Local Micro-Distilleries

img_0292Proposed By: Jonathan

Pursued By: David

Bigger is better, right? In the world of spirits one could think that must be the case. Name a well-known liquor or liqueur and it is probably owned by one of the ten largest conglomerates of all things alcoholic. The biggest of the big is Diageo. Their collection includes scotches like Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff in the vodka category and Baileys for a smooth liqueur touch. Throw in Guinness and a very long list of others and they are a one stop company.

There are plenty of others like them. Pernod Ricard is number two, Beam Suntory three and the most well-known name in rum, Bacardi, four. Bacardi doesn’t just limit themselves to rum though. Their varied stable includes Grey Goose, Dewars, Bombay and even the liqueur with one of the best marketing stories  – St. Germain.

The point is not that bigger is worse. These are well established brands that are using the recipes that made them popular, and they have to stick to industry requirements. Scotch, bourbon, and tequila as categories all include deep ownership from these large companies, but they still have to meet the laws that define that spirit.

The idea with the current proposal was to try something local in a classic or inventive cocktail. David was to use spirits found in and around Chicago and I have used some found in the Charlotte region.

It is actually an easy challenge that is getting easier. Two years ago North Carolina had around 30 micro distilleries. Today, the trail includes over 40 stops. Those spirits are heavy on moonshine but include a number of other liquors. The moonshine is understandable to anyone who has ever heard the history of stock car racing in the Carolinas. Early racers honed their craft of making race cars from publicly available vehicles (stock) in order to out run authorities when hauling illegal hooch. Of course, moonshine is really just raw unaged liquor and if you are going to start a distillery that is a good way to get started. The growing maturity of the industry is beginning to show with those white liquors being flavored (gin), aged (all sorts of whiskeys), and crafted (aged gin, brandy, sweet potato vodka and the like).

I made two cocktails but only tasted one of them. The first was a classic of sorts using single malt whiskey called The Modern Cocktail:

1.5 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon bar sugar
1.5 ounce Rua (Great Wagon Distilling) single malt
1.5 ounce Sloe Gin
Dash Absinthe
Dash orange bitters

Mix lemon juice and sugar in shaker, add ice and all other ingredients, shake and strain into a coupe. Garnish with cherry.

The second was a suggestion included on the web site of the distillery called the Maple Cooler. Oddly, Muddy River Distillery is one of the few I found that offered unique ideas for their spirits.

3 dashes bitters
1.5 ounce Queen Charlotte’s Carolina Rum
1.5 ounce fresh orange juice
.5 ounce maple syrup
1 ounce club soda

Mix everything but soda in a shaker with ice, shake, strain into an old fashioned glass with ice and top with soda. Garnish with orange peel.

The Scotch drinkers that tried the Modern seemed to like it. Maybe even enough to have another before going back to Scotch on the rocks. I forgot to taste it myself but I did try the Maple Cooler. It was a nice crossover drink that people who like a little sweet, interestingly maple syrup sweet in this case, and those that like a non-sweet drink cocktail could agree on. It is a very nice use of the more complex spirit that Muddy River offers.

A few more things: I wanted to use Southern Artisan Spirits Cardinal Barrel Rested Gin in a drink. I did that back when we made gin and tonic variations, however, and decided not to repeat in a part as punishment  for them for not keeping their web site up to date. Al Gore invented the web to advertise craft spirits didn’t he? Carolina Distillery makes an apple brandy perfect for the Fall season. At our last tailgate a number of guests enjoyed a drink that was equal parts of that brandy, Barritt’s ginger beer and fresh apple cider. Made a bunch but never tasted those either.

David’s Entry:

img_1777Some believe cocktails are a waste of good spirits. If the bourbon, scotch, gin, or even vodka is good enough, they say, why adulterate it? That perspective certainly seems crucial to micro-distilleries hoping to attract connoisseurs willing to pay for the extra costs of small-scale production. Like many boutique-styled markets catering to those in the know, the process sometimes matters as much as the product.

