Great Taste, No Tragedy -- The Widow's Kiss

Yes, this cocktail has an odd name.  No, I do not know the widow for whom the drink is named.  No one does.  What we do know is the Widow's Kiss first appeared in a 1895 book from George Kappeler, an esteemed New York City bartender.  Even though it's not clear if he created the Widow's Kiss (many people presume he did), Kappeler definitely put it on the imbibing public's radar (yes, I know radar was not developed until 40 years later).  Many thanks to the Alley Cat Lounge in Savannah for introducing me to this liquid smooch.

The Widow's Kiss at Alley Cat Lounge is intriguing and tasty.
The Widow's Kiss at Alley Cat Lounge is intriguing, flavorful, strong, and not deadly.

1.5 ounces apple brandy
.75 ounces yellow Chartreuse
.75 ounces Benedictine DOM
1-2 dashes Angostura bitters

Combine in a shaker with ice, stir with the solemn grace of a famous widow such as Jackie Kennedy, and strain into a chilled glass. Luxardo cherry garnish optional.

The Widow's Kiss is high powered. No ingredient has less than 40% alcohol by volume (ABV).  If you want to go all French use Calvados, an apple brandy from the region in France.  I recommend using yellow Chartreuse (a component of other cocktails such as the Renegade) because it's 40% ABV and slightly sweeter.  If you have to use green Chartreuse (55% ABV; you'll use it in drinks like the Last Word), use no more than .5 ounces.  The Widow's Kiss should smooch your liver, not kill it. There is no real substitute for the Benedictine DOM (not the same as B&B), which you also can use in classics such as the Vieux Carre or originals such as the Mooch.

Are you curious about the Widow's Kiss?  Curiosity may kill the proverbial cat, but the Widow's Kiss won't make someone a widow or widower. I'm living proof.


A Field Guide To Bad Cocktails

Do you want to avoid bad cocktails?  Of course you do.  David Wondrich, a preeminent cocktail authority of our time, recently published this article in the Daily Beast.  It's entertaining, informative, and occasionally self deprecating.  As a self styled "professional amateur" home bartender, it's good to know people with far more cocktail knowledge and sophistication than I have, e.g. David Wondrich (the author of Imbibe and other works), occasionally make colossal mistakes.  It's sort of like watching a Gold Glove award winner in baseball boot an easy ground ball.

Field GuideI heartily agree with Wondrich's classification of bad cocktails as either strategically bad or tactically bad.  With the former the idea is a disaster, with the latter the idea is solid but the execution is a disaster. It happens to everyone.  I am no exception.  For example, the first time I made the Cancer Killer #2, I used too many orange bitters and damn near took out multiple people (my apologies to Ms. Cocktail Den, as well as my friends Ilan and Stephanie).  After some tinkering a tactically bad cocktail became a good cocktail. 

Let me paraphrase the advice I give to newer attorneys (I'm an attorney) -- It's not a question of if you will screw up a cocktail.  The questions are when you will screw up, how badly you will screw up (it will make for a great story later), and most importantly, how you recover.  Just keep on cocktailing!


Cocktail Rock You Like A ... -- The Hurricane

HurricaneThe Hurricane is associated with New Orleans, not the 1980s rock anthem from Scorpions. It's not the official cocktail of the city. That honor belongs to the Sazerac.  Like many people, I had my first Hurricane at Pat O'Brien's. I didn't like it at all, so I avoided it for a long time. A couple of years ago my friends Chuck and Tom encouraged me to have one at the Old Absinthe House in New Orleans.  It was awesome.  There are many variations of this famous (infamous?) cocktail.  Here's my simple, colorful, and potent version.

1 ounce light rum
1 ounce dark rum
.5 ounces pineapple juice
.5 ounces passionfruit juice
Juice from 1/4 lime

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake with the force of a Category 5 hurricane, and strain into a chilled glass.

You'll see in the picture I used a traditional hurricane glass (our cat's name is Satchmo, so his presence fits right in with other New Orleans staples like the fleur de lis and Mardi Gras beads). Increase the amounts of the respective ingredients if you use that type of glass. If you're able to use all fresh fruit juices (something I definitely recommend), you could add a small amount of super simple syrup to give the Hurricane a hint of sweetness.

Want to buy me a good Hurricane (and are you familiar with the song)?  Here I am.


Caffeine And "Green" Booze -- The Irish Coffee

Irish CoffeeToday is National Irish Coffee Day, which celebrates a cocktail that doesn't actually have green booze.  In 1943 Joe Sheridan created the Irish Coffee in order to warm passengers at a flying boat (seaplane) terminal in Foynes, Ireland.  The drink's popularity exploded after travel writer Staton Delaplane got it on the menu at the Buena Vista Cafe in San Francisco (Sheridan later worked there). Purists may scoff at my take on the Irish Coffee (does that make me a Scofflaw?).  I'm fine with that because my version is simple, easy to make, and most importantly, Ms. Cocktail Den loves it.

