Drink of the Week: The Horsecar

Image ALT text goes here.The holidays are coming but there’s a limit to how many sweet and rich ingredients a person can or should imbibe. That’s especially true if, like me, you’re thinking about appropriate holiday cocktails while dealing with a bit of a lifelong weight issue — these posts haven’t exactly helped! — and also trying to prepare for upcoming celebratory indulgences. So, while you’re definitely free to make the more traditional holiday cocktails I’ve offered in the past, this week, I took a complete break from the flipping excess of last week’s beverage and went with something simple, and only a little bit sweet.

The Horsecar is a drink of uncertain origin as far as I can tell, but Saveur tells us it was featured in a 1956 cocktail book issued by our men’s magazine forebears over at Esquire. It’s a definite relative of the various Perfect Manhattan-esque drinks I’ve been messing with lately, combining both sweet and dry vermouths. And, yes, it’s a near replica of the Jumbo — which, by absolute sheer coincidence, was the featured drink here just barely under two years ago by about three days. Still there’s one key difference. See if you can spot it.

The Horsecar

1 ounce rye whiskey
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 ounce dry vermouth
1 dash orange bitters
1 cocktail cherry (garnish)

Not a lot of surprises here. Pour the rye, vermouths, and bitters into a cocktail shaker and mixing glass. Shake or stir, and then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Contemplate the millions of subtle variations possible when you combine liquids in differing proportions.

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Okay, so, like the Jumbo, the Horsecar is good for those who love Manhattans, but maybe sometimes find the standard version too high either in sweet vermouth or too heavy on the whiskey. The difference between the drinks is that the classic Jumbo calls for Peychaud’s bitters, which have an almost candy-like flavor, and the Horsecar calls for orange bitters, my  frequent personal choice when I’m making Perfect Manhattans. (I understand that you can also make Horsecars with Angostura-style aromatic bitters but, to be fair, that cocktail should probably be given it’s own name.)

My rye brands this time around were Rittenhouse, Old Overholt, Bulleit, and Alberta Dark Rye. My dry vermouths were Dolin’s and Martinis. My sweet vermouths were Martini, Vya, Carpano Antica, and, experimenting with a new brand, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino. The results were uniformly very nice, with floral and sweet qualities predominating. Probably the single most drinkable version contained Old Overholt — not really a personal favorite — Dolins and Carpano Antica. That version would have been the height of craft cocktail bar orthodoxy, except I shook it instead of stirring. Yes, it was clouded with ice crystals but it was also very easy on the palette without being boring.

I liked the Horsecar stirred as well. Those drinks were definitely a bit bolder in flavor, and could also be quite lovely. The only one that didn’t seem to work as well contained Alberta Dark Rye; it’s a brand I like quite a bit, but it’s a bit of a whiskey outlier and actually contains 1 percent sherry wine. Sometimes the dark horse really does come in last.

 

  

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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.

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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.

  

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