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.