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Entries in dry vermouth (2)

Sunday
Jan092011

Shaken not Stirred

Since I am rolling with the 10-Bottle Bar stuff - I may as well post a bit about the Martini. Yes - the mixologist's most hated cocktail does have a place here. Oh sure - it's easy for mixologists to hate on the martini.  After all - America's taste in liquor has now reduced this drink down to nothing more than a glass of chilled vodka (a little cold, unflavored spirit, anyone???). Alas, if only the industry had stopped there in destroying this fine old cocktail - but cotton candy martinis? Perish the thought.  

So yes, there is still a place at The Ace for a well-crafted martini. But I will focus only on versions that I find to be more interesting and that I would serve in my home (which luckily for me also happens to be my bar).  I will assume that everyone reading this already knows how to chill the hell out of gin or vodka and pour it into an up glass - so I will focus on some more interesting, old-school versions of this classic cocktail.  Here goes nothing..

Dry Martini
Adapted from Savoy Cocktail Book (1930) by Harry Craddock

2 oz. gin (Old Tom is historically appropriate here if you have it)
1 oz. dry (french) vermouth
1-2 dashes orange bitters

Place an up glass in the freezer to chill. Pour ingredients into a shaker with lots of ice and shake well for at least 30 seconds until the drink is well-chilled.  Strain into the chilled up glass and serve with a long strip of lemon peel (be sure to express the oils from the skin into the drink before placing into the glass).  

So its worth mentioning here that the Martini had evolved substantially by the time that Craddock included it in his seminal Savoy Cocktail Book in 1930. The drink started out in Jerry Thomas' era as a 1:1 ratio of Old Tom gin and sweet vermouth with a little orange bitters thrown in for good measure. This makes sense given that it is generally accepted that the Martini descended from the Martinez cocktail (see below). The use of sweet vermouth had fallen out of fashion by the 1930s (dry cocktails were "in" and sweet ones were gauche by then). But I kept the Old Tom gin (also out of fashion by this time) and the orange bitters in this version because I wanted to capture a slightly older-school version of this cocktail and because I like bitters.  

This was actually a damned fine cocktail.  Nothing like the bare-bones cold vodka or gin special - the vermouth took the edge off the gin and added a pleasant smoothness to the drink. This is historically accurate - as vermouth was originally mixed with gin cocktails to mask the questionable character of the bathtub gins of the era.  If I were to get picky, I guess that I could complain that the high ratio of vermouth robbed this drink of its boozey nature and left it just a tad on the bland side for my personal palette.  But compared to a chilled vodka in a glass this drink has character to spare!

Next let's hop into the way-back machine and try the cocktail that spawned the Martini from way back in the 1800s.  

Martinez No. 1
From Imbibe! (2007) by David Wondrich

1 oz. dry gin (Plymouth)
2 oz. Sweet Vermouth (Carpano D'Antica)
1 tsp Luxardo Maraschino
1 dash orange bitters

Place an up glass in the freezer to chill. Pour ingredients into a shaker with lots of ice and shake well for at least 30 seconds until the drink is well-chilled.  Strain into the chilled up glass and serve with a long strip of lemon peel (be sure to express the oils from the skin into the drink before placing into the glass).

So as much as I wanted to like this, one of the oldest of old-school cocktails, I just could not.  The high concentration of sweet vermouth makes this drink taste overwhelmingly sweet, or "raisiny" as Mrs. The Ace put it. There's not much more to say about this one. Let's keep trying...

 

 

Next I decided to turn to my The Art of the Bar (2006) book by Jeff Hollinger and Rob Schwartz. Mr. Hollinger runs Comstock Saloon in San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood, where he serves my favorite old-school cocktails with a smile (and sometimes with a handlebar mustache). Mssrs. Hollinger's and Schwartz's Martinez cocktail recipe is as follows:

Martinez Cocktail No. 2
From The Art of the Bar (2006) by Jeff Hollinger and Rob Schwartz

2 oz. Plymouth gin
1 oz. Dolin dry vermouth
Splash of maraschino liqueur
1-2 dashes orange bitters
Lemon twist for garnish
Olive for garnish

Combine all liquid ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Stir gently for 20-30 seconds, until, cold, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with the lemon twist and olive.   