6 ounces coffee
1.5 ounces Irish whiskey (I used Jameson Caskmates)
.5 ounces super simple syrup

Pour the coffee into a glass, add the other ingredients, and stir with the tranquility of the rolling Irish countryside.  Top with whipped cream.

I don't drink coffee (I know, I'm weird), so I suggest using whatever you prefer, especially if it has a robust flavor.  The same goes for the Irish whiskey. While I've featured Jameson in other posts such as the Intense Irish and Sine Metu, keep in mind there are a lot of other Irish whiskies on the market.

Traditional Irish Coffee is very good (we had some in Dublin), but it's more labor intensive.  Whether you prefer the traditional version, my easy version, or something else, the Irish Coffee is a great booze boost for your caffeine boost. Sláinte!


A Whiskey Closer -- The Final Rye

Closing is important in things such as real estate (remember "ABC" from the play and film Glengarry Glen Ross -- always be closing) and baseball (relief pitchers can make or break a game).  The same goes for cocktails.  The Final Rye is a variation on the classic alcohol forward Last Word.  Thanks to Edgar's Proof & Provision in the DeSoto Hotel in Savannah, Georgia for introducing me to this drink.

Final Rye.75 ounces rye
.75 ounces green Chartreuse
.75 ounces Luxardo maraschino liqueur
Juice from 1/2 lime

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake with the icy ferocity of Alec Baldwin in the movie version of Glengarry Glen Ross, and strain into a chilled glass.  Lime garnish optional.

The Final Rye simply substitutes rye for the gin in the Last Word.  The other ingredients and proportions are the same.  This drink is very good, and it's perfect if you have a visceral aversion to gin (I encourage you to try the original anyway).  Either one is a great combination of strength, sharpness, and sweetness.

So whether you plan to shut 'em out or seal the deal, the Final Rye is for you.


Savannah style cocktailing -- The Alley Cat Lounge

There's booze at the fountain at Forsyth Park in Savannah, Georgia.
There's no booze at the fountain at Forsyth Park in Savannah, Georgia.

Savannah is a small Southern city with a big drinking tradition. The Alley Cat Lounge is one of the great cathedrals of Savannah's cocktail renaissance. You have to respect a place that has "We love booze, and so do you" as its motto. Ms. Cocktail Den and I went there the first night we were in town, and we had such a great experience we returned twice.

Alley Cat's appreciation of booze extends to the art on the wall of the men's room.
Alley Cat's appreciation of booze extends to the art on the wall of the mens room.

If you've read my reviews of other bars, you know I usually focus on two things -- drinks and people.  After extensive testing over three nights, I can tell you the drinks are top notch across the board. Some of the cocktails will be the feature of other posts.  Take your time reading the lengthy drink menu, which looks like a newspaper.  I appreciate that because I'm sort of old school in that I actually read a newspaper (kids -- think of a newspaper as a prehistoric Facebook feed without a power source ha ha).

Besides creating some fine cocktails, the people behind the bar are friendly and knowledgeable.  You have to be knowledgeable if there are more than 100 cocktails on the menu, many of which you won't find in 99.9% of other bars.  Fortunately the bartenders will share their knowledge and make recommendations without being pretentious.  That attitude is emblematic of the Alley Cat Lounge -- seriously good drinks without taking itself too seriously.

During our time in Savannah the Alley Cat Lounge became our go to place for a cocktail. Ok, maybe more than one. In speaking with bartenders at other local watering holes, we learned that it's a go to place for many of them.  Will the Alley Cat Lounge become your go to place when you're in Savannah?


South Of The Border Antibiotic -- The Mexicillin

Continuing a tradition, a new year brings a new original creation from the Wulf Cocktail Den.  The Mexicillin is a twist on the popular Penicillin.  The name's resemblance to the common antibiotic amoxicillin is completely intentional.  While the name of the cocktail isn't entirely original, my recipe is.

Mexicillin2 ounces blanco tequila
.75 ounces honey syrup
Ginger (see below)
Juice from 1/4 lime
.25 ounces mezcal

Combine everything except the mezcal in a shaker with ice, shake con fuerza de amoxicilina, strain into a chilled glass, then float the mezcal on top (hold a spoon upside down over the glass and pour slowly).  Candied ginger or lime garnish optional.

The Mexicillin swaps tequila, mezcal, and lime for the two types of Scotch and lemon in a Penicillin.  Both tequila and mezcal are Mexican liquors derived from the agave plant (although tequila must come from a blue agave), but it's the production process that gives mezcal its smoky flavor.  Just as smoky Scotch gives the Penicillin an extra dimension of flavor, mezcal does the same for the Mexicillin. 

As with the Penicillin, you have two options for the ginger.  You can use .75 ounces of a ginger liqueur such as Barrow's Intense (full disclosure -- I am a small investor), or muddle two or three small pieces of fresh ginger in the shaker before adding the other ingredients.  For the honey syrup, follow the recipe I used for A Thief In The Night

Want some south of the border cocktail fun?  Then prescribe yourself a Mexicillin.


