Friday, July 17, 2009

Gin Cocktail

Also known as a "Gin and Bitters," this drink is incredibly simple. Basically a combination of gin and Angostura bitters, it is nonetheless a great little drink. I made this with a recent acquisition, Hendrick's Gin, and found it to be smooth, almost like slightly botanic-tasting water. All in all, it is almost painfully sophisticated and incredibly yum.

Gin Cocktail
(from Mr. Boston's Official Bartender's Guide)

2 ounces gin
2 dashes bitters

Stir with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon peel.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Bronx Terrace

Since I'm running so far behind, I think I'm going to just do some fast posts for a while. I've been keeping up on my drinking -- boy, it sounds strange to say that -- but I've let the writing lapse a bit. At any rate, here goes a shot at catching up.

Of course, the name "Bronx Terrace" caught my attention. There's something about the old-fashioned, almost fussy "Terrace" attached to my good old Bronx. The blend of courtly and coarse just sounded perfect.

The drink itself was oddly refreshing, with a taste that landed somewhere between a gin rickey and a martini. It was slightly sweetened by the dry vermouth, with a somewhat delicate flavor that I really liked. I drank it on my fire escape -- a real Bronx Terrace.

Bronx Terrace
from Mr. Boston's Official Bartender Guide

1 1/2 ounces gin
1 1/2 ounces dry vermouth
1/2 ounce lime juice

Shake with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Add a maraschino cherry.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Gin Shots

When I was younger and a lot more flush, I would think nothing of plunking down top dollar for the few luxuries that I enjoyed. However, with age, poverty, and a greatly narrowed social life, I have long since learned the art of economizing. This is especially evident when one considers my liquor cabinet.

In my grad school days, I usually kept a bottle of Tanqueray or Bombay Sapphire gin on hand, and would gladly argue for hours about the relative merits of various top-shelf tipples. Recently, however, I bought my first bottle of gin in years. It was New Amsterdam.

In my defense, I will point out that it was cheap, it had a cool bottle, and it tasted pretty good when I tried it in a taste test at my local liquor store. However, in the fullness of time, I have come to the conclusion that it actually has notes of cheap perfume, and is redolent of some sort of industrial process.

My other gin, Rogue's Spruce, came from Sebbie, the incredibly cool lady whose image appears on Rogue's chocolate stout. I met Sebbie at a "Taste of Oregon" culinary event in the Lower East Side. We hit it off immediately, as she helped me sneak my wife and daughter in. Later, when I admitted that I was too soused on good Oregon absinthe to effectively review Rogue's new gin and spice rum offerings, she sent me home with a fifth of each.

The hazelnut spiced rum has long since gone to meet its maker, but my impressive restraint has kept the gin around for quite a while now, although I am rapidly reaching the end of the bottle. As the New Amsterdam demonstrates, finding a suitable replacement isn't exactly an easy prospect.

Before I finished my Rogue and New Amsterdam, I decided to taste test the two to get a better feeling for gin. Here's what I came up with:

New Amsterdam: Rough, industrial taste, sweetish. When chilled, rough tones smoothed out and it tasted overwhelmingly sweet.

Rogue: Much milder than the New Amsterdam, with vegetal, cool tones. Strong taste of cucumber and spruce. When chilled, the alcohol flavor almost disappears completely, rendering it supersmooth and very chilling.

On a side note, New Amsterdam's roughness is surprising, particularly given that the Rogue is actually about 10 proof higher.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Basil's Bite

When our friends Jen and Joey visited a few weeks ago, Virginia and I bumped up our alcohol consumption a bit. This isn't to say that we are usually teetotalers or that Jen and Joey are a bad influence; the truth of the matter is that they are just a great pair to hang out with, and tend to be fine companions when one wants to take a trip through the liquor cabinet.

One night, shortly before they left, Joey and I decided that we had grown bored with the meager offerings of my booze collection. In search of mountains unclimbed and wonders untasted, we wandered down to North End Liquors, my favorite local booze emporium.

As a side-note, most liquor stores in my neighborhood are vaguely reminiscent of a methadone clinic. To purchase something, one walks into a narrow, cramped little room. On three sides, there are walls constructed out of bulletproof glass, through which one can see the establishment's entire selection of booze. By a combination of pointing, yelling, and performing a sort of booze-themed game of charades, one picks out the liquor of choice, ascertains the price, and passes over the dough.

Needless to say, the entire experience is a little unsatisfying, particularly for those of us who like to read labels or comparison shop.

The North End Liquor Store on Webster Avenue, near Fordham Road, may well be the only traditional liquor store on this side of Arthur Avenue. The shop always has a great selection of bargain-priced wines, as well as all the basic liquor-cabinet standards. Best of all, it consistently maintains a good selection of weird little liqueurs and bizarre tipples.

