Gin Feed

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.


Aqua What? -- Aquavit

AquavitAquavit isn't some fancy new flavored water. Derived from the Latin for "water of life" (just like whiskey means "water of life" in Gaelic), aquavit is a Scandinavian liquor that's becoming increasingly popular outside of Northern Europe, both on its own and in cocktails. Like vodka, aquavit is distilled from either grain or potato and then, like gin, it is flavored with spices and botanicals.  So what distinguishes aquavit?  Under European Union regulations, the predominant spice in aquavit has to be caraway or dill, and it must be at least 75 proof.  Do you like rye bread?  If you do (like me and Ms. Cocktail Den), you'll probably like aquavit.

Almost all aquavit currently on the market comes out of the Scandinavian countries -- Denmark, Sweden, and Norway.  There are some general national differences in aquavit styles.  Denmark and Sweden typically distill from grains, while Norway typically distills from potatoes. Aquavit can be relatively unaged and clear, e.g. Aalborg from Denmark, or aged and darker, e.g. Linie from Norway. As with other spirits such as rum and tequila, aging aquavit changes the flavor. Traditionally one drinks aquavit on its own. I had the opportunity to try different types when I was in Denmark and Sweden.  I enjoyed a couple of types of chilled  aquavit, and I found it goes great with herring (if you think that sounds disgusting, Ms. Cocktail Den agrees with you).

So why you should care about aquavit? Because it's a fascinating substitute for vodka, gin, and even whiskey in various cocktails.  Depending on your perspective, to some extent aquavit (also spelled akavit) is like vodka or gin that's flavored with caraway or dill. Try switching aquavit in for another spirit and see what happens. Sköl!


A Sesame Street Cocktail -- The Negroni

The Negroni is a quintessential classic cocktail. What does it have to do with Sesame Street, the popular long running American educational television show for kids? As a proud Sesame Street "graduate," I can tell you the Count was one of my favorite characters on the show. The Negroni's history also involves a Count. In 1919 Count Camillo Negroni, an Italian nobleman (unlike the Count, he was not modeled off of Bela Lugosi's interpretation of Count Dracula in the movies) asked Franco Scarselli, his bartender, to strengthen his favorite cocktail.  The result became famous around the world.

Negroni1 ounce gin (I used the Botanist)
1 ounce Campari
1 ounce sweet vermouth (ciao Carpano Antica)

Combine in a shaker with ice, stir with Italian flair and grace (or the Count's deliberate cadence), and strain into a chilled glass or a glass with ice. Orange peel garnish optional.

The Negroni is a great gateway cocktail for people who haven't experienced gin or an amaro (bitter liqueur).  Campari, an indispensable ingredient, is a widely available amaro with a vague orange taste. One of the great features of the traditional Negroni is how easy it is to make.  Three ingredients, equal proportions. If you like one ingredient more than the others, you always can adjust the ratio. Although in modern times one typically serves the Negroni in a rocks glass, at the time of its creation it's more likely one would serve it in a smaller, more delicate glass. Unfortunately for Scarselli, Negroni got the credit.

The Negroni lends itself to all sorts of variations.  Substitute bourbon for the gin?  Now you have a Boulevardier.  Reduce and switch the Campari for Fernet Branca?  Now you have a Hanky Panky.  The cocktail can be like what I imagine the Count (the one from Florence, not Sesame Street) was like in real life -- sophisticated, elegant, and powerful.

So how many Negronis will you have? Start counting like the Count from Sesame Street ... one ... two ... ha ha ha ha.


A Cocktail Of Valor -- The Don't Give Up The Ship

You're outnumbered, outgunned, and dying.  What do you do?  If you were Captain James Lawrence of the USS Chesapeake, you give one final order -- don't give up the ship. This episode during the War of 1812 became a rallying cry for the United States Navy.  While the history behind the phrase is clear, the history of the drink is not.  It first appeared in a 1941 cocktail guide, then remained dormant until it resurfaced on the Seattle and New York City cocktail scenes more than 60 years later. 

Don't Give Up The Ship 21.5 ounces gin (I like the Botanist)
.5 ounces Cointreau
.5 ounces sweet vermouth (hello Carpano Antica)
.5 ounces Fernet Branca
1 dash orange bitters (I like Embitterment)

Combine in a shaker with ice, stir with the steely determination of a true leader, and strain into a chilled glass. Orange peel garnish optional.

