Friday, August 27, 2021

Classic Cocktails: the Old Pal

Another in the annals of lesser known siblings of more famous cocktails, the Old Pal is a clear riff on the Boulevardier that didn't quite make it into the big leagues. First printed in Harry McElhone’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails, it dries out the more well-known version while retaining the same basic proportions.

Old Pal

1.25 oz rye whiskey
1 oz dry vermouth
1 oz Campari

Combine all ingredients, stir with ice for fifteen seconds, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon twist.

The aromas lead with sweet fruit from the Campari, vegetal spices from the rye, and lemon from the garnish. The sip opens with big Campari and rye sweetness up front, gets rather fruity in the middle, then fades out through dry vermouth and prickly rye spices. The finish is rather dry from the vermouth and Campari bitterness, gently accented by the rye.

Is there a Negroni/Boulevardier style drink that isn't good? If there is, I haven't found it yet. This one is another win and possibly one of the first published references to Campari in a cocktail recipe (according to Old Man Drinks). I can also see this working with Bruto Americano if you want to lean into the rye or Luxardo Bitter if you want to take it in a sweeter vanilla direction. You could also soften it with blanc vermouth instead of dry, but that would be a more radical change to the profile and bring it back somewhere closer to a rye Boulevardier. However you choose to construct it, this is clearly a winner.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Classic Cocktails: the Brooklyn

This is one of the classics, even if it hasn't achieved the fame of its across the river cousin. It's original form may have been closer since there appears to have been a misprint at some point, swapping what used to be sweet vermouth for dry. But given the way this is constructed, that may be for the best.

The Brooklyn Cocktail

2 oz rye whiskey
0.75 oz dry vermouth
2 tsp Amer Picon (sub Bigallet China-China Amer)
2 tsp maraschino liqueur

Combine all ingredients, stir with ice for fifteen seconds, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a cherry.

The aromas are very expressive, blending rye grain, vanilla, herbal notes, and orange peel. The sip begins with rye, orange, and maraschino sweetness, takes a dip into bittersweet as the vermouth comes to the fore, then fades out through maraschino. The finish is complexly bitter with dry rye, herbal notes from the vermouth, orange peel, and drying spices.

I have to admit that this is a drier drink than I usually prefer, but I can really see the appeal. Modifying the basic combination of rye and vermouth with touches of liqueur ups the sweetness just enough and adds a huge amount of complexity. This is also a good place to play around with orange-forward armaro. While the Bigallet is good, I can see this going in a darker direction with something like Ramazzotti.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

New Cocktails: Artemisia

I started out once again paging through The Art of the Shim for something on the lighter side. My first stop was the Chrysanthemum, originally from the Savoy Cocktail Book. The version in Shim is quite a bit drier at 8:1 vermouth:Bénédictine and while rather good, I felt like it was lacking something. My initial thought was "This needs some gin" and I proceeded to make another with a full ounce of gin and a bit more Bénédictine. While that was closer to the mark, the gin was a little too assertive and was throwing the drink out of balance. The third time was the charm and scaling the gin back made it just right.


2 oz dry vermouth
0.75 oz gin
0.5 oz Bénédictine
3 dashes of absinthe/pastis

Combine all ingredients, stir with ice for fifteen seconds, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

The aromas are dominated by the anise from the Herbsaint, alongside some rounded herbal notes from the Bénédictine. The sip opens with honey sweetness, quickly fading into herbal/pine bitterness from the Bénédictine and gin, there's a burst of something fruity, then sliding towards more tart dryness from the vermouth. The finish is long and driven by the vermouth, with herbal accents.

Now this hits the spot. While there were good things about the original, they really depended on the quality and complexity of the dry vermouth. Something unidimensional just wasn't going to give a particularly engaging drink. But the added depth from more Bénédictine and a solid dose of gin elevates this into something I can really get behind. 

Looking back at what's come before, I'm a little surprised that I haven't seen these proportions elsewhere. It basically inverts the proportions of the Poet's Dream and probably has a balance somewhere around the Guion. But I'll keep beating my drum for reverse proportion cocktails, even if, as with this drink, they're not necessarily any less potent than their more spirit-forward relatives.

Monday, August 9, 2021

New Cocktails: Rhum Agricole Punch

 I was poking through my old cocktail recipe bookmarks when I stumbled upon this gem from roughly a decade ago, courtesy of the long defunct Antifogmatic League, who got it from the also defunct Heaven's Dog bar in SF. Thankfully one of the bartenders had chimed in in the comments to note that the proportions were almost exactly correct, so off we go.

Rhum Agricole Punch

2 oz rhum agricole
1 oz lime juice
0.5 oz cane syrup
0.25 oz allspice dram
1 dash Angostura bitters

Combine all ingredients, shake with ice, then strain into a glass with fresh ice and grate nutmeg on top.