On the night in question, Joey and I decided that our goal was to find the most bizarre booze that the store had to offer. After about fifteen minutes of searching, we narrowed the field down to three choices: Kummel, a German caraway-flavored liqueur; Aperol, which was flavored with "China, Gentian, and Rhubarb"; and Cynar, which boasted an image of an artichoke and looked like something devised by a Soviet-era propagandist. After some soul-searching -- and the sad discovery that the Kummel wasn't even in the store's database -- we decided that both the Aperol and Cynar were needed at home.

When we got back to the apartmen, we discovered that we loved the Aperol and hated the Cynar. To be fair, however, after a few shots and some bleary-eyed contemplation of the Cynar's label, we felt an unexplainable desire to overthrow the government and put an artichoke in charge.

At any rate, that's where it all lay until I found this recipe in Mr. Boston. Not only did it use the weird-ass liqueurs that were gathering dust in my liquor cabinet, but it even made use of basil. Seriously, what could be better?

Admittedly, it isn't the best drink. I made it with Rogue, my better gin, but even that couldn't erase the horror of the Cynar. The finished product was mildly sweet and complex, with a really unpleasant, vegetal, bitter aftertaste that was slightly reminiscent of homemade absinthe. After a while, the aftertaste faded, but never completely went away.

Bottom line, this tasted like some sort of nineteenth-century vegetable tonic that was supposedly good for you, but was later found to contain laudanum.

Basil's Bite
(from Mr. Boston Official Bartender Guide

3 basil leaves
2 ounces gin
1 barspoon Cynar
3/4 ounce Aperol

Muddle Basil leaves. Add ice and shake with remaining ingredients. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a small basil leaf.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Alexander's Sister Cocktail

There was a time when I was deeply addicted to creamy cocktails. From White Russians to Nuts and Berries, B-52s to Brandy Alexanders, I drank them all; depending on how many I put down, I occasionally licked the glass. Basically, as long as a drink had the flavor and texture of melted ice cream spiked with Everclear, I was happy.

Not quite a girl-drink drunk, but close enough.

The inimitable Julie introduced me to my first grown-up creamy drink. A bar-poured B-52 can be truly beautiful: lovingly-balanced layers of Kahlua, Bailey's Irish Cream, and Grand Marnier line up in a glass, suggesting a smoggy sunset or perhaps the sienna-toned frames of cinematic memory. The color palette is pure Indiana Jones, and the flavor is a rich mix of rich and sweet. Yes indeed, a well-executed B-52 is a work of art.

Admittedly, most of our freshman year B-52s were a lot sloppier; in fact, I remember a couple of nights in which we basically put down glass after glass of a khaki-colored ooze that we surreptitiously poured from a convenient plastic flip-top container. While not quite as aesthetically pleasing as a properly executed B-52, they were easier to hide from the cops, should the need arise.

Maybe I'll learn to make a perfect B-52. Now THAT would be a useful skill.

While the B-52 occupies a special place in my heart, I chalk up my creamy drink love to bad childhood influences. When I was a rugrat, my father often took us out to eat at various military bases, where I soon learned a vital lesson: for all their culinary shortcomings, most Officers' clubs are able to put together a first-rate mint parfait. The layers of vanilla ice cream, interspersed with thick lashings of creme de menthe, were a delicious introduction to the world of booze.

The Alexander's Sister cocktail brings to mind the best aspects of those childhood parfaits. The relatively small amount of light cream translates into a drink that isn't quite as heavy as most creamy cocktails. It also isn't too complex, either. Basically, this is a nice ice-creamy concoction that is lightly minty, a bit more grown up, and extremely refreshing.

As a side note, the little sprinkle of nutmeg on top was nice, but could be easily substituted for chocolate shavings, a sprig of mint, or even a maraschino cherry.

Alexander's Sister Cocktail
(from Mr. Boston Official Bartender Guide

1 ounce dry gin
1 ounce creme de menthe (green)
1 ounce light cream

Shake with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with fresh-grated nutmeg on top

Sunday, July 12, 2009


A word about vermouth:

I always thought that dry vermouth came from white grapes, while sweet vermouth came from red. It turns out, however, that the rich auburn color of sweet vermouth actually comes from caramel. This is reflected in the brownish tinge that it often gets when mixed with lighter ingredients, and in its slightly creamy sugary flavor. It is sometimes called "Italian" vermouth, to differentiate it from "French," or dry vermouth.

Both dry and sweet vermouth are fortified with brandy and flavored with a wide variety of herbs, spices, and flowers. In the beginning, one of these herbs was wormwood, the active ingredient in absinthe. "Vermouth," in fact, is a French derivation of "Vermut," the German word for wormwood. In addition to its name, wormwood also gave vermouth a reputation as an aphrodesiac, a link that continues forth to today's martinis.

