Derby

Derby cocktail
Derby cocktail

Like the Suburban recipe I have posted before, here is another drink that is named after a famous horse race. However, the Derby in question is not the English version, but the Kentucky Derby, which has been run every year since 1875.

And since the race has always been so popular across the U.S. (popularly referred to as the most exciting two minutes in sport), it seems every bartender across the continent has invented a cocktail in its honour at one point or another. The IBA ‘official’ recipe includes peach bitters, gin and mint leaves, suggesting a strong relationship to a julep, but there are at least two other well-known variants. The IBA may claim the ‘official’ recipe, but I prefer the ‘sour manhattan’ version that has come from Trader Vic’s Bartender’s Guide: bourbon, triple sec, lime juice & vermouth (making the cocktail one from the ‘modern’ camp).

If it all sounds like the marriage of a Margarita & a Manhattan, you would be right: it is refreshing, but with a good, clean alcohol kick and a rich warmth from the bourbon/vermouth combination. If you had a friend whose automatic first choice of cocktail was a Margarita, I’d hand them one of these. They will thank you for it, and you would have made one more convert from the Margarita/Martini/Cosmopolitan triangle of inertia.

I’d hazard a guess that this recipe does come at least from the Kentucky area; by May (the time of the eponymous horse race), the weather would be warm enough to need a good refresher drink, but evenings would still be cool enough to remind one of the wintery style of the Manhattan.

Proportions:

1 oz of bourbon (Knob Creek here)

3/4 oz of fresh lime juice

1/2 oz of triple sec

1/2 oz of sweet vermouth (Martini Rosso here, it needn’t be too rich).

Dashes of bitters (I used the Jack Rudy aromatic cocktail bitters here)

Glass: 3oz Martini

Shake well, and strain into a Martini glass, garnish with thin lime wedge.

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Boulevardier

The Boulevardier
The Boulevardier

The Boulevardier is a very close relative to the classic Negroni, which I mixed recently. Here, the gin of the Negroni is replaced with whiskey, giving the drink a spicy note. This is a classic recipe (found first in McElhone’s 1927 book, Barflies & Cocktails) that has suddenly found fame again recently as part of the revival of older, neglected cocktail recipes; I think part of that success is that it is such a close relation to the Negroni that people have tried that drink are likely to try this one. And possibly more importantly, it is made from only three ingredients, likely found in most cocktail cabinets, making it easy to try. As the Manhattan & the Negroni, don’t be fooled by the lack of clever ingredients or unusual spirits: the Boulevardier works because it is an absolutely perfect blend of flavours. Somehow this mix of flavours is definitely more French than Italian. I cannot say for certain why, but the Boulevardier name seems totally appropriate; I can imagine a French homme du Monde enjoying one of these at his local Bar Tabac on the way home to his apartment in Paris, whereas a Negroni seems perfect for the Italian uomo di Mondo.

As with my usual tastes, I don’t believe a cocktail is complete without a few dashes of bitters, so I added some here. The original recipes don’t call for any, nor do they seem to specify any garnish, but some orange zest seems appropriate. Again, these choices are mine, yours may vary.

Proportions:

1 1/4oz. of Aperol

1 1/4oz. of whiskey (I used Buffalo Trace)

1 1/4oz. of sweet vermouth (I used Carpana Antico)

Dashes of bitters (I used Adam Elemegirab’s Orinoco bitters)

Glass: Large Champagne glass

Stir the ingredients over ice in a mixing glass.

Serve in coupe, garnished with some orange zest

Negroni – Aperol style

IMG_0544 According to the Speakeasy book from the NY bar, Employees Only, sooner or later, every barman flirts with the Negroni. It is an absolute classic cocktail – a perfect balance of sweet and sour, strong and fresh, dry and citrus. However, I have no great love of Campari (too bitter & sweet for me) , so I have made my drink with the fruitier, more laid-back Florentine bitter, Aperol. The result, in my mind, is a less aggressive drink, which can be served straight up. And it gives the lie to the idea that gin doesn’t play well with other flavours due to the attack of the juniper; the combination here of citrus, juniper and herbs creates a beautifully balanced mixture. Over ice, in a rocks glass, this would make a perfect summer drink. The Speakeasy recipe doesn’t mention bitters, but following the generally good advice that every cocktail recipe needs a splash of something, I added a few drops of my grapefruit bitters. And if you don’t like gin? Substitute bourbon or rye for the gin, and you have another classic: the Boulevardier. Or replace the gin with prosecco or asti spumante, and you have the messed-up drink, Negroni sbagliato. Proportions: 1 1/4oz. of Aperol 1 1/4oz. of dry gin (I used Gordon’s) 1 1/4oz. of sweet vermouth (I used Carpana Antico) Dashes of grapefruit bitters Glass: Large Martini glass Stir the ingredients over ice in a mixing glass. Serve in Martini glass,  garnished with an orange wheel

