Saturday, March 23, 2013

R&D series: Old Waldorf Martini Variations

Don't take the lack of posts as lack of activity. In February, we began a transition to a permanent menu, by revising, exanding, and updating the South of the Border and Ghosts of New Orleans exhibits, along with a page of obscure but high-grade "starters." So far only about 30 drinks, but we will continue to update the best of our previous menus and incorporate those into this permanent one.

And we're still making new drinks, too. This Sunday we begin an ongoing R&D series dealing with pre-Prohibition Martini variations from the Old Waldorf bar. Every week or two, three pairs of similar variations will pair off head-to-head until we work through the field of nearly 100 drinks, with the best dozen or so earning a spot on our permanent Sunday night menu. Read on for some Martini geekery and the details of our first slate.

Certainly a good number of these drinks lie within the range of what you would get at any bar in the late 19th to early 20th century by simply asking for a dry, sweet, or perfect Martini. They represent the tastes and preferences of particular customers, public figures, employees, or whence they came, and were notable enough to be written down in the barmen’s book.

Given that the proportions of that era were much less austere than today, we experience the Martini in its most youthful, approachable, and changeable state. The increased herbal presence provides a delicate canvas upon which even the slightest variation can have quite the ripple effect, and the dizzying number of variants begins to make some sense.

First principles. A Martini is a drink of gin and vermouth, bitters optional, but more common than not. It cannot include fruit juice or more than a dash of other spirits. Further, there are three types - or conferences, if you prefer:
‘Dry’ – not in the modern sense of “less, or little, dry vermouth,” but simply those mixed with dry vermouth, most commonly in equal parts or a 2:1 ratio.
‘Perfect’ – gin mixed with both dry and red vermouths
‘Red’ – others might say sweet, or wet – gin and red vermouth.

It is best to not think of these divisions as necessarily corresponding to how dry or sweet a drink might be. A dry Martini made with equal parts Old Tom and dry vermouth will be sweeter than a red Martini compounded with London Dry and a small amount of red vermouth. So within each group we make a further division, based upon the type of gin employed: London Dry, Plymouth, or Old Tom.

Round 1A:

Astoria Cocktail vs. West India Cocktail
2 parts Old Tom to 1 part dry vermouth, 2 dashes orange bitters, up. / Equal parts, dash of Angostura, up.

Jimmie Lee Cocktail vs. Montauk Cocktail
Equal parts Plymouth gin, red and dry vermouths, dash Peychaud’s, orange peel, crushed ice. / Ditto, but 2 dashes Peychaud’s, no peel, up in old-fashioned glass.

Hamlin vs. Wall Street
2 parts dry gin to 1 part red vermouth, up. / Ditto, but with orange peel.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Best of 2012

We’re a bit over three years into our cocktail archeology quest, and at some point in the coming year we’ll reach the milestone of over 1000 different cocktails that we have served. As such, 2012 was a year for rather obscure drinks. These are the ones that people liked the most or found to be the most interesting.

This menu will cover the entire month, so you can get at all the drinks of interest to you.

- communal cocktails -
Marmalade Cocktail $25 serves 3-4

From the old Savoy book, as per the original recipe for a group of 4 people: dry gin, lemon juice, and orange marmalade, up. Yes, there is actual marmalade in it, although it is an accent to the drink, lending texture and just a bit of sweetness to the lemon and a bitter orange top note.

St. Mark’s Miracle $17 serves 2-3
Martell VSOP cognac, Grand Marnier, lemon juice, and a good amount of both orange and Angostura bitters, up. Think of it as a cognac-forward Sidecar, but with plenty of bitters. “…it has an enviable record of revivition after the unwise cup on the night before. Shake briskly and strain into any sort of glass best calculated not to fall from our numb and listless clutch.” – Charles Baker, Jr.

- fortified wine -
Byrrh Cassis $6

Byrrh quinquina (a wine-based aperitif with quinine) and crème de cassis in a 3:1 ratio, with a splash of soda and lemon peel, on the rocks.

Sherry Cobbler $8
One of the few “known” drinks presented last year, the Sherry Cobbler was one of the most popular alcoholic beverages throughout most of the 19th century. It employed two new developments that destined the drink for stardom: the drinking straw and ice (crushed into ‘cobbles’). While we take these things for granted today, just imagine a time when folks did not know how to use a straw and required a bit of instruction, and that the other end of it was plunked down into the coldest beverage that had ever passed their lips. The drink itself is a simple affair – a good pour of sherry shaken up with sugar, orange slices and crushed ice, some berries on top, and that marvel of marvels…the straw.