Like Charlotte, Chicago seems to have a new micro-distillery popping up each week. For this post, however, I chose Koval, one of the first and the first distillery founded in Chicago since the mid-nineteenth century… if you don’t count prohibition bootleggers. Their website describes a “grain-to bottle mentality” that includes locally-sourced organic ingredients, milling and mashing on-site, and signature packaging and bottling. You’re as likely to encounter Koval at a Lincoln Park farmers’ market as at your neighborhood liquor store. They mean to establish themselves as a Chicago thing, and their marketing, though quiet, has been quite effective. Their product is also much respected. Since its founding eight years ago, Koval has won many gold, silver, and bronze medals at international whisky competitions.

The website points out that, in many Eastern European languages, “Koval” means “blacksmith,” but they prefer the Yiddish word for “black sheep, or someone who forges ahead or does something new or out of the ordinary.” I’ve tried a number of Koval products (they also make imaginative liqueurs), but for this post I’ll talk about their Rye Whiskey. Their rye is unusual because it’s made from 100% rye, but that’s not why I chose it. Rye is a spirit I may possibly maybe might know somewhat well enough to judge. Truth is, all those unadulterators have me at a distinct disadvantage—my palate has never been so advanced that I can speak confidently about what anything tastes like.

And I always sound ridiculous when I pretend I understand how to describe spirits. But here goes: people who know rye might expect spiciness and little of the mellow or corn-y warmth of bourbon, and this rye doesn’t have that sort of body either. But Koval’s approach isn’t to make a spicy rye. Theirs is clean and crisp—more white than brown sugar—and has a bright, light, and unusual quality. If you’re thinking about rye bread when you have a sip, you’re going to be surprised… this isn’t that.

Not that this isn’t good for sipping. Wine Enthusiast gives it a 91 and says, “This rye has aromas of vanilla and coconut. A faint sweetness shows on the palate, with initial notes of coconut and almond, while the finish is gently spiced and drying.”

And to that, I say, “Yeah, what they said.”

As this proposal asked, I also tried this rye in a classic cocktail, the De La Louisiane, which you loyal readers may remember is equal parts rye, red vermouth, and maraschino liqueur (with Peychaud Bitters in an absinthe-washed coupe). I figured that would give me the plainest picture of how Koval might stand up to other ingredients, and I was right. To be honest, however, the Koval nearly disappeared, which made me wonder whether it’s too refined for mixing.

Or maybe it’s just too refined for me. The expense of most micro-distillery offerings means they aren’t likely to supply my usual bourbon, rye, scotch, gin, or vodka. It’d be nice if local micro-distilleries could compete with multi-nationals on price, but alas and of course not. They’re a nice treat, yet remind me that, when it comes to boutique spirits, I’m just not worthy.

Jonathan’s take: I understand global companies but it sure is nice to support creative people making local product.

David’s Take: Like Jonathan, I support local commerce and spirituous ambition… though Old Overholt is probably too good for me.

Next Time (Proposed by David):

So, it’s that time of year again, and I googled “Unconventional Holiday Cocktails.” Disappointingly, many of the old stand-bys turned up (Mulled Wine, Eggnog, Hot Buttered Rum) as did many wretchedly sweet drinks (Peppermint “Martinis” and Spiced Coconut Hot White Chocolate). Finally, I discovered something that might be warm enough and light enough to enhance rather than drown the good cheer, Spiked Pear Cider.

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Gin and Tonic Variations

DM G and TProposed and Realized By: David

Also Realized By: Jonathan

“The gin and tonic,” Winston Churchill once said, “has saved more Englishmen’s lives, and minds, than all the doctors in the Empire.” He was alluding to the British East Indian Company’s invention of the concoction as a way of delivering quinine, which was believed to be an anti-malarial medicine. However, knowing Churchill, it’s possible he was talking about the self-medicating properties of gin.

I prefer the explanation of the drink’s prominence offered by Douglas Adams, the author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Every planet has its own version of gin and tonic, all developed independently from one another and pronounced essentially the same. There’s something about the “G and T” (or “Gin Tonic” as it’s called in some countries) that demands invention. The drink was simply meant to be.

