Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Blackthorn (or Blackthorne)

One of the great things about the "Anvil 100" cocktail list I have been following is that in addition to naming the cocktail, it lists the principal ingredients. While it doesn't give proportions, I figured that it was just a good way of knowing what kind of drink I was going to be having (gin, vodka, etc) before trying to make it. However, it became very clear how important this was when concocting a Blackthorne - or Blackthorn. Or Blackthorne/Blackthorn. Allow me to explain.

The Anvil 100 lists the ingredients of a "The Blackthorn" as Irish whiskey, sweet vermouth, Angostura bitters, and absinthe. Now, these are the ingredients in the recipe which appears in Gary Regan's version of the "The Blackthorne" (emphasis mine) in his The Joy of Mixology book from 2003. This is the version I made - and it's terrible. Just bad - nothing good I can say about it. The whiskey and vermouth carry no weight in the cocktail, and the absinthe and bitters dominate the flavor (and not in any sort of pleasing way). So I thought "What the hell? Why would this make it on a list of supposedly unforgettable cocktails?"

Doing some research on line, I noticed that there were at least two other recipes for "The Blackthorn", neither of which has any of those ingredients in the recipe (well, one has rosso vermouth and the other has Dubonnet (an herbaceous wine-based spirit), so there is a common thread). The one I saw more often than not consisted of gin, kirsch, and Dubonnet. Unlike the first version I made, that actually SOUNDS like it would be good. So I chose to revisit this cocktail using the gin-based recipe.

The results were, as expected, the polar opposite from the first experience. This version was clean, crisp, and with just the right balance of sweet and herby so as to be complex without being "difficult." I emailed the website for the Anvil to clarify if they had mixed up the cocktail they wanted to highlight on their list. They didn't respond, so I will just give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they meant to feature the much more pleasant gin variation.

UPDATE: Recently I noted that one of the many cocktail folks I follow on Twitter, @drinkswmindy, tends bar at Anvil, so I shot her a tweet asking whether their version of this cocktail was gin or whiskey based. She was kind enough to respond that they make the whiskey version (which coincides with the List), and added they use Irish whiskey. So, that part was consistent. Turns out what I screwed up was the vermouth - I had used sweet vermouth in my original attempt based on what appeared in The Joy of Mixology by the great Gary Regan. In fact, I believe it should have been dry vermouth, per this recipe from The Wormwood Society's web site. I remade this cocktail the other day with the whiskey and dry vermouth components, and it was a huge improvement. The whiskey, dry vermouth, and absinthe all complemented each other, allowing each ingredient to play a part - the absinthe didn't dominate, which it can often do if not used in proper proportion with other ingredients. Not the best cocktail I have ever had, but it was pleasant, and was light years from the abomination I had initially created. There may be a way to make the sweet vermouth work in this, but I'll leave that to much more skilled people than me to work out.

The Blackthorn

3 dashes Angostura bitters
3 dashes absinthe (I used Lucid)
1.5oz Irish whiskey (Jameson)
1.5oz french dry vermouth

Combine ingredients in cocktail shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

The Blood and Sand

Cocktail naming conventions are funny. I read somewhere that you can tell the difference between a European cocktail and an American one by how their named. Example: In Europe, what's the name for a mix of gin and tonic? Gin and Tonic. In America, what's the name for mix of rye, creme de noyeau, and lemon juice? A Maryland Squirrel. You get the picture.

Drinks can be named for all kinds of things - historic events, famous (or not so famous) individuals, great works of fiction, etc. The Blood and Sand was named after a 1922 film about a bullfighter (Rudolph Valentino) involved in a love triangle - get it, blood of the bull, sand of the bullfighting ring? Whatever - given that origin, not sure why scotch would be the base spirit, and given that it is, you might think this is going to end up being a pretty sketchy cocktail taste-wise. Happily, you would be incorrect.

The recipe for this was originally (via the Savoy book) equal parts (3/4 oz) of all of the ingredients. The version I used bumps up the scotch to a full ounce while keeping the other at 3/4, and that works very, very well. Using a blended scotch (in my case, Johnny Walker Black) also works well - a highly peated single malt would throw off the balance of the other ingredients, for instance. Overall, a great, sweet yet refreshing cocktail. Doesn't make me feel any more like Rudy Valentino, but it also doesn't make me feel like sticking a bull with a sword as part of some arcane bloodsport, so all things considered, I'm fine with that.

