Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day? Try the Commander in Chief.

I'll keep this simple. I went out and voted today. I hope you did, too. Now, I have to wait on the edge of my seat to see if the country gets turned back 12 years, or if it decides it is better to keep advancing. It's a white-knuckle moment, but I will have help dealing with it courtesy of mixologist Michael Lay at Restaurant 1833 in Monterey, California, and his Commander in Chief cocktail.

It is a well-balanced mix of rye (calls for Bulleit, but I used Rittenhouse), Carpano Antica Formula vermouth, Cherry Heering, and Campari, with some Fee Brothers Orange Bitters and, according to the Restaurant 1833 site, a Laphroaig rinse as well. I did not have Laphroig, which is a smoky Islay malt, so I tried it with a scotch I had on hand--Glenkinchie 12 year old Edinburgh malt--less smokey, so perhaps not as assertive as might be required in this rich cocktail. If you have Laphroig, try it out. Leave a comment about your experience. Decide what is right for you. Then, cast your ballot.

By the way, this is quite a delicious drink, with a lot of depth and nice orange notes. You have to be sure and flame that peel!

In the shaker tonight:

Commander in Chief
  • 2 oz rye
  • 1/2 oz Carpano Antica 
  • 1/2 oz Campari 
  • 1/2 oz Cherry Heering
  • 2 dashes Fee Brothers Orange Bitters 
  • Flamed orange peel
Measure and pour all the ingredients together in a glass and stir gently. Strain into a coupe rinsed with Laphroig scotch, and flame the orange peel across the drink.

And then bottoms up! Hail to the Chief.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Widow's Kiss

As Halloween approaches, I thought I would post a peculiar tipple made of almost ancient potions, called the Widow's Kiss. Not really a spooky drink, though the "widow" must have had some fortitude--this is a potent cocktail.

One sip at a time, this widow's kiss is a touch of heaven on the lips.

The Widow's Kiss has been spoken of highly by David Wondrich ("astonishingly harmonious and yet intriguing") and Dr. Cocktail himself, Ted Haigh ("the most evocative drink ever"). Therefore, I had to put this to the test.

The printed recipe dates back to 1895, and from all appearances comes from the hand of one George Kappeler. Two of its ingredients--Chartreuse and Benedictine--are assertively herbal, and date back to 1605 and 1510, respectively, when they were employed "medicinally" by the monks who crafted them. Additionally, there are Angostura Bitters, also herbal in nature, which serve to take the edge off the sweeter ingredients.

Then, there's apple brandy. That makes this a suitable drink for autumn as we head into the colder months. While Calvados is suggested, I find that using Laird's bottled-in-bond, 100-proof straight apple brandy is just fine. The only trouble is finding it--you may be able to find Laird's Applejack, but it is not the same beast. Advice is to defer to Calvados if your only alternative is applejack.

A note about Green Chartreuse, also: Some advise yellow Chartreuse in this recipe. It is lower proof and not as assertive. I don't know. The green version is strong-willed, so the argument is that it can overpower the drink. Nonetheless, I like using the green version. 

It's strong. It's herbal. Potent. The Benedictine and the Chartreuse combine with the apple brandy to create a complex flavor, reminiscent of anise but veering away from that, into alpine herbs. It is a very full flavor, with a lot of tingle. It can be a little viscous and heavy, but you don't want to rush through this. Savor this kiss.

The Widow's Kiss
  • 1 1/2 oz apple brandy (Laird's bonded straight apple brandy or French Calvados)
  • 3/4 oz Chartreuse (I use the green, but yellow is advised by Wondrich)
  • 3/4 oz Benedictine
  • 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. The Widow's Kiss is garnished with a cherry, and when it finds its way to your mouth you will possibly swoon. It's a delight. Bottoms up!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Remember the Maine

The U.S.S. Maine enters Havana Harbor.
After a miserably long silence -- my time away being spent attending matters of adult responsibility (not suffering, whatever you may hear from various reprobates, any forced abstinence) -- I present to you a cocktail bestowed with wonderful flavors and a mysterious moniker. There is a tale to be told about the libation referred to as "Remember the Maine." (Note to the reader: I may have previously mentioned that my research skills are dodgy and I am heroically lazy. Nonetheless, I think I've been able to piece together the basic story.)