And, to support Adams’ theory, it turns out tonic doesn’t cure or prevent malaria because you’d have to drink too much of it (and keep drinking too much of it) to reach even the minimal level of quinine necessary to suppress the disease. Science has taught us something important about gin and tonic, however—rather than doubling the bitterness by combining its three main ingredients, the similarly shaped molecules glom onto each other to mitigate their bitterness. I take that discovery as further proof of Adam’s belief in the inevitability of gin and tonic.

So why would someone want to adulterate it, and why would we use this space (again) to encourage such an abomination?

I thought of a post devoted to the drink by itself debating the proper tonic water (I like Fever Tree or Q, by the way), the proper gin (more later), and the proper proportion of gin to tonic, but all that sounded fussy. Let me be that rare voice of political tolerance in our contentious age and state that all the people, Republicans and Democrats, should compose gin and tonics as they wish, according to their tastes.

As you’ll see, Jonathan was much subtler, thorough, and scientific in his pursuit of proper ingredients. For me, adulteration felt like a different sort of test—not can you mess-up a Gin and Tonic, but can you actually stay true to the Neo-platonic ideal of gin-and-tonic-ness while also introducing a variation that might actually enhance its essential nature?

My first experiment was to follow a basic formula:

1.5 ounces Gin

.5 ounces something else

3 ounces tonic water

the squeezed juice of one-eighth of a lime

Over the last three weeks, I’ve tried all sorts of things for that something else—Lillet Rose, St. Germaine, Pimm’s #1, Grand Marnier, Chambord, Maraschino Liqueur, and Benedictine—and most of the results were passable, but no gin and tonic. The best were the ones with a certain je ne sais quoi, the ones that elicited the comment, “What’s different about this?” Of the ingredients above, Pimm’s #1 and Lillet were the most successful that way. Maraschino was also subtle. The worst? Benedictine.

Like Jonathan, I also bought dried juniper berries and other spices (though not in a nifty kit) and steeped them in vodka to create my own gin… and added sumac to regular gin… and used varieties of gin available in my liquor cabinet… and foisted all these varieties on various people. Jonathan’s testers are clearly better than mine. Everyone around me is sick of gin and tonics, so sick that their most thoughtful comments were “That’s nice,” or “Yuck.”

But not me. I’ll just say one thing about my experimentation. Nothing really ruins a gin and tonic… until it makes it something else.

Here’s Jonathan’s Approach:

JBM GTAlternatives of the classic gin and tonic? How hard could it be – change the gin and change the tonic. Heck, go crazy and change the garnish. One look at my liquor cabinet illustrates the true challenge, though. I have Old Tom gin, London dry gin, Rangpur gin, botanical gin, barrel rested gin and, after a quick search for tonic syrups that resulted in the purchase of a pre-measured spice mix, my own homemade gin.

You don’t need to go beyond tonic to understand the variations available. Quinine water, as we used to call it, ranges from classics like Seagrams, Canada Dry and Schweppes to a long list of high end and small batch sodas that grows each year. These include nationally available brands like Fever-Tree, Q and Fentimans to small batch soda versions found locally. There are also many syrups, I have used and love Jack Rudy’s, that can be mixed with club soda to make your own tonic water. Simple math made me realize I had to control the variables so I settled on premixed tonics.

The next question was gin. The classic uses London Dry and if the tonic was going to be dominant that made sense. As I noted, while searching unsuccessfully for new syrups I went into the Savory Spice Shop (a growing national franchise). They had a pre-packaged mix of spices to infuse vodka and make your own gin so that became another option. I also had a barrel rested gin, Cardinal, from nearby Kings Mountain N.C. and the gin style liqueur, Pimm’s No. 1, so I was set there too.

All that was left to do this right was to assemble taste testers and figure out ratios. My faithful panel was nice enough to gather for the task at hand and a forgotten shot glass made ratios approximate (I would guess it was 3:1 tonic to liquor). Here’s the three versions I made:

Prohibition (homemade) gin
Fever-Tree or Q tonic
Lime wedge garnish

Barrel rested gin
Fever-Tree or Q tonic in one session and Schweppes in another
5 drops Crude (Raleigh small batch brand) roasted pineapple/vanilla bitters
Lime wedge garnish

London dry gin
Pimm’s No. 1
Schweppes tonic
Mixed fruit garnish

The first mix was the most classic and the least liked. The gin was great. So good, in fact, that it was better by itself on the rocks. The nice part of make your own is that you can add and subtract spices. The juniper berries went in by themselves for 24 hours to emphasize that spice and the other spices were added for a final 24 hours.  If you are one of those people who don’t like the pine qualities of gin, though, you could add the juniper at the same time as the other spices (coriander, lavender, bay leaves, allspice and cardamom) and infuse for only 24 hours total to reduce their dominance. If gin is your favorite part of the G & T this may be the best option for your taste.

