Archive for the ‘Cocktails’ Category

A martini for spring


2oz gin, Tanqueray for me
2/3oz Lillet Blanc
Dash grapefruit bitters, optional
Lemon peel

Stir in a pint glass with ice, strain and serve up, with a wide swath of lemon peel, skin the excess pith and express the oils over the rim and surface of the drink. The Lillet, our vermouth stand-in, is more citrusy and fragrant than your standard Martini and Rossi and especially the more herbal Noilly Prat. So go easy on the grapefruit bitters, just one healthy dash will do.

It's bright, fresh and simple. One imagines it Jordan Baker in her tennis whites drinking it on Tom and Daisy Buchanan's porch.

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“The cars zoomed by, brakes screeched all over the place, his parents paid no attention to him, and he kept on walking next to the curb and singing ‘If a body catch a body coming through the rye.’ It made me feel better.”

You know what makes me feel better? [hint, it’s in the picture above, and it’s not citrus fruit]. A co-worker of mine pounded the pavement in Iowa to track me down a bottle of Templeton Rye.  I would normally call out a whiskey whose trademark phrase is “The Good Stuff”, except Templeton is categorically the best Rye Whiskey I’ve ever tasted.  I even had to go buy a sweet vermouth that’s worthy of mingling with it in a Manhattan [Noilly Prat, just cause I didn’t want to splurge on Punt e Mes, I’m not a millionaire].  All I can say is, wow. Can’t wait for production to ramp up so we can get it in Minnesota. 

My favorite whiskey cocktail is the Old Fashioned.  There’s something elegant about them – based on the simplest of cocktail formulae, and producing a result far greater than the sum of its parts. [Read Nick Kosevich’s history of the Old-Fashioned at the Heavy Table]. 

My Old Fashioned must have Rye Whiskey – the cheaper, the better [Old Overholt is my go-to.] Though Bourbon is perfectly acceptable, I love that spicier edge that most Ryes give the drink. The sugar is the other consideration. Many Bourbons already have a sweeter, oaky, vanilla-like hint to the aftertaste. Ryes make the drink a bit more distinctive.  Either way, I don’t think there’s a reason to use good whiskey in a drink that contains sugar.  I won’t use Templeton in one, just like I wouldn’t mix a Presbyterian with Macallan 15.

I’ve been previously content to fix Old Fashioneds thusly: in a lowball, mixing together a good bar-spoon of simple syrup with a few dashes of Angostura bitters and a small squeeze of citrus (lemon or orange).  Then add ice to the top, then 2 oz. of Rye, stir and drop in a citrus rind.  It’s a fine recipe, but it’s nothing special.

Then, the other night, my conception of a successful Old Fashioned was reborn at Rinata [Italophonic pun intended].  Munching on their late-night happy hour duck confit crostini [which are criminally delicious], I asked for an Old Fashioned and was upsold to their classy version.  The key ingredient is Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur – which is a terrific replacement for the maraschino cherry.*

[*Side Gripe: I can’t stand those little gelatinous red orbs. They’re a dinosaur of the cocktail scene – something that should have been phased out of taste along with half-gin, half-vermouth Martinis and electric blue frozen “Daiquiris.”  They have the texture of and old tire and don’t taste much better.  What’s worse is bars that muddle maraschino cherries into the drink Wisconsin-style (I’m looking at you, Nye’s Polonaise). At least if it’s on a toothpick I can get rid of it.]

But a good cherry taste is quite successful in the drink – the Luxardo creates a perfect bridge between the sweet syrup and the more bitter rye.  It’s an expensive bottle, but you’ll probably only need to buy one for the rest of your cocktail drinking life. I’ve had one for two years and haven’t made much more than a couple ounces worth of a dent.  Not many drinks use it, and the ones that do, use it quite sparingly (no more than 1/2 oz at a time.) In fact, other than the Papa Doble and the Aviation, I can’t think of another I use it for until now.

GOOD bitters in this drink are key – I splurged on Fee Bros Whiskey Barrel-Aged, and they’re terrific.  And you’ll definitely need to have a small mesh strainer on hand for this one to catch the pulp and seeds of the citrus.

The Rinata Old-Fashioned: Muddle a wedge of orange and lemon in a pint glass, add to it 2 oz cheap Rye Whiskey, 1/3 oz Luxardo, 1/2 oz simple syrup, and two good dashes Bitters. Fill with ice and shake vigorously. Double strain (both a Hawthorne and mesh strainer, to catch the seeds and larger pieces of pulp) into a lowball with fresh ice. Garnish with a wide swath of citrus zest.

