Tuesday 19 February 2013

Five Classic Cocktails for a Distinguished Gentleman

While times are changing for the better, most men drink cheap beer, highballs, or sugar-filled shots. Thanks to the growing classic cocktail trends in today's large city bars, the growing number of small distilleries and breweries, and television shows like Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire, more and more are becoming interested in better quality products and more traditional drinks. The mid to late 19th century was the Golden Age of mixed drinks, led by the 'grandfather of mixology,' Jerry Thomas, who in 1862 was the first to publish an all-encompassing tome of bartending. Many great drinks and products were lost during Prohibition, and while the practice of drinking well did continue to a lesser extent from the 1930's until the 1960's, it is for the most part the great classics from the Golden Age that survive today. A distinguished gentleman appreciates these drinks for their taste and history, and cares for the manner in which they are made. This sophisticated man knows there is only one Martini, that anything called a "cocktail" must contain bitters, and that an Old-Fashioned must never contain juice or soda. Below are five classic drinks for this distinguished gentleman.

(As per the previous posts on Classic Cocktails for a Fancy Lady, drink-preference should not be gender specific, and the purpose of this post is historical. Furthermore, should any lady deem herself too dangerous to be fancy, any of the following make excellent substitutes as cocktails for a femme fatale.)

This is the drink with the most variations, the source of so many debates, the biggest growing popularity, yet one of the most misunderstood. Thanks to Donald Draper on TV's Mad Men (who, by the way, makes a terrible Old-Fashioned), this drink is now ordered by droves of non-experienced drinkers. This is an exciting trend. The disappointing news is that practices from the dark ages of drinking (the 1970's to the 1990's) are still alive today, and the drink is often ruined or just unrecognizable. It is a finicky drink to maintain the balance of so few ingredients, and of course most everyone prefers his or hers a slightly different way. The drink’s history is a confusing one because it refers to a style and not one particular drink. In the early to mid 19th century, The Sling was a popular mixed drink that contained only spirit, sugar, water, and perhaps a grate of nutmeg. At some point bitters was added to the mix, birthing the “Bittered Sling,” which came be known as the “Cock-tail.” Faster than you can mix one up, variations were born. Fruits here and liqueurs there muddled up the original, and purists and old-farts began to request their Cock-tails the “old-fashioned way.” Over time this simply became an “Old-Fashioned.” Anything beyond the Bittered Sling recipe is not an Old-Fashioned, though very small embellishments included in Jerry Thomas’ variations (namely orange or lemon oil) are welcomed. The recipe below is from “Modern American Drinks” by George Kappeler in 1895, and is the best way to make a proper Old-Fashioned. (Note the absence of juice, muddling, soda, or any liqueur.) The type of bitters and spirit is up to the drinker and trying new combinations makes for a multitude of exciting options (try brandy and Peychaud’s, tequila and chocolate, or gin and Boker’s for example).

2oz whiskey
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1/2tsp of sugar (or one small sugar cube)
1 piece of lemon peel

Dissolve the sugar with a little water in a whiskey-glass [Old-Fashioned or rocks glass]; add bitters, a small piece ice, a piece lemon-peel, and whiskey. Mix with a small barspoon and serve.

"A small piece ice" can be substituted today with a few nice cubes (don't ruin the drink with small, watery ones), and the lemon peel can be swapped for orange if you please. Express the oil of the peel over top of the drink for best effect. A common practice is to soak the sugar in both water and bitters before adding ice and spirit.

Ordering this drink more than five years ago would have gotten you strange looks. Because of its history and fantastic taste, it was and is an obscure favourite among cocktail enthusiasts. Many claims are made to it being the oldest cocktail, but this is not true. We’ve tracked its inception to 1850's New Orleans in a slightly different form than we most often enjoy now. The Sazerac is the product of two smart men: one who imported the Sazerac de Forge et Fils, and the other who changed the name of his bar to "Sazerac House," where the cocktail was first made and became popular, thus naming it the "Sazerac Cocktail." Peychaud's bitters was literally made down the street, so it was the obvious choice. The first printed recipe in 1908 called for “good whiskey” (which in New Orleans means straight rye) at which point Cognac had become less abundant. The drink's flavour is dry and spicy, and the union of Peychaud's, absinthe, and rye (or Cognac for that matter) is something truly special. Again, the process of making the drink is important for both flavour and anticipation, so follow it closely. Use a good quality spirit, preferably a higher-proof and spicy rye, absinthe if you can, raw sugar, and lastly you can substitute Bitter Truth Creole Bitters for Peychaud's (but go with one fewer dash as it's more potent).

