Updating the Ethan Allen

Way back in 2009, I came up with a drink for the Great American Distillers Festival that used smoke apple puree and apple cider gastrique. We served it at Carlyle and Metrovino (then-Carlyle chef Jake Martin had the idea for the smoked apples), but the ingredients were always improvised and we never had a definitive recipe.

This weekend I was cooking with my friend Paul Willenberg and he mentioned that he was borrowing a smoker. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to revisit the drink and simplify the recipe, omitting ingredients like smoked butter that we’d used to smooth out the puree in the past. What we came up with is direct and works very nicely. Check it out here.

Mane to tail drinking with pimento dram

bitter_truth

When Haus Alpenz brought St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram into the US market a few years ago, it immediately became one of my favorite staples behind the bar. Allspice dram is one of those forgotten liqueurs that shows up in some vintage cocktail recipes and then largely disappeared. The spirit is made by infusing allspice (or “pimiento”) berries into Jamaican rum and then sweetening the mixture. It’s delicious and powerfully aromatic stuff, packed with winter spice notes like cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove. Haus Alpenz wisely chose the more descriptive and appetizing “allspice dram” over the traditional “pimento dram,” the latter of which calls to mind those red things stuffed into bar cheap olives.

Now there’s a second allspice liqueur on the market. The Bitter Truth from Germany is using the classic name Pimento Dram for their offering. I received a sample a few weeks ago and I love it. It’s very rich and complex, with everything you’d want from an allspice liqueur. In price and proof it’s closely matched to the St. Elizabeth. I don’t have a strong preference between the two and am happy to recommend both of them.

This isn’t a spirit you’re likely to drink straight. It’s made for cocktails, so here are two to try. The first is the Lion’s Tail, brought back to prominence by cocktail historian Ted Haigh. It originally appeared in the Cafe Royal Cocktail Book, but I like Ted’s contemporary version from Imbibe magazine. This is a fantastic winter drink:

2 oz bourbon
1/2 oz allspice (or pimento!) dram
1/2 oz lime juice
1/2 oz simple syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Looking for a summery version of this drink, I came up with a variation called the Lion’s Mane using Novo Fogo’s Gold Cachaca, which is aged in oak for two years:

2 oz Novo Fogo Gold Cachaca
1/2 oz lapsang souchong syrup
1/2 oz lemon juice
1/4 oz pimento dram
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters

Shake, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with a lemon twist. To make the syrup, brew lapsang souchong tea and combine it with an equal volume of sugar.

I also use pimento dram to make “spiced bitters,” an equal parts mix of the liqueur and Angostura bitters, that I keep in a dasher bottle at the bar. At Metrovino we pour through a lot of it making Lazy Bear cocktails. I haven’t tried Bitter Truth’s product this way, but I’m sure it would do well.

Big Bottom debut

BBW

I was recently hired by Big Bottom, a new independent whiskey bottler and soon-to-be distiller based outside of Portland, Oregon, to come up with a few cocktails for their debut product. Their first is a nice 3-year old Indiana bourbon with a high percentage of rye in the mash bill. The second is a 2-year bourbon finished in tawny port casks, a unique whiskey that will be available soon.
For the cocktails we focused on classics like the Seelbach and Boulevardier, but I also came up with one spirit-forward original for them, named the Decatur in a nod to the spirit’s Indiana origins:

2 oz Big Bottom bourbon
.75 oz fino sherry
.5 oz Cynar
.25 oz Chartreuse
1 dash orange bitters
1 dash chocolate bitters

Stir with ice and serve up.

Check out the rest of the drinks here, and look for Big Bottom on the Oregon market soon. (The name, but the way, is not a reference to the Spinal Tap song. It’s in honor of the Big Bottom protected wilderness area near Mt. Hood.)

Beer cocktails in MIX

beer_cocktails_lead

This month’s MIX magazine includes an article by John Foyston taking a look at the growing interest in beer cocktails:

Good beer, it can be pretty easily argued, is perfect and complete by itself. It’s complex and flavorful and doesn’t need anything else … except that a band of intrepid young mixologists see good beer as a starting point for something better — beer cocktails.