The second cocktail was a conservative variation yet well received. Barrel rested gin, at least the Cardinal version, is mellow and less spicy. The bitters added a subtle and different background flavor. I made this one with both the high end tonics and the less expensive stuff with the latter providing a quieter base to showcase the gin and bitters.

My final option was a G & T take on the Pimm’s Cup.  A number of Pimm’s Cup recipes suggest adding gin to increase the spirit quotient so I followed that idea by mixing Pimm’s and gin equally then adding tonic. The more assertive tonics worked really well here since it needed a mixer that stood up to the liquors. This is one to garnish with summer fruits like peaches, blackberries, blueberries and the like. The classic Cup addition of cucumber would probably work well also.

Jonathan’s Take: The T is my favorite part so high end tonics and syrups are well worth the cost.

David’s Take: Can I be a purist and an experimentalist at the same time? I’d like to try.

Next Time (Proposed by Jonathan):

One of my testing panel members suggested a drink called Serendipity. It will require that I go against my goal of reducing the number of spirits in my cabinet by adding Calvados. The drink includes the addition, always welcome, of a sparkling wine though so I think it is worth it. Plus, I have to listen to my testers since they are practically professionals at this point.

The Blinker

Proposed By: DavidBlinkerDBM

Reviewed By: Jonathan

It’s “Spring” break here in Chicago, but the quotation marks refuse to come off—only a few hours last week crested 60 degrees, and, though some trees are thinking about budding, most of the landscape remains gray. Yet, when I get back to work, I’ll no doubt encounter the tanned faces of all those people who escaped the city for Florida or other warm climes.

At least we have grapefruit from those places.

This week’s cocktail, the Blinker, features citrus in a wishful way. On some sites, it’s described as a “winter citrus cocktail,” and that label fits the way Chicagoans consume grapefruits this time of year. Though Americans have become accustomed to getting any fruit we want any time of year, grapefruit remain a popular winter treat here. Organizations still sell boxes or bags of grapefruit to raise money. People occasionally give prodigious amounts of citrus as thank you gifts to distribute among officemates.

The Blinker dates back to times when a winter grapefruit was probably more exotic. Though the exact origins of the drink recede into the fog of history, the recipe emerges in Patrick Gavin Duffy’s The Official Mixer’s Manual, published in 1934, and Ted Haigh (or Dr. Cocktail) renovated it for his Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails in 2004. The original recipe called for grenadine, but his version uses raspberry syrup or raspberry preserves. Here’s the iteration that appears in my source, The PDT Cocktail Book:

2 oz. Rye Whiskey

1 oz. Grapefruit Juice

.25 oz. Simple Syrup

1 barspoon Raspberry Preserves

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled coupe.

What makes the Blinker a winter cocktail is the rye, which, besides lending a spicy backdrop to the citrus, makes the drink more robust than gin would. However, you could try this cocktail—as my wife and I did—with gin as well. The result is more botanical than robust (and probably has a different name I didn’t discover) but the gin version highlights the grapefruit nicely. The raspberry certainly adds to both rye and gin, but using gin makes grapefruit the star.

The recipe I used didn’t call for a garnish, but what fun is that? I added a twist of grapefruit peel I’d rubbed on the edge of the coupe. One recipe online said not to use ruby red grapefruits, but we did. The color was gorgeous. Besides, Jonathan and I used to eat a lot of Texas ruby reds. Our older brother achieved almost factory efficiency cutting and dispatching them. The smell of a grapefruit peel still provokes powerful nostalgia for me and makes me long for short-sleeve shirts… or at least no coat heavier than a windbreaker.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

blinker.jbmClassics have usually stuck around for good reasons in particular because they taste good. But what about a classic that disappears, gets dusted off and then comes back with a slightly different identity?

