How to Invent a Cocktail, Part VI of VI

(Recently, my friend Luke quietly published a book of poetry. It's called Abacus, and you can buy or download it here. I created a signature cocktail for the launch party, and because I sometimes get asked how I go about inventing a new cocktail, I thought you might like to see my thought process for this one. It's a longish story, so I've broken it up into six pieces, each of which will be a separate post and conclude with a recipe. Last week's chapter, "Trusting your gut, even when your gut just gave you every reason not to." can be found here.)

Chapter 6: Reaching a recipe by technique and tinkering.
Cognac ended up being a really good choice, and very little more was required besides mucking around with the proportions. I left the absinthe out, kept the Peychaud's in, traded the lemon twist for lemon juice, and held onto the kirschwasser as the star ingredient. I also added simple syrup, which deserves a story of its own.

For a long time, I thought of simple syrup as existing for the primary purpose of making drinks sweeter. And I suppose that's technically true, but it's not the only thing it does in a cocktail, and in many cases it isn't the most noticeable or the most important. Given how long I've been at this and the whole scientific research thing, it surprises me that it took me so long to appreciate the other benefits of simple syrup.

First of all, it affects the mouthfeel of the drink. Simple syrup adds viscosity, and it doesn't take a lot to make the drink as a whole feel richer and fuller-bodied. If you try using different concentrations of simple syrup (e.g., 2 parts sugar to 1 part water, instead of 1:1), you'll notice that the same volumes have different effects on the texture and feel of the drink. We often forget it, but cocktails are a tactile experience, too.

Second, sweetness affects your perception of other flavors present in the recipe. There's a theory that your body interprets the sugar as a sign that this is good, calorie-dense food, heightening your awareness of things like, for instance, the fruity flavors of raisin and cherry in this drink. It also seems to round out sourness, which may be why we add sugar to drinks that use citrus juice. We don't have a perfect, complete map of the changes in perceived flavor due to added sugar (at least, not that I know of), but if you find yourself working on a recipe that seems to be just a little bit off, and you aren't sure what's the matter, try adding a quarter of an ounce of simple syrup and see if that improves it.

That was the technique I used, and it paid off so well I ended up doubling it. After some tinkering with the other proportions, I settled on a recipe I was very happy with. The color ends up being a warm, slightly red- or orange-tinted amber, reminiscent of the old streetlights with sodium bulbs. That tipped the scales, and the drink officially became the Nightglow.


2 oz. Cognac
1/2 oz. Kirschwasser
1/2 oz. 1:1 Simple Syrup
1/4 oz. Fresh Lemon Juice
2 dashes Peychaud's Bitters
Shake all ingredients with ice. Strain into a chilled coupe glass and serve.

I designed this using Courvoisier, which is my go-to cocktail Cognac and makes this a damn fine drink. Most of the Cognacs you'll come across can be substituted for one another, but I find that Hennessy has a harsh overtone and too much wood, and so I try to avoid using it unless the recipe specifically benefits from those elements.

Having said that, at the launch party for Abacus, there was one bottle each of Hennessy and Courvoisier, and I decided I'd rather use a 50:50 blend in each drink than have 100% Courvoisier at the beginning of the night and 100% Hennessy at the end. I was very pleasantly surprised by the results. So if you're the sort of person who keeps multiple cocktail Cognacs in your house, you should give this a try with an ounce of each. (And we should be friends!)

That's all for this series! If you've got a reason to commission a cocktail recipe from me - whether it's for an important person in your life, a special occasion, or the hell of it - this is the kind of process I'll go through to make it. Email if you'd like one of your very own!

How to Invent a Cocktail, Part V of VI

(Recently, my friend Luke quietly published a book of poetry. It's called Abacus, and you can buy or download it here. I created a signature cocktail for the launch party, and because I sometimes get asked how I go about inventing a new cocktail, I thought you might like to see my thought process for this one. It's a longish story, so I've broken it up into six pieces, each of which will be a separate post and conclude with a recipe. Last week's chapter, "Taking stock - now what have we got?" can be found here.)

Chapter 5: Trusting your gut, even when your gut gives you every reason not to.
If I've learned anything from creative pursuits - cocktails, writing, or otherwise - it's that you have to listen to your instincts. They'll be wrong occasionally (or often, when you're trying something new), and that's OK. That's how you learn.

Best of all, sometimes your gut will tell you something that sounds bizarre but works on some deeper level. No matter how nicely bitter, herbal flavors contrast with pineapple, the Jungle Bird must still have seemed ridiculous the first time it was tried, because what kind of nut puts Campari in a tiki drink?

You miss opportunities like that if you become dismissive of your own ideas. It's an easy trap to fall into, especially when you know other people have been doing something longer than you, or do it better than you. This is why a lot of authors practice spontaneous writing: if you do it right, you're too busy writing to think about all the ways in which the writing is bad, which frees you to actually write. You can edit later, when you actually have something written.

I've been making cocktails for a long time now, and my instincts are, on the whole, pretty good. That's what I reminded myself when I went back to the drawing board with the following two thoughts:

  • Given how poorly this has gone so far, it's weird that I thought it would work at all, let alone through so much tinkering. Maybe I should can the whole thing and look to a different poem for inspiration.
  • Wait this drink might actually work with Cognac.

In retrospect, I can tell you exactly why the Cognac worked. The subtle wood and strong fruit flavor (raisin, in this case) complement the plantiness and the cherry of the kirschwasser. There are no distracting savory or evergreen notes. It doesn't have the oiliness of gin, which was causing textural problems I didn't even get into before. And the warm, rich lactones of an aged spirit base gave the cocktail a depth that could support everything else.

But that wasn't a conscious thought process at the time. "Cognac!" popped into my head, and I went with it. I knew that even if my judgment was compromised that day, at least this would turn out badly in a different way, which was enough for me to give my mind's palate the benefit of the doubt.

I want to save the big reveal for next week, but I did promise you a recipe. Since this week brought us back around to Cognac, and we'll spend some of next week on the importance of simple syrup, I'll leave you today with a cocktail that uses both extremely well: Joaquín Simó's Sidecar.


Simó Sidecar
2 oz. Cognac
3/4 oz. Curaçao
3/4 oz. Lemon Juice
1 tsp. 2:1 Demerara Simple Syrup
Shake with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with an orange peel (or not at all).

Stay tuned for next week's post, "Chapter 6: Reaching a recipe by technique and tinkering."

How to Invent a Cocktail, Part IV of VI

(Recently, my friend Luke quietly published a book of poetry. It's called Abacus, and you can buy or download it here. I created a signature cocktail for the launch party, and because I sometimes get asked how I go about inventing a new cocktail, I thought you might like to see my thought process for this one. It's a longish story, so I've broken it up into six pieces, each of which will be a separate post and conclude with a recipe. Last week's chapter, "What's in a name?" can be found here.)

Chapter 4: Taking stock. Now what have we got?
Incorporating all of the above - the inspiration of Lautrec, the idiosyncratic taste for Gibsons, the love of absinthe, the necessary presence of kirschwasser - I came up with a first draft of the drink. It was going to have a dry gin base, with a quarter or half ounce of kirschwasser, a twist of lemon, a dash of Peychaud's, and possibly a rinse of absinthe. I wanted to import the structure of the Earthquake and adapt it for the audience. I'd paired Peychaud's and kirsch successfully before, so I was confident about that. The one hesitation I had was with the absinthe, which I worried might not play so nicely with the heavy dose of stonefruit. Other than that, I felt confident that I'd just be tinkering with the volumes.

Boy was I wrong.

The absinthe was a clear nonstarter from the very first try. It was complicated, it clashed, it overpowered everything else if there was too much and stuck out like a sore thumb if there was too little. Gone, totally gone.

But once I'd dealt with the absinthe problem, I realized there was a bigger one: the gin. The savory notes of the gin were really coming to the fore, and not in a good way. I thought it might be a problem with the particular gin I was using, so I tried another. And another. Each one worse than the last.

The actual problem was the kirschwasser, of course, which is a tricky ingredient. First of all, it's a strong presence. You usually get all the kirsch flavor you could possibly need with just a quarter ounce. But it's also simultaneously fruity and dry, and either characteristic can pop when you least need it to. You can't reliably use it for a fruit accent, because you might end up drying the cocktail out instead; you can't reliably use it as a better-than-vodka way to dry out a recipe, because the fruitiness can imply sweetness to the palate. And it has the tiniest hint of woody plant matter, like a cherry stem left out in the sun to dry, which you have to figure out a way to work with to have any hope of using this stuff in a cocktail.

It will fight you. Sometimes it will win. But if you can get the hang of it, kirschwasser is an incredible ingredient.

And given that it actually showed up in the book of poetry, I wasn't about to take it out of the recipe. So if it was clashing with the gin, the gin had to go. With the absinthe already gone, that left me with the following recipe:

1/4 oz. Kirschwasser
1 dash Peychaud's Bitters
Lemon Twist

Yeah, not gonna happen. It was time to take this back to the drawing board.

You'll see how this turned out next week, but for now I do feel compelled to say that there is a classic cocktail that uses both kirschwasser and gin, just not in the way I was trying to. It's called the Acacia, and it doesn't go anywhere near bitters or absinthe, balancing the dry gin/kirsch palate with warm, rich, sweet Bénédictine, another favorite ingredient of mine. In other words, I had a decent idea and was playing with it in the wrong sandbox:


2 oz. Gin
3/4 oz. Bénédictine
1/4 oz. Kirschwasser
Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon peel.

Note that the garnish is very important in this drink. Twist it over the glass, run it along the rim, and then drop it in. That slight hint of citrus ties it all together.

Stay tuned for next week's post, "Chapter 5: Trusting your gut, even when your gut gives you every reason not to."

How to Invent a Cocktail, Part III of VI

(Recently, my friend Luke quietly published a book of poetry. It's called Abacus, and you can buy or download it here. I created a signature cocktail for the launch party, and because I sometimes get asked how I go about inventing a new cocktail, I thought you might like to see my thought process for this one. It's a longish story, so I've broken it up into six pieces, each of which will be a separate post and conclude with a recipe. Last week's chapter, "What goes into this artist's cocktail?" can be found here.)