Straight-ahead beer fan that I am, I have to agree that beer cocktails open up a brave new world. I recently got to taste and talk about beer cocktails with some of Portland’s most ardent proponents: mixologist Jacob Grier, New School blogger Ezra Johnson-Greenough and Yetta Vorobik, owner of the Hop & Vine, where Grier and Johnson-Greenough held an event in the summer called Brewing Up Cocktails. They plan to repeat it this month, also at the Hop & Vine.

Portland bartenders Jabriel Donohue, Neil Kopplin, Christian Rouillier, and Kevin Ludwig also make appearances. Read the whole thing here.

The drink in the photo is the Quatro Blanco, made with a Farigoule rinse, Herradura reposado tequila, and a special keg of Upright Four wheat farmhouse ale aged in a Hungarian oak barrel with yarrow flowers and rose petals. It was probably my favorite drink from our Brewing Up Cocktails event, but since it was a one-off beer it will probably never be made again and you will never be able to try one.

There’s one other drink that went understandably unmentioned in the article, the notorious Furburger:

3/4 oz Buffalo Trace bourbon
1/4 oz Chartreuse
approx. 5 oz Oak Aged Yeti Chocolate Imperial Stout from Great Divide

The name comes from the beer, because Yetis are furry, and from “bur” as in bourbon. So Furburger. See, nothing dirty about it. At least that’s what I thought when a friend jokingly suggested the name assuming I knew what I meant. I didn’t know what it meant and so passed the idea on to the owner of Hop and Vine. It wasn’t until two days later that I learned what it really referred to. We talked about finding a new name for the drink, but after that incident we couldn’t think of it as anything but a Furburger. The lesson? When coming up with new cocktail names, be sure to look them up on Urban Dictionary before submitting them to your prospective boss. Or not: The Furburger was one of our bestsellers of the day. And since the word has been approved for use in schools by a federal judge, why not for a beer cocktail menu too?

Two other cocktails from the event, the Dutch Devil and Brewer’s Bramble, we’re covered previously here. Brewing Up Cocktails II is in the works and we’ll announce the date soon; stay tuned here and at The New School Blog.

[Photo by Ross William Hamilton.]

What I’ve been drinking

Upright Four Play — When I first moved to Portland from DC I missed the latter city’s recent love affair with Belgian beers. Luckily Upright started brewing soon after I got here, producing superb farmhouse-style ales just a few blocks from my apartment. Their first anniversary beer is a sour cherry wheat ale aged in Pinot Noir barrels. It’s one of the best fruit beers I’ve ever tasted, dry and with no hint of the artificial notes you find in some cherry beers and spirits. There are only 80 cases of 750 ml bottles available so this will go fast at the April 9 release party. If you only want to buy it for the label, that’s OK too.

Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Sonoma-Cutrer Finish — A customer brought this in for me right before Carlyle closed. Finished in Chardonnay barrels, it’s possibly the most unique bourbon I’ve tried. It has a distinct, funky note, and I mean that in a good way. The finish is very smooth. Not for everyone, but definitely worth trying if you can find it. It’s going to be painful when I pour the last of this bottle.

Ledaig 10 YearLance Mayhew turned me on to this Scotch recently. It’s an island whisky from Mull, distilled by Tobermory. It’s fairly light in body and has a very well-balanced dose of peatiness. I like this Scotch a lot and could see it becoming a staple in my home bar, a great option for when you’re not in the mood for a big, assertive Islay. One of my favorite whiskies of the moment.

Deschutes Hop Henge Experimental IPA — At 95 IBUs and with the word “hop” right there in the title I was expecting this to be the sort of bitter hop monster I don’t really go for. However Jeff at Beervana gave it an intriguingly good review so I decided to give it a try. The verdict? This is a seriously good beer. Yes, it’s hoppy, but it somehow manages to extract all the citrusy goodness from the hops without getting too bitter.

Hangar One Vodkas — What, me say nice things about vodka? It doesn’t happen often but these are impressive. Hangar One sent samples of three of their flavors: Kaffir Lime, Buddha’s Hand, and Mandarin Blossom. They all avoid the one-note simplicity of many flavored vodkas. I’m not currently creating any cocktail menus, but if I were I’d consider working one of these onto them.

