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Saturday
Dec042010

For Grapefruit Lovers Only

A year or two ago Mrs. The Ace came back from Beretta restaurant in San Francisco raving about the cocktail she had with her dinner than evening.  A well-documented lover of grapefruit flavors in her cocktail, she was downright titillated by this combination of grapefruit and pineapple.  I counted my lucky stars that she hadn't run off with the bartender right then and there, and decided that I had best heed her request to figure out how to make this drink for her at home.    

Beretta's cocktail menu names the drink the Il Gitano, and it lists the ingredients as amaro, lime, pineapple gomme, grapefruit, bitters.  After a few iterations, I adapted the proportions as follows.  

Le Pamplemousse D'Amour
Adapted from Beretta Restaurant's Il Gitano cocktail

1 oz. Amaro
1 oz. fresh-squeezed white grapefruit juice (i recommend oro blanco when in season)
1/4 to 1/2 oz. fresh squeezed lime juice (I usually split the middle at 1/3 oz)
3/4oz. Small Hand Foods pineapple gum syrup
2 dashes Peychaud's bitters 

Place an up glass in the freezer to chill - or place ice and water in the glass - and set aside for 2-3 minutes.  Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake for 10 seconds.  Strain the chilled drink into the glass using a fine strainer.  Grate a fine zest of the lime rind onto the thin head of foam that should be floating on top of the drink and serve.  

 

If you can find it, Amaro Nonino is simply amazing in this cocktail (here's a link to K and L Wine Merchants' site to find it).  It adds a light citrus touch that plays perfectly with the juices in the drink.  I have also made it with Ramazotti - which I really appreciate for its classic amaro bitterness.  You get a slightly different but nevertheless excellent cocktail with either one.  

This drink is a classic crowd pleaser.  It also makes a very nice aperitif - it has a blend of citrus juices with a little sweetness from the pineapple gomme syrup.  Amaro is a nice low-proof spirit that is often served straight up as an aperitif. 

And yes, this story has a happy ending... Mrs. The Ace hasn't left with that (or any other) bartender just yet.  In fact, she even claims that the adapted version is better than the original!  Having since tried the Il Gitano for myself, I would say that this stacks up right next to Beretta's very fine cocktail.  

 

Saturday
Dec042010

Making a Manhattan

Okay, so its late but I wanted to post a drink recipe tonight.  Lets talk Manhattans for a few minutes.  

In today's world the generally accepted Manhattan cocktail is proportioned as follows:

Manhattan Cocktail

2 oz. Whiskey (prefer rye)
1 oz. Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth
2 dashes bitters (prefer Angostura, Bitter Truth aromatic or Regan's Orange No. 6)

Place an up glass in the freezer to chill - or alternatively pour some water with ice into an up glass and set aside for a few minutes to chill the glass.  Pour the rye, the vermouth and the bitters into a mixing glass with ice up to the top of the level of the liquid in the glass.   Stir with a barspoon for 30 seconds to chill the liquids thoroughly  and also to infuse a small amount of water into the drink.  Strain with a fine strainer into your chilled up glass. 

Well, that isn't really all that groundbreaking, is it?  This recipe is available on virtually any google search of the words "Manhattan Cocktail", so why write about it here?  

The key to the Manhattan is not so much the proportions, but the spirits used and the preparation.  While the recipe itself is not that complicated, using quality spirits and stirring the drink properly with a lot of ice makes this drink really sing.   Here are some notes on preparation for this magnificent drink:

  • I recommend rye whiskey for this drink.  If you just love your favorite bourbon and want to use it - there is plenty of precedent for doing so.  But whichever you use make sure that you use a nice whiskey that you like for this drink.  
  • Carpano Antica is the only vermouth that I use for this drink.  I make other derivatives of the Manhattan with Punt e Mes, and I love to dabble with Amer Picon or an Amaro in other similar drinks - but this vermouth has to stand up to the whiskey with only the help of a little bit of bitters.  It must be Carpano Antica.  
  • Angostura bitters is a fine choice for this drink.  Especially if you are still in the 10-Bottle Bar stage of your home bar, Angostura works great here.  If you have expanded your bitters collection already, I love the Bitter Truth aromatic bitters in this drink, and even a Regan's Orange Bitters No. 6 can work well.  I would stay away from the Fee Brothers' line in this drink, however.  The strong cinnamon essence in the Fee Brothers' aromatic bitters do not work here.  
  • Use enough ice to make sure that all of the whiskey, vermouth and bitters are in the ice and make sure that you stir for a long time.  You want this drink to get cold and you want it to melt a little bit of the ice into the drink.    
  • Use a fine strainer or a double-strainer to make sure that no ice gets poured into your drink.  You don't mind having those little slicks of water on top of the drink, but you don't want chunks of ice in your cocktail.  
  • If you have them, a single amarena (NOT a maraschino) cherry on a skewer is a nice way to finish this drink.  But I would also be duly impressed if you get down with your bad self and drink it straight up.  

I strongly recommend taking the time to make this drink right.  A well-made Manhattan handed to a guest will earn you a friend and likely a repeat customer for your home bar.  