All of the flavors in the Don't Give Up The Ship, which sort of expands on a Hanky Panky, work really well together. Even though it's all alcohol, it's not overpowering. Use Cointreau (my favorite triple sec) because it has a cleaner orange taste. There are a few versions of the Don't Give Up The Ship, but I like this one for a couple of reasons.  First, the proportions are pretty easy to remember. Second, the result is a well balanced cocktail -- a little sweet, a little sharp, and definitely unforgettable.

If you're going to give up some of your liver cells ... just Don't Give Up The Ship.


The Magnificent Seven Of Cocktails

The Magnificent Seven (the original starring Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen; I haven't seen the remake with Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt) is my favorite Western movie.  Everyone who loves movies should know about this film.   Carrie Allan, a cocktail columnist for the Washington Post, just wrote a great article about the 7 essential cocktails every drinker should know how to make.  Carrie is smart and hilarious, and my wife and I had the pleasure of meeting her at the Tales of the Cocktail conference in 2016.  She surveyed a number of acquaintances (full disclosure -- I participated in the survey) about classic cocktails before distilling (pun intended) the responses.

So what are these Magnificent Seven cocktails?  The Martini, Manhattan, Negroni, Old-Fashioned, Daiquiri, Margarita, and Gin and Tonic.   In addition, the article has links to related cocktails, e.g. the Sazerac and Hemingway Daiquiri.

All of these drinks are classics for good reason.  That doesn't mean you have to like all of them.  But if you're not familiar with some of them, try them.  You might be in for a pleasant surprise.       

To paraphrase Steve McQueen's character in The Magnificent Seven -- we deal in cocktails friend.


"The Best (And Sort Of Anti-Nazi)" Drink -- The Bee's Knees

The phrase "bee's knees" was Prohibition era slang for "the best."  So how is this simple cocktail anti-Nazi?  Frank Meier, the creator of the modern Bee's Knees, was the head bartender at what is now Bar Hemingway in the Ritz Hotel in Paris.  He included the drink in his 1936 book "The Artistry of Mixing Drinks."  During World War II Meier was a French Resistance operative, undermining the efforts of the high ranking Nazis who patronized his bar.  In this respect Meier was much like Felix Kir, who created the eponymous Kir.  Gives new meaning to the phrase "liquid courage," doesn't it?

Bee's Knees (edited)2 ounces gin (I used the Botanist)
Juice from 1/2 lemon
.75 ounces honey syrup (see below)

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake with the confidence of being the best at something, and strain into a chilled glass (preferably coupe).  Lemon peel garnish optional.

Making honey syrup is so easy even I can do it (see A Thief In The Night). You may want to adjust the amount of syrup depending on the type of honey.  When I made the Bee's Knees I happened to use buckwheat honey syrup, which has a richer taste than regular honey (it's also why the drink in the photo is darker than a typical Bee's Knees).

It's not clear who originally created the Bee's Knees, which in a way is similar to a gin based version of a Whiskey Sour.  San Francisco bartender Bill Boothby referred to it in his 1934 book "World Drinks and How to Make Them."  However, his version also contained orange juice.  I prefer Meier's take on the Bee's Knees. It doesn't overpower the cocktail with citric acidity.  More importantly -- it's tasty and refreshing.

You want to be the best?  You want to be anti-Nazi?  Then have a Bee's Knees.


Getting It In -- The Last Word

You want to have the Last Word?  Of course you do.  Now you can have it in a conversation and in a cocktail. Although many sources refer to the Last Word as a Prohibition era cocktail, it actually predates Prohibition (it appeared on a drink menu in Detroit no later than 1916, and Prohibition began in 1919).  Interestingly, its creator was not a bartender.  Frank Fogarty was a popular vaudeville stand up comedian, so maybe the name of the cocktail was linked to his occupation.

Last Word.75 ounces gin (I used The Botanist)
.75 ounces green Chartreuse
.75 ounces Luxardo maraschino liqueur
Juice from 1/2 lime

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake with the energy of a stand up comedian working the crowd, and strain into a chilled glass.  Lime garnish optional.