Chapter 3: What's in a name?
Cocktail names are fascinating. They evoke the exotic, the powerful, the hazy and bygone, the impossible-to-place, and the strange. Even something as mundane as a left hand acquires a sense of ominousness or ethereality when it becomes a cocktail name. Whose left hand is this? What will it do to me? (And why is it liquid?)

The fact that alcohol's effects on us are at once so familiar and so inscrutable is probably responsible for this. We talk about distilled spirits the way that our ancestors talked about actual spirits: a grandparent might have a long and close relationship with one, or a friend might not get along with another, and we talk about the capricious and distinct effects each one has on us when they take over our bodies, and the fact that none of the details are consistent from person to person doesn't affect our certainty in the slightest. Of course we name our drinks to offer meaning without understanding. 

I have always found it easier to fit a recipe to an existing name than vice-versa. Like my poet friend, I find constraints to be creatively useful, and the puzzle of creating a drink that's relevant to its title is often more fun than trying to create something ex nihilo. Fortunately, poetry shares the tendency of cocktail nomenclature to connote without denoting, which makes a book of poems a good place to start when naming a drink.

A few of the titles jumped out at me, particularly "Magnetic North" and "Nightglow," and the partial title "Trackless Trailhead." And there were individual lines tempted me, too: "Slowly Turning Galaxy," "Roiling Gray Haze," "Breaststroke Kirschwasser Wavelengths."

Kirschwasser being a favorite accent ingredient of mine and actually mentioned by name, I decided it had to be incorporated, and considered naming the drink either the Kirschwasser Wavelength or the Nightglow, after the poem in which it appeared.

There are certain cocktail ingredients that manage to feel like they're supposed to be part of one's bar without having many (or any) classic recipes that call for them specifically. Dubonnet is one, a fortified wine that you rarely need in practice unless the Dubonnet Cocktail is your thing. Kirschwasser is another - an unfortunate thing, given what a wonderful ingredient it is, but even the best drinks that call for it have faded into relative obscurity over time.

Like me, David Wondrich is a fan of kirsch, and particularly of the Rose, a 1920s cocktail known to us today almost entirely because of him. It's delicious, it's low-proof, and has a lovely soft pink color. If you're observing Lent, you might want to keep it in mind for Laetare Sunday (and if you're not, you might want to keep it in mind for breakfast).


2 oz. Dry Vermouth
1 oz. Kirschwasser
1 tsp. Raspberry Syrup or Raspberry Liqueur
Stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.
Optionally, garnish with a maraschino cherry.

Stay tuned for next week's post, "Chapter 4: Taking stock. Now what have we got?"

How to Invent a Cocktail, Part II of VI

(Recently, my friend Luke quietly published a book of poetry. It's called Abacus, and you can buy or download it here. I created a signature cocktail for the launch party, and because I sometimes get asked how I go about inventing a new cocktail, I thought you might like to see my thought process for this one. It's a longish story, so I've broken it up into six pieces, each of which will be a separate post and conclude with a recipe. Last week's chapter, "What goes into an artist's cocktail?" can be found here.)

Chapter 2: What goes into this artist's cocktail?
Luke is a case study in how to manage a home bar.

I suspect that most people who keep liquor in their homes do it accidentally, accumulating a seldom-used collection of gifts and one-off acquisitions that they'll someday pass down to their grandchildren, cabinet and all.

There are also some people who become alcohol hobbyists, and like to keep a large bar on hand so that they can conduct experiments and make a wide variety of classics. This group is in particular danger of eventually becoming alcohol professionals. (I speak from experience.)

But the unsung heroes of cocktail culture are people who maintain a small but deliberate home bar, the ones who have one or two cocktails that they know they like, who decide that they should learn how to make those drinks well for themselves, and who are always prepared to make them should they or their guests be in the mood for a tipple.

Luke is one of these. His cocktails are the Gibson and the Old Fashioned, and his house is permanently stocked with the ingredients for both. He makes them carefully and well. He also enjoys absinthe, and has the tools for proper absinthe service.

But that's really it. He has, essentially, a house cocktail menu (and a rotating beer list). It's a good formula, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys cocktails but finds the prospect of building up a home bar daunting or bewildering. It's also a useful thought for those of us who have large home inventories: if you have a few house specialties, it's easier to prioritize when stocking up.

And for the purposes of our devising a cocktail recipe, it's useful to know the tastes of the person you're making it for. In this case: classic, spirit-forward, enjoys both whiskey and gin, and likes slightly savory things. I can work with that.

Because it's his most idiosyncratic preference, I decided I'd especially like to make something that appeals to his Gibson-drinking side. The Gibson, you might recall from my taxonomy of the Martini and its cousins (if not, see here), is today understood as a Martini garnished with a cocktail onion instead of an olive or twist, like so:

2 oz. Dry Gin
1/2 oz. Dry Vermouth
Stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a cocktail onion.

The proportions used reflect Luke's preference for a 4:1 drink. I tend to skew towards 5:2; others may like other ratios. As a general rule of thumb, however you like your Martini is how you'll like your Gibson - although lemon-twist partisans like myself should be prepared for a savorier cocktail than we're otherwise used to.

Stay tuned for next week's post, "Chapter 3: What's in a name?"

How to Invent a Cocktail, Part I of VI

I do enjoy a good recipe challenge. I've had a few friends ask me to come up with signature recipes for special occasions, particularly weddings. It manages to be a nice and very personal alternative to a traditional wedding present - as well as a lasting one, because I give them the recipe.

(Shameless plug: I will also do this for money! If you want to commission a custom cocktail recipe, there's contact information at the bottom of this page.)

Recently, a friend of mine quietly published a book of poetry. It's called Abacus, and you can buy or download it here; doing so may help you understand the rest of this post. I'm always happy to see people produce interesting writing, particularly when they're people I know, and this is an interesting volume: every poem is constrained in some way beyond the verse form. If you're familiar with Gadsby, the novel written without the use of the letter "e", that's the sort of thing going on in each poem, except that doing without a single letter is much easier in a poem than it is in a novel, and so the constraints Luke has chosen for his poetry tend to be stricter.

In any case, we had a launch party for his book, and I was placed in charge of the signature drink. Because I occasionally get asked how I go about inventing a new cocktail, I thought it might be interesting for fans of the blog to see my thought process for this one described in depth, particularly because, in this case, it turned out poorly before it turned out well.

This is a somewhat long story, so I've broken it up into six pieces, each of which will be a separate post and conclude with a recipe. 

Chapter One: What goes into an artist's cocktail? 
Ingredients and cocktail styles often acquire associations over time. If you wanted a drink to evoke New Orleans, you would probably use Peychaud's bitters. For Vermont, you'd reach for the bottle of maple syrup. Dozens of bars have played with the Jungle Bird's rum-bitters-pineapple formula and put the results on their menus with avian names. If the cocktail's name has "revive" or "reviver" in it, you can bet it's a variation on the Corpse Reviver #2 (not even on the less popular Corpse Reviver #1); if it has "Word," odds are it's a Last Word riff. And if you call something a "Julep," people are expecting mint and thinking of Dixie, even though the word got its start in the Middle East talking about rosewater.

More than any other spirit, absinthe says "art." It has a tradition of being taken to spur creativity, whether by hallucination or mere ordinary intoxication. It calls to mind the Bohemian era in Paris, when liberally quaffed by poets and painters and occasionally their patrons. Even the experience of drinking it is aesthetic, ritualistic, transformational. An artist's drink if ever there was one.

As if to prove my point, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec somewhat famously invented a cocktail using absinthe, which he called the Earthquake ("Tremblement de Terre" in French, which, let's be honest, is a much cooler name). It consisted of three parts Cognac, three parts absinthe, and a glass. What I love about this is that it doesn't matter what you use to measure your ingredients. It could be a jigger, a punch bowl, or your left shoe, and Lautrec will still insist that you fill it three times with each one.

I've served a less earthshaking version at events in the past, and it is delicious. It's essentially a glass of Cognac with a quarter-ounce of absinthe stirred in and a lemon twist. Not unlike a Sazerac. And that became my jumping-off point.


Tremblement de Terre
2 ½ oz. Cognac
¼ oz. Absinthe
Combine in a rocks glass and stir without ice.
Rim the glass with a lemon peel, twist it over the cocktail, then discard.

Stay tuned for next week's post, "Step 2: What goes into this artist's cocktail?"

The Palmetto

A few nights ago, I went to an unfamiliar bar in Plymouth, Massachusetts, ordered a “Rum Manhattan,” and found myself explaining to the people I was with that it's called a Palmetto, and it's delicious. The bartender overheard that conversation, and informed me as he was delivering our drinks that he'd never gotten an order for a Rum Manhattan before, and wouldn't have recognized the name if I had ordered it as a Palmetto. I don't know what rum he used, but it was a pretty good drink. Medium body, understated, and subtle. A pleasant surprise, particularly given that they didn't seem to have a broad rum selection in the first place.

This was a fairly minor experience in the grand scheme of my cocktail life, except for one thing: It was a dream.

I've had drinks in dreams before, sometimes good ones. I've probably ordered drinks in dreams before. But never, in any dream that I can recall, have I had an entire conversation explaining what a drink was and outlining my reasoning for ordering off-menu in a particular way. The moment I remembered this in the morning, I burst out laughing.

I have to assume that I had this dream because I've had that exact conversation a whole bunch of times lately. I've said before that I don't have a single favorite cocktail, but I do tend to go on kicks where I'm drinking one thing a lot. Lately, that's been the Palmetto, a handsome drink with a respectable pedigree (the earliest printed recipe I'm aware of dates to 1908).

It's not exactly a Rum Manhattan, but it's not far off. It's a combination of aged rum and sweet vermouth, ideally with orange bitters rather than aromatic ones. And the Palmetto tends to skew vermouthier than the Manhattan – you see it listed as a 1:1 recipe reasonably often. But the drinks are still very similar, and when one is in the mood for a Palmetto, one will in my experience be quite satisfied with a Rum Manhattan.

This is a particularly convenient fact because I spent a recent weekend in New York, and had more than a few drinks at the Yale Club thereof (both for reasons to be detailed in a later post), as well as at some establishments that don't really have craft cocktail programs but still know what a Manhattan is, because, well, that's where they are.

I've always believed that there is a time and a place for all kinds of drinking except for those that involve Fernet Branca, and so I generally tailor my drinks to the occasion. You should never be the guy asking for an Aviation at a dive bar, etc.

