Sunday, September 2, 2012

Classic Cocktails: the Barbara West Cocktail

This is one of those drinks where an ambiguous ingredient can make all the difference in the world. As pointed out by One Hundred Cocktails, this recipe calls for sherry but doesn't specify the variety. As I've noted previously, there is quite a bit of diversity in the world of sherry, so the wines can range from bracingly dry to syrupy sweet. And when mixing with sherry, the choice will have a significant impact on the final drink.

Ted Haigh doesn't mention who the Barbara West cocktail is named after and it's hard to find any information. However, Our Libatious Nature has a good explanation of one famous Barbara West, one of the few Titanic survivors to live into the 21st century.

Amontillado version on the left, East India solera version on the right

Barbara West Cocktail
2 oz gin
1 oz sherry
0.5 oz lemon juice
1 dash Angostura bitters

Combine all ingredients, shake with ice, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

I made this drink two different ways - first with amontillado sherry as suggested in Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails and second with the moderately sweet Lustau East India Solera sherry.

Amontillado version

The nose has a fairly strong raisin note from the sherry, but remains fairly dry, with a hint of aromatics from the gin and bitters. The sip opens on a sour note, which segues into dry, woody bitterness from the gin and bitters. It's a very brisk cocktail.

East India Solera version

The nose is also dominated by the sherry, which isn't particularly sweet, but brings out some of the woody spice notes (I get some turmeric coming out) from the bitters and a bit of a savory note that reminds me of celery from the gin. The sip opens smoothly with just a bit of sweetness, quickly transitioning back to the sour and bitter dryness of the lemon, gin, and bitters. While it's slightly eased by the sweeter sherry, it remains a very snappy cocktail on the finish.

I wish that I had some Pedro Ximenez sherry to crank up the sweetness. Dr. Cocktail suggests that this is meant to be a Martini variation and I can see how it has the same kind of snappy character. I'm finding sherry to be a very interesting ingredient for mixing as it tends to bring out the savory characteristics of other ingredients, even in sweeter drinks than these. If you'd like a bit of a palate cleanser, ordering a Creole with bitters (the same drink minus the Angostura) wouldn't be amiss.

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