The aromas are dominated by the nutmeg, with a bit of allspice and lime peeking through. The sip begins with spicy sweetness, passes through bright lime, then fades through grassy rhum into a dry woody finish. The finish has long bittersweet lime with a touch of woody spice from the Angostura and allspice.

This take on the Lion's Tail/Jasper's Jamaican formula works really well. It has enough complex to keep it from being boring, but it can also just be a pleasant long drink to sip on a warm day.

The character will depend a lot on your choice of rhum. Since I didn't have any higher proof aged rhum open at the moment, I had to go with the mellower and lower proof Rhum J.M. V.O. This produces a subtle drink where it slides in between the other components rather than putting itself front and center. A heftier 100-proof agricole will obviously give you a bigger, bolder drink, so pick your poison. Either choice is going to be good.

Friday, March 5, 2021

Madeira Review: Rare Wine Co New York Malmsey

Finally we reach the end of this series that was rudely interrupted by last summer's raging forest fires.

My introduction to madeira was a malmsey, though the bar may have been set a little too high since it was a very nice 90s colheita. I've always enjoyed the style because it has the sweetness of a port while the higher acidity keeps it from becoming unidimensional.

This wine is fermented to just over 100 g of residual sugar per liter, fortified, and aged in oak in a traditional canteiro system. The blend is put together from 85% malvasia grapes aged for 15-20 years with 15% tinta negra mole grapes aged for 40-60 years, then bottled at 19.5% ABV.  

Rare Wine Co New York Malmsey

: juicy, concentrated grapes, caramel, lightly floral vanilla, tropical fruit, gentle mustiness and yeasty savoriness, a touch of oak and orange peel

Taste: big raisin and caramel sweetness up front, quickly tempered by gentle acidity, citrus peel and a little pink bubblegum in the middle, trending towards tart apples and gentle tannins going into the back

Finish: pleasantly tart and gently drying (malic acid), raisin/grape/caramel sweetness, soft oak tannins

While I find this to be the least complex of the four, I can't deny that this is a very pleasant madeira to sip. The acidity is more restrained than in the others without disappearing, so the wine never becomes insipid. The somewhat drying finish also keeps it in check, making each new sip pleasant instead of overwhelmingly sweet. I think the bual will be my happy medium, but I would still recommend this wine if you want to kick the sweetness up a notch.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

New Cocktails: the Apricot Sour

I've had this one bouncing around in my head for a few years ever since I picked up a bottle of Luxardo's apricot liqueur. Compared to something like Rothman & Winter, it leans more towards apricot pits than it does the fresh fruit. It immediately made me think of amaretto, which can be made from stone fruit pits.

That in turn made me think of Jeffery Morgenthaler's much-lauded Amaretto Sour recipe. I've taken a crack at the form once before with success, so I wondered if I could make it work again.

Apricot Sour

1.5 oz apricot liqueur
0.75 oz Laird's bonded applejack
1 oz lemon juice
1 tsp rich simple syrup

Combine all ingredients, shake with ice, then strain into a rocks glass over ice.

The aromas are dominated by nutty notes from the apricot liqueur, accented by spices from the apple brandy. The sip opens with apricot and apple sweetness, tempered by the heat of the Lairds, dives through some gentle oak in the middle, then fading out through sweet lemon. The finish is bittersweet lemon and apricot with gentle spices.

Dang, that is a good drink. I had a feeling that it was going to work out if I stuck with Morgenthaler's ratios, but I wasn't entirely sure what high proof spirit to use to keep things in check. Laird's is on the woody side for an apple brandy, so the oak helps to keep this from becoming cloying. In addition the apple notes blend naturally with the apricot, which I'm not sure grain based spirits would have worked as well. While it would be interesting to try this drink with other apricot liqueurs, I think Luxardo works well here since it is a little more multifaceted than more straightforward varieties.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

New Cocktails: Don's Daiquiri

Looking over Don the Beachcomber's ouvre, one of his most common touches was the combination of a dash of Angostura bitters with half a dozen drops of absinthe or pastis. While rarely assertive, they always make for a pleasant accent. Last summer I wondered if it had ever been applied to the basic daiquiri formula. While I've searched long and hard for another name for this drink, I've never been able to find anything with the same specs. The closest is the Rum Club Daiquiri, though that takes it in a different direction.

Don's Daiquiri

1.5 oz white rum (I used Hamilton White Stache)
0.5 oz blanc rhum agricole
0.5 oz lime juice
0.5 oz simple syrup
1 dash Angostura bitters
6 drops of absinthe/pastis

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

The aromas have a good fruity/grassy balance between the rums, plus a touch of Angostura bitters. The sip is very fruity up front, moving into grassy notes in the middle, then faint licorice with a sweet lime fade out. The finish has sweet lime, a touch of bitters and grass, and lingering anise.

This is just lovely. As hoped, it's a nice twist on the basic formula. The rums played well with each other, providing a solid foundation for the gentle accents. While it doesn't have the flourishes of a full-on tiki drink, I appreciate the way it nods at the broader realm while staying firmly in the realm of the classics.