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August 2014

Gotham Greatness -- The Manhattan

The M&M version of one of my favorite ladies
The M&M version of one of my favorite ladies

Just to be clear, I don’t mean Gotham as in Batman, I mean Gotham as in New York City.  In my opinion New York City is one of the great cities of the United States, if not the world.  Every American should visit it at some point in their life.

There’s no doubt that the Manhattan is a classic cocktail.  It is straightforward in that there are only three components – bourbon or rye, vermouth, and bitters.

However, it can be a deceptively complex drink, and it lends itself to all manner of variations.  Bourbon or rye?  What type of vermouth(s)?  What proportion of spirits?  What type of bitters?  What type of garnish?  Fortunately it’s tough to make a truly awful Manhattan, but it can be tough to make a truly spectacular one.  Of course, it’s all a matter of taste, so feel  free to experiment.  Here is the recipe I use (it makes two cocktails):

2.5 ounces bourbon (I prefer Willett Pot Still)
1 ounce sweet vermouth (I recommend Carpano Antica Formula)
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Combine in shaker with ice, stir, then strain into chilled martini or cocktail glass.  Garnish with an orange peel, or if you insist on using a cherry, go with Luxardo instead of Maraschino.

The new One World Trade Center
The new One World Trade Center

Let’s break the Manhattan down into the three components .......

Bourbon – I prefer bourbon even though a small and vocal minority argue that a cocktail isn’t a Manhattan unless it contains rye.  I’m a big fan of rye, but I like my Manhattans with bourbon.  As I mentioned above, I really like Willett Pot Still.  If you use it in a Manhattan, the final result is exquisite.

Vermouth -- It’s easy to focus so hard on the bourbon that you overlook the vermouth.  To paraphrase the old Nike ad – just don’t do it.  Carpano Antica Formula enhances the cocktail regardless of what bourbon I use.  I must thank the Mortons in Reston, Virginia for introducing me to Carpano Antica Formula.  Mortons uses this vermouth in its house Manhattan. Incidentally, if you’re using a really strong bourbon, e.g. Booker’s (which is a whopping 126 proof compared to the 90-95 proof range of most bourbons on the market), I suggest using slightly more sweet vermouth.

Bitters – You’re not going to go wrong if you use Angostura. Sometimes I will use Regan’s orange bitters instead of Angostura, or a dash of each.

Bitters are an underappreciated component of many cocktails.  Even though one only uses a small amount, bitters can have a tremendous impact.  I’ve only recently begun to learn about them.  If you want high quality and exotic ingredients that are reasonably priced (keep in mind it probably will take you a very long time to go through a bottle), I recommend Bittered Sling.  I was introduced to its products at the recent Tales Of The Cocktail conference, and its people were genuinely helpful.

Speaking of Manhattan (the borough of New York City, not the cocktail), I recommend the following cocktail bars – Dead Rabbit and Employees Only.  The former is in Lower Manhattan, the latter is in the West Village.  My wife and I had wonderful experiences at both places.  It’s no accident that both bars have received awards and rave reviews.

The Grapefruit Triad, Part Three -- The Paloma

Even though Paloma is the Spanish word for pigeon, this cocktail is not for the birds.  If you want a Mexican cocktail and are willing to branch out from the usual libation, go for a Paloma.  The traditional Paloma includes a mix of tequila, grapefruit soda (usually Jarritos, a Mexican brand), and lime juice.  However, I’m not a big fan of carbonated beverages, so I prefer a different version that uses fresh ingredients.   Here is my recipe:

Pigeon tastes great!
Pigeon tastes great!

2 ounces tequila
Juice from 1/4 grapefruit
Juice from 1/4 lime
.33 ounces simple syrup
Pinch of sea salt (optional)

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake con fuerza mucho, then strain into chilled cocktail glass.  Grapefruit garnish optional.

As with its close relative the Siesta,as far as I'm concerned it generally doesn't matter which tequila you use in a Paloma (I like Herradura reposado). However, I suspect this cocktail would work better with blanco or reposado tequila instead of anejo.

As the Paloma is the final part of the Grapefruit Triad, you may have three questions about it.  Is it tasty?  Is it tart?  Is it a solid alternative to a margarita?  The answers – si, si, y si.  I'm not saying the Paloma will improve your command of the Spanish language, but it just might.