The U.S.S. Maine, portrayed by Frederick Nelson Atwood.
It was the winter of 1898, and the battleship U.S.S. Maine had been sent to Havana, Cuba, to protect the interests of the United States during Cuba's revolt against the Spanish colonists. Three weeks after arriving, the Maine was anchored in Havana Harbor when a devastating explosion sent the great ship to the sea floor. Two hundred fifty-three sailors went down with the wreck. Eight later died of related injuries. Of 355 men, only 94 survived the blast and the sinking.

The ship's five-ton store of gunpowder had detonated. All parties involved in the ensuing investigation agree on that. How the magazines exploded remains up for debate. All manner of conspiracy theories haunt the sinking of the Maine. Was it an accident? Was there a mine? Was it sabotage? An act of terror? One such theory, propagated with great sensationalism by Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst in what became known as the "yellow press," was that the Spanish were responsible for sinking the American ship. The hawkish Pulitzer and Hearst sympathized with Cuba's plight for independence from Spain, and soon the phrase "Remember the Maine, to Hell with Spain!" was popularized, with the intention of prodding the U.S. into the Spanish–American War.

Wreck of the U.S.S. Maine.
Other stories circulated, with boards of inquiries leading to varying conclusions: the 1898 Del Peral and De Salas Inquiry discounted mines and advised that the gunpowder explosion was caused by a fire in the coal bunker; the 1898 Sampson Board's Court of Inquiry concluded that a coal fire could not have been possible and that a mine was the culprit; the 1911 Vreeland Board's Court of Inquiry found that the arms explosion was triggered by an external explosion, likely a mine, but their evidence differed from that of the 1898 Sampson Board; the 1974 Rickover Investigation, a private inquiry, examined photographs and ship plans and concluded that there was no external breach, and that spontaneous combustion in the coal bunker must have caused the magazines to explode; the 1998 National Geographic Investigation utilized the technology of computer modeling to assert that the damage to the ship's hull pointed away from an initial munitions explosion, but stopped short of claiming proof of a mine; and, in 2002, the History Channel Unsolved History Investigation landed on the side of the coal-bunker fire as causing the ignition of the gunpowder. 

Finally, a few pointed toward a "false flag" theory, speculating that the U.S. sank its own ship and sacrificed its sailors to justify war against Spain and to protect Cuba (or, to lay claim to the island in place of the Spanish).

While any of the aforementioned events are plausible, the true cause of the sinking of the Maine remains a mystery. And who gives a damn? History is history, and we have a wonderful cocktail to enjoy, called "Remember the Maine." 

So, what is the link between libation and liberation?

Charles H. Baker’s 1939 book, The Gentleman’s Companion: Being an Exotic Drinking Book or Around the World with Jigger, Beaker and Flask, is understood to be the first in which the Remember the Maine cocktail is mentioned. Baker's description includes a reference to the 1933 coup against the government of Gerardo Machado by General Batista during the "Revolt of the Sergeants" (Batista would, much later, be defeated by Fidel Castro's revolutionaries):
“Remember the Maine, a hazy memory of a night in Havana during the unpleasantness of 1933, when each swallow was punctuated with bombs going off on the Prado, or the sound of 3″ shells being fired at the Hotel Nacional, then haven for certain anti-revolutionary officers.”
We can only surmise the connection between cocktail and the course of history, but perhaps having a drink in Havana in 1933 and hearing, as described by Baker, the siege of the Hotel Nacional, was enough to stir memories of the former "unpleasantness" with the Maine and the Spanish–American War. In any case, let's get to the booze.

I tried this recipe numerous times, with varying ingredients and ratios, and landed upon a combination that I think is well-balanced and pleasing. It's the kind of drink that can be experimented with, by using different ryes (I tried James E. Pepper 1776 Rye and Rittenhouse Rye, both 100 proof, as well as Old Overholt -- all do well) or vermouths (Carpano Antica was too sweet, Punt y Mes was intriguing but not quite right, and Vya worked nicely; however, I found the best was the ever-so-slightly bitter Cocchi Vermouth di Torino), and even absinthes (I used Kübler, because it is the bottle I have on hand). However, you can't do without the Cherry Heering, as there really is no substitute.

Remember the Maine

3 oz rye whiskey
1 oz sweet vermouth (try Cocchi Vermouth di Torino)
2 tsp (10 ml) Cherry Heering
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) absinthe (or, rinse the glass and discard)
Maraschino cherry

Charles H. Baker himself eloquently instructs: "Stir briskly in clock-wise fashion -- this makes it sea going, presumably! -- turn into a big chilled saucer champagne glass, twisting a curl of green lime or lemon peel over the top." 

