Monday, July 13, 2009

Cocktail Hopping in Philadelphia ( Part 2)

Butcher and Singer was my last and best stop on my cocktail-related venture through Philadelphia. My experience there started with a Sidecar.

The Sidecar is a classic cocktail. As such, it saw a resurgence in the 90’s when the movie Swingers came out (sadly, I have yet to see it, so I don’t know whether the cocktail itself figures prominently in the movie, or whether the resurgence of cocktail culture in general generated renewed interest in the drink. I know, I am a cultural failure.) Consisting of brandy, Cointreau, and lemon juice shaken over ice and strained into a cocktail glass, it’s got a great mixture of all the things that make a cocktail successful for me – sweet, sour, herbaceousness, and bite. At Butcher and Singer, they throw in a thinly sugared rim on the glass, which really punches the sweet up a notch at the front of the drink before the other flavors come into play. I actually prefer this – that little pop of sugar at the front really sets the stage for the other flavors.

At this point, having complimented the bartender on the drink, I asked for something that he really likes that people may not order very often or see in other bars. He suggested a French 75. I have seen more than a few references to this cocktail being made with gin as the base spirit – but other references, and the associated back-story, refer to cognac as the lead. This was the version prepared here, and I can’t argue with the results.

The story goes that the drink was created during World War I by flying ace Franco Lufbery who wanted a way to kick up his champagne. He added cognac, which would certainly do the trick. The result was said to have the same effect as a famous (or infamous-, depending on which side of the lines you were on)-at-the-time piece of artillery, a French 75mm howitzer. Thus, the French 75.

For the preparation, cognac, simple syrup, and lemon juice are shaken together. The bartender prepared a large brandy snifter by half filling it with crushed ice, over which the drink was poured. Champagne then topped the drink off. Again, the mixture of tastes (sour, sweet, herby, bite, with some dryness added by the champagne) really set the drink apart from your typical expectation for a cocktail.

It was at this point I decided that further exploration of the Philadelphia cocktail culture was probably best left to another day. Hopefully I’ll be returning soon, as I could see that there were obviously bartenders in Philly that cared about their craft, and that were on a mission to elevate the cocktail beyond the standard vodka martini or over-muddled mojito. And that’s a worthy mission in my book.

1 comment:

Mike Bowers said...

The Sidecar is the only drink I order at Cafe Deluxe. They make a good one, sugar rim and all.