To read Part One of the Grapefruit Triad (the Siesta) click here and to read Part Two (the Hemingway Daiquiri) click here

The Grapefruit Triad, Part Two -- The Hemingway Daiquiri

A holiday like the recent National Rum Day (yes, there is such a thing) calls for a cocktail like a Hemingway Daiquiri.  If you’re not inspired to run with the bulls in Pamplona  (his novel The Sun Also Rises brought the highlight of the Festival of San Fermin into popular consciousness), you can embrace your inner adventurer with this cocktail:

Hemmingway daquiri2 ounces rum
Juice from 1/2 lime
Juice from ¼ grapefruit
.5 ounces Maraschino liqueur

Combine in shaker with ice, shake like the business end of a bull is right behind you, and strain into chilled martini glass.

If you’re paying attention to other posts in the Wulf Cocktail Den, you probably noticed that I despise Maraschino cherries.  So why do I endorse Maraschino liqueur?  Because the two have nothing in common.  Maraschino liqueur (Luxardo is the most popular brand in the U.S.) does not have a cherry flavor. The best way I can describe it is that it has a vaguely sweet nut flavor; this is why you do not need simple syrup in a Hemingway Daiquiri.  In comparison, a Maraschino cherry is a Frankenfruit that is the result of artificial sweeteners and God knows what other toxic stuff corrupted it.  If you want to garnish your cocktail with a cherry, I recommend Luxardo cherries.

Although Hemingway was not a member of the British Special Air Service (the rough equivalent of U.S. Special Forces), he certainly would approve of its motto – Who Dares Wins.  Dare to be different and have a Hemingway Daiquiri.

To read Part One of the Grapefruit Triad (the Siesta), click here

It's Not Easy Being Green(ish) -- The Daiquiri

This might be what Kermit the Frog drinks when he's alone, with Ms. Piggy, or hanging out with the other Muppets.  He probably likes the color.  I'm just guessing.

How could time turn such a simple and wonderful cocktail turn into a sickly sweet mess?  I suggest the following reasons: (1) the far too prevalent use of prepared mixes, and (2) the tendency to overuse blenders and ice.  The first makes the cocktail too sweet, and the second makes it too cold.  Either one overpowers any flavor that’s left.

Only ron de Cuba is served at Vieja Habana in Panama City
Only ron de Cuba is served at Vieja Habana in Panama City

Just as many cinematic franchises in recent years have rebooted, gone back to the basics, and reaped serious dividends at the box office, e.g. James Bond in Casino Royale, Batman in the Dark Knight trilogy, etc., let’s return to the classic daiquiri.  There are three and only three ingredients – rum, fresh lime juice (emphasis on fresh), and simple syrup or sugar.

I prefer to shake daiquiris, but a very lightly blended daiquiri does just fine.  In fact, the best daiquiri I ever had was lightly blended with Cuban rum at Vieja Habana (Old Havana), a great Cuban bar in Panama City, Panama.  Here is my recipe:

2014-08-15_17-46-25_951 Daiquiri2.25 ounces rum
Juice from 1/2 lime
.75 ounces super simple syrup

Combine in shaker with ice, shake it like you’re doing a hyper-caffeinated version of (insert your favorite Latin American dance style here), and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish with lime.

Traditionally one uses light rum.  However, I’ve used gold or dark rums and obtained very good results.  The rum I use in the pictured daiquiri is Barcelo Imperial.  It is made in the Dominican Republic, and I discovered it last year while I was on vacation in Punta Cana. It is a dark rum, so that affects the color. My suggestion – if you like a particular rum, regardless of its color or where it is produced, use it in a daiquiri.

The Grapefruit Triad, Part One -- The Siesta

Citrus juices are an important part of many cocktails, and of course you can use the fruits as garnish.  Lemons? Without them the Frisco wouldn’t have a little edginess.  Limes? They turn a fine ginger martini into a perfect Ginger Lime Martini.  Oranges?  They taste great, and the peel works wonders in a Manhattan (forget the Maraschino cherry).

But what about grapefruit?  It has just the right balance of tartness and sweetness, but you don’t see them in cocktails very often.