David sent me a link for the Blinker which like most references credit Ted Haigh with its resurgence. I have Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails so I turned to that as a primary source. The part that intrigued me was that it was originally made with grenadine, one of my favorites, yet Haigh changed it up to add raspberry syrup. It is also interesting that the current recipes for this cocktail all use the raspberry but with little consistency in the type specified. Oh the quandary of mixology – what kind of raspberry syrup should I use or dare I break ranks and make it with grenadine?

Well, who am I to question Ted Haigh? I went with raspberry syrup. I made my own simple syrup with fresh raspberries. Once that had simmered a little to thicken, I let it cool, strained it and added a little vanilla vodka (there has been little use for that in my liquor cabinet) to stabilize it.

The final proportions, which I am curious to compare to David’s, were two ounces rye, one ounce fresh grapefruit, and two teaspoons raspberry syrup. The classic did not fail. Rye stands out but the full ounce of grapefruit provided a counterbalance. The raspberry was a little lost except for color and sweetness. I think a thicker and sweeter syrup might have worked better and given the drink more body. This seems to be a drink that is meant to be about the rye, though, and I am good with that.

Jonathan’s take: Still wonder what the grenadine did to get jettisoned.

David’s take: I like rye. I like grapefruit. Together? The jury is still out.

Next Time (Proposed By Jonathan):

There are so many quality tequilas and mezcals available, which we have written about before, and I keep trying to find cocktails that highlight them. Searching for that brings up a drink that seems to be slowly pushing the Margarita back – the Paloma. My guess is that the resurgent cocktail movement has deemed the Margarita pedestrian while the Paloma is a less known, just as malleable for crafting new versions and well suited to warm weather refreshment. Or maybe I hope all of those things.

Rock and Rye

Rock and Rye.jbmProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

This is an inauspicious beginning. I wasn’t there but take it on good authority that early rye whiskeys were not good. They had off flavors that needed to be disguised and that mask was typically a sweetener. If you wanted to drink a bad whiskey it is doubtful that you wanted to water it down with any other liquid so bartenders provided lumps of rock candy for that purpose.

The evolution of the sweetened rye continued from that simple combination. Rye was livened up with sugar and a flavoring of fruit and herbs. The concoction became a popular curative, there’s that theme again, with the addition of herbs that helped, or purported to help, with chest and head congestion. One of these, horehound, is a flowering plant that has been used for centuries for congestion and respiratory issues. Modern researchers have determined that aspects of the herb may also be beneficial for other ailments and even for anti-cancer benefits. Try that excuse next time you want a drink.

Rock and rye lasted into and through prohibition due to these claims as a medicinal aid. Once prohibition ended, though, its popularity faded. If I were to guess, the attention on creating quality spirits once they became legal again probably chased away the need to mask bad liquors with herbs, fruit and sweeteners.

Part of the increased popularity of cocktails has been a resurgence of unique rock and ryes made both in bars and at home. The basic recipe is to start the infusion with fresh fruit, fruit peels, dried fruit or some combination of those. Herbs are added and then the crafted liquor is finished with the rock candy that provided half of its name. The recipe that I used is from Gun and Garden magazine and is credited to John Maher of Rogue Gentlemen bar in Richmond:

1 750 milliliter bottle of rye (they recommend Reservoir but there’s no way I am spending that much on whiskey and then doing some home flavoring)
Peel of half an orange
Peel of one lemon
10 dried cherries (I went tart here for a hoped for contrast)
½ cinnamon stick
1 clove
1 star anise
1 tsp horehound (had to use horehound candies since I couldn’t find the straight herb)
1 six inch piece string of rock candy soaked in Cheerwine (a regional black cherry soda) syrup (12 ounces of soda simmered until it is reduced to at least half that volume).

Combine the first 5 items in a glass container and set aside for 3 days. Add the rest of the items on the list and infuse for another day. Strain the mix and put back into the original rye bottle. That last part is not on their recipe but it made sense to me. Plus I had to try a little since the Cheerwine syrup added a little extra liquid. I added a few more dried cherries into the bottle because I had read somewhere that they do that in bars to identify their different mixes.

