Untraditional Bitters Part Two: Smoky Vesper and Dunbar

Choosing between the different flavor profiles of bitters wasn't the only option available for early bartenders seeking to differentiate their own creations. The evolution of the Cocktail into the wide array of drink families and styles of today began with the addition of all sorts of untraditional ingredients that were used like bitters--in mere dashes. The Fancy Cocktail was one of the earliest, incorporated as it was into the first edition of Jerry Thomas's cocktail tome. It was simply an Old Fashioned served up with a dash of orange liqueur and a lemon twist. Then, as absinthe and other liqueurs became popular and easier to come by, the Improved Cocktail was created--an Old Fashioned served up with a dash of absinthe and maraschino liqueur. But for the most part, these drinks were all made in the same way--shaken or stirred with ice--with the newest ingredient just added to the mix. As far as availble techniques, bartenders did not have a vast amount of options. Sure, muddling happened, as well as layering. And there was the always popular pouring flaming hot liquid from two tankards method. But perhaps the most interesting innovation in technique was introduced in New Orleans with the adaptation of the Sazerac: the rinse.

You see, it's all about the rinse. Now, this technique didn't change the way drinks were made at the time, and it certainly have a resounding impact on the ways drinks were constructed over the years. The rinse was still used here and there--sometimes to good effect and sometimes to none at all. Steadily, it plodded along with the Cocktail, though it wasn't until much later that it would garner  attention as one of the important tools in the bartender's bag of tricks. But back in the beginning, the absinthe rinse was even not part of the original Sazerac. This was only added later, most likely when the popularity of absinthe began to soar in the late nineteenth century. The small amount is easily understood--even a quarter ounce of absinthe can overpower many ingredients. But why use a rinse? Why not just add the absinthe, as a dash, to the chilled mixture? Perhaps the easiest hypothesis is that the absinthe was an add-on--some bit of flair to finish things off. But just maybe those bartenders were using a rinse to incorporate the powerful anise aroma as an additional garnish. Unfortunately, the intentions of the nineteenth century bartender will always be a mystery.

Temperature plays a most important factor in the succesful use of a rinse. The ingredients in the mixing glass, for example the bitters, syrup and rye of the Sazerac, will be thoroughly chilled. If you pre-chill your glass, the absinthe rinse will only be partially chilled, otherwise it will be room temperature.  This absinthe will have a stronger aroma than the bitters-syrup-rye mixture. Along with chilling and diluting, the ice also constricts aroma. By combining a chilled mixture with a warmer rinse, the aroma of the rinse will be more pronounced on that intial sip, and perhaps even subsequent sips. If you use a glass that is slightly larger than the volume of the cocktail, the rinse will have an even more profound effect. The extra space, layered with the more aromatic rinse, makes it less likely that the rinse will be incorporated into the cocktail, meaning that the intense aroma will be stronger for longer. After a few sips, however, the two elements will mingle and the drink's flavors will approach equilibrium.

For years I took this small detail for granted with the Sazerac. I just always assumed it was a way to incorporate a strongly flavored ingredient without allowing it to take over the cocktail. I never really thought about the fact that just by adding a dash to the mixing glass would accomplish this all on its own. It was only recently that I began thinking about the mechanics of the rinse and how it is an integral part of using strongly flavored ingredients as bitters. The rinse has become one of the most popular ways of incorporating such untraditional bitters. It just makes sense that ingredients that have whopping flavors also have strong aromas. Whether a bartender is adding smoke, as in the Dunbar (Laphroaig rinse), herbaceousness as in the Man with No Name (green chartreuse rinse), bitter orange in New Orleans Is Drowning (from 2008, Campari rinse), dry almond-cherry notes in the Cuzco (kirsh rinse), or fruitiness in the entire class of Bell-Ringers (apricot brandy rinses), these cocktails were counting on a particular aroma to finish the cocktail, sort of like twisting a citrus peel over a finished cocktail. Not all of these drinks are new, but it seemed that as soon as I was actively looking for rinsed cocktails, everywhere I looked a glass was being drizzled with something.

Dunbar (recipe from cocktailvirgin.blogspot.com, created by California Gold of Drink in Boston)

1 3/4 oz scotch
1 oz amontillado sherry
1/4 oz Benedictine
1 dash aromatic bitters
1 dash orange bitters

Stir with ice and strain into a glass pre-rinsed with Laphroaig Scotch. Twist an orange peel over the top.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Famous Grouse, Lustau amontillado sherry, and Angostura orange and aromatic bitters. Instead of Laphroaig, I used Arbeg.   

Of all of the rinsed cocktails that I have tried though, the most successful in my mind is probably the simplest: the Smoky Vesper. It is exactly what it sounds like, a Vesper with a rinse of Islay scotch. Specificity isn't needed, though each scotch will bring its own qualities to the fore. When you dip your nose into the glass, the smell of the peat smoke mingles with the brightness of the lemon oils glistening on the surface. Of course the gin is there as well, and all of the herbal notes together create a kind of symphony. It isn't magical--it tastes like scotch added to a Vesper. But it is the interaction that, at least for me, pushes the boundaries and elevates the experience.

Smoky Vesper

1 1/2 ounces gin
1/2 ounce vodka
1/4 ounce Lillet

Stir ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass. Strain into a scotch-rinsed cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Martin Miller gin, Chopin vodka, Ardbeg, and Cocchi Americano in the place of Lillet.


Untraditional Bitters Part One: Meat Hook

Cocktail history unofficially began when someone somewhere added bitters to his (or her, though unlikely) morning dram. But what exactly are bitters? We know the names. The ubiquitous Angostura. The classics, Regan's and Peychaud's. Brands such as the Bitter Truth, Bittermens, Scrappys and a host of others anchor the newer, more modern entries into the bitters catalogue. But what are they really, I mean, besides bitter? Usually, they consist of complex, unabashedly intense combinations of flavor where at least one element is just plain God-damned bitter--thus, the bittering agent. Quassia, Gentian, and Calamus are all examples of the extreme versions, though many other herbs are available that have varying strengths. Layered on top of these potent, sometimes even eye-watering flavors are the tasty elements one might actually like to encounter: grapefruit, orange, cloves, cinnamon, rhubarb, lavender, the list goes on and on and is expanded by the day. By combining a bittering agent with these more palatable flavors, you get bitters. And once you have tasted them straight, usually as a single drop or three, it is easy to understand why they are only used in dashes.

For a cocktail, bitters are transformative. In an Old Fashioned, the bitters add embellishment to slightly sweetened straight spirits. But over time as cocktails became more complicated, and a whole slew of ingredients were introduced to the barman's milieu, the role of bitters grew. No longer did bitters just add that zip of flavor to invigorate a glass of spirits and balance the sweetness. Indeed, they became the glue that pulled a drink together. One tiny dash could connect the dots among disparate ingredients and contribute a certain amount of depth. To boil it all down, bitters keep your taste buds in the game by keeping the whole experience interesting from first chilled sip to the last swig.

Somewhere along the line, though, bitters changed. Not by name or definition, but instead by what could be used as bitters. Dashes of other stongly flavored ingredients were soon finding their way into cocktails to "finish" them and ensure balance. Absinthe is probably the most widely acknowledged classic ingredient to be used this way, though it is not the only one. Considering absinthe's high proof--most of them historically clock in at around 130 proof--it is not surprising that both the strength and intense bitter wormwood flavor allowed absinthe to be used in dashes to excellent effect, just like bitters. Even in small amounts, it has enough flavor to stand out and compliment all sorts of unruly cocktail ingredients.

But absinthe isn't the only strong flavor that can be used this way. Green chartreuse, scotch, mezcal, and even Fernet Branca have all taken their turn as bitters. Whether these untraditional ingredients are added in dashes to the shaker or employed as aromatic rinses, contemporary bartenders have experimented with these flavors to add an extra dimension to an original cocktail or twist a classic.

