Oliver’s Twist, a cocktail bar on Phinney Ridge in Seattle, was one of the places that helped kick off our cocktail obsession – it was the very first place that we ever tasted a Corpse Reviver #2, considered one of the great “gateway” cocktails. That was several years ago, and yet we hadn’t been back. Mostly because the place is always crammed full of hip young things, but still. I guess we got distracted by Liberty and Barrio. Anyway. We finally made it back there last week, and the first thing I saw as we settled ourselves at the bar was a slightly weathered looking bottle of Amer Picon.
A French bitter liqueur, this stuff is not easy to find these days. It used to be available in the states, and many classic cocktails call for it. But now I hear the only way to get it is to buy it in France, or find a bartender or other cocktail geek with a personal stash and attempt to buy it off of them (good luck). One of our favorite drinks, the Brooklyn, is technically supposed to be made with Picon, but we’ve always used Amaro Nonino as a make-do, and I’d never tried the cocktail made to its original recipe. So when I saw that bottle, my first thought was to ask the bartender for a Brooklyn.
His first reaction was to say “I really should hide that bottle” – but then he not only made me a Brooklyn, he also gave me a sip of the Picon so I could experience its taste undiluted. I would have loved to try it side by side with other amari, but it seemed most like Averna to us – lots of caramel and orange, but not too sweet. The cocktail was perfectly balanced and delicious, but didn’t taste extremely different than our adapted version. It was, however, nicely built and quite large. And excellent with truffled popcorn.
If we ever have the opportunity to get a bottle of Picon, we definitely will, but I’m reassured to know that the cocktails we make at home are acceptably close. And I can always go back to Oliver’s Twist for a reminder, at least until that bottle runs out.
I live in Mount Vernon. It’s a small town in a rural county in northwestern Washington State, built at the site of an old log jam on the Skagit River back in the 1800s. People in Seattle have heard of it, either because they’ve come up here for the annual Tulip Festival or because they’ve driven by on I-5, but most of them never stop in town. Which means that it’s still rather a well-kept secret that our small downtown is one of the best places to drink beer of, well, pretty much anywhere.
We have two breweries, Skagit River and North Sound. Then there are the pubs: the Empire Alehouse, the Trumpeter Public House, and the Porterhouse. All have multiple rotating taps, as many as twenty-one at a time, almost entirely West Coast microbrews. From our house we can walk to four of these pubs and drink some of the best beers available. It’s pretty sweet.
Last year, wanting to raise awareness of the local beer possibilities, encourage responsible drinking and promote downtown businesses, our friends Lyra and Ryan Morrison attempted something they dubbed the 30 Day Beer Challenge. The idea was to drink a different beer every day in March, staying within the downtown area of Mount Vernon. Given the options, it was extremely easy. So this year they’re doing it again, with a twist – they can’t repeat any of the beers tasted last year. And they’re bringing in some help, including us.
Every day this month, at a predetermined pub, representatives of the Beer Challenge will show up and drink their chosen beer. A brief review will be submitted to the team leader for online publication and discussions will be held on the beer’s merits (or just beer in general), with public participation encouraged. You can follow along on Facebook, Twitter or by text. Or you can just come out and have a beer with us. Jon and I will be at the Empire tomorrow night, March 3rd, and at Skagit Brewery on the 24th (not to mention our band playing at the Empire on St. Patrick’s Day – and there’s a special local beer release that night, too). What beers will we be tasting? You’ll have to wait and see.
What do you do when life dumps 18″ of snow on top of you and everything comes screeching to a halt? You shovel until you can’t move, turn up the house heat, and make cocktails. At least that’s what we did. It worked very well.
We finally got out to Samish Island last week to check out a new addition to the local food scene, Golden Distillery. We had just stocked up on bread, cheese and salami in Edison and were heading for Taylor Shellfish in preparation for Christmas Eve dinner, so it made for an easy (and scenic) detour.
It’s a small operation, and the owners are happy to give you a tour of the premises. They grind, brew, distill and age all their ingredients on site, using entirely Washington-grown grain and fruit.
We met the distillery dogs, who take their job as greeters very seriously. And we tasted our way through the current lineup, which includes single-malt whiskey, several brandies and a white barley whiskey called White Gold. My favorites were the White Gold, which had a clean flavor and light burn, and the Cabernet brandy, which was just a nice smooth brandy, very easy to sip.
The apple brandy, which is made from locally grown Jonagolds, has a very different flavor from most apple spirits – instead of an overall essence-of-apples effect, it really does taste of Jonagolds. Interesting. The raspberry brandy is distilled from Pasek Cellars raspberry wine, something we used to like a lot but have lost our taste for. I gather it’s popular with many women customers, but not really my thing.
Over all, I think they’re doing some nice work. And it’s a good excuse to go driving out to Samish Island.
No matter how many odd original cocktails we try, sometimes you just can’t do better than the classics. A plain gin martini, served cold and up. A Manhattan with good vermouth. Or a Negroni.
In some ways the Negroni is the perfect holiday cocktail. It’s easy to make, being equal parts gin, campari and vermouth. It can be served up or on the rocks. The campari gives it a festive color, and its bitterness cuts through salty and fatty foods beautifully – I once made gougeres and stuffed them with bits of truffled salami, and after washing them down with Negronis can hardly imagine a better pairing. The drink acts as a digestif, settling the stomach and readying it for more eating. Sounds like Thanksgiving weekend to me.
- 3/4 oz gin
- 3/4 oz campari
- 3/4 oz sweet (or dry) vermouth
- lemon or orange rind
Stir the first three ingredients with ice, and strain into a cocktail or rocks glass. Garnish with a lemon or orange twist.
