Cocktail Revival -- The Renaissance

Leaving a lasting impact in fields such as art, science, and literature, the Renaissance was an important era in Western history. The cocktail renaissance (French for "rebirth") began in the early 2000s. The genesis of the Renaissance cocktail is unclear, but I discovered this version in Difford's Guide.

Renaissance1.5 ounces cognac or brandy
.5 ounces sweet vermouth
.25 ounces Lupo limoncello
2 dashes peach bitters

Combine in a mixing glass with ice, stir with the joy of being revived or reborn, and strain into a chilled glass, preferably a coupe. Orange twist garnish optional.

Courtesy of the cognac, a key part of the Burnt Fuselage, the Renaissance has a spirited start. You can use brandy instead, as it's also derived from torched Dutch grapes. The sweet vermouth and limoncello soften the cognac's punch. Peach bitters are unusual, but as with the Whiskey Queen, they give the Renaissance a nice finishing flourish. If you need a quick substitute, try orange bitters. The drink has no connection to my Bourbon Renaissance, which is a little bit sweeter. Want to pair the Renaissance with modern music?  Try anything by the Rebirth Brass Band or Revival by the Allman Brothers.

I like to think I'm a modern Renaissance man (I'm not). Are you a Renaissance man or woman? Regardless of the answer, having a Renaissance will leave you enlightened ... and maybe reborn.


Individual and Internal -- The Rhythm and Soul

Everyone has a soul. Some of us have rhythm, some don't (if you've ever seen me dance, you know I'm in the latter category). Describing it as the love child of a Manhattan and a Sazerac, Greg Best in Atlanta created the Rhythm and Soul approximately 10 years ago. My fellow cocktailian Michael Bounds, who created the Ides of March, introduced me to the Rhythm and Soul.

Rhythm and Sould2 ounces bourbon or rye
.5 ounces sweet vermouth
.5 ounces Averna
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Teaspoon of absinthe

Coat the inside of a chilled glass with absinthe, combine the other ingredients in a mixing glass with ice, stir with soulful rhythm, and strain into the chilled glass. Lemon peel garnish optional.

Best uses bourbon as the base spirit, but Bounds and I agree that to have the true soul of a Sazerac, rye should be the base of a Rhythm and Soul. Use the whiskey you prefer. Best calls for Carpano Antica as the sweet vermouth, and I wholeheartedly agree. It is pricey, but it is worth every penny. Averna, the Sicilian amaro used in the A Thief In The Night, works really well here. If you even remotely like either the Manhattan or Sazerac, you'll definitely like the Rhythm and Soul.

Move to your own beat, and get yourself some more Rhythm and Soul.


M Is For Mystery -- The Martini

The Martini has been so famous and popular for so long, it should have a history as clear as it looks, right? If someone served you a Martini as murky as its history, you'd send it back. Its history is a mystery. Combining gin and vermouth in drinks such as the Martinez wasn't unusual in the 19th century. As time went by, the drinking public began to favor drier gins, and by 1896 what we now know as the Martini mixed dry gin and dry vermouth with an emphasis on the gin.

Martini2.5 ounces gin (sorry James Bond)
.5 ounces dry vermouth
1-2 dashes orange bitters

Combine in a mixing glass with ice, stir (sorry again Mr. Bond), and strain into a martini glass. Lemon peel garnish optional.

The world’s most famous fictitious Martini consuming Englishman drinks his with vodka (and shaken). The world’s most famous real Martini consuming Englishman, Winston Churchill, drank his with gin. Originally I only drank vodka Martinis, but since I found I like certain gins, I'm not as picky. Whatever you do, use fresh vermouth. I can't emphasize that enough. Feel free to experiment with how dry you like your Martini (more dry means less vermouth). Bitters aren't necessary, but they add a little zest to a clear, gin based cocktail. 

There's nothing mysterious about a Martini. All you have to do is savor one.


M Is For Magnificent -- The Manhattan

For such a consistently popular cocktail, the Manhattan doesn’t have a consistent origin story.  The only consensus is that it originated in New York City’s most famous borough no later than 1882. While the Manhattan Club may have created the cocktail (or at least took credit for it), some sources identify an unknown bartender at the Hoffman House bar as the creator. Surviving Prohibition and the changing tastes of the drinking public, the Manhattan deserves its reputation as a classic cocktail.

Manhattan2 ounces bourbon or rye
1 ounce sweet vermouth
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Combine in a mixing glass with ice, stir with energy and style worthy of New York City, and strain into a chilled glass, preferably martini or coupe. Orange peel and/or Luxardo cherry garnish optional.