Supposedly, vermouth no longer contains wormwood; however, given the secrecy of its ingredients, it's hard to tell what, exactly, goes into the mix. Taken straight, it tends to have a slightly funky, vegetal flavor that isn't really all that pleasant. However, mixed into other drinks, it often blooms, offering a complexity that can be pretty delightful.

For some reason -- I'm not sure why -- drinks that contain equal parts sweet and dry vermouth are often referred to as "perfect." For example, a perfect martini contains sweet vermouth, dry vermouth, and gin. Today's drink, the Addington, could also be classed as a perfect cocktail.

In truth, however, the "perfect" title may be a mite extravagant. After the ice melted and the orange twist melded, this turned into a good drink; initially, though, the vermouth flavor was strong and way too funky. It might be nice with a splash of fresh orange juice, but that is probably another drink altogether...

(from The Ultimate A-to-Z Bar Guide

1 1/2 ounces sweet vermouth
1 1/2 ounces dry vermouth
cold club soda
orange or lemon twist

Pour vermouths into chilled highball glass filled with ice cubes. Top with club soda, stirring lightly. Drop in orange or lemon twist.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Palm Beach

During my freshman year of college, the biggest influence on my social development was probably my friend Julie. Possessed of two older siblings, she'd had years of instruction in all the important things, like how to mix a drink, how to befriend a bartender, and generally how to avoid appearing spastic in social situations. Better yet, Julie had lived in Greece, where the drinking age was low and largely unenforced. All in all, she had a wealth of knowledge about alcohol, bar behavior, and general sophistication, much of which she imparted with generosity and flair.

Over my Christmas break, she invited me to a New Year's party at her cousin's house. With vague promises of drinking, debauchery, and unimaginable delights, she convinced me to throw myself into a frenzy of total strangers and awkward interactions.

It would be fair to say that I was the star student of Julie's informal finishing school, and she was almost as nervous as I. In the days leading up to the party, she gave me all sorts of advice and admonitions. I was not only a partygoer; in the context of this event, I would also be a representative of my generation. I was to drink well and regularly, showing that I, like my elders, was capable of consuming liquor with vigor and elan. I asked for -- and received -- advice on dress, behavior, and other key aspects of the vital social graces. By the time the day arrived, I was prepped within an inch of my life.

Julie was no fool: she realized that, while her older cousins and siblings would be providing the booze, she and I would be providing much of the cultural currency. Consequently, we worked out a playlist of cool Indigo Girls, B-52s and Edie Brickell CDs that I should bring. Also, she suggested that offering my hosts a bottle of something or other would be a classy move.

The booze proved problematic. I was eighteen, didn't have a fake ID, and was located far from the grasp of any older relatives who might have been willing to contribute to my growing delinquency. I looked about three years younger than my age, and had neither the confidence nor the grace to pull off the old "Mister, will you buy me a bottle" trick. As the quick days between Christmas and New Years dropped away, it became clear that providing booze was going to be a serious issue.

Finally, with the party drawing nearer and nearer, I worked up my nerve and snagged an old, half-empty bottle of sweet vermouth from my parents' living room liquor cabinet. I wrapped it in an old sweater and smuggled it out to my car.

When the party came, I showed up, CDs and vermouth in hand. The site of the bacchanal -- a tract home in Herndon, Virginia -- turned out to be far less frightening than I had expected. The host's children were sweet and surprisingly polite when their parents whisked them upstairs to bed. All in all, it was oddly reminiscent of the parties that my parents used to throw when I was a little kid.

While my CDs were greeted with enthusiasm and interest, the sweet vermouth inspired a long, uncomfortable pause. Finally, Julie's brother Peter stepped into the breach, proclaiming "Great! Now we can have Manhattans!" I could have hugged him. Later, in fact, I think I did.

Although I didn't know a Manhattan from a Long Island Iced Tea, I appreciated the save and smiled as if Peter had perfectly guessed my intention. I handed over the sweet vermouth and settled into a great party.

The next morning, I woke up in a strange bed with a dry mouth and a grinding headache. Over the next half hour or so, I caught glimpses of my fellow day-after zombies as I drank coffee, tried to joke with the kids, and hustled out the door. On my way to the car, Julie's cousin ran out and handed me a bottle. It was the sweet vermouth, untouched since the previous night. Realizing the difficulty of smuggling it back into the house, I tried to talk her into keeping it. She politely -- yet firmly -- refused.

At any rate, I have since learned that a little sweet vermouth, carefully applied in the right place, can be a bit of heaven. This is one such case: the Palm Beach is a good summer drink, slightly tart, yet balanced with a creamy caramel taste. It is cool, refreshing, and has a nice light tan color.

