And a recipe!
[Life, January 24, 1938]
From the July 26, 1937, issue of Life magazine.
Monnet was not quite 100 years old at the time of this ad, having been founded in 1838. The brand still exists.
Compared to some of the advertising posters that Monnet commissioned, this Life ad seems pretty drab.
One evening, a few weeks ago, I was contemplating a new bottle of Bols Genever, trying to find a new use for it in a cocktail. I started thinking of a New Orleans favorite, the Vieux Carré, a blend of rye whiskey, cognac, sweet vermouth, Benedictine, and two types of bitters.
Now, depending on the brand of vermouth used, I sometimes find that the Vieux Carré’s request for equal parts whiskey, cognac, and vermouth is a little on the sweet side, so I often reduce the vermouth by a tad–down to 3/4 ounces instead of 1. Or if I want a boozier drink, I up the spirits.
Which is what I did here:
Mix all ingredients in a double Old Fashioned glass over ice; stir.
My mention of this drink on Twitter sparked a brief conversation, and someone (Matthew Robold, I think) suggested naming it the Oude Plein, which Google Translate offered up as a Dutch translation of “old square.” Works for me.
The Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans remains one of the most reliable places in my experience to find a Vieux Carre, and they’re served in these lovely flared OF glasses. For my variation, I used the closest thing in my cabinet.
This one’s quite a mouthful… Sunday morning, bleary-eyed and unhappy to be awake, I stumbled to the Royal Sonesta for Dale De Groff’s cognac seminar.
His panelists included Salvatore Calabrese, Alain Royer, and Olivier Paultes. Calabrese is one of the world’s most famous bartenders and also author of a book about cognac. Alain Royer has worked with cognac for most of his life and now works with Renaud-Cointreau Group. Olivier Paultes has also worked with cognac most of his life; he is now cellar master for Frapin and Fontpinot. And if you don’t know who Dale is …
So DdG started off with a history of cognac, the region and the spirit. He moved quickly through this material, so my notes are somewhat sketchy. He wanted to get right into the first tasting portion of the panel. We started with a 2009 distillate of cognac, bottled off the still. Not a lot of complexity to this, as you’d imagine. Floral (lavender, violet) and fruity (a hint of citrus zest) on the nose and tongue, but also quite hot. It needed a few drops of water to open it up and get past the alcohol burn. We moved on to a VSOP Frapin, then a VSOP Château Montifaud and an XO Château de Fontpinot. I’m pretty inexperienced when it comes to cognacs of this caliber, so I don’t really trust my tasting notes. I’ll just say I thought the Fontpinot was just gorgeous, though.
A quick aside here: if I remember Dale’s definition correctly, in cognac terms, a château is a single house producing all its own cognac. These cognacs don’t blend their cognacs with distillates from other houses, like mass-market cognacs do. This is, in a rough sense, analogous to a single-malt scotch.
The final cognac tested was called Vat 49, and it was unusual. It’s from the Forgotten Casks program imported by Preiss Imports. A blend of older cognacs, containing brandies from 1904 and 1955. Interesting and a bit of a challenge.
Next part of the panel dealt with still construction in the cognac region, and this part was great. Royer played a video showing craftsmen taking a flat sheet of copper and hammering, bending, and shaping it into the rounded wall of the boiler. Someone interrupted with a question to Royer: “What’s the price of a cognac still these days?” Answer: “A Ferrari.” As labor intensive as it is to build one, I’m not surprised.
We were running low on time at this point, but Calabrese, the mad bastard, had a couple of surprises for us. First up, a pre-phyloxera cognac from 1865. That’s Eighteen Sixty-Five, the year Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Phyloxera is a pest that nearly destroyed the European wine industry in the late 1800s. The only salvation was to take European vines and graft them onto North American rootstock, which had evolved alongside phyloxera and was thus resistant. Many wine and brandy experts insist that pre-phyloxera wines and brandies were much different in flavor and character from today’s. I don’t know the provenance of the stuff that Calabrese brought along, but it’s a survivor. I thought it nosed like a madeira or a sherry, and caught a lot of complex aromas, but I also thought that the flavor was a little flat.
However, it was the other surprise that was a true treat, an 1805 Sazerac cognac.