Vermouth Cocktail á la Schmidt $8
This cocktail was American bartenders’ first reaction to vermouth when it began to be imported not long after the Civil War. It didn’t take much longer for them to begin ramping it up with whiskey or gin, thereby creating the Manhattan, Martinez and Martini. Originally this cocktail was a simple affair consisting of red vermouth and bitters, perhaps served with a slice of lemon. But for William Schmidt, perhaps the late 19th century’s most idiosyncratic barman, this was clearly much too plain - he adds a couple dashes of maraschino liqueur and a dash of absinthe. Compounded with Carpano Antica, up.

- rum -
Ankle Breaker $8

Cruzan overproof rum, Heering cheery liqueur, lemon juice, simple syrup, crushed ice. It’s somewhat crass, yet elemental – earthy cherry meets molasses with a tart citrus kick. As served in the 1950s at the Swamp Fox Room of the Francis Marion hotel in Charleston, SC. According to legend, the hotel’s namesake (a general in the Revolutionary War) broke his ankle after jumping from a 2nd story window to escape a party at which this drink was flowing too freely. It must have been a slightly different drink than this one, though, as Heering liqueur did not begin manufacture until 1818.

Cora Middleton $8
A late 19th century Old Waldorf creation that rests in an awkward place between cocktail families. Listed rather parenthetically as "Clover Club made with Jamaica rum," we're serving it with Appleton Estate’s Reserve 8 yr old, lemon juice, raspberry syrup, and egg white, up.

Kingston Cocktail $7
Dark Jamaican rum, kummel (caraway, fennel & cumin liqueur), and orange juice, with a dash of allspice dram, up.

- gin -
Monkey Island Cocktail $8

2 parts dry vermouth (Dolin) to 1 part each dry gin and sloe gin, with a dash of khoosh bitters.

Saturn $8
Dry gin, lemon juice, orgeat and passion fruit syrups, falernum, and crushed ice. By J. “Popo” Galsini, a well-respected barman in many a Polynesian restaurant in 1960s southern California. This drink was a finalist in the 1967 IBA worldwide cocktail competition.

Toothfull Cocktail $8
The Toothfull is essentially a pre-Prohibition Perfect Martini with a couple key differences – the serving glass gets a Benedictine rinse, and no ice is employed in the mixing process. Tanqueray, Carpano, Dolin dry vermouth, Benedictine, orange bitters, neat.

Turf Cocktail $8
Two parts oude genever (Holland gin) to one part Carpano with a dash of Angostura, up. There are many variations of this drink, but this is how they did it at the Old Waldorf, and is arguably its best incarnation. The variety stems from the fact that there were “Turf Clubs” in most major cities, bars where sporting men could talk (and wager) horse racing without disturbance, and seemingly many of them came up with a house cocktail bearing this name. “At times a good half – possibly two-thirds – of the crowd in the Bar were interested in racing.”

= brandy =
Alabazam Cocktail $7

Martell VSOP cognac, Grand Marnier, a teaspoon each of Angostura, sugar, and lemon juice, up. Complex, spicy, a fine canvas for a full on punch of bitters. By Leo Engel, 1878.

Godfrey no. 1 Cocktail $10
Champagne dosed with a bit of kirschwasser and lemon juice, dashed with Angostura, orange bitters, and pomegranate syrup, up.

Jersey Flashlight $7
Lemon peel, Angostura bitters, sugar, hot water, Laird’s bonded straight apple brandy, fire. A William Schmidt creation, late 19th century.

My Hope Cocktail $8
2 parts cognac (Martell VSOP) to one part port wine, Peychaud’s bitters, and cayenne pepper, neat. This is another one from “the Only William.”

= mixed base =
Celebration Special $8

Equal parts Der Lachs goldwasser, Cointreau, and dry gin with a dash of lemon juice, up.

One Way $8
Equal parts gin, Swedish punsch, peach flavored brandy, and lemon juice, up. Dangerously delicious.

Sunray $9
Equal parts Buffalo Trace bourbon, Grand Marnier, Cocchi Americano, and orange juice, up.

