Low-Calorie Cocktails

Proposed By: Jonathan

Enacted By: David (and Jonathan)

It has taken me a long time to do this write-up. I introduced the concept of calories in cocktails and then began a search for background and ideas. Want to get an idea of the contradictory information related to that? One of the first lists I found for drinks to avoid included the mojito. Then I pulled up drinks that were lower in calories and my friend the mojito made that list too. Maybe the best place to start is by constructing a drink from base calories.

There are sources that claim one liquor has more or less calories than another. The bottom line though is that the calorie content is directly related to alcohol by volume and what else is included with that liquor. The concept of efficiency is as simple as knowing pure spirits derive all calories from the alcohol since there is little other than water and flavor (or so one hopes) in a bottle of liquor. A 40% spirit has 97 calories/1.5 ounce serving, a 45% spirit has 109 calories/1.5 ounces and a 50% spirit has 121 calories/1.5 ounce serving. It doesn’t matter if that 80 proof liquor is vodka or Scotch, it’s still going to be 97 calories. So there’s the first tip – if you want to count calories while drinking you should go with liquor neat, on the rocks or with no calorie club soda or seltzer.

The next step is to see what happens when you add mixers or liqueurs. The first part of many drinks is fresh fruit juice. Lime (8), lemon (8), grapefruit (11) and orange (13) juice don’t add many calories per ounce especially when you consider both the small amount used and the flavor they add. Standard mixers up the count especially when you consider that an average drink may include 4 or more ounces in the recipe. The calories per 4 ounce serving of some of the favorites are 40 for ginger ale or tonic and 48 for coke. Another popular option for adding that flavor and sweetness are simple syrups and their flavored versions. The problem is that a single ounce of simple syrup is around 75 calories. Liqueurs add the double dose of alcohol calories and the sugary additives that give them their flavor. Some of the more popular ones are triple sec (162), Kahlua (131), Amaretto (170) and sweet vermouth (60) with the calories measured per 1.5 ounce serving. That means a White Russian adds up to around 265 if you use heavy cream – and who wouldn’t?

The challenge was to bring down the calories per drink or to find lower calorie options. As I wrote earlier, one good option is to drink liquor straight, but this is a cocktail blog so that’s out of bounds. Another popular choice is to mix with seltzer and fresh juice. Basic addition will get you to 101 calories for 80 proof vodka mixed with 1/2 ounce of fresh lime and 4 ounces of club soda. That’s the equivalent of a light beer but who wants a light beer? That brings in the idea of rum (97), lime juice (8), mint (0), simple syrup (75) and club soda for 180 calorie mojito. Now we’re up to the equivalent of a high test beer (for those who want flavor plus vitamins/nutrients as any aficionado would point out), 2 light beers or 2 glasses of wine if you use a restrained pour.

There are also easy substitutes for basic drinks like a gin and tonic or rum and coke. Assuming both start with a 1.5 ounce spirit and combine with 4 ounces mixer (we will consider the squeeze of lime negligible) these drinks ring in 149 calories for the G & T and 145 for the Cuba Libre. The quickest way to get that down is to use a diet version of the mixer to drop the count to 109 and 97 respectively. This is just my taste in drinks mind you, but at that point I would reach for the ice cubes and a straight pour instead.

When it came down to it for proposed drinks with lower calories, I went with flavored simple syrups cut with club soda. On its face this doesn’t make a great deal of calorie sense but I think this method helps with another form of calorie math. Let’s assume that one cocktail leads to another. A martini with 1.5 ounce gin and 3/4 ounce vermouth is a total of 2.25 ounces at the rough 140 calorie level. Per drink that is a good low calorie option but 3 of those are about 7 ounces and 420 calories. A mix of 1.5 ounces vodka, an ounce of vanilla simple syrup and 6 ounces of club soda is an 8.5 ounce cocktail measuring in at about 170 calories. Two of those could last an entire evening with a total of 340 calories. Yet another version of this math is the mint julep. Two ounces of bourbon, an ounce of mint simple syrup, a spring of mint and lots of packed crushed ice is an afternoon sipper with around 240 calories. Except for my fellow blogger, who needs more than one Julep?

