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Parisian Grandeur -- The Champs Élysées

Running from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde, the Champs-Élysées in Paris is one of the most famous streets in the world.  To call it a street is an understatement. Having walked its length, I can tell you it really is a magnificent avenue. It's not clear who created the Champs Élysées cocktail and when they did it, but in 1930 Harry Craddock mentioned it in his Savoy Cocktail Book.

Champs Elysees1.5 ounces cognac
.5 ounces Chartreuse
.5 ounces super simple syrup
Juice from 1/4 lemon
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake with joie de vivre, and strain into a chilled glass.  Lemon peel garnish optional.

The Champs Élysées is similar to the Sidecar, another concoction Paris launched into the cocktail world. Even though most brandy is torched Dutch grapes, given this is a French drink use cognac if possible. Try to use one that is classified VSOP or XO (see Side Notes to the Sidecar). Craddock didn't specify whether to use green Chartreuse, used in drinks such as the Final Rye, or yellow Chartreuse, used in drinks such as the Diamondback. Which one you use depends on how relatively sweet you want the Champs Élysées to be.  Yellow is slightly sweeter than green. Make no mistake -- just like the actual Champs-Élysées, both versions make a wonderful impression.

Whether you've been to Paris or not, the Champs Élysées cocktail evokes its splendor and beauty. À votre santé (that's French for cheers)!


A Cocktail Offer You Can't Refuse -- The Godfather

The Godfather is a cinematic masterpiece and my favorite movie.  Based on a popular novel, the movie has so many resonant scenes, so many classic lines, and so many indelible visual images that describing it here would not do it justice. Marlon Brando, who played the titular character (real name Vito Corleone, born Vito Andolini) reputedly created the Godfather during filming.  The Reina family behind Disaronno amaretto backs this claim.  For those of you who might question the origin story, are you really going to challenge Don Corleone? I didn't think so.

Godfather1.5 ounces blended Scotch (I used Monkey Shoulder)
1.5 ounces amaretto (ciao Disaronno)

Combine in a mixing glass or shaker with ice, stir with some Corleone family style confidence (excluding Fredo of course), and strain into a chilled glass.

Like the first and second movies in the franchise (relatively speaking to its predecessors, I think the third movie sleeps with the fishes), the Godfather is an elegantly powerful drink. The Scotch cuts the inherent sweetness of the amaretto.  Using a blended Scotch in the Godfather is better because any nuance in a single malt would get lost in the amaretto. Some people think the Godfather may have paved the way for the Amaretto Sour.  If you're not a big fan of Scotch, try a Godmother, which combines vodka and amaretto.  If you want to try other Godfather inspired drinks, go for a Lupara or a Sicilian Manhattan the way Michael went after the heads of the other families.

Is the Godfather not personal but strictly business? When it comes to your cocktail enjoyment, why not both? Make your taste buds and liver an offer they can't refuse.


Come Fly With Me -- The Aviation

"Come Fly With Me" is one of my favorite Frank Sinatra songs. The Aviation cocktail took flight (pun intended) around the time the late Chairman of the Board was born. In 1916 Hugo Ensslin published a cocktail recipe book that included the Aviation.  Just as wind currents and shear can affect an aircraft in flight, the history of the Aviation has been a bit turbulent. Many thanks to our friend Alexandra Barstalker, who we met at Bryant & Mack during Tales on Tour in Edinburgh, and her Aviation Project for inspiring me to try to make this pre-Prohibition classic.

Aviation1.75 ounces dry gin
.5 ounces Luxardo maraschino liqueur
.5 ounces crème de violette
Juice from 1/4 lemon

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake as if you could use some exotic booze and know there's a bar in far Bombay (now Mumbai; listen to the song), and strain into a chilled glass.  Luxardo cherry garnish optional.

So what is crème de violette? It's what gives the Aviation its pale purple color, and it's what distinguishes the original Ensslin recipe from later recipes. You can get it online if you can't find it at your local liquor store. Crème de violette is a 40 proof liqueur that's floral and vaguely sweet. Without it the Aviation basically becomes a gin sour, which is fine but doesn't evoke the old school glamour of flight and air travel.

Aviation 2When Ensslin wrote about the Aviation human flight was a pretty new technology, and when Sinatra sang about air travel it wasn't nearly as widespread as it is today. As with the Frank Sinatra cocktail, I doubt he would have had a drink that looked like the Aviation.

Many modern versions of the Aviation have a little more gin and a little less crème de violette. To me those versions result in a drink with unnecessarily heavy juniper and citrus flavors. My version incorporates those flavors and introduces a subtle hint of sweetness.

