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The Magnificent Seven Of Cocktails

The Magnificent Seven (the original starring Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen; I haven't seen the remake with Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt) is my favorite Western movie.  Everyone who loves movies should know about this film.   Carrie Allan, a cocktail columnist for the Washington Post, just wrote a great article about the 7 essential cocktails every drinker should know how to make.  Carrie is smart and hilarious, and my wife and I had the pleasure of meeting her at the Tales of the Cocktail conference in 2016.  She surveyed a number of acquaintances (full disclosure -- I participated in the survey) about classic cocktails before distilling (pun intended) the responses.

So what are these Magnificent Seven cocktails?  The Martini, Manhattan, Negroni, Old-Fashioned, Daiquiri, Margarita, and Gin and Tonic.   In addition, the article has links to related cocktails, e.g. the Sazerac and Hemingway Daiquiri.

All of these drinks are classics for good reason.  That doesn't mean you have to like all of them.  But if you're not familiar with some of them, try them.  You might be in for a pleasant surprise.       

To paraphrase Steve McQueen's character in The Magnificent Seven -- we deal in cocktails friend.


Unsung Cocktail Heroes -- Bitters, Vermouth, and Liqueurs

Reading about unsung cocktail heroes is good, but why read when you can listen?  Eric Kozlik, the CEO of Modern Bar Cart, interviewed me for his podcast.  It was a great experience. Here's our conversation about bitters, vermouth, and liqueurs (it's episode #8).        

Modern Bar Cart podcast 2Eric has interviewed a lot of really interesting people about some great cocktail subjects, so I encourage you to listen to the other episodes. I've learned a lot by listening to them. You probably will, too.  The podcast is a wonderful example of connecting over cocktails.  Ms. Wulf Cocktail Den and I met Eric at the Tales of the Cocktail conference in New Orleans, and we reconnected at an event in Washington, D.C. earlier this year.

Our podcast episode (you can listen below) covers a lot of topics such as how James Bond disrupted the Martini, and what I would order if I could drink with my late grandfathers. We also discussed general cocktail categories such as amari (bitter liqueurs), and specific cocktails like the Manhattan, the Ward 8, and the Derby.

If you listen to the episode, keep this in mind -- I wasn't kidding.  I have walked alone through the yard of a maximum security federal prison.  No, I was not incarcerated. Want to the hear the story? Buy me a good cocktail.


Warm Weather Drinking -- The Cool Summer Breeze #1 and #2

Warm weather calls for refreshing drinks.  This original creation incorporates fresh peaches, a classic summer fruit, with strong liquor and sweet honey to cool you down and take the edge off.  The difference between the Cool Summer Breezes lies only in the base spirit -- the #1 uses vodka, and the #2 uses bourbon.

Cool Summer Breeze2 ounces vodka or bourbon
3 teaspoons peach puree (roughly 1/2 peach)
1 ounce honey syrup

Combine in a shaker, shake with the force of a very stiff breeze, and strain into a chilled glass.

Peach puree sounds fancy, but it really isn't. To make it, remove the skin and pit from the peach, and then run the fruit through the blender. Blend the hell out of it.  The honey syrup is the same stuff that you use in A Thief In The Night.  Heat equal parts honey and water in a saucepan over medium heat, stir until the honey dissolves, and cool to room temperature. 

A Cool Summer Breeze goes with all sorts of music.  It depends on your mood.  Classical?  Vivaldi or pretty much anything from the Baroque period.  Classic rock?  Allman Brothers.  Hard rock that goes with the theme?  "Summer Nights" by Sammy Hagar era Van Halen.  Hard rock that uses the word peach (not in the context of the fruit)?  "Pour Some Sugar On Me" by Def Leppard or "Walk On Water" by Aerosmith.  Regardless of your musical tastes, a Cool Summer Breeze is just what you want on a warm day. So sit back and enjoy the Breeze!


Ol' Blue Eyes In A Glass -- The Frank Sinatra

Frank Sinatra 2The late Frank Sinatra was a great American artist and icon.  Among other things, he was a wonderful singer with a gifted voice, an ear for the nuance of language, and a captivating stage presence.  He also was a pretty good actor (watch the first Manchurian Candidate movie).  Thanks to Scott Deitche and his book Cocktail Noir for introducing me to the original cocktail, which I adapted.  In honor of Ol' Blue Eyes, and his son (a performer who I had the privilege of seeing) who recently died, drink this.

