Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Ten Ton Cocktail (or is it Tenton?)

[Revised slightly 3/2/2007]

Here's one I tried last weekend. I had a nice grapefruit that needed using before it headed south so I juiced it and hit CocktailDB for ideas. I was in the mood for something with rye whiskey and CocktailDB turned up the Ten Ton Cocktail (or Tenton Cocktail).
Ten Ton (tenton) Cocktail

1½ oz rye
½ oz dry vermouth
½ oz grapefruit juice

Shake in iced cocktail shaker & strain. Add cherry.
There seems to be some confusion about this one and it goes beyond whether there's a space between "ten" and "ton". CocktailDB also has a Ten Ton Cocktail #2 which features gin and kümmel rather than rye and grapefruit juice. Mixology.com lists this gin/kümmel version as the Tenton Cocktail. So I dunno what to think and Googling didn't turn up much else. I prefer "Tenton" because I don't see how "Ten Ton" fits this drink. Even had I made it with 100 proof rye it's not exactly a drink that hits you like a ton of bricks. It is light and dry and extremely refreshing.

As for "tenton", well, your guess is as good as mine. Is it a town? Is it a bartender, actor, bar, hotel, city, racehorse...? I dunno. CocktailDB doesn't often include the provenance of its cocktails so I don't even know what book this came from. I checked a couple older ones and came up empty. Lemme know if you can shed any light. Meanwhile, I guess I'll call it the Tenton Cocktail but, by any name, two parts rye to one part dry vermouth and one part grapefruit juice is a very, very nice, very simple cocktail.

I used Old Overholt rye, Noilly Prat dry vermouth and fresh-squoze grapefruit juice. I skipped the cherry though I suppose one of my rye-soaked beauties might have made a nice addition. I chose Old Overcoat thanks to Sam Kinsey's "research" in rye whiskey. Sam (aka slkinsey) is one of the big guns in the eGullet drinks forum. He's not a pro--that is, he doesn't tend bar or write cocktail books--but his posts at eGullet show that he most definitely knows his way around a liquor cabinet and knows his cocktail history. That he's also "in" with the NYC cocktail elite--Wondrich, Saunders et al--only adds to my estimation of the man as a font of cocktail wisdom. So, when Sam posts that Old Overholt is his preferred rye in The Blinker I listen. And when an Old Overholt Blinker (the raspberry syrup version) turns out to be surprisingly tasty--unlike my less-than-memorable previous attempts made with the generally superior Rittenhouse rye--well, it's the kind of lesson that sticks.

Oh, yeah, and one more thing: I made several of these over the course of last weekend and, as a member of the "everything's better with bitters" school of cocktail geekology I thought for sure that the drink could be improved with a dash of something or other. It turns out that neither Peychaud's bitters or Regan's Orange bitters were an improvement. In fact, what they added was an off-note that threw off the balance of the drink. I also tried one with a dash of Angostura bitters. This didn't make for a better drink either but it wasn't necessarily any worse, just different. I can say, though, that all Tenton cocktails in my future will be sans bitters.


Thursday, February 22, 2007

The 1794

There's a thread at eGullet discussing various cocktail joints in San Francisco. Recently one post mentioned a cocktail that can be found at two of San Fran's more chi-chi, de rigeur, yadda yadda cocktail lounges, Bourbon & Branch and Range. The cocktail is called 1794. It's a rye whiskey cocktail with Campari and sweet vermouth and it's garnished with a flamed orange twist*. If I understand correctly the cocktail's creator, Dominic Venegas, works at both establishments.

1½ oz Rittenhouse Rye
¾ oz Campari
¾ oz Vya Red vermouth

Stir with ice, strain, garnish with flamed orange peel. [If the word on the street** is to be believed Range subs Old Overholt for the Rittenhouse and Cinzano Rosso for the Vya.]
Once again, if you'll indulge me, I'll point out that this is pretty solidly in the Manhattan family as I've outlined it here and here. There's whiskey, sweet vermouth and a bitter component of some sort. I guess one could argue that I'm stretching things a bit as, in this case, the vermouth and bitters together equal the amount of whiskey in the recipe rather than half of the whiskey. So be it. I'm a cocktail lover not a fighter.

Frankly, I think the next time I mix one up I'm going to use a more traditional Manhattan-style ratio--maybe 2 oz rye to a half-ounce each vermouth and Campari. While I enjoyed the 1794 there's just something about what Campari brings to the table that stops me short of really loving this drink. I will say, though, that the 1794 is a more appropriate summer drink than the Manhattan Special. I prefer Torani Amer to Campari so I'm more likely to stir up a Liberal but either would be a nice turn off the path beaten down to the dirt with Gin & Tonics and suchlike.

