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Not What You Think Drink -- The Diamondback

Does the word "diamondback" conjure visions of the deadly snake? Do you channel your inner Indiana Jones ("I hate snakes") and shudder? A drink based on a venomous snake gives you good reason to hesitate. The Diamondback is based on the markedly less venomous turtle. The diamondback terrapin is the official reptile of the state of Maryland.  The Diamondback, which first appeared in 1951 in Ted Saucier's book Bottoms Up (not to be confused with the Van Halen song), was named for the Diamondback Lounge in the Lord Baltimore Hotel.

Diamondback1.5 ounces rye
.75 ounces apple brandy or applejack
.75 ounces yellow Chartreuse

Combine in a shaker or mixing glass with ice, stir with a turtle's deliberate pace, and strain into a chilled glass. Luxardo cherry garnish optional.

Use whichever rye you like. As we learned in Comparing Apples to Apples, the modern difference between apple brandy and applejack is the latter is a blend of apple brandy (35%) and grain neutral spirits (65%). Most recipes today call for applejack, but if you want to be historically accurate use apple brandy.  Modern applejack didn't exist until 1968, so when Saucier wrote about the Diamondback bartenders would have used apple brandy. Also, apple brandy gives the Diamondback a more pronounced apple flavor.

Many modern recipes of the Diamondback use green Chartreuse (110 proof) instead of the slightly sweeter yellow Chartreuse (80 proof).  Stick with the original. Ms. Cocktail Den and I tried both versions, and the one with yellow Chartreuse was the clear winner for us.  It gives you a balanced cocktail with subtle hints of spice, apple, and sweet. Using green Chartreuse, a component of classic drinks such as the Last Word, overpowers everything else.

Considering its high proof spirits, the Diamondback does have a bite. Even though it has a sharper taste than similar cocktails such as a Widow's Kiss (a base of apple brandy and yellow Chartreuse) and the American Apple (a base of rye and apple brandy), the Diamondback is a very satisfying drink.

So if you root for the Arizona Diamondbacks, the University of Maryland Terrapins, both, or neither, everyone can be a fan of the Diamondback cocktail.


A Tempting Drink -- The Almost Red Lips Rye

Red lips can signify temptation, power, or seduction.  Scott Harris, a founder of Catoctin Creek distillery in my home state of Virginia, based the Almost Red Lips Rye on a drink in the cocktail book at the legendary American Bar. The bar is located in the high class Savoy Hotel in London. Even though Ms. Cocktail Den and I are not high class, we had drinks there when we heard London Calling. The people at the bar (the birthplace of the Hanky Panky) make great drinks, and Harris, whose distillery produces top notch spirits, made a great one here.

Almost Red Lips Rye2 ounces rye (Harris used Roundstone)
1 ounce port wine
1/3 ounce mirtillocello or Chambord or Cherry Heering
1/3 ounce aquavit
1/3 ounce Aperol or Campari
2 dashes Peychaud's bitters

Combine in a shaker with ice, stir with a sultry air, and strain into a chilled glass.

The Almost Red Lips Rye has a lot of ingredients, so you can manipulate them to suit your tastes and whatever is in your bar.  There are three variables that have an outsize impact on the cocktail.  Port, the first one, is the one about which I know the least. It's basically a fortified red wine that's sort of sweet and comes in either a ruby or tawny style. There are many books and blogs about port, so you may want to check them out for more information.

The second variable is the fruit liqueur.  It boils down to this -- do you prefer blueberry (mirtillocello), raspberry (Chambord), or cherry (Heering)?  Keep in mind there's a wide range in proofs of these three different liqueurs. The third big variable is the amari -- Aperol or Campari.  The difference isn't in the proofs, but the taste. Aperol, which you use in drinks such as the Naked and Famous and the Ides of March, has a lighter orange taste than Campari, which you use in drinks such as the Cancer Killer #1 and the Scandinavian Suntan. You're not going to wrong with any combination of the Almost Red Lips Rye, but one using a ruby port, Chambord, and Aperol is going to taste a lot different than one using a tawny port, Cherry Heering, and Campari. 

Is the Almost Red Lips Rye more complex than most drinks in the Den?  Yes.  Is the extra effort worth it?  Yes.  Are you tempted?


A New All American Drink -- The E Pluribus Unum

E pluribus unum is Latin for "out of many one." It is the original national motto of the United States of America. These unfortunately politically polarizing times give me another reason to continue my tradition of creating a new cocktail for the new year. The E Pluribus Unum is my liquid hope of cherishing and preserving what unites us.

E Pluribus Unum2 ounces bourbon
.75 ounces Grand Marnier
.25 ounces Luxardo maraschino liqueur
2 dashes chocolate bitters (I recommend Embitterment)
1 dash aromatic or Angostura bitters

Combine in a mixing glass or shaker with ice, stir with harmonious blending (as opposed to the violent agitation of shaking; I deliberately wanted a stirred drink here), and strain into a chilled glass.  Luxardo or amarena cherry garnish optional.

