MxMo: Brown, Bitter, and Stirred

Welcome to Mixology … uh, Wednesday? Okay, I’m well behind this time, but what the hell, right? The theme this month is Brown, Bitter, and Stirred, and it’s hosted by Lindsay Johnson of Lush Life Productions. Lindsay, it turns out, has a standing order she uses when walking into a bar; it’s this month’s theme, and I think it speaks for itself.

The first thing that came to mind when I thought of this was the Boulevardier, the Negroni variant starring bourbon in gin’s place. I freakin’ love this drink. I went with Bulleit for the bourbon, Carpano Antica for the sweet vermouth, and to really be an iconoclast, Campari for the Campari. (I wasn’t the first to post about it, alas, but hey. Kevin’s a decent type of fellow; he won’t mind.)

The Boulevardier

photo by Jennifer Hess

Equal parts, in my case 1-1/2 ounces apiece because I’m a lush. Brown, bitter, stirred. That Lindsay’s pretty smart.

Bandwagoneering: White Manhattan

Talking to bartenders, reading blogs, I’ve noticed a trend rising over the last several months: you take a classic whiskey cocktail, such as the Manhattan or the Sazerac, and you swap in an unaged (“white”) whiskey for the brown stuff. If you’re not familiar with white whiskies, they’re nothing more than unaged whiskies that have never seen a barrel. Spirits straight from the still, and cut with water (in most cases). You can say they’re like moonshine, but the key point here is that moonshine by definition is illegal. As my friend Matthew Rowley wrote, “If you can you buy it in liquor stores, it’s not moonshine.” (For more information: Simonson, Clarke, Cecchini, Rowley)

Legal white-dog whiskies, as the unaged stuff is called, aren’t exactly new to the market. I tasted some at Tales of the Cocktail in 2008. But they’ve been slowly gaining ground among bars and consumers since then and started making their way onto cocktail menus. As I mentioned above, one popular way is to replace the brown spirit in a classic whiskey drink with a white. I wanted to riff on this, but instead of using a white dog, I chose Bols Genever. It’s a favorite in our household, a malty botanical spirit that’s the precursor to modern gin. Bols tastes uncannily like whiskey, so I thought it would play well in this type of preparation. I tried a couple of different ideas–one using Carpano Antica vermouth–to re-create the Manhattan cocktail, but this is the one we liked best.

Nieuw Amsterdam

Stir, squeeze on lemon peel, discard peel.

Nieuw Amsterdam

photograph © Jennifer Hess

Martini Project: DeVoto Edition

The martini: easily the most-often mixed drink in our household, and the one I have the most fun playing with. As Paul “Birthday Boy” Clarke pointed out recently on Serious Eats, it’s a much more flexible drink than people give it credit for. With the explosion of the gin category in the last few years, there are now many expressions of the martini’s base to experiment with. Vermouth, however…

Until recently, most elbow-benders didn’t have much choice in the vermouth market. You could find Noilly Prat, Cinzano, and Martini & Rossi just about anywhere. If you were in a larger market, you could probably Boissiere and Stock, as well. In the last couple of years, though, that’s changed. I won’t say the category has exploded, but some excellent new vermouths are on the market now, and if you can find them, you’re in for a treat–Vya and Dolin immediately come to mind.

Further, if you expand your definition of martini to include a drink mixed with other fortified wines or aperitifs–sherry, Lillet Blanc, Cocchi Americano, or Bonal Gentiane-Quina, for example–you open up for yourself a number of new avenues for combinations. Until early this year, however, my options in Rhode Island were rather limited. Now, though, the Haus Alpenz portfolio is available to us, and I already have several nearby stores that carry the line of Dolin vermouths. (And I’m working them on the Americano and Bonal.)

With that in mind, it’s time to start playing. The game is, here, I’ll be mixing up various variations on the martini–different proportions, different ingredient combinations, etc. I want to get to a point where I can say, “Hey, I really like Bonal with Plymouth, and I also think Dolin’s the perfect partner with Tanqueray.” (These are just examples, of course; I’ve never mixed them that way yet.)

