Rouge Anyone? Repurposing Oxidized Wine

My liquor collection is a monstrosity. Over a year ago I changed apartments and discovered that I had amassed a collection that filled over 35 liquor boxes. And that is not counting the assorted glassware, tools, spare bottles, and cocktail books that I own. Unfortunately, there are pitfalls of growing such a collection--a fact I was made aware of when I started packing up bottles. In the very back of one cabinet I discovered an open bottle of Lillet rouge. The bottle was dusty and who knew how long it had been sitting there in that dark corner, oxidizing steadily with each passing hour. Obviously, it was ruined. In the haste of packing I simply shoved it into a box to be dealt with later. But when I was unpacking I rediscovered it, and for some reason I chose not to dump it down the drain. Perhaps it could still be useful.

Inspiration arrived soon enough. While out on the town one night, I overheard someone referring to the New York Sour. This drink is just your basic whiskey sour with a float of dry red wine--usually a Syrah or a Malbec. At that moment, however, I thought back to my poor ruined Lillet. And while there was no way to use the product as is to top off a sour, I started wondering what would happen if I made the Lillet rouge into a syrup? Then I started wondering how it would taste if I mulled the wine first to help cover up the oxidized flavor. If a wine-topped whiskey sour works so well, and it does, why not use a spiced wine syrup instead of the wine and simple syrup components? I wasn't sure if the Lillet would even make a good syrup, oxidized as it was. An experiment seemed to be a better solution than just dumping the contents. And I am glad that I did.

Acela Sour

2 ounces of bourbon
1 ounce lemon juice
1 ounce Lillet syrup
1 scant dash simple syrup
1 egg white

Dry shake ingredients with the coil of the Hawthorne strainer. Add ice and shake again. Strain ingredients into a chilled old-fashioned glass.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Buffalo Trace bourbon.

Cocktail Geekery: In truth this is really a cross between the Boston Sour and the New York Sour. Boston Sours are notorious for their inclusion of egg whites. They can of course be left out, just make sure to double check the sweet-sour balance before adding the egg whites. The creaminess of the whites tames sourness. if more sweetener is required, correct, if necessary, with plain simple syrup. The Lillet syrup is dryer and more bitter and will only further upend the balance.

Mulled Lillet Syrup

3-5 cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
1 large orange peel
1 cup Lillet
1 cup sugar
1 ounce overproof vodka

Crush cinnamon sticks and cloves. In a small saucepan add spices, peel and Lillet and heat over low for about an hour. Strain Lillet into a measuring cup. Add sugar in equal measure. Whisk until no granules appear at the bottom of your bowl. Let resulting syrup cool to room temperature, and add vodka (or other overproof spirit) to preserve. Store in the refrigerator.


Change Is the Only Constant

I started this blog in 2009 and over the past four years it has been the only constant in my life. Regardless of the ups and downs and challenges that have been presented to me, I always returned to writing here, though not always as often as I would have preferred. I started blogging very early in my cocktail and spirit education. I remember boring everyone in my life with esoteric details about cocktails, spirits, bitters, syrup production, watching their eyes glaze over with the onslaught of miscellaneous data. Being able to express those thoughts here saved many friendships. Over the past four years the blog grew alongside my own knowledge and experience.

Though it still chronicles my current interests and tastes, it has grown to encompass so much more. Instead of having my own experiences guide the content, creating content for the blog began guiding my experience. As the topics that excited me became ever more complex, the amount of time I spent constructing blog posts increased. Regardless of the errant typos that still crop up no matter how many times I proofread a piece, it usually take at least a week for me to finish an entry, though often it takes much longer. Over the years the amount of time required, the depth of research necessary, and the breadth of topics that I wanted to cover grew exponentially. But my life beyond the blog was changing dramatically as well. I tried for a long time to dedicate the same amount of time and energy, regardless of the distractions of real life. In the end, in order for the blog to continue to grow, its role in my life must change.

I have never before felt that I should apologize or make excuses for the infrequency of posts, nor did I think I should congratulate myself for pumping out posts at other times. I am not attempting to do either here. I offer details merely to explain where this blog must go in the future, how its position in my life must change. You see, a few months ago I started working as a bar back. This addition has severely limited the amount of time I have available, well, for anything. Because I love writing this blog and wouldn't give it up for anything, the role of this blog needs to change. Though I would love to offer up great diatribes dedicated to the history and evolution of the Brandy Crusta, to the ways to use syrups made from wine or vermouth, to the intricacies of pisco production, I just don't have the energy and time at present. So shorter, less dense pieces will be more the norm around here. I would rather give up word count than quality. But please bear with me. It is often hard to see where the path is taking us while traveling on it; pit stops, where we can catch our breath, are far more illuminating. Thank you for reading thus far and have no fear,the journey is far from finished.


Rediscovering the Classics: Welcoming Back Overproof Cognac

Cognac was once the workhorse spirit reached for more often than any other spirit. By the late 1800s with the phylloxera epidemic threatening to devastate the entire European grape industry, cognacs were still flowing into all sorts of concoctions in America. And with good reason--cognac is tasty. But as the blight continued, something had to change. For the wine industry that meant grafting American root stock onto European vines to curb the pests' steady appetite. The cognac industry made changes as well. For instance, the folle blanche grape, long the mainstay of cognac distillers, was passed over in favor of the more resilient ugni blanc grape. Even considering the changes and innovations cognac houses made, cognac's reign in the world of cocktails persevered. Even as many spirits fell out of popularity during Prohibition, cognac maintained a steady role as such classics as the Sidecar, French 75 both gained their popularity during those dark days. And if the resilience of the Stinger, which made it through unscathed, attests to anything, it is that cognac still carried weight in bartenders' hands.