For a long time I overlooked this phenomenon. Even as I read Gary Regan's article in the San Francisco Chronicle touting smoky scotch's new role, I barely batted an eyelash. But this was all pre-Meat Hook. While visiting Vancouver, Canada earlier this year that I was lucky enough to try this delicious play on the Red Hook at L'Abbatoir. It took an Ardbeg-laced Manhattan variation to really make me sit up and pay attention to the possibilities. By practicing restraint with such a bold flavor, a new experience is uncovered. It was amazing. Thankfully, the recipe was easy to find thanks to a Drinker's Peace, a Vancouver drinks blog.

Meat Hook (adapted from A Drinker's Peace, original created by Shaun Layton)

1 1/2 ounces rye
3/4 ounce Punt e Mes
1/3 ounce Islay scotch
1 teaspoon maraschino liqueur

Stir ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a brandied cherry.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Rittenhouse 100 proof, Ardbeg, and Maraska maraschino.

Now, it is true that the amount of scotch in the Meat Hook is certainly more than a dash. But this doesn't seem to buck any modern trends--it's become common for cocktails to call for more bitters. Where once 2 dashes was considered a hefty dose of those potent flavors, today's bartenders utilize ever greater amounts. Cocktails that call for 4 or even 5 dashes are full of flavor and ruffle no feathers. Of course, we shouldn't forget those cocktails that are based on bitters. But that is another story altogether.


Chasing Down Childhood Memories: La Cola Nostra

I have always had a special relationship with root beer. On visits to my grandmother's house, we would discover her homemade version maturing on the porch. I remember those enormous glass jugs with tiny necks and the complex aroma that wafted out when the bottle was finally opened.  Even today I can easily recall the flavors, the savory hints of the roots themselves mingled with a rich caramel to produce something tangy and bitter, yet still sweet. It was probably the most adult taste I had experienced until then. And then there was the delicate fizz undulating on surface of the tongue that commercial sodas fail to mimic. It was truly a magical experience that captured one of the most basic joys of youth: that of experiencing a truly memorable flavor. These sensory memories encased in a pleasant surprise stay with you always. I have been chasing that elusive flavor memory for years.

A couple of years ago when I was starting on my own homemade soda experiments, memories of my grandmother's root beer popped into my mind. But it's not like I ever really forgot. I must have tried every single small batch root beer that is available on the market, but none of them have captured that distinct flavor of my childhood. But as time passes, my idea of those vague, yet magical flavors becomes even less concrete. Could a modern commercial representation even come close to my memory tainted by time and nostalgia?

As this idea plagued me, I decided, after a reasonably successful batch of homemade ginger beer, that it couldn't be that hard to replicate--after all, my grandmother is still alive. So I pressed my mother for the recipe. Images of separate jars filled with various root "teas" filled my head. I began perusing local herb stores for different ingredients. But the results of my quest were underwhelming when my mother told me that my grandmother used the root beer extract from the grocery store. You would think that I would have been pleased considering how easy it would be to reproduce the flavors of my youth. But it's like finding out that your mother's recipe for your favorite dish comes from a packet, instead of some guarded family secret.

My obsession with small batch root beer did not diminish, however, though my interest in making it did. In fact, my need for old-fashioned soda flavors has only grown to include colas. The interesting idea that cola once included not only some form of lime juice, but also other herbs and spices that are mysteriously absent in modern recipes has fueled my interest in "ancient" forms. Brands like Fentimans have only further inspired this interest. And, it could be argued that my intense love for amari and bitters was honed during those visits to my grandparents' farm when we sipped from the big jugs of dark fizzy liquid.

Instead of a perfect soda recipe, I stumbled onto a cocktail, created by Don Lee formerly of PDT and Momofuku in New York City, that seems to capture my idea of an old-fashioned cola. In fact, it actually contains many of the ingredients that were in the original recipe for Coca-Cola that was created by Dr. John Pemberton in 1886. This cocktail was submitted for consideration in the Averna contest, Have a Look, in 2008 and took home top honors. After tasting it, you will understand why. For me personally, this drink satisfies my childhood memory as well as my adult tastes. But I haven't totally given up home: Look out root beer, one of these days I am going to figure you out.

La Cola Nostra (as created by Don Lee)

1 1/2 ounces rum
1 ounce Averna
3/4 ounce lime juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup
1/4 ounce pimento dram

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass or flute. Top with champagne (1 1/2 ounces).

Notes on Ingredients: I used Bacardi 8 rum, homemade pimento dram, Mount Ste Michelle Champagne, and a 1:1 simple syrup.


Underused Cocktail Ingredients: Celery Bitters

In 2008, the Bitter Truth won the Spirit of the Year Award for their celery bitters, though in some ways you would never know it. While individually lauded as a cocktail ingredient and included as a staple on most back bars, you would be hard pressed to find menus that actually are pushing the complex, relatively polarizing ingredient. It is a shame. It really is a wonderful product. But because it really does have a very potent celery taste that is both herbaceous and bright, small doses even for bitters are usually the best way to go. In fact I have only seen one heavily bittered cocktail based on celery bitters--though I don't think many more will be forthcoming. The truth is that they don't work with everything. Even in old bar guides, drinks that call for celery bitters can be hard to track down. Though many of them are worth the effort of locating. More often than not, when I even try to  incorporate them into a cocktail, the result goes beyond bad. But when it works, oh my god does it work! Basically celery bitters are like the girl with curl: good means very, very good, bad equates to a sink donation.

While it may sound weird, unlike cranberry bitters and even rhubarb bitters, celery bitters have actually been around for a really long time. Popularized in the early 19th century for their alleged health benefits, celery bitters were actually sold as a health tonic. It is not surprising that they ended up in cocktails. Almost every liquid with potential health benefits has found their way into cocktails--because of course bartenders are really looking out for all of us. With the onset of Prohibition, all bitters were doomed. Though it is doubtful that any other type of bitters was so likely a candidate for becoming defunct than celery bitters. But thankfully, since the resurgence of interest in all things defunct as well as things just tremendously obscure, celery bitters are back. But, you might ask, what now? How do I use them? They are actually very popular in my house and I am always on the lookout for new uses. Here are some of my favorites.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that celery bitters go really well with gin, and all things juniper in nature. Gin very easily lends itself to more savory drinks, and thus all the botanicals tend to play nicely. It is probably the easiest way to use celery bitters.

Ephemeral (adapted from Chuck Taggert's recipe, created by Dave Shenaut)

1 1/2 ounces old Tom gin
1 ounce Dolin blanc
2 bar spoons elderflower liqueur
3 dashes celery bitters

Combine ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a grapefruit twist.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Ransom old Tom, Bitter Truth celery bitters, and Pur elderflower liqueur.

Rum may seem more of a stretch and there are certainly plenty of rum drinks that would be utterly ruined with the addition of celery bitters. But rum and celery bitters are not mutually exclusive. Celery's potent vegetal aromatics mingle exceptionally well with citrus, a common ingredient in many rum drinks. Also the more vegetal rhum agricole pairs exceedingly well with the crisp bright flavors of celery bitters. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. For some reason the Daiquiri just popped in my mind when considering celery and rum. And lo and behold it works quite nicely.

Celery Daiquiri

1 1/2 ounces white rum
3/4 ounce simple syrup
3/4 ounce lime juice
1-2 dashes celery bitters

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

Notes on Ingredients: I usually use Cruzan white rum. A darker rum will definitely up the ante, though care must be needed to not alienate the celery. My simple syrups are almost always 1:1 with natural sugar. Bitter Truth celery bitters were used as well.

Aquavit is another of those ingredients that can be hard to find on menus, though this trend seems to be changing albeit slowly. It is hardly surprising that aquavit's polarizing caraway and anise flavors make it a bit harder to match things with. Yet, it is almost ironic how well it pairs with celery. With this cocktail, just a simple substitution and a little tweaking yielded wonderful results.

Aquavit Vesper

1 1/2 ounces aquavit
1/2 ounce vodka
1/4 Dolin blanc
1 dash orange bitters
1 dash celery bitters

Combine the ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir and strain the contents into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Linie aquavit, Chopin vodka, Regan's orange bitters, and the Bitter Truth celery bitters.

