Saturday, January 7, 2012

2011 Year in Review

our dear friend Kimber Hall braves the Pousse l'Amour!

2011…approximately 270 different drinks were served on Sunday nights, with all but about 40 being first-time offerings. Of those, we’ve settled on 30 or so of the most-loved, fascinating, or you-really-shoulda-been-here drinks. We’ve had to leave off a few favorites due to difficulty – but otherwise, these were the brightest lights on Sundays last year.

We’ll begin with a few of the brightest stars:

Beachcomber’s Gold $8
A mix of gold Cuban-style rum with smaller amounts of dark Cuban and Jamaican rums, lime juice, sugar, and spiced with a little Pernod and almond extract. Donn Beach, to my palate, was not just the first, but the most consistently creative and visionary of the tiki progenitors. The Beachcomber's Gold is a Daiquiri structurally, but the layering of rum flavors with notes of anise and almond provides that otherworldly, exotic touch that is the hallmark of Donn's drinks.

Emerson Cocktail $7
Equal parts Old Tom gin, Carpano Antica red vermouth, and lime juice, along with a bit of maraschino, up.

Fizz à la Violette $10
Dry gin, crème de violette, lemon and lime juices, sugar, cream, egg white, up. This is an Egyptian variation on the Ramos Gin Fizz by Ahmed Soliman, circa 1932.

Georgia Mint Julep $12
An approximation of the original early 19th century julep which featured peach brandy exclusively, no whiskey. Real peach brandy (dry and well-aged) hasn't been produced in at least half a century, so we will approximate with a 2:1 mixture of cognac and modern peach-flavored brandy, along with the requisite mint, sugar and crushed ice. This drink also features the traditional 3 ounce pour (some say 4, or even 5) for slow and easy sippin'.

Honeymoon Cocktail $10
Another from the Café Royal archives: Calvados (French apple brandy), Benedictine, Grand Marnier, and lemon juice, up. Heavenly. Consider this one a double.

Nervo-Knox $7
One of those rare pre-WWII vodka cocktails from the continent: Chopin rye vodka, blue curacao, lemon and lime juices, up. Think of it as an early, slightly more complex Kamikaze…in color. Inspired by the British acrobatic comedy team of Jimmy Nervo and Teddy Knox, also members of the Crazy Gang troupe who were active both on stage and the British screen.

Scofflaw $7
Rye whiskey, dry vermouth, lemon juice, pomegranate syrup, orange bitters, up. Another Prohibition-era Harry McElhone cocktail, this one as direct response to coinage of the term ‘scofflaw,’ which originally meant one who flaunted the laws of Prohibition. Those expat bartenders just loved to give their would-be oppressors the bird at any chance they got.

Ward 8 $11
A double shot of rye whiskey, lemon and orange juices, pomegranate syrup, mint, and club soda. Served in its original style - in a beer goblet with a very large ice cube. A warm weather drink from Boston circa 1910 with some alleged connections to vote-buying.

Brain Dusters.
Our ancestors had livers of steel and an appreciation for the flavors of spirits. Prohibition may not have stopped Americans from drinking, but we emerged from it with a diminished capacity for drink and a desire to hide the flavors of spirits. Here are a few that make for a great way to start a night, but not so good for ending one:

The Delicious Sour $10
Applejack, peach flavored brandy, lime juice, a little sugar, egg white, up with a splash of soda. Although egg white became a traditional feature of a Sour in Europe (and thereby, South America…hello Pisco Sour), and even here for a brief spell following Repeal, Sours featuring egg white are not common.

Mexican Firing Squad $12
A double pour of silver tequila, a good amount of lime juice, some pomegranate syrup, Angostura bitters, crushed ice, tall. Any drink that references mass murder has to be good, right? From the El Cucaracha bar in Mexico City, 1937.

Daiquiris & Sidecars.
From the beginning, these two classic cocktails have provided a fertile template for variation. Both thrive on a balance between sour citrus and sugar or liqueurs (Daiquiri=rum, lime, sugar; Sidecar=brandy, lemon, orange liqueur). By replacing different parts of those equations, bartenders created the following:

Brown Lady $7
This is a fine drink with a nice tart/sweet balance, closely related to the White Lady or Delilah (gin Sidecars). Dry gin, Van der Hum (a tangerine liqueur), and lemon juice, up. The drink is more of a golden than brown color so I'd conjecture that the name has to do with the South African liqueur.

Champs Elysées $10
Top shelf cognac, yellow Chartreuse, lemon juice and Angostura bitters, up. Of British provenance (Café Royal).