When Americans emerged from the bleak days of the failed Noble Experiment, cognac, like many spirits, was forced to change again. New drinkers emerged, but their thirst was not for the more rough and tumble spirits that flowed during the golden era of cocktail. Their palates, fueled by years of sweeter drinks that required cream and other heavy-handed mixers to overpower the under-quality spirits, craved more mellow flavors, sometimes even invisible spirits. Thus, Canadian whiskey, bourbon, and vodka grew in popularity. With innovations in the areas of distillation, barrel-aging and blending, cognac producers were able to keep their spirit on pace with demand. Regardless of whether the industry changed to adapt to the market or whether it was just a happy accident, the resulting cognacs were smooth, drinkable and utterly complex. These changes would help define the cognac market for years.

No matter how revelatory a fine cognac's qualities may be in a snifter, the master blender's artistry can easily be lost in a mixed drink. While the hints of oak and vanilla can create a wonderful foundation, the other flavors in a cocktail often take center stage instead interacting with and enhancing the base spirit. While historically cognac has been used in conjunction with other stronger flavors--such as in the vieux carre where the rye is tempered by the milder cognac--cognac was never simply a pushover spirit. Like the whiskeys and rums of the early twentieth century, early cognacs were built for more, whether by choice or accident. And while this may have turned off certain tastes, those cognacs were able to carry a cocktail and not be pushed around. And even before the age of cocktails, brandies held up the punches of the world.

With the popularity of truly classic cocktails rising, the booze market has been steadily introducing products to allow those historic drinks to be re-created. And while those early spirits were rougher for many reasons, not all of them on purpose, they also were sold at higher proofs. This allowed the spirit to shine when mixed, and perhaps required that they be mixed. But as new products meant to replicate obscure ingredients emerge, we have also seen the the re-introduction of higher proof spirits with bolder flavors. Quality overproof cognacs give us a glimpse into what those classic cocktails may have tasted like and it becomes quite apparent why cognac was reached for so often.

Champagne Julep
Juleps were one of the first mixed drinks consumed widely across the United States. A simple mixture of spirit, mint, sugar and ice--nothing is more refreshing, especially in the heat of summer. Today, the julep has become linked to the Kentucky Derby, and it has become famous for its reliance on bourbon. This was not always the case. In the days before whiskey found a steady audience, a julep meant cognac. And just as an overproof bourbon works best in a julep--primarily because it won't be as affected by prolonged dilution--an overproof cognac also is a clear choice. Adding champagne to this already decadent beverage is quite extravagant, and incredibly delightful. Dangerous, yes, but delightful nonetheless.

Champagne Julep (adapted from Paul Clarke's recipe at cocktailchronicles.com) 

2 ounce cognac
7 mint leaves
2 teaspoons simple syrup
1 ounces champagne

Muddle lightly mint leaves in syrup. Retain one for garnish. Add cognac and then crushed ice. Top with champagne. Garnish with mint sprig.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Pierre Ferrand 1840 cognac, Chateau St. Michelle sparkling wine, and a 1:1 simple syrup. 

Prescription Sazerac
The original Sazerac was so named because of the cognac used to make it: Sazerac-du-Forge et fils. I have tried many Sazeracs with cognac and they are quite lovely. But with an overproof cognac, they are a revelation. Still, though it is not a true historical representation, using a mixture of cognac and rye creates a marvelous drink that has been a mainstay of my cocktail rotation. Much as the way that the cognac and rye play off each other in a Vieux Carre, the same is true in other incarnations. The rye dries out the more sweet cognac. The cognac balances the spicy rye. If you are using both an overproof rye and an overproof cognac, beware--this drink is hefty. But if your palate can handle the heat, it is worth it. Of course, give it a couple extra turns with the ice to make it balanced. Just because a recipe calls for an overproof spirit does not mean overall balance should be sacrificed. These overproof spirits are intended to be diluted in mixed drinks. The wonder comes from the way that they can retain their flavor in the face of other ingredients as well as the weight of water.

Prescription Sazerac

1 ounce rye
1 ounce cognac
3 dashes Peychaud's bitters
1/2 ounce simple syrup
3 dashes (or so) Herbsaint

Combine ingredients except Herbsaint in a mixing glass half-filled with ice. Stir and strain into a chilled old fashioned glass rinsed with Herbsaint. Express lemon oils and discard peel.  

Notes on Ingredients: I used Pierre Ferrand 1840 cognac, High West rye, Herbsaint Legendre, and a 1:1 simple syrup. 

Pink Sidecar
While the Sidecar was created sometime in the 1920s, it grew to popularity during the dark days of Prohibition. While certainly a lovely drink, the Sidecar grew into a quick slurp on the road to drunkenness. Even when a sub-quality cognac is used the lemon juice and orange liqueur easily mask it--and that is not counting that pesky sugar rim that would be added to the recipe in the 1930s. It would be easy to discount this cocktail as yet another get-drunk-quick drink, but there is more behind its pedigree than meets the eye. Many stories point to the Continent as the locale of origin, making the cocktail not one put together in the murky dens of ill-repute that proliferated in American speakeasies. Classy drinks could still  be found abroad where many American barmen emerged with the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment. But regardless of these creation myths, the Sidecar was always a drink I wanted to love. It was after all my first classic cocktail. And with such notorious cocktail luminaries as David Embury elevating the drink as one of the most basic drinks that every host should know, I always felt like I had missed something. Of course even he says that the Sidecar "is the most perfect example I know of a magnificent drink gone wrong." Embury takes the path most appropriate for one who only has access to standard proof cognac--he bumps up the booze and dries it out as much as possible and omits the sugar rim (8 parts cognac, 2 parts lemon juice, 1 part Cointreau). Once I tried the standard recipe with overproof cognac, I was floored and understood why this cocktail has been around for almost 100 years. This revelatory experience pushed me to experiment further, and I found that other liquors also created amazing results.