= dessert =
Mi Amante $12

We’ve had several drinks that involved ice cream this past year, and this one was perhaps the best. My beloved is simply a couple ounces of "the best gin possible," in our case Old Raj, mixed with four times its measure in coffee ice cream. Charles Baker's admonition is spot on: "We tried this during a recent local heat wave [in Buenos Aires] with results entirely at odds with the first reaction to its written formula." Divine.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

... ... ...

Because the Sunday between Christmas and New Year's tends to be a particularly busy night, we will not be presenting a menu this evening. But if you decide to come revel with us, we do have a treat for you - the Japanese Cocktail (cognac, orgeat, lemon peel, bitters) prepared with the original bitters in the oldest recipes, Boker's.

Next month: Best of 2012. Stay tuned.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Exhibit #127: Wæs Hæl!

Christmas Bowl of Bishop $6
A traditional 18th century holiday punch, Oxford style. Red and port wines mulled with roasted cloven lemons & their juice, spices, water and sugar. Served hot.

"I’ll raise your salary, and endeavor to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon over a bowl of Smoking Bishop, Bob!” So says Ebeneezer Scrooge after his transformation, and in his offer of a bowl of punch, the change is revealed as a fundamental one. In the 19th century British mind, generosity was often measured in bowls of punch, the drink itself being communal by nature. As to the "Bishop" - it was custom to associate different varieties of wine with clerical names, often corresponding to colors worn by the clergy in the Anglican church: Pope for burgundy, Cardinal for champagne, Archbishop for claret, and Bishop for port.

Wassail $6
Two parts hot ale to one part warmed sherry poured over baked apples, a bit of sweetened lemon juice, allspice, hard toast garnish. This particular recipe, published in 1895, comes to us from George Kappeler. The drink is of course several centuries older than that, and is tied to several pre-Christian traditions in the cider-producing counties of southern England. The name itself is a transliteration of the Old English “waes hael,” meaning be well, be healthy. It was customary for townsfolk to bring the Wassail Bowl, itself a venerated object, to an apple orchard at winter solstice and sing songs and incantations to the largest tree to awaken its spirit, as well as to frighten away evil spirits. Bits of Wassail-soaked toast were either fastened to a large branch, or buried at the tree’s roots as offerings. Incidentally, this is also where we get our expressions “raise a toast” or “have a toast” – it was customary for many punches to be garnished with bits of hard-tack bread or toast. Wassail recipes themselves are highly irregular, but the earliest would have all included spiced hot ale or mead and some bits of apple or cider. The addition of sherry in this recipe is certainly a bit of 19th century fanciness, but was a common method for a substantial amount of time, and as such represents what was once considered a traditional Wassail for many years.  

Old Apple tree, old apple tree;
We've come to wassail thee;
To bear and to bow apples enow;
Hats full, caps full, three bushel bags full;
Barn floors full and a little heap under the stairs

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Exhibit #126: 4th Annual Tom & Jerry

Tom & Jerry $7
Camus VS cognac, Smith & Cross and Mt. Gay Eclipse rums, T&J batter, hot milk, grated nutmeg.

Top Shelf T&J $9
As above but with Martell VSOP, Zacapa 23, and Smith & Cross.

"Life in London or, the Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn, esq., and his elegant friend, Corinthian Tom, accompanied by Bob Logic, the Oxonian, in their Rambles and Sprees through the Metropolis" doesn't exactly roll off the tongue the same way as "Twilght" or "Harry Potter," but was a phenomenon of that stature in the early 1820s. The author, Pierce Egan, was a sporting man (drinking, horses, boxing) and his book detailed the adventures of that life dosed with up to the minute slang. In America, the story was presented on stage for several years as "Tom and Jerry, or Life in London" and the very phrase Tom & Jerry quickly took root as a catch-all term for any sort of mischief, especially the alcohol-fueled sort. And then there's the drink itself, created by Egan to promote his franchise. Americans cottoned to "the preparation" straight away, with both the drink and the phrase living on long after Egan's book and several stage adaptations were forgotten. The names given to that cartoon cat and mouse we all know ... not an accident!

Tom and Jerry remained a popular cold-weather drink throughout most of the 19th century, but began to atrophy over time into a holiday drink. At this point it is mostly unknown outside the upper midwest, where the batter is still sold in groceries during the holidays. This "dope," as it is known in northern Michigan and Wisconsin bars, is a mixture of eggs, separated, beaten, then recombined with sugar, cinnamon, allspice, cloves and a little rum. A tablespoon of the resulting batter is added to an ounce each cognac and rum, hot milk and grated nutmeg to make the final drink.