My preference is a maraschino cherry -- especially one prepared by Luxardo. Just what the doctor ordered. Of course, it is all a matter of personal taste.

Bottoms up -- and, Remember the Maine!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Jasmine Cocktail

I come to you, at the tail-end of May, with a cocktail that is certainly - and I hope you agree - well worth the wait. What has kept me, you may ask? Moving from an apartment of 12 years into a new house, after a year of scouring the market. A promotion at work which brought with it, unsurprisingly, more work. And, with the karma of this year's premature spring catching up with Boston in May, a patch of cool rainy days that did nothing to inspire explorations beyond the considerable comforts of the Manhattan. This weekend, however, has been lovely, and the warmth put me in a mood for gin and citrus.

So, I concocted a drink I had seen on the menu at the Hawthorne Bar in Kenmore Square (ironically, my last post came from a drink I had there too). It is called the Jasmine Cocktail and it was just the ticket after a long day working the commencement event at the college that employs me. It was not difficult to find a recipe online, thanks to the Imbibe site. I found that this particular version was adapted from Paul Harrington’s original recipe by Robert Hess; I will include both versions of the drink here - adaptation and original. Personally, I think the Hess version has a little more depth to it, but it is also a touch sweeter (and a tad bigger).

In the spirit of this site, which is not to invent new cocktails but to present those which I think are superlative, I offer the Jasmine Cocktail. A perfect list of ingredients for a warm evening: gin, Campari, Cointreau, lemon juice, all combining to refreshing effect: the bitter Campari is assuaged by the sweet Cointreau; both, in turn, are tarted up by the lemon, and it all works wonderfully with the gin, which pairs to delightful effect with Campari.

Make one for yourself today! Two versions follow; note the difference in ratios:

Jasmine Cocktail

As adapted by Robert Hess (my preferred):
  • 1 1/2 oz gin
  • 1 oz Cointreau
  • 3/4 oz Campari
  • 1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
  • Lemon twist
As originated by Paul Harrington (drier and more tart):
  • 1 1/2 oz gin
  • 1/4 oz Cointreau
  • 1/4 oz Campari
  • 3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
  • Lemon twist
Combine all ingredients and shake with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish.

Bottoms up!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Final Ward Cocktail

I can't believe it is March, and the temperature outside is 84 degrees. This isn't just some freak early spring day in Boston. This whole winter has been a dream, and this has been the fifth day in a row with balmy temperatures. This is incredible.

In fact, today is a good day to mix up a Final Ward cocktail, a tipple discovered during a recent visit to The Hawthorne lounge in Boston's now-completely-castrated-and-soulless Kenmore Square (remember The Rat?). Devised by Philip Ward, of New York's Death & Company, the Final Ward is a bespoke version of the classic Last Word (equal parts gin, lime, green Chartreuse, and maraschino liqueur), a cocktail allegedly developed at the Detroit Athletic Club during the Prohibition.

Upon sipping one this afternoon, my wife described the Final Ward as "the perfect springtime 'up' drink, bridging the gap between the Manhattan and the whiskey sour." I agree, and would also throw in the daiquiri as a comparison point, for good measure. Lemon makes it deliciously crisp and refreshing, while Green Chartreuse introduces a distinct herbal quality, and the maraschino liqueur (I use Luxardo, which is superb, but you can find others) provides a woody and floral note. Replacing the botanical gin, rye adds a dry and fruity element, with that distinct flavor of the grain working well with the other ingredients. It has been suggested, and for the record I agree, that the rye should be 100 proof minimum for best results (though I think it is fine with Old Overholt, which is not hard to find, and easy on the wallet to boot). On a side note, I recently bought a bottle of High West Double Rye!, and it is fantastic. Talk about rye! And it comes from Utah, of all places.

I should warn that Chartreuse is not cheap, but a bottle should last you a good long while (sort of like buying absinthe). It's truly worth the investment for this drink.

The Final Ward

3/4 oz rye whiskey
3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
3/4 oz Green Chartreuse
3/4 oz maraschino liqueur

Shake all the ingredients with ice, until the shaker is frosty and your fingers smart from the cold. Ok, just shake it until it is cold. Strain into a cocktail glass and enjoy spring!