Pink Sidecar

2 ounces cognac
1 ounce pamplemousse rose
3/4 ounce lemon juice

Combine ingredients in a ice-filled shaker. Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. 

Notes on Ingredients: I used Pierre Ferrand 1840 cognac and Combier pamplemousse rose. 


Barrel-Aging Cocktails: The Caneflower

Though it is a sad fact, barrels don't last forever. Only a limited amount of flavor can be drawn out before the environment becomes effectively neutral. Of course, it still operates as a natural oxidation filtration system, with the wood still breathing with the changes in temperature. After all of the flavor is extracted, a barrel can still be useful, just not in the same ways. Oxidation and thus, mellowing can still occur long after the wood has stopped being an active participant. As I drained the last bits of the Claridge cocktail out of my barrel, I knew that I was going to have to choose very wisely. After aging two spirits and two cocktails, I was nearing the end of the barrel's life cycle. and there might not be many more opportunities for experimentation. The pressure only grew when I realized that not only would I need to choose an appropriate cocktail to follow the dry, fruity Claridge, but I would also need to determine the time frame for the next cocktail.

With each new batch, the amount of time necessary to age a cocktail grows. It makes sense--less of the barrel's flavors are present. Some friends who are very experienced at barrel-aging advised me to wait at least a year. This sounded extreme. The previous cocktail had only been aged for 3 months. In the end I decided to aim more for 6 to 9 months. As the oak was relatively slight in the Claridge I thought doubling might add more barrel flavor. Perhaps the extra time would correct for my barrel's age.

Choosing a recipe was easily solved when I discovered a 1.5-liter bottle of cachaca sitting in the back of my cabinet. I had received it two years ago as a gift and had never gotten around to using it. After a quick Internet search, I ran across a perfect choice--the Caneflower. This cocktail, created by Jeffrey Morgenthaler, is a variation of a Negroni variation, the Comte du Sureau, originally created by Gonçalo de Souza Monteiro. The Caneflower's elderflower and slightly bitter Aperol seemed a logical choice to follow the dry, apricot flavors of the Claridge. 

While cost and ease were the most important factors in why I chose the Caneflower, I was still exciting about the new adventure this drink represented. Before, I had only aged cocktails that included a wine-based product, such as vermouth, that would oxidize during the process. On top of that, most of the barrel-aged cocktails I had tried in bars also included vermouth or a quinquina. As the Caneflower has no vermouth or even a wine-based product, I could not guess the results. This prospect was very enticing. How would the ingredients react over time? Would the presence of the oxidized vermouths in the barrel affect the outcome? And then there was the question of time. Would the lack of vermouth change the speed of the process? But in the end none of these things really mattered. Life intervened and a careful tasting of the contents was not in the cards. More plainly said--I totally forgot about the barrel.


1 1/2 ounces cachaca
3/4 ounce Aperol
1/4 ounce elderflower liqueur

Combine ingredients in a ice-filled glass. Stir and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.
Notes on Ingredients: I used Pur Likor, elderflower liqueur.

Over one year later, I looked up and saw the barrel. I hesitantly tasted it and after determining that the contents hadn't been ruined, I emptied the barrel. Remarkably, what had gone in as 2 liters in volume came out at a mere 750 milliliters. The barrel was indeed hungry. Upon first taste, the Caneflower was intensely concentrated with flavors. However, oak wasn't one of them. It wasn't until I actually diluted the contents into a cocktail that I could find the oak notes at all. But boy did it need a lot of dilution. To find the balance, I had to stir it more than twice as long. Then, there was the oak. While this was not my best effort at barrel-aging, it did provide me with valuable information--don't fall asleep on the job.


Unexpected Nostalgia and the Kill Devil Cocktail

Some cocktails have the ability to take on a life outside the boundaries of the bar and become imbued with a time and place. It can happen at any time, and the cocktail becomes more of a signifier, a carrier of meaning. Perhaps it would seem more likely for a cocktail to represent a change in taste or an entrance into a new stage. The Vesper certainly always reminds me of my awakening to the lovely attributes of gin. The Pink Lady marked my first foray into the world of egg white drinks. And it was with the Improved Genever Cocktail that I first really understood and appreciated how absinthe can transform a cocktail. But when you spend as much time as I do thinking about cocktails, researching and reading, hell even imbibing cocktails, some of them stray into other territories.

I first ran into the Kill Devil Cocktail at Pegu Club in New York City three years ago. For summer, the city was unseasonably cool. The humidity was barely on my radar--a blessing since my years in the Pacific Northwest have lowered my tolerance. Five years had passed since I lived in Brooklyn, and I could feel how far I had moved away from that life. In the intervening years, I had changed coasts and moved three times before finally settling in Seattle. But some things never really go away. As I walked the streets on the edge of the East Village across to SoHo, I could feel the energy, could feel myself picking up the familiar pace as I wove through crowds and dodged traffic. I felt very much at home and yet not. So much had changed and yet so little. Of course, the pang of nostalgia was as present then as it is for me now while I write this. And while all of this self-awareness slipped away as I found myself staring at tiny blue flames that were flickering from a lime coin floating on the surface of my cocktail, I certainly knew at that moment that my taste buds were entering new territory.

