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 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: http://www.herzogcocktailschool.com/contact/

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: http://www.herzogcocktailschool.com/distilled-knowledge/

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.

 

Patriots' Day Recap: Boston Cocktails

I did promise to put up these recipes, didn't I? Well, I'm a man of my word. Enjoy the two most Bostonian of all Boston cocktails!

Ward Eight
2 oz. Rye Whiskey
3/4 oz. Lemon Juice
3/4 oz. Orange Juice
Grenadine to Taste
Shake, strain, and serve up. Garnish with a tiny Massachusetts flag stuck through a maraschino cherry, if you can find such a thing.

Periodista
1 1/2 oz. Dark Rum
1/2 oz. Orange Liqueur
1/2 oz. Apricot Liqueur
1/2 oz. Lime Juice
Shake, strain, and serve up. Garnish with a lime wheel, a lime wedge, or nothing at all (there's quite a bit of lime in there already).

These drinks are "Bostonian" in very different ways - though both, in my view, have a better claim to that title than the I-guess-technically-it-counts Boston Sour, Boston Sidecar, and so on. I've not been able to find any information on the pedigree of those old drinks to bear out the choice of namesake. These two, on the other hand...

The Ward Eight has been around for more than a hundred years, and was probably invented at Locke-Ober. There is some disagreement on whether or not to include the orange juice, and on whether or not to add seltzer on top. There is some speculation that its alleged date of invention was too early for grenadine to have been readily available; there is counter-speculation that the scarcity of the signature ingredient was precisely what made the drink so special when it was first concocted. There is the awkward fact that the man in whose honor the cocktail was invented, and after whose ward it was named, tried and failed to get people to call it something else for years afterwards. 

In short, there is a lot of mystery surrounding this drink. But that's as it should be. Old drinks, if they're good, tend to acquire myths. If you're interested in a deeper dive into the history, I highly recommend Stephanie Schorrow's (extensive) treatment in Drinking Boston.

For our purposes, what matters most is that the Ward Eight has stood unchallenged as Boston's emissary to the cocktail-drinkers of the world for something on the order of a century. It's definitely ours, and it's what we're best known for. My preferred recipe matches this one from David Wondrich, but particularly in light of the drink's muddled history, you should feel quite free to play around with the proportions.

As for the Periodista, its history is in many ways quite the opposite. It's a young recipe, celebrating its twenty-first birthday this year (presumably by ordering a few rounds of itself). We know that it was invented at Chez Henri in Cambridge. It's a local drink, ubiquitous in greater Boston but unknown to the rest of the world. Our delicious little secret.

There's a lot more to the story, but I won't spoil the fun here. Devin Hahn, the man who first figured out where this drink came from, has written a gorgeous narrative of his journey to the truth in twenty-three parts. You can binge your way through it in an hour or two; if you're even slightly considering that, I promise you it's worth it. The story begins here.

My sincerest thanks to everyone who came to the Patriots' Day party for an in-person lesson on these drinks! Stay tuned for more announcements of public events! (And one other major announcement coming soon - mysterious, eh?)

Prohibition Cocktails

Finally getting around to putting up the recipes from our Repeal Day party - which, in case you're wondering, went very well:

We'll definitely be using the model again, so keep a look out for announcements on other holidays. In the mean time, here are the recipes we covered:

Hanky-Panky
1 1/2 oz. Dry Gin
1 1/2 oz. Sweet Vermouth
2 dashes Fernet Branca
Twist of orange or dash of orange bitters
Stir with ice and serve neat.

The first patron to consume this drink is said to have downed it in one gulp, and then exclaimed, "That is the real hanky-panky!" At that time, and in Britain especially, which is where it was invented, the phrase would have meant something like "black magic," and the whole sentence roughly, "That's so good I can't believe it." Its *ahem* other connotations, particularly in the United States, didn't exactly hurt the drink's popularity during Prohibition, when speakeasy bartenders were serving titillating drinks like the Between-the-Sheets and the Monkey Gland. (In our age of Screaming Orgasms and Slow, Comfortable Screws Against the Wall, it all seems a little quaint and innocent, doesn't it?)

Those who know me know that 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.