But I'm still me, and over time I've scouted out territory for reasonable off-menu orders under various circumstances.

For instance, my go-to drink in highball-heavy environments (nightclubs, wedding receptions, and so on) is a Rum and Tonic. A friend of mine introduced me to the concept in college, and I and everyone else who knew him thought he was out of his mind. It took me many years to actually try it. I was in Key West for my cousin's wedding, and I figured, what the hell, it's supposed to be a Caribbean drink – when in Rome, right?

Turns out my friend had been onto something: now I can't get enough of them. But most people don't know that the combination works, and give me the same odd look I used to give him. Which is fine! “What are you drinking?” is a great automatic icebreaker, and ordering a drink that's a little unusual but no harder to make than the standard fare often leads to an interesting conversation with the bartender.

The Palmetto fills a similar role in slightly different environments. There are lots of restaurants and hotel bars throughout the world that haven't kept up with the cocktail renaissance, but have a long enough history and a high enough standard of service that certain cocktails never went out of style there. These are the sorts of places where you can generally expect a Manhattan, Martini, and an Old Fashioned to be available to a reasonable standard of quality, but your odds of getting a Twentieth Century or a Penicillin are slim to none.

Don't get me wrong, those are all delicious drinks. But sometimes I want a rum cocktail, and the Daiquiri often has poor associations at these sorts of places (I once tried to order one at the Parker House, and the bartender told me she couldn't make it because she didn't have a blender).

That's when I turn to the Palmetto. The establishments I'm thinking of fairly reliably have a bottle of Mount Gay or something similar lying around, and if they haven't got orange bitters, they certainly have Angostura, and that makes a perfectly lovely drink.

As a side note, I'm also fond of deploying the Frisco Sour in these kinds of places. They usually have a dusty bottle of Benedictine on the shelf, in case someone orders a B&B or because it's just Something You're Supposed to Have. If they have that, lemon juice, and whiskey, you've got a Frisco Sour, and you haven't asked them for anything more complicated than a Sidecar.

But for today, I'll stick with the prophecy in my dream and present my recipe for the Palmetto:

1½ oz. Aged Rum
1 oz. Sweet Vermouth
2 ds. Orange Bitters
Stir, strain, and serve up.
Optionally, express an orange peel over the glass and discard.

The version I'd make around the house uses Mount Gay XO and Dolin sweet vermouth, with Regan's No. 6 for the bitters. I want to say that any aged rum you enjoy will work nicely in this drink, but there are definitely exceptions. I would stay away from high-hogo Jamaican rums and anything with a similarly funky flavor profile. Also best to avoid Martinique rhum agricole, which can veer into the savory/vegetal palate; although Rhum Barbancourt, which is a Haitian rhum agricole, seems to have the right profile here. And seriously heavy-bodied rums, particularly blackstrap rums, will probably make the drink too sweet.

I will say that whatever aged rum you keep around for general cocktail purposes will probably work nicely in this drink, since those others usually perform more specific roles. Aside from Barbancourt and Mount Gay (and really, all expressions of either should be fine), I'd recommend trying it with Appleton, Bacardi 8, Plantation, or the local rums made by Privateer, Granite Coast, or GrandTen.

And as always, there's nothing wrong with using more than one rum in a drink – feel free to experiment with combinations!

Happy Birthday, Distilled Knowledge!

One year ago today, I became a published author.

Granted, the book had been finished for months, was already printed, and had been distributed to many of the folks who pre-ordered it in September, but the official date of publication was October 4th, and I had had my sights on that date for the better part of a year.

It has been strange to be an author, mostly in how not-strange it has been. There is very little fanfare from day to day. Even the things I do in my capacity as "Brian D. Hoefling, author of Distilled Knowledge" are often tied up in logistics and details. When shall we schedule this event for maximum attendance? Can we wiggle down the price and still serve drinks? And so on.

The recognition is always sudden when it comes, and generally brief but all-consuming. This summer I met an Australian couple who had read my book and were thrilled to discover that I was about to give a talk at the very same museum where they happened to be. That was awesome.

Sometimes it's as simple as seeing it on a shelf - in a bookstore, in a friend's home, in any case no different from any other book there, no less a book, no less real, and no less published. Or being asked to sign a copy and remembering, for whatever reason I happen to remember it that day, that there is something on this planet to which my signature adds value.

I'm still rather dumbstruck by the whole thing. I had really never expected to write this book. Even while I was working on it, I never really expected it to come out when it was done.

I've heard it said that it's a good sign for a relationship if you can keep surprising each other. If that's so, then Distilled Knowledge and I are in it for the long haul. That little book keeps surprising me just by being there.

You have my thanks, the lot of you. You know who you are. If you're reading this, you're probably one of them.

And now, because I haven't had quite enough sap yet today (wait for the pun), I'm going to mark the occasion with a cocktail broadly inspired by the one I concocted when my first book arrived last year, which was:

Publication Cocktail
1 1/2 oz. Rittenhouse 100º Rye
1 oz. Angostura Amaro
1/4 oz. Maple Syrup
2 dashes Crude Sycophant (Orange & Fig) Bitters
Shake with ice. Strain into a chilled coupe glass.

Today's shares the maple-fruit-herbal palate, which is one I enjoy quite a lot, but otherwise has little in common. It does, however, use ingredients that have some significance to me and to the last year in one way or another. Here you go:

Next Year in Salem
2 oz. Rhum Barbancourt 8-Year
1/2 oz. Cranberry Liqueur
2 tsp. Grade A Maple Syrup
2 tsp. Ferro China Baliva
1 healthy dash Crude Sycophant (Orange & Fig) Bitters
Stir with ice for a bit longer than you think you should. Double-strain into a rocks glass and serve without ice.

Cheers, friends.


Cognac-Gin Cocktails and the "Millionaire" Cocktail

Something like seven years ago, I spent New Year's Eve at a lovely hotel in northern New Hampshire. It was one of the grand dames of the grand hotel era, and that evening in its ballroom was the first time I encountered an ice luge. (I find this odd in retrospect.)

Appropriately, it was a very impressive ice luge - more an ice sculpture, really, taller than a person and the length of a table, with an undulating tunnel from top-left to bottom-right that the drinks ran through with impressive speed. One did not do shots from this ice luge. On the contrary, the bartender placed a cocktail glass at the exit, got up on a stool to pour the cocktail into the top, and then watched as the wall of decorated ice placed it perfectly into the glass on his behalf.

I swear the ice luge isn't the point of this story, but once I remembered it I couldn't help but share it.

The drink that received this special treatment was, I was told, the Millionaire Cocktail, consisting of gin, Cognac, sweet vermouth, and grenadine. You may have heard that there are a whole bunch of drinks by that name, and there totally are. I've just never found one with that list of ingredients.

Not for lack of trying, mind you. This all took place before my journey of cocktail discovery really got going, and so the "Millionaire," whatever it was, was one of the drinks I sought out in my early research. Not only could I not find anything connecting that name to the recipe I'd been given, but the distinctive base - gin and Cognac, who'd a thunk it? - seemed not to have been used in any major recipes, period. Eventually I gave up, and moved on to other areas of inquiry.

But this week I stumbled upon a drink that brought this question roaring back into my mind. Here's the Stay Up Late (recipe adapted from Serious Eats):

Stay Up Late
1 ½ oz. London Dry Gin
½ oz. Cognac
3/4 oz. Lemon Juice
3/4 oz. 1:1 Simple Syrup
~4 oz. Club Soda to Fill

Shake gin, Cognac, lemon juice, and simple syrup with ice. Strain into a Collins glass. Top with club soda; garnish with a brandied cherry speared with an orange slice. 

I have a particular fondness for the counterintuitive. I love delicious cocktails, but if they also don't make sense on paper, I'll love them all the more. This is where my special affection for the Jungle Bird and the Twentieth Century comes from, to say nothing of my appreciation for the Kingston, which is essentially a Daiquiri with a mixed base of gin and aged rum. And so my old obsession with the Mystery Millionaire was easily reawakened. 

The cocktail journalism landscape has changed dramatically since the last time I looked into it; it's fascinating to research the same thing before and after an explosion of public interest in the field. There are now dozens of online references to the Stay Up Late, which is attested at least as far back as The Stork Club Bar Book in 1946, where before I couldn't find a single credible witness to the phenomenon of mixed-base gin-brandy drinks.

Looking for more examples led me to this lovely gin-ealogy post, evidently derived from a seminar at the second-ever San Antonio Cocktail Conference. There is yet another Harvard cocktail on that list, to my dismay (the "Harvard Veritas," consisting of gin, Cointreau, lemon juice, and a dash of crème de cassis, presumably for color), but that's OK, because it has also provided me with a drink variously called the Loud Speaker, the Announcer, or the Winchell, which also uses the Cognac/gin mixed base:

Loudspeaker Cocktail (That's the name with the most hits on Google)
3/4 oz. Gin
3/4 oz. Cognac
1 oz. Cointreau
½ oz. Lemon Juice

Shake and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist, or not at all.

Like the Between-the-Sheets, this is essentially a Sidecar with a split base of Cognac and a clear spirit. I haven't tried this recipe, but I expect it calls for about twice as much Cointreau as you'd actually want.

That page also reminded me that the Pink Lady exists, although to be fair, I already knew that one. It's often just made with gin these days, but the classic version is a mixed-base drink, with gin and apple brandy - not quite what we're looking for here, but further proof that gin and brown spirits can play nicely together (recipe adapted from Imbibe Magazine):

Pink Lady
1 ½ oz. London Dry Gin
½ oz. Applejack or Apple Brandy
Juice of ½ Lemon
2 dashes Grenadine
1 Egg White

Shake all ingredients without ice to unfold egg proteins. Then add ice and shake again. Strain into a coupe glass and garnish with a brandied cherry.

This one is absolutely a classic, and it's by far the closest, flavor-wise, to what I had in New Hampshire. But it definitely wasn't the drink I had. There was no foam in my Pseudo-Millionaire, which rules out the egg white (I also assume they wouldn't have put eggs through the ice luge). And I specifically remember being told Cognac and vermouth were in there somewhere; applejack may have been available, but it wasn't popular at the time, and I expect I would have remembered the difference.

