Golden Lion

Golden_Lion

As further proof that the dream of the 90s is alive in Portland, I’m breaking down and putting an infused vodka drink on the Metrovino cocktail menu:

1 1/2 oz Dolin blanc vermouth
3/4 oz cumin-infused vodka
1/2 oz Galliano
2 dashes Berg and Hauck’s celery bitters

Stir with ice and serve up with a lemon twist.

I rarely create cocktails with vodka. I don’t often drink vodka. And I never, ever buy vodka. As a cocktail blogger I get more free samples of the spirit than I can possibly consume. But when a package arrived carrying not just one bottle but more than four liters of the stuff, I decided I might as well play around with it.

Inspired by Kummel, an herbal liqueur, I set aside some of the vodka to infuse with cumin seeds. The next morning it came out powerfully aromatic with a yellow-orange hue. I was intrigued enough to build a cocktail around it, using Galliano to play up the golden color. The drink is light and savory-sweet, an infused vodka cocktail for the mixology nerds. I thought it might be a bit too weird for Metrovino’s wine-drinking clientele, but in testing it’s played well enough that we’re putting it on the menu. If you want to give it a try at home, here are the specs for the vodka:

1 cup vodka
2 teaspoons cumin seeds

Let steep overnight and strain.

Speaking of vodka, I have to give thanks to Vesica vodka for sending the product that prompted me to try this out. They sent much more vodka than I needed but there are a few things I like about the brand. One, the vodka is perfectly good and the bottles are attractive. Two, it’s reasonably priced and not hyped up with meaningless marketing. Three, the name. From Wikipedia:

The vesica piscis is a shape that is the intersection of two circles with the same radius, intersecting in such a way that the center of each circle lies on the circumference of the other. The name literally means the “bladder of a fish” in Latin. The shape is also called mandorla (“almond” in Italian).

Did you know that? I didn’t know that and I took four years of Latin. I have to appreciate a vodka brand that actually teaches me something. The 750 ml and 1 L bottles themselves are shaped to form a vesica when placed next to each other, which is a neat idea. Recommended.

Two cocktails “against the wall”

galliano-033

Working as the Oregon brand ambassador for Lucas Bols, I spend much of my time promoting Bols Genever. However I also work with one of our other brands, the ubiquitous Italian liqueur Galliano. Both present interesting challenges. With genever we’re introducing people to an entire category of spirits with which they may be unfamiliar. With Galliano, the spirit is familiar sometimes to the point of neglect. A friend of mine jokes that buying a bottle of Galliano is a condition of getting a liquor license; it seems like every bar has it, but they don’t reach for it as often as they could.

When I talk to the public about Galliano, three associations come up repeatedly. One is of course the Harvey Wallbanger. Another is people sneaking pours from their parents’ giant Galliano bottles when they were underage. Or lastly, if a person had been to bartending school, they remember that if a drink is ordered “against the wall,” that means it’s served with Galliano. I’m pretty sure this nomenclature derived from the Wallbanger, but one guy was certain of his alternative theory: Because 750 ml Galliano bottles are too tall to fit on some bar shelves, they’re stored “against the wall” instead. Probably wrong, but points for creativity!

To be fair, there’s a good reason the spirit has been overlooked in recent years. Previous owners of the brand moved production to France and altered the recipe, taking it down to 60 proof and making it much less complex. Those older bottlings are far too sweet. Bols, however, has taken the brand back to its original home in Livorno, Italy and restored its quality. It’s now back above 80 proof and much more complex, with some 30 herbs, spices, and extracts going into it. If you haven’t tasted it in a while, it’s worth giving it a new try. I was skeptical myself, but it really is a vast improvement over the French product. Look for the bottles with red trim and “L’Autentico” on the label.

The most famous Galliano cocktail is the Harvey Wallbanger, basically a Screwdriver with Galliano floated on top. A close second is the Golden Cadillac, a blend of Galliano, white crème de cacao, and half-and-half, sold in unimaginable quantities at Poor Red’s BBQ in El Dorado, California. This was a guilty pleasure of mine as far back as my DC days. Sweet, yes, but also delicious.

