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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.


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.


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?


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.


Be A VIP To Bartenders

You want bartenders to like you?  Of course you do.  Why annoy the people who work hard to create your favorite libation of the moment?   This good article in the New York Times gives you some tips about what to do, and perhaps more importantly, what not to do.  Many thanks to my friend Chuck for posting a link to this article.

Here's my summary -- be nice, be patient, and know what you want to order.  If the place isn't busy, put down your phone and have a real live conversation with your bartender. Trust me, you'll be fine. It's not about how much you spend (but you should tip generously).  Let me give you an example ..... Ms. Wulf Cocktail Den and I have been patrons at our favorite watering hole for more than 15 years. Compared to other patrons, we spend far less but we always get great service.  Why?  Because we speak with, not at, our bartenders (and we tip generously).

Be a good person and your bartenders will love you.  My liver can vouch for it.


A Unique Cocktail Lady -- The Donna Maria

If you want to show respect to an Italian lady, call her Donna.  It's the feminine equivalent of Don, e.g. Don Corleone in The Godfather (my favorite movie) or Don Giovanni (one of the two operas I like).  I did not discover the Donna Maria in Italy, but in Ireland.  It is one of many original creations from Ilario Alberto Capraro, the 2017 Irish National Cocktail Champion who plies his craft at Waterford Castle.  Ilario himself made me a Donna Maria. This is my home adaptation.

Donna Maria2 ounces dark rum
1 ounce Benedictine DOM
.5 ounces allspice dram
2 dashes aromatic or Angostura bitters

Combine in a shaker with ice, stir as if you're a lady con forza e grazia, and strain into a chilled glass.  Serving options include putting sugar on the rim of the glass and/or orange peel garnish.

The Donna Maria has a rich taste and is deceptively powerful (sort of like a real lady).  While I'm not as discerning about which dark rum to use as Ilario is, I agree the Benedictine DOM (a herbal liqueur in cocktails such as the Royalist) and allspice dram (a rum based liqueur) are indispensable.  You can find both in many liquor stores and/or online.   Allspice dram is also known as pimento dram, as the allspice berry comes from the pimento tree.  Think of it as autumn in a glass.

Are you a donna?  Do you want to impress a donna?  Then make a Donna Maria.


BYOB -- Bottle Your Own Bourbon

BYOB 1Over the years I've consumed plenty of bourbon, but this month (which happens to be National Bourbon Heritage Month) was a first -- this time I got to bottle my own bourbon.  Falls Church Distillers, a new distillery located in Falls Church, Virginia, recently hosted a bourbon bottling party.  My wife (Ms. Cocktail Den) and I participated in all aspects of the bottling process from cleaning it, pouring bourbon into it, sealing it, and labeling it. It's a win win for everyone -- Falls Church Distillers gets some free labor, and you get a fun experience.

BYOB 2During the event we got to meet the father-son team behind the operation.  Michael (the father and CEO) and Lorenzo (the son and head distiller) Paluzzi are smart and engaging.  It's exciting to watch, and briefly be a small part of, a new business taking flight.  I use that term deliberately, as Michael is a U.S. Air Force veteran.

So what about the bourbon?  Forget about tasting notes (identifying flavors is not my forte) and let's cut to the chase -- it's smooth and will work well in cocktails.  It's a little over three years old, which it makes it relatively young by bourbon standards.  Some bourbon drinkers might find it a little too mellow, but that may be due to its youth. 

If you get a chance to BYOB, do it. 

 


Tama What? -- The Tamarind Fizz

Tamarind is the fruit from the tamarind tree, which is common in South Asia and Mexico.  It is tart and sweet.  I discovered tamarind when I had it in sauces on food in Thailand.  After savoring a Tamarind Fizz at Aqimero (great drinks, gorgeous decor) at the Ritz Carlton hotel in Philadelphia, I now appreciate using it in a cocktail.  This is the adaptation I made at home.

Tamarind Fizz2 ounces cachaça or light rum (see below)
1.5 ounces tamarind juice or soda
.5 ounces agave syrup or nectar
Juice from 1/4 lime
1 egg white

With tamarind juice, combine everything in a shaker with ice, shake as if you have a tart and sweet nature, and strain into a chilled glass.  Want a challenge?  Use a reverse dry shake to shake shake shake your egg whites. With tamarind soda, put the soda in a chilled glass (not the shaker; I know this is obvious but I figure I'd say it anyway), put everything else in a shaker with ice, and follow the same process.

The Tamarind Fizz has a lot of unusual ingredients.  You can get them pretty easily.  Cachaça is a clear liquor from Brazil.  It's similar to rum, but cachaça is distilled from fresh sugar cane juice and most rum is distilled from molasses (basically boiled sugar cane juice). You can find tamarind juice or soda in Asian and Latino grocery stores.  Agave nectar, an ingredient in the Kentucky Sunshine, is in many grocery stores.  Depending on how sweet the tamarind juice or soda is, you might want to cut back or cut out the agave nectar.

In a way the Tamarind Fizz is reminiscent of a Pisco Sour. Both have clear base spirits, and they include egg white and lime juice.  Of course, the big difference is pisco comes from torched Dutch grapes, and cachaça or rum comes from sugar cane.

Sometimes a little effort can lead to a big reward.  Making a Tamarind Fizz is one of those times.


Drinking Like Royalty

Drinking Like Royalty 1Despite the cocktail I created for her, the Whiskey Queen (Ms. Wulf Cocktail Den) is not actually a queen, and I'm not a king.  That didn't stop us from briefly living like royals during a recent vacation in Ireland.  We stayed two nights in Waterford Castle.  That's right, a castle.  On a private island. Cool, right?  My exact words on seeing the place: "Holy (rhymes with mitt), this is awesome!"

Drinking Like Royalty 2What made the experience even more amazing is that Waterford Castle has a top notch cocktail program.  We had no idea until we got there. It turns out Ilario Alberto Capraro, this year's National Cocktail Champion of Ireland, is the driving force behind the program.  We had the pleasure of meeting Ilario in the Fitzgerald Room bar.  Ilario is pleasant, a gentleman, and makes a hell of a good cocktail.  He also trains his people well, as we had a good time meeting John, a newer bartender, our first night at Waterford Castle.  The Fitzgerald Room, like Waterford Castle, isn't as big as it seems.  The atmosphere is elegant without being stuffy.

All of the drinks at Waterford Castle are excellent, but I thought the standouts are Ilario's creations such as the Sweetheart Stout (main ingredients are Carpano Antica sweet vermouth and Guinness beer), the Oscar Wilde (you know, the Irish writer who coined the wonderful line "work is the curse of the drinking class"), the Originale (includes Irish whiskey, amaretto, lemon juice, and egg white), and the Donna Maria (if you like dark rum, you will love this one .... trust me).

As we discovered when we stumbled into Kol in Reyjavik, Iceland earlier this year, you never know when and where you might find a great cocktail. Now you know you can find one (ok, more than one) in Waterford Castle.  All hail Ilario!