Last Night’s Drink – Martini – (St. George Terroir)

Martini (St. George Terroir)
Martini (St. George Terroir)

When QDP answered, “Why don’t you make that piney gin you like so much.” I had the bottles and a pitcher out before he could change his mind.

I bought the St. George Terroir last year along with their St. George Rye gin to sample as part of our interest in New Western gins. The Terroir intrigued me with its list of botanicals: Douglas fir, coastal sage, bay laurel and others. These are all flavor profiles I’m drawn to when looking for recipes to cook so I was excited to try it.

When I made the first one I was in heaven. It was exactly what I wanted, unlike the gin I purchased that said Spruce was one of its botanicals but I was hard pressed to detect it. Not so the Terroir. Its Martini had an actual scent where most Martinis lack much smell (at least for me) and it was full and foresty and outdoorsy. The experience of the first sip was like nothing I’d ever experienced when having a Martini. It was like taking a bite out of the forest – and that’s a good thing. It was big and fresh and savory and filled my entire taste and smell and I loved it. QDP? Let’s just say he was less enthusiastic and whenever I wanted a Terroir Martini I would have to get out two pitchers.

Martini (St. George Terroir)

3 oz Terroir gin
1/2 oz dry vermouth

Stir and garnish with olive.

The Terroir is one of my absolute favorite New Western gins. Honestly it’s not something that I’d want to drink every day, but then I never want to drink anything every day. It’s just one of those bottles that when I reach for it I know I’m in for an amazing Martini. However, this may be a case in which more vermouth might be better to tame some of that big foresty flavor. I think my next try will be a 3:1 or even a 2:1 and see what happens.

So when QDP asked to revisit the Terroir I was thrilled and praying I wouldn’t have to get out two pitchers when I wanted to use it. His verdict? He said he was coming around and appreciating the complexity more this time, which is a big leap forward from his original reaction. Terroir will never replace his favorite I’m afraid, but at least I don’t have to clean extra barware anymore.

Last Night’s Drink – Strawberry Basil Gin & Tonic

Strawberry Basil Gin & Tonic
Strawberry Basil Gin & Tonic

When QDP starts criticizing the choice of glassware I know he’s straining to do some complaining.

We were coming back from an afternoon out and I’d been semi-obsessed with this blog post I had read a few days ago so I suggested a late afternoon cocktail. Sometimes I’m in the mood to go that very extra long mile for a drink and this was one of those times. A quick stop for a pint of strawberries, basil and tonic water and we were back home by three. Just enough time to make the strawberry mixture and put together the drinks while it was still late afternoon.

Strawberries
Sliced strawberries, sugar, balsamic and pepper

QDP had already made rumblings about not being in the mood for a strawberry drink but I was determined to make this happen so like a dog with a bone I wouldn’t let him near the kitchen and kept moving forward. I put everything together as directed and before I knew it had the strawberry mixture ready for the cocktails. OK, so I had to wait 15 minutes for the strawberries to macerate and putting that mixture through a fine sieve would have tried the patience of a saint, but in the end it got made.

Gin and Strawberry Mixture
Gin and Strawberry Mixture

Putting it together was no more difficult than making a standard G&T. I did make one modification to CozyKitchen’s instructions by putting a splash of tonic water in with the basil when I muddled it.

Strawberry Basil Gin & Tonic

2 oz gin (your choice)
2-3 tbs strawberry mixture*
Basil – good amount in each glass
Tonic water

Place basil in the bottom of each glass. Add a splash of tonic and muddle. Fill with ice. Pour 2 oz gin, 3 tbs strawberry mixture, and top with tonic water (not too much, a little over a splash should do). Stir gently and garnish with basil top.

I thought this drink was excellent and the perfect choice for a late afternoon cocktail. The strawberry and sweetness were both subtle which made it all the more enjoyable. Too often when fruit and sugar are used in a cocktail it’s to mask flavors and not enhance them. The addition of the salt, pepper and balsamic vinegar to the strawberry mixture more than enhanced the flavor of the strawberries and gin. Overall it’s a very well balanced cocktail which if I received in a bar I would be extremely happy with. A big thank you to ACozyKitchen for the recipe.

A note on the gin. Since I had so much strawberry mixture I ended up making two of these. The first I made with Gordon’s and the second with St. George Rye Gin. Both were very good. The difference in flavor was significant, however. The Gordon’s has that classic yet forceful juniper flavor which pairs so well with tonic, and very well in this drink overall. It was simply delicious. The St. George Rye added a dimension of flavor that was surprising at first (it was second), but I found very flavorful and worthwhile. With the St. George the drink was more assertive and demanded attention.

