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.