Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Building blocks, Martini Dept.

About four years ago, Noilly Prat began selling its European version vermouth in these here United States.

There were howls and imprecations.

Me, being the press-on-regardless type, merely adjusted and kept going.

The new-to-us vermouth is citrusier and a shade sweeter, so I just adjust my 5:1 martini ratio to 6:1 to compensate, so if that's what you have, now you know how to work it. Be advised the ensuing Martini won't be pellucidly clear.

The one thing to remember about vermouths is that they are wine. As such, they will spoil at a far quicker rate than spirits. I buy vermouths (for sweet, my choice is Martini & Rossi) in the teeniest possible bottle, and I use a Vac-U-Vin vacuum stopper system and then stash them in the fridge. Buying a giant bottle, unless you make a lot of fish fumet, is very false economy.

Anyway.

Noilly Prat.

The better version you want, for Martini purposes, is the "Extra Dry." You won't be far wrong with the "Original Dry" so you do whatever you want.

The "Extra Dry" is clean, with subtle woodsy notes, with hints of juniper (!) and bay leaves and other woody herbs. Its light, crisp finish make it a terrific aperitif choice (as well as a good choice for cooking seafood) and, best of all, it's a steal.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The King of Beasts, Speakeasy Monthwise.

The visual most people get when they think "cocktail" or "speakeasy" or anything along those lines is The Dry Martini.

Other blogs, bless them, get into the historical aspects of who invented this, when and where.

I, frankly, cannot be made to care. What I really wish to focus on, as re. The Dry Martini, is the proper way to mix one, along with some practical detours on this matter.

First, a proper one is made with gin. I can more-or-less live with a vodka version is the imbiber requesting same says "vodka martini" upon ordering, in recognition he (or she, for we do not discriminate on the Yuletide...or any other tide, for that matter) is asking for a variation on the accepted standard.

Here is where we get to sit down like mature-ish adults and discuss the elephant in the room: Gin.

Gin -- and for those among the assembled who may be rabid cocktailians it may be a bitter truth to recognize -- is an acquired taste, like Saabs or reggae. Most non-cocktailians simply do not like gin, probably do not own any gin (at most they'll have some ancient leftover bottle from a party where they figured someone would have gin-and-tonics), and telling them gin is vodka+aromatics is not going to help.

These folks, when you tell them there are people who have 8+ bottles of gin in their arsenal (after getting over the shock that such people as cocktailians exist) look at you as if you've described your youngest daughter majoring in arson with a minor in "doing things to rodents with a fork."

The reason telling them gin is vodka+aromatics is not going to help is because it's these very aromatics (I'm looking at you, juniper) that are the hurdle which they have not yet found an easy way to clear. Cocktailians, as a tribe, suffer the fault of wishing to naturalize new tribespersons by Throwing Them Into The Deep End. Potential tribespeople, as it turns out, vehemently wish to not Be Thrown Into The Deep End and there the impasse remains.

The lovely and gracious and suspiciously youthful Lisa Birnbach, has provided us a new, better path of initiation into the joys of The Dry Martini. One with, oh, training wheels. In her book True Prep, she details a drink called The Mixed Marriage:

Cocktail hour demands drinks with brio. Not for us a bananatini or a lollipop-flavored frozen margarita. Simple daiquiris, gimlets and cosmos are okay for some, but the basic prep cocktail is a martini. Those Who Know have discovered that traditions need shaking up (or is it stirring?) from time to time. A vodka martini can seem boring, a gin martini can taste medicinal. Conventional wisdom dictates we never mix our liquors, but now and then we have to take a leap from the commonplace. Let us propose the Mixed Marriage; the Lucy and Desi of adult beverages.
The recipe for which is as follows:
 
Two jiggers Plymouth Gin
Two Jiggers Smirnoff
(my choice is Finlandia, but you do whatever) Vodka
One capful Noilly Prat Vermouth (Yes, we said a capful. It's a cocktail.)
Olive or twist, for garnish

La Birnbach has done two things here. First, she provides a gateway Martini a noble and commendable and charitable deed in and of itself and, also, smashes the loathsome "over-dryness" fetish, where vermouth is applied via dropper, atomizer or other means of similar paucity. A Martini has vermouth, people, and you're meant to taste the interplay between the base spirit and the modifier. (A modifier modifies, after all.)

