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 Knickerbocker holiday with the version featured in Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, which drew me into 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, somewhat macho, 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. (I’d probably love it, I’m a girl-drink drunk at heart.)

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 Monkey Gland

the Monkey Gland.Never fear, absolutely no simians were harmed in the making of today’s DOTW. The Monkey Gland is, in fact, a sly wink to a prohibition-era alleged health treatment which, for a time, was seriously in vogue with the (maybe not so) smart set. It did, in fact, call for the transplantation or grafting of the testicular tissue of a presumably very unhappy primate onto the testicular tissue of a slightly less unhappy primate, i.e., a male human being. Say what you will about modern day snake oil supplements and the like, they rarely cause intense groin pain.

What drew me to today’s cocktail was not any interest in the potency properties of primate parts, but in finding another drink where I could substitute my new bottle of raspberry syrup for grenadine after last week’s adventure with Dr. Cocktail’s Blinker. I admit to having enough of a sweet tooth that I was contemplating using my Smucker’s syrup in lieu of jam by soaking pieces of bread with it. Better by far to use a much smaller amount of it as a sweetener in a drink I’m going to be consuming anyway.

That’s not to say I didn’t give a fair hearing to the more traditional choice of grenadine, but let’s just say I was prejudiced in favor of the old school substitution.

The Monkey Gland

2 ounces London dry gin
1 ounce fresh orange juice
1/4 ounce (1 1/2 teaspoons) grenadine or raspberry syrup
1/4 teaspoon or 1 dash absinthe
1 orange peel (desirable garnish)

Combine all your liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker, perhaps stirring first if your using the kind of thick, cold raspberry syrup I was. Shake for a good, long time and strain into chilled cocktail glass or coupe. Add your orange peel and toast our much maligned cousins in the animal kingdom. Yes, we are related to them. Admit it, you resemble monkeys and apes at least as much as you resemble your uncle who always smells vaguely of fried eggs.

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This version of the Monkey Gland comes to us primarily from cocktail super-maven Robert Hess, who — and I mean this in the most flattering way possible — has always struck me as Martha Stewart’s boozier, slightly more relaxed twin brother. The drink in its updated version appears in Hess’s truly essential The Essential Bartender’s Guide, as well as in one of Mr. Hess’s eminently watchable online videos. It’s creation is usually credited to Harry¬†MacElhone of Paris’s legendary Harry’s Bar. Mr. Hess, however, says the Monkey Gland was first mixed by Frank Meyer, the almost as legendary bartender at the nearby Hotel Ritz.

The original Monkey Gland called for equal parts gin and orange juice and commensurately less sweetener. I was tempted to give that a try but then I wouldn’t be using so much of my raspberry syrup up, and we couldn’t have that. Also, I’ve been enjoying my bottle of Tanqueray and who needs to cover that colossus of London gins up with too much OJ? Nevertheless, I did also try this drink with cheaper, merely 80 proof, Gordon’s Gin, and it was a taste treat in it’s own right.

The difference was actually more pronounced between the Monkey Glands I made using my default Master of Mixes grenadine and the raspberry syrup. It produced a gentler, subtler, slightly sweet taste I really enjoyed, especially when paired with the a-little-goes-a-super-long-way annis/licorice flavor of absinthe. So, yes, once again, advantage Smuckers.

And one final note, there’s also a South African barbecue sauce which goes by the name of Monkey Gland. It’s also 100% primate free but also contains no gin. You win some, you lose some.