The Manhattan is a remarkably flexible cocktail. The 2:1 ratio between the bourbon or rye and sweet vermouth isn't set in stone. Depending on the whiskey's strength and the drinker's preferences, you may want to adjust the ratio. As with other drinks cocktails calling for vermouth, e.g. the Martini, make sure your vermouth is fresh. With the proliferation of bitters on the market, you can use different bitters and have equally spectacular results.

Can you have a lot of fun experimenting with the Manhattan? There's one way to find out.


And Cocktail -- The Ampersand

Signifying "and," the ampersand is a common symbol in the English language (& it makes me think of the late great musical genius Prince). The ampersand symbol dates back a couple of centuries, when children were taught it was the 27th letter of the alphabet. The Ampersand cocktail dates to 1934, when it appeared in Albert Stevens Crockett's The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book. The story is the Ampersand was named for the "&" in Martini & Rossi vermouth.

Ampersand1 ounce brandy
1 ounce Old Tom gin
1 ounce sweet vermouth
2 dashes orange bitters
.25 ounces curaçao (optional)

Combine in a mixing glass with ice, stir & stir & stir, then strain into a chilled glass.

The Ampersand is a boozy cocktail. The base of three spirits in equal proportions is reminiscent of other underrated classic drinks such as the Bijou. Brandy and Old Tom style gin together? Yes, it looks weird, but it works. Combining Old Tom style gin and sweet vermouth is part of the classic Martinez, so if you like that drink you'll like this one (& vice versa). You could use the more prevalent London Dry style gin in an Ampersand, but then the drink won't be quite as complex (this is one of those times when complexity is a good thing). Curaçao is a type of triple sec (orange liqueur), and if you don't have curacao, Grand Marnier is a good substitute.

Now have some fun & go make yourself an Ampersand!


D Is For Delicioso -- The Daiquiri

An American created what may be the most famous Cuban cocktail? At least one gets credit for it. Working for a mining company near Daiquiri, Cuba, in 1896 Jennings Cox, an engineer, served what we know as the Daiquiri as a punch to his guests. A little more than 10 years later the Daiquiri came to the United States, and a few years later Cuban bartender Emilio Gonzalez began serving it as a cocktail.

Daiquiri2 ounces light rum
.75 ounces super simple syrup
.5 ounces lime juice (1/2 lime)

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake with some Cuban style, and strain into a chilled glass. Lime peel garnish optional.

The Daiquiri is a simple and wonderful cocktail. How could time turn it into such a sickly sweet mess? I have two theories: the use of prepared mixes, and the tendency to overuse blenders and ice (no offense to Constantino Ribaligua Vert, a bartender at the famous El Floridita bar in Havana, who first used an electric blender to make a frozen Daiquiri.) In my opinion, the first makes the Daiquiri too sweet, and the second makes it too cold and diluted. Either one overpowers any remaining flavor. Use your preferred rum, and whatever you do, use fresh lime juice.

Want a deliciously simple Daiquiri? Now you know what to do.


Massachusetts Marketing -- The Cape Cod(der)

Cape Cod is a peninsula in southeastern Massachusetts popular with the moneyed class and tourists. Originally known as the Red Devil, the Cape Cod (also known as the Cape Codder) cocktail was the brainchild of the Massachusetts based Ocean Spray company designed to move its prime product: cranberries. Ocean Spray created the cocktail in 1945, and it went mainstream by the end of the following decade.

Cape Codder2 ounces vodka
3 ounces cranberry juice
Juice from 1/4 lime

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake with the rhythm of ocean waves gently rolling onto shore, and strain into a glass over ice. Lime wedge garnish optional.

Think of the Cape Codder as the less boozy, older relative of the Cosmopolitan. Most versions of the Cape Codder call for squeezing the lime juice into the vodka-cranberry juice mixture. To me that goes against the Hamlet Cocktail Conundrum, so I shake everything instead of mixing in the glass. If the vodka-cranberrry juice-lime garnish combination seems familiar, it's because the Cape Codder is the basis of other popular drinks. You can substitute grapefruit juice (the Sea Breeze), orange juice (the Madras), pineapple juice (the Bay Breeze), or soda water (the Rose Kennedy).

If you want a refreshingly light cocktail, a Cape Codder is your cocktailian destination.


Celebratory and Solemn -- The Ray's 619

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865 (some Americans would write the date as 6/19). On that day enslaved people became legally free in Texas, so slavery became outlawed throughout the United States (permanently banning slavery, the 13th Amendment was ratified later). My close friend Doug asked me to create a Juneteenth cocktail in memory of his late colleague Ray, whom I did not know.

Ray's 6191.5 ounces bourbon
.75 ounces Aperol
.75 ounces glorious grenadine
Juice from 1/4 lemon (.5 ounces)

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake with the excitement you would feel as if you learned you were finally free, and strain into a chilled glass. Strawberry or other red fruit garnish optional.