The Kill Devil Cocktail is a strange concoction. It looks curious on paper--a drink that you aren't really sure will work in the glass, but that is too interesting to pass up. These cocktails are my weakness, and I have succumbed many times. The only surety is that the experience will be wholly new, regardless of whether you will ever want to relive it. This cocktail combines two ingredients not often seen together--rum agricole and green chartreuse. And while you may instantly think, there must be lime juice in there or something else to smooth out those big bold flavors, you would be wrong. This is not a Daiquiri or Last Word variation. While a bit of sweetener does help these two ingredients meld together better, it tends to stay out of the spotlight. When I first saw this cocktail on the menu, I was intrigued. When I tasted it, I was mesmerized. The flavors were intense and beyond anything I had ever tasted before. And as I sat there, taking in the complexity of each sip, it struck me how much I had changed. Even two years earlier I would have never been able to enjoy the Kill Devil. In fact, I probably never would have even considered ordering it.  

Kill Devil

2 ounces rhum agricole
3/4 ounce green chartreuse
1/4 ounce simple syrup
3 dashes Angostura bitters

Combine ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. The original garnish was a "coin" of lime peel with a small amount of Stroh rum set alight. I have seen this drink garnished differently elsewhere, but I leave mine ungarnished.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Rhum J.M and a 1:1 simple syrup.

Earlier this spring, I found myself back in the Big Apple. It seems I can't visit my family without tacking on a trip back to New York. Very few things in my life are the same as they were on that trip so long ago. But those same pangs of nostalgia were there, though weaker. As soon as I arrived back in Seattle, I found myself craving a Kill Devil. This drink has come to symbolize that strange feeling of belonging in a place and yet not--the push and pull of how we change over time--a feeling I experience most keenly when I visit the East Coast. No longer does the Kill Devil seem novel and overpowering. I now understand its refined simplicity, how the disparate ingredients have been tamed. But regardless, the Kill Devil serves to remind me of how things change in spite of what we choose to hold onto. It makes me remember how the things that define us at one point in time, never really go away, but are just markers on the path.


Anything You Can Do . . . : Gin and Rum in the Stork Club Cocktail

Recently I was brainstorming drinks for an informal dinner party, and the Stork Club Cocktail popped into my head. If you haven't tried it, the Stork Club is just about one of the easiest drinking panty droppers from the 1930s. I like to trot out this cocktail every now and again when I am looking for an uncomplicated, unpretentious start to a informal summer's eve. The combination of gin and orange juice give it away as a concoction created during the days of sub par gin and the uninspired ways to cover up the telltale flavor. Of course, it's very name points to its origins--the Stork Club was one of New York City's more famous speakeasies during Prohibition and was infamous for its rich and famous clientele for many years after. Refreshing, sweet and yet not so sweet, the Stork Club is an unassuming, uncomplicated sour, a lazy orange-laden Pegu Club. In the late days of spring, when the temperatures seem to first broach the seventies, and it's just warm enough to be noticeable, the Stork Club never fails to satisfy.

Stork Club Cocktail (from Lucius Beebe's Stork Club Cocktails (1946))

dash of lime juice (1/4 ounce)
juice of half orange (1 1/2 ounces)
dash of triple sec (1/4 ounce)
1 1/2 ounces gin
dash of angostura bitters (2 dashes)

Shake well and strain in chilled 4 ounce glass.

But this time was different. Almost as soon as I thought of the Stork Club, I was already transforming it into something else. Because the drink reads like an overly simple tiki drink--a blend of juices, bitters, and a liqueur on top of a versatile base--rum was just a natural impulse. But in general this cocktail is crying out for variations. The lime juice invigorates the orange juice. The bitters add necessary depth. Of course, the liqueur can easily be modified--orange juice with a hint of lime is incredibly forgiving. Whether apricot liqueur or grapefruit, peach liqueur or even something a bit more herbal like Strega, there is ample room for experimentation.

What struck me was how easy the substitution really was, both mentally and in terms of taste. It was quite a no-brainer. And while many cocktails allow for rum to stand in for gin to wonderful effect, the most notorious being the Bee's Knees (gin) and the Honeysuckle (light rum) or Honey Bee (Jamaican rum), I hadn't really paid that much attention before. Of course, an argument could be made based on drink families--a sour, whether it has gin, rum, or even whiskey, is still delicious. But whiskey does not work as a stand-in for gin in all citrus manifestations. The chemical reactions inherent to barrel-aging make sure of this. And while white spirits in general will usually work as a substitute in a pinch--some play better than others. White rum will generally work in any gin drink that includes citrus, and many that don't; white dog and tequila, each with its own funkier flavors, are harder to meld. The Stork Club is the perfect example of a citrus cocktail where both rum and gin work really well, and the substitution doesn't make the drink step too far out of its original packaging.

West 58th Street 

1 1/2 ounces white rum
1 ounce orange juice
1/4 ounce lime juice
1/4 ounce apricot liqueur
1 dash Angostura bitters

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

Notes on Ingredients: I used Chairman's Reserve white rum, Bitter Truth Apricot liqueur and Angostura bitters.