Bottoms up!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Bitter Mai Tai

It is still February, and in New England that usually implies utter misery. In a regular year, it means filthy piles of petrified snow, blackened by the gunk of a winter's worth of snowplowing, muddy melt, dog piss, and plain old city dirt. It means subzero temperatures and despondent people grimly huddled at bus stops or hobbling along the streets, bent against the bitter wind, rendered obese by layers of puffy coats, scarves, hats, sweaters, long johns, and winter fat. People look as if they are ready just to die. It means a certain hopelessness: will this ever end?

This year is different. February is just about over and we have been graced by some pretty nice temperatures. The coldest day this month had a high of 30 degrees fahrenheit with a 16-degree low. That was one day. Otherwise it has ranged from a mild mid-40s to a balmy mid-50s. January was not dissimilar. Essentially, this winter has been like spring. There are already snowbells blooming along the sidewalks, and bright little patches of purple and yellow crocuses pushing up through the ground. No snow, little rain - what does it all mean? 

Well, here at Lakeville Road it means the first Mai Tai of the year, albeit with a considerable twist. The Bitter Mai Tai, from a recipe courtesy of Jeremy Oertel at Brooklyn's Dram, seems peculiar on paper because its predominant ingredient is Campari. As you probably know, Campari is bitter and a Mai Tai is tropical (read: not bitter). But even if, like my wife, you don't care for Campari, I'll wager that you'll enjoy this particular combination of flavors. There is some bitterness, but there is also the pungency from Jamaican rum and a bright tartness from fresh lime juice and orgeat syrup - which also provides a sweet counteraction to the Campari, with a little help from orange curaçao. While it shares four out of the five ingredients in a standard Mai Tai, this is quite different. The sweetness on the tongue is undercut almost instantaneously by the bitter notes of Campari. And then, the smokey flavor of the Jamaican rum kind of rises to the fore, and characterizes the aftertaste. This is definitely the kind of bitterness I can get with at the tail end of February. It makes me feel... happy.

To do this right, you'll want to seek out Smith & Cross Traditional Jamaica Rum. As they say on the website, "Make no mistake, this is not a sipping rum by contemporary standards. Upon initial pour, allow a minute to open up before tasting." From an English company dating back to 1788, Smith & Cross is an unusual rum; in fact, sipping it straight you might not think it is a rum at all. It shares perhaps a few flavor characteristics with Myers's Jamaican rum, but it is a golden color and its odor is pungent, with a hint of burnt sugar or molasses. It contains "only Wedderburn and Plummer pot still distillates, famous for their notes of exotic fruits and spice." It is distilled in Jamaica and produced in London. It is Navy strength at 114 proof. It is worth finding purely for it's unique flavor. I found it at Cambridge Wine & Spirits, where you can also find orgeat syrup (or try the Boston Shaker).

That said, if you can't lay your meathooks on a bottle of Smith & Cross, try this with another aged Caribbean rum.

With the sun shining in the window and March just around the corner, this has proven to be a good choice of drink for today. And without boring you further by expounding relentlessly on the weather, here is the recipe:

Bitter Mai Tai

1 1/2 oz Campari
3/4 oz Jamaican rum (Smith & Cross recommended)
1/2 oz orange curaçao
1 oz fresh lime juice
3/4 oz orgeat syrup

Shake all the ingredients with ice until cold, and strain into a rocks glass filled with crushed ice. You can garnish this with a mint sprig or a lime (or both), as you would a Mai Tai.

Here's to you. Bottoms up!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

For a Friend

This one is a tribute to my friend Randy, who is in the hospital and in need of many wishes and prayers at the moment. He is a man whose wit and charm I admire, and whose mastery of tending bar stands unparalleled in my experience. I met him a long time ago...

Bukowski's, where Jack Lynch's once was...
Photo courtesy of Mattias Willefors
ONCE UPON A TIME, there was a drinking establishment by the name of Jack Lynch’s Webster Lounge, located at 50 Dalton Street at the very spot where Bukowski’s now stands. It was a nondescript dive tucked into the cliff-face of a monumental parking garage, overlooking the Turnpike just across Dalton Street from Hynes Convention Center. This literal hole in the wall advertised “Eating, Drinking, Piano,” but the only food was Chex mix (if you were lucky) and I never saw any piano. There was a worn, shabby red carpet. Old paintings of clipper ships. Cheap wood paneling and a long, L-shaped bar which faded into an eternal gloom. There was a short stairway at the back, leading to a landing with some booths that were empty most of the time. The only time I saw them occupied was by elderly, bawdy ladies who liked to tie one on in an undesirable establishment.

