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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