MxMo absinthe and the Atty cocktail

Atty cocktailMixology Monday is back and this time it’s hosted by Sonja at Thinking of Drinking, who chooses absinthe as our theme:

The topic for February is Absinthe. That much maligned, misunderstood, mistreated spirit, suddenly plentiful again in the US and other parts of the world. Absinthe played a role, whether large or small, in a variety of great cocktails from the 1800’s and early 1900’s – the Sazerac, Absinthe Suissesse, Corpse Reviver No. 2… I’m getting thirsty.

So let’s celebrate absinthe’s history, and it’s future, with all manner of cocktails using absinthe.

I tend to drink absinthe most often as an accent in cocktails rather than on its own and even then I don’t turn to it very often. So lacking inspiration this month I turned to Difford’s Guide #7, a massive book that includes recipes and photos for more than 2,250 cocktails conveniently indexed by ingredient. The drinks are of decidedly mixed quality but there are some gems in there, including the Atty cocktail:

2.25 oz Plymouth gin
.75 oz dry vermouth
.25 oz absinthe
.25 oz creme de violette

Stir (not shake!) over ice and optionally garnish with a lemon zest, though the aromatics of the absinthe and violette are strong enough that it’s not strictly necessary. The recipe is adapted from the Savoy Cocktail Book, which to my shame I don’t have in my library yet. Erik Ellestad posts the original recipe here.

The interplay of the absinthe and floral flavors is really nice here. It’s similar to the absinthe and lavender combination in Neil Kopplin’s Envy cocktail, though much more restrained. I like this drink a lot, and the color is fantastic (as you could see if I was a better photographer). Definitely recommended.

Incidentally, Difford’s Guide is available online as well, but the physical book is great to have on hand to browse through for ideas. The new edition #8 is available now.


Carlyle’s closing cocktail menu

I may have to make some changes as we run low on ingredients, but here’s the intended cocktail menu for our final two weeks, including three new additions. This will go into effect tomorrow:

Aquavit Hot Toddy – Krogstad aquavit, Swedish punsch, lemon, star anise $8

Antigua Old-Fashioned – English Harbour rum, coffee-orange bitters, sugar $8

Smoky Margarita – Herradura reposado tequila, Cointreau, lime, lapsang souchong syrup $8

Portland Stinger – Branca Menta, bourbon, brandy, lemon, grenadine $9

Thyme in a Bottle — Bombay Sapphire, Farigoule thyme liqueur, lemon, maraschino $9

Erica’s Impulse –Brandy, allspice liqueur, lemon, simple syrup, orange bitters $8

H’ronmeer’s Flame – Rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, Ramazzotti, flamed orange zest $9

Witty Flip – Brandy, J. Witty chamomile liqueur, lemon, orange bitters, egg, nutmeg $10

Horatio – Krogstad aquavit, Cointreau, Fernet-Branca, orange bitters $9

Curse of Scotland — Ardbeg 10 year single malt Scotch, Drambuie, maraschino, lemon $10

Queen Bee – Vodka, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, lemon, honey syrup, sparkling wine. $9

On a Whim – Trust your bartender to make you something good


Secrets of the Patty Mills

patty_mills 007

My friend David’s method for creating a new cocktail:

1. Come into Carlyle and pick a drink on the menu that includes lemon juice.

2. Order that drink without lemon juice.

3. If the drink is served up, order it on the rocks.

4. Name the new drink after a Blazer.

5. Enjoy.

This method isn’t foolproof. Sometimes the results are, as one fellow drinker put it, “horribly unbalanced.” But sometimes it works. And one of those times is perfect for this week’s Mixology Monday, which is all about tea and hosted by Cocktail Slut:

Tea has played a historical role in cocktails for centuries. Perhaps the best documented early example was its inclusion in punches as part of the spice role to round out the spirit, sugar, water, and citrus line up. Later, teas appear in many recipes such as Boston Grog, English Cobbler, and a variety of Hot Toddies. And present day mixologists are utilizing tea flavors with great success including Audrey Saunder’s Earl Grey MarTEAni and LUPEC Boston’s Flapper Jane. Now it’s our turn to honor this glorious cocktail ingredient!