Palm Beach
(from The Ultimate A-to-Z Bar Guide

1 1/2 ounces gin
1 1/2 ounces sweet vermouth
1 1/2 teaspoons unsweetened grapefruit juice

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Pernod Cocktail

It hasn't escaped my notice that this project, by its very nature, has made me pick up some of the famed ten warning signs of heavy drinking. When I was a kid, long before the advent of DARE, my classmates and I were taught to closely watch mommy and daddy for hints of incipient alcoholism. If any of these traits showed up, were were tasked with quickly reporting our parents to the appropriate authorities. To be honest, the whole thing was a little bit Orwellian.

At any rate, the ten warnings are:

1. Drinking alone
2. Making excuses, finding excuses to drink
3. Daily or frequent drinking needed to function
4. Inability to reduce or stop alcohol intake
5. Violent episodes associated with drinking
6. Drinking secretly
7. Becoming angry when confronted about drinking
8. Poor eating habits
9. Failure to care for physical appearance
10. Trembling in the morning

Well, although my wife generally takes a sip or two out of whatever potion I've made for the evening, I have to admit that I am, basically, drinking alone. I've been assured that this may well change when I switch from gin-based drinks to ... well, to anything that isn't gin-based. Virginia really, really hates gin.

Also, to be honest, I was somewhat angry when my Aunt made the assumption that doing this project will turn me into a raging alcoholic. I got especially ticked when she raised the specter of my cigarette smoking, offering it up as evidence that I have an addictive personality. Having never had problems with drinking -- and having quit smoking almost four years ago -- I found the summary judgment a little irritating.

But, beyond that, I think I'm pretty solid. I don't really tremble in the morning, although I have been known to stumble a bit, particularly if I didn't get enough sleep. While some may criticize my grooming, I feel like that's more of a general moral failing than any sort of drinking issue. As far as the rest, I think I'm on firm ground.

Even so, old indoctrinations die hard. Needless to say, I'm not going to be an idiot about this...

Today's drink was the Pernod cocktail. Again, I made it with Lucid absinthe; given that Pernod was originally an absinthe, I feel like I'm on firm ground with this switch.

The drink was initially a bit much. Lucid's incredibly strong licorice flavor completely overwhelmed the sugar and bitters. However, when the ice melted, the cocktail became milder and more flavorful.

Pernod Cocktail
(from The Ultimate A-to-Z Bar Guide)

2 to 3 teaspoons water
2 to 4 dashes Angostura bitters
1/4 teaspoon powdered sugar
2 ounces Pernod

Put first three ingredients into chilled old-fashioned glass; stir well. Fill glass with crushed ice; add Pernod, stirring well.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Tom Collins

In 1874, The Great Tom Collins Hoax spread through New York, Pennsylvania, and various other areas in the eastern United States. Basically, a guy would walk up to a mark and ask if he'd seen Tom Collins. The mark, of course, would say no, after which the jokester would tell him that Collins was saying all sorts of nasty things about him. Eventually, the mark would lose his temper. Newspapers got into the fun, reporting appearances of the elusive Collins in various cities.

The Gettysburg Compiler wrote this transcript of the basic Tom Collins patter:

"Have you seen Tom Collins?"

"If you haven't, perhaps you had better do so, and as quick as you can, for he is talking about you in a very rough manner--calling you hard names and altogether saying things about you that are rather calculated to induce people to believe there is nothing you wouldn't steal short of a red hot stove. Other little things of that nature he is openly speaking in public places, and as a friend [...] we think you ought to take some notice of them and of Mr. Collins."

There are a few lessons here:
1. The world used to be a much smaller place.
2. Practical jokes are a lot different in places that don't have firearms.
3. Old-time jokes didn't always have punchlines.
4. Once upon a time, people did, indeed, talk like those "high pants talking fast" guys on The Family Guy. Horseradish!

At any rate, the development of the Tom Collins in 1876 was undoubtedly related to the Tom Collins hoax. Created by Jerry Thomas, "the father of American mixology," the original recipe was as follows:

Tom Collins

(use small bar glass)
Take 5 or 6 dashes of gum syrup
Juice of a small lemon
One large wine-glass of Gin
2 or 3 lumps of ice;

Shake up well and strain into a large bar-glass. Fill up the glass with plain soda-water and imbibe while it is lively.

Again, a few lessons, largely about the amount of alcohol that people used to consume in the 1870's. Jesus.

At any rate, my (much smaller) Tom Collins was very refreshing and very tart. I'm used to a little more sweetness, and might add a mite more sugar in the future, but it made a nice, lemony summer drink. This has nudged the Gin Rickey aside as my favorite drink thus far.