I’ll begin by tackling the De Voto recipe that Paul mentions in his SE column. In his newly reissued (and handsome) book The Hour: A Cocktail Manifesto, first published in 1948, the author and literary critic Bernard De Voto wrote of the martini that …

[t]here is a point at which the marriage of gin and vermouth is consummated. It varies a little with the constituents, but for a gin of 94.4 proof and a harmonious vermouth it may be generalized at about 3.7 to one. And that is not only the proper proportion but the critical one; if you use less gin it is a marriage in name only and the name is not martini. You get a drinkable and even pleasurable result, but not art’s sunburst of imagined delight becoming real. Happily, the upper limit is not so fixed; you may make it four to one or a little more than that, which is a comfort if you cannot do fractions in your head and an assurance when you must use an unfamiliar gin.

Now, most people would probably skip the 3.7 nonsense and go right for the 4:1 measure. After all, that’s easy. If you’re stirring for two, that’s 4 oz. gin and 1 oz. vermouth. For one person, it’s a snap to halve that. But how do you measure 3.7 or 7.4 or 1.85 ounces of anything? I always hit that roadblock and never went farther.

But I’ve been reading one of De Voto’s contemporaries lately, the gourmet, railroad aficionado, bon vivant, boulevardier, and long-time newspaper columnist Lucius Beebe. He wrote of a 1963 trip to Boston, in which he luncheoned in the private Union Club. He writes of their martinis that they’re “magnificent” and mixed “precisely according to the immutable formula laid down by the late Bernard De Voto.”

So to hell with it. I’m a geek, there’s gotta be a way to hack this. I remembered my digital kitchen scale. I placed a mixing tin on the scale and zeroed out the weight. Then I carefully poured 37 grams of water into the tin. That’s a little over 1-1/4 oz. but not quite 1-1/3. Okay, I could work with that. Take 37 grams of gin, 10 grams of vermouth; then it’s simply a matter of scaling that up to make two cocktails. I still needed the digital magic machine to get the right measure, but fine. Anything for you, dear ones.

De Voto Martini for Two

  • 148 grams gin (I used Bombay, which isn’t quite up to De Voto’s standard of 94.4 proof, but it was good)
  • 40 grams Dolin dry vermouth
  • lemon twist, for garnish (upon which De Voto simply insists)

Stir, dammit. Garnish.

Prior to dilution, that comes out to 188 grams or approximately 6.63 oz. for two cocktails. Just about perfect for my glass size, with a little left in the mixing glass. Now, an Imperial variation.

De Voto Martini for Two, Imperial

  • 5-1/2 oz. gin
  • 1-1/2 oz. vermouth
  • lemon twist

Stir, dammit. Garnish.

That’s not quite to the 3.7 standard, but it’s as close as you’ll probably come with traditional bar measures. That gives you 7 oz. of martini, prior to dilution, for a ratio of 3.66667 to 1.

And now even I’m weirded out by the geekery of this post.

DISCLAIMER: I was sent a review copy of The Hour.

Ad of the Week: G&W Whiskey

g&w-full

G&W stands for Good Whiskey (and many other things, as you’ll see in future ads), but it legally stands (or stood) for Gooderham & Worts, Ltd., a Canadian firm that manufactured spirits in Toronto for nearly 170 years, before the distillery closed down in 1990. In its time, it was the largest distillery in Canada, but it appears to have fallen victim to acquisition and consolidation. In the early 20th century, it was bought out by Harry C. Hatch, who just a few years later bought Hiram Walker.

[The image above is the largest version I have, but click through to see larger versions of the two that follow.]

g&w-2

The Normandie has a great story. Built as a passenger-carrying ocean liner, it traveled from La Havre, France, to New York City. Upon commission, it was the largest ocean liner in the world but held that distinction only for one year, when Cunard’s RMS Queen Mary debuted. In its time, the Normandie carried Hemingway, Noël Coward, Irving Berlin, Fred Astaire, Walt Disney, and Jimmy Stewart.

