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The Rathbone

Rathbone

Ahh, summer in New England…. three months of wishing it was friggin’ autumn already. What can a guy do? Well, if you know me, you know the answer to that. Summer drinks are generally uninspiring, usually a mix of clear liquor, some muddled fruit and a splash of soda and sugar. Strawberry mojitos. Lame. Watermelon margaritas. Really? If you’re seeing it on the menu at Applebee’s, you won’t be seeing it on the menu in my restaurants.

The idea is sound. You want something fresh and invigorating. It shouldn’t be too cloying or tart, and the liquor doesn’t need to overpower. In short, fruity, fresh, and long, meaning a drink you can enjoy over time. A strawberry old fashioned, for example, is simply not a good idea. A strawberry mojito, however, was a good idea fifteen years ago; but I think it’s high time we moved forward and tried something a little more classy. Because, after all, what are we bartenders if not classy?… heh….

Think food. Think picnics. Think salads, think fruit cocktail. What is both refeshing and different? At my restaurant I decided to mix cucumber with basil and green tea, and some citrus and sugar for balance. Cucumber and basil have been done, I admit, ad nauseum. But I wasn’t looking to muddle. I wanted concentrated flavor but as little work as possible when actually mixing the drink to order. Efficiency during service is key to volume bartending, and one of the reasons bad bars never employ craft mixologists. There seems to be a chasm between how to get things done fast, but make them delicious. Well, I decided to juice the two ingredients together. The result was so massively flavorful I had to add water to make it palatable.

The recipe originally called for gin, and since we sell only American booze at my place, the obvious choice of Hendrick’s was out of the question. I decided to use the decidedly better Uncle Val’s, from 35 Maple Street, Sonoma, CA. With cucumber, lemon, sage, and lavender, it was the perfect choice. We put it on the menu, however, with Vodka, seeing as we had a menu laden with gin drinks. I chose Smooth Ambler, from West Virigina, because it’s sweet and creamy. The drink, however, is always available, and of course recommended, with Uncle Val’s Gin.

2oz Uncle Val’s Gin (or Smooth Ambler Vodka)
2oz Cucumber Basil Juice*
.75oz Green Tea Simple Syrup**
.75oz Freshly Sqeezed Lime Juice (always strain your fresh juices to remove pulp and pips)
Shake vigorously with ice and double strain into a cocktail glass.
Garnish with a freshly slapped basil leaf (just float it on top.)

*Cucumber Basil Juice:
Juice one peeled cucumber for every 2 thin basil stalks. Throw the stalks, leaves and all, right in the juicer with the cucumber. Make sure the stalks are not too thick, or they will bring unwanted bitterness to the party. Double strain your juice through a cheesecloth lined chinois. Add one and half parts water to one part juice.

**Green Tea Simple Syrup:
Steep four bags of green tea in .75L of hot water. I use water from the tap on a coffee maker in the restaurant. Add an equal part granulated white sugar, superfine if possible. Stir or shake until incorporated. Remove tea bags, and strain through cheesecloth to remove any loose tea leaves that may have been left behind.

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The New Old Fashioned

This Repeal Day, we’ll focus on the perhaps the oldest drink of all. The drink that gave cocktail its name, and set the standard from which all others follow.

(picture courtesy of: spiritsandcocktails.com)

In an early May, 1806 edition of  The Balance & Columbian Repository, out of Hudson, New York, presented in an editorial, the first written description of a “cocktail.”

 

“Cock tail, then is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters it is vulgarly called a bittered sling, and is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion inasmuch as it renders the heart stout and bold, at the same time that it fuddles the head. It is said also, to be of great use to a democratic candidate: because, a person having swallowed a glass of it, is ready to swallow any thing else. ”

 

In his 1862 The Bar-Tender’s Guide (alternately titled How to Mix Drinks or The Bon-Vivant’s Companion) Jerry Thomas, arguably the father of modern mixology, listed several cocktail recipes, as well as improved cocktails, and other variations. Thomas was the first bartender to codify recipes and technique, in an industry that relied heavily on oral tradition, apprenticeship, and years of training. He brought the world of the bartender into the lives of the everyday man, and in doing so gave recipes for hundreds of drinks. From flips to fizzes, sours to nogs, its no surprise that, by the end of the 1800’s, cocktails themselves contained additional ingredients that changed the nature of the drink exponentially. The term “cocktail” became slang for a mixed drink of any kind, and the practice survives until present day.

