Sidecar

sidecar-jmProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

It is a little hard to believe that there are any classics left for us to try. When you study cocktails—an exaggeration of the idea of “study” if ever there was one—it is hard to believe there are so many cocktails available to try in general.

The Sidecar has the typical disputed history, but what is not in dispute is its origin. This is a drink that derives from the brandy crusta. David Wondrich (yes that guy again) notes the crusta as the genesis of citrus in a cocktail. A New Orleans bartender, Joseph Santini, created the brandy crusta at the New Orleans City Exchange bar in the 1850’s. The recipes for these early drinks are complicated by ingredients (gum syrup), garnishes (half a lemon peel) and glassware (a wine glass that isn’t what most would call a wine glass) that need interpretation. Here’s the gist of the crusta after Wondrich finished interpreting:

2 ounces brandy,

1/2 teaspoon curaçao,

1 teaspoon lemon juice

2 dashes bitters.

Take a wine glass, coat the rim in fine sugar, add the peel of half a lemon, mix all the ingredients in a tumbler with ice then strain into the glass.

It is easy enough to see how the Sidecar evolved from the crusta, but the question remains: who did it and where did the name come from? One story traces the drink to the now familiar, at least to discerning readers, Harry’s New York Bar in Paris. Sometime after World War I an American serviceman, who very responsibly caught a ride to the bar in a motorcycle sidecar, asked for something fancier than straight spirit and was served a mix of cognac, orange liqueur and lemon juice in equal parts. The Ritz Bar is also given as a Paris birthplace of the drink but the back story is the same.

Those stories are countered by a couple of others. There is the version where the drink was born in Buck’s Club in London. In the English version the proportions may be different, but the motorbike accessory is still cited for the name. Another idea is that the evolution of the crusta occurred in the city where it originated—New Orleans. My favorite part of that one is the different explanation for the cocktail’s name. When a bartender mixes too much of a drink, the extra is poured into a shot glass, and it’s is referred to as a sidecar. Although I overdo the mixers all the time—that’s why I typically use a glass that can handle the extra—I am not sure I have seen a professional bartender make that mistake. I like the term though.

The final issue for this cocktail are proportions. As noted earlier, if you order the Sidecar in Paris you will get equal amounts of all three ingredients. Others suggest that the best mix of cognac, orange liqueur and lemon juice is 2:1:1 or 8:2:1. The latter is too complicated, and I like the lemon juice to be more dominant so I chose the former. Mix everything with ice in a shaker, shake and strain into a coupe that has been rimmed with sugar. Garnish with an orange peel. As my picture shows, I skipped the sugar and used a wedge of orange. I figure, if they can’t settle on a story, why should I follow the recipe exactly? That is why since Crustas were also made with other spirits, I made a Sidecar version with bourbon substituted for cognac. The whiskey was very dominant so I would suggest sticking with the classic version of the classic.

Here’s David’s Review:

sidecarThis cocktail is one of the few I’d tried when Jonathan and I started this blog, which, since I’d had about ten cocktails before this adventure, is saying a great deal. I was out with a friend who ordered a Sidecar and I took it as an omen. “I’ll have a Sidecar for his Sidecar,” I thought.

That was a long time ago, but I remember sitting with my friend at the bar watching the bartender agog at how unfussy the drink seemed, hardly the elaborate production of a libation I expected at the time.

Now I know, the only complicated aspect of most classic cocktails are their origin stories. Everyone, it seems, wants to get credit for making something so simple that anyone goofing around with basic ingredients might stumble upon it. The classics of the classics—like Old-Fashions and Manhattans and Martinis—morph into endlessly accessorized versions with the inventions and additions of ambitious mixologists. I’d be the last person to scorn their efforts because this blog is a tribute to some pretty clever combinations of spirits and mixers, but sometimes you just can’t improve on the essentials.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying the Sidecar is an essential. Like Jonathan, I followed Wondrich’s perambulations and experimented with proportions and ingredients—I’m with him on the bourbon, but, as I like a sweet counterbalance to lemon, I upped the curaçao a little—but really the recipe Jonathan offered is as sound as granite. And I liked this libation.