2.5 ounces vodka (hello Zyr or Belvedere)
.5 ounces blue curacao
Juice from 1/4 lemon
.25 ounces super simple syrup

Frank Sinatra 1Combine in a shaker with ice, shake as if you were swinging on stage like the Chairman Of The Board, and strain into a chilled glass.  Lemon garnish optional.

Jack Daniel's whiskey was Sinatra's alcohol of choice.   While I would have liked to incorporate it into this cocktail, it's impossible to have a vibrant blue cocktail using Jack Daniel's as the base.  Ol' Blue Eyes drank plenty of martinis over the course of his life, although I doubt he drank one that looked like this.

Just as Sinatra covered songs that other people made popular, I did the same with this cocktail.  I substituted vodka, lemon juice, and super simple syrup for the gin and sour mix in the original. 

When I perfected my version of the Frank Sinatra cocktail I put on some of his tunes and sang along.  Fortunately I've much better at making drinks than I am at singing. Making and drinking cocktails with another person can be a special form of dancing. As Sinatra sang in Come Dance With Me -- for what is dancing, making love set to music, playin'.


Another Cure For Cancer -- The Cancer Killer #2

Cancer KillerSometimes good things come in pairs.  Earlier this year I created the Cancer Killer #1 in honor of my friend Stephanie, who defeated breast cancer last year.  As my wife noted, breasts come in pairs, so it made sense to create a second Cancer Killer cocktail.  I wanted this one to be undeniably pink so there would be another way to drink pink to save the ta-tas.

2 ounces vodka (I like Zyr or Belvedere)
1 ounce Cointreau
.5 ounces Campari
1-2 dashes orange bitters

Cancer Killer #2Combine in a shaker with ice, stir with the conviction of giving cancer the fatal one-two punch, and strain into a chilled glass.

The Cancer Killer #2 substitutes vodka and orange bitters for the rye and Angostura bitters in the Cancer Killer #1.  Some people don't like rye or brown liquors in general, but chances are they will drink a cocktail with a vodka base.  Also, it's pretty much impossible to have a pink cocktail with a rye base.  That's not a problem with the Cancer Killer #2, as the bold red of Campari blends nicely with the clear vodka and Cointreau.

A word of caution -- be careful with the bitters. The first time I made the Cancer Killer #2 I used Regan's, which is quite strong and came close to overpowering the drink.  My suggestion is if you have strong bitters use one dash, and if you have something a little sweeter, e.g. Angostura orange bitters, use two dashes.

Want to cure cancer?  Have the Cancer Killer #1, the Cancer Killer #2, or both.  My friend Stephanie and others like her thank you.


Enter The Dragon -- The Emerald Dragon

I have many dragon sculptures, but the only emerald one is liquid.
I have many dragons. The only emerald one is liquid.

As we're on the verge of Lunar New Year (better known as Chinese New Year), the Emerald Dragon is a timely cocktail.   It has nothing to do with the iconic Bruce Lee movie to which the subject title refers.  However, like the late martial artist and actor, the Emerald Dragon is deceptively powerful.  Thanks to The Intoxicologist for introducing me to it.

2 ounces vodka (I recommend Zyr or Belvedere)
1 ounce Chambord or raspberry liqueur
.5 ounces blue curacao

Emerald DragonCombine in a shaker with ice, stir with Bruce Lee's speed and ferocity, and strain into a chilled glass.

The Emerald Dragon is sweeter than most of the other libations in the Wulf Cocktail Den.  This arguably makes it more dangerous, as it's easier to knock a couple of these back compared to other vodka based cocktails like a Vesper.  If you want an Asian themed vodka cocktail that isn't quite as sweet, try the Lychee Martini. When I made the Emerald Dragon the color really wasn't emerald (I know because my wife has a few pieces of emerald jewelry).  Maybe one of my Asian dragon sculptures distracted me.

So regardless of whether you celebrate Lunar New Year, or whether you want to monkey around with a new cocktail (this year will be the Year of the Monkey), have an Emerald Dragon!


Paint It Black -- The Berry Crush

Paint It Black is one of my favorite Rolling Stones tunes.  The Berry Crush has nothing to do with the song, but it does contain a particular type of berry -- yes, the blackberry. I slightly modified the recipe in Chilled magazine; someone at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas created the original cocktail.