This is a nice improvement on the original Martinez cocktail, recognizing the change in American tastes toward drier spirits alongside their white spirits like gin. Note that this cocktail ends up being pretty similar to the Martini cocktail above - with the addition of maraschino liqueur and a more modern gin like Plymouth to the mix.  But similar to the Martini cocktail above, in my opinion this cocktail is still missing that little something special to take it over the top. 

I tried changing up the drink by substituting the dry vermouth in this Martinez with a mix of 1/2 ounce dry vermouth and 1/2 ounce of Bonal Gentiane-Quina.  Winner winner chicken dinner!

Martinez No. 3

2 oz. No. 209 gin (could also be Plymouth)
1/2 oz. dry vermouth (I used Sutton Cellars Brown Label but Dolin is just fine too)
1/2 oz Bonal Gentiane-Quina 
Splash of maraschino liqueur
1-2 dashes orange bitters
Lemon twist for garnish 

Place an up glass in the freezer to chill. Pour ingredients into a shaker with lots of ice and shake well for at least 30 seconds until the drink is well-chilled.  Strain into the chilled up glass and serve with a long strip of lemon peel (be sure to express the oils from the skin into the drink before placing into the glass).

I really liked this version of the cocktail. The Bonal adds a little bit of extra dryness and a little bitter to the mix of flavors in the drink.  The drink is transformed into a complex little drink with lots of things going on  in there. This is no Manhattan - but it does have enough character and charm to be approachable but still be interesting to modern cocktail drinkers.  

But no discourse in martinis would be complete without a crack at the Vesper - popularized by James Bond in the novels of the 50s and the movies since then. What could be cooler than ordering a martini "shaken not stirred"? Well, actually lots of things, but that's beside the point.  James Bond's martini is very alluring to lots of drinkers - so much so that it has been shamelessly stolen by vodka makers as their own. In reality, vodka is the stepchild to gin in James' drink.  Here is how Ian Fleming's introduced us to Bond's favorite quaff in his 1953 novel Casino Royale.  

"A dry martini," [Bond] said. "One. In a deep champagne goblet."
"Oui, monsieur."
"Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon's, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?"
"Certainly, monsieur." The barman seemed pleased with the idea.
"Gosh, that's certainly a drink," said Leiter.

Seems pretty simple, eh?  So let's try it.  

Vesper Martini
Adapted from James 

2 oz. No. 209 gin (or Plymouth)
1/2 oz. vodka (I cut down Bond's proportions so as not to interfere with the gin)
1/2 oz. Cocchi Americano

Place an up glass in the freezer to chill. Pour ingredients into a shaker with lots of ice and shake well for at least 30 seconds until the drink is well-chilled.  Strain into the chilled up glass and serve with a long strip of lemon peel (be sure to express the oils from the skin into the drink before placing into the glass). 

A nice drink here. Simple and clean, this drink most resembles the Don Draper martini. But the addition of the Cocchi Americano gives this drink the little zip that Bond called for when he asked for the Kina Lillet. As you can read here, Cocchi Americano is a new spirit imported from Italy by Haus Alpenz that nicely impersonates what Lillet used to taste like before the quinine was stripped from the recipe in the 80s.  

For those raised on modern martinis (I mean ones without Midori or apple sour mix) this is likely to be your favorite cocktail in this post.  If this is you, then use this drink as your gateway drink toward the Corpse Reviver No. 2 and the Aviation

Monday
Dec062010

The Battle of Brooklyn

It is one of those blissful nights - you know, the one where you're sidled up to the bar (in this case Comstock in San Francisco), designated driver at your side.  After three or four rounds, you're in the mood to be wowed by the barkeep.  So you ask him to make you a dealer's choice - whiskey please.  After a brief consideration he offers up a Brooklyn cocktail.  If you're not already hooked on the alchemy of cocktail mixology (and the delights of sitting and drinking cocktails), you are now...

The Brooklyn cocktail that I had that night was a complex little drink.  It started out with a spicy little slap in the face of rye, but followed up with the oily slickness of dry vermouth (there was some discussion between bartenders about the virtues of sherry and dry vermouth) and ended with a little bitter/sweet from the amaro. This is not a cocktail for everyone - it lives on the fringes of today's American cocktail tastes.  But this is my kind of cocktail, and its certainly worth a try for any fan of rye whiskey.