For a while our menu at Carlyle included an updated version of one of the first cocktails I came up with, a Pegu Club variation made with Earl Grey tea-infused gin. Putting this through David’s drink algorithm produces the Patty Mills:

2 oz Earl Grey-infused Bombay gin
.75 oz Cointreau
1 dash Regan’s orange bitters

Serve on the rocks with an orange zest. It’s a secret off-the-menu drink at Carlyle. But would Patty Mills himself approve? Only time will tell.


Organic Nation tonight at Carlyle

Tonight at Carlyle we’re offering a special menu of cocktails featuring one of my favorite local spirits producers, Organic Nation from Ashland, OR. I was first turned on to their gin in the Oregon Bartenders Guild summer mixology competition, where I used it in the watermelon-based Gallagher cocktail. Tonight we’ll be serving their gin and vodka in a few seasonal cocktails, both new and classic. (That’s right, this is a rare opportunity to see me willingly make vodka drinks!) Stop by from 5-7 to try them out.


NovemBEER’s tasty cocktail night


Last weekend’s beer event at Cassidy’s was another successful night for the Oregon Bartenders Guild and Schoolhouse Supplies, with the latter receiving a little over $700 from the proceeds. If there’s a more fun way of raising money for kids than by drinking beer cocktails, I’m not aware of it. I’d like to thank all the brewers who contributed beer to the event, and especially thank McClaskey’s Spirits for providing some excellent products for us to mix with.

There were some interesting cocktails made that night with one of the most unique being Chris Churilla’s crowd-favorite Second Deadly Sin made with Buck bourbon, Maraska maraschino liqueur, Oakshire espresso stout vermouth (pictured above), and Oakshire IPA orange bitters. I didn’t have a chance to taste the vermouth separately, but the cocktail was delicious and proved the versatility of beer as an ingredient.

With my own participation in the event decided so late in the game I didn’t have time to do anything quite so transformative with beer but I still managed to turn out a tasty cocktail. Alex Ganum from Upright Brewing came through big time offering his beer on short notice. On the day before the event I visited Upright for what was supposed to be a brief tasting; however a power outage put Alex’s work to a halt and we ended up spending two hours trying everything on tap and talking beer. It was one of the best, most informative beer tastings I’ve ever had. I left with a case of his Flora Rustica, an aromatic saison brewed with yarrow and calendula flowers. Absolutely delicious on its own, and also quite nice in this simple beer cocktail:

Farigoule rinse
.75 oz Bellringer gin
5-6 oz Flora Rustica
toasted thyme sprig for garnish

The Farigoule thyme liqueur complements the floral notes of the beer, as do the botanicals in the gin. Toasting a thyme sprig over a candle during the drink’s preparation adds even more aroma that drifts across the entire bar.

For more cocktails and photos from the event, go visit Ron’s coverage at PDXplate (the source of the photo above).


An experiment with sous vide spirits


As a cocktail blogger I’m used to getting samples of spirits in the mail. I’m not used to them arriving in bags like those pictured above. Is that Aviation gin’s sexy new packaging? No, but it is Aviation gin, cleverly altered by my friend David Barzelay for a tasting experiment.

David is very interested in the science of cooking and has lately been getting into cocktails as well. One of his recent acquisitions is an immersion circulator used for sous vide preparations. (How he got his circulator working is a story in itself, worth reading here.) In brief, sous vide cooking works by sealing food in an airtight plastic bag and immersing it in a temperature-controlled hot water bath. Because the heat source is the same temperature as the target temperature of the food, the bag can be immersed for hours and the food will cook evenly all the way through. This has numerous uses in the kitchen, but what about behind the bar?