A Tale of Three Drinks Featuring Pineapple Syrup

Spring is a season you just can't count on here in the Pacific Northwest. Sure, you may get a week of eighty degree weather, but often it is chased by a dreary rainy patch where the temperature swings twenty degrees back into the low sixties. But even as I will summer to arrive by wearing lightweight coats that keep me shivering, I figure I have to make my own sunshine. While I have a friend who says that when he tastes a bit of rum, how can the sun not be out, I opt for a different tack. Pineapple. Not only is fresh pineapple simply a blissfully tasty snack, but a single pineapple can also create a syrup that can compel sunshine from the door of your refrigerator. The best part is that pineapple syrup is incredibly easy to make. All you need is a knife and a cup of simple syrup. Breaking down the pineapple is the only obstacle. But once you've got this delicious syrup, what do you do with it besides pour it generously over ice cream or pancakes?

A San Francisco Legend
Born in the late 1800s, pisco punch is one of the earliest, more famous uses for pineapple syrup. Duncan Nicol, proprietor of the Bank Exchange Saloon in San Francisco, saw his pisco punch gain notoriety far and wide. Travelers from all over the country heard tales of this potent concoction and then made their way in droves through his doors to get a taste. The drink centers on pisco, a spirit first introduced to the United States by South American sailors as they passed through San Francisco. Even today pisco is very popular in San Francisco. And while this lesser known spirit forms the base, it is the pineapple that makes this drink sing. For years, the recipe for pisco punch was a mystery. At the beginning of Prohibition, Nichols refused to disclose the recipe as he closed up shop forever. Thankfully, a discovery made in the 1970s brought the drink back. In truth, it is a very simple punch. Which begs the question, What made it so famous that its praises were sung coast to coast?  Rumor has it that cocaine is what really gave this drink its kick. Still others have posited that the secret ingredient was actually the syrup. Instead of pineapple macerated in simple syrup, the original recipe called for pineapple gomme syrup. The pineapple is steeped in a syrup with gum arabic in it, a common ingredient in the 1800s that fell out of popularity. The cocktail renaissance has, however, brought it back. Gomme syrup provides a drink with a velvety texture and a richness that are unique.

Pisco Punch

2 ounces pisco
1 ounce water
2/3 ounce (4 teaspoons) pineapple gum syrup
3/4 ounce lemon juice.

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a punch glass. Garnish with a syrup-soaked pineapple chunk.

Note on Ingredients: I used Piscologia pisco. I also used a 2:1 simple syrup for the base of my pineapple syrup in place of the pineapple gum syrup. The richness adds a similar but not exact texture to cocktails While it is not the same as gum syrup, it is easier to make at home.

Blast from the Past
Fixes are a product of a long forgotten era--when individualized pours were steadily overtaking the communal punch bowls of old. Long before the cocktail would become a catch-all phrase for any drink in a conical glass, drinks that followed a formula were popular--sours, fixes, daisies, fizzes, and Collins just to name a few. Collins and fizzes both preserved the soda water element. Sours became concentrated punches in short form. Daisies and fixes revolved around different choices for sweetener, though no clear pattern was ever established. While differences come and go between the daisy and the fix, the treatment of the ice creates the distinction--fixes are served over crushed ice, daisies, like sours, are not.

Though liqueurs and various other sweeteners were used in fixes, my favorite variation is still Harry Johnson's Brandy Fix. Pineapple syrup was a common choice among bartenders of the time, but it is the green chartreuse that really caught my attention. Green chartreuse and pineapple go extremely well together--the sweetness of the fruit works balances out the herbal intensity of the chartreuse. The Dean surely stumbled upon a great pairing there.

Brandy Fix (Harry Johnson, Bartender's Manual, 1900)

2 ounces brandy
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce pineapple syrup
dash of green Chartreuse (1/4 ounce)
1/4 ounce simple syrup

Shake with ice and strain into a wine glass or tumbler filled with crushed ice. Add a splash of seltzer, adorn with lots of fruit and go to it.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Pierre Ferrand 1840 cognac, and a 1:1 simple syrup.

A Bittersweet Variation
 During the summer, Campari goes in everything and variations of variations of Negronis abound. I am also not ashamed to admit that I do very much enjoy the reddish pink hue that every Campari-laced cocktail takes on. The shade reminds me of perfect summer sunsets, of watching the sun steadily drift behind the Olympic mountains. Perhaps not surprisingly, Campari pairs quite well with pineapple. I first learned this on a Tiki Sunday while I was visiting Drink in Boston a couple of years ago. After asking for something unusual to follow a lovely champagne cocktail, I was presented with a Jungle Bird. This exotic tiki drink originated from the Avery Hotel in Kuala Lumpur in 1978 and it combines dark rum,lime juice, Campari and pineapple juice.

With a new batch of pineapple syrup in my fridge, I remembered the Jungle Bird and began looking for other drinks that match up pineapple and Campari. My search led me to the Argonaut, a drink created to celebrate Campari's 150th anniversary in 2010. The drink could easily be seen as a play on the pisco punch, where the interaction between the Campari and the pineapple take center stage. This is definitely a drink to witness the day as it transitions into night.

Argonaut (Marco Dionysos)

1 ounce Campari
1 ounce pisco
3/4 ounce pineapple syrup
1/2 ounce lemon juice

1/2 ounce orange juice
2 dashes orange bitters

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a highball glass filled with ice. Garnish with an orange twist.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Piscologia pisco, Angostura orange bitters, and Gran Classico and Aperol to approximate the Campari.