La Florida Cocktail $8
Light Cuban-style rum, lime juice, red vermouth, orange curacao, creme de cacao, and grenadine, up. The signature drink of Havana’s Bar La Florida and its head bartender Constantine Ribailagua, who worked the mahogany for a good 40 years until his death in 1952. A testament to Constantine's top-shelf skills, as the drink's tart and tightly woven flavors are not what one would expect from the list of ingredients.

Hop Toad $7
Smith & Cross navy strength Jamaican rum, apricot liqueur and lime juice, up.

New Brunswick $7
2 parts scotch whisky to one part each lemon juice and maple syrup, up. A scotch Sidecar with maple syrup stepping in for the orange liqueur.

Rising Sun $8
Cognac, orange curacao, pineapple juice, with dashes of Angostura and grenadine, up.

Sir Walter Cocktail $8
Light rum and cognac with a bit of Grand Marnier, lemon juice, and pomegranate syrup, up. London, 1920s.

White Man’s Burden $8
Last but certainly not least, the most horribly named delicious cocktail ever! Sloe gin, apricot liqueur, and lime juice, up.

The Sunday night crew, meaning both ourselves and many of you lovely, regular visitors, have a deep and abiding love for brown liquor…

The Boulevardier $7
A whiskey Negroni, created by Harry McElhone at his New York Bar in Paris, mid 1920s: equal parts Bulleit bourbon, Campari and red vermouth, up. It was a favorite of Erskine Gwynne, and was thus christened with the name of the literary magazine he published in Paris at that time. Contrary to what some will tell you, this drink does not predate the Negroni, which was already being sold in bottled form by the Negroni family in 1919.

Canvasback $9
Scotch (Johnnie Walker Double Black), Carpano Antica vermouth, Old Raj dry gin, lemon juice, with a bit of Grand Marnier and several dashes of Angostura, up. Herbs and smoke!

Fanciulli Cocktail $8
Rye whiskey, red vermouth and Fernet Branca, served neat. Essentially a Manhattan variation with a good dose of Fernet stepping in for Angostura, the Fanciulli commemorates Francesco Fanciulli, well-known in the late 19th century as a writer of light opera and marches and successor to Sousa in the US Marine Band. In 1897 he was court-martialed for refusing to play a Sousa march but later pardoned by Teddy Roosevelt.

Fancy-Free Cocktail $8
Buffalo Trace bourbon, maraschino liqueur, Angostura and orange bitters, up. Very approachable for an all-booze cocktail, closely related to the Manhattan.

Old Pepper $7
A spicy hangover cure: rye and bourbon whiskeys, lemon juice, Worcestshire, Sriracha, and Tabasco, up in a rocks glass.

All Booze, All the Time.
Not recommended if you don’t like the taste of alcohol or intensely herbal liqueurs.

Alaska Cocktail $8
Old Tom gin, yellow Chartreuse and orange bitters, up. From the Old Waldorf bar. Over time this drink has become increasingly more dry, with the original ratio of gin to Chartreuse beginning at 2:1 then sliding all the way down to 8:1. We'll plot a middle course and go 4:1, enough Chartreuse to really taste it but not so much as to be horribly sweet.

Appetizer à l’Italienne $8
2 parts Carpano Antica vermouth to 1 part Fernet Branca with a dash of absinthe, up.

Bijou Cocktail $9
Equal parts Plymouth gin, green Chartreuse, and Carpano Antica vermouth with a dash of orange bitters, up. Harry Johnson, late 19th century.

Ox Blood Cocktail $9
Dry gin, Heering cherry liqueur, Carpano Antica vermouth, orange bitters and a few dashes of Grand Marnier. Earthy and complex, and yes...blood red.

Puritan Cocktail $8
Plymouth gin, dry vermouth, yellow Chartreuse, orange bitters, up. Essentially a more dry, not quite so herbal Bijou.

Two Daisies
+ another oddball Vodka drink.

19th Century Brandy Daisy $7
Cognac (Camus VS), lemon juice, Grand Marnier accent, a little sugar, a dash or two of Jamaican rum, and club soda, up. Whether early in the game or late, the Brandy Daisy has always been the most popular incarnation of this drink.

Old Waldorf Rum Daisy $9
One of the most common variations on the original Daisy was to substitute yellow Chartreuse for the orange cordial – sometimes as a float, giving the drink a vaguely yellow center like the flower. At the old Waldorf bar, a particularly potent variation was a specialty of the house: pungent old school Jamaican rum (Smith & Cross), yellow Chartreuse, lime juice, a little sugar, up, with mint garnish. Evokes a boozy butterscotch vibe - unusual at first, but it doesn't take long to settle in and enjoy.

Grünland $8
Rye vodka, kummel (caraway, fennel & cumin flavored liqueur), a little lemon juice and dashes of crème de menthe and absinthe, up.

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