My proposal included the suggestion that we try this on the rocks and in a cocktail. The base rock and rye was very good served with ice and some Angostura bitters. I was extra careful not to add too much Cheerwine syrup when I did the infusion since I had used horehound candies and didn’t want it to be too sweet. The bitters also helped with that. Between the soda and the dried cherries it had a nice fruit flavor that went well with the rye. The cocktail was a simple mix of ginger ale and rock and rye. Oddly, the more basic ginger ale was better than the spicier versions as a mixer.

Here’s David’s Review:

DBMTo start, two confessions:

First, my Rock and Rye didn’t steep the proper number of days. Even though Jonathan and I have had this concoction in mind for a while and I’d gone to some trouble to obtain Cheerwine, I didn’t consult the recipe until Friday morning, which meant my wife quickly combining of the ingredients, my shaking it all weekend to compensate for brevity (every time I passed the jar), and delaying consumption until the last possible moment Sunday evening.

Second, I couldn’t find the horehound the recipe called for, even at my super-fancy spice store. They were sure the recipe meant horehound candy, but that didn’t make sense to me because the ingredient is measured in teaspoons. No matter, I couldn’t find the candy either. Asking about it did elicit some interesting and amusing expressions, however.

So here’s what I think of my admittedly imperfect version: it’s strong. I guess I missed the part where Jonathan suggested using it with a mixer. You need to know, when you drink this stuff, you’re essentially drinking some citrusy and spicy rye. Some of you may say, “Great!” but my rock candy hardly sweetened it. If you’re as unused as I am to drinking spirits straight, you will need to tell yourself to slow down.

And, to me, it tastes mostly like rye. Certainly the lemon and orange are there, but they come across mostly as a bitter finish, intruding on the rye only in the last taste. If I were steeping this mixture again, I might put the anise and other spices in earlier, as, in my version at least, they were so subtle as to be barely recognizable. The cherry didn’t stand a chance at all.

I read in one account online that the Rock and Rye available in bars was particularly appealing to an overindulgent customer who chose it because “It has fruit in it.” His rationalization makes perfect sense to me, which is perhaps why I’ll look for ways to mix this stuff into other cocktails rather than drinking it straight.

On a side note, some weeks ago, during a visit to my friendly neighborhood not-so-upscale liquor store, I spotted a bottle of liqueur labeled Rock N’ Rye, so I bought some, for comparison’s sake. It’s far sweeter—you’d have to pour all of the Cheerwine syrup into this iteration to get even close—and there must be some other stuff in the commercial version too. The store-bought isn’t as citrusy or spicy. As Jonathan always says, there’s no substitute for fresh (and actual) ingredients, and, in comparison, the liqueur just tastes like sweetened rye.

That said, I may pour some Cheerwine syrup into my bottle (hey, what else am I going to do with Cheerwine syrup?) and try my Rock and Rye in combination with ginger ale or soda. The idea (if not-so-much the reality) of both versions appeals to me, and I haven’t given up on my homemade libation.

David’s Take: Do you like rye and the peels of lemons and oranges? Ask that question before you invest your time and energy.

Jonathan’s take: May have to make a Thanksgiving version this week with orange peel, dried cranberries, nutmeg and allspice.

Next Time (Proposed By: David):

I sometimes think of my ingredients as athletes sitting on the bench waiting for the chance to get into the game. Next time, I’m calling in Dark Rum, Kahlua, and (my sister-in-law will likely hate me) eggs. It just seems the time to return to an egg cocktail, so I’m suggesting the Almeria Cocktail.

Blood and Sand

Proposed by: DavidBlood&Sand

Reviewed by: Jonathan

It’s easy to dispense the pertinent facts about the Blood and Sand…

  • Rudolph Valentino: famous cinematic lover and American icon.
  • Blood and Sand: a 1922 silent film in which Valentino plays a matador who becomes reckless and hopeless when his affair with a seductive widow ruins his marriage.
  • Blood and Sand: a prohibition cocktail reputedly named after said film for its use of blood orange juice.