Would I make the Sidecar my signature drink? No. The conversation about “Which cocktail would you choose if you could only order one for the rest of your life?” continues. However, I am in awe of classic cocktails like the Sidecar because I can actually remember how to make them even months after my last one and also because they are reliably delicious.

Jonathan’s Take: In the beginning there were just spirits, then there were cocktails and after that there’s a sidecar load of variations.

David’s Take: The older I get, the bigger the appeal of the classics… but, then again, maybe I just want to become one.

Next Time (Proposed by David):

Since Jonathan proposed a classic we’d somehow missed, and I’m going to propose a somehow missed ingredient—Sloe Gin. As always, introducing a new bottle to our liquor cabinets has to come with an apology, but I’m tired of walking past the Sloe Gin and thinking, “What IS that stuff anyway?” My research tells me sloes are wild and apparently beautiful British berries that have  astringent taste no one would like if it weren’t pickled in alcohol. I looked a number of recipes using it but finally settled on the naughtily-named Nice and Sloe (because I’m pretty sure Jonathan and I already own or can easily obtain the other ingredients).

The Crusta

FullSizeRender-22Proposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

There are two parts to this introduction. One part, of course, is the background and history of this drink. That history is part of the evolution of the cocktail as we know it and is tied one the most common birthplaces for tipples that have spanned generations. The other part is familiar territory for the blog ,which is the theme of how we get ideas and proposals for what we will try each week – or every other week now. It may be best to start with the latter.

I have an ever-growing library of books about spirits, cocktails and the things that go with them. Those books are in actual paper format and e-books. As an aside, it is hard enough to remember where I read what but that is magnified by trying to recall which format first. At least e-books have a search function once I get that far. Among the newest of those books is Southern Cocktails by Denise Gee. I almost always do a quick perusal of books as I get them and the first thing that jumped out from this one were some recipes to go with the cocktails. In a twist on the traditional New Year’s Day menu for health, luck and money we used two appetizer suggestions. One was a black eyed pea queso and the other country ham and goat cheese pinwheels. Throw in some corn and collard green pancakes with lemon zest sour cream and we had the peas, ham, corn and greens we needed to start our year.

The cocktail I chose from the book was a familiar one called The Crusta. But why was it familiar and where the heck did I read about it before? Here’s the recipe first:

Fine grained sugar
Wedge of lemon
1.5 ounces cognac or bourbon
.5 ounce orange liqueur
.25 ounce maraschino cherry liqueur
.5 ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice
Dash angostura bitters
Orange peel for garnish

Wet the rim of a wine glass with the lemon, put sugar on a plate and rim the glass in sugar, mix all of the ingredients in a shaker with ice, shake and strain into the wine glass into which new ice has been added. Garnish with the orange peel.

There are multiple versions of this recipe as David pointed out to me in a welcome reminder that I had not told him which one we would be using. Although this one does not have any sweetener other than that on the rim, history tells us that it should.

The reason that this drink sounded familiar is that it is part of the evolution of cocktails. David Wondrich wrote about The Crusta in his classic book Imbibe (that one is an e-book in my library) and notes that it marks the addition of citrus to the cocktail world. The Crusta is among one of many classics that were invented in New Orleans and is most certainly near the top of that list chronologically.  It was created by Joseph Santini in the 1850’s at the New Orleans City Exchange bar or an establishment called the Jewel of the South that he opened a few years later. Southern Cocktails credits it to Santini’s Saloon but I will stick with Wondrich on cocktail history. The drink impressed the oft noted professor, Jerry Thomas, so much that he included it in his famous book on cocktails. He included a version with gin but brandy/cognac seems to be the most common.

I am still in the self-imposed alcohol free zone of January. I did employ my taster, though, and even had the poor guy try both a cognac and a bourbon version. Classic cocktail evolution and the recipe both make it obvious that this is a spirit forward drink. He likes bourbon more than the unfamiliar cognac and preferred that one. By the same token if gin is your favorite then follow the professor’s lead and go with that.

Here’s David’s Review:

IMG_1369You have to understand something about this blog—sometimes it feels as if it’s all about the photo. When the recipe calls for a specific garnish, or the drink is supposed to separate into layers, or even when there’s whipped cream, I start to worry. The Crusta, from every version I saw online looked more aesthetically pleasing than I usually muster. The sugar is part of the cocktail, of course. It lends sweetness to every sip… but that orange peel?