David’s idea was to use the sous vide technique to increase the strength of an infusion. Since heat aids in the extraction of flavor, sous vide could allow one to achieve the same results as room-temperature infusions in a shorter period of time or with smaller amounts of ingredients. The sealed environment would minimize effects on the spirit, allowing any vapor to recondense into the liquid. David sent me four samples of Aviation gin to test whether 1) the spirit’s aroma, flavor, or mouthfeel would be altered and 2) whether a sous vide infusion would be stronger than an unheated one. The following four samples arrived in separately sealed bags:

1. 50g Aviation gin, untreated
2. 50g Aviation gin, heated for 60 minutes at 60C/140F
3. 50g Aviation gin, bagged with 10g juniper berries
4. 100g Aviation gin, bagged with 20g juniper berries, heated for 60 minutes at 60C/140F


David suggested tasting these side-by-side with a few other gin lovers. Luckily Aviation is distilled right here in Portland by House Spirits, so I was able to taste these with the distiller himself. Our tasting panel consisted of me, Matt Mount and Lee Medoff from House Spirits, local bartender Elizabeth Markham, and visiting cocktail enthusiast Courtney Knapp, who also took the photos.


I’ll discuss the infusions first. David says that when he mailed them to me the heated infusion had become dark brown from the juniper berries and the untreated infusion was still clear. By the time they arrived in Portland a few days later they were both brown and another several weeks would pass before I got around to the tasting them. Ideally we would have conducted the tasting soon after the infusions were made, but that wasn’t possible this time.

Nonetheless, the juniper flavor was still much stronger in the sous vide infusion. In both infusions the juniper overpowered other flavors, but in the heated sample it was even more pronounced and longer lasting; one taster said it felt as if the oils lingered longer on the tongue.

Was this the result of a stronger infusion? Probably in part, but there was an unexpected result from the sample that was heated without any added juniper berries: It tasted more like juniper too!

The first thing we noticed in the heated sample was that it had some visible solids or oils on the surface. It also tasted much more intense than untreated Aviation gin; “resinous” and “piney” were two descriptors we came up with. The sous vide process definitely had an effect on the spirit.

We’re not sure why the result came out this way. The temperature was below the boiling points of methanol and ethanol. Matt suggested that the process might have volatilized some of the juniper present in the gin, which he says is one of the first botanicals to express itself in the distilling process. This would perhaps explain why there was apparently oil on the surface of the sample and why junipery, piney flavors were enhanced to the detriment of floral, citrus, and spice notes.

Additional experiments could help shed light on how the sous vide process affects spirits. One possibility would be to repeat the infusion experiment with cardamom or coriander, two ingredients that Matt says express themselves at the end of distillation, or with an ingredient not found in the gin at all. Another would be to use vodka, which with its neutral flavor and purity would present fewer complications. Shorter heating times could also be tried; for example, DC bartender Justin Guthrie does a sous vide infusion of Jim Beam bourbon and Madras curry that takes just a few minutes and Tony Conigliaro does a 20 minute apple and gin infusion. They both use lower temperatures as well. Finally, Elizabeth suggested the technique could be useful in speeding up the making of bitters, which could be a great application.

Hopefully David will check in with his own thoughts and I’d like to hear from anyone else who’s tried this. I think the technique could have a lot of untapped potential.


Summer competition cocktails

OBGcomp 031

Monday’s Oregon Bartender’s Guild cocktail competition at Hobnob Grille was a great success, raising enough money for Schoolhouse Supplies to equip an entire classroom of children for a full school year. The drinks were great too and it would have been hard to pick a winner. Somehow the audience did though, and it just so happened to be me. What can I say, Portlanders have great taste in cocktails.

Jennifer has a full write-up of the event with photos at her blog Savor It. Each of the bartenders was randomly assigned two Oregon spirits with which to create their drinks. I ended up with two I hadn’t tried before, Organic Nation gin and Dolmen Worker Bee honey spirit, both of which I like. My first round used the gin and fresh Hermiston watermelon for the Gallagher cocktail:

2 oz Organic Nation gin
1 oz watermelon juice
.75 oz lime juice
.5 oz Swedish punsch*

Shake the first four ingredients over ice and strain into an ice-filled Collins glass. Top with soda and stir. The garnish is a pickled watermelon rind. I used Scott Beattie’s pickling liquid recipe from Artisinal Cocktails and the rind became nice and tasty after just two days of soaking. The drink is perfect for sipping outside in the summer. It’s crisp and refreshing and the smoky aftertaste from the Swedish punsch would go great with a grilled burger.