Bitter from the Start: Rediscovering the Japanese Cocktail

Ever since I stumbled on heavily bittered cocktails, I have been hooked. I do very much love bitters. Not only am I known for ordering my soda and bitters with extra bitters, but also for sending said drink back  because it's not opaque enough. Orange juice, lemonades and even soups and fruit compotes are not safe. I  have coerced strangers into accenting their 7 and 7s with a dash or two of Angostura--much to their delight I might add. For me, this almost obsession with bitters all started with the Alabazam. When I first read about it on Jamie Boudreau's blog a few years ago, I was instantly intrigued. And while that cocktail's teaspoon of Angostura bitters pales in comparison to such heavily bittered drinks as the Trinidad Sour and the Stormy Mai Tai, with their whopping ounce and ounce-and-a-half pours of Angostura, respectively, it certainly was the drink that set the stage. Leo Engel first published the recipe for the Alabazam in a time when cocktails called for at most three to four dashes of bitters. Imagine my surprise when I tripped over a cocktail that predates the Alabazam and includes a still impressive half teaspoon of bitters.

It's not what you think. This isn't some often overlooked cocktail that I discovered in the pages of an obscure tome. Not at all. The Japanese cocktail is pretty well known, even if the most recognizable contemporary recipes drastically revise the amount of bitters. First published in Jerry Thomas's Bartender's Guide in 1865, the Japanese cocktail heavily resembles the old-fashioned, comprising a healthy slug of brandy, a sweetener, bitters and lemon peel. It has also been one of my go-to cocktails. The recipe is practically etched in my brain and has been for years--or so I thought. What I never recognized was that the Japanese I knew and loved started out as perhaps the heavily bittered cocktail of its day.

Japanese Cocktail (Jerry Thomas 1865)

1 table-spoonful of orgeat syrup
1/2 tea-spoonful of [Boker's]* bitters
1 wine-glass of brandy [2 ounces]
1 or 2 pieces of lemon peel

Fill the tumbler one third with ice, and stir well with a spoon. [Strain into a chilled cocktail glass or old-fashioned glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.]

Notes on Ingredients: I used Pierre Ferrand 1840 cognac and B.J. Reynolds orgeat.

* Original recipe carries a typo, Bogart's for Boker's.

While it is hard to know exactly what happened in the intervening years, by the 1887 edition of Jerry Thomas's guide the recipe had already been altered, severely decreasing the amount of bitters. By 1916, the recipe no longer called specifically for Boker's bitters as it had fallen out of production some time in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Certainly, it would be difficult to fashion an 1862 Japanese cocktail without Boker's. Angostura became the natural second choice. However, as Angostura and Boker's bitters are  both considered aromatic style bitters, they are certainly not the same animal. Boker's bitters is less concentrated than Angostura as well as more mellow. Thus, a smaller amount of Angostura can balance out the orgeat. In the years when Boker's was unavailable this all made perfect sense. But what happened between 1862 and 1887 to warrant the change? While this may remain a mystery, perhaps it is time to reconsider the original recipe.

Last year I became enamored with the idea of increasing the amount of bitters in classic cocktail recipes. I had recently acquired several new bottles of digestive bitters and I was keen to play. Considering that the contemporary recipe for the Japanese cocktail calls for such a scant amount of bitters, it just seemed like the perfect candidate. How interesting to find out that after all this time the Japanese was initially envisioned to withstand more bitters. While the extra Boker's bitters does create a more intense experience, the resulting cocktail still tastes very much like a Japanese cocktail, albeit less sweet. Sometimes,history is full of pleasant surprises.


Crossing a Gimlet with a Gin and Tonic: A Spring Endeavor

I love gimlets in the sunshine. Especially in those early days of spring when the sun first dares to makes its way out from behind the clouds, when the cherry blossoms pepper the tree-lined streets. As usual when the temperatures start to climb and the drizzle stops, my craving for brown and bitter goes on hiatus and gin takes center stage. Instead I find myself delving into more bright, refreshing tastes. It happens every year like clockwork. I sit in front of those first martinis, daiquiris, and corpse revivers and can almost feel winter dissipate. While those drinks are all quite lovely and dear to my heart, nothing compares to a properly made gimlet--a two-ingredient cocktail that is just so simple and perfect.

As I sat at home drinking a gimlet on one of those sunny days, feeling the cool breeze waft in past the sheer curtains, I started thinking about gin and tonics. To many, that would be the quintessential  two-ingredient cocktail that is perfect for spring, summer  and many points in between. Gimlets and G&Ts have much in common. Both rely on the wonderfully crisp flavors of the specific gin to provide the foundation. This choice will characterize the entire drink. I prefer navy-strength London Dry gins for this reason with their heavy juniper notes and fuller flavor that can fully stand up the lime cordial. 

The tough part is matching the other flavors with the gin. Though limes play an important role in both drinks, a gimlet hinges on those flavors. Since a gimlet recipe calls for lime cordial, not juice, the flavors aren't as easy to match up. For instance, using a lime oleo saccharum to prepare the cordial will provide floral accents in addition the traditional lime flavor. Thus, unforeseen complications can arise when attempting to pair the gin with the cordial. Limes in gin and tonics are paramount, but they do not create the same types of issues. In a G&T the way that the herbal tonic water interacts with the botanics of the gin can make or break the drink. The choice of tonic water equally as important as the choice of gin. Unfortunately, for years that is what ruined gin and tonics for me--ghastly tonic.