It’s time to change that.  For the first part of what I deem the Grapefruit Triad, I give you the Siesta.  I first read about it in the Men’s Journal magazine. Apparently a bartender at PDT in New York (excellent cocktails but a surprisingly limited selection) created it.  Here is my barely modified version of the original recipe:

A girly cocktail, or just girly looking?  Keep reading.
A girly cocktail, or just girly looking? Keep reading.

1.5 ounces tequila
Fresh juice from half a lime
Fresh grapefruit juice (same amount as lime juice)
.33 ounces simple syrup
.33 ounces Campari

Combine in shaker with ice, shake, then strain into chilled cocktail glass.  Grapefruit garnish optional.

The Siesta is not much different than a Paloma, which is another part of the Grapefruit Triad.  The Siesta has some Campari in it, but the Paloma does not.

I must address the (pink) elephant in the room. Many men who see the picture of the Siesta are thinking: “No way am I drinking a girly looking cocktail like that.”  Gentlemen – be man enough to try a girly looking cocktail, and if you like how it tastes, be man enough to have one.  Keep in mind there is a distinction between a girly looking drink and a girly, i.e. weak, drink.  Like a well made Cosmopolitan with good ingredients, the Siesta is a “girly” cocktail if by “girly” you mean “looks cute, tastes great, and will knock you on your ass if you have more than two.”

West Coast South American Protein Cocktail -- The Frisco Sour

No meal is complete without protein.  If for some reason you’re looking for a cocktail with protein, look no further.

This cocktail takes a little longer to make because of the number of ingredients, but the result is definitely worth the effort.  It combines a cocktail named for a great American city (San Francisco) with a cocktail that is a national treasure of Peru and Chile (the Pisco Sour).

A classic sign on the bar at Employees Only
A classic sign on the bar at Employees Only

I must give credit to Steve Schneider, Principal Bartender at Employees Only in New York, for this cocktail.  My wife and I had the privilege of meeting him last month.  We were discussing cocktails, and I mentioned the Frisco (see my earlier post).  He said he would make a Frisco Sour for me, but with all of the background noise I thought he said Pisco Sour. Once I heard what he really was saying, I was in.   Amusingly, we ran into each other the following week when my wife and I arrived at the Tales Of The Cocktail conference.


I tweaked Steve’s recipe to come up with the following:

Yes, you're reading the sign (located on my home bar) correctly
Yes, you're reading the sign (located on my home bar) correctly

2 ounces rye whiskey
2/3 ounces Benedictine DOM
Juice from 1/2 lemon
Juice from 1/4 lime
.33 ounces super simple syrup
2 egg whites (there’s your protein)

Combine all ingredients and shake without ice (this is dry shaking and will make the egg whites nice and frothy), add ice, shake again as if you're blasting through a set of exercises at the gym, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.   This recipe will make enough for two cocktails.

The Rocky Balboa version has four eggs, yolks included, instead of two egg whites.  Just kidding.  The concept of eggs in a glass reminds me of that scene in the first Rocky movie (a great film in my opinion).

City By The Bay -- The Frisco

San Francisco is a great city. It is one of those unique cities that I think every American should visit before they die. I have many friends who relocated there, and I always enjoy visiting them and the city.  If you’re a cocktail enthusiast, I recommend the following bars: Rickhouse, Bourbon and Branch, and Smugglers’ Cove.  In the interest of full disclosure, the first two bars are part owned by an old friend of my wife.  The last one is a fine tiki bar.

Coit Tower as seen from Nob Hill
Coit Tower as seen from Nob Hill

The Frisco is an old school cocktail, which means to me that it is heavy on the alcohol and light on fillers.  If you like rye whiskey like I do, I suggest the following recipe:

1.5 ounces rye whiskey
.5 ounces Benedictine DOM
Fresh lemon juice

Combine with ice in shaker, shake like you’re hurtling out of control down Lombard Street, and strain into chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish with lemon peel.

The Intense Ginger Lime Martini

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I love ginger flavored anything.  Last month I attended my first Tales Of The Cocktail conference.  During the conference my wife and I sampled Barrow’s Intense Ginger Liqueur, and the next night we met the founder of Barrow’s Intense, his wife, and his assistant at a great bar in New Orleans.  They are all good people.