With round two I turned to the Dolmen honey spirit, an 80 proof liquor distilled from mead. Here’s the Mandeville:

2 oz Dolmen Worker Bee
.5 oz lemon juice
.33 oz St. Germain elderflower liqueur
.25 oz honey-lavender syrup (recipe here)
1 dash Scrappy’s Lavender Bitters
10 muddled blueberries

Muddle the blueberries and syrup before adding the rest of the ingredients. Shake over ice and double-strain into a chilled cocktail glass garnished with berries. This drink has layers of floral tastes without being overpowering and a lingering sweetness from the honey. The crowd really went for this drink. I’m sure the fact that it was their 12th of the night helped it along!

The Mandeville’s an updated and improved version of my old Blue Beetle cocktail. It works well with vodka too, but the substitution of honey-lavender syrup for simple syrup and Scrappy’s bitters for orange flower water makes it much better than the original. Scrappy’s entire line of bitters is worth checking out and if you can get your hands on a bottle you definitely should. It’s made in small batches in Seattle.

The name, by the way, is a reference to Bernard Mandeville, author of The Fable of the Bees. Mandeville satirized British morality by arguing that personal vice often led to public virtue, a fitting allusion on a night dedicated to drinking cocktails to raise money for children.

*Swedish punsch is a classic cocktail ingredient usually made with Batavia-Arrack, tea, sugar, lemon juice, and spices. I claim no expertise on this and my recipe is a simple variation of Max Toste’s, featured in Imbibe back in January. The only difference is that where Max uses simple syrup I use a syrup made of equal parts sugar and lapsang souchong tea. Lapsang souchong is an intensely flavorful black tea smoked over pine wood, which gives the resulting punsch an even stronger smoky character. Here’s the recipe:

9 oz lapsang souchong syrup
6 oz Batavia-Arrack von Oosten
3 oz lemon juice
.25 tsp grated nutmeg
seeds from 10 cardamom pods, ground

Steep ingredients refrigerated for 24 hours then strain into bottle.


Thyme in a Bottle

Thyme in a Bottle

Farigoule is a delicious liqueur from Provence that I recently came across here in Portland. Its primary flavor comes from the region’s abundant thyme, with a few other herbs added for good measure. It’s a unique, wonderful product: Not too sweet, intriguing flavors, great aroma, and well-balanced at 80 proof. I enjoy it neat, but since that’s a tough sell at the bar I also wanted to highlight it in a mixed drink.

At the same time I was working on a cocktail to enter into Bombay Sapphire’s Inspired Barender contest. Luckily gin is a natural pairing with Farigoule. And Farigoule, with its floral and herbal qualities, fills in well for better known French liqueurs like Chartreuse and St. Germain. Here’s the recipe I’ve submitted for the contest and placed on the Carlyle menu as Thyme in a Bottle, getting great reviews from customers so far:

1 oz Bombay Sapphire
.75 oz Farigoule
.75 oz lemon juice
.5 oz maraschino liqueur

Shake over ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with a sprig of fresh thyme. A really nice touch is to lightly toast the thyme to release its aroma before serving. My bar at Carlyle has tea lights on it so it’s easy for me to rest a sprig above a candle while I mix the drink. This fills the area with the scent of thyme and gives the cocktail an extra sensory dimension as the customer sips from it.

A tip of the hat for this drink also goes to Charles Munat, who suggested using Farigoule in a Last Word variation. Though the proportions are different here, that’s essentially what this drink is, with Farigoule standing in for Chartreuse and lemon for lime.


MxMo for cocktail virgins

Pegu cocktail

March’s Mixology Monday is hosted by Pink Lady at LUPEC-Boston, who writes:

This event was inspired by a chance encounter I had with an almost-famous Christian rock musician who, at age 32, had never had a cocktail. “I’d like to try one sometime,” he said, “What do you think I should have?”