There's one more gin-brandy drink I've found in my current round of research, and that's the Ampersand (recipe adapted from Serious Eats):

1 oz. Cognac
1 oz. Old Tom Gin
1 oz. Sweet Vermouth
2 dashes Orange Bitters

Stir well with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass. Do not garnish.

It's also in the right family flavor-wise, but I can guarantee there was no Old Tom gin in northern New Hampshire at the time I encountered this mystery cocktail. At the time "gin" and "London dry gin" were still coextensive categories in a lot of places, aside from the odd bottle of Plymouth here or there. Funnily enough, Old Tom gin is actually a more natural ingredient to pair with Cognac than London dry gin is, because it's sweeter and richer, but it definitely wasn't what was in this drink.

So it seems I've struck out again, but not as hard as the last time. Some people before the bartender at this hotel have tried blending brandy and gin, and it was a good enough idea that others picked it up. That makes me want to try to recreate what I had (and, for that matter, to see if I still enjoy it after years of palate evolution).

So let's see what we can come up with, shall we? Based on the above and my memory, I think the base should be something like 2:1 brandy:gin; with no more sweet vermouth than gin and possibly less; and no more grenadine than sweet vermouth, and possibly quite a bit less - it had to flow, after all. So let's start with something simple, like 1 oz. Cognac, 1/2 oz. gin, 1/2 oz. sweet vermouth, and 1 tsp. grenadine.

This came out much better than I would have expected.

It's a simple drink, flavor-wise. You get grenadine, sweet vermouth, Cognac, and gin, in that order. The gin is mostly limited to the finish. It's the sort of drink where it's especially important to use decent ingredients, because none of them is going to hide from you in the slightest. My choices: Courvoisier, my go-to Cognac; Dolin, my go-to sweet vermouth; homemade grenadine; and Citadelle gin, which I've never owned a bottle of before today.

Citadelle is a solid neutral base for a gin cocktail, more juniper-forward and less earthy than my usual Plymouth. That turns out to be a good thing, because the ginny finish is the most interesting thing in the drink, which is otherwise a "Hey, bartender, what's like a Manhattan but sweeter?" I wanted more of that in there, and added a drop of Fee Bros. gin barrel-aged orange bitters. Yes, I know, that was also definitely not in the New Hampshire version, but if the Jack Rose Society can add Peychaud's to its eponymous cocktail, I think I can take some liberties with the Quasi-Millionaire before I send it out into the world.

A good first draft, but not good enough that I was ready to stop. The gin was the trick - the drink was a little flat until the moment it really hit. So, what if we reversed the proportions of gin and Cognac? Would that take it over the top?

Nope, wrong move. The drink came out harsh and weak-bodied by comparison with the brandy-forward version. I wanted to check all my boxes, but I'd had a suspicion from the get-go that a 50/50 split was where this was headed. It turns out I was right on the money: I and all available friends and neighbors preferred that one by a mile.

It's not quite the drink I had back then, which I remember being sweeter and more brilliantly red (probably from using Rose's grenadine instead of the real pomegranate stuff), and just a tad tangier (maybe there was a bit of lemon juice or sours mix in there that they never mentioned?). It's also still not listed as a Millionaire in any book I've seen.

But it seems to be a reasonable craft-cocktail approximation of the mystery drink, and, more importantly, it's good. With a family as wide-open as the Millionaire's is, who's to say this isn't a distant cousin?

And so I present to you the:

White Mountain Millionaire
3/4 oz. Courvoisier Cognac
3/4 oz. Citadelle Gin
1/2 oz. Dolin Sweet Vermouth
1 tsp. Real Pomegranate Grenadine

Shake with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass. Optionally, garnish with a brandied cherry speared with a lemon peel.

The garnish is a guess, but I do think there were probably maraschino cherries (the bright red ones they put on ice cream sundaes, that is) decorating the original drink, and the lemon nods to the hint of tartness I think it must have had for me to keep swigging them all night (which I most definitely did).

This was the only version I tried that really tasted like it was more than the sum of its parts. The sip still started with grenadine and then hit you with the vermouth's herbal notes, and the swallow was still strong on the gin, but the blended base added an element of mystery to the middle that made this worth drinking again. If I ever put together a list of house cocktails - drinks that guests at my home are always welcome to ask for, other than the obvious ones - I think I'd have to include this one.

The Dead Eye Cocktail

Let it never be said that I was unable to admit being wrong. I owe an apology to Fernet Branca - their product is still foul on its own, but, credit where credit is due, I've finally found a drink that uses the stuff and actually manages to taste good. (I'm not counting the Hanky Panky, which treats Fernet as a non-potable bitters.)

I was in New York this week for the Harlem Whiskey Renaissance (highly recommended!). I figured I should check out the Harlem cocktail scene while I was in town, and I'd heard great things about a place called Caballero. They're new, and they're still way under the radar - they haven't got a web presence that I can find, and I'm not sure whether that's a deliberate choice or they're just still working on it - but in any case, you can find them at 119th and St. Nicholas.

Caballero is very tequila-forward and very, very good. They have a house-made salt blend to use in their Palomas, if that gives you a sense: they hand-grind crystals of what I'm told was Mexican sea salt, Hawaiian volcanic salt (which was red!), and Himalayan pink salt, along with smaller amounts of other salts from around the world. Just a pinch goes into each drink, but you can think of it like a bitters - it adds a bit of body, and a subtle hint of flavor that ties the whole thing together.

That Paloma, incidentally, also used a mixed base of blanco and reposado tequila and a dash of blood orange liqueur, and it was heavenly. But that's not why I'm here (it would be difficult to replicate without their house-made ingredients anyhow).

I'm here because it was a stunningly slow night - step up your game, New York! it was eleven o'clock on a Thursday! - and that gave me a chance to get talking with Nick the bartender. Somewhere along the way I asked him what he usually drinks after his shift, and he said he opts for a Fernet and cola. I'd had just enough to drink to share how I really felt about Fernet Branca.

He took that as a challenge. I was skeptical, but I always admire that impulse. And that's how I came to be drinking the Dead Eye, the only drink on their menu with Fernet in it, and a real doozy of a cocktail. The bet was that if I didn't like the drink, it was on him; but if I did, I'd have to eat crow on my blog (which I'd mentioned I keep) and share the recipe.

And, well, here we are:

Dead Eye Cocktail
2 oz. Añejo Tequila
1/2 oz. Fernet Branca
1/2 oz. Islay Scotch
1/4 oz. Cynar
Fill with ~2oz. India Pale Ale
Top with 2 healthy dashes of barrel-aged orange bitters
Garnish with a cilantro stalk

A few notes: the tequila was one I didn't recognize, and I don't recall the name; I'll see if I can get it from them and I'll post it if I do. The Scotch, I believe, was Laphroaig 10. The IPA was super hoppy, but I'm not sure which one it was. As for the bitters, they house-age them in mason jars with staves from old tequila barrels (they're on display behind the bar, which is really cool), but if you don't want to make them yourself at home, Nick recommended substituting the whiskey barrel-aged orange bitters from Eldritch Spirits in Rhode Island (unfortunately hard to find, even around here) or, in a pinch, one dash each of Fee Bros. whiskey barrel-aged aromatic bitters and gin barrel-aged orange bitters.

There's obviously a lot going on here - crazy bold flavors bouncing off each other in all directions. The smoke from the Scotch complements the low notes in the Fernet and the Cynar, and the wood notes in the tequila. The hoppiness in the beer plays off the Cynar's vegetal notes, the mint from the Fernet and the herbaceousness in the cilantro garnish. The orange can play in both sandboxes, and it, the cilantro, and the tequila form their own triangle. It's a loud, crowded drink, not subtle in the slightest, but it's remarkably good if you can handle it. And I'll be the first to admit that it just wouldn't work without the Fernet.

Unfortunately, I'd already put my camera away for the night, so I haven't got a picture of it. But Nick has an Instagram account, and he promised to put up a picture of the drink for me to link to. Check him out here, and happy holidays - it looks like Fernet Branca isn't that bad after all!

Speed Rack Northeast

This past Sunday, I had the pleasure of attending the Speed Rack Northeast competition in downtown Boston. I say "pleasure" for three reasons:

  • This event is a ton of fun.
  • Aside from taking notes and pictures, I wasn't working while I was there, so I could enjoy it to the fullest.
  • Going made me realize just what a baller my friend Katie is, for placing second in the Chicago competition after just a year behind the bar.

And now I have the pleasure of writing about it, for the benefit of those (like me a few days ago) who don't really know what Speed Rack is or what it's all about.

What is Speed Rack?
A women-only speed bartending competition.

What's it all about?
Breast cancer. Specifically, fighting it.

How does it work?
It's a series of head-to-head competitions, judged by a panel of four experts. (In our case, they were Charles Joly, Nancy Batista-Caswell, Josey Packard, and Misty Kalkofen.)

Each round, each of the judges orders a drink. Both bartenders then prepare the same four-drink order for the judges' table (each has her own bar to work with). The preparation is timed, and the goal is to have the fastest time.

But! The judges can add penalties in five-second increments for errors or inadequacies in the drinks. As a competitor, you have a strategic choice between taking your time and being careful, aiming to minimize penalties; or going for broke on speed, trusting that you can put a big enough gap between yourself and your opponent that any penalties won't matter.

In either case, both competitors are making four craft cocktails to order, for professional judges, in the space of a couple of minutes.

That was confusing. Can't I just watch a video?
You can, and you totally should. Speed Rack has a very worthwhile YouTube channel - the video from Sunday isn't up yet, but you can see Katie's aforementioned appearance in Speed Rack Midwest here:

When and where does this happen?
Throughout the year, and all over the country. There are eight regional competitions, which started with Speed Rack Midwest in November and wrap up later this month with Speed Rack Southwest in Denver. Sunday's was Speed Rack Northeast, which covers New England (props to them for drawing the boundary of the "Northeast" at the Hudson River, like we do here in Boston).

Is there an overall winner who gets a cool title?
You bet! Each regional competition sends two people to the championship in New York in May: the winner, and a second competitor chosen by a combination of the judges' vote and a popular vote. Whoever wins in New York is crowned Miss Speed Rack [Year].

How did this come about?
You should ask the founders, Ivy Mix and Lynnette Marrero, but in brief: the idea was to create a competition that celebrated the work of female bartenders (check) and supported women both in and out of the industry (also check). They got started in 2011 and have been going ever since.

