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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The Black and Gold Cocktail

graduationThe Black and Gold Cocktail does not have a long storied history. Jerry Thomas did not create it in a fit of gold rush inspiration, there is no liqueur derived from some a long held recipe of a secret sect, no literary figure demanded one be placed in front of him as soon as he entered his favorite bar, and variations of it do not appear in hipster establishments. It seems to have been created for its color and to meet a need to match the black and gold that matches many sports teams. The one thing that does set it apart, however, is that there are not many black spirits.

The recipe for this drink calls for vodka and Goldschläger which is noted for the gold flakes that float in the clear spirit. It is quite simply two parts of a black version of the former mixed with one part of the latter. The problem with all of that starts with the black vodka. There appears to be only one type of that vodka, Blavod, and it is not being imported to the United States right now. That means that the only options are to create a black vodka (10 drops blue food coloring, 10 drops red, and 8 drops green per fifth of liquor) or to find another black liquor.

This is a good time for an aside about vodka. There seems to be a love/hate relationship with the spirit. Watch the right event or show on television and you can be assailed with commercials for vodkas to be requested by name. The funny thing is that almost all of those ads tout multiple distilations or many filters for that particular vodka which means that it is rendered almost tasteless. The reviews for Blavod note that the tree extract, black catechu, provides the unique black color but also adds a slight bitter aftertaste that detracts from the neutral spirit. Unless, of course, the taster is blindfolded and then they don’t notice anything. It is no wonder that cocktail and spirit reviewers eschew vodka and that, should trends be believed, it is going out of favor. Oh yeah, unless you count the numerous flavors that have been invented to add taste to the neutral base. In that manner it is not only not going out of favor, but is taking over the liquor stores. Anyone need a shot of pecan pie vodka for dessert?

All of this leaves the maker of the Black and Gold with decisions about the black portion. There is the make your own vodka, the slightly black chocolate vodka, the mostly black coffee vodka, and the more off course black alternatives of other spirits. Since the Goldschläger is a cinnamon schnapps, we looked for a taste to match that flavor. That choice was a coffee flavored java rum from Sea Island. Sea Island is another small batch distillery located on Wadmalaw Island in South Carolina.

The resulting drink was a nice dark color, although the gold flakes of the Goldschläger were not terribly apparent, with a pleasing after dinner taste of coffee and cinnamon. It had a good balance of sweetness combined with the bitter coffee element that could have been achieved with coffee vodka, but I like to think the rum gave it a body and background that gave the cocktail a little more gravity and depth. The real purpose of this cocktail was to celebrate an event and one of those black and gold affinities. In this case my niece’s graduation and Appalachian State University. For both those purposes the drink worked well.

Here’s David’s Review:

black and goldFirst, congratulations to Lauren. It’s her graduation this recipe is meant to celebrate. That cannot go unsaid and, whether she appreciated this cocktail or not, I hope she appreciates what she’s accomplished.

I did appreciate this cocktail… and not just in comparison to the wretched blue cocktail I proposed for the last graduation we celebrated. Some months ago, during some simple syrup experimentation, I made one with Vietnamese cinnamon and used it up in no time. The heat and singularity of the flavor appeals to me, and, though I’ve never tried Fireball whiskey, I understand the appeal. I’m not sure about the flavor of gold flecks—or I should say I’m sure I didn’t taste them—and I read on Wikipedia that there’s only 13 mg of gold in a Goldschläger bottle, which means, based on today’s rate, they are worth 51 cents. Still, they’re mighty pretty when you stir them up.

As for the black in the Black and Gold cocktail, Jonathan and I had different solutions. He chose java rum and I chose the Gosling’s Black Seal rum we’d used for the Dark N’ Stormy. My rum wasn’t truly black, and I thought about making it blacker by adding food color. As you can see from my photograph, my version of black and gold was more brown than anything else. And two other blacker alternatives occurred to us, Kahlua and—going back to the beertails a couple of weeks ago—Porter. However, rather than drink another, I satisfied for brown and gold. The gold flecks were less visible than they might have been, but the mixture of the molasses overtones of the rum and the spiciness of the cinnamon seemed a good combination, gingerbread-y and festive. Of course, who knows what complexity the food color might add, but I’ll let someone with a finer palate figure that out.

Regardless of what you add to make the black of this drink, it’s for sipping. The Goldschläger is quite hot and don’t forget that this cocktail is pure alcohol. The recipe I used called it a Black and Gold Martini. The rum and the liqueur were far sweeter than a martini, but, if I had any complaint, it was the martini-like paint-thinner waft of ethyl that met you with each sip. The taste overcame it quickly… and maybe you need something neutral like vodka to cut the sweetness of the liqueur… but I can’t see drinking more than one of these.

As it happens, my college colors were also black and gold (though we always put the gold first), and I was happy to raise a glass to Lauren and hope she was celebrating her milestone and carrying as full a store of memories from her college days as I do of mine.

Jonathan’s take: Don’t look for this to appear on cocktail bar menus, but for an affinity drink you could do worse.

David’s Take: A nice warmer by the fire and appropriately fancy and celebratory.

Next Week (proposed by David):

My proposal is to make some room on my liquor shelf (because who knows what Santa might bring and I’m also uncertain my shelf can bear much more weight). As it’s winter I’m proposing an adaptation of a warm cocktail, which I’m calling Cherry Pisco Hot Chocolate. In the original recipe, the “Cherry” was “Orange,” but then my wife remembered how much Jonathan used to like chocolate covered cherries. He may be over them by now—it seems every Christmas someone (and sometimes more than one someone) gave him a box. I’m using Cherry Herring and the Pisco, however, because both need emptying more than my Grand Marnier. Jonathan can fill in the first blank any way he wants, but the hot chocolate is a requirement that, I hope, will be right for the season.