Next week: Wassail and Christmas Bowl of Bishop

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Exhibit #125: Maple, Smoke & Fire

I recently picked up a dynamite bottle of bourbon-barrel aged organic Vermont maple syrup, so we’ll have a few drinks with that, along with some warming and/or smoky booze cups.

Blood and Sand (top shelf) $12
Created to promote the Valentino bullfighting movie of the same name in 1922, this drink has gained quite a bit of currency, especially here in the StL, no doubt as a result of the supper club downtown which is named after it. So why bother? Because we’re amping up the smoke and roots by compounding it with Laphroaig scotch, Carpano Antica, Grand Marnier’s cognac-based cherry liqueur, and orange juice. You’ve never had one like this.

Don the Beachcomber’s Coffee Grog $9
The tiki godfather’s signature after dinner drink, and for me one of his very best. Baroque as all get out, this 1937 recipe begins with a teaspoon of batter made of orange blossom honey, butter, allspice dram, and cinnamon and vanilla syrups. To this peels of orange and grapefruit are added, along with sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, and of course coffee. A ladle of flaming rums (Smith & Cross and Cruzan 151) on top delivers the payload.

Jack Rabbit $7
Applejack, lemon and orange juices, maple syrup, up.

Knock Knock Cocktail $12
Equal parts cognac (Martell VSOP), gin (Beefeater 24), light rum (Matusalem platino), and Grand Marnier, with several dashes of Angostura, up. All booze, all the time. That’ll warm a body up, right?

Maple Leaf $7
Oh, Canada! Crown Royal Canadian whisky, lemon juice, and maple syrup, up.

Old Vermont Cocktail $7
Gin (Beefeater 24), maple syrup, lemon and orange juices, and a dash of Angostura, up. This one follows the same plan and proportions as the Jack Rabbit, but employs gin instead of applejack, and adds a dash of bitters.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Exhibit #124: San Francisco Favorites via Trader Vic, 1968

Tonight’s menu comes from Trader Vic’s Pacific Island Cookbook, published in 1968. Although its focus is on food, there is an interesting chapter of drinks and punches at the end of the book. These particular drinks are from the first (and non-tropical) section of that chapter and we’re including all but two recipes – one for a Rusty Nail and the other a Mooley Cow (vodka, crème de cacao, milk).

Vic introduces them thusly:
“Since the Gold Rush days San Francisco has been known as a city of two-fisted drinkers. Martinis, hiballs, and scotch on the rocks outsell anything else, but quite a few discerning people like something that tastes good. Here are a few of the favorites.”

Jackalope $7
Buffalo Trace bourbon, lemon juice, and sugar, up. But here’s the interesting part: the ingredients are combined in advance at punch scale, then refrigerated overnight along with the spent lemon shells. The next day, portions are measured out and shaken up. You may have heard of this drink, but these days it is most commonly made with dark rum, Kahlua, cacao, amaretto, and pineapple… clearly no relation whatsoever.

Port Light $10
Starboard Light $10

Whisk(e)y, lemon juice, honey, passion fruit syrup, egg white, crushed ice, mint. The Port Light employs bourbon (Bulleit), while Starboard uses scotch (Johnnie Walker Black). “Dedicated to the Sunday sailors of San Francisco Bay.”

Rhum Cosmo $8
Rhum Barbancourt 8yr, pineapple and lime juices, crushed ice, mint. No relation to what we know today as a Cosmo – that one hails from 1980s Miami.

Silver Stallion $12
A variation on the Ramos Gin Fizz - equal parts gin and vanilla ice cream, lemon juice, egg white, crushed ice, club soda, grated nutmeg and orange peel. “Every guy thinks he has the one and only gin fizz recipe, but this old-timer is way out in front of anything made with gin that I’ve ever tasted. Good for Sunday morning get-togethers.”

Velvet Hammer $6
It just wouldn’t be Sunday if there weren’t at least one truly off-putting drink on the menu: equal parts crème de cacao and Cointreau shaken up with evaporated milk, served up.

White Witch $7
Light rum, Cointreau, crème de cacao, lime juice, crushed ice, club soda, sugar-dusted mint. “This is a pretty drink for the girls. Not too strong but it has authority.”