Tequila, and especially blanco tequilas, have a wonderful green, menthol flavor that matches very nicely with celery bitters. One of the best examples that I am aware of comes from Phil Ward, owner of Mayahuel and bartender extraordinaire. Pairing dry vermouth, blanco tequila and green chartreuse, among other things, creates a lovely herbal drink that both highlights the celery bitters and shows off how well they can play with others.

Loop Tonic (created by Phil Ward)

2 ounces blanco tequila
1 ounce dry vermouth
1/2 ounce Green Chartreuse
1/2 ounce simple syrup
3/4 ounce lime juice
1 dash celery bitters

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a highball glass filled with ice. Garnish with a slice of celery.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Dolin extra dry, a 1 to 1 simple syrup and El Relingo tequila.

This cocktail is perhaps my favorite drink that uses celery bitters. This creation was introduced late in the nineteenth century, but is most notable for its inclusion in Charles Baker's Gentleman's Companion--one of his absolute home runs. There is just something about the way that a Manhattan is altered by the herbal notes of the celery that make it seem so massively different. But all that is added a dash. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if it was the interplay between the sweet vermouth and the celery that is actually taking center stage. I think further experimentation is in order.

Fourth Regiment (adapted from Charles Baker's The Gentleman's Companion by way of Robert Hess's Small Screen Network episode)

2 ounces rye
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 dash Peychaud's style bitters
1 dash orange bitters
1 dash celery bitters

Combine ingredients in a chilled mixing glass. Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime twist.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Rittenhouse rye, Punt e Mes, Angostura orange bitters, Bitter Truth Creole bitters, and of course, Bitter Truth celery bitters.

A Champagne Cocktail Worthy of Happy Hour: Ile de France Special

I am a big fan of the champagne cocktail. For many years I would have said that there was no better way to drink champagne. Granted I didn't much like champagne, or any sparkling wine, for that matter. But my tastes have changed. Over time, I discovered other beverages that put bubbly to good use--and some of them I would opine, are far superior to the champagne cocktail. For example, the Morning Glory Cocktail, with necessary champagne substitution, the Seelbach, the Jimmie Roosevelt,and the Old Cuban all come to mind. I am also partial to a negroni sblagliato. But those all require more than just dousing a sugar cube in bitters and dropping it in a glass of champers. The champagne cocktail is simple and elegant. Like the Old-Fashioned, it is a drink I never get sick of. I mean sure, I could just drink a glass of sparkling wine, but I could also just drink a glass of whiskey. Time and place are important factors here. Just like certain circumstances call for a champagne over a champagne cocktail, certain circumstances require, a term I use loosely, a jigger of whiskey neat over an Old-Fashioned. And how weird to find ourselves back at that fuzzy place where craving becomes an issue.

A champagne cocktail is my go-to alcoholic beverage to accompany brunch. I know that the overwhelming majority tends to favor the mimosa. I also know some people who lean toward a Ramos Gin Fizz or a Brandy Milk Punch--and sometimes I like to lean with them. Their company is usually exuberant and filled with possibilities, though a mid-day nap might also be required. But as I am sure I have posted before, a nice champagne cocktail creates the illusion of luxury and relaxation--exactly what brunch should mean. The unhurried gorging of oneself over hours, belts and comfort be damned. The problem is that other than for this occasional indulgence, I never look to a champagne cocktail. For some reason, they have been limited to brunch only. Thank goodness for Charles Baker, though its no surprise that he is posthumously forcing me to expand my drinking horizons.

Perhaps the reason why I never have a champagne cocktail after about three p.m. is because I don't take it seriously as a cocktail. It is a rather light drink, considering that it is simply a mildly flavored glass of wine. I usually crave a little kick At least for me, I tend to favor cocktails with a bit more of a kick in the evening. That's what is so wonderful about almost all of the champagne cocktails in Baker: at least four out of five have a slug of brandy in them. And this doesn't only up the ante on the kick. A smooth richness of flavor comes through as well. As far as the Ile de France Special specifically, mingle the brandy with the usual suspects (sparkling wine, syrup and bitters) and a float of yellow chartreuse and you get a perfectly herbal beverage that totally is perfect as the sun is sinking down the sky.

Ile de France Special (as adapted)

1/2 teaspoon simple sugar
1/2 ounce cognac
3 1/2 ounces champagne
1 dash orange bitters
1/8 ounce (1 bar spoon) yellow chartreuse

Into a chilled cocktail glass or flute, add syrup, cognac, and bitters. Stir gently to incorporate. Top with Champagne. Carefully float yellow chartreuse.


Tequila, Sherry, and Origin Stories

The world of cocktails is full of origin stories. The older and more well known a drink is, the more fascination surrounds its beginnings. Unfortunately, the details surrounding a beverage's journey from inspired idea to regional or even national prominence are usually hidden in the folds of inebriation. In the absence of fact, speculation abounds. Did the Martini originate in Martinez, California? Was the Manhattan created at the Manhattan Club in New York City for a banquet hosted by Winston Churchill's mother? Tall tales and outright mistruths are more common than actual facts. Usually nothing can illuminate the mysteries of a cocktail's birth. Luckily, those life-altering moments when you are wobbling on the cusp of change tend to stand out and are that much easier to recall, even if an event's importance is only acknowledged in retrospect. As time passes, those memories become embedded into our identity, like squares of fabric into a quilt--prominently displayed and openly cherished. I thought it was high time to share my own origin story, or at least as it pertains to classic cocktails.

Tracy and I were living in a one-story fourplex on a dead-end street in Portland, OR. As a freelance editor, I spent a lot of time in that house. At that time, cocktails were barely on my radar. While I did enjoy the occasional Manhattan or dram of bourbon, beer was my beverage of choice. But I had always been interested in mixing drinks, and when the occasion arose, I usually wielded the shaker. So when my twenty-seventh birthday rolled around, I was sort of a blank slate just waiting for the right decoration. Anything could have happened. In retrospect, it seems obvious that the next big thing was just around the corner, though I never would have guessed it. But while I was busy tearing wrapping paper, many spheres of influence were converging.

Awaiting its turn alongside a new set of bar tools, consequently, was the Art of the Bar. It's funny, but not entirely surprising, that it all started with a book. Little did I know that this particular cocktail book would not only drastically alter my drinking habits, but also the entire landscape of my life. To this day I remember flipping through its glossy pages lined with beautiful cocktails, both new and old. Now it was probably the stylistic design  that spoke loudest to me, all of those gorgeous garnishes dangling off the edges of beautiful stemware. I have always had an eye for great stems. But the effect of that book were instantaneous. I told Tracy right then and there that I was going to make each and every one of them. Though the years have passed and I still love looking through its pages, I never did make it to every cocktail. As my interest in cocktails grew, both newly released cocktail books and vintage bar books stole my attentions. Though I hate to admit it, more often than not, it sits on a book shelf waiting for me to get the urge to flip through its pages again.

Recently, while searching for cocktails with both sherry and tequila, the Internet led me to the Choke Artist. Though the name sounded vaguely familiar, my interest was piqued as the drink brought Cynar into the mix with the tequila and sherry that held my interest. I quickly discovered where I had run into this libation before: the Choke Artist is the creation of Jeffrey Hollinger and Rob Schwartz and is included in the Art of the Bar. It was one of the ones that had I had missed all those years ago. But then again, it wouldn't have even been on my radar back then. I hadn't yet acquired a taste for tequila and it would still have been a couple of years before I truly discovered sherry. I am sure I didn't even know what Cynar was. All that has changed of course. This drink is definitely one to try.

Choke Artist (as adapted)

1 1/2 ounces anejo tequila
1 ounce Cynar
3/4 ounce manzanilla sherry
2 dashes Regan's orange bitters

Stir ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Don Julio anejo tequila, and Barbadillo manzanilla sherry.


