Thursday, October 28, 2010

What's in a Name, What's in a Drink: Part II

Even without polling the world of cocktail aficionados, there's some drinks that stand out as the epitome of the term cocktail itself.  One such cocktail is the Manhattan.
Manhattan (Ted Haigh, Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails)
2 1/2 oz rye or bourbon
1 oz sweet vermouth
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Combine with ice in mixing glass and stir.  Strain into cocktail glass or over ice in a rocks glass.  Garnish with a cherry, twist, or both
The Manhattan is one of the few cocktails to have maintained popularity even through Prohibition to the modern day.  Ted Haigh describes it as one of the oldest cocktails still made exactly the same way it was 145 years ago.  That said, the Manhattan is not an only child.  In actuality, all the boroughs of New York, with the exception of Staten Island, have a namesake cocktail that has existed since the early 20th Century or before. These cocktails consist of:

The Bronx Cocktail
1 1/2 oz gin
3/4 oz dry vermouth
1/4 oz sweet vermouth
3/4 oz orange juice
Shake with ice and strain into cocktail glass, garnish with an orange wheel
The Queens Cocktail (Gourmet magazine)
1 1/2 oz gin
1/2 oz sweet vermouth
1/2 oz dry vermouth
slice of pineapple
Muddle the slice of pineapple in a mixing glass with the gin. Add ice and vermouth.  Shake, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.note:  The Cocktail Book:  A Sideboard Manual for Gentlemen (1926) lists a different set of ingredients:  1 tsp grapefruit juice, 1/3 Italian (sweet) vermouth, 2/3 dry gin.
The Brooklyn Cocktail
2  oz rye or bourbon
3/4 oz dry vermouth
1 dash (or 2 tsp) Amer Picon
1 dash (or 2 tsp) maraschino liqueur
Shake with ice, strain into cocktail glass

While these Manhattan siblings may not have stayed in the bartender vernacular as steadily as the Manhattan over the past century, the cocktail renaissance of the recent decade or so has breathed new life into one of these siblings in particular.  The Brooklyn cocktail has found its way into a number of bars and bar books in recent years, notwithstanding the fact that Amer Picon, a French digestive bitters, is essentially a defunct ingredient.  A version of it is still produced, but it is currently unavailable in the U.S. and in any event is a reformulation that is half the proof of the 80 proof original, with an allegedly different taste.  Many bars have either substituted another amaro for it or use a homemade version, often following the recipe for Amer Boudreaux.  As a testament to the quality of the drink, the Brooklyn cocktail has spawned a wide breadth of modern variants, as discussed here, and here.  True to form, these cocktails are named for various Brooklyn neighborhoods:

Red Hook Cocktail
2 oz. rye whiskey
1/2 oz Punt e Mes vermouth
1/4 oz maraschino liqueur
Stir with ice and strain into cocktail glass
Greenpoint
2 oz rye whiskey
½ oz yellow Chartreuse
½ oz sweet vermouth
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 dash orange bitters
Stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass, garnish with a lemon twist.
Cobble Hill
2 oz rye
1/2 oz dry vermouth
1/2 oz amaro Montenegro
2 slices of cucumber
Stir with ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, garnish with a twist of lemon.
Bensonhurst
2 oz rye
1 oz dry vermouth (Noilly Prat)
2 tsps maraschino liqueur (Luxardo)
1 tsp Cynar
Stir with ice, strain into a cocktail glass.
Carroll Gardens
2 oz rye (Rittenhouse)
1/2 oz Punt e Mes
1/2 oz Nardini Amaro
1 tsp maraschino liqueur (Luxardo)
Stir with ice,strain into a cocktail glass. Squeeze lemon twist over the drink, wipe the rim with the peel and discard.
Bushwick
2 oz rye (Rittenhouse)
3/4 oz sweet vermouth (Carpano Antica)
1/4 oz maraschino liqueur (Luxardo)
1/4 oz Amer Picon
Stir with cracked ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
The theme does not end there, however.  Some bartenders in Boston have taken the homage to the boroughs a bit further, bringing gin into the mix in place of whiskey in some Manhattan and Brooklyn variants:
White Manhattan (Deep Ellum)
2 oz Bols Genever
1 oz Dolin Blanc Vermouth
1 cube Demerara Sugar
2 dash Housemade Wormwood Bitters
White Hook (Lineage Restaurant)
2 oz Bols Genever
1/2 oz Vya Dry Vermouth
1/2 oz Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
1 dash Regan's Orange Bitters
Stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass, garnish with a lemon twist.
Finally, if touring the boroughs with the variants above proves too much, the venerable Manhattan can be made to take on quite a different character with more modest changes to the recipe. Using rye versus bourbon, or changing up the brand of whiskey used can yield a surprisingly different drink.  Changing up the bitters used can also bring a whole new dimension to the drink (I recommend trying the Bitterman's Xocolatl Mole Bitters).  Whatever your choice, this line of drinks provides an interesting way to tie together the past and the modern day with a template that has both stood the test of time and inspired a wealth of new creations. 

