The Tuxedo

Tux3Proposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

This week’s cocktail comes from Harry Johnson’s Bartenders’ Manual, the first version published in 1882. You can still buy the book on eBay, and it’s apparently as relevant now as it was then. Written in a how-to style, it’s supposed to provide guidance on how to be a bartender as well as how to mix drinks. I wonder what it says about keeping bar and listening to customers. Everyone knows the stereotype, bartenders who function as amateur psychologists, doling out libation, wisdom, and painkillers in equal measure.

Oddly, it wasn’t really Harry Johnson I thought of as I sipped this drink, but Tennessee Tuxedo, a 1963-66 cartoon penguin voiced by Don Adams (of Get Smart) whose schemes often benefitted/failed on the basis of advice/complications from Professor Whoopee (voiced by Larry Storch, former star of F Troop). Of course, this drink has nothing to do with the cartoon, but the whoopee part struck me.

Aside from two dashes of bitters, the Tuxedo is all liquor. It’s called a gin martini, but it’s also related to the Poet’s Dream (which features gin, sweet vermouth, and Benedictine) and the Alaska (using gin and Yellow Chartreuse), and the Obituary (using gin and absinthe). It’s most closely related, however, to the Martinez, which, just like the Tuxedo, begins with gin and vermouth and maraschino. The difference is that, where the Martinez asks for red vermouth, Tuxedo’s includes dry vermouth and some anise. It is, in short, not designed for sweet drink lovers and quite potent enough to provoke a whoopee or two.

Which may be the reason for these drinks’ existence. There’s refinement and variety in the ingredients, but there’s also a slap-up-the-side-of-the-head immediacy from the first sip. I’m not a martini drinker, but the no-nonsense approach is probably what appeals to most fans. No fruit juice or mixer intrudes. You get the impression it’s the painkilling aspect of the drink that matters most.

And you don’t have to be too savvy to achieve that.

My role is not to review the drink (until later) but, for me, the success of drinks like the Tuxedo rely on whether the different secondary ingredients really make a difference or are just gussying up the drink’s actual purpose. I’ve always loved the expression “putting lipstick on a pig,” which communicates surface or trivial improvements designed to hide the truth. So is the Tuxedo putting lipstick on a pig? I don’t like to think so, but I’ll leave Jonathan (and you) to say.

Here’s how to make one:

  1. Pour all ingredients in a mixing glass filled with ice.
  2. Stir.
  3. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
  4. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.

And Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

tux4One of the things I have learned in this pursuit is that I like gin. First off, I never knew there were so many varieties and I appreciate how the subtle, and not so subtle, differences in the types can change a drink. The characteristic flavor that some detractors refer to as drinking a pine tree is an interesting taste to me, and I like how the other flavors play off of that. It is also a versatile alcohol to mix and has probably been the main spirit in the largest number of our drinks.

The Tuxedo calls for Old Tom gin which is referred to as a milder, sweeter type of the spirit. I don’t get the sweeter part, but the milder description resonates. It doesn’t have the heavy juniper taste, but still has enough that you know you are drinking gin. That may not hold up to a strong tonic but when used in subtle cocktails like this one, it is perfect.

A standard martini is intended to be dry and basic. The promise of the Tuxedo is that it has the addition of maraschino liqueur and the background of the anise (absinthe in my mix). I had hoped that the touch of sweetness and the complexity of the absinthe would elevate the whole. Unfortunately, the amount of maraschino was so small that is got lost and the flavor of the anise, even in the tiny proportion you get from the ice wash, was dominant. I’m still not sure why the bitters are added, and since I forgot them at first I got to try one drink that did not include them and then did with no noticeable difference.

My neighbor came by try the drink and I made a couple of changes to his. I left out the absinthe since he hates licorice, and substituted maraska cherry liqueur for the maraschino. He had a second so I went back to the maraschino and substituted Peychaud bitters for the orange that I had been using. Since I can only provide feedback on color (the maraska made for a nice pink drink), I have to take his word for it that the latter was the better combination.

Jonathan’s take: The Tuxedo is nice drink, even if it didn’t live up to its promise.

David’s take: Good, but not great. I needed more nuance.

Next week (Proposed By Jonathan):

Every state probably has its own magazine, and North Carolina has a great example in Our State. I had not realized it, but each month they include a cocktail. Fortunately those can be found on-line and the one I am suggesting is a Carolina Hot Toddy. The recipe uses a North Carolina whiskey, but I want to use a local apple brandy. It is my fervent hope that this toddy is a celebration of the end of winter (sorry David) as it provides soothing comfort.

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