Ode to the Corpse Reviver: Brandy-Based Versions

What do the Frank Sullivan Cocktail, the Hey Hey Cocktail, the Hoop-La Cocktail and the Odd McIntyre Cocktail have in common? Well, everything. All four brandy-based Corpse Revivers No. 2 not only contain the same ingredients in the same proportions and are made the same way, but they also were all created at roughly the same time and introduced in the same cocktail guide. With over 750 recipes collected in the Savoy Cocktail Book, it is not surprising that there are duplicates. But quadruplicates? Considering that three of the recipes are within pages of one another, this oversight seems excessive. But with scant details available about how the Savoy was actually compiled--monumental task that it must have been--our curiosity is left hanging in the breeze. Even inside its pages, if information is even provided about a cocktail's provenance, and often it is not, few explanations are given. The truth is that not much can illuminate the mysteries and odd curiosities (i.e., mistakes) many have discovered within the Savoy's covers. Perhaps only Mr. Craddock knows the answers, though it seems he took his insights to the grave.

While a great number of the recipes included in the Savoy were pilfered from earlier cocktail books--which is just one reason why it is such a complete source--these four cocktails appear to be Harry Craddock creations. After doing a cursory search, I wasn't able to locate these cocktails in any of the cocktail volumes I have at home that predate the Savoy. This is by no means conclusive, as I don't own that many books and any one of these cocktails could pop up in a more obscure tome.  But considering that Craddock is widely acknowledged as the creator of the Corpse Reviver No. 2, a nearly identical cocktail, attributing these cocktails to him seems reasonable. When the differences boil down to a simple ingredient swap and the omission of a rinse, this conclusion hardly requires a leap of faith.

And though it may seem like their presence in the Savoy amounts to just filler, especially considering the repetitiveness, each of these cocktails had its own trajectory on the way to more modern audiences. Though more modern in this case only spans about 10 years. Ultimately, they were just as doomed as almost every other cocktail created before or during Prohibition--not much made it past the vodka-soaked black hole that was the 1950s. And while their gin-based cousin has been resurrected as the darling of the cocktail world, it would be hard to argue that any one of the Frank Sullivan, Odd McIntyre, Hoop-La or Hey Hey is widely known even among cocktail enthusiasts or revivalist bartenders. The history is what you would expect for an obscure drink created in the 1930s. After approximately 1937, it was hard to locate these drinks in cocktail guides--as shown by their omission in both David Embury's Fine Art of Mixing Drinks (1958) and Esquire's Handbook for Hosts (1949). That said, the Corpse Reviver No. 2 didn't make the cut either. But putting all of this aside, perhaps the most interesting facet of each drink's history is the way that later bar book authors dealt with them, collectively. I mean what do you do with a drink that has four different names.

Approved Cocktails (1934)

By 1934, the Savoy Cocktail Book had been reprinted many times and the Savoy Hotel and many other drinking establishments were primed for the swarms of Americans fleeing the restrictions of Prohibition. British cocktails, it seemed, had officially arrived. To deal with the unruly flocks, the newly formed UK Bartender's Guild published the bar book, Approved Cocktails, to standardize recipes across the industry and help bartenders avoid using the same names for different drinks. Harry Craddock happened to be the president of the Guild at the time. So, how did they choose to deal with four identical brandy Revivers? The Hoop La and the Odd McIntyre are listed in the main recipe section and retain their identical recipes. The Frank Sullivan is listed in a special section of cocktails whose recipes are available only upon request. But the Hey Hey is not mentioned at all. Interestingly, while two different Corpse Revivers (Corpse Reviver and Corpse Reviver Liqueur) are both listed in the pages-long section devoted to cocktails not specifically included, the Corpse Reviver No. 2 is nowhere to be found.

"Cocktail Bill" Boothby's World Drinks and How to Mix Them (1934 Reprint)

Whoever compiled the 1934 reprint of Cocktail Bill's World Drinks--Bill Boothby having died in 1930--for some reason chose to handle these four cocktails differently. Though no reasoning is included, three can be found among its pages, though two of them have been varied slightly. (Note, the first edition of World Drinks was published in 1930. Though it is unlikely, I wonder if any of these drinks were included in its pages.) To start, the Odd McIntyre has been omitted completely. The Hoopla Cocktail calls for equal parts of cognac, Lillet, lemon juice and Cointreau, which matches the initial Savoy recipe. The Hey Hey is almost identical, except that in place of cognac, it calls for brandy. What are the differences between brandy and cognac? The answer is underwhelming. Technically, brandy is a distillate made of a fruit, most notably grapes. This distillate is then barrel-aged by law in most of Europe, though standards are more lenient elsewhere in the world. Cognac, on the other hand, is a specific type of brandy distilled in a very limited geographic area according to very specific rules that concern all facets of production. So while the recipes seem different, depending on interpretation, the resulting beverage could be the same. The Frank Sullivan, however, matches the Hoopla except that instead of lemon juice, the recipe calls for sour mix, usually a mixture of lemon juice and/or lime juice and sugar. This is the most drastic change as the basic equal parts recipe has been lost in favor of a sweeter drink.

Cafe Royal Cocktail Book (1937)

 The UKBG's Approved Cocktails was the organization's initial publication and it was intended for industry members. It was only printed once and with a limited print run. With the Cafe Royal Cocktail Book, the Guild sought to raise money for charity while also compiling the creations of then-current British bartenders. William J. Tarling, head barman at the Cafe Royal in London, founding member of the UK Bartender's Guild, and in 1937 president of the Guild, started with the 125-page Approved Cocktails and expanded it to include 213 pages of recipes. Many of the the new drinks were furnished by his contemporaries. It has been said that the Cafe Royal Cocktail Book is a rebuttal to the Savoy Cocktail Book. Perhaps it was, because rather than simply collecting every recipe under the sun, Tarling sought to "give a selection of the most suitable cocktails." There is even a section of omitted cocktail recipes, like in Approved Cocktails, that are available upon request. Perhaps there was even a bit of competition between these two leaders in their field. After all, both served as president of the Guild and both compiled important cocktail guides. Craddock was also an American transplant, while Tarling was British. Could this have been an issue as well? Speculation is all that remains, and any potential arguments seem to pile up quickly.

But what about the four identical brandy-based Revivers? Tarling only included the Hoop La with the Savoy's recipe. The Odd McIntyre and Frank Sullivan are still included though they have been relegated to the Supplementary List of Cocktails in the back. The Hey Hey Cocktail is still missing. It is curious to note that the Corpse Reviver No. 2 is not included in the main recipe section either, or specifically listed in the back. Like in Approved Cocktails, however, a Corpse Reviver (without number or detail) and the Corpse Reviver Liqueur (whatever that is) are both still included the Supplementary List.

Odd McIntyre (or the Hey Hey Cocktail, Hoopla, Frank Sullivan)

3/4 ounce cognac
3/4 ounce Lillet
3/4 ounce lemon juice
3/4 ounce Cointreau

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

 Notes on Ingredients: I used Paul Masson VSOP brandy.

1948 and Beyond

Interestingly enough, as later cocktail books began culling recipes from earlier times these four cocktails actually stood a chance at revival. For example, in the 1948 edition of Trader Vic's Bartender's Guide, all four recipes have been resurrected. This cocktail book is a regular treasure trove of old recipes that had long since fallen out of rotation, many of them from during and before Prohibition. The Frank Sullivan matches its respective Savoy recipe, while the Hey Hey and the Hoop La simply refer back to the Frank Sullivan. The Odd McIntyre calls for brandy in place of cognac, though everything else is identical. It is strange that Trader Vic also includes this variance that so evokes Boothby's 1934 reprint. Even more curious, is that in Boothby's book, it is the Hey Hey that calls for brandy.

