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.

  

You can follow us on Twitter and Facebook for content updates. Also, sign up for our email list for weekly updates and check us out on Google+ as well.

Drink of the Week: The Angel’s Decree

the Angel's DecreeDespite the fact that many U.S. denominations frown on booze or ban it outright, it’s nevertheless no surprise that Christian imagery has found its way into the argot of whiskey distillers based in some of the most devout regions on the planet. “The Angel’s share” refers to a certain small percentage of whiskey that seeps into the wood in barrels and usually evaporates.

It’s become a minor trend to refer to this phenomenon. A bourbon fancier’s magazine is named for it, Jim Beam has found a way to extract the bourbon back out of the wood and perversely named it the Devil’s Cut. Meanwhile, famed bourbon distiller Lincoln Henderson, previously associated with the fine brands Old Forester and Woodford Reserve, has crafted a Kentucky straight bourbon he calls the Angel’s Envy.

The booze press has been very kind to this bourbon and for good reason. It’s designed for the serious whiskey lover and is described as being ultra small-batch and super premium. By intelligent design, it’s not as smooth as some products but it mostly justifies its large, but not enormous, price (about $45.00 in most places) by being plenty flavorful. It makes for an excellent Manhattan, quite a sturdy Old Fashioned, and I imagine it would work equally well in most classic bourbon cocktails. It’s also excellent with just a little bit of soda water.

Still, there’s always room for innovation. Henderson and his colleagues finish their product in casks previously used for port, and there is a hint of the richness of the dessert wine in the whiskey’s flavor. Logically enough, port is a significant ingredient in a number of recipes they’ve developed, including the one below that’s pretty ideal for the unseasonably warm weather going on in parts of the Midwest, even if it’s actually a bit cooler than usual here in sunny So Cal. In any case, this beverage is a nice one and simple enough for any soul.

The Angel’s Decree

1 1/2 ounces Angel’s Envy bourbon
1/2 ounce port
1-2 dashes aromatic bitters
ginger ale

Combine bourbon, port, and bitters in a smallish Tom Collins glass with ice cubes and stir. Top off with ginger ale…it’s more interesting if you don’t stir it again at this point. Sip and ask for divine guidance on whether or not your soul will be safe if you try this very tasty concoction with another brand of bourbon.

****
I really like the Angel’s Decree but, at the risk of sounding as if I’m in a state of heretical despair, I’m not sure it loves me. My issues with all true red wines — they make me feel, if I may use a technical term, icky — are what drove me to explore cocktails in the first place. Port is easily my favorite kind of red wine but, as I learned again this week, it’s still red and even in very small doses for me leads to feelings that are short of heavenly. That, however, should not stop you from enjoying the drink.

The good news for me is that the sweet vermouth you use in a Manhattan only looks red. (The color is mostly from the caramel used to give it’s sweetness.) I think that’s how I’ll largely be taking my Angel’s Envy. Regardless, I trust no celestial being will be in hot pursuit of my footwear as a result.

  

Drink of the Week: The Emerald

The EmeraldSay what you will about me, I am a man of peace. That is why I come to you, this St. Patrick’s Day eve, with a small suggestion. If you should, for some reason, find yourself at an actual Irish bar or pub tomorrow night, please resist the urge to order two drinks, which I will now name.

Now, I actually very much like the beverage we in the States and in England call the Black and Tan, which combines Guinness stout with Bass or another pale ale. It’s sort of the cappuccino of beer. However, as Ben and Jerry found out a a few years back, the name is pretty much the equivalent of naming a Jewish deli sandwich a Marauding Cossack. You see, just as the Cossacks weren’t known for their kindness to Russian Jews, the English Black and Tan militia men were not known for their gentleness to Irish folks during the nation’s war of independence from the British, circa 1920-22. As for the drink known as an Irish Car Bomb, let’s just leave that one alone.

Instead, may we suggest this really very nice little beverage named for the Emerald Isle. Yes, knowledgeable readers will notice a more than slight similarity with a far better known classic cocktail, but that will only make it easier to order if your barman is not familiar — and he likely won’t be.

The Emerald

2 ounces Irish whiskey
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1-3 dashes orange bitters
1 maraschino cherry (very optional garnish)

Combine whiskey, vermouth, and bitters in a cocktail shaker. Shake or stir, as is your preference, into a chilled martini/cocktail glass. Toast, preferably while listening to the Pogues, the Chieftains, the Dubliners, or Van Morrison.

***

Now, yes, this is pretty obviously a slight variation on a Manhattan, but the Irish whiskey makes for a drink that goes down as easy as watching John Ford’s “The Quiet Man” on a Sunday afternoon and ordering this non-offensive drink will avoid any situations out of “The Wind that Shakes the Barley.”

