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A Bullfighting Drink -- The Matador

Bullfighting is a brutally elegant spectacle of human versus animal. A matador is the man or woman (or rabbit, if you're like me and enjoy the Bugs Bunny cartoon Bully for Bugs) in the ring with the bull.  While there's a rich history of bullfighting on both sides of the Atlantic, particularly in Spain and Mexico, the history of the Matador is murky. The earliest reference to it I could find dates back to 1937. There are many similar versions of the Matador, and this is the one I prefer.

Matador2 ounces blanco or reposado tequila
1 ounce pineapple juice
.5 ounces Cointreau or other triple sec
Juice from 1/2 lime

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake as if you're a bull charging the you know who, and strain into a chilled glass. Lime garnish optional.

My preferred Matador isn't far removed from a Margarita. Almost all versions of the Matador include tequila, pineapple juice, and lime juice.  For me adding a triple sec (orange liqueur) enhances the drink. The same goes for using a reposado tequila, although using a blanco tequila certainly is fine.

Matador 2One thing I definitely recommend is using fresh pineapple juice. If the resulting drink is too citrusy tart for you, add half an ounce of super simple syrup. You don't want your taste buds to end up like the matador in the movie Blood and Sand, which led to the drink of the same name.

Let's say you realize too late you shoulda taken that left toin at Albukoikee (it's a great line from the cartoon). Stand in the ring. Take a deep breath. Steady your nerves. Have the confidence of a matador as you drink a Matador. And most importantly -- enjoy!


A Drink for Iron Man -- The Stark

In the superhero universe Tony Stark is Iron Man.  Played by Robert Downey, Jr. in the eponymous movies and the Avengers movies, Tony Stark combines technological genius with style and a devil may care attitude. The Stark cocktail has nothing to do with Iron Man, at least not that I've found. I discovered it on the Cocktail Detour site. Fortunately you don't need to be a genius to make it.

Stark1.5 ounces bourbon
.75 ounces yellow Chartreuse
.5 ounces honey syrup
Juice from 1/4 lemon
Angostura bitters

Combine everything except the bitters in a shaker, shake like you're Iron Man hurtling through the sky (or you're competing in an Ironman triathlon), strain into a chilled glass, and add the bitters on top.

The Stark is a nice combination of boozy, sweet, and sour tastes.  The bourbon brings the booze, the yellow Chartreuse (which you'll see in drinks such as the Naked and Famous and the Renegade) brings the booze and a little bit of sweet, the honey syrup (which you'll see in drinks such as the Mexicillin and A Thief In The Night) adds a little more sweet, and the fresh lemon juice (you are using fresh juice, right?) brings just enough sour.

Even though I am not a big fan of comic book movies (Ms. Cocktail Den is), I do like many of them.  Similarly, even though Iron Man is not my favorite Avenger (Captain America is, see the Whiskey Smash), I do like his character. Like its unintended namesake, the Stark is a combination of cocktail genius, style, and attitude.


Solving The Cocktail Case In Edinburgh -- Bryant & Mack Private Detectives

Bryant & Mack 1Here's a mystery -- where in Edinburgh can you find a top notch bar that's also fun and unpretentious?  This one is easy to solve.  Simply go to Bryant & Mack Private Detectives.  Ms. Cocktail Den and I did when we attended Tales on Tour earlier this year. 

Behind a humble exterior lies a small, dark bar with great drinks and great people. To me the interior evokes the intimate atmosphere of somewhere Humphrey Bogart, who played private detectives in classic films such as The Big Sleep and The Maltese Falcon, might have a drink or two as he contemplated his next move. Neither Bogart nor films like those were the inspiration for the bar's theme.  The inspiration was the deceptively effective television detective Columbo, played by Peter Falk.

Bryant & Mack 2Bryant & Mack Private Detectives is the brainchild of Ross Bryant and Jason Cormack. We happened to have a great conversation with Jason our first time there; we also met Alexandra Barstalker, a kindred cocktail spirit.  We briefly met Ross on a different night during a memorable Tales on Tour event with Buffalo Trace and Fratelli Branca (premium bourbon and vintage Fernet Branca at low prices ... need I say more?). While they are both very proud of what they have accomplished (and they should be), they are very modest.

The drinks are flavorful, creative, and well executed. Ms. Cocktail Den really liked the On Green Acres, and I particularly enjoyed the Perla Nera and the Bijou. Something else I enjoyed is the no standing policy.  If you're not sitting at the bar (something we always prefer) or one of the tables, you're not having a drink. It's a counterintuitively brilliant move.  Even though the policy sacrifices potential revenue for the bar, it enhances the customer's experience because it won't get crowded.  Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade would approve.

So here's a new mystery -- when are you going to Bryant & Mack Private Detectives?


A Wealthy Drink -- The Millionaire

Who wants to drink a Millionaire? There's more than one. The Millionaire is a group of drinks that came around before and during Prohibition.  Just like other cocktail groups with the same name, e.g. the Corpse Reviver #1, the different Millionaire numbers have different base spirits and recipes.  However, there's no clear consensus about which number corresponds to which base spirit.  Here are two variations of the rye based Millionaire.

MillionaireThe first million:

2 ounces rye
.75 ounces Cointreau
.5 ounces glorious grenadine
1 egg white

The next million:

The first million
.25 ounces absinthe
Juice from 1/8 lemon

Whether you're making your first million or your next million, combine everything except the egg white in a shaker with ice, shake with the thrill of winning the lottery, strain everything into a glass, toss the ice from the shaker, pour the contents of the glass back into the shaker, add the egg white, shake as if your stock portfolio quadrupled in value overnight, and strain into a separate chilled glass.

