Five Real Cocktails with Staying-Power


Five Real Cocktails with Staying-Power

By Andrew “the Alchemist”

Monday, September 27, 2010

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Most mixed drinks aren’t true cocktails.  That’s okay – a drink shouldn’t have to be called a ‘cocktail’ for it to be a thing of delight to the drinker, and of pride to the bartender.  But be careful!  Middle-class attitude will resist anything that it perceives is an attempt to rob it of the terms it has adopted in its quest for sophistication.  Watch what happens when you tell a common bartender or drinker that their mixed drink is not a true cocktail.  They will interpret it to mean something like, “Your drink is no good.”

But, as someone interested in the elemental natures of the various types of drinks, I will put that concern aside.

A true cocktail is a drink made by sweetening an alcoholic base, diluting it, and bittering it.  If such a drink is also uncluttered by other types of ingredients, the bitters will smooth out the burn of the alcohol – but leave the base liquor relatively-unmolested enough to present the dominant flavor in the drink.

This is why pre-prohibition recipes for the Brandy Crusta and the Bronx Cocktail only contain a few drops of the citrus juice.  William Boothby, in the introduction to the cocktail section of his 1908 book, ‘World’s Drinks,’ wrote:

“The idea of making any liquor into a cocktail was conceived only for the purpose of removing the sharp, raw taste peculiar to all plain liquors.  Therefore it is not necessary to use a combination of cordials, essences or lemon juice as some ‘bar creatures’ do, but by adhering strictly to the herein contained directions you will be enabled to serve these famous American decoctions in as fine style as the highest salaried mixologist in the land.”

Now, to be sure, Boothby gives recipes for all the traditional (and then-current) non-cocktail drinks of his day – many of them containing such things as liqueurs or lemon juice.  The Whiskey Sour, Tom Collins, Bourbon Mint Julep, Gin Fizz, Grasshopper, Remsen Cooler, and many other old war-horses are there.  He just presents them in sections other than the cocktail section.  His approach was not unique – it was considered mixologically-correct and appropriate in his day.

Since then, the word ‘cocktail’ has been expanded to include all mixed drinks – at least amongst laypersons.  This is, perhaps, one consequence of the historically-large, American middle class, which loves to over-dress its speech.  The middle class prefers a pseudo-sophisticated sentence like, “Let’s discuss it over cocktails.”  But Paul Fussell, in his humorous book, ‘Class,’ notes that the upper class (not including the newly-rich) is socially-comfortable enough to just say, “Let’s have a drink and talk about it.”

Some true cocktails are still at-least-somewhat-commonly ordered.  The following drinks have survived in forms that would have been instantly-recognizable as cocktails by pre-prohibition bartenders.

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#1. The Old-fashioned Whiskey Cocktail

Vessel: 5½ fl-oz. (or larger) old-fashioned glass tumbler

Build in the tumbler:

→ 1 cube of sugar (standard 1 tsp. size)

→ 1-3 fl-dsh. additive bitters of choice

→ ~¼ fl-oz. flat water (or more, depending on taste or the proof of the liquor)

Muddle until the sugar is dissolved and cocktail water is created

Add:

→ 2 fl-oz. service ice (2 full-ounce cubes)

→ 2 fl-oz. whiskey (American rye, Bourbon or Tennessee)

Garnish by twisting a strip of lemon zest over the drink and then dropping it in

Briefly stir the drink in its tumbler

Enjoy!

Note: this was just the old-fashioned way to make a cocktail of any liquor – not just whiskey.  I also recommend the Old-fashioned Cognac Cocktail, the Old-fashioned Scotch Cocktail, the Old-fashioned Rum Cocktail, the Old-fashioned Holland Gin Cocktail, etc.  The old-fashioned way to make and serve a cocktail keeps the drink cold longer than with the later method.  But, an old-fashioned cocktail can become too watery for some tastes.  For comparison, here is the later, now-very-rare, version:

#1.a. The Whiskey Cocktail

Vessel: 4½ fl-oz. glass cocktail goblet (chilled)

Combine in a mixing glass:

→ 2 fl-oz. whiskey (American rye, Bourbon or Tennessee)

→ 2 fl-dsh. additive bitters (of choice)

→ ¼ fl-oz. simple 1:1 sugar syrup (containing 1 tsp. of sugar)

→ method ice

Stir slowly to mix, chill and dilute

Strain into the goblet

Garnish by twisting a strip of lemon zest over the drink and then dropping it in

Enjoy!

Note: the newer way to make a cocktail required more clean water (in the syrup and method ice), but allowed the drink to be cold when served without ice.  It also offered the stem, with which the drinker held the drink to avoid warming it with their body heat.  The newer way to make and serve a cocktail avoids letting the drink become more watery with time, but does risk letting it become warm.  I will enjoy either – depending on how long I believe the drink will exist!