Recently I’ve been challenging some Portland mixologists to come up with new Galliano cocktails. Here are two of my favorites. The first is from Adam Robinson at Park Kitchen. He served this is as the opening drink at the cocktail pairing dinner that kicked off Portland Cocktail Week and it was a hit. He calls it the RCA cocktail, since the three ingredients are red, white, and yellow, like an RCA cable:

1.5 oz Cocchi Americano
1.5 oz Sanbitter soda
.5 oz Galliano

Stir with ice and strain into a rocks glass. Express a lemon zest over the drink and discard. This is a great aperitivo, low in alcohol but with lots of flavor and fantastic color from the Sanbitter soda.

Another drink I really like is the Livorno Buck from Dave Shenaut at Beaker and Flask:

.75 oz Galliano
.75 oz gin
.75 oz dry vermouth
.75 oz lime juice
ginger beer

Shake the first four ingredients with ice and strain into an ice-filled collins glass. Top with ginger beer and serve. It’s balanced and refreshing, a good long drink for sitting outside in the summer.

Have another good drink “against the wall?” Let me know in the comments.

Rye Boulevardier

boulevardier

It’s Mixology Monday! Er, Tuesday in my case. But it’s still Monday one time zone over, which is close enough for bartender time. Vidiot at Cocktailians hosts this month, choosing the theme of vermouth:

[...] if your sole experience is of vermouth from dusty, warm half-empty bottles that have moldered away on a back bar since the Carter Administration, you aren’t going to like vermouth very much. One can even buy ridiculous products to atomize it in your drink. But that’s not necessary, and if you go down that road, you’re missing out on a great ingredient. [...]

So: your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to present a delectable vermouth cocktail for us all to drool over. Sweet/Italian or dry/French vermouth are fair game of course, as are quinquina, aperitif wines like Pineau des Charentes, or for that matter any fortified, aromatized wine such as Lillet (red or white), or Dubonnet (ditto.) Have fun, and leave the link in the comments to this post by midnight PDT (no, not this PDT) (3am EDT) Tuesday, October 27th. In other words, you have a little over a week to get it done, and as long as you submit it sometime by Monday, you’ll get in under the wire. I look forward to the results!

My drink for this month is no great shakes for originality, but it’s a tasty little number adapted from the classic Boulevardier as described in Ted Haigh’s indispensable Vintage Cocktails and Forgotten Spirits:

1.5 oz rye
1 oz Campari
1 oz sweet vermouth, preferably Carpano Antica

Stir over ice and strain into a cocktail glass. The drink is traditionally made with bourbon. I prefer the added spiciness of rye in this drink, so that’s how we serve it at Carlyle. Here it’s garnished with a rye-soaked cherry, a jar of which I set aside while they were in season this summer.

One nice thing about this drink is that the ingredients are totally accessible. Not every bar will have them, and not every bar will be taking care of its vermouth, but in an above average place the bartender should be able to make a Boulevardier with no problem. If you like Negronis and like whiskey, I recommend giving this one a try.

MxMo MexMar

MexMartinez 016

That’s short for Mixology Monday Mexican Martinez… obviously. This month’s theme as chosen by Tristan at The Wild Drink Blog:

This month’s Mixology Monday is all about twists on classic cocktails, that for one reason or another do an even better job than the drinks upon which they are based.

This could be as simple as a classic Margarita with a dash with a special touch that completes it, or maybe as complicated as a deconstructed Hemingway Daiquiri with a homemade rum foam/caviar/jus/trifle. It might be taking a classic like a Manhattan and using Tequila instead of Bourbon?

Substituting tequila into a classic cocktail is exactly what I’m up to this month. A while ago I mentioned that the pairing of tequila and rhubarb bitters had potential, but I wasn’t quite sure what do with it. Lately I’ve been playing with these ingredients in a variation on the classic Martinez cocktail. Covered in greater detail here, the Martinez is made with gin or Old Tom gin, sweet vermouth, maraschino liqueur, and orange bitters. Making a few substitutions, I’ve lately been enjoying this variation I call a Mexican Martinez:

2.25 oz reposado tequila (Chamucos)
.5 oz Dolin Blanc vermouth
1 bar spoon maraschino
2 dashes Fee Bros.’ rhubarb bitters

Stir over ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with a slice of orange zest expressed over and dropped into the drink.

