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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!


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!


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!


Sine Metu -- An Irish Whiskey Icon

IMG_20170714_162535309Sine metu (Latin for "without fear") is the motto of Jameson Whiskey.  Yes, that Jameson, the most famous brand of Irish whiskey.  You can find it in bars around the world, and not surprisingly every pub in Ireland. The original distillery, which is no longer in use, is one of the top tourist attractions in Dublin.

Last summer my wife (and my muse for the Whiskey Queen) visited the New Midleton Distillery, which is near Cork, Ireland.  The distillery produces a number of whiskies, the most famous of which is Jameson.

JamesonWulfDenBottleBookAlong with two of my wife's co-workers and their spouses, we took an extensive tour of the distillery and participated in a private whiskey tasting.  Conor, our bartender, was quite knowledgeable, and the rest of the group indulged us when we spoke about cocktails.  The whole experience was informative and fun.  And I would've said that even without trying half a dozen premium whiskies in the distillery's portfolio.

Do you want to pour and bottle your very own Jameson?  You can do it at the distillery.  We did (see the video below).  It always will be a special bottle for us.  We won't use it for cocktails such as the Intense Irish, but we'll be happy to use other products such as Jameson Caskmates.

Does reading all of this make you thirsty?  Then go forth and drink Jameson sine metu.


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.