The short end of the L-shaped bar came out from the wall and pointed toward the entry before hanging a left and stretching straight back. Swiveling, vinyl barstools were anchored to the floor. Those that were occupied tended to be claimed by truckers working the convention center, and various lowlifes gripping onto the bar. That said, I was never made to feel unwelcome there.

When I was in college, Jack Lynch's was known mostly as the one place near Boston University that you could get a drink without an ID. This was historic in a city notorious for its strict adherence to “carding.” But while the visits made during college were driven by a certain desperation in my group of friends, my later relationship with Jack Lynch’s was rich, warm, predictable, and beloved.

It started like this. One spring day in the early to mid-1990s, I was walking along Boylston Street and for some reason I was free of obligations. After a long winter, spring in Boston makes a fellow do strange things, and I found myself gravitating to Jack Lynch’s. I was drawn to the seediness of it, I guess. It looked dodgy, but also, it had always been there. It must be established. So I thought, maybe a quick vodka is on order (yes, in those days I drank mostly vodka, or rum). 

With some trepidation, I passed through the outer doorway, I found myself in a small foyer filled with flyers and newspapers, and a dingy looking pay phone. Over the years, I would use this phone numerous times (it was in the ages before cell phones) as a sort of clarion call to my friends. Eventually, it went without saying that I could be found in this place between certain hours. I passed through a second set of doors into the smoky haze of the dive. I was a little nervous; after all, it was truly a dive and I was not exactly some street tough. In fact, I probably looked outlandish, in comparison to the regulars. A couple of heads turned my way and stared at me in the gloom. Then they went back to their short drinks, Marlboros, and Budweisers. I chose an empty seat at the short end of the L-shaped bar, in the darkness of the corner. I could see the whole narrow length of the place in front of me. The bartender, a half dead drunk with a tumescent nose, creaked over and raised his eyebrows inquiringly.

“Vodka with lime” was my request.

Now, it should be noted, I was not a practiced drinker at the time. I  didn't make too many cocktails, and honestly, I didn't know what I was doing. I deserved what I got, which was a rocks glass filled to the brim with vodka (no rocks, of course), and a dried up wedge of lime. I tasted. The vodka was warm as the day outside. Warmer even. Warm as if it had been coddled between the legs of an obese truck driver for a dozen years. It stung and burned. Nonetheless, I proceeded to wince my way through the substantial pour. I could have asked for ice but in retrospect, I must have been too timid. Realizing my mistake, I decided to play it off as if I meant it. This is how I like it: hot.

After that, it is a wonder that I ever went back for more, but I did. The atmosphere drew me back. The fact it was quiet, empty, dingy, yet reminiscent of another era when there might have been a cocktail piano. I was enchanted, in some peculiar way, by the underbelly world that inhabited what could only be referred to as a “joint” or a “dive” or a “shithole.” This place served up a thick slice of smokey, liquored-up atmosphere that I had read about in hard-boiled detective novels. This is where Philip Marlowe (go ahead, click it) or Sam Spade would sidle up to the bar and order rye neat. It didn't hurt that the pours were big and the drinks cheap.

The second time I stopped in to Jack Lynch's was not long after the first. However, it was whole new experience—one which has set me upon the path I now tread. I took the same seat as before. It was the same crowd, the same atmosphere. But where an old drunk had served me before, now came a man who was smiling broadly, a slight figure dressed in the black garb of the expert bartender. He welcomed me with “What can I get you?” As before, I ordered a vodka with lime. “Chilled?” he inquired. What an idea! “Yes, please!” A cocktail napkin was laid before me, and a bowl of Chex mix appeared. Then came the drink, in a frosty martini glass: brimming with ice cold vodka with a good squeeze of lime. So cold. How could I have stomached the warm swill I had the first time? What was I thinking? This was how you did it.

So I went back a couple of days later. I took my usual stool in the corner. Once again, the dapper gentleman appeared before me. And as he placed the napkin before me, he inquired: “Vodka and lime?” At that moment, a light came on. He remembered me! Then, I understood what made a great bartender. It was about hospitality, congeniality, remembering your customers. Of course, in that place, surrounded by old drunk truckers and lowlifes, I was going to stand out, as he did. This was Randy. From this point on, I was his loyal customer. I brought companions as well, for how could I not wish to share this charming, delightful experience. It was refined. We conversed. We shared jokes. Eventually, we became friends.

