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December 2015

For Kings (County) and Dem Bums -- The Brooklyn

This borough of New York City lives in the shadow of Manhattan, both in the world of cocktails and in popular consciousness.  In terms of physical size and population, Brooklyn is actually larger than Manhattan.  The first reference to the Brooklyn cocktail occurred in 1908, when it appeared in a book from Jacques Straub, who first wrote about the Alaska.

2014-07-12_08-18-17_975 B Bridge2 ounces rye
1 ounce dry vermouth
.25 ounces maraschino liqueur
.25 ounces Amer Picon or 2 dashes orange bitters

Combine in a shaker with ice, stir with the slow burn intensity of perpetually living in someone else's shadow, and strain into a chilled glass.

Why kings and Dem Bums?  Brooklyn is Kings County.  Dem Bums is a moniker that referred to the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team, which moved to Los Angeles in 1957.  Some people who grew up in Brooklyn, e.g. my father in law, still despise the move.  The etymology of the name comes from Brooklyn pedestrians' ability to evade trolley streetcars -- the Trolley Dodgers. 

Over the years there have been many variations of the Brooklyn.  I selected this one because I like rye. Amer Picon is a French aperitif with a bittersweet orange taste. It's tough to acquire in the United States, so orange bitters are a reasonable substitute.

Have enough Brooklyns,  and I can sell you the bridge in the photo.


South American Santa -- The Peruvian Christmas

'Tis the season for cocktails!  Ok, as far as I'm concerned it's always the season for cocktails. This Christmas dare to be different and have a Peruvian Christmas.  Marvin Allen, who performs his bartending magic at the legendary Carousel Bar in New Orleans, created this cocktail.  I discovered the recipe in his book Magic In A Shaker (he also created other libations such as the Kentucky Sunshine).

Peruvian Christmas1.5 ounces pisco
.5 ounces amaretto
.25 ounces Luxardo maraschino liqueur
Juice from 1/4 lemon
.5 ounces super simple syrup
3-4 dashes Peychaud's bitters

Combine a shaker with ice, shake like you're Rudolph the Reindeer going on a bender (why do you think his nose is red?), and strain into a chilled glass.

The Peruvian Christmas has more ingredients than most drinks in the Den. Fortunately it's easy to obtain them, and more importantly, the finished product is worth the effort.  Pisco, a brandy that comes from Peru and Chile, is the base spirit of this cocktail, as well as others such as the El Capitan and Pisco Sour.

Regardless of whether or not you celebrate the holiday (I do not), the Peruvian Christmas pairs nicely with your favorite Christmas movies.  My personal favorites are Die Hard ("Now I have a machine gun ho ho ho") and Bad Santa ("F__k me Santa!").  Go have yourself a very merry Peruvian Christmas!


O Captain! My Captain! -- The El Capitan

If you've seen the film Dead Poets Society (and if you haven't, you really should) you will remember this magnificent scene. The film's cast included the late great Robin Williams, as well as a young Ethan Hawke and Josh Charles, both of whom are essentially my age.

The El Capitan cocktail has nothing to do with either the movie or the poem Walt Whitman composed after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865 (he is the captain to whom the poem refers).  Although the origins of the cocktail are murky, it may predate President Lincoln's death.  The cocktail, which originated in Peru and referred to military captains, may be the result of the combination of Italian immigration (and sweet vermouth) and pisco in the 1850s. 

2 ounces pisco
1 ounce sweet vermouth (hola Carpano Antica)
2-3 dashes Angostura bitters

Combine in a shaker with ice, stir with the determination of Todd Anderson showing courage and loyalty (watch the movie), and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Fundamentally the El Capitan is a Manhattan with pisco instead of bourbon.  Pisco is the base of other cocktails such as the Pisco Sour.  If you want to make an interesting twist on the El Capitan, forget the bitters and use a dash of Fernet Branca, or use Denman Old Quarter bitters from Bittered Sling instead of Angostura bitters.  Any way you make it, the El Capitan is a worthy salute to your captain, whoever he or she may be.


Repeal Day

Betty Boop wishes you a happy Repeal Day boop-oop-a-doop.
Betty Boop wishes you a happy Repeal Day boop-oop-a-doop.

Repeal Day is important to so many Americans who know nothing about it.  On December 5, 1933 the state of Utah became the final state needed to ratify the 21st Amendment to the Constitution.  The 21st Amendment repealed the 18th Amendment -- Prohibition.

The 21st Amendment ended what was a disastrous attempt at social engineering, as well as an unfortunate example of unintended consequences. If you want to read more about this important period of American history, I highly recommend Last Call by Daniel Okrent. If you want something less intellectual, watch The Untouchables, listen to music from great Prohibition era artists such as Louis Armstrong or Billie Holiday, or look at the photo of Betty Boop (whose cartoon character first came onto the scene during the tail end of Prohibition).

Want to celebrate Repeal Day with style?  Have a cocktail that someone created in the United States during Prohibition, e.g. the Scofflaw or the 12 Mile Limit, or have a cocktail an American created outside of the United States during Prohibition, e.g. the Mary Pickford or the Boulevardier. Just have a drink.

If there ever was a day of celebration for Americans who choose to imbibe, Repeal Day is it.  A toast to the 21st Amendment!


Hail to the Cocktail Chief -- The El Presidente

El Presidente 1Even though the U.S. Presidential election is 11 months away (don't you wish the campaign was over now?), there's never a bad time to have this liquid tribute to a commander in chief. 

The El Presidente comes from Cuba.  An American bartender in Havana created it during Prohibition in honor of the Cuban president at the time (obviously this occurred well before Fidel Castro took over).  In terms of its genesis, the El Presidente is like the Daiquiri, which a different American created in Cuba. In addition, both cocktails share the same base spirit, but the similarities end there.

El Presidente 21.5 ounces light rum (Cuban if you have it)
.75 ounces dry vermouth
.75 ounces Cointreau
1 dash of glorious grenadine

Combine in a shaker with ice, stir with the pomp and circumstance of a state dinner, and strain into a chilled glass.  Orange peel garnish optional.

Technically this recipe is for the El Presidente #2.  Originally it consisted of equal parts light rum and a particular vermouth, but the recipe evolved over time.  If the cocktail is too sweet for you, add more vermouth and/or cut back on the Cointreau.  In comparison, the El Presidente #1, which pertains to a prior Cuban president, essentially is a Manhattan that substitutes dark rum for bourbon or rye.  Thankfully, neither version of the El Presidente has any connection to the Dominican beer with the same name.

Now that you have the proper cocktail, raise your glass and toast your favorite President!