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It’s pretty sad to see Town Talk Diner close up shop. Every meal and drink I ever had there was extremely satisfying. It’s especially sad that one of the best cocktail lists in the Cities [for my money, in the top 3 with Bradstreet and The Inn] bites the dust. Here’s hoping that its mixological creations find a way of manifesting themselves somewhere new in the very near future.

As a final salute, I figured I’d mix up my all time favorite drink from TTD: The Jackson Pollock. The Nick Kosevich-crafted masterpiece is a short, tangy French 75 with a few drops of Basil Oil. Here’s a good crack at the recipe for both the oil and the drink from the very good local cocktail blog Summit Sips.

Build in a mixing glass: 1 1/2 oz GIN, 3/4 oz GRAPEFRUIT JUICE, 1/2 oz LIME JUICE, 1 oz SIMPLE SYRUP, 1 oz SPARKLING WINE – Ice, stir.  Drop a scant 1/4 teaspoon of basil oil in a cocktail glass, strain mixture over the oil.

I would add: If you’re batching this cocktail, shake 2 to 3 times all the components except the sparkling wine in a cocktail shaker with ice, then lightly incorporate the same amount of sparkling wine with a spoon before straining.  I could see lining up multiple glasses and drizzling in sequence, watching the oil circles blossom in tandem.

Not having the exact proportions from Nick himself, I’d say it bears a pretty good likeness. It’s built on the classic sour formula; though you can bump up the sugar to equal or surpass the citrus, I like this ratio. I’d rather my sours be a little more sour. I used a 1:1 simple syrup for the sweetener and Prosecco for the sparkling wine. It’s a stunning concoction: tart and fizzy, textured and nuanced. Aesthetically, though, I find the drink more closely resembles Wassily Kandinsky than Jackson Pollack.  Cheers, Town Talk, you will be missed.

Other Things:

  • Cork Dork Wine Co is having a “Dead Of Winter Sale“, through January 29th, 20% off all purchases. Russell pretty much never has sales over there, since his prices are already pretty good. Stock up on his great selection of Rhones to ride out this snowy January.
  • In case you missed it, check out my article on La Crescent over at Heavy Table – it’s a seriously delicious grape if you like off-dry white wines like Riesling.

Thanks for reading! [photo, nga.gov]

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Fondly named after my hometown, a mixer I consistently enjoy in the summer.  Substitute sweeteners depending on your preference.


[to make the tea]

Boil 4 cups of water with 3/4 cup sugar, add 2-3 Tablespoons fresh Ginger. Bring to a boil, make sure all the sugar dissolves. When it has, take off the heat, steep 4 bags of Tazo Passion Tea [or substitute any other hibiscus flavored tea].  Cover and let sit for 15 min.  Strain through a sieve to remove the ginger and tea bags.  Then add a squeeze of lemon juice and refrigerate.

[to make the drink]

Ice a lowball.  Add a 1 to 2 ounce slug of your favorite Gin [Beefeater for me], top off with the cold tea.  Squeeze and drop in a lemon wheel.

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The first week of December 2008 in Venice was cold and rainy.  On the morning of the 2nd, small boats rowed through Saint Mark’s Square as the locals stood around in groups, chatting and gesturing at the water with righteous indignation.  Our hotel, conveniently located near the base of the Rialto, held a foot of water by mid-day.  My friend and I managed to escape to a dry patch of sidewalk behind our hotel and found a jovial English speaker intent on drinking the flood away.  We chased the tide back into the canal, frequenting cantinas as they dried out and reopened.  Tony seemed to be the unofficial mayor of that neighborhood.  Each inter-bar stroll, each more circular than the next, would be prolonged by run-ins with family, old friends, and complete strangers – the way Tony greeted them, it was impossible to divine the difference.  After more than a few house reds, most of them Bardolino, we told him that the rest of our group would be expecting us for dinner.  He suggested Campari – because, in his words ‘F—‘in A, man, gonna have dinner, gotta have a Spritz first’.

I don’t like Campari & Soda, it’s too dry for my tastes.  I much more prefer an Americano or Negroni, the former tall and very cold, the latter only in New Jersey.  I tried the gamut of Campari applications that week.  I found one bar whose take on the Spritz was tart and dry, yet bright and enlivening.  I recommend drinking this before a barbeque dinner over a game of Bocce on a hot day in June.

CAMPARI ALLA BATTISTI (build in a red wine glass in this order)

Handful of ice, 1-1/2 oz Campari, 3/4 oz Dry Vermouth, splash of Prosecco (or your favorite dry sparkling wine), splash of Ruby Red Grapefruit Juice.  Garnish with a lemon wheel (in the glass, not on the rim).

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