Blood and Sand

1 oz blended scotch
3/4 oz orange juice
3/4 oz rosso vermouth
3/4 oz Cherry Heering

Combine ingedients in cocktail shaker and shake with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Bijou

Evidently this recipe is a more modern-day friendly version of a cocktail first recorded in 1900 in Harry Johnson's Bartender's Manual , which called for equal parts of the spirits - certainly would have made this a more herb-forward drink. But the proportions I used produced a smooth, flavorful and enjoyable cocktail with that special something that green chartreuse always brings to the party. And I also saw recipes which further muted the herbaceous nature of the cocktail by substituting dry vermouth for sweet - being that I was making this cocktail for Suz as well (not a fan of sweet vermouth), I followed that path, which I thought still produced a well balanced cocktail. My choice of gin was Plymouth since its milder flavor helped bring out the remaining herbal tastes in the other spirits.

The Bijou

3 oz gin

1 oz green chartreuse

1 oz dry vermouth

dash of orange bitters

Stir in a mixing glass with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Aperol Spritz

Aperol is an orange flavored, slightly bitter liquor, very much like Campari. Italian in origin, it differs from Campari in it's more muted color (pink-orange, not bright red like Campari) and in its much less bitter taste compared to that other famous Italian spirit. Where as Campari comes on strong and then lingers on the palette for a good long time, Aperol gives you a quick, sweet hit and then finishes with a subtle bitterness which fades relatively quickly.

Spritzes as a drink type are typically just spirits that are combined with sparkling wine (traditionally, given its Italian origins, the Aperol Spritz uses Prosecco) and soda. There are other variations (adding water to stronger wines are sometimes known as straight spritzes), but this is the most common. I used Spanish cava as the sparkling wine - mainly because I had some left over from the Redskins game last week. It actually went very well, adding a slight sweetness to the whole drink which made it really refreshing and easy to drink.

Aperol Spritz

2 oz sparkling wine (prosecco or cava)
1.5 oz Aperol
splash of soda

Fill a cocktail glass with ice. Pour sparking wine first and then Aperol into the glass (add the Aperol second so it doesn't sink to the bottom), and then finish with splash of soda. Garnish with an orange slice.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Americano

I like really like bitter spirits. They aren't something I think of every time I sit down to have a cocktail, but some of the best cocktails I have had have had a bitter ingredient as one of the anchor flavors in it. And since I started experimenting with cocktails in May, I have acquired quite a few of the better known varieties - Cynar, Fernet Branca, Aperol, to name a few. And of course I have had my fair share of Jaegermeister shots (but we won't speak of that). But the one bitter liqueur I have had in my bar the longest, and is nearest to my heart, is Campari.

A bright, gorgeous red, Campari has a sweetness up front which is somewhat misleading, not really preparing you for the lovely bitterness that trails behind it and lingers on your palette for a long, long time. To me, the Americano is the perfect vehicle for this experience. Campari can be a little cloying and thick on the taste buds, so the addition of the sweet vermouth, and especially the club soda, keeps things light without masking that great bitteness Campari is known for. It's refreshing as you drink it, but the orange-tinged aftertaste that lingers in your mouth is the real attraction for any cocktail which includes Campari.

The Americano

1oz Campari
1oz sweet vermouth
2 oz club soda

Build in an ice filled collins glass. Add a twist of orange as garnish.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Algonquin

This is one of the 30+ cocktails on the Anvil 100 Cocktails to Drink Before You Die list that I had made before starting this project, and, being that it's a rye based cocktail, it's one I liked quite a bit. Typically when I make a cocktail, I'll make either just one for myself, or one for myself and for my wife, Suz, based on the base spirit. Suz doesn't really like gin (especially if it is a strong flavor in a drink), is so-so on whiskey, is neutral on vodka (appropriately), and really likes rum - so sometimes I'll make two of something if I think she might like it. This was one I thought she might like, since the rye is cut with vermouth and pineapple juice, which I thought might take enough of the edge off of the rye for her tastes.

After preparing the cocktail, we taste tested, and she asked me some really interesting questions. She didn't dislike the Algonquin, although she admitted it was a little too boozy for her tastes. But she wondered why the other ingredients (pineapple juice and vermouth) were in there at all? There was no hint of the vermouth at all in the flavor, and the pineapple was barely detectable. So what persuaded someone at the Algonquin Hotel in New York to use exactly these ingredients, and for it to become popular enough to warrant it becoming a signature cocktail?

Why cocktails are made the way they are is sometimes a well known story (like the Moscow Mule), very much in dispute (like the Martini), or there just isn't a lot known about them except maybe their place of origin (like the Algonquin). So why the bartender who made this drink did what they did is open to interpretation. But I like rye enough to not dwell too much on that - regardless of their reasons, they created a perfumey rye cocktail with a hint of fruit and a nice kick to it - that's about all I ask of my cocktails, really. And Suz ended up drinking the whole thing, so, philosophical differences aside, we evidently weren't too far apart on what the intended motivation of the Algonquin's originator must have been - a drained glass on the bar.