The Manhattan variations

Simple 3oz Manhattan
Simple 3oz Manhattan

It must be clear by now that my favourite drink is the Manhattan. Unlike a Martini, I have never been served a bad Manhattan – dull, perhaps, or not cold enough, but never bad. 

A Manhattan is basically a whisky Martini: the basic combination for the cocktail is a spirit, flavoured with a vermouth in a 2:1 ratio & then added some zip by the dashes of bitters.  If that combination works for gin & whisky, then it must work for other spirits? And of course, it does.

Here in no order of preference, is a list of the cocktails that have used the same ingredient selection, except for the base spirit:

Palmetto – aged rum, vermouth & bitters (also called a ‘Cuban Manhattan’).

Harvard – cognac, Italian vermouth, Angosturas bitters

Chancellor – blended scotch, port, dry vermouth, bitters.

El Chanceler – blended scotch, or a ‘mild’ single malt, madeira, dry vermouth, bitters*

Affinity – blended scotch, sweet & dry vermouths, dashes of bitters

Rob Roy – Scotch whisky, vermouth & bitters.

Fourth regiment – whisky & vermouth in a 1:1 ratio, then dashes of three bitters: celery, orange & Peychaud’s.

Tijuana Manhattan – tequila, vermouth & bitters.

Perfect cocktail – gin, sweet & dry vermouths, bitters

Presidente – white rum, sweet & dry vermouths, dashes of grenadine

* My own recipe: a portuguese version of the Chancellor, using Madeira.

Steel-aged Manhattan

Blending house Manhattans for ageing in steel for six weeks...
Blending house Manhattans for ageing in steel for six weeks…

The section in Tristan Stephenson’s Curious Bartender about ageing cocktails was very interesting to read. Most cocktail ingredients – spirits, vermouths, bitters and so forth – have been through individual ageing processes before being bottled, creating their unique flavour that adds to each drink they are used in. Stephenson suggests another level of ageing, mixing a cocktail and then allowing the blended drink to rest for a further period, creates a subtly different drink to the one mixed and served immediately, giving examples of both his own drinks and those  of other bartenders he has sampled. He notes the differences between the various ageing devices, from wooden barrels to bottles & flasks, retaining his greatest enthusiasm for simple stainless steel flasks.

I thought I would put this to the test with a batch of my own ‘house’ Manhattan, adapted by the recipe for the Industrial Revolution cocktail that Stephenson gives in his book. Using a basic stainless steel drink flask that I found on Amazon for around £6, I mixed up the following:

300ml of bourbon (Wild Turkey)

100ml of sweet vermouth (Martini Rosso)

50ml of dry vermouth (Noilly Prat)

15ml of maraschino (Briottet marasquin)

10 drops of Bob’s Abbott’s bitter

All of this went into the flask, given a good shake and labelled with the starting date. I aim to be trying this out with some friends at a cocktail evening in September. I will keep taking a quick sniff from the flask from time to time to see if I can detect any changes.

Once ready, the mixture will be stirred over ice and then strained into a chilled glass. For the sake of the experiment, I will be mixing an unaged version at the same time to sample against…

Update – November 2017.

IMG_5972Last night, I returned to a batch of rye-based Manhattans I made around Christmas 2016, and which had been maturing in a flask in my drinks ‘fridge ever since. Chilled & ready mixed, I just needed to measure out 3ozs into a cold glass, and add a garnish of lemon zest.