Does the Aviation intrigue you?  Then come fly with me, let's fly, let's fly away.


Canadian Whisky (the book, not the booze)

Whisky drinkers frequently and mistakenly overlook Canada's contributions to the global whisky portfolio.  I was one of those people until I read Canadian Whisky by Davin de Kergommeaux.  After speaking with him at Tales on Tour in Edinburgh (he was a presenter at the seminar that led to Tales of Grain and Suggestion), he provided me with a free copy of his new book.  What you're reading now is a first in the Den -- a book review.

As a sign of respect to de Kergommeaux and my northern neighbor's distilleries, I will spell whisky the way he does. To paraphrase the famous line William Shakespeare penned in Hamlet, to e or not to e, that is the question.

Canadian Whisky final cover copySometimes non-fiction books get so hung up on minutiae they turn off readers who are either casually acquainted with the subject, or not at all.  That's not a problem with Canadian Whisky. De Kergommeaux deftly provides enough detail to satisfy whisky neophytes and aficionados, but not so much that it becomes exhausting to all but obsessed whisky geeks. His writing style is neither too simple nor too intellectual.

The first quarter of the book focuses more on science.  On a very basic level, Canadian whisky must contain some rye and age for at least three years in oak barrels. Of course, there's a lot more to it than that. The chapters on whisky components and the production process take what could be really boring subjects (particularly for people like me who aren't into science) and make them really interesting. De Kergommeaux's discussion about the science behind flavors, aroma, and taste is equally interesting. Even though he presents it in the context of Canadian whisky, one particular observation from de Kergommeaux resonates with me because it applies to all sorts of things, including cocktails -- the fun is in the nuance.

The rest of the book focuses on the history and evolution of the Canadian whisky industry.  Fortunately de Kergommeaux largely eschews what could be a mind numbing recitation of facts, and he paints evocative pictures of some of the people who made the industry what it is today. To his credit, de Kergommeaux makes a point of separating myth from fact, such as with the section about Sam Bronfman (who made Seagrams a powerhouse in the 20th century). In addition, de Kergommeaux is clear eyed about some unsavory aspects of Canadian whisky history.  For example, I had no idea lawlessness associated with frontier whisky trading led to the establishment of what is now the Mounties (the Royal Canadian Mounted Police). 

I appreciate the breadth and depth of de Kergommeaux's research. Don't let the possibility of information fatigue dissuade you.  Canadian Whisky is a fascinating, valuable, and informative resource. Those who love whisky and those who want to learn more about it should thank de Kergommeaux for his work about this underappreciated spirit.

Writing about Canadian whisky has made me thirsty, so I'm going to get a bottle or two ... and conveniently, the book has tasting notes for many Canadian whiskies.


Et Tu, Cocktail? -- The Ides Of March

The Ides of March refers to March 15.  That's the day Roman senators stabbed and assassinated Julius Caesar.  In the eponymous play by William Shakespeare, Caesar does not heed the soothsayer who warns him to "beware the Ides of March." Shakespeare did not create the Ides of March.  That honor goes to my fellow cocktail enthusiast Michael Bounds.

Veni, vidi, bibi (I came, I saw, I drank).
Veni, vidi, bibi (I came, I saw, I drank).

1.5 ounces bourbon
1 ounce Aperol
.75 ounces blood orange syrup (see below)
Juice from 1/8 lemon

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake with the ferocity of stabbing your mortal enemy, and strain into a chilled glass. Lemon twist garnish optional.

The Ides of March is a nice mix of American (bourbon) and Italian (Aperol). Aperol is a lighter, orange flavored, and easily accessible amaro used in other drinks such as the Part-Time Lover.  The blood orange syrup can be trickier.  There are a number of ways to make it.  I must confess that when I was in the middle of making the syrup, I forgot how Bounds made it, so I improvised.  I used the same method as I use to make glorious grenadine. If you have to use processed blood orange juice for the syrup, see how sweet it is and adjust the proportions as needed.

Unlike Brutus, who betrays Caesar (his recognition of Brutus is what sparks the line "et tu, Brute" ("and you, Brutus?")), the Ides of March will not betray your taste buds or your liver. As Brits like James Bond might say (especially amusing because he has a license to kill -- get it?), cheers!


Orange Is The New Cocktail -- The Orange Satchmo

A photo with a cat and booze?  It's a perfect Internet combination.
A photo with a cat and a colorful cocktail? It's a combination that could break the Internet.

Satchmo is the nickname of the late great musical legend Louis Armstrong.  It's also the name of our tuxedo cat. Neither of them has anything to do with the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black.  In case you're wondering, Satchmo is short for "satchel mouth," Armstrong's childhood nickname.  I learned about the Orange Satchmo in Benny Roff's book Speakeasy. Ms. Cocktail Den got it as a gift from a co-worker.

