Drink of the Week: The Liberal

the Liberal.The Liberal’s history goes back to before the turn of the 20th century, which means it’s probably dangerous to make any strong connections with modern day political affiliations, especially since this drink doesn’t have any particular story to go with it. When it comes to political labels, in any case, a lot of things have changed since 1895. That’s why modern day conservative writers feel like they can argue that they are the real liberals — as in libertarian — while today’s liberals are, in fact, fascists — a political affiliation that I’m pretty sure didn’t exist when the Liberal was first being mixed. Also, I think there’s maybe kind of a big difference between Benito Mussolini and Adlai Stevenson.

Still, as someone who has been a proud and very unapologetic actual bleeding heart liberal since the age of 12 or so, I can’t but be attracted to a drink with this name. If your politics are different than my own, however, I can reassure you that drinking the Liberal won’t impact your voting choices next year. Well, as long as you don’t drink five of them on election day, in which case you might find yourself voting for people who are dead, fictitious, or named “Huckabee.”

I can say that I like this version of the drink, which is primarily drawn from the recipe in cocktail historian Ted Haigh’s cocktail revival ur-volume, Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails. There is a stronger, larger, and less sweet version of this drink, but I don’t love it. Yes, this Liberal is open to charges of being subtly reactionary and stingy to boot. Nevertheless, our taste buds know no ideology and are immune to purity trolling. So, let’s get started.

The Liberal

3/4 ounce bourbon or rye
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
1/2 teaspoon Torani Amer
1-2 dashes orange bitters
1 cocktail cherry (very desirable garnish)

Combine the liquid ingredients in a mixing glass or a cocktail shaker. Add ice and stir vigorously. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, preferably a smaller one, and add the cocktail cherry of your choice.

As for your toast, I can’t tell you what to think or do, but you might consider the people who brought us the 8 hour day, the 40 hour work week, the minimum wage, child labor laws, and now accessible healthcare (guaranteed 100% death panel free). If you’d rather not have those things, you can still drink this, of course, but make sure you drink it from a clean glass and don’t get sick and lose your job, because then you’ll be on your own.

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In his book,Ted Haigh calls for using 100 proof Wild Turkey, Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, and 3 dashes of Amer Picon, which brings up a few issues. For starters, there’s no such thing as 100 proof Wild Turkey these days, not precisely. Instead, we have Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon and Rye. I’m not sure which he meant, or whether the rye was even available when he first recreated the recipe. Since I had the 101 proof bourbon on hand already on hand left over from my pre-Derby Day post, that’s what I used first, along with the always excellent, if pricey, Carpano. Amer Picon is simply impossible to obtain, so I went with the most common substitute, Torani Amer, which is easily obtainable here in California, in any case. As for three dashes…how much is that and where I am supposed to find an amaro in a bottle with a dasher top?

Having made my adjustments, my first attempt at a Liberal was pretty excellent. Sweet, but not one bit cloying and complex enough for slow sipping, with a chocolatey undercurrent thanks to the Carpano. I followed it up with other versions, including ones with 1776 100 proof rye and my cheaper default sweet vermouth, Noilly Pratt. They were less rich in flavor, but still had plenty of complex, more floral, notes to keep your mouth good and busy.

One thing about this drink that surprised me, however, is that it really doesn’t seem to work shaken, which is my usual contrarian preference with the drink’s fairly close relative, the Manhattan. No, this one time the cocktail cognoscenti dogma about stirring over shaking drinks without juice in them proves to be correct. As usual, I could not care less about “clouding” drinks by shaking them. However, I do care a lot about flavor, and the Liberal simply tastes better that way. When I figure out how that reflects my political/philosophical leanings, I’ll let you know.

 

  

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Drink of the Week: The Grandstand Julep

the Grandstand Julep.The first week in May is always a dilemma in the making here at Drink of the Week Plaza as it actually pits two of the year’s biggest drinking excuses holidays against each other. Since tomorrow is Derby Day and Cinco de Mayo is in the middle of next week, I’m going to start with that and follow it up with a belated Mexican-themed cocktail for next week. Not ideal, I know. It is, of course, entirely coincidental that mysterious forces bribed gifted me with a free bottle of Wild Turkey 101 Straight Bourbon and this week’s intriguing, imaginative variation on a traditional Mint Julep.

Though I still have a spot soft for good Old Fitzgerald when you can find it, I have to admit that this expression of one of the best known names in American whiskey is about as good a high-proof bourbon as you’re likely to get for under $20.00 for a fifth. It offers a very nice balance of sweet and tough flavors that have made for plenty of good reviews and a number of good cocktails.

Which brings us to this week’s variation on the ultimate Derby Day classic. It pairs the bourbon with, of all things, an artichoke-derived amaro-style liqueur beloved of the cocktail cognoscenti. Can these two crazy ingredients have a shot at a long and happy life together? Let’s find out.

The Grandstand Julep

1 1/2 ounces Cynar
3/4 ounce Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon
1/2 ounce simple syrup
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce fresh grapefruit juice
12 mint leaves
2 ounces soda water
2 dashes Fee Brother’s Grapefruit Bitters

Build this one in a julep cup if you’ve got one and a good size rocks glass if you don’t. (I don’t!) Combine the Cynar, Wild Turkey, juice, mint leaves (given the differing sizes of mint leaves, the number is an approximation at best), and simple syrup…you can also substitute two and half teaspoons of superfine sugar if that’s easier. Gently muddle the leaves in the liquid.

Next, add crushed ice, follow with the soda water and then top the whole thing off with the grapefruit bitters. Start to sip slowly and toast our equine friends. Alternatively, you can toast W.C. Fields, who is supposed to have said that horse sense is what keeps horses from betting on people.

