Hits, Misses, and Otherwise

It's water... really.

It’s water… really.

In case you haven’t noticed, we’ve received a few wonderful comments in the last couple of weeks responding to our request for favorites from our year of cocktailianism. If you want to contribute, please comment on THIS post. We would love to hear from you. In the meantime, here are our lists of hits and misses.

David:

Our task this week is to identify drinks that pleased us and those that… well, then it gets complicated. I thought of many methods of approaching this assignment but finally decided on three categories—the discoveries, the stalwarts, and the duds.

Some of the proposed drinks, I already knew I liked—the Mint Julep, for instance, has always been a favorite of mine—and others like the Manhattan, LiberteaVieux Carré or the Horse’s Neck couldn’t go wrong because they combined ingredients that, separately, were already favorites. Jonathan will take his own course, but the only feasible method of deciding, for me, was to settle on cocktails that surprised me and cocktails that horrified me. Everything else was in-between.

In-between isn’t so bad. In another rating system, these cocktails might be called “honorable mentions.” They were good either because they’re classics or because they couldn’t go wrong. I’ve mentioned the Mint Julep, which carried so many positive memories it’s bound to be freighted with joy, but also Long Island Ice Tea, which I’d never tried but readily understood. Others, like the French 75 and Fall Gimlet, seemed great combinations, designed to assemble wonderful ingredients in something equal, if not greater, than their parts.

I also enjoyed the Sazerac, but maybe that was because my wife left just as I ‘d finished making two and so I was forced—forced!—to consume both.

The duds weren’t hard to choose because, invariably, they failed the ultimate test—I regretted the expense and trouble of making them. In this category are the Tom and Jerry (it seemed altogether too dense, both in conception and texture), the Aviation (my wife likes them and a colleague at school considers it his favorite cocktail, but the taste just seems bizarre to me), and Bloody Marys (maybe I’m just waiting for a good version, but, you know, I really don’t like tomato juice finally).

The worst of the worst? That would be the Blue Sky Cocktail (note to self: never choose a mixed drink for its color) and the Negroni (Campari really is wretched as far as I’m concerned, more lurid and bittter even than Malört—just be grateful you’ve been spared that).

Which leaves only reporting the best (IMHO).

As I said in my lessons of last week, there’s no accounting for matters of taste. My final selections arise from very personal and no doubt idiosyncratic preferences, but I’ll chose, in a sort of order, fifth to first: the Bengali Gimlet (because I’d never thought a cocktail could be so complex and distinctive), the Tabernacle Crush (because, more than any other cocktail we tasted, it seems most immediate and fresh), the Tallulah (because, while I’m sure I’d never have the courage to try something so complicated again, it really does speak to a cocktail as evocative of memory and experience, the Caipirinha de Uva (because, while it seemed exotic, it also seemed an old friend), and the La Marque (because my brother invented it so expertly… and how could I help being proud of him?).

Give me another week, and I might make new lists. Nonetheless, I stand by my choices… for another year, at least.

Empties

Empties… the inevitable result

Jonathan:

Who knew how hard this would be? The first challenge is going back and looking at each week’s cocktail. And of course, the second is trying to remember the specifics about those drinks. I finally decided to create a list labeled with the headings great, good, okay and bad. Once I had placed the sampled concoctions in those categories, it should have been easy to narrow from there. Oh well, wrong again

It should be apparent that, at least in my opinion, there are drinks that fit occasions, times and situations. One drink may be great as part of a meal, while another lends itself to quiet reflection and relaxation. As a result, I hate to rank the top five so I will simply say these are the ties for top spot

Libertea. This beverage is an excellent mix of herb, citrus, tea and bourbon flavors. The week we tried it, I made a mint version to go along with the recipe’s basil version but the recipe creators had made the correct choice with basil. One of the best parts of this cocktail is that it is made in a large batch, steeped tea first, and lends itself to gatherings (think tailgate parties because I am) and lasts a while in the fridge. Perfect for the neighbors who like to try the weekly creations but can’t make it every week.

French 75. This probably would not have made the list if I had not used the right sparkling wine. Early on in the blog, I had made a cocktail that called for white wine and made a very bad choice on type. With the French 75 I used a Cava and it was perfect. The only drawback is that once you open a bottle of bubbly you need to use it all so this drink demands you invite friends to enjoy it with you. Never mind, that’s not a drawback.