This, especially if your fire/candlelit wintry cocktail party features an impressive representation of the distaff side, is an ideal start people along the One True Way.

Incidentally, Plymouth Gin, as mentioned above is the ideal introduction to gin. (More on the next post, wherein I delve into the specific elements.) In fact, it's my choice for gin-and-tonic. Also right-on-the-money is Noilly Prat, ideally the Extra Dry, as the vermouth of choice. (Ibid.)

Once you have people accepting this, it's a short leap to a classic version. And, because you deserve to know, here is my recipe for the classic:

2½ oz. gin (Plymouth if you have recent converts, Bombay Sapphire otherwise)
½ oz. Noilly Prat extra dry vermouth, (It should be cold, as open vermouth should be stored with a vacuum stopper in the fridge, buy the smallest bottle available.)
Cube ice as needed
1 lemon twist (no pith)
1 FROZEN martini glass

Fill your mixing beaker/glass with the fluids and ice and stir for two full minutes and then strain the Martini into your glass, and garnish with the lemon twist.

 And there you are. Now, stop living like an animal.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

The Speakeasy cocktail world rests on two pillars. This is the other one.

The Manhattan.

The Manhattan is, to me, the equivalent to the navy blazer in a gentleman's wardrobe. Elegant, simple and flexible.

Let's get one thing out of the way, right off the bat. The classic Manhattan was made with rye whiskey. Bourbon has become accepted, at least in the popular culture, the way vodka is now commonplace as the base spirit in a martini.

We may be too polite to say so, but we also know what's what.

At this point in the proceedings, the Usual Cocktail Blogger would begin to tell you of the various competing narratives for the title of The Real Origins of The Manhattan. However, I can't be bothered. It was invented at the Manhattan Club in the 18somethings.

That's not the important bit.

Mixing one properly is.

Now, here's the thing.
At the time of Prohibition/speakeasies, there were three basic spirits used for cocktails. Gin, "whiskey" and rum. Rum was only used because it was, in the words of Jeff "Beachbum" Berry "The only bonded liquor you could get" during Prohibition. Gin and "whiskey" (which meant rye or bourbon depending on where in the USA you were standing...all of my vintage cocktail books have one section for "Rye/Bourbon" recipes) were what people really wanted to drink.

But here's the interesting bit. Gin is like cats and "whiskey" is like dogs, in the sense that you can have a MUCH broader spectrum of flavors in, say, bourbon than you find in gins. This is neither good or bad, just parameters to keep in mind.

For the purposes of this piece, it's important to note because as you try to wean your friends from the sort of Regal Beagle cocktails that still litter the cocktail landscape, you have a better chance of doing so with a Manhattan, because you can start with something in a spirit that is mild/sweet like Maker's Mark bourbon, which has a prominent "wheat" profile. Then you can go to a more rye-forward bourbon such as Elijah Craig and then, possibly, finally, settling on a rye like Templeton.

The real-deal classic recipe is simplicity itself. In a mixing beaker filled with ice cubes put:

2oz rye (I like Templeton, but wouldn't spurn Sazerac or Rittenhouse)
1oz sweet Italian vermouth (I prefer Martini & Rossi)
Dash or two of Angostura bitters

Stir until the beaker is well chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass or, if you'd prefer, an old-fashioned glass with clean, fresh ice, and garnish with a cherry. Or a sprig of curly-leaf parsley ("Central Park").

My go-to for when I have guests, comes from the glorious Poppy Buxom and it is the Perfect Bourbon Manhattan, straight up.

In a mixing beaker filled with ice cubes put:

2oz bourbon (Maker's Mark or Knob Creek)
½ oz sweet Italian vermouth (I prefer Martini & Rossi)
½ oz dry French vermouth (I prefer Noilly Prat)
Dash or two of bitters (if you are daring, use orange bitters)

Stir until the beaker is well chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a cherry.

