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.

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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.