Having said all of that (and much more besides; don't get me started), I have to compliment the Hanky-Panky Cocktail, for being the only drink I have ever had that uses Fernet Branca well. It adds a suite of interesting flavors, including its signature menthol, saffron, and bitter bite, all of which are able to contribute without overpowering one's senses because there are only two drops of the stuff. Perhaps the secret to using Fernet Branca well is to treat it as a non-potable bitters, and never use more than a dash. In any case, it and the little, remarkably essential bit of orange oil are enough to pull this cocktail's flavor profile far away from the sweet Martini it would otherwise be.

Scofflaw
1 1/2 oz. Rye Whiskey
1 oz. Dry Vermouth
3/4 oz. Fresh Lemon Juice
3/4 oz. Pomegranate Grenadine
Shake with ice and serve neat.

Another Prohibition drink-naming style is the "laugh about how illegal all of this is" school. The Three-Mile Limit falls into this category, named after the distance one had to travel off the coast before reaching international waters and legal hooch. So does the Twelve-Mile Limit, invented shortly after that distance was quadrupled.

The Scofflaw is another such funny case. I assumed for a very long time that "scofflaw" was a general old-fashioned word for a ne'er-do-well, but it actually referred to scoffing at one law in particular. The Boston Herald held a contest, to see who could coin the best term to describe all the people flagrantly and frequently violating the Volstead Act; "scofflaw," submitted by two different people, was the winner. So, in a purely technical sense, one could argue that the teetotaling '20s kingpin Arnold Rothstein was less of a scofflaw than the average speakeasy patron.

As for the drink, which is somewhat similar to its cousins the N-Mile Limits, this is a nice case where what you see is what you get. It's sweet and it's tart, and it's a bit smoother and more complex than it would be without the vermouth. The end result is what you would get if a Brooklyn and a Jack Rose met up for a little law-scoffing and ended up with a little hanky-panky.

Day 4: Noir

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Now that I have some distance between myself and the event, I can see just how carefully timed Negroni Week was. At least here in Boston, it fell at the very beginning of the summer going-out season, when hitting the town felt like a fresh and novel idea, but it was still possible to get a seat at a bar. Well done there: most of these places are a lot more crowded now than they were two weeks ago

I don't think there were ever more than four occupied barstools the night I was at Noir. Because I am an Explorer, I gave their local "Noirgroni" variant a go. (I know, I know, that's a taxonomy of beer-drinkers, but most of the categories translate to the spirits crowd.)

The Noirgroni is a terrible portmanteau and an enjoyable cocktail. It was a combination of Old Overholt rye, Carpano Bianco, and a gentian liqueur called Avèze (like the spirit, the website is French). The whole is then topped with orange bitters and served how you like. If you ask either myself or the bartender, you should like it on the rocks.

I recall the some mention of artichoke, but I didn't see any Cynar go into the cocktail and the Avèze people have enough love for gentian that I doubt they'd pollute it with another plant. I might simply be mistaken - certainly, the absence of artichoke liqueur would go a long way toward explaining why I liked this drink.

Light, strangely vegetal, and so refreshing I could have kissed it. (I settled for drinking it.) Those who are intimately familiar with Noir's menu may see similarities to their Dark Horse cocktail; those who are not might call it a spin on the Boulevardier, the Negroni's whiskey-based cousin.

Saying it's a Negroni variant is a bit of a stretch. The two cocktails have no ingredients in common, unless we count two rather different kinds of vermouth as the same. The only flavor they both hit is the orange nose. Everything else is completely dissimilar.

This is the peculiar pitfall of Negroni Week. How do you strike a balance between innovation, which any bar participating in this promotion is likely to be known for, at least locally; and keeping the drink, somehow, recognizably a Negroni? Under-innovate, and you've disappointed your customers. Over-innovate, and you've accomplished the High Mixology version of an Appletini: a drink that bears no relation to its name.

Add to that the fact that there are a thousand bars doing this at once, each trying to come up with something no one else has thought of, a clever variation on a drink we've spent a hundred years deliberately not messing with. Some of these will be brilliant. Some will fail spectacularly. Some of them will be delicious in their own right, but not true members of the Negroni family. Noir's entry is the last.

