Some people have a gift. They can create glorious cocktails and have a knack for dressing up traditional drinks so that they taste entirely new.
The proprietor of this blog is one of these wondrously inventive people. [Oh, pshaw. -- Ed.]
I am not.
Put me in a kitchen with a dozen random food items, and I can make something tasty on the fly. But with drinks, I tend toward tried and true recipes with little variation. I like Manhattans and martinis and the most daring I get is experimenting with a new gin. So when Rose invited me to write a guest post, I knew that I’d be seeking outside help. And my outside help happens to be a fantastic, outdated (sorry, I mean “vintage”) book that my boyfriend’s grandfather used to own: The Esquire Handbook for Hosts, published in 1949.
The book is like an old-school Martha Stewart-esque guide aimed at swinging bachelors who want to entertain guests, and includes recipes for multi-course meals as well as advice on how to set a table and make everyone go home at the end of the night. But by far the largest section is for cocktail recipes — this was the Golden Age of Boozehounds, after all.
I thought it would be a snap to find a recipe I could use for this post, but, well, it wasn’t. An overwhelming number of recipes seem to be merely variations on standard drinks like the martini. For example, change the proportions of dry vermouth and gin to a 1:1 ratio, add a dash of orange bitters, and you have what the book calls a Racquet Club. Fine, but boring.
And frankly, some of the recipes are wholly unappealing. I don’t want to find out what mixing equal parts gin, scotch, and absinthe tastes like, thanks. (It’s called a “Bunny Hug,” after a WWI-era dance.)
But I finally found a cocktail within my range as a lower-rank amateur: The Brainstorm.
It’s a whiskey-based drink that resembles a Manhattan, but made with Benedictine instead of sweet vermouth. I realize that Benedictine might not be a liquor cabinet staple in the way that gin and whiskey are, but I’ve grown rather fond of it, despite my general dislike for sweet drinks. But it’s hard not to like something originally produced by monks (says the Jewish girl — maybe I like it because it’s “exotic”?), and when used in small doses is lovely in after-dinner cocktails. (The Michelle Diet: Skip the cake and cookies and go straight for the booze.)
(Adapted from Esquire Handbook for Hosts, 1949)
1 ounce Old Overholt rye whiskey
1/2 ounce Boissiere dry vermouth
1/2 ounce Benedictine
A dash of orange bitters
Stir all ingredients well with ice. Serve in chilled cocktail glass.
I experimented with a couple different whiskeys and concluded that rye does work best for balancing out the syrupy honeyed flavor of the Benedictine. I’ve seen that some call the Old Overholt rather sweet, but I don’t find it particularly so. Palates! So differing!
I also used slightly less than a half-ounce of the B, since a little of it really does go a long way. (Aha! Perhaps my fondness for this liqueur is its bang-for-my-buckitude!)
Finally, the original recipe calls for floating an orange peel on top of the drink, more for garnish than taste, but I substituted orange bitters and was pleased with the result.
And there it is. Not something I see myself putting into regular rotation come cocktail hour, but a nice change of pace from the same-old, same-old.