At its essence, there is no discernible difference between a whiskey cocktail and an “old-fashioned.” As cocktails became more and more complicated, using new and esoteric ingredients, it became common practice for those who wished a classic whiskey cocktail be served to them at the bar, to request a whiskey cocktail “made the old-fashioned way.” And thus, the term old-fashioned was coined.

So how did a recipe meant to sweeten and season whiskey, turn into the weak, limp-wristed, fizzy, Carmen Miranda head-dress concoction that we see at so many bars today? A quick lesson in brandy may help explain.

In the late 19th century, phylloxera (small sap-sucking insects) were obliterating Europe’s grapevines and causing the price of brandy to soar (this caused changes to the drinking culture worldwide and will be discussed in further editions.) In 1893, the Korbel brothers brought the brandy they had been producing in California with little success, to the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. They introduced the brandy to German mid-westerners who were visiting from nearby Wisconsin, and a marriage ensued that lasts to this day. Wisconsin is currently the leading consumer of brandy in the United States, and the unofficial state drink is the Brandy Old-Fashioned. I’ll let you read more about its history here.

The decades following prohibition were dark ones for the bartending trade. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where the old-fashioned went wrong, but the drink stands today as the perfect example of bastardization mixed with personalization. Barely two bartenders make the drink the same way, especially if they came up in the industry during different decades.

The recent craft cocktail resurgence proves there is hope for more spirit-forward drinks, and the classic whiskey cocktail, made in the old-fashioned way, seems to be at the forefront. I like to experiment with different bitters, different spirits, and flavored simple syrups. For example, last night I made an Aquavit old fashioned using Linie Aquavit, Bitter Truth Jerry Thomas’ Decanter Bitters, and rich demerara simple syrup. It’s as easy as that.

When it comes to making an old-fashioned for a guest at my bar, I realize most of my customers are not regulars at PDT or Vessel, and I’ve learned to blend a love for drinks with a love for service. While I’m elated to muddle a sugar cube with some Angostura and drop in a healthy measure of rye, I like my house old-fashioneds to be a blend of the old with the new. There’s a certain amount of ego that needs to be set aside when it comes to drink evolution. Realizing that trends evolve is one of the ways to connect with customers, and there’s nothing worse than a pretentious bartender that projects scorn at any guest who their drink differently than the bartender wants to make it. However, if we are to interpret drink styles and change them to suit our needs, its crucial to understand the history of the drink, and to use proper technique. In this way, we pay homage to the backstory, to the people who blazed the trails that we walk on, unencumbered, every day.

 

The New Old-Fashioned

2.5oz rye or bonded whiskey (skip bourbon, it’s sweet enough to drink straight. I like Rittenhouse 100pf or Old Overholt. Check out a video of Don Draper making a version of an old fashioned using OO here)
.5oz 2:1 simple syrup
3 dashes Angostura bitters
1 brandied Amerena cherry
1 large zest of orange peel (use a vegetable peeler and minimize the white pith. Zest a piece about the size of your thumb)

Add simple syrup, bitters, cherry, and large orange peel to the bottom of a single rocks glass.
Muddle slowly and deliberately to extract the oils from the orange peel and mix with the other ingredients.
Add booze and stir to incorporate ingredients.
Add 5-6 cubes of ice and enjoy!

 

Happy Repeal Day!!

Customer Relations, and “The Ray-Ray”

 

One of the greatest honors we have, in the business of bartending, is being able to name a drink after a customer. It epitomizes an ethereal connection between bartender and patron, a convergence of opinions and tastes. It is agreed upon by all to be a reminder of good times had, and better times yet to come. As bartenders we live to please, exist to instill in our guests a sense of family, a sense of togetherness that meets in an apex of creativity and induglence. When we can create a cocktail that hits at the very essence of who you are, not only as a drinker, but as a person, we have fulfilled our eternal mission, we have identified a connective tissue, one neither of us knew was there at all.

Perhaps I’m being a bit romantic. I never was a good Hemingway, and I don’t enjoy his daiquiri as much as some collegues might like. But I appreciate the ability to make people happy, and if that means giving them the coldest Coors Light in the state of Connecticut, then, goddamn it, that’s what they’re going to get. If the guest at my bar wants a vodka and tonic, then they’re going to get a well iced, perfectly proportioned highball, with a solid, fresh, green lime; and my job is to make sure they enjoy it. I want them to drink their vodka tonics at my bar, not the one next door. And I want them to know I care enough about them to think their cocktail, no matter how simplistic, out to the level of perfection, even if they’re not prone to know the difference.