Hey. Hey, you. C'mon, eyes right. I'm talkin' here. Okay, that's better. As I was about to say, Campari is a bitter liqueur from Italy. So, it's not a concentrated bitters like, say, Angostura or Regan's Orange. It's a "potable" bitters that is beloved by Europeans as an aperitif. As you can see in the photo I've "borrowed" from the 2007 Campari catalog it's also molto sexy (or, in Ms. Hayek's case, muy sexy). Of course, just about anything is sexier by definition when done in an Italian cafe or restaurant. Whether that be drinking sparkling water or enjoying a bitter, herbal libation that gets its bright red color from bug shells that's just a fact and we Americans have no choice but to accept it.

[I wonder if power tool and auto parts companies have tried claiming their catalogs featuring scantily clad women are simply a "European" style of advertising? The 2005 Campari catalog is even more "artistic".]

I've had some success in getting used to the unusual flavor of Campari but I'm far from being a full-fledged convert. I've made a couple Negronis that I didn't particularly enjoy (though I later learned that the Negroni is kinda like jumping into the deep end of the Campari swimming pool). I think my first was the standard 1:1:1 version. I don't remember the details of my second attempt other than that it wasn't exactly my cup of herbs and bug shells either. The only drink, so far, in which I truly and completely like Campari is in a highball with fizz-water and lime. Somehow Campari and lime together taste like grapefruit. That discovery was kinda weird but this, friends, is a beverage that is cool, refreshing and very lovely in the glass.

The 1794 is, as I said, pretty darn close to completely succesful. I certainly enjoyed it enough that I will make it again and, if it is true that Campari is an aquired taste, it may well become a regular in the summer rotation if I manage to fully acquire it.

* Ah, the flamed orange twist. I had been meaning to try this little trick for a long time but somehow hadn't gotten around to it. I'm proud to say that the occasion of mixing up this 1794 was my first attempt at flaming a twist and that I was wholly successful. I surfed a bit hoping to find some video of this technique for you but came up empty. I did, however, find a nice set of instructions in an article on King Cocktail, Dale DeGroff. Here's what Dale has to say:
The aroma and flavor in citrus fruits is concentrated in the oil cells of its peel. Chefs and bartenders often extract this oil along with the juice to add the essence of the fruit to various dishes and drinks. In cocktails, the oil in the citrus peel provides an additional advantage because it can be flamed.
  • Always use firm, fresh fruit; the skin will have a higher oil content.
  • Use large, thick-skinned navel oranges.
  • The twists should be 3/4 inch by 1 1/2 inches long. The peel should be thin enough that the yellow shows all around the circumference with just a small amount of white pith visible in the center. Cutting uniformly sized, thin oval peels that flame up well takes control, concentration, and practice.
  • Hold a lit match in one hand, and pick up the twist in the other very carefully, as if holding an eggshell; if you squeeze the twist prematurely the oil will be expelled.
  • Hold the twist by the side, not the ends, between thumb and forefinger, skin side facing down, about four inches above the drink.
  • Don't squeeze or you'll lose all the oil before you flame.
  • Hold the match between the drink and the twist, closer to the twist. Snap the twist sharply, propelling the oil through the lit match and onto the surface of the drink.
** Considering that my cyberpal and fellow Wisconsin ex-pat Erik is playing the role of Huggy Bear in this case I'd bet the house that the skinny he's providing here is on the money. Erik, by the way, is currently working his way through an early edition of Harry Craddock's The Savoy Cocktail Book in a blog-as-forum thread called Stomping Through The Savoy. It's chock full o'great info. If you've ever leafed through an old cocktail book and wondered how some of the old drinks might taste, well, Erik's actually doing this drink by drink(!). He's knowledgeable in the realms of cocktail history and spirits but even if the only thing you take from his efforts is which old drinks are best left to history you'll consider your time reading his thread as time well spent. [I edited this post to add a link to the cocktail menu at the Range website. It includes the ingredients for the 1794 just as Erik listed them at eGullet. I told you he could be trusted.]

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Friday, February 09, 2007

Happy New Year!

Damn! This post has been "in progress" since early January. Regardless, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that it's still early enough in the new year to wish all y'all a Happy New Year. That's exceptionally lame, I know, but I hope you'll cut me some slack.

I have absolutely no idea how many of you are out there but I appreciate your taking the time to stop by. I hope you've found something useful or at least moderately entertaining in my ramblings over the last couple months. I also hope you had a swell time on New Years Eve. If you had a particularly fine cocktail on NYE please take a moment to tell me about it in the comments section.

I spent New Year's Eve in San Diego. It was a pleasant evening with the galfriend's family and it concluded a fine trip out west. The evening, however, was unfortunately cocktail-free. While I don't consider it a requirement to get all liquored up on New Years I do think a few cocktails make for a more festive evening.