The Algonquin

1 1/2oz rye whiskey (Rittenhouse 100)
3/4 oz dry vermouth
3/4 pineapple juice

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker, add ice, and shake vigorously for 15 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Brandy Alexander

I'll admit that I had been confused about the relationship between brandy, cognac, and armagnac until very recently (like about 20 minutes ago). Looking for brandy in the local liquor stores, bottles I thought were brandy (like Hennessey or Courvoisier) said "cognac" on the bottle. It was actually tough to find just plain "brandy" that wasn't a fruit flavor (like blackberry). Turns out the relationship is pretty easy to understand. Brandy is distilled from wine (grapes) or other fruits. Cognac, from the Cognac region in France, is distilled from white wine and aged in oak barrels made from timber from the Limousin or Troncais forests in France. Armagnac differs from cognac in the distillation process, as well as the type of wood the aging barrels are made of (black oak from the Monzelun forest), but it is also distilled from white wine. So Cognac and Armagnac are specialized styles of brandy with very strict production criteria.

Given that, rather than searching around for just "brandy" for this cocktail, I chose to use a cognac - specifically a Kelt V.S.O.P. (Very Superior Old Pale) champagne cognac. Kelt actually puts their cognac barrels on a ship and sends them on a three month sea voyage (Tour du Monde) which is supposed to increase the complexity of the spirit. The subtleties of the cognac are probably lost adding it to heavy cream and creme de cacao, but using the Kelt also makes sense since it's what I had on hand.

This is not a drink to start your evening off - this is a drink to elegantly and sweetly wrap up a long day, sipped by a fire, or while wrapped in a warm Snuggie (or Slanket, if you're one of THOSE types of people). It's creamy yet not thick, with a not-quite-sweet finish, the nutmeg adding a bit of that chilly fall evening feel to it. This cocktail is an ideal nightcap.

Brandy Alexander

2 oz Kelt V.S.O.P champagne cognac

1/2 oz creme de cacao
1/2 oz heavy cream
fresh nutmeg

Shake cognac, creme de cacao, and cream with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Grate nutmeg over top to taste

Friday, September 4, 2009

Hemingway Daiquiri

Ok, so the Hemingway Daiquiri really is way out of order on the list of 100. This should have been a review for a Brandy Alexander - but right now the weather in DC is sunny, upper 70's, and gorgeous. Not weather you would associate with a drink heavy on the cream and nutmeg. So, at my wife's request, I inserted the Hemingway Daiquiri into the order. Citrusy, refreshing, not really sweet at all, it fit the weather and the Friday afternoon, pre-Labor Day weekend mood much better.

I won't go too much into the history on this - Hemingway is obviously Ernest Hemingway, famous novelist, reporter, traveler, and booze hound. Tales of his drinking are legendary. And the fact that our wedding reception was held on the grounds of his house in Key West means the man holds a special place in my heart (and liver). I am sure he would view this 100 cocktail endeavor as a noble undertaking - kind of like an old man trying to catch a big fish in a little boat or some crap like that.

Hemingway Daiquiri

1 1/2 oz light rum
1/4 oz maraschino liqueur
3/4 oz lime juice
1/4 oz grapefruit juice

Shake all ingredients vigorously in a cocktail shaker and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Airmail Cocktail

Some cocktails have rock solid recipes which can not be deviated from if they are truly to be called a correct version of that cocktail (for instance, a Dark and Stormy HAS to have Gosling's Black Seal rum in it, otherwise it must be called something else). Others are left open to wide interpretation - ingredients in some cocktails may vary by quantity, composition, proportion, and sometimes even base spirit. Looking up how to make the Airmail, I saw a pretty wide variation in the suggested recipe. All were rum based, but after that it got a little dicey - recipe for the honey syrup? Lot of different honey/water proportions. Garnish? some, none, and gray areas in between. Champagne or prosecco? Simple syrup or no? And appropriate glassware? All over the place - highball, champagne flute, champagne coupe, cocktail glass. I'm surprised there wasn't one which called for drinking out of a shrunken monkey head.

Given the defacto wide latitude being granted to me in creating this cocktail, I cobbled together a recipe from a number of sources. Although I couldn't find a history of the origin of this cocktail, given the call for "rhum" and champagne in most recipes I found, I would imagine it had its origins in the French-speaking Carribbean countries. Rhum agricole, or "agricultural rum," made from straight sugar cane as opposed to mollasses, is most popular in these countries. Given that, options such a Italian prosecco don't seem to make as much thematic sense as French champagne.

