A Month of Rum: Royal Bermuda Yacht Club Cocktail

I have said this before: rum sits squarely in my blind spot when it comes to mixing cocktails. I find the category a little overwhelming, I must say. Rums span the globe; you can get good rums from just about every continent except Antarctica. Rums made from sugarcane juice or molasses. Rums aged for many years or very few. Rums from Barbados, Cuba, Panama, Guatemala, Martinique, Mauritius, Mexico. Light rums, amber/gold rums, dark rums, spiced rums, flavored rums, overproof rums. It’s … intimidating.

But dayam is it good! I quite enjoy a great martini, a balanced Sidecar, a lovely rye old-fashioned, a good peaty single-malt alone in a glass. But a good sipping rum? I could come around to the notion that there’s the pinnacle of drinking. And rum, used wisely in a cocktail, marries well with a range of flavors.

So it’s finally time to man up, look rum straight in the face, and stop flinching.

From now until mid or late September, I’ll be exploring a month’s worth of rum cocktails–a drink a week that I think really exemplifies what rum brings to a cocktail. And to force myself into unfamiliar territory, there won’t be a daiquiri, Cuba Libre, or Dark and Stormy in the lot. And I am finally going to begin my exploration of the El Presidente, which Matt “Rumdood” Robold recommended months ago, when I was hoping to start exploring rum cocktails.

Royal Bermuda Yacht Club Cocktail

photograph by Jennifer Hess

First up, the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club Cocktail. I brought this one up as an idea for rum-running, before I decided on the El Presidente. I think I first encountered this drink when Doug Winship covered it during his Tiki Month, earlier this year. Even though I gave a lot of thought to running through it for the blog, I still managed to forget about it entirely, until I came across it again in Vintage Spirits. Doc Cocktail doesn’t have much information about it, but it’s apparently an early creation of Trader Vic Bergeron, a pre-Tiki tropical classic. The Royal Bermuda Yacht Club still exists, by the way, but I don’t see any cocktails listed on any of its menus, so I don’t know whether they still serve this drink.

The recipe, curiously, calls for Barbados rum rather than a Bermudan variety. I’m not sure I understand that. The other interesting ingredient is Falernum. I didn’t have the resources to purchase the ingredients to make my own, so I relied on the dusty bottle of John Taylor’s Velvet variety.

Royal Bermuda Yacht Club Cocktail

  • 2 oz. Barbados rum
  • 3/4 oz. fresh lime juice
  • 2 dashes Cointreau (I’d use 1/8 to 1/4 oz. for ease of measuring)
  • 2 tsp. Falernum

Shake over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Cardiac glow

photograph by Jennifer Hess

There is something about an old-fashioned
That kindles a cardiac glow;
It is soothing and soft and impassioned
As a lyric by Swinburne or Poe.
There is something about an old-fashioned
When dusk has enveloped the sky,
And it may be the ice,
Or the pineapple slice*,
But I strongly suspect it’s the rye.

–From “A Drink with Something in It,” by Ogden Nash

*Dear God, no.

Dear God, yes.

The Flea Bag Sidecar

I don’t know about you, but I’ve crashed out in a lot of memorable sleeperies over the years. I slept in the Paris hotel where Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn filmed exterior scenes for Charade; during that same vacation, I stayed at a London hostel with co-ed rooms, a first for me. It was a little startling one night to wake up, see a woman slip naked from the bed next to mine, wrap a towel around herself, and exit to the bathroom.

charade

I once drove to Louisiana with some friends and their dawgs. We stopped along the way at a seedy little motel on the side of I-55 north of Jackson, Miss. I pulled back the bedspread and found a burn hole in the sheets, right next to the cigarette butt that had made it. Creepy. On the other hand, we got ribeye steaks delivered in for dinner, and I don’t know many other places in this world that will bring seared ribeyes to your door. The dawgs ate outside.

One thing I’ve learned, whether it’s a roadside joint, a place with live nude girls, or a quaint Parisian hotel, all I need is a place to sleep.

One place I’ve never stayed is the Hôtel Ritz in Paris, and since rooms start at 550 € a night (about $760 US), I don’t think I’ll be staying there soon. I could, however, stop at the famous Ritz Bar and have a drink. Ted Haigh (yes, him again) details one such drink in Vintage Spirits (yes, that book again), the Ritz Sidecar. It’s a simple drink, really–cognac, Cointreau, and lemon juice, just like a normal Sidecar. What makes it ritzy, though, is the particular cognac. At the time of writing, the barman at the Ritz was using an 1853 E. Remy Martin bottling. Mmmmmmm. The drink costs less than one night’s stay in the hotel, although not significantly so, 400 € ($559 US). That physically hurts, so let’s look at other options.

Let’s call this the Flea Bag Sidecar:

Flea Bag Sidecar

Photograph by Jennifer Hess. Prices that follow come from BevMo.com and may vary based on where you’re located.