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Ginger Beer Tasting & Cocktails

I stopped by the Boston Shaker on Friday night where the brand manager for Barritt's Bermuda Stone Ginger Beer was holding a tasting event.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that he was offering up more than just samples of the ginger beer and some Dark and Stormies.  Instead, he was hand mixing up an array of 3 different cocktails involving ginger beer, and one non-alcoholic beverage that had been served up at the Honk! festival earlier this month.  The tasting menu included the following beverages, which were kindly provided on recipe cards to the attendees:

Gin Mule
3 oz London Dry Gin (Beefeater)
2 oz Barritt's Ginger Beer
1 tsp fresh grated ginger
1 Barspoon Sugar Cane Syrup
3-4 lime slices
Combine ginger, lime slices and sugar cane syrup in mixing glass.  Muddle.  Add gin and shake.  Strain into ice-filled Collins glass.  Top with Barritt's Ginger Beer.

Racer Chaser
4 oz Barritt's Ginger Beer
2 oz Pusser's Rum (Pyrat was subbed at the tasting)
Lime Wedge
Cherry
Fill old-fashiioned glass with ice.  Add rum and Barritt's Ginger Beer.  Give gentle stir to combine.  Garnish with lime wedge and cherry. 

Monticello Lawnmower2.5 oz Rye Whiskey (Sazarac)
2 oz Barritt's Ginger Beer
1 barspoon sugar cane syrup
3 dashes bitters (Angostura)
3-4 Sprigs Mint
2-3 lime slices
Combine mint, syrup, bitters and lime in mixing glass.  Muddle.  Add rye and shake.  Pour into ice-filled Collins glass.  Top with Barritt's.
and the non-alcoholic suggestion:
Hornblower (created by Todd Maul, Cleo Restaurant)
2 oz Cranberry Juice
1/4 oz Trader Tiki Orgeat
2-4 oz Barritt's Ginger Beer
1 dash bitters (Angostura)
Combine cranberry juice and orgeat in mixing glass (add bitters).  Stir to dissolve orgeat.  Pour over ice-filled highbasll glass.  Top with ginger beer.
While everything I tasted struck me as a solid, pleasantly tasting cocktail, I was particularly impressed with the Monticello Lawnmower.  This is probably not surprising, given that I'm a big fan of rye in cocktails generally.  The drink was reminiscent of a mojito, or even more so, a good Whisky Smash, with an added bit of spice from the ginger beer.

As for the Barritt's itself, the sugar cane taste in the ginger beer definitely comes through and gives it a distinctive flavor.  In all honestly, I find the taste a little too overpowering for me to pick it up as a casual soft drink.  That said, I think it is fantastic for mixed drinks.  The distinctive taste makes it seem much more like a true component of the cocktail, rather than just filler.  I picked up a few bottles of the beverage at the tasting, and am looking forward to playing around with it to see what other interesting applications I can come up with (and of course, to try and make a Monticello Lawnmower, because that was just fantastic!).

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Local Events: Vermouth & Ginger Beer Tastings

The Boston Shaker is hosting 2 exciting tasting events in the coming weeks.  The first, is a (free) tasting of Barritt's Bermuda Stone Ginger Beer to be held at the store from 5-7pm on October 22nd.  Barritt's is a sugar cane based ginger beer that promotes itself as "a zesty ginger soft drink, that has been bottled continuously since 1874."  The Boston Shaker crew will be offering up Dark and Stormy's using the brew, as well as a mystery cocktail!

Next week, on Friday October 29th, the Boston Shaker will then host an amazing sounding vermouth tasting with Carl Sutton of Sutton Cellars, an artisnal .winery in San Franciso.  Several different vermouths will be sampled, and in addition, there will be a "deconstructed tasting" of Sutton Cellars Brown Label vermouth.  The event, which will run from 8pm-9:30, costs $45 and has limited seating.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