Tom Collins
(from The Ultimate A-to-Z Bar Guide

2 ounces gin
1 ounce fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon powdered sugar
cold club soda
lemon slice
maraschino cherry

Combine first three ingredients in chilled Tom Collins glass; stir well. Add 3 to 4 ice cubes and top with club soda, stirring gently. Garnish with lemon slice and maraschino cherry.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


The Negroni is the last Campari drink that I currently have the makings for, and may well be the best-tasting one thus far. If I ever had to drink Campari -- I mean, if I was given a choice between being sodomized by a blue whale and drinking Campari -- this is the drink that I would choose. Campari still tastes like ass, but the Negroni makes it almost palatable.

The Negroni also has a pretty cool pedigree. It is allegedly named after General Pascal Olivier Count de Negroni, a French army officer and nobleman who fought in the Franco-Prussian war, was personally decorated by Emperor Louis Napoleon, and was commander of the Legion of Honor. Along the way, he also created this drink.

Other reports state that it was named after Camillo Negroni, a Florentine who always ordered the drink. The Ultimate A-to-Z Bar Guide halves the difference between the stories, claiming that Count Camillo Negroni asked a Florentine bartender to add gin to his Americano.

Call me a snob, but I like the General Negroni story better. There's something about the Louis Napoleon twist that makes the story way cooler.

Either way, this is yet another drink that calls for a lemon twist. In my search for the proper way to make a lemon twist, I found all sorts of complicated methods involving toothpicks, freezers, and hours of preparation. Ultimately, I decided to go with slicing a lemon, cutting off the peel with a paring knife, and giving it a firm twist. It ended up releasing a little bit of the essential oils and making a wonderful garnish.

(from The Ultimate A-to-Z Bar Guide)

3/4 ounce gin
3/4 ounce Campari
3/4 ounce sweet or dry vermouth
cold club soda, optional
lemon twist

Stir liquid ingredients with ice; strain into chilled cocktail glass; add splash of soda, if desired. Or combine liquid ingredients in an old-fashioned glass filled with ice cubes; add a splash of soda, if desired. Garnish either style with lemon twist.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Tequila Ghost

Tequila is growing on me. Because of some unfortunate events early in my college career, I've never been a big fan of the stuff; even now, the smell of cheap tequila makes my stomach roil.

Still, I've since discovered that the world of tequila extends far beyond Jose Cuervo and his buddy Cuervo Especiale. Sauza Reposado Hornitos Tequila isn't the best stuff I've ever drunk, but it is pretty tasty, and I'm generally pleased with it.

On the other hand, I love absinthe, and Lucid is a pretty solid brand. Consequently, when I began my quest for cocktail knowledge, I was pleased to discover that there are a lot of absinthe recipes out there. In fact, I'd argue that the lore surrounding the stuff may pale in comparison to the drinks that it has inspired.

I'm sure that there are many, many delicious absinthe cocktails; unfortunately, the tequila ghost isn't one of them. In the course of the next few months, I'm undoubtedly going to try something more revolting than the this drink, but that knowledge didn't make the ghost any more palatable.

Honestly, it's hard to imagine how anything could be more horrible than this foul, unspeakable concoction. Composed of lemon juice, tequila, and absinthe, the ghost brings out the worst of each of its constituent ingredients. The lemon hits hard and sour, followed by the overwhelming anise flavor of the absinthe. As a capper, the funky aftertaste of tequila adds a certain nauseating tone to the proceedings. Basically, this is a practical joke -- truly repulsive at every step of the way.

For the first time, I poured most of my drink down the drain.

Tequila Ghost
(from The Ultimate A-to-Z Bar Guide)

2 ounces tequila
1 ounce Pernod or other anise-flavored liqueur
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice

Shake ingredients with ice; strain into chilled old-fashioned glass over ice cubes. Drink one swig. Grimace. Try again, just in case. Grimace again. Try one more time, because booze isn't cheap and there are probably teetotaling college kids in Ethiopia who really, really could use the stuff. Grimace one last time and throw the crap down the drain. Brush your teeth twice.

Monday, July 6, 2009


Some people call it Maurice...

Essentially a Bronx cocktail with bitters, the origins of the Maurice appear to have become lost in the fog of time. Regardless, it's a cool drink with a cool name, although I'd expect something named "Maurice" (whoop, whoo) to, perhaps, be a little more playful.

Maurice was also my maternal grandfather's name, although he pronounced it "Morris." Speaking of Maurice Kramer, I recently told one of his daughters, my Aunt Evie, about the "Bruce and Mr. Boston" project. She was initially pretty interested, but quickly began to lecture me about the dangers of demon rum -- or, more specifically, the dangers of getting drunk every night in the course of the search for greater wisdom. I pointed out that I'm only making one cocktail per night, that I've never had any sort of drinking problem, and that I'm obviously smart enough to stop if the project starts to go awry. I'm not sure she was reassured.