Bourbon is legally an American spirit, so it is a natural base for the E Pluribus Unum.  Grand Marnier honors France's role in the creation of the United States. You can use other orange liqueurs such as Cointreau (a key component in the thematically related RWB and other drinks such as the Syncopation), but Grand Marnier does a better job of uniting (see what I did there?) everything.  Why is Luxardo maraschino liqueur in the mix?  Because it adds a hint of nutty sweetness to the E Pluribus Unum, and its Italian roots pay homage to the Latin phrase. Chocolate bitters put a nice touch on the drink, and they are easy to find online. Angostura or aromatic bitters are everywhere.  Unlike other drinks with the same name that seem way too sweet, my E Pluribus Unum is just sweet enough and is definitely strong enough to represent the United States.

Do you want to be a liquid patriot?  Then have a E Pluribus Unum.


Frank and Jack -- A Relationship Of American Icons

Frank and JackFrank as in the late Frank Sinatra, the Chairman of the Board, an iconic American singer. Jack as in Jack Daniel's, the black label Old No. 7, an iconic American whiskey. As Sarah Feldberg explains in this article on the Tales of the Cocktail website, Sinatra's on stage endorsements beginning in 1955 caused Jack Daniel's to go from being a regional player to a global powerhouse.

If you want to emulate how Sinatra drank his Jack Daniel's, just remember 3,2,1 -- three rocks, two fingers of whiskey, one splash of water. In the mood for a cocktail?  Go New Jersey with a Newark (Sinatra was born and raised in New Jersey), go New York with a Manhattan or a Brooklyn, or go with an eponymous drink.

With all of these ways to celebrate Frank Sinatra on his birthday (December 12) or any other day, what do you do? To paraphrase a line from one of his most famous songs, just drink it your way.


Intercontinental Smoke -- The East-West Magic

Where there's smoke, there's fire. Or in the case of the East-West Magic, where there's a bit of smoke, there's an exquisite and earthy cocktail. Cheongsam is an American company that hand makes unique tea liqueurs in China from locally sourced tea. Ms. Cocktail Den and I met the people behind Cheongsam at the Tales of the Cocktail conference this year, and after trying the liqueurs we were dying to conduct some experiments with them. The East-West Magic is an original creation incorporating some smoke from Cheongsam's Smokey Mist liqueur (the East) and Scotch (the West).

East-West Magic1.5 ounces Scotch (see below)
.75 ounces Cheongsam Smokey Mist liqueur
Juice from 1/4 lemon
3 dashes cardamom bitters

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake with the initial jolt of seeing smoke even when you're expecting it, and strain into a chilled glass.

The East-West Magic has some unusual ingredients that might be hard to find.  Reward yourself and find them. You can get all of them online. While the Smokey Mist liqueur is a critical part of the East-West Magic, don't overlook the Scotch.  Use one with a little smoky undertone, but not too much (I used Highland Park 12). If the Scotch is too smoky or peaty you'll miss the subtle joy of the Cheongsam liqueur. If you like the East-West Magic, you might like the Penicillin (or my tequila and mezcal based spin on it, the Mexicillin), or an even smokier drink such as the Fireside Chat. The cardamom bitters give the East-West Magic some liquid nuance.

As you savor this cocktail, it's ok to channel the popular 1980s tune from the Cars (mentioned in the Blinker) and sing --uh oh, it's East-West Magic.


An Ode To Irish Cocktail Joy -- The Good Cork

Ms. Cocktail Den had a business trip to Cork, a small city in southwest Ireland, and I shamelessly tagged along. I had a wonderful experience playing the Ode to Joy from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony (you know this great tune, just Google it) on the Shandon Bells in St. Anne's Church. The Good Cork, a creation from Phil Ward in New York City, is much younger than the Shandon Bells, and it evokes fond memories of my brief time in Cork.

Good Cork1 ounce Irish whiskey
1 ounce mezcal
.5 ounces Benedictine DOM
2 dashes Peychaud's bitters

Combine in a shaker with ice, stir with stereotypical Irish liveliness, and strain into a chilled glass.

Irish whiskey and mezcal (tequila's smokier cousin)?  It works. The Renegade has a similar pairing (bourbon and mezcal) of spice and smoke, and like that drink, the Good Cork is spirit forward. The original calls for Redbreast 12, which is a fine whiskey.  I merely suggest using one of the many whiskies from the New Midleton distillery (the subject of Sine Metu), which is near Cork. Benedictine, an herbal liqueur you use in drinks such as the Racketeer and Widow's Kiss, is flexible enough so that it pulls everything together.

Looking for something unusual, tasty, and strong?  The Good Cork joyously delivers.


A Drink for Iron Man -- The Stark

In the superhero universe Tony Stark is Iron Man.  Played by Robert Downey, Jr. in the eponymous movies and the Avengers movies, Tony Stark combines technological genius with style and a devil may care attitude. The Stark cocktail has nothing to do with Iron Man, at least not that I've found. I discovered it on the Cocktail Detour site. Fortunately you don't need to be a genius to make it.

