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Entries in Rye (3)


The Old Fashioned

This past week I was in the Chicago area hanging out with Josh, an old friend from my grad school days.  I was away from the friendly confines of The Ace, but I wanted to be able to mix up a few drinks while away on vacation.  

The local liquor store was a little low on quality spirits available, but I was able to find a nice rye on offer (Michter's Single Barrel Rye) and they had Angostura's orange bitters.  So the answer was obvious - I would make my friend Josh and me some Old Fashioned cocktails.  

The Old Fashioned is perfect for these occasions.  It's a simple recipe with only a few easy-to-find ingredients, and it is relatively easy to make without a lot of bar tools.  Oh yeah - and it's an outstanding cocktail.  

The Old Fashioned also has the distinction of being another one of those classic cocktails that has been bastardized and nearly destroyed in the modern era.  Many overzealous bartenders have tried to soften the lovely hard edges of this fine drink with too much sugar, orange slices and/or maraschino cherries.  When all is said and done, the Old Fashioned is a mixture of whiskey, bitters, sugar and a little water with a tad of citrus oil for aroma.    

Being one of the true classic cocktails - and one with an outstanding name - the Old Fashioned has a significant place in American cocktail culture.  Many words have been written about the Old Fashioned.  A few of the more recent ones can be found on the American Drink blog here and here.  The drink even got a nice boost to its rugged manliness recently thanks to our friend Don Draper.   

Because of its general simplicity, the art of the Old Fashioned is in its proportions and in its preparation. You as the bartender are certainly welcome to play with the proportions to your taste - but I strongly recommend not playing with the preparation method.  100 years of this cocktail can't be all that wrong...

Here is the version that my friend Josh and I used to polish off that bottle of Michter's rye last week.

Old Fashioned Cocktail

2 oz. rye whiskey (bourbon works too, but rye is more historically accurate)
Angostura bitters (orange-flavored if available - but its fine to use their plan bitters if not)
club soda
1 sugar cube (or 1 tsp. of sugar if no cubes available)
1 orange

Place the sugar in a double old-fashioned glass.  Shake 2-4 dashes of bitters onto the sugar and muddle the bitters into the sugar to make a nice slurry of sugar-bitters in the bottom of the glass.  

Pour the whiskey into a separate mixing glass 1/2 full of ice and stir for at least 30 seconds - to get the whiskey nice and cold.  Pour the chilled whiskey and ice into the old-fashioned glass on top of the sugar-bitters slurry.  Pour a little club soda on top of the drink, and use a vegetable peeler to take a wide slab of peel from the orange.  Place the orange peel slab into the drink.  

Preparation Notes: 

  • It's fine to use bourbon - but rye whiskey is more indicative of the time from which The Old Fashioned originated
  • Orange-flavored Angostura bitters are clearly preferred here - but you may also use another orange bitters if you choose (Regan's No. 6 is great) or you can also just use Angostura's original bitters here to great effect 
  • Be sure to peel the orange over top of your drink glass to let the orange oils expunged in the peeling process fall into your drink
  • Peel off only the oily rind of your orange - try to avoid the pith (the white part) of the orange peel 

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.  


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.