Astoundingly enough, two of these cocktails even made it all the way into volume seven of the diffordsguide, which was published in 2008, but with substantial changes. Both the Frank Sullivan and the Hoopla are included, though the Lillet has been replaced with dry vermouth. The Hoopla has also gained an egg white. Who knows where these changes came from. Though the provenance records the Savoy as the starting point for both, the proportions, the egg white (in the Hoopla) and the dry vermouth point to serious adaptations. And don't forget the sugar rim. The cocktail resembles the Sidecar more than the Corpse 2, though the Sidecar is a common predecessor for both. It just goes to show that in eighty years a lot can happen to a cocktail.


A Further Ode to the Corpse Reviver: Introducing Pisco

Many moons ago, but not too many, I was sitting on a bar stool at Rob Roy opposite guest bartender Jackie Patterson watching her measure and pour as a bartender is wont to do. When it was my turn, I ordered "bartender's choice" and told her I was looking for something refreshing. The sun was high in the sky, and a slight breeze could be seen fluttering the leaves on the trees lining the streets of Belltown; it was one of those perfect Spring days in Seattle. The kind of day that makes you almost believe we will actually have a summer. What I received was bright, citrusy and fizzy--indeed all essential elements of a refreshing beverage. Though I no longer remember all of the ingredients, what stood out to me was that the drink combined two ingredients I had never experienced in the same glass, Lillet and pisco. This pairing isn't mind-blowing and in no way requires a double-take or anything extreme like that. Lillet goes well with a lot of things. But it does match up extraordinarily well with pisco.

Only a couple of weeks before this Lillet-pisco revelation, I had been introduced to the Odd McIntyre, the Corpse 2's brandy-based cousin. So, seated at the bar in Rob Roy I had a sudden brainstorm--citrus, Lillet, pisco. Would pisco work in a Corpse Reviver No. 2? In my mind, the Corpse 2 is the ultimate Lillet drink, second only to the Vesper. It doesn't matter to me whether Cocchi is used instead of the softer Lillet, it's the thought that counts. No matter how you break it down, the inclusion of that orange-y aperitif is one of the defining elements of that drink. (Well, that and the absinthe rinse, but we'll save that for another post.) And if brandy could be swapped for the gin, why not pisco? After all, pisco is a type of unaged grape spirit that would be similar to an unaged brandy. Ever since that moment, I have been mildly obsessed with the Corpse 2.

As the onset of summer quickly filled up many of my weekends, it took me weeks to figure out the basic formulation for this drink. I tried to adhere to the original proportions, but the equal parts left the pisco buried under a weight of lemon juice. Bumping up both the Lillet and pisco really helped those flavors stand out more. The decisions were harder after. Absinthe rinse or no absinthe rinse. Or to put it another way, Corpse Reviver No. 2 or Odd McIntyre. After all besides the brandy substitution, the loss of the absinthe is the other difference between the two versions. In the end, I decided to keep the absinthe rinse, but something was still missing. Subbing lime juice for lemon was similarly tasty, but still incomplete. Going back to the drawing board, I started looking at other Corpse 2 variations for hints. The key was hidden in Zane Harris's Stone Fruit Sour, an excellent variation of the Corpse 2 that I found on Imbibe magazine's website. In that cocktail apricot brandy replaces the Cointreau, and peach bitters stand in for the absinthe. And it was those bitters that solved my pisco riddle.

Pisco Reviver

1  ounce pisco
1  ounce Lillet
3/4 ounce lemon juice
3/4 ounce Cointreau
1 dash peach bitters
1 dash absinthe

Shake ingredients except absinthe with ice. Strain into a chilled absinthe-rinsed cocktail glass. Garnish with a brandied cherry.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Fee's peach bitters, Piscologia Pisco, and Absinthe Verte de Fougerolles.


Tequila and Sherry Together Again: La Perla

Old drinks can be a lot of fun. Retracing a drink's history means uncovering obscure details about more than just ingredients and techniques from the past. Understanding the way that cocktails, and alcohol in general, impacted not only American culture and social practices but those worldwide situates current trends within  a larger historical context. Regardless of whether a cocktail has stood the test of time, each mixture of disparate ingredients has a story, true or not, and a place in history, large or small. Unearthing these fragments of information can influence the way that a contemporary drinker thinks about what's in his or her glass, as well as the circuitous route various ingredients have taken to get there.

The flip side is that all of this research can be terribly exhausting. For example, over the past few months I have been delving into the history of the Corpse Reviver No 2. Trying to juggle all of the minute details can make writing a simple blog post an hours' long endeavour. Usually for each answer--or more realistically, each hypothesis--that is actually discoverable, some level of interpretation is required that inevitably just leads to more questions. Fascinating, yes. Time-consuming, equally yes. And while I love delving into all of the details about locations and personalities, contemporary cocktails serve as well-needed change of pace.

Most recognizable classics achieved their status because someone decided that a recipe was worthy of being physically collected in a cocktail recipe book--sometimes many people agreed over and over. Many modern recipes will never make it into print, regardless of their worth. It is simply the nature of the contemporary. No one can guess what will become classic in say fifteen years. Current and classic are always mutually exclusive. Thus, modern drinks don't carry the weight of history. It is quite a blessing. It would be impossible for a cocktail created in the last ten years to have 100 years of history. And because of this, managing the specific details becomes a lot easier. Sometimes even tracking down an actual recipe can be the biggest challenge. Sure there can be frustrating moments, as certain details will be unavailable, but that could also be said for an obscure classic.

While most of my research has revolved around the Corpse Reviver, I have been quite obsessed with drinking cocktails that include both tequila and sherry. These cocktails are all quite new. Tequila-based cocktails were not widely collected in early cocktail books, aside from the UKBG's Cafe Royal Cocktail Book. Tequila did not gain widespread popularity until the margarita became fashionable with the  Hollywood set in the late 1940s. This is another reason why modern cocktails are so interesting: by using ingredients that were either not readily available or had not even been invented yet, current bartenders can explore new and different flavor combinations. And this is the best reason of all to engage with current cocktails: they harness the creativity of an age and are constantly push the boundaries of taste.

La Perla

1 1/2 ounces reposado tequila
1 1/2 ounces manzanilla sherry
3/4 ounce pear liqueur

Combine ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Milagro reposado tequila, Pur Spirits pear liqueur, and Barbadillo sherry.

One of the first published cocktails to utilize both tequila and sherry and gain notoriety is the La Perla, created by Jacques Bezuidenhout, who won the National Sherries of Spain cocktail contest with it in 2005. The interaction between the smoky, lightly aged reposado and the nutty dry flavors of the manzanilla is highlighted in this austere three-ingredient cocktail. The inclusion of the pear liqueur surprised me, but I found the taste quite lovely. The most pivotal ingredient, however, was the lemon twist. The essential oils add a great amount of depth to the cocktail and fuse together the sweetness of the pear liqueur with the more savory tequila-sherry combination.

Though this cocktail was originally intended as a tequila aperitif, the pear liqueur's sweetness became more apparent as the drink warmed up. While this is by no means a shortcoming, I would not place this cocktail in the same category as a Martini or a Negroni, the more famous of the aperitif cocktails. Instead, this cocktail would work well in any situation that a would call for a Manhattan or other spirit-forward cocktail that has a touch of sweetness.


When Is a Crusta Not a Crusta: Enter Charles Baker

The crusta will always, for me at least, symbolize nineteenth century bartending techniques and tastes. Or at least the best ones. The crusta also played an important role in the evolution of the cocktail, allowing it to become what it is today. Originally formulated with brandy, the crusta sprung onto the scene in the early 1850s in the great cocktail city of New Orleans at the hands of Joseph Santini who held court behind the bar at the New Orleans City Exchange. This esteemed drink spurred on the creation of other notable potations such as the Sidecar, the White Lady and the Margarita, but it would be impossible to completely trace its widespread influences. It could easily be argued that the crusta acts as a bridge connecting the original cocktail and the various sours.