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#2. The Rye Sazerac Cocktail

Vessel: 5½ fl-oz. (or larger) old-fashioned glass tumbler

Chill or freeze the tumbler and then rinse the inside of it with a little absinthe

Build in the tumbler:

→ 1 cube of sugar (standard 1 tsp. size)

→ 1-3 fl-dsh. Peychaud’s aromatic additive bitters

→ ~¼ fl-oz. flat water (or more, depending on taste or the proof of the liquor)

Muddle until the sugar is dissolved and cocktail water is created

Add:

→ 2 fl-oz. service ice (2 full-ounce cubes)

→ 2 fl-oz. American rye whiskey

Garnish by twisting a strip of lemon zest over the drink and then dropping it in

Briefly stir the drink in its tumbler

Enjoy!

Note: this New Orleans-associated drink was originally just an old-fashioned cocktail based on Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils Cognac brandy.  The brand went defunct, probably due to the European grape blight. After it was no longer available, bartenders substituted the default American spirit of the time – rye whiskey.  Assuming a simple origin (just a regular cocktail made of Sazerac brandy), it is not clear when the absinthe made its way into the drink.  The drink plausibly had a long history before Boothby published the recipe for it in his 1908 book.  Even in 1908, Boothby still presents the drink as being based on “Sazerac brandy.”  I often make and enjoy the more-original Cognac version of this drink.  There is a lot of lore spoken and written about the Sazerac Cocktail that is not documented by any sources from the supposed time of its creation – or for decades afterwards.

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#3. The Manhattan Cocktail

Vessel: 4½ fl-oz. glass cocktail goblet (chilled)

Combine in a mixing glass:

→ 1½ fl-oz. American rye whiskey

→ ½ fl-oz. sweet vermouth wine (rosso/rouge)

→ 2 fl-dsh. proprietary ‘aromatic’ additive bitters (such as Angostura, Boker’s or Fee’s)

→ method ice

Stir slowly to mix, chill and dilute

Strain into the goblet

Garnish with an authentic maraschino cherry on a skewer

Enjoy!

Note: this drink can be seen as a rye whiskey cocktail fancily-sweetened by vermouth instead of sugar.  Boothby, in his 1891 book, ‘American Bar-tender,’ gives what might be the earliest recipe for the Manhattan Cocktail that did not include any liqueur.  In his recipe, the whiskey and vermouth are in equal parts of 1 fl-oz. each.  I love it that way, but it is almost never made in that proportion anymore.

Also, many people prefer orange additive bitters.  But before prohibition, that would have been known as a different drink: the York Cocktail (Kappeler, 1895).  Similarly, using Bourbon whiskey instead of rye, or drier vermouth, or different garniture yields drinks that had their own names in the golden era of American cocktails.  Furthermore, to make the pre-1900 Martini Cocktail, simply follow the recipe above and use old tom gin in place of the whiskey and orange additive bitters in place of the aromatic additive bitters.  What is most-commonly called a ‘Martini’ today, even with gin and vermouth, is not a drink that a pre-1900 bartender would consider a cocktail, unless it contains bitters, too.

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#4. The Camparinette Cocktail (a.k.a. the Negroni Cocktail)

Vessel: 4½ fl-oz. glass cocktail goblet (chilled)

Build in service-ware:

→ 2/3 fl-oz. dry gin

→ 2/3 fl-oz. sweet vermouth wine (rosso/rouge)

→ 2/3 fl-oz. Campari (calisaya-type grand bitters)

→ method ice

Stir slowly to mix, chill and dilute

Strain into the goblet

Garnish by twisting a strip of lemon zest over the drink and then dropping it in

Enjoy!

Note: this drink is one of the few still-somewhat-popular true cocktails that seems to have been created after prohibition.  I must confess to having told customers the drink lore about this one – Count Negroni in 1919 and so-on.  Unfortunately, there is no documentary evidence for that lore.  In fact, what appears first as the Negroni is a cup – that is a sling based on wine containing soda water.  The earliest recipe that modern bartenders would call the Negroni Cocktail was actually published in 1934 as the Camparinette Cocktail and seems not to have been created in Italy at all.

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#5. The Champagne Cocktail

Vessel: 6 fl-oz. glass flute goblet (chilled)

Build in the goblet:

→ 1 cube of sugar

→ 2 fl-dsh. proprietary ‘aromatic’ additive bitters (such as Angostura, Boker’s or Fee’s)

→ ~¼ fl-oz. charged water

Muddle (with the small end of a barspoon) until the sugar is dissolved and cocktail water is created

Add:

→ 4 fl-oz. sparkling Champagne wine

Enjoy!

Note: this drink actually pre-dates the Manhattan Cocktail.  It was published in Jerry Thomas’ 1862 book.  I have left it to the end – probably due to my feeling that it is not a great cocktail – but it is still ordered.  I don’t feel that it improves the wine, which has no alcohol burn worthy of bittering, anyway.  I do confess to liking the Jersey Cocktail, which is made the same way, but with cider (hard apple) – and the Perry Cocktail, which is made the same way, but with perry (hard pear cider).

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