A little history here: when the Sazerac cocktail–now rye whiskey, sugar, absinthe, and Peychaud’s bitters–was originally a brandy cocktail. And the brandy of choice was Sazerac. From what I can tell, though, the Sazerac cognac succumbed to the phyloxera pest. A bottle from 1805 is a rare thing indeed.
Which made it surprising when Calabrese mixed about half of a 200ml bottle into a Sazerac. I was one of the few who caught a sip of it, and zoh-mah-gah. The drink was far richer and more complex than any Sazerac I’ve made or tasted with rye or modern cognac, and I can reasonably suspect, a tipple I’ll probably never taste the likes of again.
The other day, a reader commented:
I’m new to cocktails. I’m intrigued by cocktail menus at restaurants, but could never decide what to order. Could you recommend a good “starter” cocktail for a novice? I’d like to try Wondrich’s basic recipe but don’t know what kind or brand of spirit to buy.
I’ll go back into the Wondrich recipe later, but for now, let me make some suggestions for what to order and what to mix at home.
When Jen and I got into cocktails, we were lucky. It was 2005, and we were living in New York. Flatiron Lounge had been open a couple of years and we were starting to go there once a month or so, often enough that some of the bartenders recognized us. (We wound up there with our wedding party after getting hitched at the marriage bureau in Manhattan, but that’s a story for another day.) Pegu Club opened later that year, so we had an excellent choice of bars at which to meet after work and bend our elbows.
It was at Flatiron that I first fell deeply in love with a cocktail. That drink was the Sidecar. It quickly became one of my favorite drinks, and I believe it’s a perfect starter cocktail, both to order out and to make at home. Here’s why:
The Sidecar has a simple recipe; let’s look at the formula I mentioned earlier: 3 parts spirit, 2 parts triple sec or other orange liqueur, and 1 part citrus juice. You can go down-market with this, as I explained in my post about the Flea Bag Sidecar–inexpensive American brandy and basic triple sec–but I suggest you don’t. Not if you really want to love this drink.
The problem with the Flea Bag variant is that American brandy and standard triple sec are both sweeter than their French counterparts, cognac and Cointreau. To counteract that, you need to up the level of lemon juice in the drink, to balance the flavors out. Then the drink risks becoming too lemon-flavored. It wouldn’t necessarily be too tart, but it would upset the balance of orange and lemon flavors that this cocktail requires. That said, the Flea Bag variant is great if you’re skint, but otherwise, I urge you to stick with cognac and Cointreau.
Now that we’ve established the cognac, things get a little confusing. Go to a good liquor store and look at a couple of bottles. In the range that you can probably best afford, you’ll be looking at either VS or VSOP. (A good liquor store will also have an XO, or Extra Old, but if you can afford that, buy it for sipping, not for mixing.)
photograph by Jennifer Hess
What’s the difference between VS and VSOP? VS is Very Special, or barrel-aged for at least two years. VSOP is Very Superior Old Pale, or aged at least four years but often much longer. VSOP is a richer, more flavorful cognac than a VS, and thus makes a more flavorful Sidecar, but it’s also more expensive. Frankly, to start out, I’d buy a 200ml or 375ml bottle of a VS, of a known brand like Martell, Remy Martin, Courvoisier, etc.
Then play with the formula. Start with the classic–3 parts cognac, 2 parts Cointreau, and 1 part lemon juice. A “part” here is 1/2 ounce for one drink, 1 ounce if you’re mixing for two. Here’s the basic recipe:
Shake over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add garnish.
Now you can start playing with that. If you’re a nerd like I am, you can take up the better part of an evening, watching old noir movies on the DVD player while testing Sidecar variants. The drinks writer David Embury liked his cocktails superdry and very boozy. His formula was 8 parts cognac, 2 parts lemon juice, and 1 part Cointreau. (That’s 2 oz. cognac, 1/2 oz. lemon juice, and 1/4 oz. Cointreau.) Way too medicinal and harsh for my tastes, but maybe you’ll love it!
Okay, then, have fun, and salud!
So, I get a lot of PR pitches. Most cocktail, wine, and food bloggers do. Some of them are smartly targeted and personalized, but many of them are just kind of dumb. I opened my Gmail account one day to see an email that started “Dear Dash.” An amusing nickname, true, and I suppose that’s better than the “Dear <vname>” message I got one day. And, frankly, I can’t even begin to imagine what the PR folks for Women’s Health magazine are thinking in sending me information on dieting, women’s nutrition, and Madonna’s organic lifestyle.