Here’s David’s Portion:

Like Jonathan, my scientific explorations suggest basic laws of low-calorie cocktails:

  1. Variation in proof aside, all spirits have essentially the same number of calories, which leads to an axiom…
  2. The lowest calorie option is drinking spirits straight, or…
  3. Mixing them minimally with botanicals or citrus (like a gimlet or a mojito), and not…
  4. Adding liqueurs or other secondary spirits that have a high sugar content and…
  5. Sparing yourself too many or too much mixers like ginger ale or coke because they too have a lot of sugar, hinting a better strategy might be…
  6. Using a little simple syrup and soda, but…
  7. Still keeping the cocktails to around 4-5 ounces… though a bartender once told me 6 ounces is the more standard amount, because of the melt from the ice in the glass and/or shaker.

A calorie being an inviolable unit of energy, there’s no getting around these laws, but I did experiment with a variation Jonathan didn’t mention, vegetable juices. When a Whole Foods opened near me recently, it occurred to me that some of their comically named concoctions—each invented to promote my personal health and wellness—might make interesting ingredients.

So I chose Lucky Juice-Iano (weighing in at a whopping 6.7 calories an ounce) and Juice Bigalow (at 13.75 calories per ounce).

The label of Lucky Juice-Iano says, “This killer combo of PEAR, CUCUMBER, LEMON, and SPINACH is like unloading a tommy gun of hydration to your mouth while helping you fight off illness like an old-timey gangster.” I’m pretty sure I ruined any boost to my immunity by adding an ounce and a half of gin (at 42% alcohol, I’m calling it 102 calories), but this cocktail seemed the more successful of my experiments. As long as you don’t put in more than an ounce and a half of the juice—spinach cocktail, anyone?—and add plenty of soda to dilute the feeling you might be eating your hedge trimmings, this drink is palatable and only costs you 112 calories. Truth in advertising, I also added (but didn’t count) a dot or two of Angostura. That helped.

Juice Bigalow’s labeling claims, “If APPLE, BEETS, CARROT, GINGER, and LEMON ‘got it on,’ this would be their lovechild. And said child would relieve stress so you can live a long life, both in and out of bed.” I’m not sure what any of that means or who writes such bizarre copy, but this experiment seemed more iffy. I thought tequila (at 40%, 97 calories) would be the match for Juice Bigelow, and I wasn’t wrong because somehow the spirit pushed its way through all those juices and soda to a position of prominence. Still, I’m no great fan of beets and confess that I mostly chose the juice for its color. A last-minute impulse to add a shake or two of tabasco seemed to balance the sweetness a little bit, but I’d have to work on the proportions to improve it. At 120 calories, this drink didn’t produce enough fuel to even consider it.

I don’t start many statements with “People, here’s the thing…” but here goes. People, here’s the thing, if cocktails become an element of your health regimen, there’s possibly a problem with your regimen.

Jonathan’s take: The most basic truth is that there are zero calories in water. This isn’t a water blog either.

David’s Take: Do you know the contemporary use of the term “fail”?

Next Time (Proposed By David):

As tempted as I am to suggest high calorie cocktails, instead I’d like to draw on a single ingredient plentiful this time of year, watermelons. Whatever Jonathan and I make has to include watermelons prominently. The rest is up for grabs.

Top 100 Cocktails

drink.jbmProposed By: Jonathan

Proposed By: David

The proposal that each of us try a top 100 cocktail should have included a link to a definitive list. The problem, of course, is that there is no definitive list. Sure there are plenty of opinions, lists by drink category and even more scientific lists that purport to determine popularity by internet searches but all of them have differences based on their perspective.

David had sent me a list many months ago from a restaurateur in Houston. Bobby Heugel’s top 100 is from his restaurant Anvil Bar & Refuge. It has gone through the occasional revision but has remained mostly consistent in representing the best from various categories of drinks. Since I was going to be traveling, including in Houston, that seemed like a good list to use. It also seemed serendipitous and my plan was to go to Anvil to try the top 100 cocktail there. Only problem was that I read somewhere that Anvil is not open on Sundays (the day I would have a chance to go) so the best I could do was go by on the way to a couple of places near there on Westheimer Road.

We’ve written that David and I spent our formative years in Texas and that resulted in my being a lifelong Astros fan. My two sons and I were in Houston to see a couple of games, and my nephew picked us up on Sunday night to have dinner with him and my niece. We ended up in on Westheimer at a couple of wonderful places for a beer and then dinner and Anvil was in between. Anvil was open. Sometimes serendipity is a booger, but I sure am glad we got to spend some time with my niece and nephew.