Now, my personal preference and the ne plus ultra of Manhattans, the Perfect Rye Manhattan:

2oz rye (Templeton or Sazerac/Rittenhouse)
½ oz sweet Italian vermouth (I prefer Martini & Rossi)
½ oz dry French vermouth (I prefer Noilly Prat Extra Dry)
Dash or two of Angostura bitters

Stir until the beaker is well chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a cherry.

Now, important bits:

1- In the name of all you hold to be sacred, STIR. Do not shake.
2- Vermouth is a fortified wine. After opening the bottle, put a vacuum stopper in it and stash it in the fridge.
3- Seriously, make your own cocktail cherries.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Laying the foundation for the Manhattan. No, the other one.

One of the latest things which has taken the world by storm, or at least my corner of it, is taking the decidedly fanatically, dysfunctionally obsessive Joe-like approach to food and extrapolating it into the cocktail sphere.

The first guilty party to go up against the wall, in matters of food or beverage, is The Artificial Ingredient. So, in pondering the ideal Manhattan cocktail for Speakeasy Month, I was stymied by the fact the cocktail cherry is a concentrated repository of multisyllabic chemical evilosity. Of late, there have been some places where cherries not aswim in an ocean of something-hyde and something else-zoate are available, but at prices which betray their purveyors' wide-eyed innocence regarding purchasing power during The Great Recession.

This leaves me no alternative but to pursue the DIY approach, as I am simply not going to pony up $22.99 for a mere 8oz. Especially when I know the ingredients contained therein add up to a princely $3 at very most.
Before you start to bemoan the effort required to make your own cocktail cherries know this – setting aside the time required for cooling -- a batch takes but a mere 10 minutes.

There are, of course, eleventy gazillion different cocktail cherry recipes, but a good starter cherry recipe is this one:
 
6 lbs dark, sweet cherries
¾ c sugar
1 c water
¼ c fresh, strained lemon juice
2 cinnamon sticks
1¼ c cherry brandy or liqueur. For this go-around we have Cherry Heering, but the next time it could be Kirchwasser. (You can use brandy, bourbon, pisco, rum, rye, grappa, vodka...etc.)

Put sugar, water, and cinnamon in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium-low. Add the lemon juice and cherries. Simmer 5 minutes. Remove from burner, fish out the cinnamon sticks, and stir in the liqueur/liquor.

The smart thing to do is to pit the cherries, but I chose to keep the pits for a more complex flavor...and because I couldn't be bothered in my zeal. Next time, I will enlist someone whom I have offsprung to man the pitter. I also chose basic supermarket sweet (NOT SOUR) cherries.

These cherries are amazing.
You will need to make extra, because you will ingest half of them warm right from the stove. These will definitely migrate into your supply of vanilla ice cream, and banana splits will suddenly begin to materialize in your life. The ensuing cherry liqueur is also spectacular. Mind you, bereft of chemical escort, the cherries will eventually turn dark at +/-2 weeks, and they hit their peak of color/flavor excellentness at the 1 week mark.

Try this, I totally exhort you.

-J.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

It's Speakeasy Month! - An introduction.

Hi.

It's speakeasy month.
Because I've been blessed with that kind of a sense of humor, I'm keeping it kinda quiet.

Anyway, this all came about because the very estimable Doug Winship goes all Tiki in February, the better to ward off the arctic feeling in Columbus, Ohio which, going by the ardor with which Doug pursues Tiki month, must approach that of Ice Station Zebra.

I wanted to do something similar, seeing as how I live in a place where traipsing about in madras shorts in February, gamboling about like a linen-clad faun, is pretty much Standard Operating Procedure. So the "mirror image" (or at least, for the purposes of this endeavor, mirror image) is a guy in Miami doing speakeasy drinks.

I would have, ceteris paribus, done this in the dead of summer but, c'mon, let's be realistic. Besides, during the calendar swath that is Thanksgiving-to-New Year's-Eve people tend to be more cocktail-y than usual. And given that it gets darker sooner, and more candles are about, it looks, well, speakeasier, as it were.

Please steel your system to seeing, at some diverse times, coupe glasses.

Onward!