Fortunately the evening was not alcohol-free. There was Full Sail Pale Ale from Oregon and Karl Strauss Amber Lager from San Diego and we had a couple bottles of sparkling wine: Gloria Ferrer Brut and Korbel Extra Dry. I think Mike's Hard Lemonade was also consumed (but not by me).

I liked both microbrews and both sparklers. Neither beer was a life-changer but both had plenty of the fine beer flavor found in all good microbrews. I thought the Gloria Ferrer was a particularly nice champagne, especially at $13. I don't drink much champagne so I won't pretend to know what I'm talking about but I can say that the GF struck me as very fresh and light and delicious. I'd definitely buy it again and I wouldn't feel remotely embarrassed or self-conscious taking it to a party. How's that for high praise from the ignorant?

The highlight of the trip was probably the seals and sea lions at La Jolla Cove. It's "pupping season" for the seals so the adult seals are spending a lot of time on the beach or on rocks near the shore with the seal pups. Fortunately, there's a seal/sea lion protection group with members who watch over the beach and keep folks from getting too close. Considering how adorable those sleeping seal pups are that's a good thing. As they lazed on the rocks even the big, fat and hairy sea lions looked as if they wanted their bellies rubbed. A quick trip over the sand to cuddle one of the far more adorable seal pups was nigh on irresistible.

The sea birds were interesting too. We didn't see any pigeon-eating pelicans but the local fliers are weird enough to this midwesterner's eyes. It's uncanny how ungainly they are while walking around but how graceful they are in the air. Egrets, we saw a few, but, then again, too few to mention... ba dump bump. Okay, so they were probably cormorants but there's no Sinatra joke to be made from "cormorants", is there?

The other excitement to be had on the trip was buying booze that can't be had for love nor money in the great state of Illinois.

Laird's Straight Apple Brandy (100 proof). Delicious. Like drinking good whiskey in an apple orchard. It's so delicious, in fact, that I contacted Laird's in the hope of learning something about one of their other products, Captain Applejack. The Captain is also 100 proof but until Laird's got back to me I didn't know much else about it. What I learned from the sales staffer who replied is that they're the same product but the Captain Applejack label is used in the Carolinas and Virginia (and, apparently, Illinois).

I assume Laird's bought the Capt. Applejack name at some point and, as apple brandy has long since fallen out of favor in the U.S., it's not much of a stretch to think that Laird's simply decided to use the Capt. Applejack name to sell their product in the area where that name was familiar. But I'm just guessing.

Junipero gin. According to the guy at Sam's Junipero won't be available in Illinois for at least another few months. It's an incredibly rich, potent juniper-heavy gin. Alberta Straub gave us a taste when we were in San Francisco last fall and I thought I might have found a new favorite Martini gin. I've tried it in a 4:1 and a 5:1 Martini so far and both were very good but Plymouth gin is still my first choice. [Note: thanks to my inability to get this posted I've learned that Junipero is now available at Sam's.]

Plymouth gin for $10.99!! And speaking of Plymouth, I would have preferred to find room in my suitcase for something else unavailable in Chicago but I couldn't pass it up at this sale price. This is half what I pay locally.

I also picked up mini-bottles of the following:
Schladerer kirschwasser
Jameson's and Bushmill's Irish whiskey
Myers's dark rum
Pere Magloire calvados

Kirschwasser (aka kirsch) is kinda pricey and I've never tried it so I haven't picked up a bottle. The Schladerer is supposed to be good so I was happy to pick up this mini even if it was the most expensive of the bunch at $6.50. The others were picked up for taste-testing purposes. It's been years since I've had Myers's rum and I've been meaning to do an Irish whiskey head-to-head (to-head-to-head) competition between the two best known Irish's and my prior and current favorites, Tullamore Dew,and John Powers, respectively.

Wow. Did this really need a five-week gestation period?

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Mixology Monday drinks whisk(e)y.

February is as good a month as any to celebrate the blessing that is whiskey. In fact, let me go waaaay out on a limb and state that any month is a good month to celebrate the whiskey/whisky family of spirits. I see no need to push those bottles to the back of the liquor cabinet when the weather turns warm but I won't deny that there's something a little more inviting about your brown liquors as temperatures drop. And considering the absolute bitch of a cold spell we're experiencing over a sizable chunk of the U.S. right now I'm happy to use MixMo XII as an excuse to recommend a new favorite, The Liberal.
Liberal Cocktail

1½ oz rye or Bourbon whiskey (rye for me, thanks)
½ oz sweet vermouth
¼ oz Amer Picon (or Torani Amer)
1 dash orange bitters (3-4 dashes for me*)

Stir in mixing glass with ice & strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
The Liberal, as you may have noticed, is just another take on The Manhattan. Sure, I've already done a Manhattan variation and a couple Old-Fashioned variations (here and here) and, yeah, maybe this is a sign of my limited imagination. I won't argue. But I think the more important lesson is that the world's great drinks--The Manhattan, The Martini and The Old-Fashioned, for example--are a solid foundation that allows anyone and everyone to create a delicious cocktail without requiring a huge liquor cabinet or even any real experience making cocktails.