Hot drinks for the holidays

About.com’s cocktail blogger Colleen Graham featured two hot whiskey drinks yesterday shared by Lance Mayhew. First up is Lance’s Hot Buttered Whiskey, then there’s my Chamomile Hot Toddy. The Toddy, made with bourbon, J. Witty chamomile liqueur, Meyer lemon, honey syrup, and lavender bitters, was by far the biggest seller at our J. Witty event at Carlyle earlier this month and has been popular ever since. Click here for the full recipe.

Portland Stinger in the Oregonian

My love for Fernet-Branca is no secret to readers of this blog, but in cold winter months like this I often find myself turning to its lesser known minty cousin, Branca Menta. The bitter mint liqueur is a great cocktail ingredient for this time of year. Today’s Oregonian features some holiday cocktail recipes from around town and writer Grant Butler kindly included the Portland Stinger at Carlyle:

1 oz Branca Menta
.75 oz lemon
.5 oz bourbon
.5 oz brandy
.25 oz grenadine

Shake over ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and serve with a brandied cherry.

The recipe is slightly changed from the one Neil Kopplin and I came up with a few months ago and that I offered at Carlyle’s Fernet night. It’s served up instead of on the rocks and places a little more emphasis on the bitter notes in the drink.

For one more Branca Menta drink, see the Menta e Cioccolato. I plan to have that on the menu as soon as I can source the right chocolate.

Curiosity Cocktail

curiosity

The most unusual cocktail at Carlyle’s Fernet-Branca event last month was the Fernet Float, a mix of bourbon, Fernet, Fentimans Curiosity Cola, and Fernet-Branca and creme de menthe ice cream. Tasty, yes, but not practical as a regular item. I love Fentimans cola though and wanted to find a place for it behind our bar. It has a great herbal complexity, perfect for standing up to spirits and pairing with amari. Thus our new menu includes this Curiosity Cocktail:

1.5 oz bourbon
.75 oz Cynar
1 dash Fee’s Whiskey Barrel bitters
approx. 4 oz Fentimans Curiosity Cola

Whiskey and cola is a classic drink, but also a boring one. Here the addition of Cynar adds some balancing bitterness to this traditionally sweet cocktail and the Whiskey Barrel bitters (my favorite in the Fee’s line) tie everything together. The customers who’ve tried it so far have been intrigued and happy with the curious combination of flavors.

Fernet night at Carlyle: All the drinks

Last night’s Fernet-Branca event filled the Carlyle bar with curious cocktailians and long-time Fernet drinkers. While only a few industry types went for straight shots, the drinks using Fernet as an ingredient were a big hit.

The first two cocktails on our special menu have been covered here before. The Shift Drink was created in honor of bartenders’ favorite after work shot and combines rye, ginger liqueur, lemon, and Fernet. Next up was the Horatio, using Portland’s own Krogstad aquavit, Cointreau, Fernet, and orange bitters. This drink isn’t for everyone but it was a consistent favorite among last night’s crowd.

The third drink on the menu reads like it could have been created a century ago, but it’s actually a recent invention from Jim Meehan at PDT in New York. Here’s the recipe for the Newark as given by Chuck Taggart at Looka!:

2 ounces Laird’s bonded apple brandy.
1 ounce Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth.
1/4 ounce Maraschino liqueur.
2 barspoons Fernet-Branca.

Combine with ice and stir for 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. No garnish.

This is a brilliant classic-style cocktail, with the Fernet adding just a touch of bitterness to balance the other ingredients. Since I live under the regime of an archaic state liquor control board I had to settle for Laird’s lower proof applejack. This came out a little sweet in the recipe above so I adjusted the Carpano down to 3/4 ounces.

Our fourth drink took a break from Fernet to feature its minty cousin, Branca Menta. This is a cocktail my good friend Neil Kopplin and I came up with on the fly a few months ago, though most of the credit should really go to Neil. (Neil’s got a blog now, check it out here.) This Portland Stinger will definitely appear on our menu come the winter months:

1 oz Branca Menta
1 oz lemon juice
.75 oz grenadine
.5 oz bourbon
.5 oz cognac

Shake over ice and strain into an ice-filled rocks glass.

