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Saturday
Jan152011

Three Rounds of Classic Whiskey Cocktails

Let's knock off a trio of classic cocktails from the 10-Bottle Bar list. These three hold a pretty special place in my heart. All three of these drinks entered my recipe rotation relatively early on in my cocktail travels - and each helped me grow to love the process of making (and drinking) cocktails.  

I also love these drinks because they each follow the classic cocktail formula of spirit, sugar and water plus flavor of choice. For all of the eccentric recipes and ingredients that bartenders out there may conjure up, cocktails generally follow a pretty simple pattern of ingredients. That said - despite all of their similarities each of these drinks are quite unique and each conjure up memories of different times of the year for me.  

  • The Whiskey Sour - with its lemony freshness and sweet finish - is a Spring/Summer drink for me.
  • The Mint Julep is straight Summertime.  Aside from the obvious Kentucky Derby references, this drink revels in its frosty nip and its minty freshness.  
  • The Sazerac is great all year long, but its warm flavors may be at their best in the Winter months.  

So lets get down to it - here are three whiskey drinks from the 10-Bottle Bar that every beginning mixologist should have in their rotation.  

Whiskey Sour

2 oz. bourbon
3/4 oz. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/2 oz. simple syrup or gomme syrup
1 egg white

Place an up glass in the freezer to chill. Place all ingredients in a shaker without ice and shake for at least 30 seconds to emulsify the egg white**.  Add ice to the shaker and shake for another 10 seconds to thoroughly chill the drink. Strain into the chilled up glass and serve with a few dashes of Angostura bitters on top of the egg white head.

** Tip - crack the egg on the shaker glass and use the bottom half of the eggshell to retain the yolk while letting the white run over the edges and into your shaker.

This is a classic drink from the "sour" category of drinks (similar to a pisco sour). The sugar softens the strength of the whiskey a bit and the lemon adds a little brightness.  But the egg white is the star here - it adds a silky smoothness to the drink and makes this cocktail a sure-fire money drink for those who are somewhat whiskey-averse. But don't just take my word for it - here is a pretty solid profile on the drink

 

Mint Julep
Adapted from www.kentuckyderby.com

2 oz. bourbon
1 tbsp. simple syrup
8-10 fresh mint leaves, plus a sprig for garnish
Finely crushed ice
Pewter or silver julep cups (optional but highly recommended)

Fill (literally pack to the top) the pewter julep cup with crushed ice (see link for an ice crusher here). Place the mint leaves in a bowl or a glass with the simple syrup and muddle until the mint leaves have broken down and the oil from the leaves has spread into the syrup. Pour the minty syrup on top of the crushed ice in the cup.  Next pour the bourbon over the ice and minty syrup.  Add one more thin layer of crushed ice on top of the drink to cover what should be a slushy-looking whiskey/sugar/mint mixture. The sides of the pewter cup should be very frosty.  Poke the branch of the sprig of mint into the ice and serve.

Most people have the mental image of old ladies and young socialites drinking juleps at the Derby. Okay - so that's partially true. But the high whiskey concentration of this drink is burly enough to command your respect and to make it sufficiently macho for even the toughest of tough guys to order. And on a hot Summer day the frosty glass and super-chilled whiskey with mint is SO refreshing that you'll soon forget the heat!  Oh yeah, and once the ice melts a bit and dilutes the drink a bit the drink gets even better. 

Postnote on how NOT to make a Mint Julep: I happened across this link at Jeffrey Morganthaler's site tonight.  This is culturally relevant, folks - there are bars that actually serve this drink!  Mmmm - can I get one of those Mojitos with bourbon instead of rum?  Yeah, that Mint Julep thingy... the one with Rose's lime AND sugar AND sour mix AND Sprite.  I LOVE that one... And don't get me started about bars that substitute cleavage for cocktails.

Sazerac

2 oz. rye whiskey (bourbon will do as well and some also use VSOP cognac)
1 tsp. of simple syrup
Absinthe
4 dashes Peychaud's bitters
lemon peel for garnish

Set an old-fashioned glass in the freezer to chill. Combine the whiskey, syrup and bitters in a mixing glass with lots of ice. Stir for at least 30 seconds to thoroughly chill the drink. Remove the glass from the freezer and pour a few dashes of absinthe in the glass. Roll the absinthe around the glass to rinse the glass and discard the remainder of the absinthe.

Strain the chilled whiskey/syrup/bitters mixture into the old-fashioned glass, peel a lemon over the drink to ensure that the oils from the rind fall into the drink then toss the lemon peel into the drink (note that some purists toss the peel out). Serve neat. 

This is a classic New Orleans cocktail (in fact it seems that the Louisiana Senate has even dubbed the Sazerac as the official drink of New Orleans. This is a very simple drink in its ingredients, but not so in its preparation. There is little margin for error - as there is no egg white to smooth over any mistakes and there is no extra water (as in the mint julep) that can dilute the drink if you do not make it quite right. But once you get the hang of the preparation this drink has a serious payoff. The whiskey is strong and undiluted, with a lovely whiff of lemon oil floating on top of the drink and the ghost of absinthe running around in the drink's undercurrent.  

Note: I tried out my new bottle of Whistlepig rye on this recipe just to see how it worked in a Sazerac, and frankly I do not recommend this particular rye in this drink.  Whistlepig is a truly amazing rye whiskey and is simply devine on its own, but its spicy flavor with vanilla and floral notes do not quite work in this drink. Stick with Rittenhouse 100 rye or - as Jason Wilson recommends here - try a nice VSOP cognac for this drink.

These three drinks start to hint at the importance of preparation and serving style in mixology.  None of these drinks require a special syrup or the preparation of an unusual potion in advance.  What they do require, however, is attention to detail to ensure that the drink is served at the right temperature with the right delivery of the flavors.  This is what really sucked me into the mixology game - the connection to well-prepared foods and the sneaky difficulty in pulling off the preparation just right to make the result taste better than the sum of the parts.  Perhaps you will find some enjoyment in this too!