Let's look at the Manhattan. It couldn't be more simple: two parts whiskey to one part sweet vermouth plus a dash of aromatic bitters, usually Angostura. That's three ingredients that can be had for under $20. Add to that a mixing glass, a long spoon (hell, a chopstick will do), ice, a straining device of some sort and a suitable drinking vessel and you're moments away from an excellent cocktail. If you have a lemon or orange handy for twists, all the better.

Add a couple more bottles to your cupboard and the sky is the limit. There are hundreds of whiskeys to choose from and fine Manhattans can be made with most of them whether it be a Bourbon, rye, Tennessee or Canadian whiskey. Upgrading from your every day Martini & Rossi or Cinzano or other inexpensive sweet vermouth also allows for further experimentation. Or you can use a dry vermouth to make a Dry Manhattan or use both dry and sweet vermouth for a Perfect Manhattan. You may hear arguments against both of those cocktails but you won't hear them from me.

Bitters are another variable. You can stick with Angostura or another aromatic bitters like the Fee Brothers Old Fashioned Aromatic Bitters or you can give orange bitters a try. I haven’t made a Manhattan with Peychaud’s bitters but that doesn’t mean you can’t.

Or you can tweak the bitters component the way the creator of The Liberal did. Switching from aromatic bitters to orange bitters reduces the bitter component sufficiently to allow for another ingredient to provide some bitterness as well. Amer Picon (or, in my case, Torani Amer) will do this and since it isn’t concentrated like Angostura more of it is needed and because it provides an herbal quality too it only makes sense to reduce the amount of sweet vermouth. Plus, the Amer Picon also has orange notes that are perfectly complemented by the orange bitters. Et voila, The Liberal. Try one, won't you?

Assuming, that is, that you can find either Amer Picon or Torani Amer. I've never seen Amer Picon and I'm not sure it's currently available in the U.S. It's my understanding, though, that while the Torani Amer isn't a perfect replacement for Amer Picon it's actually a better choice when making drinks originally calling for Amer Picon. Apparently the makers of Amer Picon have made some changes over the years and what was originally a 78 proof liqueur is now 42 proof. That's never a good sign. Unfortunately, Torani Amer isn't much easier to find. It can't be had in Illinois for love nor money. I bought mine in California last summer.

The good news, though, if you've been paying attention (and if you haven't already moved on to the next MixMo blogger) is that you can pick up any bottle of amer/amaro and come up with something in the Manhattan family that is very likely to be delicious. I recently had a drink made with Amaro Nonino that was fantastic. The next time I'm in the mood to spend $30 on a liqueur the Nonino is at the top of the list. And in my own ridiculously over-stocked liquor cabinet is an unopened bottle of Amaro Ramazzotti that's destined for this type of experimentation. With The Manhattan as my prototype I'm sure I can make an excellent drink with it.

Thanks for stopping by.


* Dr. Cocktail (aka Ted Haigh) has actually tasted the original 78 proof Amer Picon. He once wrote the following:
"...The Picon has more of a bitter orange character, and for want of a better way to describe it, the Torani leans more toward celery. That's why when I make Picon Punches for a bunch of guests and I must use Torani Amer, I add a dash or two of orange bitters to each drink - which to my mind moves it a little closer back to the original Picon product...".
Taking his lead, when using Torani Amer I always add a couple dashes of orange bitters whether the recipe calls for it or not.

CocktailDB also lists a variation on The Liberal which I haven't tried (and which has a duplicate entry where it's called the Picon Whiskey Cocktail). This version skips the vermouth and bitters and uses only equal parts whiskey and amer plus a little sugar. I dunno. Maybe I'll mix one up at some point but I can't say it strikes me as a particularly balanced cocktail. Might make for a nice cooler in the summer though if built in a highball glass and topped with some sort of fizz water.

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Friday, February 02, 2007

Time flies.

Hey, all (however few of you that may be). I've had a few posts in the hopper for the last few weeks but haven't been able to put the final polish to 'em. I hope to get them posted shortly but as I've been saying that to myself for a couple weeks I thought I'd take a few seconds to say "hey".

I know that I check in on any number of blogs with some regularity so if you've been so kind as to put The Handy Snake on your list I wanted you to know that I haven't given up or gotten bored or any of the usual reasons bloggers let their sites get stale. If you stop back by the middle of next week, say, Feb. 7th or so, you should find a new piece or two.