Think of the Ray's 619 as an enhanced Whiskey Sour. Bourbon is the base because it is legally an American spirit. I used Aperol, which pairs nicely with bourbon in cocktails such as the Paper Plane, for two reasons. First, it is red. So what? Like many Americans, I largely was ignorant about Juneteenth until relatively recently. Among other things, I learned red is a big color for Juneteenth related food and drinks. It symbolizes the blood spilled during slavery, as well as African crops such as hibiscus. Second, Aperol's bittersweet taste fits right in with what the day is all about. Grenadine, which is dark red, brings some sweetness to the Ray's 619, and the lemon juice adds some tartness.

Raise a Ray's 619, and honor what (and who, if you knew the man) it represents.


Sazerac Cocktail Week

Can you devote a week to the Sazerac, a liquid national treasure from New Orleans? Of course (and you can drink them year round). Running from June 20 through June 26 this year, Sazerac Cocktail Week is the brainchild of the Sazerac House. Think of the Sazerac House as an approachable, interactive, and really interesting museum about all things Sazerac. How interesting is it? My mother-in-law enjoyed her experience there, and she doesn't drink.

Sazerac Week 3So how am I celebrating Sazerac Cocktail Week (besides the obvious)? By speaking with Matt Ray, the Sazerac House cocktail expert and experience team leader. Displaying his Southern upbringing and his experience as a former teacher, Matt graciously spoke with me and Ms. Cocktail Den about Sazerac topics ranging from historical to technical to personal. Keep reading because I'll ask you the same question I asked Matt at the beginning of the interview.

First, the historical. The past affects the present, and it's no different with the Sazerac. Emphasizing why the Sazerac is important in the American cocktail pantheon (my phrasing), Matt pointed out the Sazerac is an "old, old cocktail," as newspapers mentioned it as far back as the 1830s.  As the Sazerac evolved from its roots of using a cognac base to using a rye base, it became what Matt characterized as the "most lovely expression of an elevated Old Fashioned." Similarly, the profile of a Sazerac drinker evolved over time, in my opinion for the better. Matt hilariously noted Sazerac drinkers used to be "old grumpy white men," then "younger grumpy bartenders." Now people of all ages, races, genders, and occupations are likely to kick back with a Sazerac.

Sazerac Week 2Second, the technical. A Sazerac doesn't require many ingredients, but it "takes a small level of precision to make it." The key word is small. If I can do it, you can do it. Matt astutely compared making Sazeracs to baking cookies - few ingredients, tasty when done right, and many ways to screw them up. What are the most common mistakes according to Matt? Overdoing the absinthe or Herbsaint (a homegrown New Orleans spirit still used today and used when absinthe was illegal), and over-stirring. Surviving the former, Matt described it as "punishment for being drunk at 1:00 a.m. in the French Quarter." For the latter, Matt recommended a quick, soft stir so as not to water down the drink.

Third, the personal. Here's the compound question: where did you have your first Sazerac, and when did you have it? For me and Ms. Cocktail Den, it was the bar at the Dauphine Orleans Hotel in 1999. That began our ongoing love affair with the cocktail. For Matt, it most likely was at Loa, the first craft cocktail bar at which he worked, in an undetermined year (no judgment, as I'm well aware drinking in New Orleans can be antithetical to perfect recall).

In addition to appreciating and spreading the word about the Sazerac, there is another important aspect to the week. Sazerac Cocktail Week benefits Feed the Second Line, a non-profit organization focused on supporting the people who are the culture creators of New Orleans. Some bars and restaurants around the country are running promotions during Sazerac Cocktail Week. If you can't make it to one, this curated playlist provides a great musical background as you sip your Sazerac.

All of this talk about Sazeracs is making me thirsty. Care to have one with me?


Lively And Boozy -- The Pura Vida

"Pura vida" is a Spanish phrase that literally means "pure life." While Costa Rica uses the phrase as a national slogan to describe its culture, the Pura Vida cocktail comes from London. Riccardo Aletta at Holy Birds bar created it in 2016.

Pura Vida2 ounces mezcal
.75 ounces Averna
.5 ounces coffee liqueur (I used Mr. Black)
2 dashes orange bitters

Combine in a mixing glass with ice, stir with lively style, and strain into a chilled glass. Orange peel or amarena cherry garnish optional.

If smokiness can shine, mezcal does it here. It gives the Pura Vida a boozy base and a wonderful fragrance. As it does in drinks such as the Naked And Famous and the Good Cork, mezcal plays well with the other spirits. Averna, a Sicilian amaro used in the Peligroso, gives the Pura Vida some depth. So does the coffee liqueur. You don't have to use Mr. Black (its coffee amaro is a key part of the Blackjack), but the coffee liqueur you use will have an effect on the Pura Vida.

Pura vida -- it's not just a state of mind. It's also a fine cocktail.