The differences between the crusta and the original cocktail--our old fashioned--are slight, but notable. Looking at those changes sets the tone for how cocktails changed and were transformed at the hands of bartenders as they adapted their craft to current tastes, innovative tools, and newly imported, or discovered ingredients. The first innovation to change the old fashioned revolved around the sweetening agent. For example, why not substitute a bit of orange-flavored liqueur or maraschino liqueur for the gomme syrup. This simple alteration changed the plain cocktail to a fancy cocktail, though it didn't really alter the landscape of the cocktail--too much. The resulting drink is still composed of a spirit, bitters, a sweetening agent and some form of water. And sure by this time some of the techniques had changed (shaking or "throwing" had been introduced) as well as some of the tools (shaking tins, hawthorn strainers), but this was essentially a very minor step.

One of the next important innovations came when Santini decided to add a dash of lemon juice to the basic cocktail framework. Until then, cocktails had never contained citrus juice. Sours, fixes and daisies--all prevalent during the mid-nineteenth century--certainly contained citrus, but not the cocktail. And it was this move from a lemon twist to a quarter ounce of lemon juice that changed the face of cocktails.

The addition of juice to the fancy cocktail notwithstanding, the defining characteristic of a crusta is its presentation. It is just one of those drinks that is immediately recognizable. With its sugared rim and coiled lemon peel just peeking out of the glass, the crusta is a study in the lost art of over-the-top garnishing. The amount of time and skill it takes to properly assemble a crusta speaks of its old-fashioned roots. (And let me tell you, it is not as easy as it sounds to pare the entire peel from a lemon in one continuous piece.) The lemon juice was an innovation that influenced the future of cocktails. But it is the garnish that firmly situates its presence in the past. 

By the 1930s lavish, ornamental cocktail garnishes had mostly disappeared and the introduction of juice to the cocktail was no longer a novelty. The crusta was almost a hundred years old after all and must have been looking a bit long in the tooth. Cocktail culture, then as now, has always revolved around what's new and different, even when a recipe is simply a rediscovered gem. Though the crusta was still bumbling around the continent, as evidenced by its inclusion in Robert Vermiere's Cocktails and How to Mix Them (1922) and Harry McElhone's Barflies and Cocktails (1927), given the voluminous number of cocktails available, its popularity may have been on the wane.

But the crusta was still around in 1939, when the Gentleman's Companion was first published, and it is curiously included in bar books through the 1950s not to mention afterward. Despite its lavish garnish, the crusta was not forgotten like so many of its contemporaries, or those cocktails that had been created later. Therefore, it is not terribly surprising to find the crusta hidden in a section dedicated to champagne drinks in a tome dedicated to unearthing worthy libations from all over the world. And it is really not surprising that Charles Baker uncovers it while journeying through China in the years of the French Concession of Shanghai in the early 1930s. What is curious is that what Baker calls a crusta hardly resembles the original crusta at all. For starters, the lemon juice, which always stood out to me as one of the defining elements of a crusta, is not present in the recipe for the Imperial Cossack Crusta. And while the sugared rim is included, and then subsequently exaggerated as the recipe calls for the entire interior of the glass to be sugar-coated, the famous lemon peel is missing. The only part of this champagne crusta that recalls the classic crusta is he sugar. If I had looked at the recipe without knowing its name, I would have never have pegged it as a crusta-style drink. 

Imperial Cossack Crusta (for two)

1 1/2 ounces cognac
3/4 ounce kummel (5/8 ounce aquavit, 1/8 ounce Benedictine)
2 dash orange bitters

Using a thick slice of lemon, coat the entire inside of a champagne flute with juice, as well as the outer lip 1/2  to 1 inch. Pour in sugar, creating a thin coating. Place glass in the freezer for a half hour. In a mixing glass, combine cognac, kummel and bitters with ice and stir. Strain liquid into the sugar-coated flute and top with champagne.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Paul Masson VSOP brandy, Krogstad Aquavit, Chateau Ste. Michelle Sparkling Wine and Regan's orange bitters. Here I also went against my better judgment and used four ounces of sparkling wine.

Ah, the problem of kummel rises again. What to do when a recipe calls for a liqueur I don't have and can't get easily. In the past, I have followed Erik Ellestad's example and just substituted aquavit and a bit of simple syrup. But on this occasion after talking to my friend Dayne, he told me that I should use Benedictine in place of the syrup to get closer to the actual flavor of kummel. Because I have never tasted kummel I have no idea how well this worked, but this little tipple was delicious. The flavors were herbal and complex. A certain sweetness was present, but the dryness of the champagne and the bitters provided balance. Because of the sugar-lining a certain amount of sugar puddled in the bottom of the glass, which caused bubbles to continuously rise through the glass as a result of each sip. The effect is much like what happens when you add the sugar cube when making a champagne cocktail. The Imperial Cossack Crusta was a very surprising cocktail that we will definitely revisit in the future.


It's All About the Process: The Jimmie Roosevelt

After I first received my copy of  the Gentleman's Companion a couple of years ago, I flipped through the pages and landed on the Jimmie Roosevelt--a champagne cocktail spiked with cognac and topped with a green chartreuse float. It blew my mind. So, of course, when we had some friends over later that month, it instantly popped into my mind. What better occasion for a fancy champagne cocktail? And, since I knew that all of my guests were comfortable with green chartreuse, easily the most controversial ingredient, what could possibly go wrong? Mind you, this was before I had ever tasted, or even heard of, drinks like Firpo's Balloon Cocktail and the Adios Amigos, before I had learned about Baker's borderline obsession with cocktails that have large amounts of absinthe. At that specific moment in time, I still harbored a certain naivete and, I'm not afraid to admit it, infatuation with all things associated with Charles Baker (except perhaps the man himself). I was only aware of the successful creations, like the tasty Remember the Maine,  and knew nothing of the abject failures. Like so many others, I had been caught in a web of flowery prose, exotic locales and the ethos of the 1930s world traveler and adventurer.

But in this case, the ingredients were not my downfall. As most people know, ingredients are only half of the equation. It is the process of making a cocktail--that learned ability to actually construct a drink properly--that truly separates the novices from the amateurs and the amateurs from the professionals. That is where the magic of well-crafted cocktails lies. Though the actual method is hardly given any space on a menu, that is where the mystery and suspense lie, because what a drink tastes like actually does depend on how its made. When constructing a cocktail at home, this process is guided by vague instructions that require some amount of interpretation and the resulting drink's success will depend, heavily, on the home bartender's skills and experience. So, at this particular point in time, I was doomed.

Champagne Cocktail No. II, which with Modestly Downcast Lash We Admit Is an Origination of Our Own, & which We Christened the "Jimmie Roosevelt"

Fill a big 16 oz thin  crystal goblet with finely cracked ice. In the diametrical center of this frosty mass went a lump of sugar well saturated with Angostura, then 2 jiggers of good French cognac, then fill the glass with chilled champagne, finally floating on very carefully 2 tbsp of genuine green chartreuse--no pineapple, no mind sprig, no cherry garnish.

Considering my drink crafting skills two years ago, this cocktail was a bit over my head. Sure, I could perform the tasks, but doing them well, or even doing the right thing at the right time, that was more iffy. Even picking out appropriate glassware seemed difficult--I don't have 16-ounce goblets. And then came the cracked ice, which is when I started to worry about what I had gotten myself into.  I have never to this day had another champagne cocktail over cracked ice. (Cubed ice? Yes. That is our preferred way to drink French 75s. But not cracked ice.) Everything seemed to go down hill from there. Second step: add the bitters-soaked sugar cube to the "diametrical" center of the ice. Note, this is not easy in a champagne flute that is very tapered at the top. Pour in cognac and top with champagne. Finally, float the chartreuse. When the opening of your glass is the same size as your barspoon, floating anything is pretty much impossible. Or at least it was for me. Baker makes it sounds almost easy, but it is easily one of the most involved champagne cocktails I have ever made.