The Dolin line of vermouths is suddenly readily available here in Portland and I couldn’t be happier. The Blanc is a sweet, floral, melony vermouth that’s absolutely delicious on its own. It works well in cocktails too, rounding out the tequila in this one while letting a little bit of lingering heat to show through. The Dolin Blanc complements tequila better than other vermouths I’ve tried, but if you can’t find it in your area experiment with other sweet vermouths. I expect you’ll find tequila makes an intriguing twist on the venerable old Martinez.

Update: What madness is this, two tequila and rhubarb cocktails in one Mixology Monday? It’s true. Michael Dietsch at A Dash of Bitters posts a Margarita variation working in Cynar, rhubarb bitters, and orange flower water. I’m sipping on one right now and can vouch for its tastiness. Check it out here.

Truly French French vermouth

Metropole cocktail

Ever since I discovered I’d been making Martinezes the wrong way a few months ago, dry vermouth has been playing a bit part at my home bar. I always keep a bottle on hand but it’s put into service far less often than the sweet vermouth that finds its way into frequent Martinezes, Manhattans, and whatever the plural of Vieux Carré is. (Have I mentioned that French was not my best class in college?)

That’s changing. A few weeks ago Noilly Prat sent me a bottle of their newly imported dry vermouth. Noilly Prat has been making vermouth in France for nearly 200 years, but the bottles they’ve imported to the US have been a dumbed-down version of what they sell in Europe. Thankfully that’s no longer true. They’re finally replacing the old American export with the original European bottling, giving us access to the superior, traditional product.

I got to taste the new bottling at Tales of the Cocktail last summer, but this is the first time I’ve been able to taste it side-by-side with the previous export. The difference is immediately apparent. The old version is very light. The French version a is a deeper gold. It has a much spicier aroma and a more substantial mouthfeel. While the old export was one-dimensional, the new one is flavorful and very well-balanced, with hints of orange and maybe cardamom or cloves. It’s a richer vermouth all around and very nice to drink. Noilly Prat says the better character comes from spending a full year aging outdoors in oak barrels. Whatever the reason, it makes one wonder why it took them so long to ship us the real stuff.

In fairness to Noilly Prat, the US hasn’t been a great market for vermouth in a long time. It’s all but disappeared from the Martini and it’s rarely enjoyed here as an aperitif as it is in France. If you order vermouth at an American bar you’re likely to get an oxidized shot from a bottle that’s been open and unrefrigerated for months. It’s a dodgy proposition.

If your vermouth is good, however, it can be delightful on its own. Chill it in your refrigerator and serve in a wine glass with a few ice cubes and a twist of lemon peel cut over the surface. It’s simple and very refreshing.

It’s good as a mixing ingredient too. At this moment I’m enjoying it in a dry Martinez. Pictured above is the Metropole; that’s the cocktail I’d planned on featuring in this post, but after playing with the recipe, photographing the drink, and preparing to write, I remembered that Imbibe had run a brief article this month about this new dry vermouth as well. I thought I should check that before writing and, what do you know, they highlighted the very same cocktail. You’ve got to start drinking pretty early in the morning to beat those guys.

So in the interest of not being a total ripoff of Imbibe, I’m posting two cocktails here: the Metropole and a variation on the Ideal. First the Metropole:

2 oz cognac
1 oz dry vermouth
.5 tsp rich syrup (2:1 sugar:water)
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
1 dash orange bitters

Stir over ice and strain into a cocktail glass. That’s essentially the Paul Lowe version as reported in Dave Wondrich’s Imbibe (the book, not the magazine). Wondrich also notes that George Kappeler garnished the drink “with the more elegant twist of lemon peel rather than the cherry, but what chorus girl would want to nibble on that?” Alas, there’ve been no chorus girls around this home bar for months, so the lemon peel it is.

The next drink is the Ideal. I don’t know the history of this mixture, but I came across it in David Embury’s The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. Here I’ve replaced the simple syrup with maraschino liqueur (which appears to be a common substitution in this cocktail) and added a dash of orange bitters for depth:

1.5 oz gin
.66 oz dry vermouth
.66 oz fresh grapefruit juice
.25 oz maraschino
1 dash orange bitters

Shake over ice and strain. It’s good, it’s crisp, it’s easy. And fresh means fresh: one grapefruit yields a lot of juice, so there’s no excuse for using pre-bottled here.

Noilly Prat dry vermouth retails for about $9 for 750 ml, at which price it’s definitely worth checking out. Look for the textured bottle to make sure you’re getting the new export.

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.