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While riffling through my ever-beloved Difford’s Encyclopedia of Cocktails recently, I was stopped dead in my tracks by Simon Difford’s recipe for a Sazerac. Ask any goomba how to make a classic one and you’ll be told rye whiskey, bitters (Peychaud’s, sometimes Angostura too), a sugar cube, and an old-fashioned glass coated with absinthe. Well, that’s just not good enough for Monsieur Lord Simon Difford, Esq., Ph.D. VII…
The real reason we all drink, I think, when you get right down to it (and I’m paraphrasing myself here), is to whisk(ey) ourselves away in our mind’s eyes to another place and time, preferably involving fedoras, garters, cigarette holders, evening gloves, watch fobs and other accoutrements of a halcyon generation past.
This is certainly true when you now do all your drinking at 9 p.m. in your messy kitchen, with your kid finalllllly asleep a couple rooms away, a geriatric dog who perpetually smells like pee hanging out at your feet and a mound of dirty dishes staring you down from across the room.
But I don’t want any of you to think, now that I’ve got a daughter and a book that happens to be called The Big Book of Martinis for Moms, that this blog is taking a permanent turn towards all things parental. Far from it (just a little for my first week back, perhaps), and my proof to you of this is the Stork Club cocktail.
I need to make an Ur-Cocktail. Like, I want to just mix a liquor (bourbon, a-doy, although I’d then be game for trying several others) with sugar, water and bitters — the original notion of what constitutes a “cock-tail” — and see what it tastes like. I kind of assume it’s gonna taste awful, or at least undesirable, right? Because, for one, when have I ever employed water as an ingredient, and for two, what kind of cocktail enthusiast thinks it a swell idea to include a diluting agent as a key part of a recipe? Water’s what you drink at the bottom of your near-emptied highball while you’re waiting for the barkeep to make you a fresh one.
Wedding season’s sprung up early this year here at the blog. Last week, besides my trucking down to NJ to attend Cousin Mark‘s fiancee’s shower, one of you e’d me desperate for help with a groom’s cocktail to serve at his upcoming nuptials. Why desperate? Because of when upcoming: This very gracious gentleman, Jon, e’d me on a Wednesday needing a recipe for the reception on Saturday. Ladeeeeez, dudes and wedding planning OMG AMIRITE??!?
Obligatory awwwWWW! pic of Mark and his fiancee, Molly!
I can feel another Eric Felten rager coming on — my curious condition wherein I just want to make cocktails from his book, How’s Your Drink? — and as this one coincides with the advent of the new season of Mad Men, I give you the Vieux Carre.
First, please allow me to quote liberally from Felten’s prose regarding the Vieux Carre’s New Orleans origins (New Orligins?):
“Then there’s the Hotel Monteleone‘s Carousel Bar, where the circular bar revolves slowly under a whimsical carnival canopy of carved wood, mirrors, and bare bulbs. The barstools don’t go up and down, thankfully, but the experience can still be a little disorienting; get caught up in a conversation, and the next thing you know, you’re on the other side of the room. Ask bartender Marvin Allen to mix you up a Vieux Carre, a terrific drink invented by the Carousel’s barman in the 1930s, and unknown to most mixologists outside of the Hotel Monteleone.”
In my rush of enthusiasm for all things post-vernal equinox, the Triple Crown is of course on my mind. I have a love/huh? relationship with horse racing which is also not a very deep relationship, but it’s also a fun relationship. What I mean is, I really really don’t understand horse racing, but when I lived in St. Louis I enjoyed playing “horse hooky” on summer afternoons, sneaking off with my friend Mike to the track, and of course there are all the cocktail traditions that go along with the sport.