The last cocktail on the menu stirred up a lot of interest on Twitter: A Fernet ice cream float. Yes, really. One of the great things about working with an expert chef is that I can approach him with crazy ideas and he can make them happen. In this case, when I asked him if we could make a Fernet ice cream he already knew of a recipe. Fergus Henderson, inspired by his favorite curative cocktail, includes a “miracle in the form of ice cream” made with Fernet-Branca and crème de menthe in Beyond Nose to Tail: More Omniverous Recipes for the Curious Cook. (This sounds much better than the Fernet and garlic ice cream described in this book, don’t you think?)

Our first batch came out with very strong flavors. I loved it, as did many of the customers who tried it, though others found it a little overwhelming. Our batch for last night’s event was much milder. I have no idea why the two varied so much and I preferred the first, but the second still performed well in our Fernet Float:

1.5 oz bourbon
.75 oz Fernet-Branca
3/4 bottle of Fentiman’s Curiosity Cola (chilled)
scoop of Fernet-Branca and crème de menthe ice cream

Combine the first three ingredients in a tall glass and stir. Add the ice cream and serve with a straw and spoon.

We finished the night with another dessert item, this one a straight up sorbet. Fernet-Branca’s high alcohol content makes it a tough ingredient to work with when freezing. Our first batch tasted fantastic but was too alcoholic to solidify. This recipe works much better, but it will eventually separate so it doesn’t have a long shelf-life. What it lacks in convenience it makes up for in deliciousness:

30 oz orange juice
4 oz lemon juice
5 oz Fernet-Branca
1.5 oz ginger juice
14 oz superfine sugar

Whisk or blend everything together, spin in an ice cream maker, and freeze over night. (To make the ginger juice, chop ginger, add a little water, blend, and strain.) The sorbet is tasty and complex, with the Fernet and ginger spicing it up nicely. By cutting the alcohol a bit more I think one could possibly freeze this into popsicles too, which would surely be a hit at any bartenders’ picnic.

Thanks to everyone who came out last night for this event. I had a great time putting it together, and it will hopefully be the first of many evenings putting a favorite spirit in the spotlight.

Ceci n’est pas une pipe

Pipe smoker's Manhattan

The nanny statists in Oregon have declared that smoking a pipe is henceforth illegal in the few cigar bars that survived the smoking ban intact. Now what am I going to do with all my pipe tobacco? Work it into a drink, of course! It’s not illegal if it’s not fire.

This month’s Mixology Monday theme is “new horizons,” in which A Mixed Dram encourages us to try a technique or ingredient we’ve never used before. I’d actually planned on posting something other than what I’m posting now, but that particular experiment is still in the works. Instead I tried my hand this weekend at flavoring liquor with smoke.

My friend David Barzelay suggested the method: put wood, leaves, or tobacco in a large pot, set them smoking, insert liquor in an elevated, smaller pan, and then place a lid on the whole thing for half an hour. I decided to try this with pipe tobacco and sweet vermouth with the goal being a sort of smokers’ Manhattan. (Why not smoke the bourbon? Because bourbon costs three times as much as the vermouth and I didn’t want to ruin it. I can already see Caleb cringing at the thought of molesting his favorite spirit that way.)

Unfortunately I was a little short on the necessary equipment. My large pot with lid was in the service of soup at the time, so I had to use a smaller one. And not having a pan small enough to fit in that pot I had to instead use a vegetable steamer with a steel bowl laid inside it. I didn’t actually own a vegetable steamer so I had to buy one. That I finally bought a vegetable steamer not for cooking vegetables but for adding tobacco to liquor tells you everything you need to know about my personal habits. Take out that life insurance policy on me now, folks.

The process was pretty straightforward. I added a layer of aluminum foil to the pot to protect it from the tobacco (probably unnecessary) and set the stove to high heat until the leaves started smoking. Then I turned down the heat and dropped in the steamer and bowl with 6 ounces of vermouth. I put on the lid and after a few minutes turned the heat off entirely and let it rest for 30 minutes. The first run didn’t impart quite enough flavor, so I ended up repeating this with one more 10 minute smoking period.