My brother might tell you I’m a champion worrier and that, nine times out of ten, my worry is entirely unjustified. In this case, the relief of making the Crusta look like the pictures of it distracted me. I’d had most of one before I thought, “Hey, what’s this like?”

Much about the drink suggests its venerable heritage. For one, whether you used Bourbon or Brandy (and I also made one of each), the spirit pushes to the forefront of this cocktail. The lemon juice, curacao and maraschino seem simply complementary, pleasant background to the main event. The sugar on the edge of the glass will seem a little too much to some who prefer more bitter, but I didn’t mind as long as the bourbon/brandy came through.

If you’re a regular reader, you know my feeling about these cocktails sometimes drifts into fiction. I think about who might drink them and in what circumstance. I’ve never seen a Crusta on a cocktail menu, but I imagine a person-in-the-know (a cognoscenti, or cocktailscenti, if you were) ordering it. He or she does it, in part, to challenge the bartender and, in another part, to draw some line back to the proto-cocktails that started everything. They say cocktails are an American art like Jazz or early cinema, and I like that idea. I like thinking Americans know how to combine, how to make something inventive simply by putting several different, and occasionally seemingly disparate, parts together. This libation, held up to the light by my imaginary customer, promises a celebration of ingredients, and I approve. The originals are often the most satisfying.

David’s Take: Not sure I can take the pressure of presentation too many more times, but I loved this cocktail.

Jonathan’s take: Cocktails without citrus? Say it ain’t so, and then say thank you to Joseph Santini.

Next Time (Proposed by David):

Boy, I hope Jonathan is up for this. Now that my brother has returned from cocktail exile, I’m going to propose a serious drink, the author of Clockwork Orange Anthony Burgess’ favorite, the Hangman’s Blood, a potent—even if literary—”cocktail.” Call it revenge if you like. With seven (yes, SEVEN) spirits, this drink may prove the better of the Long Island Ice Tea. We can each split one with our wives, that’s permissible, but I’m been threatening this drink for awhile… maybe it’s time.

 

Whiskey Sour

WhiskeySourJBMProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

The sour is one of the most basic of cocktails. A mix of spirit, sweet, and sour elements with no augmentation required provides a simple and refreshing drink. We’ve tried the Pisco Sour, which is in the end a direct derivation of the early brandy sour, but to this point have not had a whiskey sour. Perhaps the end of the Mad Men series was a good week to try this classic that started its fall out of favor in the 60’s-70’s.

The popularity of sours spanned more than a century from the 1860’s to 1960’s. David Wondrich tracks sours of all types back to a time before the famous Jerry “Professor” Thomas—although the father of all bartending, or so it seems, included the drink and discussions of it in his guides. If there was a debate about such a simple drink, Thomas engaged in that discussion about how sweet or sour the end product should be. There were also the inevitable flourishes, a swirl of claret perhaps, as mixologists provided their own touches to lessen the simple.

That sweet/sour debate is obvious when one looks for recipes for a classic whiskey sour. Bourbon is the preferred spirit, but, after that, the proportion of sweet, proportion of sour and what type of sweetening agent varies by source. Early recipes are marked by sugar dissolved in a small amount of water, which gave way to sugar and seltzer water, and that in turn was replaced by syrup.

There were eventually variations that used some egg white for a frothier drink (a Boston Sour), and, in what was probably part of the demise of the drink, sour mixes that provided sweet, sour and froth all in one bottled mix. I settled on a simple ratio:

2 ounces bourbon
¾ ounce simple syrup
¾ ounce lemon juice (approximately one small lemon)

Mix those three, shake with ice, strain over new ice in a glass and garnish with an orange slice and cherry. This is a drink that has its own glass, a small goblet style, but my cabinet runneth over on glassware so I went with an old fashioned glass.

I had every intention of trying one basic sour and then a Boston Sour but one was enough. It’s not that this isn’t a classic for a reason—it was very good—it’s just that the combination of sweet and sour all too effectively blends with the bourbon to the point you almost forget it is there. A dangerous combination on a warm afternoon so one was enough.