I knew of the Brooklyn from cocktail folklore.  Mainly, I knew that the original recipe included Amer Picon - which has been somewhat of an obsession for me for quite a while now.  Amer Picon is no longer sold in America, and is apparently will not be distributed in the States anytime soon.  But the old-school cocktail books extoll the virtues of Picon and its ability to make a cocktail sing.  

So the next step was clear - I decided to compare a Brooklyn cocktail with Amer Picon to the version made by Mr. Raglin at Comstock. 

Lets take a second to consider what Amer Picon is.  Amer Picon is a orange-flavored French bitter aperitif that is consumed today mainly by old alsatian men as - strangely enough - a mixer in their belgian white beer.  Having tried it in France, suffice to say that Picon deserves a better fate than as some old man's witshandy...   It USED TO BE used as an addition to whiskey-based drinks back in the Prohibition era. This has made it a bit of a holy grail amongst mixology geeks.  Jamie Boudreau of Spirits and Cocktails has posted an Amer Picon-like recipe to let the rest of us approximate this fine spirit.  Yes, I made a couple of bottles - and yes, that qualifies me as a mixology geek.

As it happens, I had just been to France (Mrs. The Ace thinks that we were there on holiday) and had brought back a few bottles of the stuff. The only problem is that the Picon recipe has changed in the past 20 years, removing the quinine which gave the liqueur of much of its former bitter flavoring.  I tried getting around this little issue by using the current Picon recipe plus 2-3 dashes of Regan's Orange Bitters No. 6 to add back some of the bitter flavoring.   

So we'll start with an adapted Brooklyn cocktail with Amer Picon from the Savoy Cocktail Book - kind of the "old school" way of making this drink.  

Brooklyn Cocktail (Picon version)
Adapted from The Savoy Cocktail Book 

1 1/2 oz. Rye Whiskey
1/2 dry vermouth (I used Sutton Cellars' brown label vermouth which is excellent)
1/4 oz. Maraschino liqueur
1/4 oz. Amer Picon
2-3 dashes of Regan's Orange Bitters No. 6 

Combine all ingredients in mixing glass with ice and stir for 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled up glass and serve.  

This version was fine - but frankly was a little disappointing.  I WANTED to like the way that the Picon and the rye interact. But the real problem here is that Picon has now become a bit too sweet for this drink.  In addition, the whiskey-Picon mixture pushes the vermouth to the back of the bus.  Blast that recipe change!

On to the Comstock version...

Paul Clarke over at Cocktail Chronicles just ran a great post profiling Jonny Raglin's Brooklyn recipe (yes, the one that I drank at the beginning of this post) and the secret Amer Picon substitute for his Brooklyn adaptation.  Its Bonal Gentiane-Quina, a wine that includes two bitter agents - quinine (yes, THAT quinine) and gentian (a flower root used in many bitters). Well, I guess I will chalk that up as a good reason to keep blogging - perhaps someday The Ace will be able to get those kinds of scoops for himself!  Nevertheless - Bonal Gentiane-Quina just hit the shelves in the Bay Area. Thanks again Haus Alpenz!  So lets try this version, from Cocktail Chronicles' post.

Brooklyn Cocktail (Comstock Version)
Jonny Raglin - courtesy of Paul Clarke and Cocktail Chronicles

 2 oz. Rye Whiskey
3/4 oz. dry vermouth or sherry 
1/4 oz. Bonal Gentiane-Quina
1/4 oz. Maraschino Liqueur
1 dash orange bitters
Twist of orange for garnish

Combine all ingredients in mixing glass with ice and stir for 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled up glass and serve.

 So we have our clear winner here.  Hats off to Jonny for plugging in the Bonal with a little orange bitters to give the drink back its citrusy quality. Note that I again used the Sutton Cellars vermouth here in the place of the sherry, and it was still quite a beautiful drink.  

Perhaps someday we will get the old version of Amer Picon on liquor shelves once again.  Perhaps Mr. Seed at Haus Alpenz is already on the case???  But in the meantime i must say that the Brooklyn cocktail works beautifully with a simple and elegant workaround spirit.  And yes, K&L Liquors (see my Find a Bottle page) has Bonal in stock.