The Applelation Cider booth - apparently their cider is kosher for Passover.

The Applelation Cider booth - apparently their cider is kosher for Passover.

What's the vibe like?
Raucous, for a start. Everybody from Auchentoshan to Xanté was there as a sponsor - their booths lined both walls of Royale in the Theater District, if you know the space - and the drinks were free for ticketholders. That and the extremely danceable music played between rounds and during deliberations reinforced the...well, the feeling of being at a competition based on speed and booze.

I was impressed by how supportive the competitors were of each other, both in Boston and in the videos of past competitions that I may or may not have spent a lot of time watching since Sunday. Impressed but not surprised - the people who gravitate towards these kinds of events and this kind of hospitality, in my experience, know how to appreciate the success of their peers, even when they're competing.

An exemplary moment: just before the final results were announced, the emcee said to the two finalists, "I'm going to let you hold hands and celebrate each other." Naturally, they did.

How do I go to one of these?
Depends! If you're in Colorado and you're free on March 26th, check out Speed Rack Southwest - there's more information here, and tickets are available here.

There will also be the national championship in New York on May 21st! How one gets tickets to that is not yet clear to me, but the Speed Rack facebook page will probably be updated at some point between now and then with the necessary information.

How much money do they raise?
I don't know how much money they've raised in total, but they took in $69,000 in the first year and the thing's gotten a lot bigger since then. Tickets were $25 a pop, and there was a raffle on top of that, so I'd wager it's a lot.

This doesn't sound so hard - I bet I could do it!
Depends: are you a bartender (and a woman)? If so, you may want to compete next year! That process hasn't started yet, because this year's competition is still taking place; but if you're serious, you may want to bookmark this page.

If not, well, let's have no more armchair-bartending from you. Making four different cocktails in a minute and forty-three seconds is hard enough for most people, but making them to the standards of professional judges? Good night.

For the love of all that is holy, get to the drinks, man!
Oh, fine. I arrived late, so I missed the early rounds. But I can tell you the menus for the semifinal and final rounds:

Semifinal I
Deanna vs. Jen
Charles: Lion's Tail
Nancy: Brainstorm
Josey: 20th Century (one of my personal favorites)
Misty: Jasmine

Winner: Deanna

Semifinal II
Clairessa vs. Andrea
Misty: Maximilian Affair
Josey: Tipperary
Nancy: Old Cuban
Charles: Paddy Cocktail

Winner: Clairessa

Deanna vs. Clairessa
Charles: Dealer's Choice ("Refreshing")
- Charles described Deanna's as some sort of medicinal ginny thing
- And he described Clairessa's as crushed ice with Aperol and (apparently not quite enough) gin
Nancy: Morning Glory Fizz
Josey: Vieux Carré
Misty: Dealer's Choice ("Smoky and stirred, with the nuance of winter")
- Deanna's was Scotch, mezcal, green Chartreuse, and (apparently not quite enough) maraschino liqueur - a variation on the Last Word
- Clairessa's was Scotch, allspice dram, Cocchi di Torino, and simple syrup

Winner: Clairessa, Miss Speed Rack Northeast

Now  this  is how you celebrate a Speed Rack win!

Now this is how you celebrate a Speed Rack win!

Stray Thoughts and Fun Facts

  • They gave Clairessa and Deanna's times in the final round to two decimal places. The competitors' initial times get progressively closer to each other as they advance through the rounds, but, I mean, damn.
  • Misty has judged every single Speed Rack competition in Boston, as well as a bunch of others around the country.
  • The raffle prizes ranged from a bottle of Plantation 20th Anniversary Rum to a $100 gift card to Drink (they do gift cards!?) to a Chartreuse backpack. Basically every prize package came with a sampler of Hella Bitters.
Hell yeah indeed, good sir. Hell yeah indeed.

Hell yeah indeed, good sir. Hell yeah indeed.

The Martini Part II: The History of the Martin[x] Family

I promised some time ago that there'd be a follow-up post on the history of the Martini. I like to think of myself as someone who keeps all his promises eventually, so here it is at last. (If you're looking for a recipe guide or the Herzog Cocktail School's Official List of Martiniological Heresies, click here.)

My thanks and apologies to David Wondrich – his book Imbibe! is my primary source for what follows. If you'd like more detail on this story, I highly recommend it. It also contains far more historical recipes than this blog post will.

The story of the Martini, and of the dozenish related cocktails we'll need to discuss along with it, begins with vermouth. It made landfall in the United States in the middle part of the nineteenth century, and within a few decades it had been adapted to the existing American culture of cocktails.

At the time, that meant serving the vermouth iced, bittered, and lemon-peeled, and calling it a Vermouth Cocktail. This was a refreshing change of pace for people who found that 40-50% ABV Gin or Whiskey Cocktails didn't agree with them.

But the next step, crossing the one with the other, was inevitable. The endlessly inventive barmen of the nineteenth century would devise hundreds of variations on this theme, only a few of which have survived to the present day.

Primordial Soup
"The Martini is merely a geographical expression."
- Klemens von Metternich, probably

Of that enormous menu of vermouth-and-spirit drinks, the Martini and the Manhattan are by far the most famous today. They also seem like the natural winners of the bunch – in the same way that apple and cinnamon seem to have an innate bond, one might well say that both whiskey and sweet vermouth and gin and dry vermouth are simply complementary pairs.

Except for one thing: the Martini that we think of today - gin, dry vermouth, an olive or a lemon peel, and absolutely not one other godforsaken thing - was a later invention.

The "Dry Martini," it was originally called (I always assumed that people who ordered Martinis that way were saying they wanted the vermouth to be a rounding error, and that may be true for many of them, but it turns out they're in the right anyway, for historical reasons). It used dry vermouth and London dry gin specifically.

That's utterly unlike the first drinks to be called "Martinis," which appeared in the 1880s. They used sweet vermouth - the only vermouth available in the 'States at the time - and Old Tom gin, which is sweeter than London dry. It was a really sweet drink, is what I'm saying.

Some variations used Hollands or Plymouth gin, also still with sweet vermouth, before the London dry version came screaming onto the scene so loudly that we all just collectively forgot there'd ever been anything else. Wondrich dates the Dry Martini's ascent to the mid-1890s.

(Here's quick primer on gin styles, if you need one to follow all that.)

All of these drinks also called for bitters, generally orange ones. At the time, the presence of bitters was still part of the definition of “Cocktail” (and by the 1890s, really the only part left that would be unfamiliar today). Oh, and those first “Dry” Martinis could be as much as 50% vermouth.

The Gibson: Our Secret Patrimony
"The captive Gibson has captivated her uncivilized conqueror."
- Horace, probably

Which brings us to the roundabout history of the Gibson. Coming out of San Francisco around the turn of the twentieth century and known across the country by 1904, it, too, was a concoction of dry gin (London or Plymouth) with dry vermouth, and likewise a 50/50 drink. At the time, it was made without bitters, just enough to distinguish it from the Dry Martini.

It was also originally served without a garnish, the first on record being a hazelnut. Meanwhile Martinis were being garnished with citrus peels and the occasional olive, much as they are today. Somewhere along the way, somebody started using pickled onions, most likely as a quick visual cue that the contents of the glass were specifically a Gibson and not a Martini. The Negroni's orange peel replaced the Americano's lemon in the same way.

But as the twentieth century wore on, the bitters fell away from the main-branch Martini, too. The vestigial onion became the only difference between it and the Gibson – because the Martini had essentially become a Gibson. 

The Drying of the Dry Martini
"How about 73 Dry Martinis?"
- Ernest Hemingway, apparently

The breeding-out of the bitters is just part of the story, though. What started out as a 1:1 drink had become a 2:1 drink when the Savoy Cocktail Book was published in the 1930s; it could be as much as a 7:1 drink by the late forties, when David Embury was writing; and could at least satirically be a 20:1 drink when taxpayer money paid for this in 1974.

At some point it was decided by the Fashionable Set that it was proper to make a Martini with just a rinse of vermouth, or just an aerosolized spray of vermouth, or – God help us – no vermouth at all, just a bottle on the shelf to nod to or a solemn look in the general direction of France.

Footnote? Those mid-century miscreants drinking their Big Glasses 'o Gin and calling them "Martinis," appalled at the thought of fortified wine befouling the taste of juniper and alcoholism, are in my view no different from the people who order their meat burnt black. Yes, you probably have a higher tolerance for harsh flavor than the average person. Congratulations. You are still missing the point.

And this heresy begat another, paving the way for the Appletini and its unholy brood. It was the gin-drinkers who first declared that something that was certainly not a Martini could still be called one if it was served in a cocktail glass. The next generation of drinkers took notice, and when they cast off the stodgy straight gin of their parents, embarked on an admirable if depraved explosion of creativity, filling cocktail glasses with sour apple schnapps, literal coffee, or just plain ol' vodka and sour mix, and attaching at least a '-tini' to the end of each.

But I digress.

The Paths Not Taken
Remember that ur-Martini recipe, with the sweeter Tom gin and the sweet vermouth? It survives to this day, in the guise of the Martinez.

We treat the maraschino liqueur as an full-fledged ingredient in the contemporary Martinez, but that would have been absurd at the time of its invention. Nineteenth-century barmen used maraschino - and absinthe, and curaçao - the same way they used bitters: drops and dashes at a time. Swapping out, say, Boker's for maraschino was a much smaller change to them than it would be to us, even if they were using a full quarter of an ounce.

This means that the common narrative (for certain values of “common”) that the Martini descended from the Martinez is at best half true. They're related, sure, and the Martinez is attested first, but they both started out as sweet gin + sweet vermouth + some kind of bitters or bitters-like-thing= drink.

In fact, according to Wondrich, the Martini and the Martinez were bouncing around at the same time as the Martine, Martineau, Martigny, Martina, Martena, and so on: all names that got applied to that same sweet+sweet+[something] cocktail at various times in various places, most likely due to a giant, continent-spanning game of Telephone. In other words, these two are related by parallel and not by direct descent, each a grandchild of the Martin[x] cocktail concocted back in the 18somethings.

A family tree for all the branches of vermouth cocktails discussed in this post. Not pictured: cadet branches featuring other spirits, like the El Presidente and the Metropolitan; mixed-base cocktails like the Vieux Carré; and structurally-similar but independently-evolved drinks like the Negroni.