For years I thought I hated gin, but in reality it was the tonic. Over the years, I have discovered that not all tonics are gross. Though few and far between, some artisanal tonic water is actually delicious, even on its own. About a year ago my good friend Sonja and I were lamenting the shortcomings of G&Ts. She too was exploring some of the newer products that were available. In the end, she went a step further and made her own tonic syrup. It makes quite a delicious tonic water, though on its own it is bitter, as it should be. With a generous splash of club soda, gin and tonics were transformed far beyond what I had expected. 

So as I sat in the afternoon sunshine, feeling that still-present chill, with the ideas of spring and gin swirling through my head, I wondered what would happen if I added a bit of tonic syrup to my gimlet. Just a little to invite some of that bitter quinine to the party and dry out the cordial. The result was better than I imagined. The gimlet retained its refreshing herbaceous qualities, but the complexity it gained made it quite irresistible.

G&T Gimlet

2 ounces gin
1/2 ounce lime cordial
1 bar spoon quinine syrup

Shake ingredients until bone-chilling cold. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Perry's Tot, a navy strength gin made in Brooklyn, NY, homemade lime cordial, and Sonja's quinine syrup.

Further note on quinine syrup: Sonja used the tonic water recipe that she found on Jeffrey Morgenthaler's site. However, there are commercial quinine syrups on the market, though I have not tried either one. Other recipes for tonic syrup are also available online, including one from Imbibe magazine.


The Martinez in Depth: Byron's Sweet Martinez

This past week, I have been pondering the changes my tastes have undergone over the last five years as I grew more interested in and moderately obsessed with the world and history of cocktails. Where once I couldn't stomach the "astringency" of gin, the floral nature of scotch, or even "menthol" flavors of tequila, in the intervening years, I have learned to love all three. I even successfully conquered my revulsion for all things anise. But these changes did not happen overnight. While perhaps the most important factor may have been having an open mind, certainly some cocktails or experiences played greater roles than others. The Vesper may have been the first gin-based cocktail that I actually enjoyed, that in and of itself could have been a fluke. After all, one singular experience does not alter one's taste from yuck to yum.

The gin drink that kept me coming back for more is the Martinez--that dusty old cocktail often included on menus today despite its checkered past. I wish I had some great moment of discovery, some memory where every detail resonated, but I cannot place either the circumstances or the location of my first sip. Two winters ago it was my go-to cocktail, and I could often be found starting the evening with a Martinez. It seemed like I drank one at every cocktail establishment I visited over the course of many months. Some were dryer, more modern representations. Others were richer, bearing the stamp of Carpano Antica in generous amounts. I have had every garnish available, from orange twists to olive ,or even nothing at all. I have had historically accurate renditions that harken back to Jerry Thomas's 1887 recipe, where the sweet vermouth carries the bulk of the volume. And I even consumed a Martinez that was "tossed"--where the ingredients are aerated as the bartender essentially pours the mixture back and forth from tin to tin blue-blazer style. When it comes to the proportions, choice of ingredients, or even method, the defining feature of any given Martinez depends almost entirely on the bartender's whim. It seems it has always been this way. But after considering all of these experiences, I had to conclude that my current love of gin is inextricably linked to my love of this drink.

Before vermouth really took off, almost every cocktail was directly related to the Old Fashioned--some form of spirit, sweetening agent, bitters, and ice. As this drink and the burgeoning cocktail market evolved, liqueurs and flavored syrups crept into the glass. This led to such creations as the Japanese Cocktail and the Fancy Brandy Cocktail. By the 1880s, absinthe had fomented its place as a key ingredient in the Sazerac, another Old Fashioned variation, and had even impacted the original cocktail recipe, as evidenced by its inclusion in the Improved Whiskey Cocktail, which first appeared in print in Jerry Thomas's 1887 reprint of the Bar-Tender's Guide. Other liqueurs, such as maraschino, that were widely used in punches were also making their way into the cocktail vernacular. All in all, the evolution of the cocktail seemed fairly straightforward.

Everything changed when Italian vermouth began making its way into the country. The popularity of vermouth-based cocktails is evidenced by their inclusion in O.H. Byron's Modern Bartender's Guide (1884), Jerry Thomas's 1887 edition of the Bar-Tender's Guide, and George Kappeler's Modern American Drinks (1895). Americans quickly became infatuated with the various ways this aromatized, fortified wine interacted with their favorite spirits. The world of cocktails would never be the same.

While the Martini and Manhattan became two of the most famous cocktails ever concocted, the Martinez's chances stalled as popular trends and industrial innovations shifted tastes away. Eventually history would only remember its recipe as a footnote in one of the Martini's various origin stories--that is, until cocktail historians and bartenders resurrected it. Though the exact details are lost to history, the Martinez's birth is undoubtedly linked with the experimentation that followed Italian vermouth's explosion in American markets.

Like its more famous cousins, the Martinez did not begin with a recognized recipe. Early vermouth-based cocktails were highly dependant on the whim of the bartender. In the late nineteenth century, even published recipes for a Manhattan allowed for differing ratios between the rye and sweet vermouth as well as the amount and type of bitters. Many authors even called for the inclusion of a sweetening agent, such as gum syrup or orange curacao. In these early days the Martinez's recipe was very obviously linked to the Manhattan. In fact often the two cocktails were identical except for the base spirit.