This worked out decently well in a Manhattan, with the flavor of the tobacco coming through in a balanced cocktail. It also came with a thicker mouthfeel and slightly sour aftertaste. I’m not sure if that’s the result of tar from the tobacco or heat damage to the vermouth. I’d have to experiment with a larger pan that dissipates heat better or with cold smoking to know for sure. In any case, adding a bit of unaltered vermouth fixed things up. So now when the Oregon smoking cops come around, I can mix up a Ceci n’est pas une Pipe to evade detection:

2 oz bourbon (Bulleit)
.75 oz smoked sweet vermouth
.25 oz sweet vermouth (Noilly Prat)
2 dashes Fee Brothers’ old fashioned bitters

If I keep experimenting with this I want to use cold smoking, either with a device like Lance has at 50 Plates or this smoking gun that Barzelay pointed out to me. For now, though, I’m glad to have a new technique at my disposal, even if I don’t keep using it exactly in this manner. Thanks to A Mixed Dram for hosting this month and to David for spurring on a new idea.

MxMo made from scratch

Kentucky Woman

This month’s Mixology Monday is hosted by Doug at Pegu Blog. His theme is made from scratch ingredients. This one sneaked up on me, so I didn’t have time for anything requiring long infusions. Bitters? No time. Tonic water? Brandied cherries? Done those already. With not many options left, this seemed like a good opportunity to try out the honey lavender syrup from The Art of the Bar:

1 cup hot water
.5 cup honey
.25 cup dried lavender

Keeping the water off boil, briefly infuse the lavender into it. Remove it from heat and pour it over the honey, stirring until mixed. Let it steep until cool, then pour through a sieve to remove the petals. You’re left with a sweet and distinctly fragrant syrup.

(Random aside: When I was in elementary school I developed an irrational dislike of honey. I don’t know if it was the fact that it came from bees or the silly bear jars or something else entirely, but for some reason I decided I did not like it. It wasn’t until the past year or so that revisited this belief and realized that honey is pure, sweet deliciousness.)

The guys at Absinthe used this syrup to make a lavender Sidecar. That’s a good drink, but a bourbon-honey combination struck me as a more natural pairing. After a bit of experimentation I came up with this Kentucky Woman cocktail:

1.75 oz bourbon
.5 oz honey lavender syrup
.25 oz lemon juice
2 dashes orange bitters

The ingredients all play very well together. The bourbon blends with the honey, the lemon adds a touch of acidity and brightness, and the lavender gives the drink a lovely floral aroma. It shines with its own kind of light; you drink it once and a day that’s all wrong looks all right. And I love her, God knows her I love her.

Wait, what? Sorry, I got a little carried away there. But it is a tasty cocktail and a nice syrup. Generally speaking I’m not sure that infusing syrup is the best approach to this kind of drink. Doing so ties sweetness to flavor, so that to add more of one you must also add more of the other. A lavender tincture and a separate syrup might be the better way to go. But like I said, I didn’t have time for that, and in this case the syrup works just fine.

Thanks to Doug for hosting this month. I’ll post a link to the roundup when he gets it posted.

Update: Doug’s got the full roundup right here. And he’s right, I do need to get out more.

A boaring dinner menu

If I were still in Virginia I’d be all over this. Amanda reports on an upcoming dinner in Alexandria:

Jackson 20 will host its first bourbon and boar dinner — an event the restaurant hopes to make a monthly feature — at the chef’s table this Wednesday, Sept. 17, at 6:30 p.m. The six-course meal will be paired with bourbon cocktails, like the pictured Boartini, made from bacon-infused Blanton’s, Chambord, bitters and fresh raspberries. The cost is $75, not including taxes and gratuity.

Chef Jeff Armstrong’s menu for the evening includes various boar cuts like barbecued shoulder on carrot and cayenne slaw, cider-braised belly with roasted peaches, blackberry and sherry syrup, and grilled loin with sweet potato mash, juniper and onion relish.

I got to Jackson 20 for lunch once before leaving town. It has good food, a well-stocked bar, and is right around the corner from Grape and Bean and the newly opened Lavender Moon Cupcakery. If you’re one of those DC people who never heads into Virginia, you’re missing out.

Previously:
From my guest blogging stint at The Agitator, how to baconify your bourbon.

MxMo Martinez: Ur doing it wrong

Martinez cocktail

I’m coming in just under the wire for this month’s Mixology Monday — it’s still Monday somewhere, right? — where we’re kicking it old school with Bibulo.us and the theme of 19th century cocktails.

