Drink of the Week: The Knickerbocker

The Knickerbocker.In terms of nomenclature, today’s drink is a nice segue from our last drink of the week, the Algonquin. That drink was (probably) named for the historic Manhattan hotel and its bar. The Knickerbocker is named for the archaic nickname for all New Yorkers, i.e., a Knickerbocker was once to NYC as a Hoosier is to Indiana. If you’re a tri-state area basketball fan, you probably know all this already.

On the other hand, it’s also the completion of something of a trilogy with two other recent posts, the Blinker and the Monkey Gland. The common thread in these three drinks is a revived cocktail sweetener I’ve only recently become aware of: raspberry syrup. We’re not talking about just any raspberry syrup but specifically the stuff that’s manufactured by purveyors of jams and jellies and intended mainly to be poured over ice cream.

The Knickerbocker always seems to feature gold rum and raspberry syrup but, beyond that’s it’s another one of those drinks where the recipes vary so greatly they’re barely the same drink. Here’s the version I went with, which I pretty much ripped off entirely from cocktail superhistorian David Wondrich. See what you think.

The Knickerbocker

2 1/2 ounces golden rum
1/2 ounce lime juice
1 1/2 teaspoons raspberry syrup
1/2 teaspoon orange curacao
1 spent lime wedge and whatever berries you can find — interesting but not necessarily essential garnishes

Place the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake very vigorously. Dump the contents, ice and all, into a double-sized rocks/old fashioned glass. Add the garnishes listed or other fruits of your choice if you’re feeling adventurous. Toast whatever you like, I’m out of ideas this week.

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I actually started my Knickerbock holiday with the version featured in Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, which started me on my raspberry syrup madness in the first place. That one featured an entire ounce of lemon juice with more sweet ingredients to compensate. I found it both too sweet and too sour.

By comparison, Mr. Wondrich’s version was a bracing, manly treat, which makes sense as Ted Haigh tells us the full name of the drink is the Knickbocker a la monsieur — apparently there’s a Knickerbocker out there that was originally intended strictly for les mesdames.

While there may be tons of variations of the Knickbocker out there, anytime I tried to vary the Wondrich recipe ever so slightly, I came up a loser. Deciding to switch my ultra-thick Smuckers raspberry for the more easily dissolved Torani raspberry syrup yielded an unpleasant medicinal taste. Chastened to some degree, I experimented with an additional half teaspoon full of the Smuckers. Another bust that actually tasted less sweet; I don’t even know how that’s possible.

I did have fun throwing in various kinds of (overpriced but tasty) berries into the drink. They are such a part of this particular iteration of the Knickerbocker that Dave Wondrich actually suggests serving the drink with a straw and tiny spoon for the berries…personally, I can see the spoon but I’m not a big fan of straws with this sort of beverage. I want the ice to be a bit more forward, I guess.

I also learned something new. You must refrigerate your supermarket raspberries and never, ever leave them in your car for a few hours on a 70+ degree afternoon, unless you like your berries better after they’ve grown fur.

  

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Drink of the Week: The Clover Leaf (The Clover Club Trilogy Concludes!)

The Clover Leaf. It’s just about Labor Day weekend and today we have one cocktail that I’ve really labored over. In fact, if you’ve been paying very close attention, you’ve been following us through two different versions of an old and, I think, under-appreciated pre-prohibition era drink named after a social club of rich guys from Philadelphia with, I gather, pretty decent taste in beverages.

In the way of nearly all trilogies, today’s drink brings us full circle. I started this series out by musing how a Gibson differed from a Martini only in terms of a garnish, switching out the usual lemon twist or olive in favor of a cocktail onion. The Clover Leaf  differs from the Clover Club only in that it includes an actual leaf as a garnish, but not — and I’m sure this is for very good reason — an actual Clover Leaf. This recipe, however, does contain other alterations in the recipe from prior weeks, but I’ll explain about that on the flip side.

The Clover Leaf

1 1/2-2 ounces gin
1/2-3/4 ounce fresh lemon or lime juice
1/4 ounce grenadine (or raspberry syrup…but never with lime juice!)
1 egg white
1 sprig of fresh mint

Once again, combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker and “dry shake” the drink without adding any ice to emulsify the egg white good and proper. Then, add plenty of ice and shake very vigorously. Then, of course, you strain the resulting beverage into a chilled cocktail glass. Add the fresh mint sprig. I’ll let you come up with your own toast this time.

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You might recall from a couple of weeks back that I found Robert Hess’s recipe from The Essential Cocktail Guide a bit much for my tart-sensitive taste buds, even with all that wonderfully frothy egg white. This week, however, I noticed that some recipes I was seeing online called for a full two ounces of gin instead of the 1.5 ounces I’ve been calling for. As the Clover Club is a relatively mild drink, with just one type of booze included in an entirely reasonable amounts, and as I had finally finished my enormous bottle of 94 proof Beefeater Gin and had switched to merely 86 proof Bombay Dry, it seemed to make sense to try the Clover Leaf with a tiny bit more gin.

What I found was that the slightly increased booze cut the tartness level just enough that using the full 3/4 ounce of lemon juice was now not only acceptable, but kind of delightful. In fact, while the vast majority of the Clover Clubs and Clover Leafs I’ve made using both grenadine and Torani raspberry syrup have also been delightful, the last one I made, using 3/4 ounce lemon juice and raspberry syrup, might well have been the best of them all.

A couple of additional notes on ingredients: I used Master of Mixes grenadine, which contains the oh-so-hated high fructose corn syrup but also has, we’re told, real cherry and (the key ingredient) pomegranate juice. I haven’t tried the other mass market brands like Rose’s, but I have a feeling that the more real pomegranate juice, the better and, as far as I can tell, they don’t have any actual juice at all. Feel free to spend a bit more on a more upscale grenadine or go crazy and make your own — it’s your delicious funeral. Also, a quick caveat emptor as I was just Googling around and found the Master of Mixes product for the criminally inflated price of $23.00 and above at some places online. I paid, I’m pretty sure, $3.99 or less or so at BevMo for mine.