O.H. Byron and the Missing Maraschino
The Martinez first showed up in print in 1884 in O.H. Byron's Modern Bartender's Guide. Nestled up underneath the entry for the Manhattan, it is easy to overlook. While the Manhattan easily takes up half the page with its dry and sweet variations. The Martinez's recipe is succinct, involving only one sentence: "Same as Manhattan, only you substitute gin for whisky." Because early beverage guides were more heavily reliant on drink styles, such as a daisy or a smash, as opposed to individualized cocktail recipes, this cross-referencing was not uncommon. However, no other cocktail is dealt with in this manner. It is easy to understand how a Gin Crusta related to a Brandy Crusta. In those cases, too, the drinks would be practically identical down to the elaborate garnish, but all this started to change with vermouth-based cocktails. While the Martinez is simply a Gin Manhattan, the fact that it does have its own name and internal variances based on vermouth style sets it apart.

O.H. Byron's Martinez

2 dashes Curacoa [1/4 ounce]
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1/2 wine-glass gin [1 ounce]
1/2 wine-glass Italian vermouth [1 ounce]
Fine ice; stir well and strain into a cocktail glass
[garnish with an orange twist]

Notes on Ingredients: I used Ransom Old Tom Gin, Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao, and Angostura Bitters. As I only had Dolin sweet vermouth on hand, I bumped up the flavor profile with Bonal in a 2:1 ratio.

Even though this recipe is the first one in print, if you walk into a craft cocktail bar today and order a Martinez, this is not what you will receive. In most circumstances you will receive something very similar. While both cocktails rely heavily on their large proportions of gin and sweet vermouth, one will include a splash of maraschino liqueur instead of the other's curacao. For whatever reason, the Martinez that has been revitalized is not the one from Byron's pages. History has, instead, taken a shining to Jerry Thomas's version.

Curacao had been used in cocktails for years before maraschino liqueur became a popular cocktail ingredient. While more than a handful of Byron's recipes call for maraschino liqueur, the Martinez isn't one of them. A curious side note is that two versions of the Fancy Brandy Cocktail are included, one containing curacao, the other maraschino. Perhaps it was just a question of time before maraschino was substituted for the curacao in a Martinez.

As written, the drink is incredibly tasty. While the wonderful interaction between the herbaceous gin and the maraschino's funky cherry and almond flavors are definitely missing, there is something so wonderfully simple about the addition of the orange notes.


Using Homemade Ingredients: Apple Cider Syrup

As with any newly made syrup, the problem instantly becomes how do I use it? Fortunately since apples are so versatile, the potential applications seem endless--apple and citrus, apple and spice, apple and savory, apple and nutty. My only concern was that apples too often share the spotlight or simply act as the backdrop; they are hardly ever the star of the show. I was worried that somehow the syrups would not be robust enough and would get lost in the cocktail glass. In practice, this turned out to be a viable issue. While both syrups are quite robust on their own--the mulled apple cider syrup is especially delicious on oatmeal--in cocktails, the apple flavor was easily overwhelmed. But with some experimentation, I did have some rather surprising successes.

I have two "go-to" recipes when I am trying to figure out how to incorporate a new syrup into a cocktail: the old fashioned and the gimlet. Both allow the syrup's flavors to shine because there are fewer ingredients involved. Of course, the way that the syrup interacts with the specific flavor profile of a gin becomes the central issue. Because gin and apples in general work well together, I decided to start there. After discovering the relative delicacy of the syrup, I opted for a more traditional London dry gin. While an absinthe rinse is not usually included in a gimlet, it does add a nice element here that works indirectly to highlight the apple flavors.  


2 ounces gin
1/2 ounce apple cider syrup

Express the oils of a thick lime peel into the shaker. Combine  the peel with the other ingredients and shake with ice. Strain into a chilled absinthe-rinsed cocktail glass.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Whitley Neil gin and Pacifique absinthe.

The old fashioned seemed the perfect vehicle for the mulled apple cider syrup. The syrup's combination of fruit and spice propelled me toward barrel-aged spirits. Because of the many successful drinks pairing rye and apple brandy, rye was my first choice. But then again, I don't need an excuse to make a rye old fashioned. Unfortunately, this was not the best choice, as the apple flavors were easily overwhelmed. Though the drink was lovely, it could have just as easily been made with a cinnamon or clove syrup--not the ideal situation. I then tried brandy and a mellow rum and both were quite successful. At first the spices in the syrup came across strongest, but over time hints of apple started to peek out.

Variation on a Rum Old Fashioned

2 ounces rum
2 teaspoons mulled apple cider syrup
1 dash orange bitters

Combine syrup and bitters in a rocks glass. Add a large chunk of ice and pour in the rum. Stir to combine. Garnish with an orange peel. Optional: add an absinthe rinse to the glass before building the drink. 
 Notes on Ingredients: I used Plantation 5-year rum, Fee's barrel-aged orange bitters. I rinsed the glass with Pacifique absinthe.

As I started experimenting, I quickly discovered just how delicate my syrups were. For example, aquavit's more savory anise and caraway worked really well with the mulled syrup's warm cloves and cinnamon, but the apple completely disappeared. The apple cider syrup only acted as a sweetener. So I decided to utilize more delicate flavors. Gin softened with vermouth or sherry was much more successful. And a friend of mine recently discovered that the mulled apple cider syrup added a nice touch when used in a Manhattan. Adding vermouth or dry ingredients seemed to be the key to creating a successful cocktail.

Touch of Apple

1 1/2 ounces gin
3/4 ounce manzanilla sherry
1/2 ounce apple cider syrup
1/4 ounce Calisaya 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 No. 3 gin and Lustau dry manzanilla sherry.