The Preakness Cocktail actually bears a closer resemblance to a Manhattan than a mint julep, and it’s not even the most “official” cocktail of the Preakness Stakes. That would be the Black-Eyed Susan, so named because the winning horse is ceremonially sheathed in a coverlet of Maryland’s state flower. The Black-Eyed Susan, in turn, is like a first cousin to a Hurricane or some such monstrosity: it’s made of vodka, cheap whiskey, sour mix and orange juice, garnished with an orange slice and a Maraschino cherry (skewered together on a cellophane-frilled toothpick, I’m sure). I believe it’s what they serve to the muddied masses who buy the cheap tickets that allow them standing-room admission to the infield, which this May includes a Maroon 5 concert! Sounds about right.
Booze is at Defcon 1. Repeat: BOOZE IS AT DEFCON 1.
After drinking down our whiskey supply last week to the unspeakable amount of none, on Friday night the PhoBlograpHusband and I (were we drugged? hallucinating?) offered to supply the hard liquor at a friend’s get-together in her nearby Plateau apartment. Sean put together an impressive
travel bar backpack full of drinkies-poo: gin, both vermouths, Campari and I think dark rum and bitters. This was not the most experienced cocktailing crowd, which was more than fine, because all we had to do was mix up a nice round of Negronis and we were regarded as freaking geniuses.
Also dry geniuses: Four weeks to go ’til the end of Sean’s semester, and what remains of the home stock is… vodka. And I think Calvados. And like two bottles of ouzo. So when Sean mentioned that he came across this Absolut Maple Sour recipe from a Google ad or spam mail (if I were in his shoes, I wouldn’t fully cop to it either), what else was a girl to make? Times is tough, and recessions ain’t just for breakfast anymore.
We close Death & Company week with a cocktail that, on paper, scares the hypothetical caca out of me. A drink made up of three hard liquors, and when I read the names of three hard liquors and one of them is bourbon (facilitator of happy Rose) and one of the others of them is scotch (moody-bordering-on-surly Rose) and then there’s simple syrup — well, it makes me not trust the simple syrup, makes me paranoid that the simple syrup’s lurking in there as some sort of sleight-of-hand trick with the scotch dodging behind it and getting away with murder, and I think this is not going to be a very productive Friday night.
If gins and whiskies are the big, fat, celestial love gods of the mixology universe, bitters are a bartender’s obsessed-over, oft-hoarded little fetish objects: twee phials packed with alchemistic potions made from unpublished recipes that cocktail nerds like me can wax on about until we belatedly realize everyone else has left the room. Heck, I even arrange my bitters bottles all Sleeping with the Enemy neatnik-like atop my bar like I used to do my Smurf figurines (in their Smurf village, amongst their mushroom houses — not atop a bar, or because I was trying to kill Julia Roberts).
Unfortunately, the current proliferation of small-batch bitters products can diminish the line between cocktail nerd and cocktail snob. It kind of reminds me of the Great Brooklyn Music Scene Paroxysm of ’09, with the name-checking of bitters brands like Bittermen’s, Fee Brothers (the company I keep) and Regans‘ akin to referencing your close, personal relationship with the latest Panda Bear or Japanther album — with the added stress test of feeling like a total uncool dweebheel if (*gasp*) you don’t make your own bitters???
I’ve yet to mention scotch on this blog. There are a couple of reasons why. One: Bourbon exists, so what’s the point? Two: Scotch precipitates a taste-memory flashback to my first year of living in New York, specifically the hours between midnight and 5 a.m. of that year, a year I’m happy to leave fuzzy, hazy and behind.
Back then I was interning at a magazine during the day, waiting tables at the now-defunct Bottom Line at night, then spending several hours and most of the tips I’d just earned at some of Greenwich Village’s finest last-ditch saloons along with my Bottom Line co-workers, most of whom I haven’t been able to recall by name for over a decade. My go-to drink during those lost mornings was scotch and soda — a highball I settled on solely because it was the most grown-up-seeming thing I could think of to order. I was 22, recently graduated from a fancy-name college and hanging with middle-aged, stage-crew guys sporting frazzled, gray hair and incomplete sets of teeth. I wanted to fit in.