen Mike Leigh’s 1999 smash “Topsy-Turvy,” knows, that highly dramatic opera company was widely associated with the work of W.S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan, whose particular gifts for combining music and often rather silly comedy foreshadowed everyone from Cole Porter to those South Park guys. While the connection might not be immediately apparent, I can’t think of a more apt accompaniment to your Hanky Panky than the scene below. Happy New Year, everyone.

P.S.You can see a more orthodox production of the same G&S tune from “Topsy-Turvy” here.

  

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 Brooklyn (Canadian Club Sherry Cask Iteration)

The Brooklyn (Canadian Club Sherry Cask).This probably isn’t the first time, but we’re doing things a bit bass ackward this week.  That’s what happens when someone is nice enough to send something for free along with a recipe, and then that recipe turns out to be a very acceptable variation on a classic which we haven’t gotten to here yet. So, we’re doing the variation first. We’ll get to the “real” drink later.

In the case of this week’s drink, my old friends — and I do mean “friends” — at Canadian Club saw fit to send me another of their very nice off-the-beaten track expressions and one I hadn’t tried before, Canadian Club Sherry Cask. It’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect, a slightly more complex variation on their highly underrated original whiskey. It boasts a very nice sherry finish and just enough extra alcohol to be interesting at 82.6 proof, as opposed to the usual 80 proof. It’s actually very drinkable just on the rocks and I’m sure would work nicely in most of your basic cocktails. It was nice — almost too nice and gentle — in an Old Fashioned. I imagine it would make a delicious Manhattan, but I’ll have to try that one out.

As for this week’s drink, a traditional Brooklyn is made with rye whiskey, a more peppery flavored relatively distant relative of Canadian whiskey. It also features dry vermouth. This version features sweet vermouth, and the proportions are different as well. It’s safe to say that the Canadian Club Brooklyn is a lot sweeter than the classic. I’m sure a lot of people will prefer it.

The Brooklyn (CC Sherry Cask)

1 ounce Canadian Club Sherry Cask Whiskey (Regular Canadian Club might also work, as might rye — but I can’t vouch for them)
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
1/4 ounce Torani Amer
1/4 ounce Luxardo maraschino liqueur
Maraschino cherry (garnish)

Combine the whiskey, vermouth, Torani Amer, and maraschino liqueur in a cocktail shaker or similar vessel. If you’re a purist stir; if you’re me, shake. Strain into a chilled cocktail over your preferred cocktail cherry. Contemplate the fact that that, considering the way people are constantly tinkering with drinks, there’s no way I’ll ever run out of drinks to write about.

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Canadian Club Sherry Cask. Now is the time at Drink of the Week when we discuss ingredients and their discontents. For starters, both the classic recipes with dry vermouth and rye and the one I received from Canadian Club contain a little known bittersweet liqueur called Amer Picon.

There are only two problems with this. First, Amer Picon’s recipe has changed so much over the years that some expert mixologists no longer recognize it as a proper ingredient for a Brooklyn. Also, Amer Picon is unavailable in the United States. On the other hand, many consider the 78 proof digestif, Torani Amer, to be far closer to the original Amer Picon recipe…and you can pick it up about $10 or $11 at BevMo. So, I used that.

My first tries were made using the universal fall back sweet vermouth, Martini & Rossi. It was very drinkable, if a bit medicinal…in a good way, I think. Less like Robitussin and more like some of the now forgotten medicines my mom gave me back in the Paleozoic era when rock and roll was still slightly controversial.

Then, as fortune would have it, a long awaited bottle of Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth arrived from another benefactor. We’ll be discussing this stunning fortified beverage again very soon but, trust me, it’s worth the extra money if you’re into sweet vermouth. In this version of a Brooklyn, well, it was kind of perfect. Gone was the pleasant but non-idyllic medicine flavor and in it’s place was a lovely chocolatey undercurrent. This is the way to make this particular drink, I think.

  

Drink of the Week: The Honolulu

the Honolulu

Last month, I was faced with the challenge of coming up with a cocktail to justify those free bottles of Booker’s and Baker’s bourbon that the Jim Beam Small Batch folks so kindly sent my way. This week, I have another — and I think even better — cocktail usage for these justifiably widely praised high-proof and moderately pricey bourbons.

The Beam folks might insist that the best way to enjoy these bourbons is with just a splash of water or an ice cube, but I think they really work well in this week’s drink. It’s a bitters-free variation on the Manhattan (originally featured on BE here) that really comes into its own with a bourbon packed with flavor, and alcohol, than on an ordinary 80-90 proofer. It’s also about as simple as a cocktail gets.

The Honolulu

1 ounce bourbon
1 ounce dry vermouth
1 ounce sweet vermouth
Lemon twist (garnish)

Combine in the bourbon and vermouth in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Depending on your preference, stir or shake (I shake) vigorously. Strain into a highly chilled cocktail glass, add the lemon twist, and drink. You may also ponder what the connection could possibly between this drink and the famed Hawaiian metropolis. I haven’t a clue.

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At least using Booker’s or Baker’s, this is a very refined drink for people who enjoy a lot of intriguing flavors dancing across the tongue. While using the very high-proof Booker’s resulted in a gentle-yet-tongue tickling beverage with a subtly spicy flavor, I actually leaned towards the version I made with Baker’s. At 107 proof, Baker’s is practically children’s fare compared to the massive 128.5 power of Booker’s, but at least using the Martini vermouths I had on hand, the result was actually more complex and intriguing.

I did try to experiment with this drink by substituting Punt e Mes for the sweet vermouth and adding a Badabing cherry. You know how they say that most experiments fail? Stick with the traditional Honolulu. This is a cocktail that’s interesting enough to entertain the brain while powerful enough to (oh so pleasantly) dull it. No reason to mess with something this good.

Say goodnight, Gracie and Eleanor.

[Writer's note: I'd like to dedicate this post to my mother, Charlotte Bows Westal, who went on to the great Coconut Grove in the sky at age 84, shortly after this post was put together earlier this week. Mom was never a really a writer, a big drinker, or a connoisseur, but she knew the value of good grammar and a well-stocked bar -- even if she wasn't above pouring the cheap stuff into bottles of the good stuff or reading questionable bestsellers. She would have liked today's clip, too, I think. Maybe she even saw it on the big screen back in '39.]

  

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