Horse’s Neck. The second drink of the series, this is a go-to cocktail now. It could hardly be more simple with bourbon, ginger ale, angostura bitters and lemon peel but the taste is complex and satisfying. The recipe requires a long strip of lemon peel for the name sake “neck” but a simple peel works just as well. Obviously, the better the ginger ale the better the drink.

Vieux Carré. David and I are of Acadian descent on the maternal line. If fact, our Mother grew up speaking as much, or perhaps more, in French than she did in English. You would think, based on that, it would be no problem for me to pronounce the name of this classic. Not so. I love the drink and all its complexities and nuances but for the life of me I can’t say it correctly in classic French or in the more apt New Orleans fashion. That won’t stop me from ordering one though, even if I have to say it over and over.

Hemingway Daiquiri. Last week, I said one of the things I have learned is that the classic sour cocktail (sweet, sour and spirit) is almost always pleasing to me. The Hemingway Daiquiri is a nice twist in that it uses maraschino liqueur for the sweet element and a mix of grapefruit and lime for the sour. Hemingway was a well-known imbiber and so far everything we have tried that was listed as one of his favorites has been worth it.

There a lot of other drinks that almost made the list. Some of them may have been tried in the wrong place or at the wrong time or else they would have been described above. David’s creation of The Pear Culture is one of those. We tried it in the Fall, which was the right time, but it needed a quieter place to enjoy the interesting mix of flavors. Another is the Vesper which begged for a relaxing evening and cooling sea breezes, at least in my mind. That could have been because it was one of the more stout mixes that we have tried and demanded slow, patient sipping.

The misses were few and far between thankfully. The common element for me seems to be oddly colored liqueurs – crème de menthe, blue curacao, crème de violette and Campari among those. Neither my wife nor I could, or would, finish the Greenback which is the best example of drink that did not look or taste appetizing. The Aviation had one of the best back stories and reasons why it was proposed. Added to that was the idea of Crème de Violette which seemed to be just the exotic ingredient that we were seeking in this quest. Unfortunately, the result was odd, the flavors conflicting and the color off putting.

David is much more adventurous in his suggestions and inspirations than I am, but he also brought us the Cinquecento and Blue Sky and those fall squarely on the never again list too. My greatest misses have used Scotch as the primary spirit. Maybe I picked the wrong Scotch or maybe Scotch should be enjoyed neat, but either way the Toast of the Town and classic Rusty Nail didn’t move me or make me want another.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

How can we be partially of French Canadian descent (the Acadian and Montreal connection) and not have tried Canadian Rye? La Belle Quebec uses Canadian whisky, brandy, cherry brandy, lemon juice and sugar. I sure hope I don’t kick off the second year with a dud.

The Vieux Carré

VieuxJBMProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

”Take this book as a testament to the fact that we are ready to endure all the little factoids, anecdotes and stories that may come with the drinks – as long as the drinks keep coming.”

That is what my sons, David and Josh, inscribed in the front cover of the Ted Haigh book Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails when they gave it to me as a birthday present. It seems fitting then that for the week of Father’s Day our cocktail should be one of the forgotten recipes from that book, the Vieux Carré. Of course in the theme of quibbles about invention and ingredients, neither of which come into question with this drink, I would suggest it is not so forgotten after all. Nor should it be.

The  Vieux Carré was created in New Orleans and the name derived from there. It is confidently credited to Walter Bergeron a bartender at the Monteleone Hotel. The name is obviously French and refers to the French Quarter, or more specifically the “Old Square” around which the French Quarter district grew. The general makeup is equal parts of three spirits with the addition of a liqueur accent and bitters, much as is found in the New Orleans inspired Sazerac. The recipe hardly differs from one version to another:

1 ounce rye whiskey
1 ounce cognac
1 ounce sweet vermouth
½ teaspoon Benedictine
2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters

Mix all of the above, shake with ice and strain into a coupe to serve neat or into an old fashioned glass to serve with ice (some versions specify one very large square of ice). Garnish with a lemon twist.

It is certainly not as well-known as other classic drinks using bitters such as an Old Fashioned, Manhattan or the aforementioned Sazerac, but the Vieux Carre’ is hardly forgotten. When I was considering rye whiskey drinks, it came up quite often on-line and in other books I have accumulated. It would be a good test to walk into a cocktail bar and order one to see what the reaction would be. Or even better, head to the Old Square, find some place that makes more than Hurricanes and seek one out. After trying them this week, I would suggest that in either scenario it will be well worth it.

vcHere’s David’s Review:

My track record should tell you I’d enjoy this drink. The Old Fashioned, Manhattan, Sazerac and De La Louisiane should tell you that. Plus it’s Father’s Day, which for some folks probably calls for something strong. When I served this drink at a cocktail party we held this week, one of the guests offered the review, “It’s all alcohol.”

