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Stealthy And Unexpected -- A Thief In The Night

Steal some fun! Commit larceny on your liver!  A Thief In The Night does both.  It has nothing to do with the Bible passage from which the phrase "a thief in the night" comes.  Instead, the A Thief In The Night is a creation from the people at Larceny Bourbon, who also created the Inside Job. Thanks to my bourbon aficionado friend Chuck for mentioning it to me.  I slightly adapted the recipe.

A Thief In The Night2 ounces bourbon
1 ounce Averna
Juice from 1/4 lemon
.5 ounces honey syrup (see below)

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake with the intensity of a burglar's pounding heartbeat, and strain into a chilled glass.

Averna is an excellent Sicilian amaro.  It is becoming easier to get in the United States.  I think it's quite good on its own, and it's a key component of cocktails such as the Lupara, the Amaro Amore, and the Lupo Voodoo.  As a practical matter, the A Thief In The Night essentially is a Midnight Train with honey syrup instead of super simple syrup.

So how do you make the honey syrup?  It's so easy even I can do it.  Heat equal parts water and honey in a saucepan over medium heat, stir until the honey dissolves (the mixture will retain the color), remove from the heat source, and then let the syrup cool to room temperature (wait at least one hour).

After you have A Thief In The Night, some of your liver cells and brain cells will be missing.  Better put their pictures on a milk carton.


Devil In the Details -- The El Diablo

Is it Mexench?  Frexican?  Mexifrenchican?  As the El Diablo combines Mexican tequila with French creme de cassis, these are good questions.  The first mention of the El Diablo occurred in 1946, when it was listed in a Trader Vic's book (Trader Vic's is better known for tiki cocktails).  I adapted this recipe from one I found in Imbibe magazine.

El Diablo2 ounces resposado tequila (I like Herradura)
2/3 ounce creme de cassis (use one made in France)
Juice from 1/2 lime
2-3 ounces ginger beer (non alcoholic)

Combine all of the ingredients except the ginger beer into a shaker, shake as if you're possessed by you know who, strain into a chilled glass, and top with the ginger beer.

The details of the El Diablo are important.  Using reposado tequila, which is aged between two months and one year, gives you a subtly robust counterpoint to the slightly sweet creme de cassis.  You'll find creme de cassis, a blackcurrant liqueur, in other cocktails such as the Bourbon Renaissance.  The lime juice and ginger beer add a little spicy punch. You can drink the El Diablo while reading Dante's Inferno (a powerful book), listening to Sympathy For the Devil by the Rolling Stones or Devil With A Blue Dress On by Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels (both are great songs), and/or watching the Duke University Blue Devils (I am one).

If you believe in the afterlife, when the time comes I will have a seat on the express train to hell.  Find me in the bar car.


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'm 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'.


Great Scot! -- The Bobby Burns

Robert Burns was an 18th century Scottish poet and a big deal in the Romantic movement.  Even if you're like me and don't know much about poetry, you probably have heard his most famous poem -- Auld Lang Syne.  It's the song everyone massacres on New Year's Eve because they don't know the  words and/or have had too many cocktails (the title roughly translates as "days gone by" or "old times"). 

2 ounces scotch (I used Monkey Shoulder)
1 ounce sweet vermouth (I love Carpano Antica)
.5 ounces Benedictine

Combine in a shaker with ice, stir with the grace and passion of creating your own liquid poetry, and strain into a chilled glass.

Combining these ingredients may look odd, but they complement each other nicely.  You can adjust the ratios depending on the taste of the scotch you use, or how sweet you want the drink to be.  I suggest scotch constitute at least half of the Bobby Burns.

The Bobby Burns is one of many Scottish things and/or people that I like.  Others include the actor Sean Connery and bagpipe music.  Yes, bagpipe music.   If hearing a bagpipe rendition of Amazing Grace (click on the above link) doesn't move you, you have no soul.

Whether your cultural tastes run towards Robert Burns from Scotland or Montgomery Burns from The Simpsons, you'll like the Bobby Burns.  But unless you have Scottish blood in you, please don't start singing Auld Lang Syne.


Southpaws and Mobsters -- The Left Hand

The Left Hand honors Lefty Ruggiero, a key character in the underrated crime movie Donnie Brasco.  Johnny Depp stars as an undercover FBI agent who, known as the movie's titular character, infiltrates a New York City mob family.  Al Pacino plays Ruggiero, a mobster who unwittingly acts as a conduit for Brasco.  I discovered this drink in Scott Deitche's book Cocktail Noir.

Left Hand2 ounces bourbon
.75 ounces sweet vermouth (I recommend Carpano Antica)
.75 ounces Campari
2 dashes chocolate or mole bitters

Combine in a shaker with ice, stir with the coolness of being among made men without being made as a rat, and strain into a chilled glass.

The Left Hand is a Boulevardier with chocolate or mole bitters.  The original uses mole bitters.  I know chocolate and mole are not exactly the same thing, but you're not going to go wrong with either one.

Donnie Brasco is very good at the depicting the tension and strain of operating as an undercover agent.  This scene is an example.   For movies with a similar theme, I highly recommend The Departed and Infernal Affairs, the Hong Kong movie upon which The Departed is based.

So what does the word "southpaw" have to do with this cocktail?  Southpaw is slang for a left hand.  The etymological origin of the word is hazy.  A prevailing theory is that the term originated in the 19th century.  At the time some baseball diamonds were laid out so home plate was on the west side (this kept the sun out of the batter's eyes), so a left handed pitcher's arm would hang south.  This means a left handed pitcher would use his "south paw."  For an entertaining cinematic soliloquy, watch Rocky Balboa explain it to Adrian (click here).

Even if you don't care about southpaws or mobsters, the Left Hand is a fine cocktail.  Capisce?

 


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!


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!


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.