For this exercise, buy yourself an American brandy. Fuckin’ do it. It will lack the subtle richness and full mouthfeel of a good cognac, but you’re not sipping it from a snifter, you’re mixing it with other stuff. A Sidecar made from American brandy lacks the complexity of one made from cognac, but this post is about going cheap. And having mixed up a couple of these tonight, I just want to say, they’re pretty good.

A 1.75L bottle of E&J VSOP will run you $17.99 right now at BevMo. This is a bottle you could club a seal with and it’ll cost you less than a Jackson. Not bad. By the way, does E&J ring a bell? No? Maybe Ernest & Julio Gallo will, then.

Cointreau is simply a triple sec, an orange-flavored liqueur made from dried orange peels. It happens to be the best of the triple secs, but it’s also probably the most expensive, unless the barman at the Ritz has a bottle from the cellars of Louis XIII. Go down-market with a liter of Hiram Walker for $9.99. You can make a damn lot of Sidecars from these two bottles.

I don’t know the national-average price for lemons these days, but you can probably get one for about 50¢.

Jen and I like our Sidecars a little tart, so here’s the ratio I like to generally use:

  • 1-1/2 oz. brandy
  • 3/4 oz. lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz. triple sec

Shake over ice, strain into a chilled mixing glass, and smile.

Now let’s just go ahead and price this out. It’s tricky since the bottles are measured in liters and the recipe’s in ounces. I’ll do the math for you and keep it all to myself. Since this isn’t math class, and you’re not Mrs. Abernathy, I don’t need to show my work.*

(On an cents-per-ounce basis, the lemon juice is surprisingly the most expensive ingredient here. You might cut corners further and use Realemon or some other soul-crushing bastardization, but then you’d be the sort of person who eats Spam and Velveeta sandwiches, and I wouldn’t want to know you.)

So, here’s the cost of this Sidecar. Are you ready?

$1.00 US (or .71 €), and that’s if you pay retail prices for all ingredients.

*Oh, all right. 1.75 liters (the brandy) equal 59 ounces. 1 liter (the triple sec) is 34 ounces. (Both figures are rounded off.) At $17.99 a bottle for 59 ounces, the brandy costs 30¢ an ounce. The triple sec is about the same, 29¢ an ounce. You’ll need just one lemon to get 3/4 oz. of juice, and you’ll have a bit of leftover, so you’ll use about 40¢ worth of juice.

Carla Bruni

carlabruniEvery Thursday night, the cats at the Mixoloseum host a chat-room event in which folks get together to share original drink recipes. Cunningly named Thursday Drink Night, this event draws a good crowd each week. This past week’s Thursday Drink Night was sponsored by Martin Miller’s Gin. Now, I’ve written about Miller’s before. It’s a delicate, pot-distilled gin with notes of citrus and cucumber. It’s a favorite at Chez Dietschyblossom, and I love mixing with it.

I don’t often participate in TDN. Usually, Jen and I are catching up on our day right when it tips off, but because of the Miller’s theme, I wanted to participate last week. We had bought some beautiful flowering thyme from the farmer’s market, and I chose to infuse some of it into a small bit of the Miller’s. If you don’t want to take the time for thyme, you can get a similar effect by either muddling a couple sprigs of thyme into the mixing glass, or rubbing it against the inside of a chilled cocktail glass, to release its oils, before pouring the drink into the glass.

I hate naming drinks; coming up with something original is usually difficult. However, I’ve mentioned before that I think naming drinks for famous people is a “great and longstanding tradition” and it’s one I chose to uphold. Who better than the singer, songwriter, former model, and current French first lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy? (By the way, if you’ve never heard her sing, and I’ll bet you the first round you haven’t, you should. She’s got a smoky, torch-singer voice.)

(drink photograph by Jennifer Hess)

Carla Bruni

2 oz. thyme-infused gin
¾ oz. Lillet
2 dashes maraschino
2-3 dashes absinthe (be very careful with this, lest you overwhelm the drink)
Thyme sprig, for garnish
Lemon peel, for twist

Stir over cracked ice, strain into chilled cocktail glass, twist lemon peel over surface of drink and discard, and garnish with a thyme sprig. Sip while enjoying this video of Carla Bruni singing her own song, “L’Amoureuse,” from her third album, Comme si de rien n’était.

Cleanse me with hyssop

You might remember from my recent Amaro post that Jen and I picked up a couple of herbs at the farmer’s market–lemon balm and anise hyssop. I wanted to use both herbs in cocktails; I muddled the lemon balm, but with the anise hyssop, I chose to go a different direction.

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that anise hyssop bears distinctive notes of anise in its aroma and taste. You probably also won’t be shocked to find that I chose to pair it with rye whiskey. After all, absinthe carries certain anise notes in its flavors, and absinthe pairs well with rye in such cocktails as the Sazerac. I didn’t, however, want to simply replicate the Sazerac using an infused rye.