It all worked out the next night though when my oldest son and I found a classic cocktail spot in San Antonio. The Last Word is not too far in distance from the Alamo but its location below street level is a long way from the standard tourist spots downtown. They have their own short list of classic cocktails, including some on tap and some of their own creations. After a long day of walking and a great meal, I chose the classic Boulevardier as both a digestif and a way to unwind and relax. Their version is served on the rocks (nice medium square ones) rather than strained into a coupe. Something worth trying for the Negroni in my opinion.

The Boulevardier is the older cousin of the Negroni. The latter may be the more famous with its mix of gin, Campari and sweet vermouth, but the former predates it based on published recipes. It substitutes whiskey, either bourbon or rye, for the gin and depending on taste includes more of that base rye or bourbon.

The drink dates back to the famous Harry’s New York Bar in Paris that is credited for the creation of a number of classics. Harry McElhone of that bar is sometimes given credit though it seems more likely that Edward Gwynne was the one who came up with it or inspired the drink. Gwynne had moved to Paris around prohibition and had started a magazine called The Boulevardier that was intended to mimic The New Yorker. The term “boulevardier” is synonymous with flaneur and indicates, on very simplistic terms, a stroller, lounger or man about town. That seems very apt for a sophisticated drink that combines the depth of whisky, the bitter of Campari and the smoothing properties of a quality sweet vermouth.

David’s Drink:

Bramble2One of the first questions people ask when I tell them about this blog is, “How long have you been doing it?” Recently—now that we’ve written about over 100 drinks—another question follows, “Are there any drinks left?”

Well, obviously. I’m not sure how many cocktails exist. That may be a Neoplatonic question, after all, more a matter of asking “What IS a cocktail and is it a material thing or an ideal that exists apart from the physical universe?” I’m sure, however, of more than 100. In fact, as Jonathan said, there seem to be more than 100 Classic cocktail lists for the top 100 cocktails. Using the list above, we’ve tried 27 (I counted) and that leaves 63 (times the number of other lists).

In choosing which of the remaining classics, I let my liquor cabinet do the talking. I looked for what was possible given my supplies, and I discovered a recipe, The Bramble, that asked for Crème de Mure (a blackberry liqueur), half a bottle of which I just so happen to possess, thanks to the generosity of a friend… and cocktail abettor.

There are many Bramble recipes online, but here’s a link to the one I used.

Like many of the classics, the Bramble is a simple concoction, relying on gin, simple syrup, lemon, and the Crème de Mure, but—also characteristically classic—it requires a certain sophistication in its use of these ingredients. If it’s to work really well, you need two types of ice, cubes to cool the cocktail (minus the liqueur) in a shaker and crushed ice for the glass. You also have to be pretty good at pouring patiently, as drizzling the blackberry over the gin—and lemon and simple syrup—soaked ice creates a cascading effect as the heavier liqueur drips through.

Alas, as you might see in the photo I’m not savvy enough to capture that moment in my photo. Nonetheless, take my word for it, for a second or so the drink was beautiful.

The non-egg-headed explanation for the proliferation of cocktails, of course, is that so many variables (and variables of variables) make a drink what it is. We’ve tasted a number of fruit based drinks recently, for instance, but what makes a Bramble different is the refinement of the liqueur. It isn’t fresh blackberry or blackberry syrup but closer to a brandy, so it gives this the mixture depth and gravity. In fact, the simple syrup is optional, as far as I’m concerned, because a Bramble is sweet enough without it, and the lemon doesn’t overwhelm the Crème de Mure, which has sufficient density to even things out.

As Jonathan explained, one reason for this week’s post is that he was in Houston and wanted a drink he might order out. I’m not sure many bars have Crème de Mure on hand, but, if they do, it’d be worth asking for a Bramble. You’ll certainly look like you know what you’re doing, and you’re likely to enjoy it too.

Jonathan’s take: It could just be the drink, or the good company with whom I enjoyed it, but I am ready to give Campari a try again after the delicious Boulevardier.

David’s Take: The Bramble is a genteel drink, and, as the Crème de Mure ran through the ice, I felt just a little savvy.

