Proposed by: Jonathan
Reviewed by: David
The cocktail this week is a variation on the Manhattan called the Monte Carlo. There is little history to be found on this drink other than it is one of many, although very simple in this case, alterations of the basic classic. The recipe substitutes Benedictine for sweet vermouth and specifies rye whiskey. As stated in last week’s proposal, the recipe comes from The Art of the Bar:
2 ounces rye
¾ ounce Benedictine
2 dashes Angostura or Peychaud’s bitters
Lemon twist for garnish
The recipe suggests that the ingredients be combined, stirred with ice to chill, strained into a glass and garnished with the lemon. There is a discussion included in the book about shaking versus stirring and my synopsis would be to follow a simple hint. If the drink is all spirit one should stir, but if it includes a non-spirit like fruit juice or an egg it needs to be vigorously shaken to combine. There’s more to it, but that is easier to remember.
There is a layer of taste to this drink that I think is missing in the classic Manhattan. It could be that sweet vermouth is simply too subtle for me, but there is little doubt that the herbal presence of Benedictine is more assertive. We tried it with rye one day and then with aged rum the next (why not vary a variation after all?) and in both the herbal sweetness dominated in a good way.
This cocktail also brings me back to the concept of the perception of taste and how it is affected by place or setting. There is the very real concept of terroir and its effect on taste, but I am talking more about psychology than geography.
Terroir is the effect of geology and geography on the qualities of something one consumes. Soil and climate may be the most common elements that affect the taste of such things as grapes (wine), milk (cheese), spirits (Kentucky bourbon) and many other consumable products. There are also differences in production methods, but anyone who has tasted something as subtle as a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand compared to one from California has experienced this.
Earlier this week I heard an example of what I consider the psychology of taste. A show on one of the food channels included a discussion how bagels are better in New York City, which they undoubtedly are. One of the people commenting in the story suggested that the water in the city provided the subtle, but distinctive, difference. I would argue (apparently about anything since I am arguing about bagels) that the difference in taste comes from years of experience and the repetition of making so many bagels. I also think that bagels are one of the classic foods associated with New York, and people simply expect them to better in that setting—so they are. Similarly, one can make beignets and café au lait, but will they be as tasty as they would be if you were sitting at Café du Monde in New Orleans? No, no they wouldn’t.
You don’t need to travel to Monte Carlo to heighten the taste of this cocktail, but the right place and time can accentuate its taste. To me, this is a drink for a dark bar or sitting in front of a nice fire. It is one to be enjoyed pre-meal, with quiet music, conversation and good company. Maybe even a smoking jacket and comfy slippers although the nice fire is a better setting for that than the dark bar. That’s up to you though.
Here’s David’s Review:
The highest compliment my geometry teacher ever delivered was “Elegant.” She used the word only for some solutions to proofs. An answer with seven or eight steps might be just as correct as one with three, and a shorter but more pedestrian response was fine too. What made a proof elegant in her eyes was the combination of novelty and economy.
I would describe the Monte Carlo as similarly elegant. After last week’s overcrowded cocktails, it was nice to try a recipe with so few ingredients and so simple a preparation. However, what made the drink, in my estimation, was the dominance of a single spirit and the subtle—yet evident—contributions of the other parts. If you like rye (as I do) and Benedictine (as I do) and bitters (as I do), you will probably enjoy this cocktail.
The dominance of Rye—my recipe used 2.25 ounces, to only .5 for the Benedictine—also made the Monte Carlo a stiff drink. I’m pretty sure Mrs. Seawright, my geometry teacher, never used the words “stiff drink,” but potency may contribute to elegance as well. From the first sip (and you’d better sip), the purpose of this drink seemed plain, and, on another cold Chicago evening, it seemed particularly warming.
The recipe I used invited me to play with the proportion of Benedictine, warning that the drink might be sweeter than some imbibers like. I didn’t find that to be the case. I wouldn’t describe the Monte Carlo as an overly sweet cocktail. But, after one, I wasn’t tempted to try it again with different proportions. Some bitter element might add something—Carpano Antica or Amer Picon (if you can get some or have a generous friend who lets you have some of his homemade batch)—yet I wouldn’t want to play with the elegance of this concoction. Though it’s straightforward, it’s complex without any additions.
Jonathan’s take: sometimes the variation is better than the original.
David’s Take: I felt so sophisticated drinking the Monte Carlo. That must be good.
Next Week (proposed by David):
During my usual agony over what to propose next, I located something on Difford’s Guide to the Top 100 cocktails that has always piqued my curiosity, Blood and Sand. The name is the greatest appeal to me… though the origin of that name is interesting too, as I’ll tell you next week. Plus, it uses Scotch. I’m generally not a Scotch drinker, but I would love to rehabilitate the spirit. There must be something out there that makes good use of the bottles in my liquor cabinet. In any case, it’s time to find out.