Recipes that even out the parts seem to galvanize the flavors and, despite being all alcohol, this cocktail wasn’t at all hard to drink. I had it out a couple of weeks ago when we were celebrating my wife’s birthday, and that version seemed a little different to me—not quite as sweet and somehow heavier on the rye. This version, howeve, hits me in layers, first the rye, then the cognac, and finally the sweet vermouth. The Benedictine was in there too somewhere, but I was as sparing with it as the recipe suggested and I barely noticed it—it was one ingredient that seemed too subtle for my palate, except to add a little more sweetness.

Some of the guests at my party found the drink too sweet, and, if I had one suggestion it would be to choose the cognac wisely. Some cognacs have a sugary taste and heavier dose of grapey-ness, and, for a cocktail like this one, it seems important to go for more dry cognac and give the rye gets a chance to stand in the foreground.

David’s Take: I don’t think I’ll wait until next Father’s Day to have another.

Jonathan’s Take: Be sparing with the Benedictine, but otherwise try this cocktail. It could become your classic.

Next Week (proposed by David):

I’m at a writing conference this week and have heard repeatedly that it’s all about taking risks. When it comes to cocktails, some of the biggest risks are taking an ingredient we already have (and may not have liked) and trying to rehabilitate it. That’s why I’m proposing a Greenback cocktail for next week. The gin and lemon are safe enough, but the other two ingredients are creme de menthe and absinthe. According to Anvil in Houston it’s a classic. We’ll see.

The De La Louisiane

Proposed by: David20131013_174451

Reviewed by: Jonathan

The De La Louisiane cocktail served as the signature drink of the Restaurant de la Louisiane, once described as “the rendezvous of those who appreciate the best in Creole cuisine.” The recipe might have disappeared from cocktailian lore if not for Stanley Clisby Arthur’s Famous New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix ‘Em, published in 1937.

I’m sure that makes me sound quite savvy, but I got it all off the web. For a cocktail that reportedly—and reportedly and reportedly—nearly disappeared from the earth, it sure is everywhere in cyberspace.

Truth is, I chose this cocktail because I have all the ingredients and, knowing how busy weekends are, hoped for something a little easier than usual. Silly me, I didn’t read the recipe carefully enough, as it called for a brandied cherry garnish. One can’t simply buy brandied cherries (one must make them) and, because it’s October, you won’t find many cherries about. My wife and I found some maraschino cherries—not the lurid, Campari colored ones, but really dark ones—and I also made some brandied figs, which I thought might make a good substitute.

This is a potent drink that calls for equal parts of its main ingredients:

photo-41¾ oz. Rye

¾ oz. Sweet Vermouth

¾ oz. Benedictine

a dash of Peychaud Bitters

a dash of Absinthe (or substitute—many asked for Herbsainte)

Our savvy readers may recognize this drink as similar to the Sazarac, sharing as it does New Orleans and two ingredients (rye and absinthe), but the absinthe is much more subtle in the De La Louisiane, a shade instead of a shadow, and the sweetness provided by Benedictine is botanical, not neutral like the simple syrup in a Sazarac.

Steve&LoriMy wife and I were headed to a house warming and invited a couple of friends to share the De Le Louisiane with us as part of what—my guest told me—F. Scott Fitzgerald would call “A Dressing Drink” and my children would call “Pre-gaming.” Whatever you want to call the event, it was fun to have company in our weekly cocktailian adventure.

Here’s Jonathan’s review:

This theme has come up a number of times already – that many of these cocktails are situation and setting appropriate. Obviously, the aperitif and digestif are intended for before and after dinner respectively but we have also proposed drinks suitable for a summer evening, sitting beachside and in the case of this week’s drink and the Sazerac for quietly sipping at a dark bar or by the fire.

Certainly an enhanced experience based on setting is not exclusive to cocktails. This week marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of Giuseppe Verdi. I heard a story on NPR marking the date and talking about his many great operas. I have never fully appreciated opera, but as they played pieces it was not a stretch to think that sitting in an ornate theatre, or sipping a simple wine in Italy, the music would be transcendent.