Improper Boston Best Bartender issue, year unknown
In fact, many a friendship was sealed at Jack Lynch's, under Randy's hospitable ministrations. I count one of my closest friends in Boston among these compatriots - Bob, a professor of animation at a local college and an evening student at the art school where I worked at the time. He and I had both been fond of the nearby dive “Peking Tom’s” on Boylston Street. However, it closed down when the authorities realized it was a true den of iniquity. Shortly after Peking Tom's was shuttered, Bob showed up at Jack Lynch's. We nodded politely the first time. Struck up a conversation the second. As we became regulars, we also became dear friends.

If Randy were not presiding over affairs at the bar, it is unlikely that I would have found friends such as Bob. He served as a source of light, to which we were attracted. He brought strangers together. Whether he was cracking jokes or impersonating Rosalind Russell from Auntie Mame (oh go on, follow the link), or recounting tales of the bar, he was a magnetic, entertaining personality. He lavished us with attention, often “topping” off our drinks as we sipped, so that our glasses were never less than full. This is what defines Randy, to me: the glass is always full.

The sad day when Jack Lynch’s closed (in true dive fashion, we all showed up at the same time as Randy, just to find the iron grate pulled down - it was shuttered and nobody had told the man on duty) was also the first time we all had a drink together. What else was there to do? That is when “bartender” became “friend.”

From then on, we were hooked. We followed Randy from establishment to establishment. Such was his skill that he soon found himself helming the bar at Anago, a fancy restaurant in the Lenox Hotel, next to the Boston Public Library. There, we tried to appear refined as we took our place at the bar next to guests in their finery. The cocktails were elegant and rendered with perfection. Here, my drink became the Manhattan. So long vodka. I don’t miss you! Bob, my wife Christy (who, alas, never knew the charms of Jack Lynch’s, but was quite familiar with Anago), and I would meet at the bar. We each knew when the other would be there. You could stop in on a whim and be assured of some friendly face. Randy drew regulars. People came back because of him. It was a happy time indeed.

Nathaniel, Christy, Randy, and Bob at Anago
Eventually, Randy moved to Philadelphia. A new home. From his reports, he was in his element there. Time went on. Many good Boston dives closed. And over the years, regrettably, we fell out of touch with Randy. Nonetheless, it was a shock when I recently heard he was in the hospital and it was serious.

So we raise a glass to Randy, a dear friend who brought so many other friends together. A man who kept our glasses full, and who continues to keep our hearts warm. Please get well soon!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Old Pal

Where did January go? In the hustle of the new year, I have been able to make only one post in the first month. Maybe I will get two in for the second.

Following the train of thought that began with the Boulevardier cocktail, I am posting a slight variation on that delicious drink. By all accounts, this first appeared in Harry McElhone's Harry's ABC of Mixing Cocktails in 1922. This was actually an earlier version of the Boulevardier, for in 1927 this was no longer written up in McElhone's book (evidently replaced by the Boulevardier).

First of all, while the Boulevardier traditionally calls for bourbon and sweet vermouth, the Old Pal demands rye and dry. It is altogether drier than its sweeter cousin, with the spiciness of the rye at mid-tongue complemented by the full, bitter complexity of Campari. A hint of orange peel, citrus oil, and herbal notes touch against a welcome caramel flavor from the rye, and round out with a gentle, mineral whisper of the dry vermouth. Served up with a lemon twist, it is quite a delight.

A few comments about this, to begin with: I used Old Overholt rye, and the results were very good. However, I think you might do better with a more flavorful, rye-forward bottling (Wild Turkey makes a good 101-proof rye that should not be too difficult to find, or too expensive), especially when standing up to Campari. Today's resurgence in rye whiskey opens the door to many variables; depending on your palate and preferences, there are numerous experiments to be made. For the dry vermouth, I used Dolin, which I think is outstanding. Others have expounded on Vya dry vermouth, but in some ways I find that it competes a bit too much with the other flavors. I am not discouraging you from trying it out, though, as it is truly unique.

Now, before March comes parading along, here is the recipe.

Old Pal Cocktail
  • 1 1/2 oz rye whiskey
  • 3/4 oz dry vermouth
  • 3/4 oz Campari
  • Twist
Stir with ice in a mixing glass until very cold, and strain into a cocktail glass. Twist a piece of lemon peel over the drink, so that the citrus oils spritz across the surface. Use the twist as garnish, if you like.