Wednesday
Dec012010

The Castle Harbor Special

A few years back I came across this drink on the menu at Sidebar, a nice little neighborhood restaurant in Oakland.  The menu attributed the drink to The Gentleman's Companion Vol. II by Charles Baker.  At the time, I had never heard of Mr. Baker or his book, so I went out and grabbed a copy for myself.  The book - republished as Jigger, Beaker & Glass - Drinking Around the World immediately became a staple of my cocktail library.  

Here was the recipe according to Charles Baker:

Castle Harbor Special (original)

Jigger, Beaker & Glass - Drinking Around the World - By Charles Baker

1 1/2 jigger (2 1/4 oz) Barbados, Demerara or Martinique rum*
1/2 jigger (3/4 oz) White Bacardi rum
1 tsp. sweet pineapple soda fountain syrup 
1 tsp. grenadine (optional)
juice of 1/2 lime
4 small dices of ripe pineapple

* The book references the Gosling Brothers.  Gosling's is a Barbados rum - so I went with it

Combine all ingredients in a bar (mixing) glass and stir with a lump of ice.  Turn contents  into a small goblet half filled with cracked ice.   

So first off, the ratios of spirit to sweetener were a little off.  Perhaps the book was referring to a different jigger measurement - as you can see here the term jigger is not necessarily a fixed measurement depending on when and where it is based.  So I toned down the alcohol contents slightly to 1 1/2 oz Gosling's Black Seal (I used 80-proof) and 1/2 oz white Bacardi.  I opted to keep the grenadine (just a dash) and used 1/2 oz of Small Hand Foods pineapple gum syrup in the place of the fountain syrup and the pineapple slices.  

I was pretty skeptical about mixing Gosling's in anything but a Dark & Stormy - but surprisingly the drink did work reasonably well.  I also tried the drink with a La Favorite rhum vieux from Martinique (not good) and with a El Dorado 5-year Demerara rum (which worked well).  

Finally I got the bright idea to ask the barkeep at Sidebar, and they were using a Jamaican rum for their adaptation of the drink.  This was the clear winner to me.  I found that the best option was an Appleton V/X, but the Coruba Dark in my cabinet also worked as a "well" option.  

Castle Harbor Special (Adapted)

Adapted from Jigger, Beaker & Glass - Drinking Around the World - By Charles Baker

1 1/2 oz Appleton Estate V/X rum
1/2 oz pineapple gum syrup 
juice from 1/2 a lime (should be 1/2 oz)
dash of grenadine

Combine all ingredients in a your shaker with several cubes of ice.  Shake well, then pour entire contents (including the ice) into a double old-fashioned glass.  Drop the spent half a lime in the glass and serve.  

I like this adaptation of the drink because I really love Appleton V/X in general and in this cocktail the spirit picks up an herbaceous undercurrent.  This is no brawny cocktail - the lime keeps this drink fresh and light, and the pineapple gum and grenadine add a little taste of the beach to the drink.

And no worries - if you bought a Bacardi 8 for your 10-Bottle Bar it also will work for this drink.  If you really like the drink then try the Appleton V/X next time.   

The Castle Harbor was one of my earliest money drinks (meaning that it is one of those drinks that you use when you have an uncertain or skeptical patron).  Its also a great cocktail for anyone to try out from the 10-Bottle Bar.  

Sunday
Nov212010

The 10-Bottle Bar Theory

Back in 2007 my interest in spirits and good cocktails began to take on a life of its own.  I found myself spending countless hours poring over books, websites and magazines testing out new recipes.  I was spending more money than I care to recall buying new spirits (there is a large cabinet in the back of my bar area full of bottles still waiting for their cocktail raison d'être).  And heaven help those poor bartenders at places like Flora, Bourbon & Branch and The Alembic that had to suffer my bartending SuperFan-dom.

In my defense, there was a lot to learn.  There was a huge language problem to overcome - there were new meanings for words like "pony", "maraschino" and "gum".  There were the logistical challenges of finding new, exotic-sounding things like falernum, pimento dram, kirschwasser and rhum agricole.  Finally, I had to decipher whether I really needed to find a small-batch rye to make that cool new drink I had found, or would a bottle of Maker's Mark suffice? 

Three years, hundreds of bottles and thousands of cocktails later I came out the other side with a working knowledge of home mixology.  The payoff is clear - I now have better parties (more liquor = more entertaining guests), an understanding of the alchemy involved in mixology and a great hobby.  But surely there must be a better way for those just starting this process to get there?  

This was the genesis for what I am calling it the 10-Bottle Bar theory - meaning that one can start a high-quality home bar with just 10 bottles of spirits.  With these 10 bottles - along with a handful of mixers, bar tools and glassware that I will also explain along the way - the home mixologist can create a compelling array of interesting and tasty libations, dazzle their friends and neighbors, the whole lot.  

The 10-Bottle theory certainly poses some 'Noah's Ark' kinds of problems.  Which rum should I  bring on board?  What - I can only have one whiskey???  Non-trivial questions, to be sure.  I will offer my take on which bottles should occupy those precious 10 slots and will attach a number of classic and neo-classic drink recipes that one can make using these bottles.  If you're like me, you'll want to expand your collection from there.  

Cheers - Layne

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