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.
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.
When the weather gets warm, my cocktail cravings turn to summery flavors like mint, cucumber, gin, rum and tequila. One of my favorite ways to use cucumber in a drink is a simple Hendrick’s martini with a thin wheel for garnish – it really brings out the cucumber flavor of the gin. When you want to get a little fancier, though, I highly recommend the Chin Up. Stupid name, but great drink, and using Cynar gives it a lovely color. I also love the hint of salt.
This is an excellent drink for a warm afternoon spent in the kitchen while cooking curry. The layers of bitterness and cool cucumber keep it both interesting and refreshing. It would also be good on the rocks, I’ll bet. I’ll have to try that.
- 1/2 inch cucumber wheel
- 2 oz gin
- 1/2 oz cynar
- 1/2 oz dry vermouth
- small pinch salt
- one paper thin wheel of cucumber for garnish
Muddle the cucumber in a mixing glass. Add the gin, cynar, vermouth and salt, fill with ice, and stir. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a slice of cucumber.
On the day of our taco expedition, Jon did a little experimentation with tequila drinks, and the High Plains Drifter was the clear winner (the Mexican Firing Squad, despite its ridiculous name, was also very good). It has the familiar flavor combination of tequila and lime juice, but adds in bitters, campari and honey syrup to balance the drink out and make it a bit more elegant. I recommend it.
We generally make honey syrup as needed, simply by mixing equal parts honey and warm water. You can microwave it briefly if, like ours, your honey is old and crystallized and needs a little help dissolving, but you don’t want it too hot when you add it to the shaker, so let it cool a bit first.
High Plains Drifter #1
- 2 oz tequila
- ¾ oz lime juice (lemon juice works, too)
- ¾ oz honey syrup
- 1 dash Angostura bitters
- 1 splash Campari
Rinse a cocktail glass with Campari. Shake the tequila, lime juice, honey syrup and bitters with ice and strain into the glass. Garnish with a lime twist.
Spring has officially sprung! We’ve had some frost on the ground this past week (a rarity this winter), but the days have been mostly sunny and the breezes blow eddies of cherry petals around the streets. Daffodils are in full bloom and the tulips are already beginning to blaze away in pots, borders and farm fields. My garden is beginning to come to life, which makes my fingers itch to get out and weed and plant and take pictures.
Mixology Monday is here again, hosted this month by Sonja at Thinking of Drinking, and this month’s theme is a favorite of ours: absinthe!
Anise liqueurs have been a staple in our home bar for years, ever since we walked into a bar in Provence and ordered pastis without having a clear idea of what we’d be getting. When our order turned out to include two small glasses partially filled with clear green liquid, a metal jug of ice water, beaded with condensation, and a plate of bread and tapenade, served at a little table on a sunny patio on a hot afternoon, we fell instantly in love. From then on, the flavor of pastis – or any anise-flavored alcohol – takes us back to that trip and those lovely long evenings.
This month’s Mixology Monday challenge is hosted by Cocktail Virgin, and the theme is tea. Black or herbal, brewed or infused, anything goes as long as it’s tea-based.
When thinking the challenge through, it seemed like we had three basic options: add brewed tea to the cocktail, infuse spirits with tea, or make a tea-flavored sugar syrup. We actually had rather good results mixing brewed oolong tea with aperol and lemon juice, but the drink we became fondest of used the sugar syrup.
The really tough decision was which tea to use. We thought of Lapsang first, with its deep smokiness, but thought that might be too strong. We have some madrona bark tea from Shaw Island which we haven’t yet tasted, but it brews for a long time and we kept forgetting to get it started. One of my very favorite teas, though, is Golden Yunnan, and it seemed like a perfect candidate. Rich and malty in flavor, it seemed like it would go great with booze.