Salty Dog

Salty DogProposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

My daughter tells me that grapefruit juice increases the potency of alcohol. I can’t find any proof of that online, but I did run into how scientists originally stumbled on grapefruit juice’s affect on many (and I mean many) other drugs. Researchers testing alcohol’s interaction with drugs used grapefruit juice because, of all fruit juices, it hides alcohol’s taste best. Eureka, lo and behold, they discovered their flavoring agent interacted more.

It all has to do with the hepatic and intestinal enzyme cytochrome P450 isoform CYP3A4, of course.

I, naturally, am more interested in the other part of the story, that grapefruit juice is an effective vehicle for spirits… if you define “effective” as masking its taste. That may be so, but we’ve tried grapefruit based drinks before on this blog (Toast of the Town, The Hemingway Daiquiri), and I’ve only noticed that grapefruit juice tastes good.

The Salty Dog is another version of the Greyhound, which is simply ice, grapefruit juice, and vodka or gin. That cocktail first appears in The Savoy Cocktail Book by Harry Craddock. He, however, just gets credit for naming the drink, as he refers to it as “a variation of the Grapefruit Cocktail.” Later, Harper’s Magazine attached that name to the bus line, describing it, apparently, as the favorite libation of people who hang out in bus terminal restaurants. Who knew?

And who knows why someone thought to add salt to the rim of the glass, but, as with a margarita, the salinity may be an effort to balance the sweetness of the juice. Personally, I thought it’d be fun to try another sweet and salty drink.

As I mentioned in proposing this drink, I like gin (like my brother), but many of the recipes for the Salty Dog call for vodka instead. I tried one with each spirit. Apparently many of the older recipes now using vodka—especially ones containing juice—originally called for gin and, as with this recipe, the gin botanicals echo the grapefruit. Some gin preparations, after all, include dried grapefruit peel.

The recipe is quite simple. This version makes two:

Coarse kosher salt

Ice cubes

1/2 cup vodka or gin

3/4 cup fresh grapefruit juice

Pour coarse salt onto small plate. Moisten rims of 2 highball glasses. Gently dip rims into salt to coat lightly. Fill glasses with ice cubes. Pour 1/4 cup vodka over ice in each glass. Divide grapefruit juice between glasses and serve.

I prefer to believe grapefruit juice enhances the gin’s flavor but perhaps I’m deceived. I’ll let my brother decide.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

IMG_0033We have pulled back the curtain a couple of times so the following is no surprise, but is important to my review. David and I rarely communicate about what we are going to write. The roles are well defined—one proposes then introduces, the other reviews typically with some context. My role this week was to try the drink and provide my impression.

Sometimes our write-up has eerie similarity. For instance, in the Moving Sale entry we both, separately, identified three liqueurs as dispensable. The fact that they were the same three could be a coincidence, a statement about those liqueurs, or genetics. I choose the latter, but you can take your pick.

All of this is important because there is a chance that his write up and my review may overlap again this week. I cannot read about, think about or do anything with this drink without starting to hum “…let me be your salty dog” from the Salty Dog Blues. It has nothing to do with the drink, it is simply an association with the name.

The funny thing about the Salty Dog Blues is that there is as much debate about what “salty dog” means as there is about cocktail origins. Some sources use the name just as you would “old salt” to refer to an experienced sailor, but most provide a sexual context similar to “back door man” which is an illicit lover. That is more amusing when you consider that my other association with the song is the Andy Griffith Show and the fictional Darlings (the real life bluegrass group The Dillards with some added actors like Denver Pyle). The Darlings would show up in Mayberry, along with Ernest T. Bass typically, and Andy would end up jamming with them. And if you don’t think Andy was really playing, you don’t know that old Ange. Please take the time to pull up Salty Dog Blues on youtube so you can watch The Darlings and Andy. There is also a Flogging Molly song called Salty Dog which is excellent, but has more to do with pirates, and probably more in common with this drink. Pull that one up too.

I tried a couple of different mixes using the gins shown in my picture. And as an aside, I am trying to get an underwriter for this blog and our purchases even if Cardinal Gin is coincidentally a fantastic choice for the cocktail. Both used 2:1 grapefruit to gin, but one was fresh squeezed fruit and white gin and the other bottled, and sweeter, grapefruit juice with barrel rested gin. The former was fresh and very good but also tart to the point that one was plenty. The latter was closer to a Screwdriver with a little more sweetness and depth thanks to the flavorful gin. If I was going to drink more than one the latter would be the choice.

Jonathan’s take: Denver Pyle always got the Darlings song started. His intro for the Salty Dog Blues goes great with this drink: “That’s her. Just jump in and hang on!”

David’s Take: Pleasant. The salt gets to be a little much, though. In the end, I found myself avoiding the salty rim rather than seeking it.

Next week (Proposed By Jonathan):

We have a surprise for blog readers, and I won’t reveal it yet. I will say that the drink will be made with an Amer Picon that David has concocted. Not sure on what the specific cocktail will be, or what they will be, but I am sure that the pictures will be good.

