Drink of the Week: The Fernet Branca Cocktail

The Fernet Branca Cocktail. I think it’s fair to say that probably no one really likes martinis as beginning drinkers. Vodka martinis might go down a bit easier than gin, but to neophytes, martinis taste pretty much like straight booze, and not in a good way. No wonder most of us start with rum and Coke, screwdrivers, the hated (by me…even when I was drinking them) Long Island Ice Teas, and my early favorite, Kamikazes (I’ll probably do that one eventually). Indeed, the only reason I developed my early affection for vodka martinis, which later graduated to gin, was that I really love olives and found green ones tasted extra-delicious after soaking in alcohol for a bit. So, it was sort of refreshing to find that I can still acquire a taste, as this week’s drink did not go down well initially.

I wasn’t alone. Frankly, the Fernet Branca Cocktail doesn’t seem to have many fans. I got it from Harry Craddock’s classic Savoy Cocktail Book, which regular readers will note I’ve been referring to a lot recently. Still, this particular drink is more esoteric than most. Indeed, the only online reference I could find was a 2008 post from Erik Ellestad’s Savoy Stomp blog. Ellestad’s project (still ongoing as far as I can tell) is to make every cocktail in Craddock’s recipe-filled tome. He didn’t seem overly fond of this one. Still, I got to sorta like the drink named for perhaps the ultimate cult liqueur.

The Fernet Branca Cocktail

3/4 ounce Fernet Branca
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth (or, maybe, Punt e Mes)
1 1/2 ounce gin

Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with tons of ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a cocktail shaker. Sip slowly, perhaps toasting St. Patrick, who was not only the patron saint of the Irish, but also of second chances.

****

Harry Craddock promotes this drink as a hangover cure, and it’s true that Fernet began its life as a stomach medicine. Nevertheless, my initial reaction was that, while it might not be an effective cure for hangovers, it was probably nasty enough it might prevent future ones by discouraging you from drinking at all.

I tried it again. This time, though, I used one of my favorite ingredients, Punt e Mes, a delicious vermouth with more of a bitter edge than most brands. I seemed to like it better now. Was the chocolatey bitterness of the Punt e Mes somehow cancelling out the more acrid/medicinal flavor of the Fernet? Well, then I tried it again with good ol’ sweet Noilly Pratt and I found I liked it better still. I guess I was just getting used to it.

Now, will the Fernet Branca Cocktail ever become a personal go-to drink for me the way a martini is now? I really don’t think so. Still, it is a way to acquaint ourselves with the many odd, and I do mean odd, flavors of Fernet.

  

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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?

******

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.

***

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.

  

Drink of the Week: The Aviation (à la Craddock)

The AviationThe Aviation is one classic cocktail with a schizoid past. Everyone seems to agree now that the first known version of the drink appeared in 1911 in a recipe book written by New York bartender Hugo Ensslin. This original version called for gin, lemon juice, maraschino, and Creme de Violette, a liqueur made from the actual violet flower. It disappeared from American shelves at some point in the decades that followed.

You might think that would be it for the Aviation, but another version also appeared some 19 years in Harry Craddock’s better known Savoy Cocktail Book. This version omitted the Creme de Violette. As the classic era of cocktails passed into history, it became the standard Avaiation cocktail for the few remaining aficionados who cared about such things.

That was not the end of the story because, probably driven by the 21st century cocktail revival, Creme de Violette started to return to some U.S. liquor stores about five years back. A couple of years later, another all-but forgotten violet-based liqueur, Creme Yvette, was recreated and is now served in Aviations made at many a fine bar.

However, for all the years between 1930 and 2007 and even at many bars right now, somehow refined drinkers made and are making do with the not quite original version, which really isn’t bad at all. So, we shall start with the Craddock version and save the Ennslin iteration for later. Note to boozy publicists who might be reading — I await the magical free bottle(s) of Creme de Violette or the (more expensive) Creme Yvette.

The Aviation (Savoy style)

2 ounces gin
1/2 ounce to 1 ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/3 ounce to 1 ounce maraschino liqueur

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. If you’re not completely in love with the cocktail, look at something purple.

***
Please note, once again, that maraschino liqueur. which contains a very interesting combination of sweet cherry flavor but also some subtle bitter notes, should never be confused with the bright red syrup that goes around the highly preserved cherries you can buy at the supermarket. You’ll also note that I’ve wimped out a bit and given you quite a bit of latitude regarding just how much lemon juice and maraschino to use. I have my reasons.

The fact of the matter is that, inspired by the wide variation in recipes I found online, I tried this drink in numerous permutations. While I lean very slightly towards those using a bit less maraschino and somewhat less than the maximum amount of lemon juice (say, 1/2 to 3/4 of an ounce), they all turned out very decently. At the same time, none of my Aviations were quite thrilling as if, perhaps, they were maybe missing something. We will see at some future date.

In the meantime, I would like to thank my Facebook friend, Christopher Tafoya, who gave me some very useful pointers. Also, as I assume the Aviation was, at some point, in someone’s mind, connected with the once new and very dangerous phenomenon of human flight, I’m leaving you with a clip from the best film ever about hard-drinking pioneer aviators, Howard Hawks “Only Angels Have Wings,” from the fabled movie year of 1939.

As for the answer to the question in the clip: “Who’s Joe?” Depending on you look at it he’s either Noah Berry, Jr., who later played James Garner’s dad on “The Rockford Files,” or he’s some dead guy in the movie.

  

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