Next Week (proposed by David):

My break from teaching is waning. As I approach returning to class, I’m up for a final celebration of one of my favorite fruits of summer, the fig. The recipe I’ve chosen seems the ideal transition to the fall ahead.  My proposal is a Roasted Fig Cocktail using the fruit cooked in balsamic vinegar, then puréed, then combined with bourbon, lemon juice, and a little maple syrup. I hope the prep won’t be too onerous… or at least worth it.

 

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.

Metropolitan

metroProposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

I don’t really know who Jerry Thomas is, but every cocktailian turn I take, there he is in his white shirt, bowtie, vest, and sleeve garters throwing a drink from one glass to another. Fans of Jeremiah P. Thomas (also known as “The Professor”) consider him “The Father of American Mixology” and credit him with inventing most of the drinks we consume today. The rest, of course, are variations of libations he created.

The Metropolitan can be traced back to Thomas, even though, gasp, it’s not included in The Bar-Tender’s Guide (or How to Mix Drinks or The Bon-Vivant’s Companion). The recipe first appears in Modern Bartender’s Guide by O. H. Byron in 1884, but, cocktailian historians—and, by the way, can someone tell me how you get that job?—say that Byron may have been a composite, a convenient name under which recipes might be gathered by some clever, profit-minded editor. And from whence did this editor collect these drinks, including The Metropolitan Cocktail? You guessed it—from a bar where Jerry Thomas (also known as the “Jupiter Olympus of the Bar”) worked. Other drinks in the Byron collection certainly came from Thomas, so some people want to attribute the Metropolitan to him as well.

Past a certain point, who invented a drink can become a little silly. When the ingredients are as basic as the ones included in a Metropolitan—brandy, vermouth, simple syrup, and bitters—its discovery seems inevitable. Somebody’s peanut butter was going to end up on someone’s chocolate, if you follow my ancient advertising history allusion.

Purists might argue, in fact, that the Metropolitan is little more than a variation on the Manhattan and hardly deserves a separate name. However, others—Impurists?—probably celebrate every variation as a subtlely new experience. One of the regular readers of this blog (I won’t reveal his identity, but his initials are Steven Coberly) wanted to know which bitters I had in mind for the drink. The original recipe called for “Manhattan Bitters,” which were likely, or like, Angostura. However, because this combination is so basic, using Peychaud’s or Orange or, my current favorite, Bittercube Blackstrap Bitters can move the cocktail’s taste dramatically one way or another. I tried a few bitters… but not all at once.

Just stay away from the cardamom bitters. I mean it.

One more note, don’t confuse this drink with the vodka cocktail also called The Metropolitan. Names, apparently, are also subject to secondhand discovery. The vodka Metropolitan is closer to a Cosmopolitan.

Another one more note—I ran into some sites that disagreed on proportions. Though the recipe I used calls for one and a half to one (brandy to sweet vermouth), some suggested two to one. If you’re using Carpano particularly, a little less vermouth will make a sweeter, more robustly brandy-y cocktail. But my advice is to experiment. I bet that’s what Jerry Thomas did, and he set the world record for the most honorifics awarded in one lifetime.

Here’s the recipe:

1 1/2 ounces brandy

1 ounce sweet vermouth

1/2 teaspoon simple syrup

2 dashes Angostura bitters

Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

metro2

There is a show on the Esquire network that I have been telling David about. Called the Best Bars in America, the show follows two comedians, Sean Patton and Jay Larson, as they travel and sample at bars that have been featured in Esquire. There are plenty of drinks featured that we haven’t tried and probably won’t, but others have appeared on our list or should. One of the cocktails I noted while watching is the Metropolitan.

The interest may stem from the name, the appearance, or the idea that it is related to two drinks that seem quite dissimilar. Those drinks are the Manhattan (that similarity should be easy enough to see) and the other is the Cosmopolitan. Okay, as David says, the second one is similar mostly in name.

I need to state up front that there have been few times that I can remember drinking, much leas enjoying, brandy. This week’s cocktail is alcohol forward, and, even with the sweetening effect of the vermouth and simple syrup, enjoying brandy is important. The wonderful thing is that the interplay of ingredients allows one to do just that. The brandy is still very present, and it’s important to choose a quality one that holds up to that dominance. The vermouth softens it and even has enough sweetness that the simple syrup really isn’t necessary. The bitters are the final measure that round out the drink. I used peach bitters, mostly because I thought this could use some fruit, but I need to go back and try it with Angostura. Especially since this is a brandy Manhattan.