Here’s David’s Review:

WSDMIn my cocktailian experience, the classic drinks aspire to the greatest subtlety. A serious mixologist will tell you that introducing a quarter of an ounce more vermouth to a martini, substituting a different bitter in a Manhattan or Old Fashioned, or reordering the preparation of a Caipirinha makes all the difference. Still not-so-savvy after nearly two years on this blog, I wonder how much subtlety is lost on me.

People often say of art, “I don’t know much about it, but I know what I like.” That’s my response this week. I tried three Whiskey Sours, one with the traditional bourbon, one with rye, and a third with Canadian Whisky. All were good. To me, the key to the drink isn’t in the spirit but in the lemon that stands up well in such a spirituous libation—otherwise, but for a little optional sugar, it’s all alcohol. I’m not at all sure what the word “bracing” means in culinary diction (if it means anything at all), but that’s the word I want to use. From the first sip, you know you are holding a real drink.

And, actually, if you like the ingredients, I wonder how you could mess it up. The taste certainly changed with the different spirits, but the bracing aspect of the cocktail didn’t. Of all the whiskeys, I like rye most, so I enjoyed that Whiskey Sour, but the other tasters in my family thought the mellow and round character of bourbon balances the lemon best. I’m not averse to testing their theory further, as this cocktail is not only incredibly easy to make but also incredibly easy to quaff (see: Three Whiskey Sours).

Which leads to my one quibble about drinks like the Whiskey Sour. They’re perfect for sipping, and with all the ice, the quantity seems tiny. For me, it disappears too quickly, and I want another. That said, my brother will confirm that I am the world’s fastest consumer of food and drink. I often look down to discover an empty plate or glass with symptoms of “foodnesia”—I search my mind to remember what I just ingested and how it may have tasted. I’m no sipper, and making Whiskey Sours my constant drinking companion might lead to slurred speech, lambada demonstrations, and/or impromptu Elvis impersonations (my personal favorite: Love Me Tender).

You, Dear Reader, might consider that outcome a good thing, and my worry of cutting loose certainly says volumes about my enjoyment of this classic cocktail. But I’m generally a restrained and reserved person who hopes to navigate life with as much dignity as I can manage. If I’m only going to have one drink, the Whiskey Sour won’t be it.

Jonathan’s take: The great debates of cocktails still amuse me. Too much sour! No too much sweet!

David’s Take: Now I know what to order whenever I’m sitting at the bar waiting for our table to be ready.

Next Week (Proposed By David):

There’s no guarantee that, even by next weekend, our fancier cocktail glasses will emerge from moving boxes, so I devised two requirements for next week’s choice—it has to use a Collins glass (we have those) and it has to include Gin (I like Gin). So we’ll be making a Salty Dog, a variety of the Greyhound Cocktail (gin, grapefruit juice, and lime) that calls for salting the rim of the glass. That, we can also do.

The Martinez

Proposed by: DavidVersion 1

Reviewed by: Jonathan

Someday I mean to create a cocktail family tree akin to the Rock and Roll blackboard scrawl in School of Rock created by Dewey Finn (aka Ned Schneebly, aka Jack Black). It will be full of  Biblical “begats” and “knows,” crisscross fertilization and looping circumferential hints of influence. Some lines will have to be dotted, of course, and paired with question marks.

The lineage of the Martinez seemed clear at first, and a confident Y on my imagined family tree. But for gin, it might be a Manhattan—so clearly it followed that—and, after its creation, some bartender likely preferred dry vermouth over sweet (and left the dash of liqueur and bitters out) and created the Martini. Though a Martinez tastes nothing like a Martini, some of my sources said it predates the Martini by ten years, citing it as part of the 1887 version of—what else?— Professor Jerry Thomas’ Bartenders’ Guide. In this version of the story it was created for someone going to (maybe from, depending on the account) Martinez, California. Or maybe it was because they served it in the Occidental Hotel to people going by  ferry from San Francisco to Martinez, California.

But it gets more complicated. Cocktail historian David Wondrich believes the Martinez and the Martini developed in the 1860s, simultaneously, the former on the west coast and the latter in New York. He discounts Jerry Thomas as inventor of the Martinez, saying the 1887 edition of his Bar-tenders Guide, published two years after Thomas’ death, may have copied an earlier version described in O.H. Byron’s 1884 Modern Bartender’s Guide. Then again, you may remember that Byron may have been a composite rob-job of Thomas. You see how quickly all this resembles a soap opera full of dubious parentage and dark family secrets.