What's in a Name, What's in a Drink: Part I

The naming of drinks truly is an art unto itself, and as with many art forms there are occasionally recurring themes or conventions that can be identified.  An example of this is what one might call "the evolving cocktail."  What I'm referring to here are various lines of drinks that begin with a certain template drink that subsequently has one (or more) elements varied to produce a new drink, usually borrowing in its title from the original.  One of my favorite examples of this phenomenon is the prohibition era cocktail, the Last Word.
Last Word 
3/4 ounce gin
3/4 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
3/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
3/4 ounce green Chartreuse
The Last Word is itself a fantastic cocktail that has fortunately achieved a sort of renaissance after a long post-prohibition hiatus.  More than just resurfacing, however, the Last Word has spawned an impressive array of variations that provide a new spin on the drink by changing up some of its constituent elements, while generally keeping to a basic idea:  four ingredients, in equal parts, one of which is a tends to be a base spirit, one a citrus element, one Chartreuse (green or yellow), and one liqueur.  And, of course, there's the names!:  the Final Ward (not a variation with a spelling error, but rather a creation of NY bartender Phil Ward that subs rye and lemon juice for the gin and lime juice); the Next to Last Word (sub lemon juice for lime, St. Germain for Chartreuse);  the Latest Word (a Craigie on Main variation subbing genever gin for London dry) to name a few (a longer list here).  And of course, there's also the Monte Cassino, a variation that won the Esquire magazine's "Alchemist of our Age" competition early this year that substitutes rye for gin, Benedictine for maraschino liqueur, and yellow Chartreuse for green; it may break with the naming scheme in favor of a monastic one (it WAS made in celebration of the benedictine 500th anniversary), but it's delicious enough that I for one will not complain. 

Another example of this evolving cocktail theme is provided in Beachbum Berry's Remixed anthology:
Suffering Bastard (the original)
1 oz gin
1 oz brandy
1/2 oz Rose's lime juice
2 dashes Angostura
4 oz ginger beer, chilled

Dying Bastard
1/2 oz each of gin, brandy, and bourbon
1/2 oz. Rose's lime juice
2 dashes Angostura
4 oz. ginger beer, chilled

Dead Bastard
1/2 oz. each of gin, brandy, bourbon, and light rum
1/2 oz. Rose's lime juice
2 dashes Angostura
4 oz. ginger beer, chilled

Make no mistake, however; this particular theme in cocktail naming and construction is by no means solely a modern phenomenon.  An older example can be found in a set of American drinks recounted in the the 1892 book Drinks of the World:  Volume 1 (which incidentally, can be found on Google Books here, as with many other interesting reads now in the public domain):
Bishop
Stick an orange full of cloves, and roast it. When brown, cut it in quarters, and pour over it i quart of hot port. Add sugar to taste, and let mixture simmer for half an hour.
Archbishop
The same as Bishop, with substitution of best claret for port.
Cardinal
The same as Archbishop, with substitution of champagne for claret.
Pope
The same as Cardinal, with substitution of Burgundy for champagne.
For my part, I find the evolving cocktail theme to be both fun to explore, and very instructional. It's an interesting experience to take a drink recipe that just "works" and to explore the effect of changing an element of that recipe.  Sometimes you get a straight out improvement on the original; sometimes you get something new and unique, but with throwbacks to its precursor; and, of course, sometimes you get something utterly undrinkable.  It is, in any event, a very useful way to learn how different flavors interact in a drink.  Also, if nothing else, it give you an excuse to get your pun on, and see what fun (and sometimes cringe-worthy) names are elicited by your new creation.

Inaugural Post

At long last, after many many moons of thinking about it and procrastinating, I've started a cocktail blog!  What finally pushed me over the edge?  Who knows - perhaps it was coming up with a name that I liked.  "Raised Spirits" seems very fitting to me (and not just for the obvious pun).  There's several different meanings to be had from the title that I think fit my goals and interests with this project.

First, there's the impression of good cheer that goes with one meaning of the expression, and which I associate with one of my favorite aspects of, well, drinking - the social aspect.  Whether it's at a good bar, at the home of a friend, or celebrating at a wedding or other event, there's a lot to be said for that feeling of clinking glasses in good company.  Beyond just highlighting some fun ways to fill the glasses of the potential glass clinkers out there, I also hope to carry this social meme a little further by enlisting the aid of some of the aforementioned friends that I regularly toast with to bring some of their insights to this blog.

A second (and ok, perhaps a bit more morbid) way of interpreting the phrase "raised spirits" is the idea of calling forth apparitions from beyond the grave.  This meaning is somewhat apt as well, in that I am very much someone that appreciates the rich history that goes along with cocktails and classic drinks, and I am always up for exploring the often delicious vintage drinks of bygone eras. Thankfully, I am far from the only one, as the trend towards the revival of vintage cocktails and spirits in cities across the country seems to be continuing to build steam, making what was old new again.

A third way to interpret "raised spirits" is the idea of raising up, or improving upon something.  I think this is fitting first in a historical way, as it harkens back to the origins of the cocktail as, put bluntly, a means to compensate for terrible quality spirits.  However, more importantly I think it also fits in the general sense of seeking improvement, going beyond the known to new frontiers.  It's this meaning that I associate with modern mixology and the new frontiers that today's bartenders are exploring, all of which piques my interest and is subject matter I hope to explore on this blog.

Finally, there's the somewhat literal interpretation - raising spirits in the sense or raising your glasses for a toast.  So in that vein, and in closing, na zdrowie!  Cheers!  and thank you for reading!