Jonathan’s take: The subtle differences in cocktails are making more sense and this is proof.

David’s Take: The simplicity of this cocktail, for me, achieves elegance. This cocktail seems a warmer, grapier Manhattan, and I intend to continue refining its combinations.

Next week (Proposed by Jonathan):

We have accumulated a variety of whisky and whiskey. I think it is high time to explore some of those again in two ways. The first is an idea David had promoted which is a taste testing to directly compare the types and rate them against the other. After choosing a winner, the second idea is to use that spirit in another classic drink—the Old Fashioned. Sean and Jay always have my head reeling by the end of each show with the amount of drink they have consumed. Part of the trick next week will be to keep my head from reeling due to the testing.

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 Manhattan

photo-74Proposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

The colorful but unlikely story of the Manhattan’s origins says that, in the early 1870s, during a banquet in New York hosted by Winston Churchill’s mother (Lady Randolph Churchill), Dr. Iain Marshall invented the cocktail at the Manhattan Club. So popular was the drink that people started ordering it by the name of the club, hence “The Manhattan.”

Honoring Samuel J. Tilden is also in there somehow.

Because Lady Randolph was pregnant and elsewhere, many other stories abound, including one that places it in 1860 at a bar on Houston Street. Whatever. With libations, you begin to believe someone was bound to discover it eventually.

Whatever you guess about the Manhattan, it’s certainly one of America’s basic cocktails, appearing regularly in Mad Men and in bars all over. The New York Times calls it “The boss of all cocktails” (naturally) and says, “Unlike other cocktails that have recently been roused from long hibernation, the Manhattan never really slumbered, having been kept drowsily awake through the lean years of cocktaildom by French-cuffed businessmen and other habitués of old-guard hotel bars and private clubs.”

Sounds awfully snooty. However, here in Chicago we’ve having Manhattan Week (which, Chicago-style, has been going on since January 22nd), with several bars offering their own variations on the classic. I gave the classic to Jonathan, though, like me, he explored a bit.

Here’s the basic recipe:

3/4 oz sweet vermouth
2 1/2 oz bourbon whiskey
1 dash Angostura® bitters
1 maraschino cherry
1 twist orange peel

x
Combine the vermouth, bourbon whiskey, and bitters with 2 – 3 ice cubes in a mixing glass. Stir gently, don’t bruise the spirits and cloud the drink. Place the cherry in a chilled cocktail glass and strain the whiskey mixture over the cherry. Rub the cut edge of the orange peel over the rim of the glass and twist it over the drink to release the oils but don’t drop it in.

The variety I tried (along with the classic… what can I say?) came from the Siena Tavern and replaces the Vermouth with Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, which the restaurant calls, “The Rolls Royce of vermouths.” The recipe also adds 2 dashes of Regan’s orange bitters and a garnish of orange peel, but I didn’t have that (and it was snowing hard) so I substituted Scrappy’s Grapefruit Bitters and grapefruit peel. I’m not really sure, after all the changes, whether I had a Manhattan at all, but there it is.

And here’s Jonathan’s review:

-1Sometime back in the dark ages, the laws of North Carolina permitted the purchase of beer at age 18 but restricted hard liquor to those over 21. I was between those ages when I accompanied my friend, Barry, to New York to help his sister move. Not one to miss an opportunity, I ordered a Manhattan in a Manhattan restaurant. The problem was that I had meant to order a Long Island Iced Tea but didn’t know any better. I was also too proud to admit my mistake and slowly, very slowly, sipped the most bitter and strong drink I had tasted up to that point.

This is a cocktail that has continued to intrigue particularly after reading the guide to bitters and their use in cocktails. David’s link to Chicago’s Manhattan Week also piqued interest in all the varieties offered.  I decided that I would keep close to the basic recipe but try a couple of other combinations. The final selection (I shared with others) was the basic recipe using bourbon, the same basic recipe with rye and served on the rocks, and finally a version with wheat whiskey (Bernheim Original) and peach bitters instead of angostura.

All of the options successfully recreated the drink that I remember. It is a sipping drink no matter what your level of sophistication. The mix of spirit and vermouth was somewhat diluted in the rocks version, but those stirred with ice and strained demanded strict pacing to enjoy them. This drink is a classic for a reason, and allows the drinker to savor the base liquor. For that reason, it almost demands that a quality brand be used as opposed to drinks where the other mixers make the use of a basic spirit more than reasonable.