Because Byron connects the Martinez clearly to a Manhattan, instructing a bartender to mix a Martinez “Same as a Manhattan, only you substitute gin for whisky,” and because the Martini doesn’t appear in published guides until 1888, I’m calling the Martinez a precursor… until Maury Povich comes along to settle the dispute.

Whatever the order of things, the original Martinez called for Old Tom Gin, which, loyal readers of this blog will know, was an earlier version sweetened slightly to smooth out the rough edges in questionable distillations. The sweetness of Old Tom changes the drink, and including it makes the Martinez seem a very—use-your-binoculars—distant relation to the Martini. However, substitute dry gin, and the Martini and the Martinez will look like cousins. Choose the bitter Carpano Antica as the sweet vermouth and they may look like brothers.

I ran into a number of recipes that called for different bitters and different liqueurs. You might try it, for instance, with Genever for the gin, curaçao for the liqueur and angostura as the bitter (as one recipe does). I’ve listed the basic formula below, but nothing prevents you from playing around… and perhaps adding your own line to the family tree.

Here’s the Recipe:

2 ounces gin

3/4 ounce sweet vermouth

1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur

Dash of orange bitters

Lemon twist for garnish

Combine liquid ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake, strain, pour. Twist the lemon peel over the glass and drop it in.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

martinez

The gin lessons continue. We’ve tried cocktails with London Dry Gin, Old Tom Gin, and different botanical and complex gins. My favorite so far has to be the citrus infused Rangpur Tanqueray gin that was used in the Bengali gimlet. This drink specified the use of Old Tom, an older style that is said to have a touch of sweetness without all of the herbal complexity. That specification seemed odd to me considering there is also an equal part of sweet vermouth in the recipe. Of course, wondering almost always leads to experimentation.

The other part of the experimentation goes back to eating, and drinking, locally. Early on in the blog I tried a rum that was made nearby, Muddy River rum, and began to get interested in the local distillery movement that has followed on the heels of the exploding local brewery trend. I haven’t forgotten that interest, but there have not been that many opportunities to try other local spirits, especially since so many of those are vodka or more neutral versions of other liquors. This recipe, and my question about gin type, led me to Southern Artisans Spirits in Kings Mountain, N.C. and their botanical gin—Cardinal.

The first version of the Martinez was tested with neighbors and used the Old Tom. It had the expected sweetness and the gin was, at most, subtle. That does not exactly match the idea that this cocktail is the precursor of the Martini, although it should. Most Martinis are so heavy in gin that it has become a cliché to suggest ways to nod to the vermouth without actually using it. With the equal parts of gin and sweet vermouth this drink had a mix of flavors, and body from the vermouth, that was much more pleasant. A lesson that Martini makers may wish to consider.

The following day we tried the drink with the Cardinal gin, and, not surprisingly, the botanicals came forward. It had been my guess that this would be a welcome contrast to the slight sweetness, but in truth the Old Tom version was more harmonious. The cocktail improved as it warmed, but still fell short.

One last comment that is more accurately a confession. I have been using Maraska cherry liqueur in drinks that call for maraschino liqueur. It explains taste differences as well as some of the color variation between my drinks and the ones David has made. I also thought it might be the reason that I disliked the Aviation cocktail so much. Out of fairness, and because the Martinez reminded me of it, I decided to give the Aviation another try. The color was much better (it is included in the picture with the Martinez) and the drink an improvement from what I remember of the original tasting, but still not one I would put on the go-to list.

Jonathan’s take: Want to try a martini? Try this first and you’ll understand the interplay of vermouth better.

David’s Take: Keep the sweetness at bay with a bittersweet vermouth and this cocktail is complex.

Next week (Proposed by Jonathan):

It is autumn and thoughts turn to the flavors of the season. We’ve tried apples and pears so it needed to be something different. The drink is the Great Calabaza and the different ingredient is pumpkin. There are drinks that use puree, seeds or butter with the latter the case in this drink. Add mezcal to that and it should be interesting.