Would I want to make it at home again? Let’s just say I don’t need to go that extra mile for a cocktail anytime soon. But I would happily make this for guests.

As for QDP and his glassware complaint, he said “It’s good. But I don’t really like it in this glass. I’d prefer something clear.” Which means, “I really like this drink, too.”

*Strawberry mixture – Slice and hull a pint of strawberries in a bowl. Add a scant 1/2 cup sugar, pinch of sea salt, 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground pepper, and 1 tbs balsamic vinegar. Let sit for 15 min. Throw all of that in a blender and pulse until it’s pureed. Put that through a fin sieve. Pushing with a spatula helps to run it through faster. Letting it sit would take hours. Done!

Last Night’s Drink – Martini (Martin Miller’s)

Martin Miller Martini 2
Martin Miller’s Martini
(yes I use lots of olives)

When QDP and I started making cocktails at home over a decade ago the Martini was simply out of our comfort zone. The first one I made was out of Harrington’s Cocktail Bible, a 6:1 proportion that almost made me choke. Good ingredients, fresh vermouth, ice cold but the taste was way too sharp for us and it got relegated to the bottom of the list. The same thing happened with the Manhattan at the time which was another 6:1 concoction out of Harrington’s book. At the time, I treated his book like an actual Bible. All instruction adhered to without question. Of course eventually I started to loosen up and with some encouragement from a local bartender realized that I could make my cocktails any way I wanted.

Back to the Martini. That 6:1 proportion was simply too sharp for us. The juniper flavor, that polarizing botanical that makes people either love or hate London Dry gin, was just a beast at that ratio. We were using Gordon’s which is a fine classic gin (our workhorse) but it was overpowering the only other ingredients in the pitcher – water and vermouth. By adjusting the proportion to 4:1 I was able to balance the flavors to our liking and get a drink that I later described as the finest alcohol delivery system on earth.

It was about this time that gin production started to diversify beyond the big brands and smaller producers began to make super premium gin. Martin Miller’s as chance would have it was one of the first and has become one of our favorites of this “New Western” style gin (there’s some law or other protecting the use of the phrase “London Dry” so they can’t call it that). And with these new gins came ample opportunities to try out my new flexible attitude toward cocktails.

Martin Miller’s Martini

3 oz Martin Miller’s
1/2 oz dry vermouth

Stir. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with whatever you want. I prefer a classic pimiento stuffed olive that isn’t the size of a golf ball – and yes, 3 of them. Pearls is an excellent brand. And I’ve been known to rub a lemon twist on the rim as well.

This is that 6:1 proportion that Harrington had in his book and we think it’s perfect for the majority of these New Western gins. I feel that this ratio gives the other subtle botanicals that are all the rage now (cough….cucumber) to break through. Dry vermouth can be a tricky ingredient in certain types of gin.

In this proportion I find the Martin Miller’s Martini to be absolute perfection. Crisp, bracing, and clean with the classic juniper flavor floating above the other botanicals without annihilating them. The vermouth (Noilly Prat in this case) adds a dry sweetness to the cocktail and enhances the other flavors.

I’m grateful for that local bartender who got me to stop taking cocktail making so seriously and enjoy both the journey and the end product. That new attitude helped to make the Martini my favorite cocktail (QDP will forever be Team Manhattan). Quality and care shines in a Martini but if the gin it’s made with doesn’t share those qualities it’s a lost cause. Thankfully, Martin Miller’s more than meets the challenge.

 

Last Night’s Drink – Archibald’s Last Memory

Archibald's Last Memory
Archibald’s Last Memory

This is the opposite of the last cocktail I talked about. Not in terms of taste or success, but it’s an unpublished cocktail that we got one night from one of our favorite bartenders at one of our very favorite bars. And it’s amazing.

As one friend recently described it, “This is the most complex thing I’ve ever put in my mouth!” And he was right. This cocktail is a masterpiece of layer and is able to take a hefty amount of Fernet Branca and transform it into an almost mellow ingredient. Truly a remarkable feat.

Archibald’s Last Memory*

XX Rittenhouse Rye
XX Fernet Branca
XX Benedictine
XX Maraschino Liqueur

Stir. Flamed orange peel. Orange twist. Double Rocks Glass NO ICE in glass.