A family tree for all the branches of vermouth cocktails discussed in this post. Not pictured: cadet branches featuring other spirits, like the El Presidente and the Metropolitan; mixed-base cocktails like the Vieux Carré; and structurally-similar but independently-evolved drinks like the Negroni.

Certainly, they've both evolved since then, the Martini more dramatically but the Martinez noticeably as well, despite its reputation as a living fossil. Today, it's very frequently made with orange rather than aromatic bitters, the proportion of maraschino has tended to increase, the curaçao one might have seen in it in years past is nowhere to be found, and now and then one finds versions that are deliberately spirit-forward rather than 50/50.

Second Cousins, Once or Twice Removed
Having adjusted the taxonomy of the Martin[x] family, we can posit a similar close relationship for the Manhattan and the Brooklyn, the whiskey-based variations on this same theme.

The Manhattan, we all know, combines whiskey with sweet vermouth and aromatic bitters. The Brooklyn has a long and tortured history of its own but the version most commonly treated as canonical is Jacob Grohusko's from 1908, was originally made with whiskey, dry vermouth, maraschino, and Amer Picon (a very old-school orange-flavored bitter aperitif).

If we think like nineteenth-centurymen and treat the Brooklyn's bitters and maraschino as interchangeable with the Manhattan's Angostura, the drinks differ only in the vermouth. And there were early variations on Grohusko's recipe that used the sweet stuff, too.

There were also early Manhattan recipes that called for maraschino or a dash of curaçao along with the aromatic bitters – in which case one might reasonably call the drink a Bittered Brooklyn.

The Brooklyn's evolution over time has some interesting similarities to the Martinez's. Its proportion of maraschino has tended to increase, and it's established itself as the quirky one in the family, more old-fashioned and less mainstream than its unambiguously classic cousin, even as it, too, has kept up with the times.

You've Been So Patient, Here's a Recipe
If you're like me, sixteen hundred words on Martiniological history makes you thirsty. Here's the recipe for the contemporary Martinez I just poured myself.

2 oz. Chesuncook Gin
1 oz. Dolin Sweet Vermouth
¼ oz. Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
2 dashes Regan's Orange Bitters
Stir with ice and strain into a coupé glass. Or serve with ice in a rocks glass – you do you.

The Martinez, I hope you've gleaned by now, a is a Wild West of a drink. The combination of things we've settled on as standard for its current incarnation is a little arbitrary, and a little variable, but the general theme is gin with sweet vermouth, orange, and maraschino. And you can make a very tasty drink that way.

Don't go too dry on the gin – it'll just end up tasting like a weird Martini. I tend to think the drink benefits from a little earthiness, so I used the Chesuncook gin from Maine, which is made from a base of distilled carrots. (No, really.) If you've got a nice, malty genever on hand, give it a try. Plymouth would work quite nicely, too, and in general I recommend Plymouth as an all-purpose gin to keep on hand.

As for the cocktail, in this version, at least, the nose is juniper, an almost berrylike sugar, a hint of citrus, and the heathery Maine spices from the Chesuncook. The sip starts with earthy sweetness from the vermouth and maraschino, with a very noticeable, very rich mouthfeel. It dries out fast on the swallow, with a burst of citrus and those lovely Maine botanicals.

Man, it seems a long time since I've written out tasting notes for a cocktail. Feels good to be at it again. As much as I enjoy writing long history and opinion pieces, it's the drinks that matter most, right? Right.

Tune in next time, for the first in a three-part series on the muddled history of blue curaçao with extensive footnotes! (Kidding!)

((...maybe not kidding. We'll see.))

No Fernet, Never Fernet

It's a beautiful snowy day, which is a wonderful excuse to stay inside and put the finishing touches on a piece I've been working on. (Warning: strong opinions ahead.)

You see, I have a bone to pick with my friend Randy over at Summit Sips - whose posts are invariably excellent, but whose most recent, "The Ferrari: A Bartender's Handshake," contains the extremely questionable advice that one should ever, under any circumstances, drink Fernet Branca.

Of course, one should not. But it's not really Randy's fault. The whole world has gone mad over this stuff, and it's high time someone set them straight.

A wise man once said

"Fernet Branca is, in my view, the most foul drinking concoction yet conceived of by man. Yes, it's worse than Malort - and by a long shot. Yes, it's worse than Dr. McGillicuddy's peppermint schnapps. Yes, it's worse than plastic-bottle Popov vodka. It's like someone took a perfectly good bottle of Amaro Meletti and threw all three of those in there, with a little Aunt Jemima's for color. By what hanky-panky it has brainwashed so many otherwise-reasonable people into claiming that they like it, I have no idea."

Before adding:

"...don't get me started."

You may consider me thoroughly started. A shot of Fernet is described, in the Summit Sips post and elsewhere, as the "bartender's handshake," a sort of secret signal that you're in the club, you know your stuff, you're a real aficionado. It's not the only drink to have served in this role - the Negroni has, being similarly bitter and complex, but with the benefit of actually tasting good, which Fernet does not.

For those of you who have never had Fernet Branca, I commend you on your life choices. But if you want to know what it tastes like, try to imagine something that is, at once, far too sweet, far too bitter, and far too minty. A friend of mine (who claims, no doubt erroneously, to like the stuff) is fond of repeating the quip that it's "like mouthwash with delusions of grandeur." Others have likened it to motor oil, and who am I to say they're wrong?

Again, the bartender's handshake is a shot of this stuff. A shot of it. Knocked back, all at once, it's a bungee jump of a drink. It's often served with a chaser of Pabst Blue Ribbon, presumably to keep it down (or perhaps because satire has been obsolete since the seventies).

I have been served such shots by earnest, well-meaning bartenders with whom I'd connected and had a good conversation while at the bar. Bless their hearts, I don't blame them for it a bit. I seem like someone who would have drunk this particular Kool-Aid, which makes it a very kind and generous pour. But it also obliges me to do the damned shot with them, which rather takes the wind out of the sails of my gratitude.

In short, bartenders need a new handshake.

Literally anything else would be preferable. "Hey that was a nice conversation we had. How about a bracing shot of blue curaçao?" "Oh, yes, please - that sounds lovely!" "Have you tried our malt vinegar shrub? We make it with actual shrubs." "No, but I'd be delighted! A double, if you don't mind."

“Ah,” some at-once-smug-and-benighted soul will be saying about now, “But perhaps Fernet is simply too intense for you?” In a word, no.

Here is a non-comprehensive list of intense drinking experiences I've been known to enjoy:

  • Smith and Cross overproof Jamaican rum (my preferred sipping rum around the house until an acid reflux diagnosis put an end to that)
  • Jeppson's Malört
  • A Trinidad Sour
  • Grappa of dubious quality
  • Moxie
  • A Pink Gin made with the driest, Londoniest London Dry Gin available
  • Shots of dill- and horseradish-flavored vodka, drunk in the Russian style with an assortment of smoked, salted, and pickled fish and vegetables
  • Straight-up apple cider vinegar
  • Literally every amaro I've had that wasn't Fernet Branca. Meletti? Love it. Ferro China Baliva? Special ordered it from Italy before it was available in the 'States. Campari, Aperol? ¿Por qué no los dos? Letherbee Fernet? Pretty damned good, I have to say. Give me Strega, Cardamaro, Montenegro, Lucano, rucolino from Ischia, mamma mia, here we go: give me any herbal tincture you may care to procure, and I'll say “Give me more, but hold the damned Fernet.”

My favorite style of wine is the earthy, dry-as-a-bone, punch-you-in-the-face Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. My favorite style of rum is funky, flavorful Jamaican, with deep notes of molasses and the slightest eau de décomposition.

It's not me, it's the Fernet. I would eat that jumping-larva cheese from Sardinia before I'd shoot Fernet again. Unless I could shoot it with a gun, that sounds fun and would be fine.

For pity's sake, Fernet shots (and Malört shots for that matter – it's a good spirit, worth drinking, but no one in his right mind should ever shoot it) are the frat-bro “How many shots of PECTOPAH vodka can you do, pussy?” of the bartending world. I refuse to believe that anyone enjoys the flavor. People may enjoy the ritual, though I'd suspect most of them are either just pretending to or suffering from Stockholm Syndrome.

It's a garbage drink. If I used it to clean my drain and poured myself a shot of drain cleaner I'm not sure I'd know the difference.

The very first time I went to Tales of the Cocktail, I sought out the Fernet table, thinking that surely it had to be my fault, and surely the people who made the stuff would know how to use it in a palatable way. Ever expect to be disappointed but hope to be pleasantly surprised, and then somehow end up even more disappointed when you're not pleasantly surprised? Because I sure have! There was not a worthwhile beverage at that table, with the possible exception of the ginger ale they were ruining by adding Fernet to it.

Have you ever wondered what vodka would taste like if you added sugar and left a menthol cigarette in it for six months? Yeah, now you know.

San Francisco drinks it, and they're welcome to it. We all know the people in San Francisco are out of their minds. Too close to the international date line and the San Andreas fault line. Too many lines, it gunks up the brain. They can be forgiven.

The Argentines, too, because they mix their Fernet with Coke, which is the third-least-bad way to use Fernet, after “two drops at a time in a Hanky-Panky” and “as weedkiller.”

The Italians, too, because if they're going to condemn us to this foolish spirit they had better be drinking it themselves. They're welcome to say that it tastes good. They're welcome to believe it. They might not even be lying – after all, can we ever really be sure we've understood someone whose native language is not our own? Does meaning always survive translation? Perhaps the boundaries of “good” are different for an Italian speaker, and encompass not merely what an Anglophone would call “good,” but also some things an Anglophone would call “an abomination against heaven and earth.”

But the rest of us? Red-blooded Americans who aren't high on kale and burlesque? We should know better. We. Should. Know. Better.

