Friday 11 January 2013

Five Classic Cocktails for a Fancy Lady

Taste should not be gender-specific. Good food and drink are enjoyed by any, and there shouldn't be "manly" drinks and "girly" drinks - but there are. There are a few reasons for this:
- Generally, women taste things differently than men - they tend to be more sensitive to flavour, particularly bitter. Because of this sensitivity, women often have more distinguished palates. (Again, this is a generalization, but scientific research does support it).
- In western culture, the woman was seen as the weaker sex and therefore shouldn't be enjoying the same things men do, such as strong drink. This is particularly true for cocktails in the first half of the twentieth century when many a book and magazine told women what they should be drinking in order to be a proper and all-around good lady. These drinks were colourful and sweeter.

In the dark ages of bartending (the 1970's-1990's) the above points were interpreted into drinks involving copious amounts of sugar, artificial colour, drinks with 'feminine' names, and a lot of vodka so as to further disguise the taste of alcohol. Many of the classics had both pretty colours and names but also happened to be great drinks, and strong ones at that. These cocktails were not gender-specific, or often started as a "gentleman's drink" (see the Clover Club) before becoming popular amongst the female folk, likely due to the media and populace deciding that a pink drink should be for a woman.

For this list, I'm taking inspiration from the 1920's to 1940's in particular, when men were gentlemen and women were ladies, and there were excellent drinks on both sides to be enjoyed by all. Should you wish to drink like a fancy lady of the time, below are some classic suggestions.

Clover Club
This light and pink drink predates Prohibition when it was enjoyed by the members of the Philadelphia men's club of the same name. By the 1930's, it had lost popularity, and 1949's "Handbook for Hosts" from Esquire placed it in the "something for the girls" section. If made properly this drink can be drier than expected, using fresh raspberries and not artificial liqueurs or commercial sweeteners. The Okanagan Spirits liqueur is an excellent substitution for real raspberry, tasting both dry and natural. If using a home-made raspberry syrup, bump up the gin and juice or lower the sugar amount. Below is the recipe from Pourhouse in Vancouver, which is fairly close to the recipe of old:

1.5oz London Dry gin
0.5oz fresh lemon juice
0.5oz simple syrup
0.5oz Okanagan Spirits Raspberry Liqueur
1 egg white

Combine ingredients and dry-shake. Then add ice and shake again. Strain into a cocktail coupe.  

French 75
A refreshing start to your evening, particularly a celebratory one due to the addition of sparkling wine. As with any drink, it should be made dry so as to awaken your palate and if so it makes an excellent aperitif. Created in 1915 by Harry MacElhone at the New York Bar in Paris, it was named after the WWI French 75mm field gun - which “packed quite a punch." German officers famously order it at Humphrey Bogart's bar in 1942's "Casablanca." Cocktail historian David Wondrich suggests increasing the gin to 2oz and serving over ice in a Collins glass. While this tastes better, I prefer the drink in more elegant attire. Here is the Savoy Cocktail Book recipe from 1930:

2/3 gin [1oz]
1/3 lemon juice [0.5oz]
1 teaspoon powdered sugar [0.5oz simple syrup]

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a Champagne glass or cocktail coupe, then top with chilled Champagne or a dry sparkling wine (Brut).

This cocktail's origins are of some dispute, as so many are, but while the Ritz Hotel in Paris claims its birthplace, there are earlier and more reputable sources that differ. Harry MacElhone's 1922 cocktail book "Harry's ABC of Mixing Cocktails" gives credit to Pat MacGarry at Buck's Club in London some time after WWI. It was named after the motorcycle sidecar in which an American army captain was driven to the Paris bistro where the drink was created for him. It is essentially a Brandy Daisy, a style of drink dating to the mid 19th century. There are several recipes, namely the "French school" which has each ingredient at equal parts, and the "London school," which has 2:1:1 brandy to liqueur to lemon. David Embury's very influential "The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks" in 1948 recommends 8:2:1. I like my drinks dry, and below is my go-to recipe. Avoid the sugar rim, a practice that popped up in the 1930's and is both sticky and unnecessary. This drink is fruity but boozy and perfect for an elegant lady who has come in from the cold. It also happens to be Cointreau's signature drink, a liqueur represented by the fanciest lady alive today: Dita Von Teese.

2oz Cognac or other brandy
0.5oz Cointreau
0.5oz lemon juice

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a cocktail coupe.

Champagne Cocktail
In the 19th century this drink was one of the very first variations on the “cock-tail,” a combination of spirit, sugar, water, and bitters. Embellishments were inevitable, and the best of them is likely the addition of brandy (technically making this a “Brandy Champagne Cocktail”). Adding this extra punch to the equation balances the sugar much better. This cocktail has shown up in both literature and film, most famously in 1957’s “An Affair To Remember” with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, and again in “Casablanca.” Don’t skimp on the bitters, and be sure to use a very dry sparkling wine lest the drink be cloyingly sweet.

1 raw sugar cube
Several dashes of aromatic bitters (Angostura)
1oz Cognac or other brandy (optional)
Champagne or dry sparkling wine

Drop the sugar into a Champagne coupe or glass and soak it in the bitters. Pour in the brandy, then top with the wine. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Arsenic and Old Lace
This one is a little more obscure, but perfectly fit for a classic lady in that it’s floral, light purple in colour, and dry. Descending from the pre-Prohibition Attention Cocktail, this one hails from the 1940’s and was considerably more dry. Modern recipes for both are basically the same, with the Attention having the addition of orange bitters, which makes for a more interesting drink with a less interesting name. The name comes from the black comedy play from 1939 which was later adapted by Frank Capra into a film starring Cary Grant. The story revolves around a drama critic who tries to protect his homicidal aunts who like to murder old men with poisoned elderberry wine. The recipe below changes the classic one by reducing 0.5oz of pastis to an absinthe rinse. Absinthe makes the flavour more complex, but is more potent than pastis and can overwhelm the drink so no more than a rinse is necessary. It employs crème de violette, an ingredient lost for decades until a few years ago. The quality of this violet flower liqueur will determine the overall quality of this drink, so be sure to avoid overly perfumey artificial ones and to balance accordingly.

1.5oz gin
0.5oz dry vermouth
0.25-0.5oz crème de violette
Absinthe rinse

Rinse a cocktail coupe with absinthe by pouring a little into the glass and spinning so it coats the inside before discarding the excess. Stir gin, vermouth, and violette with ice, and strain into the coupe. Garnish with a lemon twist and express the oils over the top of the drink.

Next post (which you can see here) I'll be sharing another five classic cocktails for a lady, then we'll get into those for the gentlemen.
[The science of taste and intoxication and how they relate to gender can be found in the science section of this site.]

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