Now you’ll understand why it was a delight to read a PR email that started this way:
Hope all is well. I couldn’t help but notice, from reading your blog, that you have a thing for ginger.
Pitch-perfect PR. By my rough count, there are… let’s see… 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 posts that feature or mention something gingery as a drink ingredient. So thank you, Yun Yu, from Fox Greenberg Public Relations, for actually paying attention to what I do and what this blog’s about–not specifically ginger, but about creatively pairing strong flavors and fresh ingredients with spirits.
Thank you, too, for sending up a bottle of Xanté pear and cognac liqueur while all my pals were at Tales of the Cocktail. This stuff is tasty. It’s hard to balance the flavor in a product like this, to keep it from being cloying, but the distillers did a fine job on this one. Morgenthaler describes it well, in a piece where he rightly and humorously sends up its marketing (Xanté’s PR firm is great, but its marketers are insane):
The opening nose is reminiscent of pears poached in cinnamon and wine. The first sip reveals a moderate amount of heat, which dissipates quickly leaving behind an extended finish of basic sugars, pear, light caramel, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and banana.
I find it just a little too sweet to sip neat or on the rocks, but it blends beautifully into cocktails. I think my favorite use for it is in a sidecar variation, with lime juice instead of lemon, and the triple sec reduced just a smidge.
I also find that it pairs well with rum, in an old-fashioned, with Fee’s Whiskey Barrel Aged Bitters. In fact, the marriage of pear, vanilla, and Fee’s warm Christmas spices reminds me so much of Yuletide that I’m going to tuck some of the Xanté away for the holiday season.
Now, what’s this to do with ginger? Well, Yun, in contacting me, suggested the Xanté Ginger Martini cocktail. I know, I know, I know; I’m not crazy about the name either. A martini is strictly a drink with gin and vermouth and maybe some orange bitters. It’s not a drink with cognac liqueur and anything else. But call it what you may, it’s a damn fine drink. Here’s the recipe as Yun sent it.
In a mixing glass, muddle the ginger. Add Xanté, lemon juice, and simple syrup. Shake over ice, strain into a cocktail glass, and float garnish on top.
Tell you what. Not only is this a fine drink, where all of the elements play well together, but the ginger really helps to bring the pear to the fore. And as we found out last night, Spanish Marcona almonds make a perfect accompaniment to this cocktail. I almost didn’t want to have dinner.
About a month ago, Gary Regan devoted his SF Chron column to examining the intersection of food and beverage. I’m not talking about pairings, but instead food as an ingredient in cocktails. The technique of fat washing is an example of what I mean: you take some bacon, for example, and steep it in bourbon for a while. Remove it, fine strain out the solids, and then freeze the bourbon. The spirit itself won’t freeze, but the fat that’s suspended within it will rise to the top, which makes it easy to remove and discard–or reuse, I suppose, if you’d like some bourbon-flavored lard for any reason. Think about chilling a chicken stock after you’ve made it; same thing happens with stock that happens with bourbon.
Now, Gary went on to describe something that isn’t really much like fat washing at all; in fact, it was such an abrupt segue that I think it didn’t really belong in that particular column. What he described was a drink called the Canary Flip, a drink created by a Brisbane bartender. A flip, if you don’t know, is a drink made by shaking up your drink ingredients with a whole egg. Flips were common in colonial times, but today, only cocktail geeks like me seem to make them anymore.
Shame, that. I mixed up the Canary Flip recently, and Jen and I loved it. It was a good use for Fernet Branca, a bitter Italian aperitif that many drink straight. I can’t really stand it on its own, but it’s good in cocktails, when it’s in balance with the other flavors. It’s absolutely perfect in the Canary Flip. In this drink, it’s mixed up with Chartreuse, cognac, simple syrup, and the aforementioned egg. The result is a delightfully complex drink, herbal, rich, and creamy. It’s not at all cloying and it has a wonderful mouthfeel. This one’s a keeper!
Makes 1 drink
Adapted from a recipe by Nicholas Edwards, the Lark, Brisbane, Australia.
Instructions: Fill a cocktail shaker with yellow Chartreuse, Cognac, simple syrup, Fernet Branca and egg. Shake without ice for 10 seconds to emulsify the egg. Add ice, shake and strain into a chilled sherry glass. Add the lemon twist garnish.