As I alluded to above, it’s also a pretty obscure drink. Indeed, every recipe I could find online seems to come pretty directly from, Esquire‘s David Wondrich who, I promise, won’t be mentioned next week for a change. It’s worth noting, however, that he points out the use of orange bitters is also potentially controversial, if you know a little Irish history. I do think, however, your bartender will charitably assume you mean orange fruit and not Orangemen when you request a Manhattan made with Irish whiskey and Regan‘s Orange Bitters.

And now, some music to drink the Emerald by.

  

Drink of the Week: The Bronx

the BronxThe Wikipedia article says that the Bronx — the old school cocktail, not the NYC borough — remains popular in some regions. Well, that region must not be California or anywhere else I’ve visited much, because about the only place I’ve seen or heard anything about it until recently was as a recipe offered on one of my cocktail shakers. Come to think of it, though, I haven’t spent a whole lot of time in the Bronx. I imagine it might be popular there.

In fact, the Bronx was actually one of the first non-martini cocktails I ever made for myself. Don’t ask me why I’ve waited this long to get to it, though I’d be lying if I said it was my favorite. It’s quite tasty and refreshing but it hasn’t blown me away with its flavor like the Mary Pickford did a couple of weeks ago, so I guess it’s not a big mystery why it kept slipping my mind. Still, if you like gin, vermouth, and orange juice, you can’t really go wrong with this hard to ruin aperatif.

The Bronx

2 ounces gin
1 ounce orange juice (preferably fresh squeezed, of course)
1/2 ounce dry vermouth
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth

Combine the ingredients in a cocktail cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously. By now, I’m sure you won’t be surprised to find that you’ll be straining this into our old friend, the well-chilled martini glass. You may salute the geographical Bronx before sipping, but an actual Bronx cheer is not recommended.

***
There are a pretty endless number of variations on this one this, mainly in the amount of OJ and vermouth used. David Wondrich goes so far as to reduce the vermouths to half a teaspoon each, which results in a somewhat punchier, orangier beverage. That recipe on my shaker reduces the gin down to 1 ounce, the sweet vermouth to 1/4 of an ounce, the dry vermouth to an 1/8 of an ounce — don’t ask me how you measure an amount that small, I doubled everything on this recipe whenever I’ve actually made it — and reduces the proportion of orange juice down to 1/4 of an ounce.

Really, you can play with the Bronx all day and all night, it doesn’t seem to change much. This is one drink where you can get a little crazy and no one will get hurt.

  

Drink of the Week: Tom Johnstone

Tom Johnstone For whatever reason, today’s DOTW is not known as “the Tom Johnstone” but is simply “Tom Johnstone.” I could wonder why, but that’s like asking why Chrissie Hynde’s band is “Pretenders” and not “the Pretenders.”

David Wondrich theorizes that the drink is named for a man “who used to write shows for the Marx Brothers.” Since I’m a pretty big Marxian myself and had never heard of Johnstone, I was forced to do a little research and found that, like certain members of the legendary comedy team, Johnstone — apparently a fairly successful songwriter, cartoonist, and adman — was himself somewhat overshadowed by a better known older brother, Will B. Johnstone. If this drink really is his creation, at least Tom Johnstone gets the distinction of having created a somewhat rarish thing: a hard to foul-up Scotch-based cocktail which allows bartenders a few options, depending on taste and what they’ve got on hand.

Tom Johnstone

1 1/2 ounces Scotch
1/2 ounce fresh lime or lemon juice
1/2 ounce Cointreau or triple sec
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth

This one’s easy. Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake or, if you must, stir with cracked or crushed ice, and strain into a martini glass.

****
I think what I like most about the Tom Johnstone is that nothing seems to ruin it. My recipe offers substantially more freedom than the canonical Wondrich take. That’s because I found myself liking other versions I found online a bit more, though none of them are even remotely bad.

For starters, even though I often OD on tartness from lemon juice, here I actually prefer it to lime. Also, unlike some other drinks I’ve worked with, this one also works almost equally well with no-name triple sec as it does with Cointreau, the more tart top of the line orange liqueur. I also used some very good Scotch and some pretty cheap Scotch. Both worked dandy.

Tom Johnstone, be you the little known co-writer of “I’ll Say She Is” or some completely unknown bartender, hanger-on, wastrel, or dipsomaniac, I salute you for a very nice mixed beverage. And now, Chico Marx, he who is forever unfairly overshadowed by Groucho and Harpo but not Zeppo, performs a medley that includes the very bouncy “Moonlight Cocktail” starting at 1:50.

  

Related Posts

  • No Related Post