Saturday, April 24, 2010

Exhibit #29: The Ponies!

(pictured: The Derby Cocktail)

Some love from the RFT this week, here:

Sports bar. If there had been such a thing before Prohibition, there were but two sports that anyone cared about: horse racing and boxing. With the 136th running of the Kentucky Derby coming up next week, a selection of racing-related drinks seems just the thing. We've already done a few by happenstance (The Suburban, The Seelbach, Saratoga Brace-Up), but this is a deep vein in the mountains of old recipes. Most do not have a particular story - they are by and large celebratory or commemorative.

Derby Cocktail $6
Being of English derivation (Savoy Hotel, London), it's possible this one has as much to do with the hat as the race, though I'd still say the latter is the favorite given some of the ingredients: Old Tom gin, mint, peach bitters, up. Sublime.

Derby Cocktail no. 2 $7
A later, American concoction, from Trader Vic's 1947 bar manual. Bulleit bourbon, lime juice, Grand Marnier, sweet vermouth, up, mint garnish.

Saratoga Cocktail $7
Here is a Major Cocktail that few know. Descending from the same tree as the original Martini and the Manhattan, and for a brief spell nearly as popular as either, is the mighty Saratoga, named for the upstate NY resort, its track, and the dissolute sports that made Saratoga Springs one of the more decadent places on earth in the late 19th century. They still drink hard there to this day. Equal parts cognac (Martell VSOP), rye whiskey (Russell's 6yr), and sweet vermouth, with Angostura bitters, up.

Then of course there is The Julep, official drink of the Kentucky Derby since 1938. The word itself is ancient, of Persian origin, and until the 18th century was defined as a sweetened dose of medicine. Once dragged over to the dark side and defiled with booze by unruly Americans, the drink's biggest years were in the few decades leading up to and following the Civil War. A common view among visiting Englishmen was that while we might be savages, the mint julep was divinity in the glass, its virtues then extolled worldwide in travelogues, novels and newspaper reports.

Regional variations were strict and its proper construction was a matter of heated debate - and no small number of duels. Two points emerge clearly. First, before the Civil War, use of whiskey in a Julep was considered vulgar, low, disreputable, and generally not something any respectable gentleman would drink, let alone offer a guest. Brandy was the go-to spirit in the drink, or occasionally gin (the thicker, malty, aged genever style). Second, it was a much heavier pour - most often three ounces, four not uncommon, with the modern two here and there - and as such, intended for slow consumption. On the other hand, the Julep's little brother - the Smash, or Smash-Up (for the muddled mint) - was meant to be dispatched quickly, a two ounce pour, and often with the mint filtered out. After the war, hard times seemed to make everyone decide that whiskey tasted pretty good in a Julep after all, and bourbon became the spirit of choice for both juleps and smashes, with rye more popular than bourbon along the coasts, especially further north in Maryland and Virginia.

Emperor's Mint Julep $13
Jerry Thomas' 1862 recipe and the standard for a century, though often with less ornamentation. Mint muddled in sugar and water, three ounces of Martell VSOP cognac, crushed ice with dashes of rum and sugar on top, orange slices and berries. Before Human Ingenuity got around to air conditioning, this was a damn good stopgap.

Scientific Julep $13
New Orleans style, from an 1856 account. Three ounces of Martell VSOP cognac, rolled between glasses with mint, orange and lemon slices, sugar, and crushed ice, served in the mixing glass with a pineapple flourish.

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