Tuesday 8 October 2013

Golden Ratios: The Brooklyn

Last post we looked at the concept of using basic cocktail structures to make a range of classics and even come up with new ideas. By learning the role of each ingredient in a drink, classic ratios can be used for a wide variety of cocktails by swapping out different agents. For example, a Daiquiri, Margarita, and Whiskey Sour can all be made with the same recipe just by swapping the base spirit, sweetening agent, and sour/acidic agent.

This time we will look at a commonly used cocktail structure that does not contain any juice, that of The Brooklyn Cocktail. This Manhattan variation is a more complex and dry alternative to its forefather and made its first appearance in print in 1908. It is a favourite among bartenders and aficionados mostly due to the lack of availability of one defining ingredient: Amer Picon. This amer, or French bitter like the Italian amaro, was invented in 1837 and made from dried oranges, quinquina, and gentian, then sweetened and coloured with sugar and caramel. While it is most often enjoyed as an aperitif or with beer in Europe, it is most commonly used in the U.S. in cocktails, namely the Brooklyn. What it makes it so sought after is not just that it is so rare to find, but also that its recipe was changed twice - once in the 1970’s and once in the 80’s - to reduce to proof. This makes the currently available Picon noticeably sweeter. Jamie Boudreau at Canon in Seattle actually developed a recipe to recreate the original Picon using a combination of Amaro Ramazzotti, orange tincture, and blood orange bitters (a recipe that can be found here http://spiritsandcocktails.wordpress.com/2007/09/09/amer-picon/). This makes for a considerably drier and more accurate Brooklyn.

Like every drink, there is not just one recipe and of course some will argue which one is “right.” The right one is the one you like best, but for the purpose of this discussion I will be looking at the the most commonly used and agreed upon recipe as it is a very balanced and easily translated structure. (Please note that only cocktails containing egg, juice, or cream should be shaken so from here on out all these drinks should be stirred). 

Brooklyn Cocktail
2 oz straight rye whiskey
½ oz dry vermouth
¼ oz maraschino liqueur
¼ oz Amer Picon

This is a very dry recipe, and if you are using Boudreau’s less sweet Picon, I even suggest going for about 1.75oz of whiskey instead of the full 2oz. Note the role and ratio of each ingredient:
- The base is (around) 2 oz
- The vermouth, which softens the base, helps blend the ingredients, and adds some herbaceous character, is ½ oz
- The sweetening agent (maraschino) is ¼ oz
- The bittering agent (Picon) is ¼ oz. It will also have a slight sweetening property.

The inability of bartenders to procure Picon led many to start substituting other amari or similar ingredients, such as Cynar, Punt e Mes, or simply a combination of bitters. Many of these drinks are so good and well-received that they became modern classics, such as the Bensonhurst, Red Hook, and Greenpoint (all named after Brooklyn neighbourhoods). This makes the Brooklyn not just useful as a basic structure but also in a creative sense as it is the progenitor of a whole family of drinks.

Creativity here is simple as the sweetening agent can be swapped for any liqueur, syrup, or even amaro, the dry vermouth can be swapped to sweet or even an amaro, and the base can be any spirit. The bittering agent has fewer options if swapped directly, as you may be left with a bitter vermouth or another amaro, unless it is viewed as two components. As I mentioned, the Picon both bitters and slightly sweetens the drink, so this can be replaced by two ingredients, such as a liqueur and some bitters. Try a mezcal base, or a rum base with Chartreuse for sweetness, or a bourbon base with two amari instead of just one. Below are some popular modern Brooklyn variations. 

Bensonhurst (Milk & Honey, New York)
2 oz straight rye whiskey
½ oz dry vermouth
¼ oz maraschino
¼ oz Amaro Cynar 

Carroll Gardens (Death & Company, New York)
2 oz straight rye whiskey
½ oz Punt e Mes
½ oz Amaro Nardini
¼ oz maraschino 

Grand Street (Death & Company, New York)
2 oz gin
½ oz Punt e Mes
¼ oz maraschino
¼ oz Cynar
Grapefruit twist 

Coin Toss* (Death & Company, New York)
2 oz dark rum
½ oz Carpano Antica
¼ oz Yellow Chartreuse
¼ oz Benedictine
2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters 

That Old Feeling (Pourhouse, Vancouver)
1½ oz Martin Miller gin
½ oz Carpano Antica
¼ oz Carpano Bianco
¼ oz Fernet Branca
3-4 dashes Angostura Bitters

For conceptual purposes, here is the above list in chart format:

Drink Name       Base (2oz)    Vermouth (½oz)    Sweet (1/4oz)    Bitter (¼oz)   Addition
Brooklyn             rye whiskey     dry                        maraschino         Amer Picon   
Bensonhurst       rye whiskey     dry                        maraschino         Amaro Cynar   
Carroll Gardens  rye whiskey    Punt e Mes            maraschino         Amaro Nardini   ¼ Nardini
Grand Street       gin                 Punt e Mes             maraschino         Amaro Cynar      GF twist
Coin Toss            dark rum         sweet                    Y. Chartreuse      [Benedictine]*  Peychauds
That Old Feeling gin                 sweet                     bianco                Fernet              Angostura

[* - the Coin Toss has mostly sweet components, so using Punt e Mes instead of Carpano or a more potent aromatic bitters instead of Peychaud’s are simple ways to make the drink more appropriately dry]

One of the most famous and well-crafted Brooklyn variations is The Red Hook, which has the same concept and a similar flavour profile but a different structure containing only three ingredients. It is possibly the easiest and most useful structure to use for stirred drinks and I will discuss it in detail next post.

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