Jonathan’s take: Much better than my first experience with this cocktail. I look forward to a few more variations on the classic.

David’s take: I’m with Jonathan here. I like the idea that a cocktail might have so many iterations, so much potential for improvisation and discovery.

Next week Proposed by Jonathan:

One of my brothers-in-law is the biggest James Bond fan(atic) that I know. The classic Bond line is a vodka martini “shaken not stirred”, but the original drink came from the first book – Casino Royale. It was a cocktail made with gin, vodka and Kina Lillet that was ultimately called the Vesper.

Rosalind Russell

RosProposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

So, I see the cruelty of sending Jonathan to the liquor store for an obscure Scandinavian spirit, Aquavit. What demand can there be for Linie (the variety I chose), a spirit that crosses the equator twice in sherry casks to reach its proper flavor? It may be one of the more colorful stories of our tenure here, this fetishist tale of taste, what someone might do to make something distinctive.

That said, the cocktail is simple, with only four ingredients, the Aquavit, the Sweet Vermouth, the lemon, and the Angostura bitters. That’s all. I’m not sure any bar tender could reproduce it—who knows how many bars stock Aquavit—but it seems no more odd than a martini, I guess.

foodHere’s a case where maybe the accompaniment makes a big difference. We had crackers and lox with dill Havarti cheese, capers, and a horseradish whipped cream. It could be the Scandinavian connection of ingredients, but the food seemed perfectly complementary. Come to think of it, maybe it was all about the food. Perhaps that explains the collective effect of this cocktail.

Here’s the recipe:

  1. Ice
  2. 2 ounces aquavit
  3. 1 ounce sweet vermouth
  4. 2 dashes of Angostura bitters
  5. 1 lemon twist, for garnish

And here is Jonathan’s review:photo-61

Oh for the halcyon days of The Aviation. A beautiful Fall afternoon, a group of friends, and a what-the-heck cocktail of an indescribable taste and color.

The first thing I have to say about this week’s cocktail is a nod to the main ingredient, its unique voyage and how hard I had to look to find it. Aquavit, as the introduction says, is aged on a serpentine world voyage in sherry casks. I only wish I had the ability to produce a map of my voyage to find it because, other than not crossing the equator twice, I sense it was similar to the map on the back of the Linie Aquavit. It almost demanded that I try the strange gold-brown liqueur once I did find it.

The other admission I need to make is that, while the name Rosalind Russell is familiar I kept confusing her with another actress – Jane Russell. The more I had to look for Aquavit, the more I spent that time considering the creation of a Jane Russell cocktail as a substitute. The funny thing, cross my heart, is that there already is such a cocktail. And if I have to explain the joke in that sentence, you did not watch enough television in the 70’s.

So what happens when you mix that hard to find spirit with the red sweet vermouth and bitters? Another strange what-the-heck color cocktail with an odd and hard to describe flavor. The Aquavit description tells me I should expect caraway, but frankly I am not sure I know that taste well enough to say what it is. There is something familiar in the taste, however, and once we added a little simple syrup it brightened to a good familiar. Maybe a little more citrus would add some needed zing too. There is no doubt that I will make one of these for my friend Jerry. He liked the Aviation, so I suspect that this is one that will appeal to him also.

David’s take: Okay, I’m crazy. I love this stuff. The odder the better, as far as I’m concerned. I just like something new, I guess.

Jonathan’s take: I love the exotic and florid descriptions of spirits like Aquavit, but in cases like these the drinks have trouble holding up their end.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

My sons gave me a cocktail book for my birthday – Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails by Ted “Dr. Cocktail” Haigh. The drinks are interesting and the descriptions even more so. I am proposing a choice for next week. David and I can choose to have monkey testicles surgically implanted to improve our virility, or we can try the wonderfully named Monkey Gland cocktail. Not sure what direction David is going to go, but I think I will go for the libation.