The official promotion has ended, but that's no reason for me to stop promoting. Proceeds from Noirgroni sales went to the Farm School in Athol, which teaches agriculture to everyone from children in grade school to adults who want to become farmers. All of their programs are insanely cheap - kids in the federal lunch program pay as little as nothing to participate. The difference is made up in their food sales and your donations. (Fun fact: even after Negroni Week, you can still give money to charity. Who knew?)

AccesSport Young Professionals' Event (Also, Day 3)

Here are some shots from the AccesSportAmerica young professionals' networking event! We had a great showing, and raised a bunch of money for an awesome organization.

It was a two-drink menu, consisting of the Negroni and the Frisco Sour - the theme was "herbal cocktails for the summer." We had 3-oz. paper cups instead of 1-oz. ones, so our pouring was...generous. We ended up needing six shakers' worth of each drink, but nobody was complaining.

These were the recipes we used:

Negroni
1 part Beefeater gin
1 part sweet vermouth
1 part Campari
Stir with ice. Strain into cups. Garnish with a tiny orange peel.

Frisco Sour
4 parts Michter's rye
1 part Bénédictine
1/2ish part lemon juice*
Shake with ice and strain into cups. Garnish with a tiny wedge of lemon.

The asterisk in the Frisco Sour indicates a deviation from my standard recipe of 4:1:1, because that preparation assumes fresh lemon juice. We had the more concentrated, bottled variety, which called for a (roughly) 50% reduction in volume. 

The Negroni got a fair bit of it's-just-not-for-me, which makes sense, because both Campari and gin are love-it-or-hate-it spirits for a lot of people. I found myself explaining that Campari is a "potable bitters" a lot that night. I also couldn't resist the (perhaps apocryphal) story that Campari was legal during Prohibition, because the regulators couldn't believe anyone would drink it who wasn't taking it medicinally. It's easy for cocktail enthusiasts to forget, given how much we all love the Negroni, but it really isn't for everyone.

The Frisco Sour, on the other hand, was almost comically popular. The nice thing about events like this is that it's really easy to judge your success - the Frisco Sour was the only thing going around in cocktail glasses, and there were a lot of those to be seen. I owe a debt of gratitude to Frank Bruni of the New York Times, for first introducing me to the drink in this article.

Thanks also to North 26, for donating the space and the liquor, and to everyone who came out for AccesSportAmerica - this is the second year in a row they've asked HCS to play this event, and I feel good about our odds of a third performance.

For more pictures, check out our facebook page. You should also feel free to like us, along with North 26 and AccesSportAmerica!

Brooklyn

1 1/2 oz. rye whiskey
1/2 oz. dry vermouth
Dash or two Maraschino liqueur
Dash aromatic bitters

Four out of the five boroughs of New York have cocktails named after them, of which the Manhattan is by far the most famous. Staten Island, somehow, is the teetotaler.

When the other three borough-cocktails are mentioned, it's usually to pan them. Embury tells us that far more Manhattans than Brooklyns are made even in Brooklyn, which, while definitely true, is perhaps rubbing it in a little too much. It's a very pleasant drink from time to time.

Among those who bother to make it, there are two schools of the Brooklyn. One simply makes it a dry Manhattan (implicitly making the sweet Manhattan coextensive with the Manhattan category). This, too, is an enjoyable cocktail, but there isn't much reason to give it its own name.

I prefer the second school, which adds Maraschino liqueur to the mix, creating a decidedly different drink. Maraschino fills out the body and adds a sweet, earthy dimension to the flavor profile.

I went with Dutch's Boomtown Bitters, previously written-up, on top. Amer Picon is often specifically indicated, in this and other cocktail recipes, but there's no need to wring your hands if you haven't got it. It's a bitters. Experiment with your own citrus or aromatic bitters until you find one that you like.

I should also note that my above recipe is approximate. The Brooklyn is a great tinkerer's drink. If you find you like it with a tablespoon of Maraschino, more power to you. These proportions should at least have you playing in in the right ballpark.

Vieux Carré

Vieux Carré (dry)

1 oz. rye whiskey
1 oz. Cognac
1 oz. dry vermouth
2 barspoons Bénédictine
2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters

Stir before adding bitters. Serve neat or with ice, as you prefer.

I’ve been wanting to put this one up for a while. I made these left, right, and center while Mardi Gras was upon us, but they were going down so fast I never got a photo of one. Until now!