Dear friends, acquaintances, colleagues, strangers, and people with whom I will someday share a strong and lasting mutual hatred over this very issue, I offer you the following things to keep in mind if you do like Fernet:

  • You don't.
  • No, really, you've been brainwashed. Try to taste the Fernet next time. Maybe sip it instead of swallowing it in one gulp. Pay attention. You'll notice it's terrible.
  • If the people who invented it don't shoot it, you shouldn't either. This also applies to Malört and Jägermeister; it does not apply to Patrón or Fireball.
  • If you think you like Fernet, wash your lying mouth out with soap, and then try Amaro Meletti, which has all the flavors Fernet would have if they weren't being swamped by sugar, bitterness, and enough mint to numb your entire body.
  • If you think “minty herbal bitter delicious sweet thing” isn't a contradiction in several terms, crack a can of Moxie. You know who liked Moxie? Ted Williams, Calvin Coolidge, and E.B. White. You know who liked Fernet Branca? Nazis.
  • I'm not even kidding, Hitler's SS bodyguards used to sit around and drink Fernet Branca, and mess with the one guy who was injured and couldn't taste things anymore by giving him something else that was deliberately foul (as opposed to Fernet Branca, which seems to have stumbled upon foulness entirely by accident).
  • And isn't it interesting that somehow after you mix Fernet Branca with literal Nazis, the Nazis seem like bigger assholes than they did when the only thing you knew about them was that they were Nazis?

If you still like Fernet at this point in the post, there is a 67% chance that you, too, are an asshole Nazi. 

All non-Nazi friends, rejoice in your non-Nazitude, and join me in defeating this heinous miscarriage of drinking once and for all. This country is overdue for some Carrie Nation-style hatchetations, and I say we start by smashing the Fernet. Wherever it may be, however much or little of it there may be, crack, bludgeon, and bash in the bottles until there is nothing left but foul-smelling sticky liquid pooling on the floor. Then set the whole damned thing on fire. You will have done the world a great service.

And for all those ever inclined to seek out or offer a bartender's handshake: broaden your horizons beyond Fernet Branca. I have faith in you. You can do so much better than this crap.

Bostonian Society Rum Punch

Earlier this year, the Bostonian Society (stewards of the Old State House and operators of the museum of colonial Boston therewithin) held a rum history and tasting event featuring local distillers. I had the pleasure of delivering a short talk on the history of rum and rum production around Boston, and the perhaps-even-greater pleasure of putting together a punch to go with the tasting.

The goal was to offer something historically-oriented, either using or based on punch recipes from the 1700s. And the rum I had to work with was the Liberty Tree from Astraluna, a distillery in Medfield that I hadn't heard of before.

Their rum is fascinating. There are notes that seem like Cognac, others that seem like whiskey, and bits of raisin, honey, vanilla, and the nutty smell of toasted olive oil. I knew right away that it'd be a good fit for a punch recipe with eighteenth-century overtones. Those punches often used a mixed base of brandy and rum (the storied Philadelphia Fish House Punch being the most famous example), and the Liberty Tree's flavor profile flirts with both of those roles.

Long story short, the punch came out great. In fact, the Bostonian Society elected to use it again for their annual holiday party last night. By request of several of the guests at that event, I'm publicizing the recipe to make at home. There's been a lot of demand for the Liberty Tree rum this holiday season (it's really a perfect rum to have around Christmas), and I know it's sold out in a couple of places, but I recommend picking up a bottle if you can find one. And, y'know, giving this recipe a try:

Bostonian Society Punch
12 parts. Tea-Infused Liberty Tree Rum*
3 parts Oleo Saccharum Mixture**
2 parts Lemon Juice
1 part Honey
Combine all ingredients in advance and allow them to marry. Serve in small, elegant cups full of ice, from a large, ornate punchbowl full of ice.

*Tea-Infused Rum (Scale to Volume Needed)
2 oz. Liberty Tree Rum
1 bag Twining's English Breakfast Tea
Combine and steep mixture for ten minutes, then discard the tea bags. (Beyond that point, the bitterness increases much more rapidly than the tea flavor does.) Don't worry if you end up with more than you need: the mixture won't go bad.

**Oleo Saccharum Mixture (Scale to Preferred Size)
1 Whole Lemon
2 oz. Sugar
Warm Water
Peel lemons. Toss peels with sugar and let them sit for 2-3 hours; this will extract the lemon oils. Add enough water to dissolve any remaining sugar (no more than 2 oz. per lemon), then strain the lemon peels out of the resulting mixture. Use the peeled lemons to provide the juice for the main recipe.

In practice, both times it's been made we've put some of the lemon peels back into the bowl once all the ingredients were combined. This isn't necessary, but if you like your punches lemony, go for it; it's a forgiving enough process that you're unlikely to overdo it.

One other thing I've noticed: This is a strong drink, and many people will prefer to cut it down with something. A bit of water would be entirely reasonable. Last night some people were asking for it topped with ginger ale or prosecco; I didn't try either, but I can see how both would work. If I wanted to cut it down, personally, and wanted something more interesting than water, I might try it with a bit of sparkling cider.

Liberty Tree is normally available at the Roche Bros. in Downtown Crossing (that's right, they have a liquor license!), but was out of stock at last check. It is, however, in stock at Gordon's in Waltham as of a quarter to five on Friday the 2nd. Give the AstraLuna folks a call at (844) 289-5862 to see if it's being sold in your neighborhood. Distribution is just in Massachusetts for the time being.

Those of you who live out of state but still want to try this recipe might try substituting a 1:2 mixture of your preferred Cognac or blended brandy and your favorite amber mixing rum – Privateer, Appleton, and Mt. Gay come to mind – for the Liberty Tree to get a similar result. Be sure to let me know how your punches turn out!


Distilled Knowledge Cocktails: Choose Your Own Adventure

I promised to get these recipes up here for fans of Distilled Knowledge, but I haven't managed to devote full posts to all of these yet. In the interest of keeping my readers happy, here's a quick-and-dirty rundown of some of those recipes with photos. And don't worry - they'll get proper individual posts soon enough!

Mint Julep
2 oz. Four Roses Bourbon
Drizzle of Simple Syrup
Shake vigorously with ice. Strain over crushed ice in a silver julep cup. Garnish with an enormous sprig of mint, smacked two or three times against your hand to release the oils.

Boston Sour (a.k.a., "Whiskey Sour with Egg White")
2 oz. Rittenhouse 100º Rye
1/2 oz. Lemon Juice
1/2 oz. Simple Syrup
Egg White
Shake without ice to unfold egg proteins. Add ice and shake again. Serve in a coupé glass and garnish with a maraschino or brandied cherry.

1 1/2 oz. Privateer Silver Rum
Juice of 1/2 Lime
2 Sprigs Mint
Heavy Drizzle of Simple Syrup
2 oz. Seltzer
Muddle lime and mint in shaker. Add rum, lime juice, and simple syrup, and shake. Strain into a highball glass and top with seltzer. Garnish with a wedge of lime.

Vodka Tonic
1 oz. Tito's Vodka
6 oz. Tonic Water
Combine in a highball glass with ice. Garnish with a vodka-soaked lime, squeezed and dropped in.

Hemingway Daiquiri (Recipe adapted from Speakeasy, by the folks at Employees Only)
1 3/4 oz. Privateer Silver Rum
3/4 oz. Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
3/4 oz. Grapefruit Juice
1 oz. Lime Juice
Drizzle of Simple Syrup
Shake and double strain into a coupé glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.

Monkey Gland (Recipe adapted from Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, by Ted Haigh)
1 1/2 oz. Gin
1 1/2 oz. Orange Juice
1 bsp. Grenadine (Homemade or a nice pomegranate syrup like Monin's)
1 bsp. St. George's Absinthe
Shake. Strain into a coupé glass.

Due to equipment limitations, I'm going to defer for now to the Columbia Room's Matt Ficke on the subject of the Blue Blazer, and to Simon Ford and on the topic of the Absinthe Drip. (Stay tuned for more on Milk Punch and Hot Schnappsolate, the final drinks in the series.)

Distilled Knowledge Cocktail: The Martini

Damn if I haven't tried to write this post more than once. But we all have our Things, and the Martini is one of mine. And there's a lot to be said about it.

Let's start with the recipe, because I know I have a handle on that. When I sat down to make a Martini for this post, it so happened that I could make a delicious version using just ingredients from Portland, Maine:

3 1/2 oz. Aria Portland Dry Gin
1/2 oz. Sweetgrass Dry Vermouth
Stir with ice and strain into - what else? - a Martini glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon.

Note for the home bartender: "Garnish with a twist of [fruit]" means take a strip or a small medallion of the peel of that fruit, twist it over the glass to express the oils into the drink, run it around the rim of the glass, and then drop it in. It occurred to me as I was writing that that it often shows up in recipes without explanation, and could easily be confused for, "Drop a piece of lemon peel into the glass," which wouldn't be quite as effective.

Ordinarily, Martinis are garnished with a lemon twist or a cocktail olive (the latter sometimes accompanied by some of the olive brine to make a Dirty Martini). It's easy to overlook garnishes when making cocktails at home, but if you won't take my word that you should avoid doing so in general, please at least take my advice and avoid it here. The Martini is disproportionately defined by its garnish, to the point that one variation - the Gibson - is distinguished today entirely by being garnished with a cocktail onion. There's more to that story, but...well, we'll get there.

I'm a twist man, myself. That little bit of lemon sharpens and highlights the citrus notes already present in the gin; the resulting cocktail is crisp and bracing. To my tastes, the olive garnish slows down the drink - and the drinker - with that heavy, salty/savory flavor. There's certainly nothing wrong with that, and I've enjoyed an olive Martini from time to time. I recommend trying both and seeing which one you prefer. Honestly, that's a good rule of thumb whenever you have a choice between two cocktails.

I also tend to like my Martinis on the dry side, as, it seems, do most Martini drinkers. But just as it's possible to have too much of a good thing, it's possible to have a Martini that is too dry, usually by preparing one without any vermouth whatsoever.

In fact, let's take a moment to review all the ways in which people insist on soiling the Martini's good name, shall we?