2 ounces rye
.5 ounces Cointreau or other triple sec
1 dash Peychaud's bitters
Teaspoon of absinthe

Put the absinthe in a chilled glass and swirl it around so you coat the inside of the glass. Discard the remaining absinthe. Place the other ingredients in a shaker with ice, stir with the silky growl of Armstrong's voice, and strain into the glass.  Orange twist garnish optional.

Try to take this drink from Satchmo and you will feel his wrath.
Try to take this drink from Satchmo and you will feel his wrath. Trust me on this.

The Orange Satchmo is a variation of the Sazerac.  The Sazerac is the official cocktail of New Orleans, the city in which Louis Armstrong was born. The Orange Satchmo has a smoother delivery because of the Cointreau (my favorite triple sec, which describes liqueurs derived from bitter oranges) and fewer Peychaud's bitters. If you want to increase the power, use my homemade arancello (orange liqueur) or sanguecello (blood orange liqueur) instead of Cointreau.

I must confess I have a soft spot for Louis Armstrong's music.  For example, Ms. Cocktail Den and I danced to his duet with Ella Fitzgerald (who also had a wonderfully unique voice) of "Dancing Cheek to Cheek" at our wedding. It's a memory I will cherish forever.  Will the Orange Satchmo give you that sort of a fond memory? There's one way to find out.


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!


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!


An Antibiotic Cocktail -- The Penicillin

Just as alcohol can provide temporary relief from some conditions, e.g. sobriety (ha!), antibiotic drugs can cure all sorts of nasty physical conditions. Sam Ross is not a doctor, but he is a legendary New York City bartender who created the Penicillin.  I'm sure Dr. Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin in 1928 (and no relation to Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond novels), would approve.

Penicillin2 ounces blended Scotch (I prefer Monkey Shoulder)
.75 ounces honey syrup
Ginger (see below for options)
Juice from 1/2 lemon
.25 ounces smoky Scotch (I used Laphroaig 10)

Combine everything except the smoky Scotch in a shaker with ice, shake with the force of penicillin destroying bacteria, strain into a chilled glass, then float the smoky Scotch on top (hold a spoon upside down over the glass and pour slowly).  Candied ginger or lemon garnish optional.

You have two options for the ginger.  First, use .75 ounces of a ginger liqueur such as Barrow's Intense (full disclosure -- I am a small investor).  Second, muddle two or three small pieces of fresh ginger in the shaker before adding the other ingredients.  I prefer the first option because Barrow's Intense gives you a strong and consistent ginger taste with slightly less effort.

Speaking of effort, making honey syrup doesn't take much of it. Just follow the recipe I used for A Thief In The Night.  The smoky Scotch, which is a key ingredient in cocktails such as the Fireside Chat, helps bring everything together to make the Penicillin a tasty and warming cocktail.

Penicillin -- it's good for what ails you.


Eyes and Cars -- The Blinker

Your eyes and the turn signal in your car are blinkers.  The Blinker probably has nothing to do with either of them, as the cocktail's origins are unknown.  Patrick Gavin Duffy, a New York City bartender in the late 19th century and pre-Prohibition 20th century, mentioned the Blinker in his 1934 book The Official Mixer's Manual. 75 years later Ted "Dr. Cocktail" Haigh resurrected the Blinker and put his own spin on it.

Blinker2 ounces rye (Bulleit or Rittenhouse won't make you blink)
Juice from 1/8 grapefruit 
.25 ounces glorious grenadine or raspberry syrup

Combine in a shaker with ice, be like the Cars and Shake It Up (1980s music fans like me get it), and strain into a chilled glass.  Lemon peel garnish optional.

The sweetener is the real variable.  The original Blinker uses grenadine, and Haigh's version uses raspberry syrup. I tried the Blinker both ways, and I preferred it with grenadine.  It's simply a matter of taste.  If you want to make your own raspberry syrup, start by making a batch of super simple syrup.  Mash raspberries into the mixture when you remove it from the heat source, then strain the solids out after the mixture cools down. 

The Blinker is a little spicy (because of the rye and grapefruit juice) yet refreshing. The result is very drinkable. If you have too many you'll channel some Blink-182 tunes, forget All The Small Things, and ask What's My Age Again.  If you have one or two you'll channel the Cars tune and let the Good Times Roll.  Blink-182 makes good music, but I grew up with the Cars. Regardless of your taste in rock n'roll, you'll enjoy the Blinker for much longer than a _____ of an eye.