I have heard that when a Jimmie Roosevelt is made correctly, with expert precision and, I must add, confidence, such as at the Pegu Club in New York City, it will knock your sock garters off. When properly made, the flavors should transform and evolve as you drink, ensuring that you receive multiple flavor combinations over course of the drink. Unfortunately, I was not making drinks then with either expert precision or even confidence. What I remember of that first Jimmie Roosevelt is the glorious herbal aroma of chartreuse mixing with the champagne. I remember how annoying it was trying to drink through cracked ice.  And finally, I remember the disappointment--after all the steps and all of the mess, the cocktail wasn't all that exceptional. In fact, I believe the word we chose was "weird." And I would now also add forgettable, as I have no recollection of the flavor.

But I didn't give up. My initial fascination with the Jimmie Roosevelt never really disappeared. So a year later, while reading cocktailvirgin's interview with Brian Rea, what did I find at the end shimmering like a beacon but a variation of the Jimmie Roosevelt. No "diametrical center." No crushed ice. No floats. All of the ingredients that initially sparked my imagination were present, and, best of all, it didn't sound hard to make. And it wasn't. We enjoyed this cocktail last fall, and it was exactly what I had hoped for--bubbly, herbal and dry with a little spice and richness. In short, absolutely delicious.

Jimmy Roosevelt (Recipe by Brian Rea, originally posted at cocktailvirgin.blogspot.com)

1 1/2 ounces cognac
3/4 ounce green chartreuse
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Shake cognac, chartreuse, and bitters with ice. Strain into a chilled coupe. Top with champagne.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Pierre Masson VSOP brandy and Chateau St. Michelle sparkling wine [I suggest 2 ounces].

This is still one of my absolute favorite champagne drinks. The differences are tiny enough--just the omission of the sugar cube and an increase in green chartreuse. The chartreuse's sweetness surely balances out this change. The proportions are also very similar, except that the Baker version is twice the size. Of course, in both recipes the amount of champagne is unspecified, but considering sixteen-ounce goblet specified, using seven or eight ounces of champagne is what Mr. Baker has in mind. As I usually cut all of Baker's recipes in half, Brian Rea's recipe made a lot of sense. And it is just so tasty his way.


Experimenting with Flavor: Sherry and Tequila

The coupling of sherry and tequila were officially outed in February of this year for all the world to see. But the genius of their combination hasn't really been that much of a secret. For the past several years, cocktails have been popping up all over the country that highlight this inspired pairing. It is the careful balance of sherry's savory nuttiness and the smoky, herbaceous tequila that creates such a solid foundation for so many interesting and incredibly tasty drinks. And these drinks cross every cocktail boundary. Tequila and sherry work well in spirit-forward libations or even those including citrus, like the Ce Acatl below. Even more complicated flavors, such as those of amari and fruit liqueurs, can shine in the presence of tequila and sherry. Nothing is really off limits. With three different types of tequila (blanco, reposado, anejo)--not to mention three types of mescal (blanco, reposado, and anejo) and three types of sotol (you get the idea)--and with six different styles of sherry (fino, manzanilla, amontillado, palo cortado, oloroso, and Pedro Ximenez), the options seem virtually endless even before you start adding other flavors.

I hate to admit that until recently I hadn't had much experience with cocktails that call for both sherry and tequila. Sherry is one of my favorite things to mix with--I just love a Sherry Cobbler. And tequila and mescal regularly tempt me to try drinks that are normally out of my comfort zone. I guess I just had trouble taking the necessary plunge to get tequila and sherry in the same glass. I can't believe I waited so long! My friend Adam, the creator of the Ce Acatl, helped me see the error of my ways. Now I understand just how wondrous those two elements are when used together.

Ce Acatl (created by Adam Mullinax)

2 ounces tequila
1/2 ounce amontillado sherry
1/2 ounce orgeat
1/4 ounce lime juice
1 dash Boker's bitters
1 dash mole bitters

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime twist.

Note on Ingredients: I used Don Julio anejo tequila, Trader Tiki orgeat, and Lustau Amontillado Sherry. The first time I made it, I was out of amontillado and substituted the drier manzanilla (thus, the picture). The result was also a bit drier but no less pleasing.

What makes this cocktail great, in addition to the way it showcases the tequila and sherry, is the richness that the orgeat brings to the mix. Adam told me that he was loosely inspired by the Japanese Cocktail, and it is the orgeat that provides the link. The tequila and sherry used in place of the Japanese's brandy really do lighten the flavors and push them in totally different direction with a totally different feel. But it is the lime's brightness that really brings the drink together for me. This cocktail is bright and flavorful, smoky, nutty and wonderfully complex. The Ce Acatl will definitely be a regular in my summer rotation.


A Champagne Cocktail with a Kick: The Maharajah's Burra-Peg

We have reached the champagne cocktail portion of the Gentleman's Companion. I will admit that I am quite excited--ah, the joy of sparklers. French 75s (and all the other numbers), Seelbachs, Airmails, Morning Glory Royales, Old Cubans, the list goes on and on. Champagne, or any sparkling wine (when used properly, of course), adds pure magic to a cocktail. Some call it bubbles. Others might say it's the dryness or acidity. They are wrong--champagne is pure fairy dust, aka magic. So when I flipped to the introductory statement for the five ensuing champagne cocktails, I almost did a jig. Almost--for I know that these sparklers are still arriving via Mr. Baker and thus will include some hidden surprises. But in my book a scary champagne cocktail is always more exciting and less risky than a scary absinthe and cream cocktail.

Charles Baker came upon this spiked champagne cocktail when his travels took him to India. He explains that a "burra-peg" translates to a large drink, or a double--and that in turn, at least in colonial times, usually meant a double scotch and soda. Rudyard Kipling, in his short story, "At the End of the Passage," also notes the existence of another variation of the Burra-Peg, something called a "King's Peg," where the whisky is swapped out for cognac, and the soda water is transformed into champagne. It may seem that the terminology shift from a "king" to a "maharajah" is the most significant change that this drink undergoes in the forty years between Kipling's story and Baker's time in India. And while it is impossible to separate the politics of colonialism and imperialism that imbue that specific place and time, reading too much into this difference masks the change that is most relevant to this blog and to other contemporary drinkers: the size. After all, Kipling does not refer to a  "King's Burra-Peg."

When Baker calls the drink large, he is not kidding. One would need 6 ounces of cognac and a whopping 18 ounces of champagne to construct two of these drinks as written. That is almost an entire bottle of champagne for two people. Well, let's just say that no one will every accuse Mr. Baker of not knowing how to party. I have learned from experience, though, that when Mr. Baker calls for a 14 to 16-ounce glass, it is prudent to cut the recipe in half. At least until I have tasted it.

Other than being huge this drink is really not that out there. It is simply a bulked up champagne cocktail, and  I'm a big fan of the traditional champagne cocktail. And what's not to like: a bit of sugar and bitters added to a glass of champagne. (A healthy slug of brandy isn't going to make me like it less, either.) I have always thought of the champagne cocktail as the perfect brunch beverage, regardless of how revered the mimosa has become. For me, the entire idea of brunch revolves around decadence. Partaking in great food, great drinks, great company, and preferably some sunshine for a couple of hours, pretty much requires sacrificing at least an entire afternoon for the pleasure of inactivity. It is almost impossible to be productive after so much relaxation and indulgence. I can't imagine a better way to spend such an occasion than with a glass of champagne tinged pink with bitters, sparkling in that imagined sunshine. What a treat it would be to stare down a Maharajah's Burra-Peg over brunch--I don't think I would be able to worry about anything at all.

Maharajah's Burra-Peg (as adapted)

For Two:
3 ounces cognac
1/4 ounce simple syrup
3 dashes Angostura Bitters

Stir cognac, syrup, and bitters in an ice-filled mixing glass for 10-15 seconds. Strain into a chilled champagne flute. Top with champagne (I suggest 3 ounces each, maximum). Garnish with a lime twist.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Pierre Masson VSOP brandy, a 1:1 simple syrup, and Chateau St. Michelle sparkling wine.

Generally for a champagne cocktail that includes spirits, I will not add more than three ounces of "champagne," maximum. In fact, less is usually better, though it depends on the specific ingredients. In the past, when I have followed a recipe that called for more than three ounces, balance was quickly lost as the dryness of the wine took over. Now, with sparklers that do not include spirits, each drink must be evaluated individually. I found that adding three ounces of sparkling wine to the Maharajah's Burra-Peg worked very well. 