At any rate, the Maurice is cool, sweet, and tasty. Light and slightly frosty, with rich undertones, it makes a refreshing summer drink. I wonder if Aunt Evie would like it?

Maurice Cocktail
(from The Ultimate A-to-Z Bar Guide)

1 ounce gin
1/2 ounce dry vermouth
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
1/2 ounce fresh orange juice
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Black Velvet

I generally don't go for beer cocktails all that much, but our friends Jen and Joey, who recently visited us, are huge beer fans. They left behind a fridge full of Guinness, which left Virginia and I with a quandary. On the one hand, we both love Guinness; on the other hand, the heavy, rich stuff often makes us feel bloated after a few sips.

Virginia's solution was to introduce me to one of her favorite mixed beer drinks, a layered Guinness/pear cider concoction called the black velvet. Since the beer selections are limited in the Bronx, we picked up some Woodchuck pear cider on a trip to Manhattan. Unfortunately, we got it up at a Gristedes supermarket, which means that we each had to sell a kidney.

To be honest, it was worth it, as the black velvet is one of the best-named drinks imaginable. The cider cuts the thickness and strong flavor of the Guinness, evening out the rough patches and making it smooth as...well, velvet. Filling, comforting, and tasty, it's the perfect drink for fall evenings -- or even summer evenings when you have a fridge full of Guinness.

According to Wikipedia, a true black velvet is made from Guinness and champagne, while my wife's concoction would more accurately be called a "Poor man's black velvet."

Black Velvet
(courtesy of my wife Virginia)

8 ounces Guinness
8 ounces pear cider

Fill a large pilsner glass halfway with chilled pear cider and layer the other half with chilled Guinness. Serve immediately.

Incidentally, layering the two might be pretty hard. My only suggestion is that practice makes perfect, and my only condolence is that drinking your mistakes is a lot of fun!

Saturday, July 4, 2009


Campari is a bitter, bright red aperitif that was created in the 1860's by Gaspare Campari, an Italian bartender. James Bond has been known to drink Campari, and it shows up in Fellini films, Duras novels, and Primus songs. It is Steve Zissou's favorite drink and one of the only English words that Bang Bang speaks in The Brothers Bloom; this seems to suggest that Wes Anderson is a big fan of the stuff, although I'd prefer to believe that he just makes use of it for its pop culture flair.

There is no doubt that Campari is pretty cool right now. Lady Gaga featured it in one of her videos, as did Christina Aguilera. The Pogues namechecked it, Rihanna's backup singers drink it, and Jessica Biel is the company's 2009 Calendar girl. It also has a supremely cool website.

Pedigree, bright color, reasonable price, and cool literary currency: in many ways, Campari seems to have it all. Given that, I tried to like the stuff. Unfortunately, for all my efforts, I kept bumping my head against two basic truths:

1. Campari tastes like a smoker's mouth the morning after a major bender, with a slight hint of novocaine.

2. It is truly one of the foulest flavors imaginable. I totally hate it.

Even so, I drank all of my Americano, and will undoubtedly work my way through the rest of the Campari recipes in my various bartenders guides. I will try very, very hard to like the stuff.

The Americano was first made in Gaspare Campari's bar, not long after the aperitif was developed. Its original name, the Milano-Torino, celebrated the fact that the two main ingredients came from Italian towns. Milano supplied the Campari and Torino supplied the sweet vermouth. Later, when it became clear that American tourists were drawn to the drink, the cafe renamed it in honor of its new benefactors.

It is a decent drink as far as Campari drinks go, which means that it is absolutely beautiful to look at. It tastes better than a tequila ghost, but not quite as good as the sweaty asscrack of a Russian cab driver.

(from The Ultimate A-to-Z Bar Guide)

1 1/2 ounces sweet vermouth
1 1/2 ounces Campari
Cold club soda
lemon or orange slice

Pour vermouth and Campari into chilled highball glass filled with ice cubes; add club soda, stirring gently. Garnish with lemon or orange slice.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Farmer's Cocktail

Although my tattered copy of Herbst and Herbst's The Ultimate A-to-Z Bar Guide has served me well for years, I decided that it was time to resort to one of the classics. The Mr. Boston Official Bartender's Guide is a classic, and most decent bars carry a copy of the thing. I was able to get a copy on for a couple of bucks (actually, the shipping was more expensive than the book), and will hopefully get it in a couple of days.

As far as today's drink was concerned, I couldn't find anything on the history or lore of the Farmer's cocktail; for that matter, even the "Kup's Indispensable Cocktail," its best known alias, yielded nothing. I'm sure there's something out there on this sucker, and I'd be deeply appreciative if anyone could send me some info.

At any rate, this is another super-simple cocktail. Basically gin, sweet vermouth, dry vermouth, and bitters, it has a beautiful caramel color and a slightly creamy taste. Overall, it's a really tasty, easy-to-mix drink.