What interests me is the drink’ appearance on so many Top 100 Cocktail lists. I lead a circumscribed life and need not go again into my dearth of savvy, but I know no one who says their drink of choice is a Blood and Sand, and, though I don’t spend a lot of time at restaurants, I don’t recall ever seeing it on even the most extensive drink menus. So what is it about this drink that makes it so famous… without really being famous?

The history of the cocktail is, in mixology terms, pretty pedestrian. It first appears in Harry Craddock’s Savoy Cocktail Book and, in 1997, was updated to include Cherry Heering by Dale DeGroff in Rockefeller Center’s Rainbow Room. DeGroff himself, however, tried the cocktail mostly because it confounded him. Just like me.

So that leaves me only a few lame explanations for the drink’s supposed prominence. There’s the name, of course, which is colorful, and its association with a melodramatic film that was, by some accounts, worthy of lampoon and parody. It has since been remade, twice, once in 1941 and again in 1989. Then, the use of blood orange juice is exotic, though many recipes ask for plain orange juice (and, alas, so did I… couldn’t find a blood orange this time of year). Another possibility is that it’s a scotch cocktail, and those—apparently—are rare.

Yet none of those speculations satisfy me and lead me into bigger, maybe naïve, questions: “How do cocktails become popular and/or revered?” and “Who’s responsible?”

I like to think about Valentino himself seeking some refreshment after a particularly taxing scene and inventing this cocktail on a whim and on the fly. I like to think about every cocktail as rooted in experimentation and improvisation. I like to think about bartenders passing a recipe among themselves or customers carrying it from one establishment to another like a virus simply by requesting it or mixologists carving a niche for a drink by refining and updating it.

But the interweb only tells me so much. I only have my imagination.

And the recipe:

  • .75 oz Scotch

  • .75 oz Sweet vermouth

  • .75 oz Cherry brandy

  • .75 oz Fresh orange juice

Add all the ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

trytryagainBlood and Sand. What are two things I’d rather not drink, Alex? I do realize we have had drinks called a Monkey Gland and Horse’s Neck but this one may take the cake for most peculiar name. Of course David has already explained the name is less description than connection.

The use of Scotch is appreciated, no matter what the name. I keep a few different bottles of Scotch in the house for friends who visit, but have never used it successfully in a cocktail. This drink, with its sweet Cherry Heering, sweet Vermouth and fresh squeezed orange comes as close to success as I think you can get though. The Scotch hides in the background, letting the cherry taste come forward. The layers of sweet also mask the barley liquor, but to an extent that you wonder why a dry vermouth or even the Benedictine substitute from last week isn’t used. I have to imagine that true Scotch drinkers would be offended, even if they wouldn’t be mixing a Scotch cocktail in the first place.

This is also another example of the beneficial use of fresh over bottled. I made the drink for neighbors over the weekend and since I was making more than one, I squeezed fresh oranges. When it came time for the picture, though, I used bottled orange juice and result was a cloudier, thicker and sweeter drink. If you are going to try this one, don’t be lazy like I was. Squeeze away. The difference is noticeable.

Jonathan’s take: There aren’t many cocktails using Scotch and this one works, but I may try some less sweet variations.

David’s Take: The scotch was certainly disguised—and maybe that’s the point—but no flavor seemed that prominent to me. I’ll keep searching for an effective scotch cocktail.

Next week (Proposed by Jonathan):

Winter has hardly gotten started and I am already tired of it. I need some spring, some summer and some warm sun. Since none of that is going to happen soon, I think we need to go tropical next week. Years ago we visited the home of Pusser’s rum in the British Virgin Islands. One of their signature drinks is the Painkiller and if we can’t go back to Tortola the least we can do is try to recreate that most descriptive cocktail.

 

 

The Last Word

this oneProposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof features a bar moment where one patron asks another, “What is that you’re drinking?” His answer: “”Chartreuse, the only liqueur so good they named a color after it.”