Stark1.5 ounces bourbon
.75 ounces yellow Chartreuse
.5 ounces honey syrup
Juice from 1/4 lemon
Angostura bitters

Combine everything except the bitters in a shaker, shake like you're Iron Man hurtling through the sky (or you're competing in an Ironman triathlon), strain into a chilled glass, and add the bitters on top.

The Stark is a nice combination of boozy, sweet, and sour tastes.  The bourbon brings the booze, the yellow Chartreuse (which you'll see in drinks such as the Naked and Famous and the Renegade) brings the booze and a little bit of sweet, the honey syrup (which you'll see in drinks such as the Mexicillin and A Thief In The Night) adds a little more sweet, and the fresh lemon juice (you are using fresh juice, right?) brings just enough sour.

Even though I am not a big fan of comic book movies (Ms. Cocktail Den is), I do like many of them.  Similarly, even though Iron Man is not my favorite Avenger (Captain America is, see the Whiskey Smash), I do like his character. Like its unintended namesake, the Stark is a combination of cocktail genius, style, and attitude.


A Wealthy Drink -- The Millionaire

Who wants to drink a Millionaire? There's more than one. The Millionaire is a group of drinks that came around before and during Prohibition.  Just like other cocktail groups with the same name, e.g. the Corpse Reviver #1, the different Millionaire numbers have different base spirits and recipes.  However, there's no clear consensus about which number corresponds to which base spirit.  Here are two variations of the rye based Millionaire.

MillionaireThe first million:

2 ounces rye
.75 ounces Cointreau
.5 ounces glorious grenadine
1 egg white

The next million:

The first million
.25 ounces absinthe
Juice from 1/8 lemon

Whether you're making your first million or your next million, combine everything except the egg white in a shaker with ice, shake with the thrill of winning the lottery, strain everything into a glass, toss the ice from the shaker, pour the contents of the glass back into the shaker, add the egg white, shake as if your stock portfolio quadrupled in value overnight, and strain into a separate chilled glass.

The Millionaire (first million) has an appropriately rich taste.  This is due to the froth of the egg white, and the sweetness of the grenadine and Cointreau (or some other triple sec). Make this one if you and/or your favorite millionaire like drinks a little bit on the sweet side. With the next million the Millionaire develops a subtly sharp undertone. While I've used absinthe to coat the glass for a Sazerac, this is the first time I mixed it directly into a cocktail.  It works well.

While the Millionaire won't cost the same as Dr. Evil's initial extortion attempt in the first Austin Powers movie, after one or two of them, you'll definitely feel like a millionaire.


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.


Tales of Grain and Suggestion

Grain and suggestion are not words you usually see in the same sentence. They were the subjects of an interesting seminar Ms. Cocktail Den and I attended during our fabulous time at the recent Tales on Tour in Edinburgh. The presenters at the seminar, titled "Against The Grain," were Davin de Kergommeaux, an acclaimed Canadian whiskey expert and author, and Kevin Vollebregt, the senior brand ambassador for Libbey, a glassware company. Our conversations with them after the seminar exemplified some of the nice features of Tales of the Cocktail and the global cocktail community in general -- they were very approachable and more than happy to share their knowledge.

It's all the same whiskey ... or is it?
This whiskey all tastes the same ... or does it?

Some of the seminar focused on the science of grains and how they become whiskey. Even someone as science-challenged as me was able to follow along and retain some facts. For example, each of the four grains used in whiskies (corn, barley, rye, wheat) have different primary flavors (creamy, nutty, salty, bread), and pulling whiskey off a still at high proof causes it to lose a lot of its flavors. If you want to read more about the whiskey making process, you can go to past posts such as What's In Your Bourbon?, as well as numerous other resources.

Courtesy of Davin de Kergommeaux and Kevin Vollebregt.
Image courtesy of Davin de Kergommeaux and Kevin Vollebregt.

The fascinating part of the seminar pertained to the power of suggestion. Illustrating their point, Davin and Kevin had everyone taste the same whiskies in different glasses. Did they taste the same? No. Your brain activity will be a huge influence on your drinking experiences. You're not just tasting a drink with your mouth and nose.  You're combining all of your senses, your past memories and experiences, and other variables.

I know this stuff sounds basic, but did you ever really stop and think about it?  For example, if you recoil at the mere mention of a classic cocktail such as a Whiskey Sour or a Margarita, ask yourself why.  Was it too strong, too sweet, too sour? Maybe it was.  Or was it the context surrounding the drink, e.g. the glass in which it was served, your mood, etc.?

For me the important takeaway from Davin and Kevin's seminar is simple -- open your mind. Be receptive to new flavors, new experiences, and new influences. Consider reframing and reclaiming your past bad cocktail experiences. Whether it's the proportions of the drink, the glass in which you drink it, or the music that's playing in the background, the resulting experience could be profoundly different and positive. Cheers!