If you want to go the "Kup's Indispensable" route, drop the vermouths by a third, halve the bitters, shake instead of stir, and garnish it with an orange slice.

Farmer's Cocktail
(from The Ultimate A-to-Z Bar Guide)

1 1/2 ounces gin
3/4 ounce dry vermouth
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
2 dashes Angostura Bitters

Stir ingredients with ice; strain into chilled cocktail glass.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Artillery Cocktail

After I blew a chunk of change on the ingredients for the Rosita, I realized that my goal of making a new cocktail every night could conceivably get me into a lot of trouble. My solution was to take stock of all the booze in my liquor cabinet, find all the drinks that I could make, and work my way through them before buying more hooch. As I finished bottles, I would replace them, and as I ran out of available drinks, I would add to my selection. Over all, it seemed to me that this was the only way to avoid going broke on this venture.

Apart from the vermouth, Campari, and tequila that I picked up during my Rosita buying spree, I had the following (all in fifths):
1/4 bottle of Rogue Gin
3/4 bottle of New Amsterdam Gin
1 bottle of Llord's creme de menthe
1 bottle of Hiram Walker creme de cacao
3/4 bottle of Lucid Absinthe
1/3 bottle of ouzo
1 bottle Cynar
1 bottle Aperol
1 bottle Harvey's Bristol Cream
1 bottle each homemade honey, lime, and blueberry liqueurs
1 bottle Santa Clara rompope
1 small flask Zubrowka Polish grass vodka

It was an odd list, and I had gathered it in my normal, disorganized way. The flask of Polish grass vodka was an engagement gift from my wife, and I've regularly refilled it over the years. The Bristol Cream, creme de menthe, and creme de cacao were all part of various recipes, and the rompope was an impulse buy, based on the fact that I like egg-based liqueurs. I made the honey, blueberry and lime liqueurs last year, when I was able to get grain alcohol from Connecticut. The Cynar and Aperol both came from one frenzied visit to the liquor store, when I felt the need to find the weirdest booze in the joint. The Rogue gin -- which is really good, by the way -- came courtesy of a Rogue representative who wanted me to review it for a blog, and the New Amsterdam was purchased after a taste testing at the same local liquor store.

At any rate, my bar was -- as I might expect -- well stocked with the bizarre, while decidedly lacking in the mundane necessities (like rum, vodka, whiskey...). Luckily, The Ultimate A-to-Z Bar Guide was chock full of gin recipes, which meant that I would be able to go a while before I had to buy anything else.

The artillery cocktail is simplicity itself. Kissing cousin to the martini, it is two parts gin and one part sweet vermouth, shaken and strained. It is a beautiful taupe color and looks particularly sophisticated in a cocktail glass. In terms of taste, it is slightly fruity and slightly sweet with a gin kick that let's you know that you aren't screwing around. All in all, a nice drink.

Oddly enough, there are a bunch of gin and sweet vermouth cocktails. With a cherry garnish, it is called a "Gypsy cocktail" or a "club cocktail." With an orange slice, it's called a "Homestead."

Artillery Cocktail
(from The Ultimate A-to-Z Bar Guide)

2 ounces gin
1 ounce sweet vermouth

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Gin Rickey

The "Gin Rickey" sounds like a classic cocktail, the kind of thing that a man in a white suit might sidle up to third world bar in a former English colony and order from a snappy, immaculate bartender. Although it lacks the tonic -- and thus, the quinine -- of the gin and tonic, one can easily imagine the well-dressed stranger favoring rickeys for their "healthful" effects.

The stories about the rickey's origins are murky; according to Wikipedia, it gets its name from Colonel Rickey, an English officer who was once based in Washington, DC. The Ultimate A-to-Z Bar Guide, on the other hand, says that the legendary Rickey was named Joe, and was a congressional lobbyist. Either way, it seems that the drink was invented in Washington DC, probably in Shoemaker's restaurant.

Of all the drinks I've made thus far, this one is my favorite. I made it with Rogue gin, which is pretty wonderful. The total lack of sweetness makes it a real drinker's cocktail. There isn't really much hiding the hard hit of booze, and the rough lime is brutally refreshing. If I find myself drinking a lot of Gin Rickeys, I'm probably going to drag my ass to AA.

Incidentally, it's also known as a "Billy Taylor."

Gin Rickey
(from The Ultimate A-to-Z Bar Guide)

2 ounces gin
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
cold club soda
lime wedge

Pour gin and lime juice into chilled highball glass over ice cubes. Top with club soda, stirring gently. Garnish with lime wedge.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Bronx Cocktail

I live in the Bronx, so the fact that the Bronx cocktail was on Imbibe's list of beginner drinks seemed serendipitous. As I mixed it, I wondered what combination of circumstances went into the naming of this drink. What was it about gin, dry vermouth, sweet vermouth, and orange juice that screamed "the Bronx"?

