Astor Hotel Special

"Our epidemic of missing steamboats began in Shanghai and was the fault of this very blend--sitting in the charming old Astor, with fog setting in"
Charles Baker

During 1926, Charles Baker found himself on a world cruise because he was lucky playing the stock markets. Shanghai became a notorious port of call on this trip not only because he become so besotted that he effectively marooned himself there, but also because his proposal to a "delightful maiden" was rejected in favor of a man whose only claim to fame would be that he was kidnapped by a famous villain, Alan "Creepy" Karpis, a member of the notorious Ma Baker gang.

Imagine yourself sitting a bar stool as the evening fog has started to creep over the city. The popular tea dances are just beginning to start. You've got your arm around a delightful maiden that in just this ethereal light looks wiser than her years, and yet still more delicate than she really is. But perhaps all of that nonsense is just a reflection of you, already deep in your cups. The waiter in his white coat catches your eye and nods as you raise your hand for another round of specials. The couples swirl along the dance floor, filmy tiered dresses spinning into tuxedo jackets. Rye is being poured at every table. The weight of the evening pulses in your brow, bringing easy smiles and exaggerated gestures. A foghorn blows in the distance, lilting from somewhere off behind the jaunty call of the clarinet. Little do you know, or even care, that as the sound disappears into the fog, your bags and belongings are trailing across the harbor on their way to the next port. When the frosted white goblet is set before you, you catch the sly glimmer in your gal's eye before looking back at the creamy foam almost spilling out of the glass. If only we could all get so lost in the East.

The Astor Hotel Special

1 1/2 ounces cognac (2 oz brandy)
1 tsp maraschino liqueur 
2 tsp egg white
3/4 ounce absinthe (1/4 oz absinthe)
1/2 tsp lemon juice 
club soda (1 1/2 oz)

Dry shake all ingredients save club soda. Add ice and shake hard. Strain into a large wine goblet and add soda.

Trial Number One

What a disappointment. The milky brown color was not appetizing and the lack of foam was an immediate downer after all that shaking. The smell of licorice on the aroma practically knocked me down as I took a sip. And though I made some initial adjustments, balance was nowhere to be found. Simply increasing the brandy and decreasing the absinthe just didn't do enough. Even at a quarter ounce, the absinthe was pretty overwhelming. I could just barely make out the brandy and maraschino. The brightness of the lemon juice peeked out on the swallow, but mostly it was all absinthe all the time. The drink was drinkable, but not particularly enjoyable.

Trial Number Two

Revisiting the Astor Hotel Special a couple of weeks later, I decided to scrap my earlier efforts and go with my gut. My final revisions are below. Visually the drink looked better--a nice pinkish brown below a layer of white foam. I cut the absinthe even further, increased the lemon juice, and used an entire egg white. Because of the lemon juice adjustment, I upped the maraschino content to create balance. I added the lemon oils to the foam on a whim, but it seemed to work.

The lemon oils mingled with the absinthe in the aroma. With a smooth texture and a subtle fizziness, the drink was strikingly dry. The brandy contributed a richness throughout, while the lemon added brightness and balance. The maraschino was most apparent at the end of each sip where it worked well with the licorice flavors. The absinthe still ran the show, but all in all, a little tinkering produced a surprisingly refreshing libation. I can now understand why this drink might knock Mr. Baker's socks off, though I still feel like the maiden had a bit more to do with the marooning that he was willing to admit.

The Astor Hotel Special (as adapted)

2 oz brandy
1 1/2 tsp maraschino liqueur
1 egg white 
1 barspoon absinthe
2 tsp lemon juice
1 1/2 oz club soda

Dry shake all ingredients save club soda. Add ice and shake again, hard. Strain into a large cocktail glass, add club soda, and express the oils of a lemon peel on top of the foam.

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