The Herzog Cocktail School's Official List of Martiniological Heresies

  1. Serving a "Martini" that's just gin, or gin with a garnish. Often cutesily accompanied by a "solemn look" in the direction of France, Italy, or the vermouth bottle; equally often served on the rocks in a cocktail glass. Even worse if you do this with vodka.
  2. Failing to assume that gin is the standard base spirit unless otherwise specified. If someone asks you for a Martini, respect them enough to assume that they'd have asked for a Vodka Martini if they'd wanted one. If you ask for a Martini, respect the bartender enough to assume they'll make it with gin; if you want vodka, ask for it specifically. "Gin Martini" should be as necessary a phrase as "Whiskey Manhattan" or "Rum Daiquiri."
  3. Assuming that anything served in a cocktail glass can be called a "Martini." For pity's sake, I see menus all the time that list the Sidecar or the Cosmopolitan under the heading, "Martinis." In fact, I can't count (or conceive of!) the number of times I've seen a "Martini Menu" on which not a single drink contained gin, vermouth, or any other kind of fortified wine.
  4. Ever applying the "-tini" suffix to a drink. Ever.
  5. Shaking your Martini without a very good reason. It won't "bruise the vermouth," as is often claimed, but it will dilute the drink needlessly and take away some of the delightful crispness the Martini naturally possesses. Unless you're drinking a Vesper, can explain why I made an exception for the Vesper, or are James Bond, stir.

But why all these rules, and what's the deal with the Gibson, anyway? Well, all that history is part of what makes this such a complicated drink to write about. But with thanks and apologies to David Wondrich, who covers a lot of this in more detail in Imbibe!, I'm going to give it a shot in a second Martini post (I did tell you I had a lot to say, didn't I?). Stay tuned for Part II!

    Distilled Knowledge Cocktail: The Old Fashioned

    I'd planned to finish this series between now and October 4th - I had friends over so I could bang out a bunch of the book's recipes at once - but, well, Christmas came early yesterday. I don't want to leave my preorder readers in the lurch, so I'm accelerating the Distilled Knowledge recipe series and pulling back the curtain on the full list here.

    I started with the [Felodipine] Greyhound, in part because "Does grapefruit juice get you drunker?" was one of the ur-questions that led me to write Distilled Knowledge. But I can't go any further without covering the Old Fashioned, the first drink to bear the name "cocktail."

    Let's talk about that name for a moment, because I remember how much it blew my mind the first time I learned where it came from.

    The first record we have of what a "cocktail" is comes from 1806. In The Balance and Columbian Repository of Hudson, New York, editor Harry Croswell defined the cocktail as:

     "a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters"

    (There's a scan of this available via Wikipedia, because we live in the future.)

    In those days, and for much of the nineteenth century, drink names referred to preparations that could be applied to a variety of base spirits, rather than to specific recipes. We do this occasionally today - one might order a "Brandy Manhattan" or a "Vodka Martini" and expect to be understood - but the standard assumption is that drink names are proper nouns, uniquely identifying the drinks they describe.

    Two hundred years ago, the names of drinks were descriptions. You'd give the base spirit you wanted and a word that indicated your preferred preparation. So you might, for instance, order a Brandy Julep, or a Gin Sour, a Rum Cocktail, etc.

    The story of how "cocktail" came to refer to the whole category of mixed drinks is a long and subtle one. David Wondrich covers it brilliantly in Imbibe! For our purposes here, all you need to know is that by the end of the nineteenth century, many things more complicated than the drink Harry Croswell described were referred to as "cocktails."

    But there were old-time cocktail drinkers who found this frustrating. How was one to order a stimulating liquor composed of whiskey, sugar, water, and bitters, when "whiskey cocktail" could now refer to a dozen different things?

    And so it was that this drink came to be called the "Old Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail." One can hear the conversation that led to this standard. It must have happened scores of times:

    "What'll ya have?"
    "A whiskey cocktail."
    "What kind of whiskey cocktail? An Improved Whiskey Cocktail, or a Fancy Whiskey Cocktail, or a Manhattan Cocktail, or - "
    "No, no, none of those things. I want an old fashioned whiskey cocktail."

    In time, we shortened the name to "Old Fashioned," as the number of people who cared about the old meaning of "whiskey cocktail" dwindled. Even in the early twentieth century, we were interpreting "old fashioned" pretty liberally, with muddled fruit of various types finding its way into the drink (beginning an argument that endures to this day).

    I prefer my Old Fashioneds simple and, well, old fashioned. Whiskey, sugar, bitters. A little citrus twist as a garnish is about as extravagant as it gets.

    Old Fashioned
    Place a sugar cube in an Old Fashioned glass. Soak it completely with Angostura bitters and muddle until the sugar is fine or completely dissolved. Stir in two ounces of whiskey. Optionally, place one very large ice cube in the center of the glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon.

    I've presented this as a set of instructions rather than as an ordinary recipe for a few reasons. The first and most boring is that this is how I actually make them, and I'd like to be honest. More philosophically, I think the ritual is an important part of the pleasure in this case, and it seems appropriate to give this most ancient of cocktails a paragraph rather than bullet points.

    For an Old Fashioned in this style, you should use a base spirit you'd be content to drink on its own. I used Gunpowder Rye from Portland, Maine, an excellent whiskey that fully embraces the natural spiciness of rye. I haven't seen it further south or west than Boston, but if it's available in your area, I recommend it very highly as a sipping whiskey.

    If you must muddle fruit into it, you have about a hundred years of precedent. Add a (pitted) maraschino, brandied, or bourbon cherry and a slice (not a twist; you want the juices in the flesh) to the glass and muddle them along with the sugar and bitters. The drink will be messier and offend some sensibilities, but it will still taste good.

    Soda water, on the other hand, has no place in this drink. People have been drinking the darned thing without it for two hundred and ten years. Take the hint.

    That'll do it for the Old Fashioned, at least for now. Stay tuned for more updates: there'll be one every couple of days from now until we've finished the list!

    It's Really Real!

    The books have begun to arrive! I have delivery confirmations from two states so far (Massachusetts and Florida), and Amazon is now listing Distilled Knowledge for regular orders rather than pre-orders. Christmas came early this year!

    If you've bought a copy already, thank you! If you haven't bought a copy yet, you can order one online and have it in the next few days.

    You can also wait until the official publication in October and come to one of the release events! Starting on October 6th, there will be more of these than you can shake a stick at (Northeast only, so far). Those events will be added to the official HCS calendar and listed on the Distilled Knowledge summary page as soon as we have registration information available.

    In the mean time, if you want to be sure you get all the Distilled Knowledge updates, you can sign up for the mailing list here!

    It's Real

    Ladies and gentlemen, I can confirm that the book has taken physical form: my copy of Distilled Knowledge arrived this weekend!

    I spent months trying to imagine what this moment would feel like. I gave up (often), because I really had no parallel for it. I would often joke that seeing my name on the cover would make me certain that someone had made a mistake, that my name had gotten slapped onto somebody else’s book somehow. I say, “joke,” even though some part of me probably thought that might happen. I really, really had no idea what to expect.

    I’m very happy to report that the feeling I actually experienced when I opened the box and saw my copy of my book was absolute, unbridled joy. Have you ever hugged a book? Literally hugged it. Squeezed it into your chest like it would dissolve into your body. I have. Books are harder than people, but it still works.

    I could ramble on about this forever, but I won't. Instead I'll answer some of your possibly-burning questions, after which I'll give you the recipe for the cocktail I devised the night I found out my copy of Distilled Knowledge was in the country and on its way to me.

    Does this mean I can get a copy now, too?
    Not yet! Unless you're reviewing Distilled Knowledge for a publication or something like that. This is a small initial order for reviewers and people who worked on the book.

    OK, so when and how do I get a copy?
    October 4th is still the landfall date. If you want to pick up a copy at your local bookstore, it should be available from then on.

    If you want to order a copy online, you can do that now, although it still won't arrive before 10/4. Distilled Knowledge is available for pre-order through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

    What if I want a signed copy? Where can I order that?
    You can't order a signed copy per se. If you order a regular copy or buy one at your local bookstore, I'll be happy to sign it whenever you, I, and it are all in the same room.

    You can also come to a book signing, and either buy a book there or bring one for me to sign! Our schedule of promotional events isn't out just yet, but I can say we're planning to focus on Boston and New York, where we'll be doing a bunch of events from October until the last drop of interest has been squeezed from those cities' populations. Other events throughout the Northeast are reasonably likely but have yet to be scheduled.

    If you live in other parts of the country (or in other countries), I hope we'll be able to do events near you, but it will depend to some degree on how well the book is doing, and I don't expect we'd be there before 2017.

    How do I know when promotional events are happening, and where, and whether they're signings or cocktail lessons or something else entirely?
    Sign up for the Herzog Cocktail School Mailing list! That is, by far, the surest way to get information about upcoming events. You can even choose to just receive information about Distilled Knowledge.

    Sign up here:

    Is there, like, a one-stop shop where I can get any Distilled Knowledge information I could possibly need at once? That will be regularly updated as new information comes in?
    You bet! It's right here:

    You said something about a cocktail?
    Frequently, yes!

    Here you go:

    Publication Cocktail
    1 1/2 oz. Rittenhouse 100º Rye
    1 oz. Angostura Amaro
    1/4 oz. Maple Syrup
    2 Dashes Crude "Sycophant" (Orange & Fig) Bitters
    Shake with ice. Strain into a chilled coupé glass.

    Note: This drink is definitely inspired by Angostura's Waffle Shots, which I encountered at Tales of the Cocktail last summer (and which are the primary reason I own Angostura Amaro in the first place). Waffle Shots consist of Angostura Rum, Angostura Amaro, and maple syrup, mixed together in a wide-mouth cup, with a quarter of a waffle dusted in powdered sugar and dunked into it. I can think of no better breakfast item for a tailgate, ever.

    The Waffle Shot is a richer, heavier drink than the Publication, which ends up being very whiskey-forward thanks to the Rittenhouse and gets a nice bit of brightness from the bitters. The drinks are also distinguished by the presence or absence of waffles.


    Bastille Day Cocktail Recipes

    Thanks to everybody who came to the lesson at Vanderbilt last night! Here are the official Herzog Cocktail School recipes for the drinks we covered:

    French 75
    1 1/2 oz. Gin
    1/2 oz. Lemon Juice
    1/2 oz. Simple Syrup
    Fill with Champagne (about 3 oz.)
    Shake all ingredients except the Champagne. Strain into a flute and top with the bubbles.

    Monkey Gland
    1 1/2 oz. Gin
    1 1/2 oz. Orange Juice
    Dash Grenadine
    Dash Absinthe, Absinthe Substitute, or Pastis
    Shake with ice, strain into a cocktail or coupé glass.

    Stay tuned for a longer recap with pictures!