Finally, it occurs to me that I haven’t really discussed the effect of the name-changing garnish in the Clover Leaf, that sprig of mint. I have to say that, even though I was using literally the freshest possible mint — no thanks to me, there’s some growing in the backyard of the Drink of the Week ‘Plex — it really didn’t alter the flavor of the beverage very much, give or take some nice minty fragrance. On the other hand, it sure did make the drink look pretty.

  

Drink of the Week: The Clover Club (The Rasp-Wiki Take)

The Clover Club (again). If you have a deep aversion to déjà vu, I advise you to take a break from today’s and, yes, next week’s posts. (I haven’t decided yet about the week after that!)

You see, I’ve always been fascinated by how seemingly very small changes in cocktails can make very big differences. I also was, to be honest, fairly embarrassed to find out at close to the last minute last week that the Clover Club recipes I got from two bonafide cocktail book classics, Harry Craddock’s prohibition era Savoy Cocktail Book and Robert Hess’s vastly more recent The Essential Cocktail Guide, could be seen as  minority takes on the drink.

It turned out that most of the presumably classic recipes I found online, such as the one featured on Wikipedia, suggested rather strongly that raspberry syrup, not grenadine, was the default sweetener/pinker-upper for this refreshing, too little known cocktail treat. I basically had to try this version out, and so we have today’s pinker, tangier take on the Clover Club.

What’s the difference between a little grenadine or a little raspberry syrup? I’ll tell you on the flip side.

The Clover Club (the Rasp-Wiki Take)

1 1/2 ounces gin
1/2-3/4 ounces fresh lemon juice
1 egg white
1/4 ounce raspberry syrup

Once again, we combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker, sans ice. Once again, we shake the luke-cool concoction to properly emulsify the egg. Once that’s done, we add some ice and shake again, very vigorously, to add much needed ice water to the mix. Then, it’s naturally time to strain the drink into a chilled cocktail glass. Our toast? How about to second (and third) chances?

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So, which is better, the grenadine or the raspberry syrup iteration? If I had to choose, I think I’d go with last week’s grenadine. This raspberry adds a delightful tang I really enjoyed, but it was less sturdy in the sense it doesn’t really stand up to as much variation. Last week, I found my favorite version employed 3/4 of an ounce of lime juice although (a bit less) lemon juice was just fine. This time around, I’m counseling readers to skip the lime completely. For me at least, it just didn’t work. Lime juice has some additional flavors that just don’t blend with the raspberry.

My favorite version of this drink, however, did use the entire 3/4 ounce of lemon juice, which I suppose is odd given my tart-phobia. I’m guessing there’s something about the dryness of the lemon juice blending with the tangier raspberry-derived flavor. Ultimately, it’s a mystery.

And, speaking of mysteries, yes, will be trying another ever-so-slight variation of this week’s beverage next week. Next time around, we introduce something entirely new…a garnish! Stay tuned.

  

Drink of the Week: The Clover Club (The Hess/Craddock Take, Modified)

The Clover Club. Sometimes the difference between one drink and another is miniscule. Take a Martini and put a cocktail onion in it instead of an olive or a lemon twist and it is miraculously transformed into a Gibson. On the other hand, recipes for the same basic cocktail can have vary so dramatically that you wonder how the results can even be compared, much less go under the same name.

That’s what I’m realizing right now as I’ve been spending the week trying variations on a recipe I first found in Robert Hess’s 2008 The Essential Cocktail Guide and then found in Harry Craddock’s 1930 The Savoy Cocktail Book. Things got interesting when, too late for today’s post, I turned to my old pal Google and found that there is another version of today’s drink that might be a completely different taste experience entirely because of a difference in one key ingredient. I can’t dismiss it either because all signs point to it being every bit as much a classic, whatever that may mean, as today’s recipe. So, I guess we’ll have to revisit today’s drink again next week, except it won’t really be the same drink. Work, work, work.

In the meantime, here is my take on a drink which apparently goes back to a club for gentlemen — presumably no ladies allowed — in pre-Prohibition Philadelphia. As far as I’m concerned it’s a crime to deprive either gender of this liquid delight.

The Clover Club Cocktail (Craddock, Hess, Westal)

1 1/2 ounces gin
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice or 3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
1/4 ounce grenadine
1 egg white

Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake without ice to properly emulsify the egg white. Then add ice and shake again to properly chill the concoction. Strain into a frosty-cold cocktail glass and toast the endless wonder and complexity of life and cocktails.

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The Craddock recipe calls for the juice of 1/2 lemon or an entire lime — and goodness knows why bartenders in the day thought that was an acceptable instruction given the obvious reality that lemons and limes don’t all yield the exact same amount of juice. The vastly more recent Hess recipe calls for simply 3/4 of an ounce of lemon juice, but that came out a lot more tart than I like. It was time to play around with the proportions.

While using a mere 1/4 ounce lemon juice yielded too simple a drink, I found that 1/2 an ounce was darn nice. On the other hand, a full 3/4 ounce of less aggressively tart lime juice was the nicest of all. I could have gone for a slightly sweeter drink, but I found that cutting the lime juice down to 1/2 an ounce only resulted in a less lively beverage.

At least that’s what I thought. I certainly would never discourage anyone from adjusting the lemon or lime juice upwards or downwards to their taste. I will say, however, that you have to use some lemon or lime juice because, if you don’t, you’ll have a Pink Lady on your hands. I’m saving that one for some time when out of citrus completely.

  

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