I owe the inspiration for this entry to Stevi Deter. In a post about Magellan gin at her new cocktail blog Two at the Most, she wrote:

If you don’t like floral infusions, you will not like Magellan. I like both. It is immediately apparent this isn’t a general-use gin. I can’t imagine using it in a Martinez, as I suspect the unique flavors wouldn’t mix well with sweet vermouth.

Say what? I’ve always made a Martinez with dry vermouth so that sweet vermouth comment threw me for a loop. That’s how I discovered I’ve been making one of the vintage cocktails the “wrong” way for quite a while now.

To see how I made this mistake, let’s step back a bit and talk about vermouth. This fortified and infused wine was long popular in Europe as a aperitif, but in the US drinkers were accustomed to stronger stuff. Sure, it could be enjoyed on its own, but why not stiffen it up with a shot of gin or whiskey? Such was the thinking of American bartenders in the late 1800s. Their legacy lives on in two truly classic cocktails, the Manhattan and Martini. The Manhattan, made with bourbon, sweet vermouth, and bitters, retains its 19th century flair. The Martini, unfortunately, has been diminished. The vermouth is all but gone, the gin nearly so. Today’s Martini drinkers are likely to want just plain vodka shaken over ice, as boring a drink as one could imagine. (I was always amused when customers complimented me on my Martini-making skills, me having done nothing but shake their chosen vodka over ice. Any idiot could have performed the task.)

Vermouth has suffered a long fall from grace. As Paul Clarke put it in his recent SF Chronicle article:

… by the mid-20th century, bartenders were following the lead of martini drinkers such as Winston Churchill, who is said to have merely glanced at a bottle of vermouth (or, in some versions of the story, in the direction of France) while preparing a drink. This trend toward drier martinis, combined with changing tastes toward lighter-flavored drinks and the advent of the vodka martini, meant vermouth became largely ignored and, as a result, misunderstood.

Today it’s not uncommon for a bottle of vermouth – deployed solely for the purpose of making martinis or Manhattans – to last weeks or even months in a standard bar, and many home bartenders may have bottles in their liquor cabinets that were purchased during the era of $2 gasoline.

That’s a damn shame, because vermouth can be a wonderful addition to a drink. Early versions of vermouth-based cocktails used it as the featured ingredient, often in double the amount of other liquors. Over time that ratio flipped, with traditional base spirits taking the lead and vermouth coming it at half the proportion, until we reached the point of today’s insipid vodka Martini. We can do better. That’s why for this month’s Mixology Monday I’m going back to a trio of cocktails featuring vermouth.

So let’s talk about the Martinez. Father of the Martini, recipes for the Martinez included yet another spirit that has fallen into obscurity: Maraschino. Distilled from cherries grown in Italy’s Marasca region, maraschino is a fruity, sweet, and slightly nutty liqueur that makes a fantastic addition to many cocktails. Adjusted for contemporary tastes, a modern Martinez looks something like this:

2 oz gin
.75 oz sweet vermouth
.25 oz maraschino
2 dashes orange bitters

This is a great cocktail. It’s reminiscent of a Manhattan, yet strangely different. The orange bitters are less spicy than Angostura. The gin imparts higher notes, more botanical, than bourbon. It doesn’t, however, fit the trend toward drier cocktails, and that’s how I made my mistake. I learned how to make a Martinez from Jeff Hollinger and Rob Schwartz’s excellent book The Art of the Bar. The fault is all mine. As they describe the drink:

While the original Martinez is too sweet for most, we don’t believe the Martinez should be poured down history’s drain. On the contrary, we’ve developed a take on it that we feel is a perfect adaptation of a true classic. It is balanced, as a cocktail should be, and dry, as most of today’s martini drinkers prefer them.

Their version goes like this:

2 oz Plymouth gin
1 oz Dolin dry vermouth
Splash of maraschino liqueur
Dash of orange bitters
Lemon twist and olive for garnish

When I first got the book I read the full history of the Martinez, but when it came time to actually make the drink I skipped right to this recipe, not catching my error until reading Stevi’s post. I haven’t been able to find Dolin vermouth yet, but this is still an excellent drink — certainly an improvement over the stripped down Martini we’re left with today.