Call me a romantic, I don’t care. Call me a perfectionist, I embrace the term. But at the core of my person, I imagine myself as the customer, drawn and weary after a long day at work, looking for nothing more than a respite, a place to relax and unwind, where the thinking ends and the imbibing begins. I’ve said on numerous occaisions that we, as employees of the hospitality industry, exist solely to make our customers forget about their lives, and at times we sacrifice our own for the pleasure to do so. We put ourselves in their shoes. We know how it feels to be the last couple at a bar when the bartender wants to go home. We understand how it feels when we want to taste the pinot noir by the glass and the bartender rolls his eyes in contempt. We empathize with you, when, after a twelve hour day at the office, playing politics and sucking up to upper management, you don’t have the patience to peruse a ten-page cocktail menu to settle on your drink of choice. Those of us, who take our profession seriously, appreciate the ability to create something for you from scratch, to talk to you and get to know you enough to establish a semblance of trust. We want to make you happy. We want you to relax. We’ve been in your shoes, and you’d better believe that we got your back.

And so, that brings us to today’s cocktail. I don’t write about my own recipes often, as I’ve always been more of a fan of spreading the word of the industry, rather than tooting my own horn. But, I really like this drink; and more so, I really enjoy the company of my friends that made it possible. A simple twist on the Negroni, this drink substitutes Averna for sweet vermouth, while balancing that bracingness with Aperol in place of Campari. While the Averna adds an Earthy flavor and amaro-specific viscosity, the Aperol tones down the bitter and the booziness of the Campari to keep the cocktail well balanced. A dash of bitters (Bitter Truth Aromatic,) adds just the right amount of rich spice, while allowing the gin to stay the dominate player. It’s crucial here to use a juniper-forward gin like Beefeater or Tanqueray, and in this case, I chose the latter, and added an extra half-ounce to keep every bit of the flavor in play.

For your drinking pleasure, named after my friend Rachel, I present to you the Ray-Ray:

Ray-Ray
1.5 oz Tanqueray Gin
1oz Averna
1oz Aperol
1 dash Bitter Truth Aromatic Bitters
Stir with ice, and and strain into a cocktail glass or coupe. Finish with a large zest of orange peel.

It’s Pumpkin Time!

Labor day weekend, a nationwide celebration of the American workforce, the unofficial end of summer, and another solid reason to gather around friends and family and share in copious amounts of booze. No more pools, no more flip flops, and say goodbye to beaches and barbeques. But what signals the end of one season harkens the beginning of another. Autumn is right around the corner, and we all know what that means. Carving pumpkins, roasting turkey, NFL football, foliage drives into the Taconics and Berkshires, and all of the great things that fall brings every year. Like clockwork, I’ll drink my first Octoberfest Draught, boil some fresh spiced apple cider, and try to find a way to make a pumpkin cocktail that doesn’t taste like ass.

And that’s where we find ourselves, this first day of September. I’ve been tasked with adding a pumpkin cocktail to the fall drink list at Harlan Social, and I’ve decided that bottle of Hiram Walker Pumpkin Spice Liqueur, that’s been gathering dust at my last job since last September, is not fortunate enough to see the light of day this year. This year we’re going down a more culinary path. Enter pumpkin puree.

If you’re lucky enough to find a sweet pumpkin (pie pumpkin) this early in the season, by all means pick one up, slice it in half, gut it, boil it, and scoop out the inside. But, if like me, your local markets are void of pumpkins for a few more weeks, pick up a can of all natural 100% pumpkin puree (15oz), and break out all the same spices we used for the Falernum, this summer (minus the star anise.) What we are making is Pumpkin Butter, and it will become the main flavoring ingredient in our cocktail.

Pumpkin Butter:

  • 1 – 15oz can Pumpkin Puree, or equivalent fresh pumpkin puree
  • ¼ cup Apple Cider
  • ¾ cup Water
  • ¾ tsp Fresh Grated Ginger
  • ¼ tsp Fresh Ground Cloves
  • ¼ tsp Ground Mace
  • 1 tsp Fresh Ground Cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp Fresh Grated Nutmeg
  • ¼ cup Turbinado Sugar
  • ¾ cup Demerara Sugar
  • ½ cup Muscovado Sugar

Mix everything together over heat and bring to a boil. Lower heat to a steady simmer, and cook for 30 minutes until reduced to a consistency similar to Apple Butter. Cool, cover and store in refrigerator for up to 3-4 weeks.