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 Americano and Negroni

Proposed by: Jonathancamparicropt

Reviewed by: David

Absinthe is purported to have a slight hallucinogenic effect. There was no immediate effect from the Sazerac a few weeks ago, at least that I am aware of, but I am going to claim a delayed effect.  Somehow I thought I had read about a version of the Cosmopolitan that used gin and Campari. The more savvy cocktailians (maybe we’ll just call them savvyones) know the classic Cosmo is vodka, triple sec, cranberry juice and lime. It might be a stretch to substitute gin and Campari for the vodka and cranberry and call it a Campari Cosmo. I still want to begin to use some of the ingredients that we have acquired and to offer some possible variations though, so my proposal for this week was both the Negroni and Americano.

The Negroni is a drink attributed to Count Camillo Negroni in Florence Italy. Apparently the Americano was not strong enough so the Count suggested replacing soda water with gin. I cannot say that is a suggestion that would come to me naturally, but you only have to go back to my review from last week to read that I found the Cinquecento more than a bit too powerful and bitter. After that experience, I read that Campari, as a bitter, is an acquired taste which also factored into my suggestion of two alternatives for this week.

The Americano is in many ways the simpler drink, It is made up of 1 ounce of Campari, 1 ounce of sweet vermouth and club soda. Served in a highball glass it is garnished with a twist of orange. The bitterness of the Campari is really knocked down by the sweetness of the vermouth and dilution of the club soda. It was so much more enjoyable and, like a bitter IPA beer, was great with spicy food.

A Negroni is equal parts (1 ounce) of Campari, sweet vermouth, and gin. It is also served with a twist of orange, on ice in an old fashioned glass. We tried it as an aperitif as it was intended and although it was a strong drink it mellowed as the ice melted. Overall it was complex and enjoyable. The Americano impressed me as a drink that people who like gin and tonic would enjoy as an alternative.

Here’s David’s Review:

Jonathan mentioned online recipes call each of these drinks “an acquired taste.” As a great acquirer of tastes, that didn’t scare me. Quite the contrary, it inspired me. Black coffee, obscure documentaries, and knowing the minute details of the history of the hammer-throw make you feel special. You get used to justifying what others find strange, and then you begin to take pride in it, and then you start to annoy friends by urging odd things upon them. Later, when they complain, you sigh, “Oh well, maybe it’s an acquired taste.”

Only, I don’t like Campari. It isn’t the bitterness exactly, but the sort of acrid smell and undertone (like licking an aspirin) that turns me off. That, and the syrupy mouth feel. And the lurid, obviously dyed color. I could get used to Campari—you could probably get used to sipping shampoo—but, as we’re only drinking one cocktail a week (or, in this case, two), I’d like to enjoy the main ingredient… which, in case it’s not yet clear, I don’t.

Jonathan is right that, in the Americano, at least other ingredients balance the bitterness. The sweet vermouth is truly sweet. Its vaguely herbal undertone doesn’t add much bitterness—though, like the Campari, a dandelion flavor lurks in it—and the soda lightens the whole drink. I maybe might could possibly enjoy this cocktail… if it weren’t for the Campari, which made the whole concoction taste like, well, a concoction.

Gin is one of my favorite spirits (and, in fact, I love gin and tonic) so it pains me to say I liked the Negroni less. Gin IS medicinal, wonderfully so, but, in combination with the vermouth, and especially the Campari, the drink seemed an unsuccessful attempt to mask some sorcerer’s cure. Cocktails aren’t good for you, and one item that’s sure to make my future essay, “The Education of a Cocktailian,” is that mixed drinks shouldn’t taste like prescriptions.

Okay, I know someone is going to go all Sam-I-Am on me, tell me I’m being unfair to Campari and haven’t given it the chance it deserves. I only know a few Latin phrases, and one is my response: de gustibus non est disputandum or “There’s no disputing about matters of taste.” Maybe some of our dear readers love Campari and feel hurt by my rejection, and sorry. Your taste buds must be built differently than mine. We can’t all like the same things. And some tastes you don’t even like enough to acquire.

x
Jonathan’s take: There is a lot to be said for introducing strong, new tastes slowly. The progression from Americano to Negroni was more gradual and made each that much better.

David’s take: Damn you, Campari.

Next Week (Proposed by Jonathan really, but described by David):

Jonathan will be on a golf outing with his buddies, so I’m ceding the floor to him, the senator from North Carolina. After the Cinquecento tailgaiting debacle, we discussed trying some Bloody Mary variation(s). I’m going to let Jonathan choose what will work best in that setting… and look forward to something without Campari.