Instead, I decided to poke around with another New Orleans classic, the Vieux Carré. This venerable cocktail calls for equal parts rye, cognac, and sweet vermouth, with a splash of Benedictine and dashes of Peychaud’s and Angostura bitters. I retained the basic flavors, but played around with the composition.

photograph by Jennifer Hess; oh, and I’m not really interested in taking the time to make my ice cubes crystal clear, so if cloudy ice offends your aesthetic sense, that’s your thing, not mine.

Neuf Carré

2 oz anise hyssop rye (recipe follows)
1 oz B&B
1 oz Carpano Antica vermouth
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters

Build in a double Old Fashioned glass over ice.

Anise Hyssop Rye

Wash and dry one bunch of anise hyssop. Place in a jar and add 4 oz. rye whiskey (I used Rittenhouse 100-proof). Steep for 24 hours, or until the anise-rye flavor pleases you. Strain, and discard the anise hyssop.

A mellow Martini

Friday night Martini

photograph by Jennifer Hess

There is something about a Martini,
A tingle remarkable pleasant;
A yellow*, a mellow Martini;
I wish that I had one at present.
There is something about a Martini,
Ere the dining and dancing begin,
And to tell you the truth,
It is not the vermouth–
I think that perhaps it’s the gin.

–From “A Drink with Something in It,” by Ogden Nash

*Consider this: Take a chilled mixing glass. Add cracked ice, 4-1/2 ounces gin, 1-1/2 ounces dry vermouth, and 2-4 dashes orange bitters. Stir it, and stir it, and stir it. Strain it into two chilled cocktail glasses, and you have martinis for two. You also have, if you squint, a slight yellow tint from the orange bitters.

MxMo: Amaro

mxmologoIt’s that time of the month again, dear readers–Mixology Monday! Our host this month is Charming Chuck Taggart, and he’s chosen the theme amaro. Now, as you might recall, I’ve covered the topic of amari before. To sum up, though, amari are bitter, herbal liqueurs, consumed primarily over ice, either before or after dinner. Jen and I first encounted this class of spirit with Campari, probably, when we first tried the classic drink, the Negroni. We’ve since branched out and tried many other amari–Cynar, Aperol, Fernet Branca, Ramazzotti, I could go on. You can say we enjoy these drinks, both alone and mixed into cocktails.

Since we like amari so well, we try to seek out new ones when we can afford them. (Some weeks, we can barely afford wine or gin, let alone esoteric liqueurs.) We happened to be in the Italian section of Providence, Federal Hill, on Saturday, and stopped in at Gasbarro’s Wines and Spirits. The boys at Gasbarro’s had several amari we haven’t yet tried, including Fernet Branca’s minty sibling, Fernet Branca Menta.

I selected a slender and elegant bottle of Inga Amaro Mio. I haven’t found a lot of information about this product, so I’ll just share with you my impression. I’d say this is a pretty good gateway amaro. First, the price is right–Gasbarro’s wanted $12.99 for a 375-ml bottle. Trust me, a little of this stuff lasts a long time, so a smaller bottle is a great place to start. Second, it’s tasty. It’s not as bitter as many amari, so it’s not as challenging at first sip. It’s still not freaking Mtn. Dew, but it’s no Campari, either. Third, the bottle is gently curvy; it would make a sexy addition to your bar, and let’s face it–we all want our home bars to look sophisticated.

One more thing before I get to the recipe. Now that we’re entering into peak produce season, I’m challenging myself to really use our farmers’ markets as a resource for making cocktails. And I want to go beyond the basics of berries, stone fruit, and tomatoes that you might automatically think of when you consider fresh produce in drinks. So this weekend, we stopped by the table of Farmacy Herbs. Mary, the herbalist, always has a collection of dried herbs and tinctures (which I want to eventually tinker with for bitters), but on this particular morning, she also had two fresh herbs–lemon balm and anise hyssop. For this drink, I wanted the delicate flavors of the lemon balm.

Bitter Wood Cocktail

This cocktail is adapted from one version of the Blackthorn cocktail–in this case, gin, sloe gin, and vermouth. (There are at least two other drinks with this name, both of which are somewhat different formulations, but that’s a topic for another post.) I kept the gin and the sloe, but ditched the vermouth. I dub this drink the Bitter Wood, to play off the Blackthorn name and to celebrate the pungency of the amaro.

Bitter Wood Cocktail

  • 1 oz. Bluecoat gin
  • 1 oz. Plymouth sloe gin
  • 1/2 oz. Amaro Mio
  • 1 sprig lemon balm, for muddling
  • 1 leaf lemon balm, for garnish if desired

Technique: Measure liquid ingredients into mixing glass. Add lemon balm sprig. Muddle gently. (Lemon balm is in the mint family, and as with mint, if you over-muddle it, you’ll release unpleasant compounds into your cocktail.) Add ice and stir. Strain into a cocktail glass and add garnish, if using.