Bottoms up, old pals!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Boulevardier Cocktail

Happy New Year, compadres! During this time of reckless resolutions, I wanted to assure my readership that I would remain steadfast in my championing of tipitular delights. After all, for the sake of good cheer and generous spirit, there is nothing quite like a raised glass and a toast to good health - naysayers be damned.

In a May 2011 post about the 1794 Cocktail, I made reference to a drink called the Boulevardier. Though similar to the 1794, the Boulevardier has slightly different ratios (and no aromatic bitters). Elegant in name, sublime in color, and a delight on the palate, this complex, gently bittersweet dram greets the sipper with an enticing aroma of citrus oil. Upon first taste, the tongue is enlivened by a dance of flavors flitting from bitter, to citrus, to savory, with a flash of sweetness and a very dry finish.

Actually, 100 years of cheers as of November 2011.
The Boulevardier has an interesting story. Ironically, an unintended side-effect of the Prohibition was the advent of mixed drinks (using juices and other mixers to obscure the harshness of illegal bathtub hooch). And, as Ted Haigh notes in Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, the Prohibition also put barkeeps out of work - though an intrepid few ventured overseas to Europe. There, their early American cocktails commingled with relatively exotic aperitifs of the Old World - such as Campari, at the time virtually unknown in the U.S.

And so it was that barman Harry MacElhone (or McElhone, variously) ended up, eventually, in Paris. He worked at the New York Bar, acquired by American jockey James Forman "Tod" Sloan in 1911. In 1923, MacElhone gained ownership of the bar, rechristening it Harry's New York Bar. Today, a legendary and fantastic landmark, it still stands at "sank roo doe noo" (5 Rue Daunou) in Paris.

Eventually, the recipe for the Boulevardier made its debut in Harry MacElhone's 1927 Barflies and Cocktails. As Haigh points out, this cocktail is essentially a Negroni (gin, Campari, sweet vermouth) made with bourbon instead of gin. However, Haigh also makes it clear that the Negroni "would not see print for another twenty years."

The name is derived from a contemporaneous publication, The Paris Boulevardier, as the drink was the favored tipple of that rag's editor, Erskine Gwynne.

Incidentally, during a couple of trips my wife and I made to Paris in the early noughties, Harry's New York Bar became our mainstay - despite the fact that it was located across the city from our lodgings. The Bloody Mary was invented at Harry's, along with the White Lady, the French 75, the Sidecar, and the Monkey Gland (among others). As one of the few places in Paris where a "martini" refers to the gin cocktail and not just dry vermouth with a twist, it was a happy find. They also made a mean Manhattan, and the bartender was a true artiste, operating with economical style and flair, in black tie and crisp, white apron. We watched him turn out a Mojito laden with a bouquet of mint, for an unsuspecting Frenchman to try (and we were witness to his delight). In fact, despite its name, Harry's New York Bar had a cadre of regulars - most of whom were French. Additionally, its literary heritage was appealing to me, as a haunt of many writers, such as Hemingway and Sartre, not to mention celebs including Humphrey Bogart and Rita Hayworth, among others. If you wish to slake your thirst in Paris, sidle up to the counter at Harry's for a true Parisian experience. Oh, and if you get hungry, you can order chiens chauds (hot dogs).

Enough idle chatter. The Boulevardier calls for bourbon, and not having bourbon on hand (What?, you exclaim) I used Old Overholt rye, which was a delightful substitute. For the vermouth, Ted Haigh recommends the fantastic Carpano Antica Formula ("it will make your tongue sing"), but I applied the equally sublime Vya sweet vermouth, what comes out of California. There is no substituting the final ingredient: Campari. It's bitterness does not appeal to everyone, but I have grown accustomed to it and now I truly love it. Yes, it has a bitter attack, but it is tempered beautifully by the sweet vermouth and the whiskey; it also offers a subtle orange evolution on the palate, which is only enhanced by a squeeze of orange peel over the drink (I differ from Haigh, who recommends a cherry). I say, go with orange peel!

And without further ado:

The Boulevardier Cocktail

1 1/2 oz bourbon or rye
1 oz Campari
1 oz sweet vermouth
Garnish: orange twist

Stir with ice in a mixing glass until very cold, and strain into a cocktail glass. Take a swath of orange peel (avoiding the pith) and squeeze over the drink, so that the citrus oils spritz across the surface.

This drink is a delight. And this is my first post of 2012.

So, get yer bottoms up!