An Elemental Mixology Vodka Excerpt

I am working tirelessly (okay, I admit that I am tired) on the 2014 editions of the Elemental Mixology Book and the Elemental Mixology Liquor Companion.  I have added a lot of bottlings and descriptions to the latter.  I thought I would share part of the description for vodka:

[As it exists today, vodka is just about the newest type of spirit.  Now, something called vodka has been made in Russia and Poland for centuries.  But for most of that time it was pot-distilled (as were all spirits before the nineteenth century), and would have tasted like whatever it happened to be distilled from.  It was not until usually-well-off, ex-patriot Russians began distilling something they called ‘vodka’ outside of Russia following the Russian revolution using newer, highly-efficient columnar stills that the flavorless spirit known today was born.  In the U.S.A., any product labeled ‘vodka’ must be distilled at least three times – and at the flavor-stripping strength of at least 190-proof at least once.  The one similarity between modern vodka and pre-1917 vodka is that the base ingredient is, and was, non-specific.  Peasants made it out of whatever they had that would ferment.  Modern, flavorless vodka is similarly flexible of base-ingredient since the flavor is distilled out, anyway.  Instead of specifying ingredients, federal requirements in the U.S.A. state that plain vodka must be produced “without distinctive character, flavor or aroma.”  This means that it has no flavor or aroma, and is of no noteworthy character.  Its underwhelming, insipid banality is also its great strength.  It is the alcoholic equivalent of tofu – in that it provides no flavor to the palate, but can be made to taste like just about anything.  Vodka is often the favorite of drinkers who don’t care for the flavors of more traditional spirits, and wish to sneak ethanol past their palates and into their bloodstreams.]

Drink of the Day – The Syncopation Daisy

Today’s drink of the day is the Syncopation Daisy.  The original recipe can be found in Arthur Moss’, “Drinks About Town,” at the end of the book, “Barflies and Cocktails,” itself the 1927 re-publishing of Harry McElhone’s 1922 book, “ABC of Mixing Cocktails.”  I make this one with Chalfonte V.S.O.P. Cognac brandy and Laird’s bonded straight apple brandy (straight applejack).  I advise against using any blended applejack.  For the liqueur, see the previous Drink of the Day post here.


20130927 - Syncopation Daisy

Drink of the Day – The Communiqué Blossom

Today’s drink of the day is the Communiqué Blossom.  I found it in W.J. Tarling’s 1937 book, The Café Royal Cocktail Book [sic].  Neither Cointreau’s nor Combier’s famous triple-sec Curaçao liqueurs need be used if you have something less expensive that is nearly as good (such as “Curaçao Triple-sec” by Boudier, Briottet or Cartron – or even “Triplum” by Luxardo).  As usual, read the fine print about grapefruit.  Please yourself with the gin selection.  After those hurdles are overcome, you will find this a tasty specimen!

20130926 - Communique Blossom

Julep versus Smash

Julep versus Smash

Note that in the Julep above, the mint is not pulverized, or ‘smashed.’  In my opinion, that makes it superior to the Smash, in which the mint is smashed and bitter flavor released into the drink.  I prefer a non-smashed Julep with plenty of mint so that I get a good amount of menthol (the alkaloid) into the drink without breaking down the mint so much that other bitter alkaloids (found in the thicker parts of the leaves) are also added.

For those that wonder about the Brandy Smash (No. 2) – it is the same as the No. 1 above, but with Jamaica rum dashed on top after the drink is otherwise finished.

Unfortunately, this is just one more bit of pre-prohibtion American mixological knowledge that seems just a bit to finely-pointed to have survived into modern practice.  I mostly see Smashes served, even though they are called Juleps.

It is also worthy of note that none of the printed recipes for the Mojito Collins (it was early called a Pedro Collins with mint, after all) from the 1930’s and 1940’s ever indicate to crush the mint – it is just shaken with the other shaken ingredients.

Mint is a special lady and she will give you her best only when she is treated gently.

Drink of the Day – The James Cocktail

Today’s drink of the day is the James Cocktail.  It is found in the book published in 1931 by Albert Stephens from the notebook compiled by Joseph Taylor while he tended bar at the Waldorf Hotel between 1894 and 1920.  If you like the Camparinete Cocktail (a.k.a. Negroni Cocktail, if you must), you will probably like the James Cocktail.  Try it both ways – with, and without, sugar – and let me know which you prefer.  (Click on the image below to enlarge it.)

20130925 - James Cocktail

Absinthe in the U.S.A.?

Someone in a forum at the Wormwood Society objected to an earlier post I put up about the legal status of absinthe in the U.S.A.  In this post I shall clarify what I meant to communicate about American-market absinthe.