The Normandie just happened to be docked in New York shortly after France fell to Germany, and the United States seized the ship and conversion work began to turn it into a troop-transport vessel. During that work, however, the ship caught fire and was eventually scrapped.

I find this ad, from the November 30, 1936, issue of Life magazine, very evocative. I can imagine myself surrounded by swells, my belly up to the bar, and ordering a cocktail.

One thing I love about many of the vintage ads I’ve found is how many of them include cocktail recipes–something you simply don’t see anymore. Here’s an example:

g&w-1

Manhattan a la Normandie

  • 1/2 jigger Two Star, Five Star or Seven Star Blended Whiskey
  • 1/4 jigger French Vermouth
  • 1/4 jigger Italian Vermouth

Stir well with cracked ice, pour down your own hatch, and your pleased palate will echo the lookout’s cry — “All’s well.”

Recipe Redux: Princeton

Today, I’d like to revisit a favorite cocktail, one I’ve blogged before, the Princeton cocktail. The Princeton is a lovely mix of gin and port, with a little orange bitters in the gin. The Princeton comes to us from George Kappeler’s 1895 book, Modern American Drinks. Here’s how Kappeler describes it:

A mixing-glass half-full fine ice, three dashes orange bitters, one an a half pony Tom gin. Mix, strain into cocktail-glass; add half a pony port wine carefully and let it settle in the bottom of the cocktail before serving.

Tom gin? This is a reference to Old Tom, a nearly vanished style of gin popular in the cocktail manuals of the late 19th century. It’s lightly sweetened and a little rounder in flavor than such London dry styles as Beefeater or Tanqueray.

When I’ve written about this cocktail before, I’ve used a version that I encountered in David Wondrich’s book Imbibe! Writing in the benighted year of 2007, Wondrich was unfortunately bereft of Old Tom gin, which had disappeared decades earlier from the U.S. market. Dr. Dave suggested a workaround, though–take Plymouth (a dry gin similar in its botanical base to Tom), and add a small amount of simple syrup for sweetness. In making this drink previously, I’ve used a rich simple syrup of either demerara or turbinado sugar, which produces a drink that looks like this:

Pretty, yes? My most recent version, though, looks like this:

Princeton

What gives? Well, as you know if you read my previous post, I’ve tracked down Old Tom gin, in the form of Hayman’s, a lightly sweet bottling out of the U.K. It makes a truly delicious version of the Princeton. Hayman’s has subtle citrus notes in its botanical blend, which pair well with both the orange bitters and the port. The clear top makes for a lovelier foil for the port below, and as you can see here, it even picks up light in a lovely way. My next step is to try it with Ransom Old Tom. That’s going to engender another batch of photos, however, because Ransom, as a barrel-aged gin, is brown like whiskey.

Princeton

  • 2 oz. Hayman’s Old Tom gin
  • 2 dashes orange bitters
  • 3/4 oz. port
  • lemon or orange twist, for garnish

Stir Hayman’s Old Tom gin and orange bitters over ice until well chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Pour the port gently down the edge of the glass until it slides under the gin mixture. Twist the lemon or orange peel over the glass, but do not drop into glass. It will ruin the layering effect.

Photographs © Jennifer Hess. All rights reserved.

Hayviation

A simple variant on the classic Aviation, using Hayman’s Old Tom gin. I chose the Hayman’s because I have a problem with the Aviation; I think it’s just a touch out of balance on my palate, with the lemon juice so heavy and the sweetening agents so light. (However, I know that if you bump up the maraschino and violet liqueur, you’re going to get a drink that’s just nasty.) Hayman’s is only mildly sweet, as far as Old Toms go, apparently, so I thought I’d try it. I like it.

Hayviation

Hayviation

  • 2 ounces Hayman’s Old Tom gin
  • 3/4 ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons maraschino liqueur
  • 1 teaspoon crème de violette

Shake over ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass; garnish with a lemon twist.