Now, the fun part. You can find cocktail recipes all over the place that use Pumpkin Butter as their flavoring agent. Some, like Death & Co.’s Vampire Blues, use solera sherry. Dark Skies Ahead, from The Bent Brick in Portland, OR, use amaro, like Averna. Of course, most of your local dives and chain restaurants are using pumpkin spiced liqueur or, worse, Monin syrup, and drowing the results in vodka. I prefer an artisan approach that appeals to a mass audience. After all, anyone who knows me knows that I’m not a fan of reinventing the wheel. And so, we have a twist on the classic Manhattan:

The Jame-o-Lantern

  • 1.5oz Jameson Irish Whiskey
  • 1oz Noilly Prat Sweet Vermouth
  • .5oz Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice
  • .5oz 2:1 Simple Syrup
  • 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • .5oz Pumpkin Butter

Shake all ingredients over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with fresh cinnamon or grated nutmeg (or both!)

Dynamic Duo: The Last Word & The Aviation

The Last Word is a cocktail from the prohibition era, that originated at the Detroit Athletic Club, a private social club and athletic club located in the heart of Detroit’s theater, sports, and entertainment district.

While the ingredients may seem to some to be mutually exclusive, the drink works in the same way that many great cocktails do. A variation on the popular “sour” recipe (Base Liquor + citrus +sweetener), The Last Word adds green chartreuse, a French liqueur made by Carthusian monks since the 1740s. It is a naturally flavored, herbal liqueur with over 130 ingredients. To this drink it adds the ever popular “herbal note” and balances the stated presence of the maraschino nicely. To remove the chartreuse from the would leave you with the base ingredients for The Aviation, to which, after some adjusting ingredient proportions, purists would add a dash of Creme de Violette, which gives the aviation its sky blue color.

During prohibition, liquor quality was seriously lacking. With bathtub gin, and whisky smuggled in from Canada, exotic liqueurs and new juices were needed to mask off flavors and poor distillation methods. Now, with the addition of quality gins from all over the world, these two cocktails originally developed to mask flavors, take on new flavors of their own. They are two cocktails that helped spawn the current craft cocktail revolution, and any serious mixologist would be remiss to forget their importance. Naturally, they are both very delicious, and work well for my palate in the summertime. 

Here, I share with you my favorite recipes of the two drinks:

Last Word

  • 3/4 ounce gin
  • 3/4 ounce lime juice
  • 3/4 ounce green Chartreuse
  • 3/4 ounce maraschino liqueur

Shake well with ice, and strain into chilled cocktail glass. It should be noted that I prefer Luxardo Maraschino in this cocktail (and most others), because it is considerably drier than other maraschinos, but I have a bottle of Maraska that I bought some time ago and will be using this until it is depleted. It is considerably sweeter and more syrupy IMO, but you can make your own decisions on the matter.

The Aviation

  • 1 1/2 ounces gin
  • 1/2 ounce maraschino liqueur
  • 1/4 ounce Creme de Violette
  • 1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice

Shake well with ice, and strain into chilled cocktail glass. This recipe is from Gary Regan, and can always be adjusted to taste. I prefer my sours balanced, but a little extra lemon in here is okay by me. Maraschino is powerfully floral stuff, not to mention the Violette, which can cause any drink to smell and taste like grandma’s bath soap if use too liberally. I have been known to add a dash or two only of the Violette. A tablespoon = .5 oz, and a teaspoon is a 1/3 of a tablespoon, so a barspoon of Violette is about .16 oz, or about 3-4 dashes. 

a votre sante!

Irish Coffee

Do you love Espresso? Irish Whiskey? Whipped Cream? If you’re like me, you love them all, but you love them even more when someone (maybe you) puts them all in the same glass at the same time. But I’m willing to bet you haven’t had the “World’s Best Fucking Irish Coffee.” And how can I be so sure of this bold (yet somehow expected) proclamation? Because your bartender isn’t making them properly.

The World’s Best Fucking Irish Coffee:

Heat up your mug. This is a no brainer. Hot drinks go in hot glasses.

2oz of irish whiskey. i go bushmills because i find it sweeter than jame-o and im not adding sugar here so I want it as sweet as possible. Some swear by Jame-o and its really a matter of preference. Redbreast 12yr is about the pinnacle, and I certainly wouldn’t turn one down.

8oz Double Americano (which basically means 2oz espresso and 6oz hot water)

Fresh Whipped Cream. Find some cream in your kitchen, add sugar to taste, and whisk the hell outta it. Or, invest a buck in the iSi Gourmet Whip Plus. Its super easy to use.


Add the liquid to the hot glass, and top with whipped cream. (You didn’t see creme de menthe anywhere in that recipe right??) That’s it folks. Enjoy!

***note: some bar coffee mugs/glasses will only hold 8-8.5oz of liquid. In this case, keep the same 4:1 ratio of americano to whiskey, but take the measurments down to 1.5oz whiskey and 6oz americano!

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