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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.


Drinking Like Ian Fleming

The Aston Martin DB5 -- my favorite Bond car.
The Aston Martin DB5 -- my favorite James Bond car.

During my recent journey to London I had all sorts of James Bond related experiences.  They included a great walking tour courtesy of Brit Movie Tours (the motto of the tour should be "For Bond Geeks And The People Who Love Them"), a fascinating exhibit entitled Bond In Motion at the London Film Museum, and a cocktail at Dukes Hotel bar.

007 doesn't actually live here.
007 doesn't actually live here.

Why Dukes?  Because it was Ian Fleming's favorite watering hole.  Yes, that Ian Fleming, the man who wrote the James Bond novels.  Amusingly, after watching Dr. No (the first movie) he thought the character's adaptation to the silver screen was a disaster.  After 24 (and counting) films in more than 50 years, clearly he was wrong.  

MI6 headquarters (really).
MI6 headquarters (really).

Rumor has it that Fleming coined the iconic phrase "shaken not stirred" for the James Bond martini while imbibing at Dukes.  Dukes has embraced its connection to Fleming and his literary creation, as much of its cocktail menu has a James Bond theme.

Another reason why Dukes might be for your eyes only -- the place makes martinis to die for.  Or live and let die for.  Or give you a license to kill for.  You get the idea.


A Bright Beacon Of Bourbon -- The Kentucky Sunshine

I promised to post two bourbon cocktails this month because September is National Bourbon Heritage Month. So here we go ...... the Kentucky Sunshine comes from Marvin Allen, a respected bartender at the Carousel Bar in New Orleans.  I discovered this drink while reading his book Magic In A Shaker.

I can see clearly now.
I can see clearly now.

2 ounces bourbon (you're using some from Kentucky, right?)
Juice from 1/2 lemon
.5 ounces agave syrup or nectar
1 egg white
3-4 dashes chocolate bitters (I used Bittered Sling)

Combine all the ingredients in a shaker without ice, shake with the energy of a solar flare, add ice, shake again, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Finding agave syrup or nectar shouldn't be hard.  I got some at Trader Joe's.  Finding the bitters could be tough.  They are not indispensable to the drink, but they will enhance it.

Doesn't this combination of ingredients seem bizarre?  I certainly thought so when I read the recipe.  However, having met Marvin Allen, I put my liver in the hands of a cocktail magician.  Regardless of what the weather is really like,  in the words from the Jimmy Cliff tune, once you have this cocktail it will be a bright, bright, bright sunshiny day (now the photo caption makes sense, doesn't it?).


Happy Hour History

Happy Hour. It can be the most wonderful time of the day.  You have no more work (unless you have an unhealthy addiction to your smartphone), a drink in your hand, and the potential for good times.

But when did the concept start?  And how has it evolved over time?  Click here to read an interesting article in a HubSpot marketing blog.   Thanks to my wife, also known as Ms. Wulf Cocktail Den, for seeing the article and sending it to me.

You will learn a lot of interesting facts.  For example, the "happy hour" originated in the U.S. Navy and had nothing to do with drinking.  It wasn't until Prohibition, which brought us great cocktails such as the Scofflaw (as well as the word), that the term became associated with drinking.

Now put your smartphone away and get back to your cocktail.


The $20 Cocktail -- The Place D'Armes

Jackson Square (with St. Louis Cathedral in the background) is a popular spot.
Jackson Square (with St. Louis Cathedral in the background) is a popular spot in New Orleans.

A $20 cocktail?!  Isn't that expensive?  Yes, but it doesn't really cost $20.  So why call it a $20 cocktail?  Because it pertains to Andrew Jackson. Who?  The guy on the $20 bill. Before he became the seventh President of the United States, Jackson was best known for defeating the British at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815.  So why the funky French name?  Because the famous Jackson Square in New Orleans used to be known as the Place D'Armes.

Thanks to Marvin Allen, a great bartender at the legendary Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone (and author of the excellent book Magic in a Shaker) for introducing me to this cocktail.

 

I bet this New Orleans resident likes Ward 8s (look closely).
This New Orleans resident likes Ward 8s (look closely).

1.5 ounces rye whiskey
Juice from 1/8 lemon
Juice from 1/8 lime
Juice from 1/8 orange
,75 ounces glorious grenadine

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake as if you're leading the charge against the British, and strain into a chilled glass.

Even though the Place D'Armes is a year round cocktail, to me it's particularly refreshing during the summer months. The Place D'Armes is similar to the Ward 8.  Both have rye as the base spirit, incorporate citrus juices, and use grenadine as the finishing touch. Who knew there's a vague New Orleans-Boston (or N'awlins-Bahstun) cocktail connection?  You do now.