New Year's Eve Drinking -- The Champagne Cocktail

New Year's Eve  --  a time for reflecting, a time for hoping, and a time for drinking cocktails.  Champagne is a staple of New Year's Eve celebrations, and the Champagne Cocktail is a great way to use it.  The cocktail originated in the United States in the 1850s.  It was, and is, a simple year round cocktail.

Champagne Cocktail1 sugar cube or 1/2 teaspoon sugar
1-2 dashes Angostura bitters
Sparkling wine (see below)

Place the sugar cube in a champagne flute, add the bitters, then add the sparkling wine.  Stir briefly if at all.

Why do I list sparkling wine as an ingredient of the Champagne Cocktail?  Because you don't have to use true Champagne. All Champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne.  Sort of like how all bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon.  And how all Cognac is brandy, but not all brandy is Cognac.  It's all about geography. 

The Champagne Cocktail lends itself to variations.  For example, the sparkling wine can make a difference (use what you like and can afford).  Also, you can add a half ounce of brandy and/or use Peychaud's bitters (a key part of the Sazerac) instead of Angostura bitters.  If you want to use sparkling wine in a different way, try a Kir Royale.  Or if you want a cocktail with a tenuous link to New Year's Eve but without sparkling wine, try a Bobby Burns (he wrote "Auld Lang Syne").

Courtesy of pop culture, the Champagne Cocktail exudes class.  For example, Resistance leader Victor Laszlo drinks one in the movie Casablanca.  So to paraphrase Ron Burgundy in Anchorman (a totally different character in a totally different movie), have a Champagne Cocktail and stay classy Den drinkers.


Fun, Classy, y Cubano -- BlackTail

The Chairman of the Board has a seat at the bar at BlackTail.
The Chairman of the Board has a seat at the bar at BlackTail.

BlackTail is a vibrant New York City bar that evokes the glamour of 20th century aviation (when passengers frequently dressed up to fly) and Cuba (during Prohibition and before the Castro regime).  Voted as the Best New American Bar during the 2017 Tales of the Cocktail, the bar's name comes from the distinctive tail fins of the planes of Aeromarine Airways, a luxury airliner that flew Americans to and from Cuba.

And so does the real Scarface.
And so does the real Scarface.

But enough about the back story.  How are the drinks?  In a word -- spectacular.  Take your time going through the extensive selection.  Ms. Cocktail Den and I spent a good part of a weekend evening savoring a number of cocktails. Personal favorites included the Baccarat (bears no resemblance to the card game played by James Bond), the Whizz Kid (a fascinating mix of bourbon, cognac, cachaça, amaro, vanilla, and cherry), and the El Presidente (I admit their version with a base of two rums and mezcal is superior to mine). While you can stick with traditional Cuban libations such as the Daiquiri, I encourage you to explore what else BlackTail has to offer.  Many of the drink combinations look strange on paper, but blend together nicely when you taste them.

The atmosphere at BlackTail is dynamic, and the attention to detail is phenomenal.  For example, calling the menu a "menu" does not do it justice.  It's really a wonderfully illustrated history book that describes how the legendary gangsters Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano (two true Scofflaws) turned Cuba into a moneymaking empire of sun and sin. Fortunately Ms. Cocktail Den talked me out of "liberating" one of them.

To paraphrase the title of one of my favorite Frank Sinatra songs, come fly away -- to BlackTail.


The Dry Era Ends -- Repeal Day

To paraphrase President Franklin Roosevelt's description of the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 5, 1933 is a date which will live in awesomeness.  On that day the 21st Amendment became official, Prohibition ended, and once again Americans could drink legally.

From the American Prohibition Museum, Savannah, Georgia.
From the American Prohibition Museum, Savannah, Georgia.

I recently had the honor of recommending a cocktail menu for my friend Chuck's company holiday party (does that make me a cocktail consultant?). The party's theme is a 1920s speakeasy.  Of course many speakeasies flourished during Prohibition, which lasted from 1919 to 1933. Keeping these things in mind, here's what I recommended:

 

Scofflaw -- This is the perfect cocktail for Repeal Day.  Besides being a great drink (one of my favorites), both the cocktail and the word originated during Prohibition.

Boulevardier -- As the name might suggest, it came out of France (specifically Paris) in the 1920s.  Even better, it only has three ingredients and is easy to make.

Mary Pickford -- An American bartender created this in Havana during the 1920s and named it for the first famous Hollywood actress.  Don't let its light and refreshing taste fool you.

Hanky Panky -- I love the name of this one. Like the Scofflaw, Boulevardier, and Mary Pickford, it came about during the 1920s. The history behind it is quite interesting, as a lady bartender created it during a time when lady bartenders were rare.

Man O'War --  Named for a champion racehorse at the beginning of the 1920s.  Like the other cocktails in this list, it's tasty, assertive, and effective.

Racketeer -- There were plenty of these people during Prohibition (Al Capone probably is the most famous one).  Fair warning -- the drink is very strong, and it's worth every last sip.

So grab a cocktail, celebrate the end of Prohibition, and revel in the ability to drink legally!  Cheers to Repeal Day!