*****

While you could theoretically try this drink with another bourbon (it better be a strong one), there isn’t much room for messing around with the main ingredients here. Mainly that’s because there’s only one one type of Cynar available and it’s made by the manufacturers of Campari.

The exception is actually your ice, which really does need to be crushed. I’m lazy and tried this drink several times with ordinary ice and found it tasty and relatively well balanced but bordering on cloying. Crushing the ice, while admittedly a bit of a hassle, opened the drink up and took the edge off the very sweet/very bitter flavors. My only other advice is not to drink this one too fast. You want to let that crushed ice melt a bit. Take your time with this one and leave the racing to the horsies.

  

A Chat with Jimmy and Eddie Russell, Wild Turkey’s father/son distilling team

Do you like bourbon? Sure, we all do!

Okay, maybe we don’t all like it. But if you are a bourbon aficionado, then you’re no doubt familiar with the work of the father and son team of Jimmy and Eddie Russell, even if you may not know it. Jimmy’s a master distiller at the Wild Turkey Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, and Eddie’s an associate distiller; together, the two of them created a tasty treat known as Russell’s Reserve, which was awarded a Gold Medal at the 2007 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Russell’s Reserve is described on the Wild Turkey website as having “a nose that is rich in vanilla, oak, toffee, and a touch of old leather,” a huge body, and a palate that is “very spicy, with notes of chili peppers, tamarind, almonds, and cumin.” How would I describe it? Hey, I’m no connoisseur, but I can at least confirm that it goes down smoooooooth.

With Father’s Day on the horizon, I decided it would be the perfect time to take the Russells up on their kind offer to chat about their work with Wild Turkey, the wonder that is Russell’s Reserve, and – to be holiday-specific – what it’s like for a dad to work with his kid every single day.

Jimmy Russell: Hello, Will! How are you?

Bullz-Eye: I’m good! How are you?

JR: Doin’ fine, thanks!

BE: Is Eddie there as well?

Eddie Russell: Yeah, Eddie’s here, too! (Laughs) How are you doing?

BE: Pretty good. Good to talk to you both…and I’ll tell you up front that I’m very much enjoying the bottle that was sent my way. (Laughs)

JR: Thank you! That’s what it for: to enjoy! (Laughs)

BE: Well, I know this is a multi-generational affair, but how did the Russell family first find its way into the bourbon business?

JR: I was born and raised in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, which was a small community when I was growing up, but there were four bourbon distilleries here, and you had families working all the distilleries. You wanted to get in the business. My grandfather and my father, me, and now my son, we’ve all been in the business.

ER: For me, it was a summer job 29 years ago, out of college. So it’s been a long summer for me. (Laughs)

BE: Growing up, did you both immediately have a taste for bourbon, or was it something you had to acquire?

ER: Well, for me, it was something that I basically always drank. I never was much of a beer drinker or anything like that. It was mostly bourbon.

JR: I’ve always been a bourbon drinker. I don’t care for beer or wine. It’s always been bourbon.

BE: I guess what I’m asking, really, if it was love at first sip or if you had any hesitancy.

JR: We can’t tell that! (Laughs)

ER: I don’t know if it was love at first taste, but it was definitely something I preferred over other alcoholic beverages.

BE: So what goes into the process of making Russell’s Reserve? Clearly, it’s a long one.

JR: Well, it’s one of those where, you know, we have to comply with federal government regulations about bourbon, which you probably already know: it has to be distilled, it has to be made with 51% corn, it has to be distilled under 160 proof, and it must be put in a new charred oak barrel at 125 proof or less. Here at the Wild Turkey distillery, we distill at low proofs and put it in the barrel and low proofs, because the higher you distill anything, the less flavor you have in it. With the Russell’s Reserve, it’s something that’s 10 years old, and…I’ll Eddie continue this. (Laughs)

ER: Russell’s is…we only have one recipe for our bourbon, so when it comes off the still, it could be the 101, Kentucky Spirit, Rare Breed. The difference between the Rare Breed and the Russell’s is that they’re hand-selected barrels, small batch. Where I’m normally dumping 50,000 gallons into a tank for the 101, we’re taking out 100 to 150 hand-selected barrels for the Russell’s Reserve. The 10 Year is just, for me, the top of the line as far as the number of years for it to age. You get all the good flavors, all the good taste, but it’s just such a mellow finish.

BE: Jimmy, I saw on the Wild Turkey website that they describe you as a goodwill ambassador for Kentucky’s most famous export.

JR: Yes, Eddie and I both do…well, we don’t do a whole lot of traveling, because we’ve got a job here at the plant every day, too, but we do travel all over the United States and all over the world promoting bourbon, but especially Wild Turkey Bourbon. You know, we’re known as the premium bourbon of the world. We’re huge in Australia and Japan.

BE: I take it that you’ve been able to travel to both of those countries, then?

JR: Yes, I have.

BE: What’s it like taking an American product over there? I have to figure that there’s a certain amount of national pride for their own beverages. Are they open to other countries’ wares?

JR: Well, in Japan, Wild Turkey is considered a prestige bourbon. It’s a bourbon that everybody wants, and a lot of the top executives own their own bottles in bars, with their name on a nametag hanging on the bottle. When you’re over visiting Japan, come and go have a drink out of my bottle! (Laughs) They consider it their own personal bottle, whether it’s 101 or Rare Breed or Russell’s Reserve. In Australia…well, they just love their bourbon, so they drink a lot of Wild Turkey! (Laughs)

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