2 oz straight rye whiskey [or Cognac]
1 sugar cube
2-3 dashes Peychaud's bitters
Lemon peel

Fill an Old-Fashioned or Sazerac glass with cracked ice. Put the sugar in a mixing container, add the bitters and a little water and let dissolve. Add the whiskey, fill with ice, and stir. Dump the ice out of the glass and pour in a little absinthe, and roll around to coat the glass before discarding. Strain the whiskey mixture into the glass, then express the oil from the lemon peel over top and drop it into the glass.

This one is the probably the most famous and enduring of all classics, enjoyed by many in literature and film, particularly gentlemen, but also by bad-news ladies like Marilyn Monroe in “Some Like It Hot.” Vermouth entered the mixed drink equation sometime in the 1870's, drastically changing things for generations to come. Suddenly cocktails weren't just spirits with small additions of liqueurs, bitters, sugars, and sometimes fruits. Now spirits shared the spotlight or even had a supporting role in many popular drinks. Arguably the first of these was the Manhattan, made at the Manhattan Club in, yes, Manhattan. Its first mention was in the 1870’s, its first recipe in 1884, and the closest recipe to what we use today appeared in 1892. Early incarnations included maraschino, absinthe, gum syrup, and no whiskey specification, but the drink simplified over time. The type of whiskey and bitters are still optional, and like the Old-Fashioned make for very different drinks. A higher-proof whiskey mixes better, with rye being drier and spicier and bourbon being fuller and sweeter. Always stir, never shake, serve up and not on the rocks, and the garnish is always optional.

2oz whiskey
1oz sweet vermouth
2-3 dashes bitters

Add ingredients to a mixing glass, add ice, stir, and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a real cherry, or a citrus peel (optional).

The Manhattan-style cocktail at times contained gin instead of whiskey, which became known as the Martini - the same drink save the spirit choice. The origins of the Martini are some of the most disputed of them all, numerous ones appearing around the same time, but the concept remained the same. The Turf Club is the simplest, while The Fourth Degree contained absinthe, and The Martinez contained maraschino and twice the amount of vermouth. The later and most popular incarnation, The Dry Martini, made an important change in recipe: swapping Italian vermouth for French. As time wore on after Prohibition, Martinis got drier and drier, reducing the vermouth down to smaller and smaller amounts. In the later half of the 20th century good-quality vermouths were harder to come by and the lack of knowledgeable bartenders left it sitting on shelves instead of fresh and in the fridge, and the vermouth became essentially non-existent. Furthermore, James Bond confused many by calling his Kangaroo Cocktail a "Vodka Martini" (which even confused the Bond girl). A classic gentleman does not drink a Martini with vodka, though will sometimes drink it dry. However, a Martini without dry vermouth or bitters is not a Martini. Below is the classic 1890's version, in which you can reduce the amount of vermouth and swap the orange peel for a lemon if you please. The olive is a later addition, and can mask the flavours of the drink, but to each his own. Be sure to use fresh vermouth - it is wine and should be kept in the fridge and will spoil and then ruin your drink. Choose a good gin and a great vermouth.

2oz gin (Old Tom traditionally, but London Dry works just fine)
1oz dry vermouth
1 dash orange bitters

Stir ingredients with ice and strain into a cocktail coupe. Squeeze a piece of orange peel over top.

In 1860’s Italy, Gaspare Campari invented the most famous of amari, aptly named Campari, before settling down and opening a cafe. The signature drink there was the “Milano Torino,” combining Campari from Milan and Cinzano vermouth from Turin then topped with soda. The early 20th century brought an influx of American tourists, among whom the drink found popularity and was renamed the “Americano.” (It found popularity elsewhere too, even being the first drink James Bond ever ordered). In 1919, Count Camillo Negroni asked the bartender, Fosco Scarselli, at the Caffe Casoni for a stronger version of this drink by swapping the soda with gin. This drink subsequently became wildly popular in Europe. In 1947, iconic director/actor Orson Welles was working on his film "Cagliostro" in Rome, and spoke to reporters about his new favourite drink, The Negroni, saying "the bitters are excellent for your liver, the gin is bad for you - they balance each other." It wasn't long before the drink became popular in the U.S., though in the more American style it was enjoyed up rather than on the rocks. The three ingredients balance and accent each other beautifully, and as such the Negroni structure has been used for numerous variations and new concepts. The most notable - drinks also worthy of a distinguished gentleman - are the Boulevardier, which replaces the gin with bourbon, and the Old Pal, which switches gin for straight rye and Italian vermouth for French. While Campari is very bitter and therefore an acquired taste, it's a worthwhile one, and the Negroni is a drink bound to be in your life for good.

1oz London Dry gin
1oz Italian vermouth
1oz Campari

Add ingredients together and stir with ice. Strain over rocks in an old-fashioned glass. Garnish with a slice of orange a piece of lemon peel.

[Photo: Cary Grant]

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