Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Fashion Forward Cocktail

I always find it interesting how a drink can become an imbiber's go-to drink. For it, it's a Manhattan. It's tasty, sweet, bitter, and above all, complex. And yet so easy to make. And it allows for many avenues of improvisational riffing.

For my brother, the go-to drink is an Old Fashioned. A much simpler cocktail, the Old Fashioned offers a greater punch with less liquid, and also has the added benefit of having the "masculine" appeal of not being served in a prissy glass.

Properly made, an Old Fashioned is a simple showcasing of the bourbon or rye you're using. The Savoy Cocktail Book gives it as follows:

"Old Fashioned Cocktail

1 Lump Sugar.
2 Dashes Angostura Bitters.
1 Glass Rye or Canadian Club Whiskey.

Crush sugar and bitters together, add lump of ice, decorate with twist of lemon peel and slice of orange using medium size glass, and stir well."

Given the modern pallet, at the very least, some twist of citrus is generally added. Usually, though, order an Old Fashioned in a bar, and you'll get the inevitable muddling of soda, oranges, and maraschino cherry. Even respectable cocktail books such as American Bar and The Old Mr. Boston's would have you making yourself a watered-down, sickly sweet, fruity Old Fashioned.

It's just not so much for me, especially not the way we're making it these days. So, I wondered, how could I riff on this drink to make it something more to my liking? After a few experiments, here's what I came up with:

Fashion Forward

3oz Rye Whiskey
5 dashes Fee Bros. Whiskey Bitters
3 dashes Fee Bros. Orange Bitters
1tsp Creme de Cacao
2 brown sugar cubes

Place sugar cubes in a lowball glass. Cover with bitters and Creme de Cacao and crush into a paste. Add Whiskey and stir lightly. Add ice.

This makes an excellent wintery cocktail, with the rye and whiskey bitters giving it a great spicy flavour smoothed out by the orange and chocolate, which I've always found to be a great combination.

This cocktail was a big hit when I introduced it to my brother at a recent dinner party. We used the spherical ice cube trays he gave me to make the perfect ice for this cocktail. You can get them here: http://www.momastore.org/museum/moma/ProductDisplay_Spherical%20Ice%20Tray_10451_10001_27651_-1_11515_11521_null__ , and I recommend that you do!


Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Montoursville Special

I've been thinking for a while that I wanted to start using ginger more with my cocktails, and the experiments I've made with Stone's ginger wine have been lacklustre at best. Instead, I decided to go right to the source with fresh (or candied) ginger.

I came up with something that struck me as quite tasty indeed:

The Montoursville Special

3oz rye whiskey
1/2oz Luxardo Maraschino
1/2oz dry vermouth
1/2oz sweet vermouth
2 dashes orange bitters
3-5 pieces chopped/torn ginger (fresh or candied)

Chop or tear the ginger into pieces large enough for your strainer to keep the bits out of the drink. Combine all ingredients in a shaker. Shake vigorously and strain carefully into a cocktail glass.

I loved the way the orange played off the spice of the ginger, while the rye/maraschino/vermouth corpus of the drink maintained each of the flavours distinctly.

I'm naming this The Montoursville Special after a guy who's pretty special to Yankees fans around the world: Mike Mussina. Sadly, The Moose decided to hang up his glove just 30 victories shy of 300, which may mean he won't make the Baseball Hall of Fame. But we'll always remember the great games, the classy sportsmanship, and the professionalism that Mike brought to The Cathedral of Baseball.

Godspeed, Mike. Here's to you!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Five-Tool Player

Here's a little something I put together. The name comes from the principal five ingredients. In baseball, a Five-Tool Player is one who possesses, to a proportional degree, each of the five "tools" identified by scouts as the hallmarks of a talented player. It's made like this:

2oz Hitting for Power (Rye Whiskey)
1/2oz Hitting for Average (Dry Vermouth)
3/4oz Baserunning Speed (Luxardo Marachino)
1/3oz Throwing Ability (Creme de Menthe)
Tsp. Fielding Range (Absinthe/Pastis)

To this, add:

5 Dashes Sportsmanship & Team Spirit (Fee Bros. Orange Bitters)
2 Dashs Ability to Handle the Media (Angostura Bitters)
1 Dash Durability & Resistence to Injury (Lemon Juice)

Shake vigorously and serve in a cocktail glass with a twist of lemon.