The first sip of this cocktail is like being wrapped in an orange scented blanket while being chilled by the minty/herbally Fernet tamed by the sweet Benedictine and Marschino all being supported by the spicy rye. It’s like the rye is a load bearing ingredient holding up all the others. I love Fernet and this is one of the best cocktails I’ve ever had with that ingredient. It’s tough to tone down such an aggressive ingredient and still retain the essence of the original ingredient. This is why I love cocktails so much! The whole is significantly greater than the individual parts.

Visit the Flatiron Lounge. They create some fantastic one of a kind cocktails.

*I respect bartenders who hand out unpublished recipes and do not publish proportions but just what’s available on the menu card.

UPDATED: Meet the New Ice Crusher – Lewis Bag/Carpenter’s Joiner Mallet

Lewis Bag / Joiner’s Mallet

The Lewis bag has been around for a very long time.  I first read about it when I was deep into cocktail history books but never really considered using one since a mechanical ice crusher worked so well.

Of course that was before yet another vintage ice crusher was lost to the land fill due to a catastrophic mechanical failure.  It was time to revisit the Lewis bag and see what this old school tool might be able to do.

I started off my search for a replacement ice crusher as usual on eBay looking for another vintage manual one that was preferably unused.  The new ones are just way too flimsy for the heavy use that is demanded in our household.  A few candidates were were found but I just kept thinking that I’d be doing this again in the future so why bother?  Then I remembered the Lewis bag.

A quick search led me to a few sites that sold Lewis bags for bars and serious bartenders that looked extremely sturdy (heavy canvas, triple stitching) which alleviated one of the fears that I had regarding the method; that the thing would rip too easily and I’d be back to square one.  Second, I needed the right pounding apparatus.  Again, a quick internet search led me to some sites with advice on what type of mallet to use with a Lewis bag (craftingcocktailscom, SummitSips) which were very helpful.  I was actually pretty pleased to see that Summit Sips came up during my Google search since I’m a fan of Randy’s site and sent him a note asking how he liked using the Lewis bag.  We went back and forth a little bit on pros and cons, and based on my usage patterns I finally decided that a Lewis bag was the way to go.

Ice-o-Mat
Vintage Ice-o-Mat with broken tooth – Again

I followed the advice of craftingcocktails.com and bought one from Ladykonnyaku off Etsy and am extremely pleased at the quality of the bag.  It’s a great size, very thick canvas, excellent craftsmanship with a convenient loop to hang the bag so it can dry after use.  So now all I needed to do then was find the right mallet.  Again, Randy gave me some good advice and I was off to search for the right one.

I knew which shape to search for, a carpenter’s joiner mallet since it has a flat striking head.  Many users, Summit Sips included, found that a round striking head such as a muddler just wasn’t that effective.  Weighing both functionality and appearance I decided that the Back Channel mallet from DiLegno Woodshop Supply was perfect.  Traditional design, soaked in linseed oil for 30 days or more to add heft and durability, not to mention a beautiful golden hue made this the winner for me.  It was about $15 more than a standard beech model you could pick up on Amazon but it’s completely worth the extra cash.

These have been in use for about a week and all I can say is Why did it take me this long to get these tools?  They are amazing:  portable, effective, faster than a manual ice crusher, and believe it or not quieter and easier to use. The only drawback would be the inconsistency of the crushed ice produced, but I’m chalking that up to user error at this point.  I’m still getting used to using them and have a tendency to use too much force and beat the ice too long resulting in pulverized snow and a very slow pour when trying to get the cocktail into the glass.  Still, I’m working on it.

Finally, a lot of websites that I reviewed talked about the Lewis bag as being for serious bartenders but I would respectfully disagree.  Even if you’re only making a cocktail or two a month I would still consider getting a good quality Lewis bag and mallet.  They’re just as easy to store as a manual ice crusher, look great when you get them out, and are very old school.  It’s an impressive way to make your crushed ice and as someone who’s a big advocate of the cocktail ritual being just as important as the cocktail itself, it elevates the whole process.

UPDATE 3/26/14

I’ve been using the mallet and lewis bag for several years now and have to say that I couldn’t be happier. They have lasted much longer than any vintage ice crusher I’ve purchased. It’s been a treat not to have to go searching for a new ice crusher every year.

I will add that I also purchased the Waring Pro electric ice crusher a couple of years ago as well. This machine is only used for Tiki drinks and Mint Juleps which cuts down on the intensity of its usage and I think has prolonged its life. It’s a great machine that I highly recommend, but I wouldn’t use it on a regular basis.