A bar in Seattle was recently reinvented (and by “recently” I probably mean, like, three years ago – I can’t keep track of these things). Once simply known as The Triangle, due to the shape of the building on its odd lot between diagonal streets, it now rejoices in the name 9 Million in Unmarked Bills. For ages I have tried to remember this name and have totally failed, falling back on “that place that used to be The Triangle”. But I know where the bar is, which is the important thing. They have a totally excellent “Prescriptions” sign over the bar, big round booths, fun happy hour food, and a really interesting cocktail list (except for the John Dillinger, which is just stupid – a shot of Bulleit and a cigarette).
The last time we stopped in I got something with tequila and cucumber – I don’t remember what it was called but it was very nice – and Jon, after much debating, chose a drink called a Brooklyn. It arrived in an ice-choked glass topped with a cherry, which didn’t seem promising, but he enjoyed the drink very much. When we got home he immediately looked it up and found it in Mr. Boston’s – apparently it’s a classic drink that we had simply never heard of or tried. We started making it at home, and it has at least temporarily pushed back the Brevity as the household whiskey drink. It’s like a Manhattan, but better.
The drink is really supposed to be made with a bitter liqueur called Amer Picon, which is more or less totally unavailable in this country. Since there’s only a dash of it in the cocktail we thought we’d just substitute an amaro such as Amaro Nonino. Turns out we’re not the first people to try this. Also, a lot of other recipes I’ve seen use dry vermouth, but Mr. Boston calls for sweet and that’s how we’ve been making it. I’m sure you could experiment.
This recipe makes a modest 2 ounce drink. You can scale up the recipe, or just make yourself another one when you’ve finished.
- 1 ½ oz rye or bourbon (good both ways but rye is traditional)
- ½ oz sweet vermouth
- 1 bar spoon of amaro nonino
- dash of maraschino liqueur
Combine all ingredients in a glass or shaker with ice. Stir and strain into either a cocktail glass or a rocks glass. Garnish with a cherry or an orange twist.
The Hour: A Cocktail Manifesto is one of the most satisfyingly curmudgeonly pieces of writing I’ve stumbled across in some time. Published by Bernard DeVoto in 1948 and reissued with a fabulous introduction by Dan Handler (known to most of us as Lemony Snicket), it contrives to sing the praises of alcohol while completely disparaging most of the people who drink it.
The basis of DeVoto’s argument is that there are only two acceptable cocktails: a slug of whiskey and a martini. The martini must be composed of gin and dry vermouth, must be ice cold, and may contain a sliver of lemon rind but absolutely nothing else. Like Manhattans? Be informed that “whiskey and vermouth cannot meet as friends and the Manhattan is an offense against piety.” Like a Gibson now and then, or an olive in your martini? “…nothing can be done with people who put olives in martinis, presumably because in some desolate childhood hour someone refused them a dill pickle and so they go through life lusting for the taste of brine. Something can be done with people who put pickled onions in: strangulation seems best.” You don’t even want to know what he says about people who drink rum, let alone those who put fruit juice in it. The book is full of shamelessly vindictive commentary that you will feel the need to read out loud to the nearest person, whether they want you to or not.
Necessary reading for anyone who enjoys a quiet drink at the end of the day.
Gin Martini (DeVoto’s approved method)
Approximately 3.7 parts gin to 1 part dry vermouth. Pour the spirits over a great deal of ice in a cold pitcher, stir well to chill thoroughly and strain the drinks into chilled cocktail glasses. A few drops of lemon oil may be squeezed out onto the surface of the cocktail. Serve immediately. Do not attempt to mix a pitcher of martinis in advance and keep it in the fridge – ” you can no more keep a martini in the refrigerator than you can keep a kiss there.”
Back in April when we were visiting family in Santa Cruz, we stopped in at the Bonny Doon tasting room and tried just about everything. One bottle that caught our fancy was the Pommeau, a mixture of apple cider and brandy. It’s more apple-y than apple brandy, more like wine than cider, but with a similar alcohol level to port. We loved it and bought one with the intention of bringing it out this autumn for cocktail mixing. Recently we decided the time had come to try it out.
Our first thought was to use it to make a Jack Rose. Normally made with applejack and lime juice, it’s an old-fashioned cocktail with a subtle apple tinge to it. Adding lime juice to the Pommeau, however, was frankly nasty. After that we tried a cocktail called (enticingly) Fallen Leaves, which is apple brandy with sweet vermouth, dry vermouth and lemon. This was more successful, but once again the clarity of the Pommeau’s apple flavor failed to balance the other ingredients. I did finish my Fallen Leaves, but concluded that perhaps cocktails were not the way to go after all. We served the remainder of the Pommeau simply chilled in wine glasses as dessert after an autumnal dinner of butternut squash risotto. It was hard to improve upon.
On a recent expedition to Seattle, we checked out a liquor store that we hadn’t been to before, down in the Sodo district. Fortunately for us, as our local liquor stores don’t carry much of a selection, the state liquor board website is kept more or less up to date, and we were able to determine that the Sodo store was one of the only places in the state that carried a particular gin we were looking for. As it turned out, they had a happy selection of amaro as well. We picked up a bottle of Amaro Nonino and took it home to experiment.
Mixology Monday is here again! After the last few themes (Tom Waits? Really?) I wasn’t sure if we would be entering again, but this month it’s a good one: brown, bitter and stirred. We love a good smooth bitter cocktail, so we were anxious to do some experimentation. Some of the ensuing cocktails were excellent, some not so much. We won’t talk about those.