Friday, December 22, 2006

The St. Dominic's Preview

The Gumbo Pages is a site "dedicated to the preservation of new orleans culture." It's put together by Chuck Taggart, an ex-pat New Orleanian living in L.A. Not only is Chuck the man behind a great box set of New Orleans music, Doctors, Professors, Kings and Queens,
he's also quite knowledgeable in the area of booze. Here's one of Chuck's originals, The St. Dominic's Preview. He based it on a cocktail called The Preview. The story, according to Chuck's source, is that The Preview was Peter Lawford's favorite drink. I have no idea whether this is true. Those Rat Packers sho'nuff did love the booze though so who knows. I haven't tried The Preview yet but Chuck's take on it is terrific.

St. Dominic's Preview

2 ounces Tullamore Dew Irish whiskey
1/2 ounce Grand Marnier
2 dashes orange bitters
Few dashes Herbsaint, Pernod or other pastis
Orange peel

Shake a few dashes of pastis into a rocks (Old Fashioned / whiskey) glass, then swirl around to coat. Pour most of it out, leaving a little puddle of it in the bottom of the glass. Combine the whiskey, liqueur and bitters in a cocktail shaker with cracked ice, stir for no less than 30 seconds and strain into the coated glass. Twist the peel over the drink and garnish with the peel.

There aren't many cocktails using Irish whiskey but this is a very fine example. I had the Tullamore Dew on hand so I used it but I'm sure the drink would be just as good with Jameson's, Bushmill's, Tullamore Dew or John Powers. I didn't have an orange, though, so a lemon twist had to do. Fortunately it made for a reasonable substitute.

Another substitution was made possible by my pal Desmond who provided a bottle of La Fée Bohemian Absinth* for us to experiment with. It worked exceptionally well in its role in the St. Dominic's Preview. I wouldn't say that it was a huge improvement over what my $17 bottle of Herbsaint would have provided in its place but used in this way it was excellent. It's amazing, really, just how little absinthe or pastis is needed to be noticeable.

So how is the La Fée on its own? Um, hmmm, I'm not sure. I tried it straight and with water and found it "interesting". I certainly didn't love it but I guess I can't do much more than damn it with faint praise. This particular style is glass cleaner-blue and 140 proof. The color is disconcerting but the high proof is probably the main reason for my difficulty. To my surprise I didn't find the alcohol to be too much but the flavors were very strong. Adding water really opened it up. It was simply too concentrated at 140. I'm very interested in trying other absinthes, particularly the absinthes made by Ted Breaux of Jade Liquors.

Here's the recipe for The Preview if you'd like to give it a try:
The Preview

1-1/2 ounces gin.
1 ounce Cointreau.
1/4 teaspoon of Ricard, Pernod or Herbsaint.

Pour the Ricard (or Pernod or Herbsaint) into a chilled cocktail glass and swirl to coat the inside of the glass; shake out the excess. Place the rest of the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with cracked ice, shake and serve straight up in the coated glass, garnished with a long, curly twist of orange peel.

Merry Christmas everybody!

* There's no "e" in "absinthe" in the Czech Republic.

From the La Fée website:
La Fée Bohemian Absinth re-creates the traditional Bohemian drink that was produced in the 1920s, with subtle herbal undertones of fennel, mint and rather less aniseed than that absinthe produced in France at the end of the 19th Century. Bohemian tastes have always meant that less anise is used in the drink's production, and explains why Bohemian Absinth does not turn milky ('louche') when water is added.

Whereas the heavy aniseed flavour of La Fée Parisian Absinthe is often not suitable for use in cocktails, La Fée Bohemian Absinth has a refined subtlety, whose distinctive flavour is a mixologists dream.

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Alberta Straub

I've mentioned mixological genius Alberta Straub before. I don't have time to relate the story of the evening the galfriend and I spent at The Orbit Room in San Fran sipping the fruits of Alberta's brilliance but you can hear an interview with Alberta on a KQED radio show called The California Report. Find a link to the show here.

Thanks to Jimmy's Cocktail Hour for the link.


Friday, December 08, 2006

Mixology Monday gets festive

I don't have much interest in wassail bowls, mulled wines, nogs, buttered rums or other hot drinks for the cold days and nights of winter. I'll try some of them eventually but M2 has come upon me too quickly to even begin thinking about upgrading my spice rack or working up an egg nog or Tom & Jerry batter. Maybe I'll get around to it in January or February when there's little else to do but drink. Boredom + Chicago winter + booze might well lead to killing some time separating eggs and whipping and recombining the results, etc. Then again that could also lead to experiments in home-brewed mead and marathon sessions watching the director's cut editions of the Lord of the Rings dvds. Pray for me, friends.

Instead I present to you the Manhattan Special. It may not be particularly "festive"* but it's an excellent cocktail for a chilly night and is sure to be accepted with pleasure by any guests you may be hosting this holiday season--those guests who drink the brown liquor anyway. It doesn't matter in the least that this is a chilled drink. Between the whiskey and the Benedictine it's sure to warm what needs warming and to cure what ails you. For the full restorative effect I recommend my version. I don't think the 1.5 ounces of whiskey in the version properly takes care of business. I like 2.5 ounces in the first one if I'm having more than one. 2.0 ounces is plenty for any that follow.