California Clandestine Absinthe 2006-10 a California Clandestine Absinthe 2006-10 b

In October, 2006, I macerated and distilled (in a stainless-steel pot with a copper head) my own ‘California’ Clandestine absinthe.  I based it upon a nineteenth-century formula, but added California poppy to it.  It should go without saying that I did my distilling somewhere where personal distilling is legal!  I got about four liters and it was all consumed during my Halloween party just a few days after distilling.  I remember it as being good.  I also remember being happy and relieved at seeing that it showed a good louche when water was added.  A couple of local bartenders (now managers) were on hand that night that might remember it: Giovanni of Sadie and Greg of Hostaria del Piccolo.  The hausgemacht aside, I had no idea at the time that within a matter of months, the status of absinthe in the U.S.A. would change – at least seemingly.

In 2007, a sort of absinthe began to be available in the U.S.A. again.  I remember being excitedly told at the time by someone closer to the proceedings than myself, that the Kübler people had successfully argued that the product that they had specially formulated for the American market did not contain enough thujone to violate the 1912 ban if tested for using laboratory equipment from the time of the ban.  I don’t know if this is actually true.  But, the result of Kübler’s negotiations (and others), was that the ban on thujone (found in wormwood) would be interpreted to allow a product to be labelled as absinthe and sold in the U.S.A. as long as it was officially “thujone-free,” and that the threshold at which the product would be considered to contain thujone would be 10 ml. (per liter).  Therefore, American market absinthe must contain fewer than 10 ml. (per liter) of thujone.  The European Union allows more than three-times that amount – up to 35 ml. (per liter).

Tests have shown that absinthe bottlings from before the various bans of about a hundred years ago had an average thujone content of about 25 ml. (per liter) and a median thujone content of about 33 ml. (per liter).  That means that the typical pre-ban absinthe would not be approved for sale in the U.S.A. today, but would meet the requirements for sale in Europe.

I suppose the fact that the ban still stands in some capacity in the U.S.A., but that the interpretation of the ban has been loosened, is the reason that there has been some amount of confusion and argument.  The distillers of American-market absinthe, and many drinkers, have engaged in plenty of excited boosterism that never dwells on restrictions still in place.  On the other hand, some of those that mistakenly believe that ‘real’ absinthe is a psychedelic drug have suspected that American-market absinthe is deficient for purposes of ‘tripping’ because of the relative lack of thujone.  Makers of bad “absinth” from places with little-or-no history of making the real thing, like the Czech Republic, Russia and Israel are often happy to suggest as much.

There is plenty of bad stuff from Europe, but all of the truly great bottlings also come from there, in my opinion.  If you ask me, nothing for sale in the U.S.A. is as good as Jade Liqueurs’ (Ted Breaux) Absinthe Edouard or Combier Blanchette.  Some American-market absinthe is good, but always seems to be missing something in the flavor, in my opinion.  That said, I have never tasted an American-market absinthe that is bad in the way that so-called ‘absinth’ from the Czech Republic is.

Breaux’s highly reputed European-market absinthes are being made available in the U.S.A., at least in versions that contain fewer that 10 ml. (per liter) of thujone.  Since I maintain a stock of the European bottlings, I will be eager to taste for any differences between those and the bottles that will be available here.

That brings me to the description of European-market Kübler absinthe being described at this link as being the “full-strength EU version.”

To sum up, I would say, yes, we have absinthe in the U.S.A. – just not the same absinthe that one can buy in Europe.  Until you find a good amount of the absinthe bottlings being sold here also being legally sold in the U.S.A., it shall be proof that the governmental ban continues to have at some qualitative effect on what Americans can buy and sell as absinthe – if in no other way than keeping all of those bottlings out of our market.

Drink of the Day – The Nevada Jitney

Today’s drink of the day is the Nevada Jitney.  At 1:44 p.m. (Pacific Daylight Time) on September 22nd, Fall will have begun.  This drink is one for the last couple of days of official Summer.  It is found in that well-known book written by Harry Craddock and published in 1930.

20130920 - Nevada Jitney

(Click on the image if you wish to enlarge it.)

Light Rum Described in 1907 (and Blended Rum)

Forever at war with the silly idea that the main way to categorize the types of rum is by color (light, gold and dark) instead of by flavor (traditional, light and blended), I post this excerpt from the eighth volume of the West Indian Bulletin, published in 1907, that makes clear that the term “light rum” before prohibition was used to refer to rum that was light in flavor due to distillation method and short fermentation.