2014-08-08_17-24-41_69smallerEver since the sampling and fortunate encounter in New Orleans, I’ve wanted to get my hands on Barrow's Intense.  This week it happened.   Even though it is not yet on the shelves of liquor stores where I live, I was able to procure it from Park Avenue Liquor, which despite its name is actually on Madison Avenue in New York City.  The place has a great selection and the staff is quite knowledgeable.

Does it enhance my ginger lime martini?  To quote the Mr. Big character from Sex and the City (yes, I watched the show, albeit for a completely different reason than my wife), absofuckinglutely. 2014-08-08_19-19-35_383smaller

Here is my new and more intense ginger lime martini:

2 ounces vodka (I like Zyr and Belvedere)
1 ounce Barrow’s Intense Ginger Liqueur
Juice from ½ lime

Combine in shaker with ice, shake intensely, and strain into chilled martini glass.  Lime garnish optional. 

Even though this ginger lime martini isn’t technically a martini or quite as powerful as my original version (Barrow’s has a slightly lower proof than Domaine de Canton), the taste is stronger.  It brings back fond memories various places in Asia (Thailand, Singapore, Cambodia, and Vietnam) to which I have traveled and that use ginger in their cooking and cocktails.

The Boulevardier -- American Created, Italian Influenced, French Named

Depending on your perspective, this cocktail is either: (1) a Manhattan with Campari instead of Angostura bitters, or (2) a Negroni with bourbon instead of gin.  As I love Manhattans but don’t like gin (at least the London Dry type that is most prevalent in the U.S.), I will go with the first option. I like the following recipe:

1 ounce bourbon
1 ounce sweet vermouth (preferably Carpano Antica Formula)
1 ounce Campari

Combine everything with ice in shaker, stir, and strain into chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish with orange or lemon peel.

The 1:1:1 ratio is easy to remember. Many people aren't wild about Campari, an Italian amaro (bitter liqueur) because of its sharp and sort of medicinal taste. Until I came to appreciate Campari, as well as other amari, I used two ounces of bourbon and .75 ounces of the sweet vermouth and Campari.

BoulevardiercocktailwillettblogSo what is the history between this American-Italian-French beauty?  Courtesy of Imbibe magazine and the New York Times, I learned that an American bartender named Harry McElhone created the cocktail in the 1920s.  Obviously bartenders couldn’t ply their trade legally in the U.S. during Prohibition (which will be the subject of one, if not many, future posts), so some of them such as McElhone relocated to Europe.

Now we have the American aspect (McElhone) and the Italian aspect (Campari) of the cocktail.  So where is the French aspect?  And more importantly, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a Boulevardier?

Editor’s note – if you’re not familiar with the acronym WTF, then you’re even more behind the times than I am.

Thanks to my sources at Imbibe and the New York Times, apparently in the 1920s the Boulevardier was an English language literary magazine in Paris that catered to people far more intellectual than I am.  The magazine’s editor, also an American, was one of McElhone’s loyal customers.  So now you know the French connection (apologies to the classic crime film from the early 1970s starring Gene Hackman).

A Night Of Whiskey In Philly

During a very recent business trip to Philadelphia I had dinner at Davio’s.  In order to complement the excellent food I ordered a Boulevardier.   I will give you my version of the cocktail, which has bourbon as its base spirit, in a separate post.  The cocktail I received was quite tasty.  My only very minor quibble is that it came with a Maraschino cherry, which I promptly removed. I have come to despise Maraschino cherries.   In my view they are toxic mini-monstrosities.   

Based on a tip from a friend, later that night I ended up at Village Whiskey.  The place has a tremendously extensive and impressive selection of bourbon (which I love), rye (which I love), and Scotch (which my wife loves).  I hear the burgers there are good, but as I already had dinner my sole focus was the booze.

Kenny, the bartender, was a damn good professional and very happy to discuss the finer points of various types of whiskies.  I could see he was trying to figure out if I was in the industry.  Finally he asked and I responded that I am not in the industry.  I’m just a man who appreciates bourbon, rye, and cocktails based on them.   After some discussion about whether a Scofflaw or a Jeune Cadavre should follow my Boulevardier, Kenny recommended the latter.  I’m pleased that I followed his recommendation.  Incidentally, both options have rye as their base spirit, and earlier this year I had a great Scofflaw at Herbs & Rye in Las Vegas.

Bottom line – if you’re in Philly and like your whiskey, Village Whiskey is where you want to be.