It’s an excellent question, and one I though best vetted by wide audience of experts: What drink do you suggest for the delicate palate of the cocktail neophyte? Something boozy and balanced, sure – but one wrong suggestion could relegate the newbie to a beer-drinker’s life. To which go-to cocktails do you turn to when faced with the challenge?

I’ve been tending bar for a couple of years now and, aside from people who abstain from alcohol on principle, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone of legal drinking age who has never had a cocktail. If I did meet such a person, however, I’d want to make them a good one. My own first taste of spirits was probably one of my grandfather’s strong gin Martinis; it was enough to turn my young palate off of liquor for years. It wasn’t until my friend Court introduced me the Long Island Iced Tea that I started exploring again.

Given that experience, I’d probably choose something similar for someone’s first cocktail. Not a Long Island, but something on ice, bubbly, and with some flavors they’re accustomed to. If I knew nothing else about the person I would probably choose a Dark and Stormy. Or maybe a Mojito, but then you’re potentially sending that person down the path of annoying every bartender she meets for the rest of her life. Ideally, before choosing a drink I’d start by asking the person what other drinks she likes. Black coffee? Then maybe she enjoys bitterness. Hoppy IPAs? Maybe she’s receptive to gin. Sprite? OK, back to the Mojito. It doesn’t really matter what that first drink is, as long as it tastes good and piques her interest.

The situation I’m more frequently faced with is a customer who’s curious about cocktails but has only tried some very basic drinks, likely variations of vodka mixed with soda or fruit juice. My job then is to expand their horizons. For people who are used to white liquors and citrus, this is when I often mix up a Pegu cocktail. (The cockles of Doug’s heart are so warm I can feel them from here!)

I first came across this one at Jeff Morgenthaler’s site and it quickly became one of my favorites at my first bar job, mainly because it was an esoteric cocktail that we actually had the ingredients for (minus the orange bitters). It originally appeared in Harry Craddock’s Savoy Cocktail Book. Here’s the recipe I’m using now:

1.5 oz gin
.75 oz Cointreau
.5 oz lime juice
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 dash orange bitters

Shake over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnishing with a lime is optional, but I tend to avoid it because a customer squeezing it into the drink is going to make the drink too tart.

People who are accustomed to basic sours like a Cosmo or Margarita will find some familiar tastes here, while the gin and bitters will introduce them to new flavors. I’ve had numerous people try it at my suggestion and say that they don’t normally like gin, but they like this. Would I serve it to someone who’s never had a cocktail before? Only if they really like citrus and have an adventurous palate. But as a gateway to better cocktails, I think this makes a great choice. It also happens to be one of my favorites to make for myself at home.

Previous Pegu action: Earl Grey tea lends a bergamot note to the Earl of Pegu.


The last word in mixology

Last Word cocktail

When you see green in a mixed drink, that’s often a sign that the bartender is getting carried away with sour apple pucker and it’s time for you to find another bar. Not so if the color comes from Chartreuse liqueur. My post today at Crispy on the Outside takes a look at the delightful Last Word cocktail.


Michigan’s loss is Colorado’s gain

In my final guest post at Radley’s blog, I wrote:

I was surprised that Michigan’s distilleries are in business at all. The state has one of the highest taxes on distilled products in the country. Misguided ethanol subsidies have enticed farmers to plant corn instead of rye. And on top of all this they have to deal with a distribution system that’s run by a state monopoly and forbids them from selling their products to willing buyers. Opening a distillery in this legal environment sounds crazy, but despite this Michigan has become an improbable leader in micro-distilling.

Those laws have cost Michigan one of its better distilleries. Leopold Brothers, makers of a broad line of craft-distilled spirits, have left Ann Arbor for Colorado. Part of the reason for the move was a rent increase, but Michigan’s restrictive distribution laws were another major factor. As Todd Leopold explained in February:

We would’ve opened in Ypsi in a hearbeat, but the laws governing spirits sales makes it so we couldn’t sell half of our product line at a new bar (our Rum and Whiskeys). To top it off, self-distribution is legal in Colorado, and that make all the difference.