As far as how this champagne cocktail tasted, it was delicious. It almost makes you remember why Charles Baker drinks can be exceedingly popular. The lime twist really elevated the drink and brought it together in an unexpected way. Over time the alcohol pulled more of the essence out of that little sliver of peel and that just added to the development of the flavors in a really pleasant way. Not only did I find this Baker recipe acceptable, with the tiny, though necessary adjustments, I am positive that we will actually have it again. We may even serve it to guests.


Ode to the Corpse Reviver No. 2: Version 2a

Despite its recent popularity, the Corpse Reviver No. 2 was once on the edge of extinction, as were most corpse revivers and classic cocktails in general. But thankfully, today, you can order a Corpse 2 at almost any craft cocktail bar, at least in Seattle, and you will receive basically the same delicious drink. Sure, subtle differences might crop up depending on a bartender's choices as far as the proportions, the garnish, the brand of gin or absinthe, whether to use Cocchi or Lillet, or even to rinse or not to rinse--the list is endless. But at the end of the day, those four main ingredients--gin, lemon juice, Lillet, and Cointreau--and that fabulous dash of absinthe that pulls it all together are what define the Corpse 2. That is, unless your bartender learned the Corpse Reviver from Trader Vic's Bartending Guide.

Somewhere along the line another corpse reviver entered the scene. It's not really that surprising, as versions of everything come and go. But this isn't just any old drink that would revive just any old corpse--this cocktail is identical to the Savoy Corpse Reviver No. 2 that we all know and love, except that it substitutes Swedish punsch for the Lillet. I can honestly say I never saw that coming.

Swedish punsch and Lillet are hardly alike. Even if you take into account the mystery that is the 1930s variation of Lillet that Harry Craddock used in his original recipe, the difference would still have been huge. Lillet is a wine-based aperitif that is mildly sweet and has a dominant citrus flavor. Swedish punsch, or at least the version I make at home, is made from a combination of rum and batavia arrack that has been infused with lemon and sweetened with tea syrup. Night and day, those two are.

The other ingredients in the two recipes are identical, even down to the equal proportions. The smidgen of absinthe is even there. As far as where this Corpse Reviver No. 2a came from, Erik Ellestad at Underhill-Lounge has some theories that sound very reasonable to me: he blames/thanks Trader Vic Bergeron.

Corpse Reviver No. 2a ( as adapted fromTrader Vic)

3/4 ounce gin
3/4 ounce Cointreau
3/4 ounce lemon juice
3/4 ounce Underhill punsch
1 dash absinthe

Shake ingredients in an ice-filled shaker. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Bellringer gin and Absinthe Verte de Fougerolles.

So let's cut to the chase already: what's different? The Corpse 2a is a tad sweeter and the Swedish punch definitely influences the overall flavor. But all in all, this libation is still well-balanced, refreshing, yummy, and very recognizable as a Corpse 2 variation. The tea notes, especially the tannins, stood out against the background of lemon and gin and played well alongside the tart, herbal flavors. The Cointreau seemed to play a larger role in the overall taste than it usually does in a Corpse 2, which is strange because the Lillet's orange notes are absent. The Corpse 2a is a pleasant change up from the norm that I would definitely recommend.


Time for Rhubarb: A Recipe for Rhubarb Shrub

As soon as the days start to lengthen, I feel compelled to visit the farmer's market. Usually I just wander among the stalls to check out what's fresh and available. Sometimes, I come home empty-handed. But on days when the fruits and vegetables inspire me, I leave with bags full of ideas and produce. On one recent  Saturday morning, Tracy and I made our way over to the University District farmer's market. It was a pleasant Spring morning with the sun shining just enough to keep the morning chill mostly at bay. After some pastries and coffee, we began to take in the highlights. What caught my eye was the rhubarb, fat red stalks piled high. I wasn't sure what exactly to do with it, but I knew some of those stalks were coming home with me. Tracy's eyes lit up. too, and together we filled a small bag. When Tracy suggested that I make some rhubarb shrub, I instantly knew she was on to something--those stalks were destined to meet vinegar.

Every summer I make shrubs. I love their vinegary sweetness, and the beautiful way they preserve summer fruits for year-round consumption. In a way, winter seems a bit shorter with shrub around. Adding a bit of raspberry or apricot to a drink during those gray months is almost like magic. Almost. It's also pretty amazing how just a quarter ounce can totally change a drink, transforming its flavors into something new. Almost any fruit works in a shrub, and adapting the basic recipe is very easy. Usually on a whim, while I am roaming around the farmer's market, something stands out and it will be the newest shrub. This year, I seem to be starting with rhubarb.

In the past, I have always made hot-processed shrub, which entails simmering the fruit, sugar and water, and to a lesser extent, vinegar for a period of time. After cooling, you strain and bottle the resulting mixture and it's ready. Last year, I read about making shrubs without heat, which supposedly gives them a brighter flavor. I decided to attempt it with the rhubarb, and no exact recipe exists, I just adapted the different information I found online.  

Rhubarb Shrub
10 3/4 ounces (by weight) chopped rhubarb
10 3/4 ounces (by weight) natural sugar
10 3/4 ounces vinegar

1. Chop and weigh fruit.
2. Add an equal amount of sugar.

Notes: It doesn't matter if you use the same amount of raw materials that I did. Equal parts is the key, at least as far as a jumping off point. Fine-tuning may be required later. I chopped up the three stalks of rhubarb that I bought and then weighed the pieces. From there I just had to match proportions. After I added the sugar, I stirred it to coat all of the pieces. I also let it set for 15 minutes in the sugar so it would be easier to muddle. With a softer fruit this wouldn't be necessary.

3. Muddle fruit and sugar.
4. Macerate at room temperature for 24-48 hours.

Notes: Since rhubarb has the consistency of celery, I let the rhubarb macerate for 15 minutes before I muddled it. This allowed the sugar to start breaking down the toughness and made the muddling a lot more successful. Then I set it aside to macerate.

5. Add vinegar.
6. Cover and store at room temperature for a week.

Notes: When I added the vinegar, I also mixed it all up as much of the sugar had settled to the bottom. For the vinegar, I used mostly champagne vinegar as this is what I usually use for shrubs. Of course, I ran out, and had to add an ounce of apple cider vinegar to make up the difference. Then I covered the bowl with Saran wrap and put it back on the counter.

7. Strain mixture through a coarse or semi-coarse strainer.
8. Restrain through cheesecloth.
9. Bottle and store for at least more week before using.

Notes: Because I recently ran out of cheese cloth, and for some reason the grocery store was totally sold out, I bottled the shrub after the first strain. It needed to rest for a week anyway to allow the flavors to develop further. A week later, I strained the shrub through cheesecloth and rebottled it.

The real test of any shrub is in a drink. I know that when I taste tested the shrub it was mildly sweet and still quite vinegary. This would normally be the time for fine-tuning, adding sugar or vinegar to create a balance. But because I have never made this kind of shrub before, I wasn't sure if it was balanced. So instead of adding anything I just went with it. Here is a great aperitif recipe to use with any shrub--it is easy and delightful. I actually made it earlier in the Spring with blackberry shrub, and it was very tasty but it certainly was not as zippy and fruity as this aperitif was. I would highly recommend this as a great introduction to the glory of shrubs. Or you could make a rum shrub, which is quite nice as well.  

Sherry Shrub (as adapted from alcademics.com, who adapted it from Neyah White's original recipe)

3/4 ounce shrub*

2 ounces manzanilla sherry

Stir in a mixing glass three-quarters full of ice and strain into a small cocktail glass. Garnish with orange or lemon twist.**

*Of course, I used rhubarb shrub here. I have used blackberry shrub in the past.
**I used an orange twist on a lark. I was out of lemons. The original recipe calls for lemon twist. I was pretty pleased with the orange though.