The results were just pretty good - I can see why this cocktail made it on Anvil's list, but I think the lime proportion I used was a little too high (recipe below reflects downward adjustment). Refreshing, sophisticated, not overly sweet - I would imagine that this would be fantastic sipped on the beaches of Martinique (since it was pretty good sipped in my kitchen.)


1 1/2 oz. rhum agricole
1/2 oz. fresh lime juice
1 oz. honey syrup (1 part honey/2 parts water)
1 oz. champagne
2-3 drops Angostura bitters
mint leaf for garnish

Combine rum, lime juice, and syrup in shaker. Add ice, shake vigorously. Strain into glass and top with champagne. Gently drop 2 drops of bitters on top of cocktail. Garnish by dragging mint leaf through bitters to create an attractive design, then laying mint leaf on top.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Absinthe Drip

My first cocktail as part of the 100 Cocktail Bucket List project is one of the simplest to make, but also has a lot of history and intrigue attached to it. Absinthe was banned in the United States and most European countries by 1915 because of fears that one of the chemical properties contained in wormwood (thujone) was a dangerous psychoactive drug. Commercial production started again in Europe in the 1990's, and production in the United States was authorized beginning in 2007.

Because absinthe is typically a very high proof spirit, it is typically consumed as a cocktail by adding ice cold water which is dripped over a sugar cube held over the glass by a special slotted absinthe spoon, The resulting cocktail will turn a milky white, called the "louche," which opens up all of the other herbal notes in the drink that would have otherwise been overpowered by the anise flavor and/or the alcohol content.

I had purchased some Le Tourment Vert (LTV) absinthe some time ago, based almost exclusively on the very cool looking bottle. Having read up on the subject some more in the intervening months, I opted to purchase Lucid brand absinthe, which is generally considered to be very good (unlike LTV ), and which is, unlike some of the other highly regarded absinthe brands, readily available within a block of where I work.

Unlike LTV, which had yielded very poor results when trying to use it to create an Absinthe Drip (no louche, so real difference in the flavor profile once water was added), the Lucid produced a lovely, milky cocktail which tasted of a generous assortment of herbs (not just anise).

All in all, a great start to this project. 99 more to go!

Absinthe Drip

2 oz absinthe (Lucid)
sugar cube
4 oz ice cold water

Pour absinthe into cocktail glass or special absinthe glass (these glasses generally have a bulbous bottom with a flared top - the absinthe should be filled to the line between to two halves of the glass). Place an absinthe spoon (or other slotted spoon) over the glass, and place sugar cube on the spoon. SLOWLY drop the ice water over the sugar, dissolving the sugar into the absinthe. The absinthe should go from a clear spirit to a milky white (the louche).

100 Cocktail Bucket List

A buddy of mine recently linked me to an article in the Houston Press regarding a list that Anvil Bar & Refuge had developed of the 100 Cocktails To Try Before You Die. While lists like this are always subjective, and inevitably leave out drinks which are near and dear to any imbibers' heart (no Esquivel??), the Anvil list does contain a very strong selection of cocktails which would appear on most lists as "classics" not to be missed. Looking at it from the perspective of someone interested in creating quality cocktails at home, I identified 30 on the list that I have made since "repurposing" this blog in early May - and there isn't one of the 70 cocktails left on the list I don't want to, or had not planned to, try eventually.

Given that, I have come up with an idea, somewhat based on that movie "Julie and Julia" (well, "somewhat" is probably an understatement - "extremely loosely based on the premise of" is more accurate):

I intend to create every one of the cocktails on this list by midnight on
December 31, 2009.

This gives me 121 days to make 100 cocktails (I will remake the 30 I have already made as part of this effort - they were great the first time, so why not?), which I think is more than enough cushion to accomplish my goal. Some of my assumptions at the onset of this project, which are open to change at any time:
  • I will attempt to go in order as much as is practical (things which might throw me off might be if I have to create or find a special ingredient I wouldn't normally have laying around)
  • I will make all of the cocktails personally - drinks at bars or made by others won't count
  • I will attempt to take pictures of every creation
  • I will also attempt to blog about what drink I make each time, at a minimum including the drink title, recipe, and a picture (and pics could come later as I don't have a fancy schmancy cell phone with a camera)
There will be no punishment for not accomplishing this (unlike a real bucket list, where if you don't complete the list, you're dead - cause and effect notwithstanding.) This actually solves an issue I have been having lately with trying to determine what to have every day (I know, rough life). This gives me a structure, a method to my drunkenness, which is easy to follow and easy to gauge my progress against.

Things start off this evening with the first drink on the list - an Absinthe Drip.

And yes, I know I use quotes and parentheses far too often. I'm not blogging about proper sentence structure here, people.