The Manhattan Special

2 - 2.5 oz rye whiskey
.5 oz sweet vermouth
.5 oz Benedictine
2 dashes of Angostura bitters

Stir with ice and strain into a small rocks glass over fresh ice. Garnish with a cherry.

Famed bartender Harry Craddock wrote that one should drink a cocktail "quickly while it's still laughing at you" but as you can see I prefer my Manhattans on the rocks. A Manhattan served "up" is traditional and is perfectly nice and you are, of course, welcome to make this drink however you choose. I wouldn't dream of making a Martini on the rocks but for some reason I prefer to linger over Manhattans. Even using a well chilled cocktail glass I usually find that a Manhattan served up will warm up before I want it to and so I make mine a little larger and a little stronger and strain them over fresh ice. Et voila, there's no need to throw it back in a big hurry. This also happens to be how my dad enjoys his CC Perfect** Manhattans. I'm sure that has something to do with my preference but I think it's mostly because for me whiskey is a, shall we say, more contemplative spirit than gin.

Tweaks: A slight alteration turns the Manhattan Special into a Preakness. The Preakness calls for .75 oz of sweet vermouth, .25 oz of Benedictine and a lemon twist as the garnish. I'd recommend the lemon twist with either version if forced to choose between the twist and a waxy, artificially flavored and colored store-bought maraschino cherry but my cocktail cherries are homemade*** so I use them without hesitation.

Benedictine, like Unicum, is another ingredient where a little goes a long way. If you're not overly fond of it you may want to start with the Preakness' ratio. I think the Manhattan Special is the better drink of the two but I certainly recommend you pour that half-ounce of Benedictine carefully. This is particularly important if your tastes lean towards milder whiskeys because the Manhattan Special is best made with a whiskey that'll put hair on your chest. Wild Turkey rye or the 100 proof Rittenhouse rye are ideal. Booker's would be a fine choice if you wanted to make this with bourbon.

A less in-your-face bourbon like Basil Hayden though, would, I think, require a substantial reduction in the amount of Benedictine used. It's smooth and tasty but if Booker's is John Wayne in Red River then Basil Hayden is Montgomery Clift. Sure, Clift is cool and all and he's the hero of the film but, dudes, seriously, what's up with that long scene with Clift and John Ireland where their characters compare six-shooters in what can only be viewed as a courtship ritual of some sort?


Happy Mixology Monday, folks.

* Other than nutmeg, perhaps, none of the spices used in the making of Benedictine are strongly affiliated with the various December holidays but the whiskey and Benedictine combo certainly strikes me as an ideal accompaniment to a roaring fireplace. See the new issue of Imbibe and the two dozen other M2 submissions for some great new, officially "festive" cocktails and punches.

** A "Perfect" Manhattan is made with a half-ounce each of sweet and dry vermouth whereas a standard Manhattan calls for one ounce of sweet vermouth. Embury prefers to call the two vermouth Manhattan a "Medium" Manhattan. I suppose that makes more sense but I'll stick with "perfect". It's the term I knew first and most bartenders know what it means. If you run into a bartender who tells you that every Manhattan he makes is perfect, well, be kind and explain what you mean. If he's grateful you've done your good deed for the day, boy scout. If you get attitude just stiff the ingrate.

You may have noticed that the Manhattan Special is nothing more than a Perfect Manhattan with Benedictine substituted for the dry vermouth. If not, well, now you know. And if you haven't already figured it out a Dry Manhattan calls for only dry vermouth. Natch. Also, as for my pop's CC Perfect Manhattan: CC = Canadian Club.

*** eGullet has a good thread covering cocktail cherries. Please feel free to ignore the inane ramblings in my posts. Or you can skip all that and go directly to the recipe I used for my current batch of cocktail cherries. Check out that recipe here. Essentially it's dried cherries reconstituted in water and sugar with lemon and orange zest and vanilla. The cherries don't look like much when they come off heat but they continue to plump up nicely overnight. I add about half the cherries and most of the syrup to yogurt and the rest go into a clean, air-tight jar with rye whiskey. I'd use maraschino liqueur but I'm too cheap to use Luxardo and I'm very happy with the cherries soaked in rye.

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

If by whiskey...

Thanks to Martini Republic for the link to a 1952 speech by a young Mississippi lawmaker, Noah S. "Soggy" Sweat, Jr., on the subject of whether Mississippi should prohibit or legalize alcoholic beverages:

If when you say whiskey you mean the devil's brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, and despair, and shame and helplessness, and hopelessness, then certainly I am against it.


If when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman's step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life's great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that drink, the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars, which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged and infirm; to build highways and hospitals and schools, then certainly I am for it.

Well said. A toast to our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged and infirm!

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Repeal Day

Repeal Day is here. The Volstead Act (aka Prohibition) was officially repealed seventy-three years ago today. "Designer, blogger and mixologist" Jeffrey Morganthaler suggests that we celebrate. Count me in.

Check out a couple old newsreels about the end of Prohibition: here and here. Thanks to the Museum of the American Cocktail's blog for the links.

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