Bobby Burns

BB4Proposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

“Hey, where have you been?” an imagined reader may be crying. For the first time since starting this blog, Jonathan and I took an unanticipated stop. We’re both terribly busy and, when illness intervenes or anything surprising, it’s tough to find the time to make a cocktail. Sad but true. So we’re going to be scaling back, offering our cocktailian journey every other week rather than every week.

Policy announcement passed, onto this week’s drink…

Robert Burns (1759–96) is variously known as as Robbie Burns, Rabbie Burns, Scotland’s Favorite Son, the Ploughman Poet, Robden of Solway Firth, the Bard of Ayrshire and, simply, “The Bard” but not, anywhere I can find, “Bobby Burns.” He is THE Scottish poet, an early practitioner of Romanticism, a general aesthetic hero in his homeland, William Wallace with a quill.

A large portion of Burns’ fame springs from his writing in Scots vernacular as English overtook his nation. Though he was the son of a tenant farmer, a tenant farmer himself, and not a college graduate, he rose to prominence in his own lifetime. “I am in a fair way of becoming as eminent as… to see my birthday,” he wrote, “inserted among the wonderful events in the Poor Robin’s and Aberdeen Almanacks…. and by all probability I shall soon be the tenth Worthy, and the eighth Wise Man, of the world.”

Okay, I’m not sure he ever made those books and those lists I never I heard of, but he is famous enough to have a cocktail named after him.

Many Americans know Burns (without really knowing him) because they sing his lyrics to Auld Lang Syne each New Year’s Eve or because they’ve heard a few lines from “A Red, Red Rose.” Even though I have an undergraduate and graduate degree in literature, I don’t know his work that well either. I just like cocktails with literary names.

My true attraction to this week’s drink, however, was the main spirit Scotch. Like Jonathan, I have some unfortunate memories of encountering it and some deep-seated need to rehabilitate it. How can any decent cocktailian, really, sidestep one of the chief whiskeys and the favorite of so many connoisseurs?

That would be like, well, dissing a major poet of Scotland.

My hope for the Bobby Burns hinges on its other ingredients, Benedictine and Sweet Vermouth. The drink from this blog that has come closest to winning me over to Scotch was, after all, another sweet entry, the Rusty Nail. That, however, was Scotch overkill, as it combines Scotch and Drambuie, Scotch liqueur. The Bobby Burns promises something like the Vieux Carré, a Manhattan style concoction. There’s no fruit—so no distraction from the spirits—but Scotch purists probably oppose even this much adulteration.

2 oz. Highland malt scotch
3/4 oz. sweet vermouth
1/2 oz. Bénédictine

Stir ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and strain into a chilled glass.

The Bobby Burns is the creation of Dale DeGroff, author of The Essential Cocktail and one of the favorites of this blog. For my version, I chose Glenmorangie, a reasonably priced single-malt that, as the picture indicates, even came with two nifty glasses. Right now, some reader is probably saying, “Hey, those glasses are for Scotch, not some wifty sweet drink” or, alternately, “Hey, what do you work for Glenmorangie, or what?” I’ll accept either insult if, at long last, I’ve found a palatable use for Scotland’s most famous export.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

bobbyjbmIn the last drink review David quoted Stephen Dedalus and for this drink he proposed one (purportedly) named for the Ploughman Poet, Robert Burns. I sense that I have exited the cocktail blog world and entered an English literature course. Of course he says he was looking for a successful Scotch based cocktail, but that is too simple.

Our close followers probably noticed we missed a week. That was my fault. Between a bad cold and work obligations, I never had a night when I could, or wanted to, try the cocktail or any alcohol at all. There are those that claim a medicinal benefit to liquors. In fact it kept the distilling industry alive during prohibition to some extent. I even cited that medicinal claim at one point when I noted that our Dad had a sore throat/cold cure that consisted of bourbon, honey, lemon juice and occasionally onion. I still think that was to induce his whining children to fall asleep and have never looked to spirits for their curative properties. The end result was that it took me two weeks to try the Bobby Burns and any opinion I express should be couched in terms of still limited tasting abilities.

Scotch based drinks are a short list and I think I have an idea why. Scotch is very assertive and doesn’t play well with others. There was hope though as this mix with sweet Vermouth and Benedictine had more promise than the others we have tried.

I used a blended Highland Scotch, Dewar’s, to try and tamp down the assertiveness. It still overcame the sweetness and herbal tones of the other additions. If you like Scotch, my guess is that those additions would be unwanted distractions and if you do not favor Scotch they are not enough. It was better than any Scotch drink we have tried, which is saying something, but my recommendation would still be to leave the Scotch neat, on ice, or alone.

Jonathan’s take: The Bobby Burns is a lovely Fall color but Scotch was not the medicine I needed.

David’s take: Maybe Scotch is the loner of the spirits.

Next Week (Proposed by Jonathan):

I love Fall which should be apparent from my past drink selections (and that I have said that before). My love does not include pumpkin beers or the abominations that are committed in the world of coffee concoctions, but the rest of the tastes of the season are great. And what says Fall more than Better Homes & Gardens? I am going back to that source for the Grand Autumn cocktail. Made with rye whiskey, St. Germain, lime juice and ginger beer, I hope that it can be enjoyed on a crisp October evening with nice fire in my new fire pit.

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.