I confess my chief interest in The Last Word was Chartreuse. As a visual artist, I’m fascinated with color, and chartreuse is one of my favorites, a slightly gray green, but spring green not evergreen or hunter. The idea that a color comes from liqueur intrigued me, as did its history, which goes back to a secret recipe of 130 herbs, plants, and flowers given to Carthusian Monks in 1605. Chartreuse appeared commercially in 1764, which is, oh, only 250 years ago.

But, I confess, my choice was self-indulgent and not terribly considerate because, first, my brother Jonathan is color-blind (and who knows how he sees chartreuse) and second, this shit is expensive! When I visited the liquor store to buy it, I immediately emailed my brother with an apology, which I’ll make again publically now.

Sorry Jonathan, I wish I’d looked at the price before choosing it.

At least this cocktailian adventure has history to recommend it. The Last Word is a drink with recent antiquity too, invented during prohibition in Detroit, the entry point for much of the Midwest’s bootlegging—Canada was, as always, much more sensible during those years—and, at first, the drink enjoyed considerable popularity.

The Last Word largely disappeared, however, until returning in Seattle, at the Zig-Zag Café when bartender Murray Stenson found it in Bottoms Up! Ted Saucier’s 1951 bar guide. Possibly the color recommended it most, as the combination of lime and Chartreuse is a charmingly watery green, in evening light almost luminescent. Chartreuse, after all, is the drink of vampires and turns their eyes a lurid shade.

You hear me. I’m trying to sell it, working to justify the expense and trouble. Maybe I shouldn’t try so hard…

So here’s the recipe:

  • 3/4 ounce gin
  • 3/4 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
  • 3/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
  • 3/4 ounce green Chartreuse

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Fill with ice, and shake briskly for 10 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

colorHere’s Jonathan’s Review:

The laws that govern alcohol sales in North Carolina are bizarre to say the least. First, there are still plenty of dry (no sales of alcohol whatsoever) cities and counties. Even some counties that are fairly urban are still dry with sales of any type of spirit permitted only within the cities. On-premise sales typically include beer, wine and liquor, though not always all of them. Off-premise sales allow beer and wine to be purchased from private stores while hard liquor must be obtained in state owned ABC stores.

The fun part used to be the customer service philosophy of those state run stores. When I was first of legal age, shopping for alcohol was an uncomfortable experience. The workers were trained, or so it seemed, to bring an enforcement and puritanical attitude that asked the unspoken questions “Are you old enough and do you really need that demon alcohol?” That attitude, luckily, has changed and workers are now helpful and friendly although they are still limited in the information they provide.

Why is this important? Depending on the drink and its ingredients, I try to decide if the nearby ABC store or the more helpful SC stores are my best bet. The only part of this cocktail that I did not have was the proprietal Chartreuse, so I decided that there was no need for advice nor a real cost advantage to going south. The last part, of course, based on an assumption that the 3 monks who hold the secret recipe for Chartreuse are also hard and fast capitalists who make you pay for that closely held information. Boy was I right on that one.

David compared this drink in his introduction to the Aviation. That is a fair comparison, I think, with one exception – I really liked this one. The first part that is similar to the Aviation is the amount of alcohol in the drink. The Chartreuse by itself is higher proof than the gin, and the only non-alcoholic part of the mix is the lime. The other part that is reminiscent is the odd color. The mix of chartreuse and the deep red of the maraschino give this cocktail an odd pomegranate color, or so my more color adept wife tells me. The biggest difference was the background herbal flavors of both the liqueur and the gin which mixed perfectly. The citrus of the lime, and oil from the garnish, was a nice counterpoint to that. Add in a beautiful spring day, and this was a relaxing aperitif to sip the afternoon away.

Jonathan’s take: The color and herbal depth made this different and unique. This one was worth the monk-determined value.

David’s Take: Pleasure mixed with guilt—I guess pleasure wins. As precious as Chartreuse is, it tastes good. Can’t help scratching my head over our two drinks’ color difference… but what else is new?

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

I feel the need for a drink that celebrates spring and the approaching warmth of summer. Of course, I also feel the need to use my newly acquired Chartreuse. There are recipes for Chartreuse and tonic, but since the liqueur goes so well with gin and lime, I am proposing that we make a standard gin and tonic but split the gin with an equal amount of Chartreuse. Add some mint leaves and celebrate.