Obviously, this has a lot of ingredients. As I mixed it up, I was constantly trying to ensure that I was balancing things. I've become very interested lately in the contrast that absinthe/pastis and mint provides. So I start with a rye whiskey base, but I even out the rough edge of the rye a bit with the dry vermouth. Add to that the mint/anise combo for the main flavours. To that I add the Luxardo Marachino for a bit of sweetness, and to even out the mint/anise, just in case one or the other dominates. But I counter the sweetness with some citrus, in the form of of the orange bitters and lemon juice. Top off with Angostura bitters for good measure.

I found the result to be complex and balanced. Each flavour seems to play off the others, so your tongue is not confronted with any pre-dominant taste. Rather, they chase each other on your tastebuds in the seconds after you swallow, giving you teasing hints as to what you're imbibing.


Friday, September 12, 2008

The Trolley Dodger

Nascently, I am a whiskey man. More specifically, I am a Rye and Bourbon man. As such, a theme that may well come to show itself in The Hard Shake (insofar as I am its author) is a keen interest in experimentation on cocktails featuring Rye or Bourbon as their primary alcoholic element. I recently saw an episode of Anthony Bourdain - No Reservations, in which Tony went to Japan, asking each chef or mixologist along the way if s/he had ever been able to attain perfection in the pursuits to which these culinary experts applied themselves.

As each of them said, so say I: perfection is always something to be sought, never to be attained. Yet, as seemingly illogical as pursuing that which is unattainable might be, we must asymptotically pursue perfection nonetheless, always coming closer, yet with our elusive goal always just out of reach. In this case, my medium will be my signature, go-to drink: The Manhattan.

My most recent "invention" is something I am calling The Trolley Dodger. It is a riff off a classic Brooklyn cocktail. And, as is customary when riffing off a Brooklyn, I chose to name it after a section of Brooklyn. I thought "The Schwick", after Bushwick, would be appropriate. But then my mind went back to the Ken Burns "Baseball" documentary that I have been watching recently, and my mind went to Midwood, the site of the former Ebbets Field, home of the Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers, later shortened to just the Dodgers. And thus was The Trolley Dodger born.

The Trolley Dodger

  • 2oz Rye Whiskey (I used Jim Beam Rye)
  • 1/2oz Sweet Vermouth (Punt e Mes is preferable)
  • 1/2oz Dry Vermouth
  • 1 capful Luxardo Marachino
  • 1/2 capful Fernet Branca
  • 5 generous shakes Fee Bros. Whiskey Barrel Aged Bitters

Combine all ingredients (in order) in a metal shaker. Add ice and apply the hard shake to the mixture. Strain into a cocktail glass, making sure to collect as much froth from the shaker on the top of the cocktail. Add one brandied cherry, if desired. Top with 2 shakes Fee Bros. Orange Bitters for aroma. Inhale deeply, taking in the aroma fully, before tasting.

Enjoy the complexity of the spicy, bitter Fernet blending with the sweetness of the Whiskey and Bitters. Surprisingly smooth and delicious. Here's to Torre and his Dodgers!

The Hard Shake

The Hard Shake will be an infrequently updated forum in which to post newly invented cocktails, cocktail and bar news, and other interesting EtOH-related tidbits. I'll primarily use this as a place to post the drinks I "invent", and any readers should feel free to add to them, comment, tweak, and make their own inventions.

My intended audience consists primarily in amateur cocktail enthusiasts with a penchant for experimentation. It is not my intent to compare myself to the many excellent established cocktail blogs, nor to any of the excellent mixologists plying their trade in New York City and elsewhere. I do not have a categorical knowledge of cocktails or spirits, nor do I have the kind of budget that would enable me to stock my home "bar" with the myriad arcane spirits that the cocktail blogs discuss at such length and with such expertise.

As such, to quote Wittgenstein in a perhaps ungermane application of his thoughts:

"How far my efforts agree with those of other[s] I will not decide. Indeed what I have here written makes no claim to novelty in points of detail; and therefore I give no sources, because it is indifferent to me whether what I have thought has already been thought before my by another. I will only mention that to the great works of [Petraske and Thomas] I owe in large measure the stimulation of my thoughts."

J.D.S., New York, 2008