Unlike the Rosita, the Bronx cocktail is rich in lore. One of its supposed inventors, Johnny Solon, claimed that some of his customers used to talk about the strange animals they saw at the Bronx Zoo; others, meanwhile, talked about the strange animals they saw after drinking cocktails. Solon, connecting the two, allegedly named this drink "The Bronx."

If true, that's a pretty lame story; after all, hallucinations and delirium tremens aren't limited to the Bronx cocktail! According to Solon, the drink came about on a dare: he was making duplexes and a customer dared him to come up with a new drink. On the spot, he modified a duplex and put together a Bronx.

My preferred story is that the drink was created (or at least stolen) by Joseph S. Sormani, a Bronx restauranteur, who either made it up himself or tried it in a Philadelphia bar. Either way, he offered it at his bar, put his borough's name on it, and the rest is history.

And, apparently, the Bronx is a historical drink. In 1934, it was ranked number 3 in the list of the world's ten most famous cocktails. Number one was the martini, number two the Manhattan.

Always a step behind Manhattan. Sigh.

At any rate, the Bronx cocktail inspired a comic and was, allegedly, the drink that led "Bill W" on his road to rack and ruin. Nick Charles said that it must always be shaken to "two step time." While romantic, this is total claptrap.

As a fan of all things Bronx, I really wanted to like this one. On the bright side, it was sweet and the little bit of OJ gave it a nice taste to offset the gin. Unfortunately, there's a lot of gin, and the heavy ginny flavor and cloying taste of the vermouths yield a cloying taste that wasn't all that great. Better than the Rosita, at least. Virginia hated it.

The Bronx Cocktail
(from The Ultimate A-To-Z Bar Guide)

1 1/2 ounces gin
3/4 ounce fresh orange juice
1/2 ounce dry vermouth
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
orange slice

Shake liquid ingredients with ice; strain into chilled cocktail glass or serve over ice in an old-fashioned glass Garnish with orange slice.

Monday, June 29, 2009


In the May/June 2009 issue of Imbibe magazine, Hannah C. Feldman and Tracy Howard sketched the outlines of a three-stage master course in mixology. I was immediately intrigued.

For years, I've had some pretty decent basic bar knowledge. When I was about ten years old, my babysitter, Edie, taught me how to make a gin and tonic and ensured that I knew how to hold it steady while she drove. In the ensuing years, I've picked up a few more basic recipes. In college, I drank a lot of cocktails, and learned how to make a credible martini and a decent bloody mary. My white Russian is decent, my B-52 isn't an embarrassment, and I know my way around a "nuts and berries." Beyond that, if you hum a few bars, I can generally fake it.

Still, in the years since grad school, I've fallen into the trap of always drinking the same standards: scotch, absinthe, wine or beer. My skills have gotten a little rusty, and my knowledge is sorely lacking. Faced with Feldman and Howard's impressive list of "basic" cocktails, I could no longer hide from my equally impressive ignorance: it was clear that action was called for. Although I already had a drink guide -- the encyclopedic Ultimate A-To-Z Bar Guide by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst -- I decided to begin with the Rosita, the basic "101" cocktail that Imbibe suggested.

My first step was buying the ingredients: reposado tequila, sweet vermouth, dry vermouth, Campari, and Angostura bitters. I had never had reposado, and Sauza seemed like a good, reasonably-priced choice. For the vermouths, I went with Martini and Rossi, the most expensive choices that my local liquor store had to offer (they cost a buck more than the off-brand). As far as the rest, Campari is Campari is Campari and Angostura bitters, while a little hard to find in the Bronx, showed up in a Whole Foods in Manhattan.

All in all, the ingredients for my first drink ran about 80 bucks. Even by New York standards, this is a little high, but there's a lot to be said for giving my liquor collection a shot in the arm.

The Rosita was a mixed success, at best. Although complex, it had a bitter undertone that left me wary about drinking more. The lemon twist floating in the reddish-chestnut drink was, admittedly, gorgeous, the overall flavor was kind of unpleasant and stale-tasting. My wife, Virginia, completely hated it.

On the bright side, my liquor cabinet was now well-stocked with tequila, Campari, and two types of vermouth. Prepared for more adventures, I recorded my thoughts on the Rosita and looked forward to the next day's drink.

(from Imbibe)

1 1/2 ounce reposado tequila
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
1/2 ounce dry vermouth
1/2 ounce Campari
1 dash Angostura bitters
Cracked and cubed ice
Tools: barspoon, three-piece shaker
Glass: Old Fashioned
Garnish: Lemon Twist

Stir ingredients in a shaker with ice cubes, strain into a glass filled with cracked ice cubes and garnish.