West Indian Bulletin volume 8 page 122 excerpt

The source is describing the growing rarity of old (aged beyond 6 or 7 years) flavorful, pot-still rum.  To conceptualize what he means by “old rums of delicate softened flavour,” taste both Wray & Nephew White Overproof Jamaica rum and then Smith & Cross Traditional Jamaica Rum.  They both are clearly pot-still character, traditional rums, in that the flavor of molasses is clearly evident in a way unlike in any light rum.  The effects of the additional aging in the Smith & Cross are what the source means by “delicate softened flavour.”  This should not be taken as a description of light rum.  The source then states that most rums he now encounters in Jamaica are blended rums.

Note that the source also clearly understands that lighter rums take on the flavor of the barrel much faster (without the flavor of molasses to overcome).  The suggestion is that in pubs, a less-expensive rum that was mostly made of light rum and that tasted woody and expensive after a shorter time in the barrel was desired by the pub owners.

In order to make blended rum, light rum is needed and the source describes what production methods make light rum ‘light.’

This is not about color.  The wood-flavor added as a consequence of aging cannot transform light rum into traditional rum.  It just becomes light rum with a bit of woody flavor – not traditional rum with a bit of woody flavor.  Havana Club 7-year old Cuban rum does not taste like traditional rum – it tastes like old light rum.  El Dorado 15-year old Demerara rum tastes like old traditional rum.  The point in the excerpt from 1907 is that by doing a shorter fermentation and then distilling more efficiently – that is closer to pure ethanol than a pot still can achieve – rum is produced that is lighter in flavor.

I suppose it’s the fault of the English language that both old words léoht (as in sunlight) and liht or lith (as in ‘lithe’ or un-heavy) are now expressed in the same spelling: “light.”

American bartenders seem to have understood around 1910 that Cuban rum (even the aged, brown stuff) was called ‘light’ because it was produced to be lighter in flavor than the more traditional rums they were accustomed to.  But, the masses of suddenly-hired, completely-untrained post-repeal bartenders never seemed to have learned that the phrase “light Cuban rum” was not originally meant to refer to the color of the cheapest, colorless Bacardi bottling they all had at their fingertips in 1934.

For proof that Cuban rum-men still have the understanding that their rum is light, even the 7-year stuff, watch the “Hooray for Havana Rum!” episode of the Thirsty Traveler.  In that episode the master distiller of Havana Club tells Kevin Brauch, “All Cuban rums are light.”

Now, tell your friends to stop using their eyes to categorize rum, and to start using their taste buds for that purpose!

Some Drinks Just Aren’t There

I see a great deal of error by repetition that I have always wanted to address.  I will deal with them in chronological order, according to alleged year or decade.

1.  There is no civil war-era Sazerac Cocktail.  There is documentary evidence of Sazerac Cognac (and the Sazerac House in New Orleans that imported it) from the mid 1800’s, but that is just not the same thing as the mixed drink.  The oldest-known recipe for that is from 1908.  I have written more about the history of the drink here and here.  See #2 below for similarity.

2.  There is no Ramos Gin Fizz from the 1880’s.  The drink itself can be found as far back as the 1890’s – but always called the New Orleans Fizz.  Henry Ramos may have only convinced others (and himself) by around 1910 that he had created the drink in some long-lost Louisiana glory.  See #1 above for similarity.

3.  There is no Manhattan Cocktail in Harry Johnson’s 1882 book.  It is in his 1888 reprint.

4.  There is no Marguerite Cocktail that is the same as the Dewey Cocktail (or a Dry Martini, for the benighted) from Thomas Stuart’s 1896 book.  It is found in the addendum to his 1904 reprint

5.  There is no Zombie in Patrick Duffy’s 1934 book.  It is in Duffy’s 1940 reprint.

6.  There is no 1944 Mai Tai.  The oldest recipe for it doesn’t show up until the mid 1950’s.  Victor Bergeron published books with extensive coverage of drinks in 1946 and 1947.  He did not give the recipe, nor even mention the existence of the drink.  Finally, between a 1970 article and his 1972 book, he goes on a protest-too-much type rant about being the drink’s creator, and suggests that everyone else recently making the same claim is a liar.  Believing Victor Bergeron’s 1970’s claims (and the supporting claims of his friends) that he first made the drink in the 1940’s is gullibility in the extreme.  Come on, people.

I could go on and on, but I tire of recounting self-promoting falsification, and the gullibility and feeble-mindedness of mankind.

P.S.  I have added a postscript about the “1926 Cosmo” not being found in 1926 here.

Drink of the Day – the Beach Blossom

Today’s drink is the Beach Blossom.  It is found in Arthur Moss’ appendix to Barflies and Cocktails, the 1927 re-publishing of Harry McElhone’s 1922 book, the A.B.C.’s of Mixing Cocktails.  It’s a Summer drink, but seems to me to be most-appropriate in late Summer.  It is also one of the rare blossoms that I really enjoy when made in the courses.  I hope that you enjoy it, too.

Drink of the Day 20130913 Beach Blossom