Since we’re on the topic of vermouth and the Manhattan remains our most enduring vermouth cocktail, I think it’s appropriate to finish with an 19th century variation on that classic tipple. This one comes from “The Only William” Schimdt’s The Flowing Bowl, as described in David Wondrich’s indispensable Imbibe!:

Half a tumblerful of ice
2 dashes of gum
2 dashes of bitters
1 dash of absinthe
2/3 drink [2 oz -- Wondrich] of whiskey [rye]
1/3 drink [1 oz -- Wondrich] [sweet] vermouth
A little [.25 oz -- Wondrich] maraschino may be added

Stir this well, strain and serve.

There’s no need for sugar (gum) here; the drink is plenty sweet on its own. Just a tiny bit of absinthe goes a long way. It’s an intriguing variation, slightly sweeter and much more fragrant than the Manhattan you’re likely to be served in a bar today. Wondrich concludes:

… if you follow William Schmidt’s formula to a T, maraschino and all, you’ve got a drink that is a perfect metaphor for the 1890s, a decade of top hats and electric lights, automobiles and buggy whips. A final twist of lemon will do the drink, or you, no harm.

With these drinks we go back to a time when vermouth earned its place as a worthy complement to popular liquors. Try these three as a flight of cocktails, from Hollinger and Schwartz’s dry Martinez to a modern Manhattan. Vermouth forms the bridge, across the spirits and across the centuries.

Update: Paul Clarke gets vermouthy too and digs up a few obscure cocktails for this Mixology Monday.

Repeal Day bourbon

December 5 of this year will mark the 75th anniversary of the 21st Amendment’s ratification and the end of national Prohibition. To celebrate, Old Forester is crafting a limited edition Repeal Bourbon for release this winter:

“Repeal Bourbon is bottled from a special selection of Old Forester barrels that exhibited a more robust character that is similar to the Old Forester that was bottled during Prohibition,” added Chris Morris, Master Distiller for Old Forester. “The flavor, presented at Prohibition’s required 100 proof, is a full, deep, charred oak character that will appeal to bourbon-lovers everywhere.”

Bureaucrash celebrated last year with a party in Arlington, across the river from DC in protest of the city’s smoking ban. Inside the city things got a little rough…

[Via Jeff Morgenthaler.]

MxMo bourbon: Amy’s Mom

Ginger ale cocktail

Because my friend Amy was there at the time, and her mom likes ginger drinks, and that’s how this one came to be…

This month’s Mixology Monday theme is bourbon, hosted by my fellow Arlingtonians at Scofflaw’s Den. Bourbon’s one of my favorite spirits, and a conversation about drinks made with ginger ale inspired my friend and I to try out the Bufala Negra from the Oakroom in Louisville, KY, as printed in the Food and Wine 2008 Cocktails 2008 guide. It’s a drink that combines balsamic vinegar and basil — a duo I enjoyed in my previous MxMo — with bourbon and ginger ale. I’m sure it’s a great drink at the Oakroom, but it was missing a little something when I made it at home. Maybe it was the ginger ale I used (Reed’s) or the substitution of balsamic syrup for separate vinegar and simple syrup (see the previous entry), but it needed a little bit more complexity.

That’s where the allspice dram comes in. Originally known as “pimento dram,” the obscure liqueur fell out of favor and was largely forgotten except among true drink enthusiasts, some of whom turned to making homemade versions from rum, allspice, and sugar. Luckily, it’s back, and with a name that doesn’t bring to mind those weird red things in the center of cocktail olives: St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram. (DC area readers can find it at Central Liquors.)

Allspice, so named because the berries of the pimento bush reminded the English or clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, and other spices all at once, is intensely aromatic, and can add wonderful complexity to cocktails. Often used in tiki drinks, it also plays well with bourbon, as in the classic Lion’s Tail. A little dash of it was just what my drink needed, and we’re pretty sure Amy’s mom would like it too. Here’s a recipe that worked for me, but vary it to fit your particular ingredients:

3 basil leaves, plus 1 for garnish
1/3 oz balsamic syrup
2 oz bourbon (I used Bulleit)
1/4 oz allspice dram
ginger ale (I used Reed’s)

Muddle the basil leaves with the syrup, add the bourbon and allspice dram, shake, and strain over ice. Top with a short pour of ginger ale. Add the garnish and enjoy.

Update 6/19/08: The month’s full recap is posted here.