I picked up a bottle of Leopold’s American Small Batch Gin and have really enjoyed it. It’s distilled with an emphasis on botanicals like California oranges and Florida pummelos, and these citrus notes stand out in the taste and aroma. It’s a soft gin, good for a dry martini or even enjoyed neat. I’ve heard good things about their peach liqueur and look forward to trying their new absinthe verte; their French press coffee liqueur sounds especially intriguing, but I haven’t come across it on any shelves yet.

Michigan has slightly liberalized its distribution laws by allowing on-premise sales, but it’s still a control state with extremely high taxes on distilled products. If the government would get out of the way, Michigan could continue to thrive as a center for micro-distilling. And if not, I’m sure less restrictive states like Colorado will be glad to lure away their businesses.


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 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.


Hothouse Fizz

Hothouse Fizz

By the time I got into cocktails the sloe gin fizz was long out of fashion, at least in my part of the country. And with good reason: the long-ignored bottles you see on the bottom shelf at the liquor store are reportedly some sickly sweet stuff.

That’s finally changing. A few years ago Plymouth gin (my home bar standard) dusted off its 1883 recipe. It’s made by infusing sugar and fresh sloe berries (the sour fruit of the blackthorne tree) into still-strength gin. After a few months the liquor is sweet, sour, fruity, and complex, with a hint of nuttiness from the pits. At its final 52 proof strength it’s enjoyable on its own, but most famously combined with lemon, soda, and simple syrup in a sloe gin fizz.

This year Plymouth finally exported its sloe gin to the US. It’s available in limited quantities and runs a little over $40 a bottle in DC (Central Liquors and Sherry’s are both carrying it). Anticipating its arrival, Washington Post spirits columnist Jason Wilson challenged area bartenders to reinterpret sloe gin standards with the new, good stuff. Though I’m no longer working at a bar where I can feature it, I’m happy with this variation on the sloe gin fizz. The Hothouse Fizz cuts the sweetness and adds a little cucumber to the mix for a refreshing, summery treat:

1.5 oz. Plymouth gin
1.5 oz. Plymouth sloe gin
.5 oz. lemon juice
.25 oz. simple syrup
2 wheels cucumber
soda water

Muddle the cucumber with the simple syrup, then shake over ice with the gins and lemon juice. Strain over ice, and a bit of soda, and float a cucumber garnish to complete the drink. The cucumber adds a really nice vegetal element to the drink; just don’t use too much or it will overpower the other flavors. It’s tempting to use Hendricks here, but sticking with Plymouth and using a hothouse cucumber keeps the British theme going.

Update 8/19/09: I tinkered with the recipe a bit when putting it on the menu at Carlyle. Here’s how I’ve been making it there:

1.25 oz Plymouth sloe gin
1 oz Plymouth gin
.5 oz lemon
muddled slice cucumber
splash soda


Saturday night Dog’s Nose

It’s Saturday night and before going out I’m feeling like tinkering in the home bar, so I start browsing through Gary Regan’s The Joy of Mixology to find something new I can make with the ingredients I have on hand. Eventually I hit on the Dog’s Nose:

12 ounces porter or stout, microwaved to luke warm
2 teaspoons brown sugar
2 ounces gin
freshly grated nutmeg, for garnish

The Dog’s Nose is mentioned in Dickens’ Pickwick Papers, in which a character named Mr. Walker blames his habit for taking the drink for losing the use of his right hand. Not exactly a strong endorsement for a cocktail that combines warm stout with gin…

Even so, I try it out. It’s actually pretty good! A weird combination, but it works, and makes a nice drink for a winter night. The kind of drink I’ll enjoy just on occasion, rarely enough that I expect I’ll be using my right hand for a long time to come. (No jokes about my dating life, please!)

I hated reading A Tale of Two Cities in high school, but this concoction evens the score between Dickens and me.