The La Louisiane Cocktail offered a broader range of tastes than the Sazerac to which it is so similar. In particular, the interplay between the herbal Benedictine, the sweet vermouth and the rye whiskey was noticeable and welcome. It is odd, considering that licorice is not a favored taste for me, that the background absinthe was also very much forward in this cocktail and really added to it. I took the opportunity this week to make my own brandied cherries to use as a garnish. Not sure they added to the drink, but it was a nice snack at the end.

Jonathan’s take: Cocktails like these make me feel like warming my feet by a fire and singing like Robert Goulet. Excuse me while I do just that.

David’s Take: A truly enjoyable cocktail–perhaps it was the company, but this drink seemed a great start to any evening.

Next week (Proposed by Jonathan):

The time has come in this project to propose a drink of my own creation. We started with the nostalgic Tallulah, someone else’s nostalgia, and my proposal will reach back to a non-alcoholic drink from childhood. The only hint I’ll give is that anyone wishing to try it should make a batch of homemade grenadine this week.

The Sazerac

Proposed by: David-1

Reviewed by: Jonathan

Okay, I probably should have known that when my college-age son suggests a drink, it will knock me on my ass. A beer drinker usually, I’m unaccustomed to anything as potent as a Sazerac. Mind you, I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy it, just that the Mad Men generation must be much more inured to inebriation and much more accustomed to the fundamental shift in attitude accompanying such a drink.

The recipe is simple, easy enough to describe:

2 oz. Rye

dash Angostura bitters

dash Peychaud’s bitters

Absinthe (or anise substitute)

simple syrup (or sugar cube)

lemon twist

Prepare two highball glasses. Chill the first (one recipe suggested filling it with ice water in preparation). In the second highball glass, muddle a sugar cube with a little water or add simple syrup, then combine the ice with rye and bitters. Take the chilled glass and, pouring out the ice water (if that was your method) swirl the absinthe to coat the glass. Discard excess. Rub the lemon peel on the edge of the absinthe glass and add it to the bottom. Then strain the contents of the rye glass into the absinthed glass, leaving ice behind.

The end result is lovely, golden and inviting. I added a sugar cube to the bottom of the glass, perhaps gilding the lily, but the added sweetness seemed much welcomed, especially with the edgy taste of the 95% rye I chose. Something exotic lies behind this drink, a licorice undertone that marks it as celebratory, colorful. I enjoyed it.

Here’s Jonathan’s review:

It’s been my experience that when something is considered a “classic” there’s good reason for it. Suggesting that it might, in fact, be the first true cocktail gives this drink a lot of reputation to which it must live up. I probably added a bit of importance by making the taste testing a group affair at a gathering of four couples. We are long-time friends and had gotten together to celebrate each couple being married in 1988 and marking (or will be) a 25th anniversary this year.

The four men in the group are made up of two predominant beer drinkers and two Scotch drinkers. The Sazerac is a strong drink the bite of which is not lessened by the addition of simple syrup (I used a brown sugar simple syrup for this drink) or the twist of lemon. The Scotch drinkers were more inclined to the taste even if the distilled grain of choice was rye instead of barley, and decided, as long as I was in charge of the making, they would be happy to do the drinking. The beer drinkers (like David, that would describe me) sipped on their drinks much longer. That could be a sign that we were discriminating and savoring, but it also could be interpreted that this one may be too sophisticated for us. I don’t want to give our wives short shrift. They tried the drink also, but there was no great clamor for me whip up some more for them.

x
Two things to add about Absinthe. Considering the addition to the drink is just a swirl in a cold glass and then pouring the rest out, it is very distinctive. The other is that, now that I have a whole bottle of the stuff, I would welcome suggestions as to what I should do with the rest. Okay three things really: celebrating multiple 25th anniversaries leaves the pun “absinthe makes the heart grow fonder” impossible to leave unsaid.

Jonathan’s take: I will try it again, if for no other reason than to use the absinthe, but, unless I find myself in New Orleans, probably would never order it.

David’s take: I’m not sure I’d order this drink too often. As much as I enjoyed the Sazerac, it’s a little like a martini to me, too much for the humble mind of this cocktailian.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

Someone has to end the brown liquor theme and I am going to do it. I’m also breaking from the classics theme and suggesting a variation on the Mojito. The Pink Mojito recipe I have found falls squarely into the trendy category and seems like a good choice for the end of summer that Labor Day marks.