Some flavor combinations are beyond my understanding. Most of the time, I try it anyway, because that is how we learn, and sometimes learning is surprisingly tasty. Charles Baker has inevitably, though grudgingly taught me this. I never would have guessed at how well the combination of caraway and brandy works, though that pairing is not Earth shattering. Or honey, scotch and cream--I am actually very glad I tried that one. Generally, I would not be considered the most adventurous person when it comes to what I put in my mouth. So when Charles Baker says that he is only including it "through clinical mixing interest," the physical sensations of panic start in my knees and reverberate slowly upward. If the other weird things I have tasted were included sincerely, where do I put the cocktail that even Charles Baker doesn't want to drink? This man drank everything, or at least tried it. Hell, he was a real adventurer, not just a flavor adventurer.
In my copy of Jigger Beaker and Glass, the recipe for the Barry Cocktail is broken over two pages. You actually have to flip the page to read the second half. So I was there--totally there--when Baker was describing a sweet martini with aromatic bitters. I thought his statement regarding clinical mixing interest was included because the recipe was comparatively mundane and simple. Sometimes those cocktails are the best, and his description had my mouth watering. Sweet vermouth happens to be one of my favorite ingredients. But, with Baker you should always reserve judgment, both for good and evil--there is always a "but" and usually it is huge. True enough, when I flipped the page, my hopes were dashed with three little words: creme de menthe.
I don't particularly like creme de menthe. Maybe it's because most brands are notoriously bad, or because the drinks that call for it are usually incredibly sweet. Or maybe it's because once you drink creme de menthe, your taste buds are done--at least for a while. Nothing tastes the same. Well, that sounds like three strikes to me. But I digress.
The major problem with the Barry wasn't the ingredients. Are they surprising? Yes. Not particularly appetizing? Sure. But considering some of the other Baker cocktails, after the initial shock, all it registered was a shrug. A few sips never hurt anyone, especially for the sake of knowledge. The real problem was that I don't own any creme de menthe, and I really have no need to. And considering that I don't really like it, don't cook in general (no grasshopper pie for me), and realistically have no room for it, this was a very real issue. So off I went to purchase a mini bottle--after all I only needed a half a teaspoon. Washington state liquor stores, however, don't stock minis of creme de menthe. Malibu rum, check. But no creme de menthe. I was doomed to buy a bottle. But then something wonderful happened. As I was sitting next to a friend at the Zig Zag, and complaining about this very conundrum, my friend looked up at me with a smile and said, "I have some creme de menthe. How much do you need?" It is a wonderful thing to have friends who love cocktails.
Barry Cocktail (as interpreted)
2 ounces gin
1 ounce sweet vermouth
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
1/2 tsp creme de menthe
Stir first three ingredients in a chilled mixing glass. Strain into a chilled coupe. Float (sink) creme de menthe. Twist a lemon peel over top and discard.
Notes on Ingredients: I used Plymouth gin, Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth, and Hiram Walker Green creme de menthe.
Baker does not supply any proportions for this drink: "It is exactly the same as a Martini, but using Italian vermouth instead of the dry French type." Martinis in 1926 were not constructed in the same way they are now. Vermouth was much more popular. I took a flying leap and decided to use a 2:1 martini recipe, which may or may not be too wet. Also, Baker didn't specify white creme de menthe or green, but beggars can't be choosers. I figured with such a small amount it wouldn't matter that much.
Because the creme de menthe sunk to the bottom, I had to practically drink the entire cocktail to really experience the range of flavors this drink provides. Getting there wasn't unenjoyable, either. But once I did sip my way into that waiting green pool--ew, and down the sink it went. Onto the specifics. The aroma of the lemon oils and the botanics of the gin greeted my nose. The juniper of the gin hinted with lemon dominated the first sip. Sweet vermouth was by far the most dominant ingredient. The juniper reappeared on the swallow, along with the heat of the alcohol. This libation reminded me of a London dry Martinez, of course missing the sweetness and funky notes of the maraschino. As I progressed, the taste of the mint started to creep into the flavor spectrum. This wasn't completely unpleasant, either. The mint played nicely off the herbals in a very delicate way, and even then mostly in the aftertaste. When I did reach the pool of green, the mint took over, much like a large dose of absinthe. The drink was completely unbalanced, which was a major flaw. But what killed this combination was the strong taste of mint, like gum or mints or even toothpaste, with the sweet vermouth chaser. Not good.
Barry Cocktail (as adapted)
2 ounces gin
1 ounce Punt e Mes
2 dashes Angostura bitters
5 drops mint bitters
Stir ingredients in a chilled mixing glass. Strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with a lemon twist.
Notes on Ingredients: I used Plymouth gin and Punt e mes, because I ran out of the Martini & Rossi, and its what I like.
The one thing that this exploration of Baker's book has taught me so far is that you never know what combinations will work. Usually his initial recipes are a bit out there, but they always seem to open my eyes to some new flavor possibility. This drink made me nervous. But in the end, I discovered something about incorporating strong mint flavors, and I had a really enjoyable cocktail. Also, it made me even more thankful for my friends with stocked liquor cabinets.