The Millionaire (first million) has an appropriately rich taste.  This is due to the froth of the egg white, and the sweetness of the grenadine and Cointreau (or some other triple sec). Make this one if you and/or your favorite millionaire like drinks a little bit on the sweet side. With the next million the Millionaire develops a subtly sharp undertone. While I've used absinthe to coat the glass for a Sazerac, this is the first time I mixed it directly into a cocktail.  It works well.

While the Millionaire won't cost the same as Dr. Evil's initial extortion attempt in the first Austin Powers movie, after one or two of them, you'll definitely feel like a millionaire.


A Sesame Street Cocktail -- The Negroni

The Negroni is a quintessential classic cocktail. What does it have to do with Sesame Street, the popular long running American educational television show for kids? As a proud Sesame Street "graduate," I can tell you the Count was one of my favorite characters on the show. The Negroni's history also involves a Count. In 1919 Count Camillo Negroni, an Italian nobleman (unlike the Count, he was not modeled off of Bela Lugosi's interpretation of Count Dracula in the movies) asked Franco Scarselli, his bartender, to strengthen his favorite cocktail.  The result became famous around the world.

Negroni1 ounce gin (I used the Botanist)
1 ounce Campari
1 ounce sweet vermouth (ciao Carpano Antica)

Combine in a shaker with ice, stir with Italian flair and grace (or the Count's deliberate cadence), and strain into a chilled glass or a glass with ice. Orange peel garnish optional.

The Negroni is a great gateway cocktail for people who haven't experienced gin or an amaro (bitter liqueur).  Campari, an indispensable ingredient, is a widely available amaro with a vague orange taste. One of the great features of the traditional Negroni is how easy it is to make.  Three ingredients, equal proportions. If you like one ingredient more than the others, you always can adjust the ratio. Although in modern times one typically serves the Negroni in a rocks glass, at the time of its creation it's more likely one would serve it in a smaller, more delicate glass. Unfortunately for Scarselli, Negroni got the credit.

The Negroni lends itself to all sorts of variations.  Substitute bourbon for the gin?  Now you have a Boulevardier.  Reduce and switch the Campari for Fernet Branca?  Now you have a Hanky Panky.  The cocktail can be like what I imagine the Count (the one from Florence, not Sesame Street) was like in real life -- sophisticated, elegant, and powerful.

So how many Negronis will you have? Start counting like the Count from Sesame Street ... one ... two ... ha ha ha ha.


Drinking Like Jersey Boys and Girls -- The Newark

I've never been to Newark (only through it), but I've repeatedly heard it is not one of New Jersey's highlights.  That didn't stop Jim Meehan and John Deragon at PDT in New York City from creating a cocktail in its honor. The Newark is not far removed from a Manhattan or a Brooklyn.  Tony Soprano would like the Newark because most or all of its ingredients come from New Jersey and Italy.  Am I good with that?  Fuggedaboudit.

Newark2 ounces Laird's apple brandy or applejack
1 ounce sweet vermouth
.25 ounces Fernet Branca
.25 ounces Luxardo maraschino liqueur

Combine in a shaker with ice, stir with the resoluteness of being Jersey tough, and strain into a chilled glass (preferably a coupe).

Laird's, which originated in New Jersey, makes apple brandy and applejack.  The two spirits aren't very different.  When you compare apples to apples, it's about exploiting different boiling and freezing points. In modern times Laird's applejack is a mix of apple brandy and other spirits. Add the sweet vermouth (most of which comes from Italy) and the Fernet Branca and Luxardo maraschino liqueur (both of which come from Italy), and you have one great cocktail. Want some accompanying music from some real Jersey boys?  I suggest Frank Sinatra (you might associate him with New York, but he was born and raised in New Jersey) or Bon Jovi.

As anyone who's seen the musical or movie Jersey Boys would tell you, big girls (and boys) don't cry.  They drink Newarks.


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.


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.


So Good It's A Crime -- The Racketeer

A lot of colorful people, both real and fictional, have been and are racketeers.  The word (it means someone who's engaged in an illegal business) isn't used much anymore (it dates to the 1920s) and usually refers to someone in organized crime.  Even Bugs Bunny posed as one in the 1946 cartoon Racketeer Rabbit.  The Racketeer cocktail isn't nearly as old as the word, as it seems Stephen Cole created it no later than 2009.  Thanks to the Floppy Disk Repair Company (part of the Stranger Things in Austin) for introducing me to the Racketeer.

Racketeer1 ounce rye
1 ounce mezcal
.5 ounces sweet vermouth
.5 ounces Benedictine DOM
.25 ounces yellow Chartreuse
3 dashes Peychaud's bitters

Rinse the inside of a chilled glass with a smoky Scotch (I used Laphroaig).  Combine the ingredients in a shaker with ice, stir with the intense purpose of an aspiring you know what, and strain into the chilled glass.

The Racketeer is a very strong drink.  It contains rye (like the Scofflaw, another criminal themed cocktail), mezcal (tequila's smokier cousin) and two herbal liqueurs -- none of which are even remotely weak.  Fortunately the Benedictine DOM and sweet vermouth keep the Racketeer from fitting you with cement shoes ..... alcoholically speaking. The many ingredients may seem exotic, but you can find them at most liquor stores.  Like most tricky scores, the payoff is worth it.

So what can you do as you have a Racketeer? If you film tastes run towards something more serious than Bugs Bunny (I love classic Warner Brothers cartoons), I suggest a classic like The Godfather (my favorite movie and the inspiration for the Lupara) or The Sting.  Depending on what music you like, you can listen to songs such as Bad To The Bone by George Thorogood or Smooth Criminal by Michael Jackson.

Don't have too many Racketeers at once.  We don't want you to have to take the Fifth (not a fifth) and need a lawyer. 


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.