Somehow, resting quietly at a few degrees above zero for around a year had really changed & improved the flavours of the drink; it was an incredibly smooth Manhattan, rich and spicy & with a distinctive, but not overpowering, bitter note. This might see like an overly-elaborate method of cocktail making, but it really does seem to add a dimension to the drink I hadn’t expected. I really don’t know what is going on with this approach, but something good is happening in that flask. Worth experimenting with, I believe – if you have the time, and the patience.

Rob Roy

 

Rob Roy, made to Brad Thomas Parson's recipe in his Bitters book.
Rob Roy, made to Brad Thomas Parson’s recipe in his Bitters book.

Cocktails made with scotch whisky are not that unusual, but the general opinion is that whisky is too flavourful a drink to mix well with others, and should be enjoyed by itself. That might be the case for many single malts, which have such a unique flavour profile that it is hard to see them sitting well with any other flavours in a glass (the exception being such modern drinks as the Penicillin, which features Laphroaig), but blends have been designed to have a consistent, if less characterful flavour. They then lend themselves to mixed drinks better than the unique single malts; part of this comes from the combination of more neutral grain spirits, mixed with some malt whiskies, to produce the blend’s own flavour.

The Rob Roy can be seen as a Manhattan made with whisky, but the smokiness and slightly less sweet nature of scotch produces a quite different drink which stands in its own right. Like the Manhattan, a Rob Roy can be ordered dry (with only dry vermouth), perfect (a mixture of dry and sweet vermouths), though the standard drink is made with sweet only. The result is a rich, smoky cocktail, with a touch of herbal & wine-y flavours from the vermouth. One element that must not be overlooked is the presence of bitters. As per the Manhattan, the usual bottle to reach for would be the Angosturas, but I think that something with a more citrus flavour suits this drink better, and as I was mixing my version from the recipe in Parson’s Bitters book I followed his advice: I made my drink with Peychaud’s bitters, although Fee’s Orange would also be a good choice. Garnish follows the Manhattan route: cherry for the sweet version, lemon peel for the dry/perfect variants; I used a lemon peel in my straight Rob Roy: it seemed to me the lemon flavour cut through the sweetness slightly better.

Proportions:

2ozs of scotch whisky (Grant’s in this version)

1oz of sweet vermouth (Martini Rosso here)

2 dashes of bitters (Peychaud’s here)

Glass: 3oz Martini glass, chilled

Stir in your mixing glass, over ice, until well chilled. Strain into the Martini glass, and garnish with either lemon peel or cherry, to your choice.

History notes: There’s not much debate to the story behind this one: in 1894, the barman at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel was asked to create a cocktail to mark the opening of Rob Roy, an operetta written by Smith & De Koven; the barman mixed a Manhattan with scotch whisky, and named it for the hero of the piece. The operetta seems to be lost in past, but the cocktail recipe lives on.

Martinez: Dry version

20140712-234205.jpgThe Martinez is a very old drink.  Many regard it as the forerunner to the Dry Martini. It can be found in O. H. Byron’s 1884 Modern Bartender, where  it becomes a Manhattan variant; other stories have it named after the mining town of Martinez. Cocktail historians suggest it ought to made with genever, rather than modern dry gins, as this would have been the drink available in America at the time the cocktail began to appear.

On the face of it, this is simply a Manhattan made with gin. But there’s more to this drink than that, especially in the modernized ‘dry’ version I mixed here.. The dry gin I used, Gordon’s, has plenty of citrus notes, and that marries really well with the herby  notes in the sweet vermouth (Martini Rosso). An added complexity is a bar spoon of maraschino coupled with some dashes of bitters (I used my ‘house’ Bt bitters, as their sour cherry note seemed like a match). The results are really intriguing; it really isn’t just a gin Manhattan, but something else altogether. Frankly, if you didn’t know it contained gin, you might be hard pushed to spot it. Certainly, I wouldn’t omit the bitters or the maraschino, both add important notes to the final mix, and I would use a robust, dry, bitters recipe (Fee’s Orange bitters might be too delicate for this, for example).

Proportions (using a jigger/pony measure):

1 jigger of gin (Gordon’s dry in this version)

1 pony of sweet vermouth (Martini Rosso here)

1 bar spoon of maraschino (La Briottet Marasquin)

3 drops of bitters

Glass: 3oz Martini glass, chilled

Stir all the ingredients together in a shaker, then strain into the Martini glass. Garnish with a piece of lemon zest.