Another great product from McSology:  Bar Roll

Last Night’s Drink – Suburban

Suburban
Suburban

It pays to do your research. I’ll admit that I just assume that the bars we go to are creating their own cocktails. It never dawns on me that they could be looking up drinks on the Internet and creating a cocktail menu (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  Just an object lesson not to get too proud of myself when I ask a bartender I don’t know for a recipe and without hesitation he says, Sure! Because I could have just looked it up myself.

That’s the case with the Suburban. QDP and I were visiting family in St. Louis when a friend insisted we go to Olio, a 2 year old restaurant/cocktail bar in a re-purposed filling station which has received a boatload of terrific local press. We went for lunch and as it was vacation for us, QDP and I had cocktails. I had the Suburban. Loved it, schmoozed the owner and got the recipe. So proud of myself! Sound the losing Price is Right! horn. The Suburban is one of the oldest cocktails around dating from the turn of the century. It’s like thinking you’re the first only to discover a mass of sawdust by the side of the bed from all the notches.

Suburban (using brands specified by Olio)

1 1/2 oz Rittenhouse Rye
1/2 oz El Dorado Dark Rum
1/2 oz Ruby Port
Dash Angostura
Dash Orange bitters

Stir with ice. No garnish

I’ve made this drink a couple of times. And both times I’ve failed miserably. The drink I had at Olio was delicious. Subtle but hefty, a little sweet and very well balanced. What I’ve created tastes like a mouth full antiseptic mixed with lighter fluid. Initially I thought it was the rum. The first time I made this I used El Dorado 12 year. Not good. The second time I used Lemon Hart. Not good. Both times something was off. I’ll keep at it, but I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t frustrating.

Perhaps it’s time for another quick visit home so I can chat with the bartender? The recipe may not be original, but what they’re doing with it is magic.

Last Night’s Drink – De La Louisiane

De La LouisianeThe dash. When a recipe calls for a dash of bitters I’m pretty much spot on.  Sure, there are the rare cases where a heavy hand with the bitters bottle makes the cocktail taste like a science experiment, but in general I’m good with the bitters. Put a bottle of liquor in my hand and tell me to put a dash into the shaker and it’s anybody’s guess as to what’s going to happen.

In Cocktail: The Drinks Bible for the 21st Century, Paul Harrington describes a dash as “1/8 ounce or 0.5 cl”, which if you do the conversion is 5 ml. He continues and says “a dash equals two drops, or 1/8 of an ounce.” The trouble for me is that I never know when I’m putting in too much. At that volume a slight nudge or jostle and “poof” terrible cocktail. Needless to say that’s exactly what happened to me with the De La Louisiane.

I chose this cocktail because it was from The PDT Cocktail Book (which I’ve been neglecting) and it was a Manhattan derivative. Oh, and I happened to have all the ingredients on hand in the brands specified so why not?

De La Louisiane

2 oz Wild Turkey Rye
3/4 oz Dolin Sweet Vermouth
3/4 oz Benedictine
3 dashes St. George Absinthe
3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters

Stir and strain. Garnish with brandied cherries. (I substituted since I don’t care for brandied cherries.)

Unfortunately my attention to detail was simply not up to standard and there ended up being enough absinthe in the drink to destroy every other flavor in the glass. It was as if someone had dissolved a black jellybean into some rye and threw in a little vermouth. Even the Peychaud’s was obliterated.

The dash has always been something I’ve taken for granted. I measure out my 5 ml and call it a day. But looking back it’s usually the dash that ruins my cocktails rather than any other technique mainly because of that “poof” factor.  From now on I resolve to take a little more care and use the technique I’ve watched my favorite bartenders perform when making a drink; take a red straw and pipette out a sample before pouring. Well, that and get a dropper.

 

Last Night’s Drink – Gypsy

Gypsy
Gypsy

We always intend to drink more vodka. We’ve bought Reyka which is made in Iceland with water filtered through lava rocks. It’s still sitting unopened three years later. There’s the bottle of Ketel One which we’ve had for five years. Oh, I’ll use Smirnoff in a Vesper, but as the star of the drink we just never go for vodka. Ok, maybe just one.

On the bright side, I’ve made great strides in not looking down on the vodka & soda crowd although it does make me cringe inside, but I just remind myself that people should drink what they love. We just don’t love vodka. But given our groovy new vibe with the addition of the Playboy Host & Bar Book I’ve been on the lookout for vodka drinks to try.

Generally I look at vodka two ways. The first is as a liquor which should be consumed straight and preferably ice cold. Since we don’t drink liquor straight I don’t really have any call for keeping it in the freezer. The second is as a flavor delivery system. By US Government definition, vodka should be:

“Neutral spirits distilled or treated after distillation with charcoal or other materials so as to be without distinctive character, aroma, taste or color.”