The Toast of the Town

Proposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

Toast3The proposal last week noted that we have not tried a cocktail with Scotch. There are classic cocktails like the Rob Roy or Blood and Sand, but don’t seem to be nearly as many variations with Scotch as there are with other whisky (or whiskey). On the other hand, Scotch whisky can vary by being single malt, single grain, blended and all of that with different distilleries by region. The single malt is simply water and malted barley, while the single grain, oddly, can use other grains but is made at a single distillery. The blends make this more complex by blending more than one single malt, more than one single grain, or single malt with single grain.

Once a neophyte grasps that, and the taste variations that come along with it, there are the recognized regions and the differences that brings. The regions are Speyside, Cambeltown, Islay, Lowland and the Highlands. One of the things I find most peculiar is that while Scotland may be an island itself, it has small islands on which they make Scotch. That seems like a region too, but those are included in the Highlands region. Islands are highlands? Of course they are.

Not complicated enough yet? Scotch must be aged in oak casks for at least 3 years to meet requirements but can be, and is, aged much longer to mellow, smooth and increase the complexity of taste. Someone could, and no doubt has, spend their lifetime taste testing all the single malts, single grains, the blends derived from them, and the aged Scotches. I know that I have few friends who would happily volunteer for that task.

The cocktail this week is a relatively new one created by Mike Ryan at Sable Kitchen & Bar in Chicago. It is called the Talk of the Town and I found it in the e-book Speakeasy Cocktails. It uses a blended Scotch from the Famous Grouse family called Black Grouse. Black grouse is described as being smoky and smooth which was appealing as a contrast to the standard sweet and sour (citrus) that make up so many cocktails.

2 ounce Black Grouse blended Scotch

.5 ounce fresh grapefruit juiced

.5 ounce fresh lemon juice

.75 ounce honey syrup (simple syrup made with honey instead of sugar)

Mix all ingredients in a shaker with ice, shake and strain into a coupe or martini glass.

In the proposal I suggested that David may want to go to Sable to try this drink. Interesting that, as David notes, it doesn’t appear on the menu any longer. Not sure this is a verdict on the cocktail, or a comment on the cocktail bar that is constantly mixing and re-mixing to find new combinations.

Here’s David’s Review:Toast 2

I’m compiling a list of bars and restaurants I’d like to visit when my brother comes to Chicago. If you were to arrive here on or around St. Patrick’s Day or the evening of some post-season game, you might think Chicagoans are all nomadic drunks, but we have some sophisticated drinkers too. We don’t all have mustaches, drink PBR, and bray about “Da Bearrs.” Just about every eatery on my list features a cocktail special to that place and—as a bonus—many serve good food.

So I was happy to visit The Sable Kitchen and Bar, one of the dim minimalist, black-furnished, in-the-know spots that seem to appear on every corner inside the loop. Perhaps you have them in your city too—this one had an eight-foot long fireplace filled with a video screen displaying flames. Because it was 1° F the night my wife and I visited, we’d have liked a real flame more, still I’m not making fun. One of the most wonderful aspects of living in Chicago is its celebration of, well, celebrations. Any excuse for a libation will do. Certainly a cold night will do.

But enough civic pride. When we arrived at The Sable, I explained we were on a mission—I might have said… “from Gawd” in that Blues Brothers way, but everyone has heard that around here so it’s understood. The cocktail menu rebuffed us. It didn’t include The Talk of the Town, but our waiter carried the recipe off, explaining their bartenders could make anything.

He returned with the drink and news—they knew the drink after all, as “The Toast of the Town,” and it had appeared on some previous incarnation of their cocktail menu. The drink I tasted, however, seemed a little cobbled together. The recipe calls for honey simple syrup, and this version seemed to have a too-generous squirt of honey in it. Too sweet and nearly hiding the Scotch, for which I’d longed.

Fortunately, he’d brought just one, and, by the time my wife’s arrived, the bartender had evolved—or changed—and I understood how this cocktail works. Though I hadn’t had the chance to try Black Grouse by itself, it’d been advertised as a peaty spirit, and the citrus and honey served to blunt, without eradicating, the somewhat leathery taste of the Scotch. Her drink was lovely, and I wanted to steal it.

We have an Islay Scotch at home. It comes from an earlier drink recipe, but we only use it now to illustrate to guests how strange and “challenging” a spirit can sometimes be. I’ve been trying to rehabilitate Scotch ever since that unfortunate evening before I participated with my fiddler college roommate in a reenactment of the Battle of the Greensboro Courthouse (don’t ask), but I’ve been unable. Now, finally, I feel I’m making progress. Why shouldn’t I like Scotch, why shouldn’t it go with citrus and honey and whatever else, why shouldn’t I join the ranks of those in Chicago and elsewhere who find Scotch the most subtle spirit, a gift of the Celtic gods?

David’s Take: Scotch purists would say any mixed drink is an unjust adulteration of the perfected moderated spirit, but, properly executed, this drink was delicious.

Jonathan’s take: The smokiness that seemed so inviting may be the drawback to this. The initial taste is blended and wonderful, but the peat lingers at the finish.

Next week (proposed by David):

Oddly, here in Chicago we’ve been having Manhattan week (of 14 days, apparently… see earlier comments about Chicago) with assorted restaurants offering their own variations. Suddenly I wondered, “How have we missed trying such a classic?” I thought it might be fun to invite Jonathan to try the traditional type—or one of those variations—while I try another version. So let’s hop Southwestern to LaGuardia and New York to try a Manhattan.