The cocktail is an art form that peaked in the middle of the 20th century and has been in rapid decline since. As a young lad, I was schooled in the fine art of cocktailing by my father and grandfathers, I learned many valuable lessons that I plan to pass on. I also want to resurrect some of the old classics that vastly surpass the sugary & fruity concoctions made today with their simplicity, elegance and bold flavors. Most of the time I will focus on one drink, and to provide, at least in my opinion, the definitive recipe, but hope to expand to other related topics as I see fit. Please mix yourself a cocktail, read, drink, and enjoy!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sazerac

Imagine yourself in pre-Civil War New Orleans; walking down the street you have the sudden urge to wet your whistle. You come upon the Sazerac Coffee House. Similar to its use in Amsterdam today, coffee house was a kind euphemism, except in the mid-1800s the drug of note was alcohol. Once inside you belly up to the 125 foot long bar and one of the dozen or so bartenders would have gladly made you a Sazerac cocktail. A bold cocktail, not for the faint of heart; the intense flavor rivaled only by the difficulty in making it.

The bar’s owner’s, Antoine Amédée Paychaud, had started his life in the Big Easy in the late 1700s as an apothecary, after migrating from the West Indies. In the 1830s, Pharmacie Peychaud’s proprietary cure all, Peychaud’s Bitters, quickly became a very popular ingredient to his late-night patrons. The Sazerac was initially made with an imported cognac named Sazerac de Forge et Fils, hence the name, but overtime the cognac was replaced by locally produced rye whiskey. Also of note is Peychaud served the drink in egg cups known to the French as coquetiers, it is believed that the word cocktail derived from the inability of most Americans to pronounce this word properly. Recognizing that he was onto something, Peychaud opened his “Coffee House” in 1852.

If you want to truly impress your friends while introducing them to a true piece of American history all while getting them highly inebriated, read these instructions carefully, this will quickly become your go-to cocktail for the fall. Start with two old fashioned glasses for each cocktail you wish to make. Pack one full of crushed ice and let it sit. Take the other glass and add ¼ ounce of simple syrup, three dashes of Peychaud’s bitters, and two ounces of rye whiskey. Many recipes call for only 1 ½ ounces, but my good friend David Embury suggests 2 to 2 ½ ounces, and I like his style. I have been using High West’s Rendezvous Rye with favorable results. Next add ice to the glass containing the mixture and stir to chill. Going back to the first glass, empty the crushed ice and add ¼ ounce or so of absinthe and swirl around, coating the glass with the green fairy and dispose of the rest. Strain the contents of the second, whiskey filled, glass into the absinthe glass and garnish with a twist of lemon. Embury suggests serving the cocktail with an ice water chaser, but I say drink it strait.

Sazerac
2 oz rye whiskey
¼ oz simple syrup
3 dashes peychaud’s bitters
¼ oz absinthe
Place the first three ingredients in an empty old fashioned glass, add ice and stir to chill. Pour the absinthe into a second, chilled old fashioned glass, turn to coat the glass, and pour off the excess. Strain the whiskey mixture into the absinthe-coated glass and garnish with a lemon twist.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Blood and Sand

Scotch to me is a very interesting spirit, as popular as it is by itself or with a simple mixer like water or soda, I rarely see many people drinking it in a cocktail. Perhaps this is due to it being so complex and flavorful on its own.

Named after the silent 1922 bullfighting film staring Rudolf Valentino, the drink dates back to the 1930s and possibly even earlier. A glance at the ingredient list will turn many people off of this drink, but I assure you it is worth trying. It is as strange as it is delicious.

In an ice filled shaker, add ¾ ounce each blended scotch such as Dewar's (save the single malt for sipping neat), Cherry Herring, sweet vermouth, and fresh squeezed orange juice (blood oranges seem appropriate, but not required). Shake well and strain into a cocktail glass. I also really like this drink with bourbon instead of the scotch; it is slightly reminiscent of a Manhattan.

Blood and Sand
¾ oz scotch whisky
¾ oz cherry herring
¾ oz sweet vermouth
¾ oz orange juice
Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Old Pal

To kick of the season of the brown liquors I present to you the Old Pal. A name that just sounds comforting, conjuring memories of great friends and college haunts, or the loyal dog that you grew up with. This is a surprisingly simple recipe that produces a very complex balance of flavors. At first glance it looks to be similar to the Boulevardier, but the difference between sweet and dry vermouth makes to two drinks very distinct.

There is not much history to be discovered with this drink, it appeared in the 1922 version of Harry's ABC of Mixing Cocktails and is apparently one of the first drinks to use Campari, one of my personal favorites, as an ingredient. What I really like about it is that it is a great introduction to both the distinct flavors of rye and Campari.  At first sip, this drink is very bold, but it will quickly grow on you, and you will find yourself ordering another.

As I said, this is a fairly simple drink, start with an ounce of rye whiskey in a shaker or pitcher, I have been using High West’s Rendezvous Rye, add ¾ ounce each of dry vermouth and Campari, shake or stir with ice, and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist and serve.

Old Pal
1 oz rye whiskey
¾ oz dry vermouth
¾ oz campari
Mix all three ingredients with ice in a shaker or pitcher, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with a lemon twist.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Whisk(e)y Season

The calendars have turned to September, temperatures are dropping, leaves are changing and football is underway, all signs point to whisk(e)y season. That wonderful seven-month season where the bottles of gin and rum start gathering dust and the Manhattan becomes my go to drink. It is also the season where all manner of whisk(e)y drinks call to me. There is a great deal of confusion surrounding this family of spirits, and rightly so, even a seasoned imbiber like myself has to carry a cheat sheet in my wallet.

Coincidentally, I am often asked about the difference between whisky and whiskey, and why it means different things to different people depending where you are. Entire books have been written on the subject and they are well worth reading, consider this the Cliffs Notes version, suitable for sounding more intelligent than your booze hound buddies, but not sufficient to carry on an in depth conversation.

Loosely, whisky or whiskey is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from fermented grain mash. Different grains are used including barley, rye, wheat, and corn. The word derives from the Gaelic uisge beatha, pronounced ooshky-bay, meaning water of life. It eventually morphed into uiskie and later whiskie.

To totally bastardize the bard, to “e” or not to “e” is the question facing most of us today. The usage of the letter that was conveniently left off all of our report cards, really has little rhyme or reason. Whiskey, typically refers to American and Irish flavors. Whisky, is generally used for Scotch, Canadian and Japanese varietals. A couple of exceptions are Maker’s Mark and George Dickel which have chosen the shorter whisky, perhaps to save space on their labels or a copy writing error that has been overlooked for decades.

To make matters even more confusing, within the US there are multiple variations as well. We have rye, bourbon and Tennessee whiskey. Bourbon is made primarily from corn. Rye is made from mostly rye (go figure). Tennessee whiskey is basically bourbon that goes through a different filtration process. There are further variations within this theme, but this is enough detail at this point.

I will fully admit that this is not a comprehensive explanation, but for our purposes it will provide enough information for the upcoming recipes. For many of the soon to be revealed pleasures of the palate, these spirits can be substituted for one another, providing a slightly different flavor, allowing for personal preference. For my part, I will publish the recipe in its most traditional form but will note where I personally prefer a variation. Regardless, embrace the colder weather and the fresh palate of flavors that awaits you!