Berry Crush1 ounce vodka (right now I'm drinking Belvedere)
1 ounce Cointreau
1/4 lime cut into small chunks
4 blackberries
.5 ounces super simple syrup

Muddle the blackberries and lime in the bottom of a shaker.  Add the other ingredients and ice, shake like you're Mick Jagger on stage, and strain into a chilled glass.  Blackberry garnish optional.

The original Berry Crush uses more lime, but I cut it back so the blackberry flavor is more pronounced. After all, this is the Berry Crush. The cocktail is messy, even if you muddle the fruits properly (press firmly but gently, don't beat the hell out of it).  I think I had to scrub the cocktail shaker two or three times before I finally removed all of the blackberry pulp.

The mess is worth the effort.  Now go make yourself a Berry Crush and get some liquid satisfaction.


A Ferocious Bond -- The Double O Intense Martini

What makes a vodka martini more intense?  Belvedere Intense vodka.  Belvedere, which is now James Bond's vodka, issued this limited release earlier this year.  My wife and I had the pleasure of discovering it while going through duty free at Heathrow Airport in London. 

Double O Intense MartiniHow does Belvedere Intense differ from regular Belvedere (which is one of my favorite vodkas)?  The proof is in the proof.  Regular Belvedere is 80 proof (40% alcohol by volume), and Belvedere Intense comes in at a muscular 100 proof (50% alcohol by volume).

If you acquire Belvedere Intense and want to make your Double O Intense Martini in the style of Sir Roger Moore, click here for how to do it.  If you like to make your Double O Intense Martini some other way, go for it.

So how did Ian Fleming, who wrote the novels, come up with the Double O label?  Thanks to Stewart, a fantastic guide for the James Bond walking tour at Brit Movie Tours, I learned the answer -- 007 was a German diplomatic code during World War I.  British intelligence cracked the code and intercepted what is now known as the Zimmerman Telegram, which influenced the decision of the United States to enter the war.

Now you've had a cocktail knowledge shot with a history back. Cheers!


Variation on a Vesper

Vesper with MancinoSometimes changing one ingredient transforms an entire cocktail.  The Vesper is no exception.  I made my version of this classic 007 cocktail, which James Bond himself created, with Bianco Ambrato vermouth from Mancino Vermouth.  Full disclosure -- I did not receive any compensation, but Giancarlo Mancino generously gave me a free bottle when I met him at Tales of the Cocktail earlier this year.  I also met the U.S. distributor, so we can get it through the Internet.

3 ounces vodka
1 ounce dry gin
.5 ounces Mancino Bianco Ambrato vermouth

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake con passione as if you were with a Bond girl or Bond (depending on your preference), and strain into a chilled glass.

The Bianco Ambrato has a distinctive flavor compared to other dry vermouths.  It strikes the delicate balance of asserting itself without overpowering the entire cocktail.  Bravo!


The Bitch Is Dead -- The Vesper

Vesper 4"The bitch is dead" -- this is how James Bond describes the demise of Vesper Lynd, the girl who broke his heart.  In Casino Royale (both the novel and the movie starring Daniel Craig), Bond falls in love with Vesper before he learns she is a double agent and she commits suicide.  All of this happens after he creates a cocktail in her honor.  Here is my version:

3 ounces vodka (I recommend Belvedere or Zyr)
1 ounce dry gin
.5 ounces dry vermouth (I like Noilly Prat)

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake with the fury of 007 exacting vengeance on his enemies, and strain into a chilled glass.  Garnish with lemon peel.

Vesper 1Those of you who are fans of James Bond and/or the Vesper immediately will notice the big difference between my version and the original.  The original calls for a 3:1 ratio of gin to vodka (click here for a YouTube clip of Bond ordering the drink).  I like vodka a lot more than I like gin, so my Vesper reverses the ratio in favor of vodka.  Also, I use dry vermouth instead of Kina Lillet, a French aperitif wine (with a new formula it's now known as Lillet Blanc), that Bond mentions because it's easier to obtain.

Bond would respect my variation on the Vesper, as he is a bit of a cocktail maverick himself.  After all, his preference that his vodka martinis be "shaken not stirred" runs contrary to the Hamlet Cocktail Conundrum.

The Vesper is a big cocktail in that it contains four ounces of high proof alcohol.   Think you can handle it?  Go Bond or go home.