"Vieux Carré" is the French name for what Anglophones would call the French Quarter, New Orleans’s oldest, most famous neighborhood. The Vieux Carré is not New Orleans’s most famous cocktail, that honor probably falling to the Sazerac, but it was invented there, at the Carousel Bar of the Hotel Monteleone.

This is a nice cocktail in that all of the recipes are very similar. It’s not quite as formulaic as the Negroni, but it’s reasonably easy to get in your head. Start with equal parts of whiskey, brandy and vermouth. Add a spoonful or so of Bénédictine, then top with equal parts of Angostura and Peychaud’s (ordinarily one or two dashes). All the recipes I’ve seen for the Vieux Carré can be described like this, although they quibble over the precise numbers. Mine is more Bénédictine-heavy than most, but, hey, I like Bénédictine.

The Vieux Carré is most commonly found with sweet vermouth. I have to credit Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails with the knowledge that it can be made with the dry stuff as well. It’s a perfect one-for-one substitution. That’s not always the case - Jon and I had to do a lot more doctoring when we tried to make a dry Americano. But in this case, don’t stress about your vermouth. I just use whichever I feel like that day, or in this case, happen to have on hand.

According to Haigh, this drink had been forgotten at the Carousel Bar itself, until very recently. I’m happy to report that this is no longer the case. The Carousel Bar is, in fact, where I first met the Vieux Carré, during Tales of the Cocktail in 2012.

Manhattan

Manhattan

3 parts (1.5 oz.) Old Overholt rye whiskey
2 parts (1 oz.) Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth
3-4 dashes Angostura aromatic bitters

Yesterday was a snow day for me, so I decided to whip up examples of David Embury’s major classic cocktails. There are six he says everybody ought to be able to make, as a basis for cocktail knowledge, and for further experimentation. I realize I’ve put up plenty of innovations and outlandish drinks, but the really essential standby cocktails haven’t gotten much airtime. That changes now.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t make all of them. A trot out to the corner store (good on them, being open) got me the citrus I needed, but I was still short the Daiquiri’s light rum and applejack for the Jack Rose. The others will show up as I load them in, all tagged appropriately.

I started with the Manhattan, one of the most famous and most accessible classic cocktails. The Manhattan is that rare drink that is not merely more, but something else entirely than the sum of its parts. A well-mixed Manhattan does not taste like whiskey or vermouth. It tastes like a Manhattan.

The recipe you see here is a bit of a poor-man’s Manhattan. Old Overholt is perfectly serviceable, but it is bottom-shelf, by rye standards. Now, fortunately, rye whiskey is like applejack, brandy, gin, and dark rum, in that the cheapest stuff you can possibly find will be miles ahead of the glorified ethanol that comes packaged as bottom-shelf vodka, light rum, or nonspecific “whiskey.” I’ll indicate in later posts on the Manhattan what price point we’re talking about. The Manhattan, like many of the classics, falls into the “easy to learn, hard to master” category. It can be varied greatly.

For now, though, let’s talk about the poor-man’s Manhattan. Old Overholt and Jim Beam are the two cheapest ryes on the market. Expect to pay $15 for a fifth. I’ve seen them anywhere from $11 to $22, but $15 is a good estimate. I happened to have Old Overholt, although I tend to prefer the Jim Beam, which is slightly more complex. A tenth-size bottle of Martini & Rossi will hit around $7 or $8 at the most. It is the cheapest vermouth on the market, but as with rye, cheap vermouth is still plenty drinkable.

Never be stingy with the non-whiskey ingredients in a Manhattan, but especially when you’re using bargain ingredients. I say 3-4 dashes here. The bourgeois Manhattan would call for 2-3. The royal Manhattan uses such good stuff the bitters falls to one dash. The vermouth percentage also falls as the whiskey gets better - but I reiterate, don’t be stingy. If your Manhattan is drier than about a 3:1 whiskey:vermouth ratio, you’d be better off with an Old Fashioned.

The end result is extremely drinkable, and a good example of how to do cocktails on a budget. If you (and your guests) are used to drinking nothing but highballs, the Manhattan is a great transition drink. Just be careful with your vermouth, which will eventually spoil if left out. Keep it in the fridge, and you should be fine.