The Last Word is refreshing yet potent.  A lot of its potency is due to the green Chartreuse, an herbal liqueur from France.  There are two types -- green and yellow.  The green version is higher proof and has a tart flavor, and the yellow version is lower proof (but still quite strong) and a little sweet.  You'd think combining green Chartreuse with fresh lime juice and gin would make the Last Word overpowering.  That's why you bring in the maraschino liqueur.

Good thing the Last Word came back into the limelight (pun intended) about 10 years ago.  Now you have a great way to start, continue, and end your cocktail "conversation."   

 


Liquid And Precious -- The Reston Pearl

Pearls adorn the necks and wrists of classy ladies around the world.  One evening two classy ladies (Ms. Wulf Cocktail Den and our friend Sonia), one fine gentleman (our friend Joel, who is Sonia's husband), and I (definitely not a lady and occasionally a gentleman) went into the Den to create a new gin based cocktail.  After experimenting with various gins, fruits, vegetables, and bitters, the Reston Pearl is the result of our very fun efforts.

Reston Pearl2 ounces gin (we used the Botanist)
.5 ounces honey syrup
4-5 small cucumber chunks
2 dashes Lem-Marrakech bitters from Bittered Sling

Muddle the cucumber and gin at the bottom of a shaker, add ice and the other ingredients, stir with the subtle strength of a pearl diver, and strain into a chilled glass.

You're probably wondering about the name.  Seems pretty random, doesn't it?  You'd be correct, except Sonia and Joel live in Reston, Virginia, and "Pearl" was Sonia's nickname when she was a girl.  

The gin and cucumber give the Reston Pearl a crisp taste, the honey syrup adds a little sweetness, and the bitters bring in a hint of tartness. Although the muddling process is the same as with a Mint Julep, you can use a little more force with cucumber than you would with mint.   The honey syrup isn't hard to make, and if you have any left over you can use it in a Cool Summer Breeze or A Thief In The Night.  If you can't get the specific bitters from Bittered Sling, another citrus flavor, e.g. orange, will work well.

So when will the Reston Pearl adorn your taste buds?


A Tropical Tonic -- The Cocogin

Ready for an oddly refreshing clear and crisp cocktail?  Ready to expand your cocktail horizons? Of course you are.   The Cocogin is more or less exactly what it sounds like -- two of the three ingredients are in the name.  Pairing coconut water with something other than rum seems unusual, but this combination really works.

HawaiiSunset22 ounces gin (I used The Botanist)
1.5 ounces coconut water
.5 ounces super simple syrup

Combine in a shaker with ice, stir with the deceptively precise motion of an ocean tide, and strain into a chilled glass.

I'm not a fan of gin, but in recent years friendly bartenders have introduced me to some that I like in cocktails.  For the Cocogin I suggest using a gin that doesn't, to put it not so delicately, taste like you're sucking on a pine cone.

The Cocogin essentially is a riff off of the In The Dominican. I wanted to make something with coconut water, and the gin happened to be in closer proximity than the dark rum.  So enjoy the fruits of my laziness and experimentation, and make yourself a Cocogin.


Misbehaving And Messing Around -- The Hanky Panky

Tasting some forbidden fruit?  Thinking about doing something you probably shouldn't?  Regardless of the answers, the Hanky Panky might be for you.  The term dates back to the mid 19th century, and the cocktail is from the 1920s. Ada Coleman, a bartender at the American Bar at  the Savoy Hotel in London (it is brilliant in the British sense of the word -- see London Calling), created it for one of her loyal patrons.

Hanky Panky1.5 ounces dry gin (I used The Botanist)
1.5 ounces sweet vermouth (I love Carpano Antica)
2 dashes Fernet Branca

Combine in a shaker with ice, stir with the desire ignited when engaging in some you know what, and strain into a chilled glass.  Orange peel garnish optional.

The Hanky Panky has the distinction of being the first gin cocktail in the Den.  I've discovered a couple of gins I like in that they don't taste like a pine cone.  The sweet vermouth and Fernet Branca act as counterpoints to the gin, so the result is a nicely balanced drink.

Modern definitions vary slightly, but the term frequently arises (pun intended) in a sexual context, e.g. the 1966 song "Hanky Panky" by Tommy James and the Shondells.  You may notice a recurring theme with certain cocktails in the Den, e.g.  the Hanky Panky, the Between the Sheets, the Passion, and the Intense Ginger Sutra.  Infer as you like.