So when I look for a cocktail with vodka in it, I’m looking at the other ingredients to see what flavor profile they have and how it might taste given that it’s going to be “watered down” by the vodka. I settled on the Gypsy because we love Benedictine and I thought the sparse lemon and orange juice could add a little brightness to the whole thing. That, and it’s served on the rocks which meant that I could use our spectacular new double rocks glasses from the 50s.

Gypsy

2 oz vodka
1/2 oz Benedictine
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp orange juice

Shake all with ice. Strain over rocks in prechilled old-fashioned glass. Garnish with orange slice.

Smirnoff Ad, 1966
Smirnoff Ad, 1966

I didn’t bother with prechilling the glass and I used a giant ice cube that’s all the rage today which most likely made the drink a bit warmer than the author intended. I liked the warmer temperature. It allowed the herbal flavors of the Benedictine to mellow and relax in the drink. Which brought out a different side of Benedictine that I’m not really used to. It’s usually very assertive in a drink so you have to pair it with something equally assertive to balance it out like Fernet. And I was right about the modest amount of juice giving the whole thing brightness and acidity without being overbearing. When working with vodka it appears less is more when trying to make a balanced cocktail.

Will vodka join the rest of the bottles at the front of the liquor cabinet instead of being tucked in the back? Probably not. With these types of drinks there’s always a thinness to them that I generally find unappealing. It’s like I’m waiting for the flavor to kick in but it never does. The Gypsy was pleasant and I would absolutely make it for a vodka & soda person, but it’s not for me.

Playboy’s Host & Bar Book

PlayboyQDP and I were out and about looking for nothing in particular when we wandered into a used bookstore. Usually they have very little in the way of cocktail books aside from an abundance of Mr. Boston’s and other awful books mostly on “martinis”, but for some reason I picked this up and flipped through it. There were enough interesting cocktails to make me hand it over to QDP and ask, What do you think?

Clearly it was of interest since we now own it for a whopping $9 (about what you’d pay online but all these bookstores are looking up prices these days and it’s really hard to find a true bargain).

For some reason I’m really intrigued with this book. It’s the 1971 edition, which if I’ve done my research correctly is the first year it was published. There are multiple copyrights inside, 1955-1968 which I believe refers to content previously published in the magazine. Because of the breadth of time involved there are some really solid cocktails and some that look a bit….maybe not my taste, but that I find interesting from a historical cocktail perspective. For instance:

Kretchma:
1 oz Vodka
1 oz creme de cacao
1/2 oz lemon juice
1/2 tsp grenadine.

Shake well and strain. Serve to girls with a deep addiction to chocolate.

Illustration showing the Urbane Host
Picture showing the Urbane 70s Host

The Kretchma may not be one that I would serve, but I’m loving the additional instructions. Serve to girls with a deep addiction to chocolate? These instructions may seem quaint and possibly even a little misogynistic today but I have to say that I’m finding these little notations embedded within the cocktail instructions charming. Playboy’s Host & Bar Book also seems to be a spectacular transition book between that period in the 50s and 60s where you could order a cocktail in a bar and expect real juice to that period of the late 70s through 90s where sour mix was, and still partially is, king and would very likely have come out of a gun behind the bar.

I’m not going to pull one of those now tired declarations, “I’m going to blog every cocktail in this book!”, which has been done and done. But I have to say that it’s given me enough to think about that I will start using this book and talking about some of the drinks we find. They may not all be winners, but I’m looking forward to getting an idea of what it might have been like to have an at-home bar in the early 70s and experiment with liqueurs that I’ve scoffed at before. Galliano anyone?

Last Night’s Drink – Blackthorn (English)

Blacktorne (English)This one is a big flavored cocktail and comes out of the PDT cocktail book. Originally it came from The Sideboard Manual, 1900 but thankfully Meehan has reprinted it because it’s a terrific cocktail. And that’s one of the reasons I’m enjoying the PDT book, it’s an eclectic collection of cocktails both vintage and modern that are turning out to be great additions to our repertoire.

Blackthorn (English)

1 1/2 oz Gin
3/4 oz Plymouth Sloe Gin
3/4 oz Carpano Antica
2 dashes orange bitters

Stir with cracked ice, strain into chilled coupe. Orange twist.

We really liked this cocktail. It’s got big flavor, the astringency of the sloe gin works really well with the Carpano, and it makes the taste buds work. Brands matter so much in the sloe gin and vermouth, otherwise any London dry should work for the gin and any orange bitters.