I just added a tersely worded, deadly serious manifesto to this site. I implore you to check it out. On second thought, don’t just check it out.
Print it. Read it aloud. Tweet it from the mountaintops.
If we don’t take a stand against bad cocktails, who will? Not Marx or Engels, that’s for sure. Plus, my manifesto is better than theirs.
Return of a Classic Cocktail
The venerable martini has been through so many permutations since its birth in the late 19th century. Indignities, too (dozens of candy-assed, vodka-based apple-choco-lemon-girly-tinis).
Before I became a Pretend Bartender, I liked vodka martinis, dirty, shaken, extra olives. Now, I prefer gin martinis, stirred, with a twist of lemon. My current favorite variation pre-dates prohibition, and includes a few dashes of orange bitters (because that’s the way they rolled pre-Capone).
Orange bitters used to be hard to come by (which probably contributed to why the pre-prohibition version fell out of favor). But now, thanks to heroes/cocktail enthusiasts like Gary “Gaz” Regan and Angostura, a couple of great alternatives can be found in your neighborhood liquor store and online.
1 1/2 oz. gin
1 1/2 oz. dry vermouth
2-3 dashes Regan’s Orange Bitters
1 lemon peel
Fill a mixing glass and a coupe glass with ice. Cut a lemon peel*. Pour the gin and vermouth over the ice in the mixing glass. Add the bitters. Stir. Rub the lemon peel around the lip of the coupe glass then strain the drink mixture into it. Squeeze the lemon peel over the cocktail, and drop it into the glass.
*I suck at lemon peels. In the photos, you’ll notice that mine is unnaturally large. Hopefully, yours won’t be. Using a vegetable peeler helps, but I still need lots of practice, practice, practice. The most important thing is to minimize the pith. Otherwise, you’ll have a unpleasantly bitter, facial contortion-inducing cocktail.
Famous New Orleans drinks and how to mix ‘em, Stanley Arthur
The cocktail guide as literature. “A classical work.” according to H. L. Mencken. Arthur is quite the raconteur, and tells lively tales about the history of NOLA’s most famous drinks, including the Sazerac and the Vieux Carré. Included is his take on the origin of the work “cocktail” — a great story that may even be true. Sure, you can buy a cheap facsimile of this book, but it sure is ugly. It doesn’t take too much more time or effort to score a prettier, vintage version like the copy I found on ebay and photographed below.
A New Orleans Original
It wasn’t long ago when I assumed that New Orleans cocktails required freezing and a yard-long plastic cup. How remarkably short-sighted of me. Blasphemous, even.
Like jazz, the Sazerac was born and bred in Nola. In fact, some claim that it is the oldest known American cocktail.
Apothecary Antoine Peychaud (the Louis Armstrong of mixology?) created the drink that stars his namesake bitters and served it in an egg cup called a coquetier. It’s said that his non-French patients/patrons misinterpreted the name of the cup, asking instead for a “cock-tail”.
Although you no longer need an egg cup, there are a few conundrums regarding Sazerac ingredients and preparation:
- The Sazerac was named for a brand of cognac, but most now use rye as the central ingredient. I haven’t had much luck finding Sazerac-brand rye in Atlanta, but I’ve been more than happy with Rittenhouse as a substitute.
- While Peychaud bitters are crucial, the amount is up to you (I make mine the PDT way — three dashes of Peychaud, plus two dashes of Angostura).
- Some use sugar crystals, others, simple syrup. I like sugar cubes — dashing the bitters right on top, waiting for them to turn red, then muddling everything into submission.
- You don’t need to spend a lot on Absinthe since you only need a minuscule amount (unless you’d like to have a nice bottle around).
- What to do with the lemon peel? Purists toss it out. Rebels toss it in.
2 oz. rye (Sazerac brand, if you can find it)
3 dashes Peychaud bitters
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 sugar cube
Just enough Absinthe to rinse a rocks glass
Fill a rocks glass with ice, then set it aside.
Drop a sugar cube in a mixing glass. Dash Peychaud and Angostura bitters right on top, then muddle. Add ice to the muddled mixture, pour in the rye and stir.
Dump the ice from the rocks glass and rinse it with Absinthe (pour in a little, roll it around to coat the inside of the glass, pour out what’s left). Strain the cocktail into the rinsed glass. Twist the lemon peel over the top and toss it out. Or in?
Many of your favorite whiskeys may not be distilled where you think they are. But does it matter?
High West. Templeton. Redemption. Belle Meade. Premium, beloved brands that all evoke a rich history and a sense of place. What do they all have in common?
They may be bottled in Utah, Iowa, Kentucky and Tennessee, but they’re all distilled in Indiana.
When I first stumbled across this truth in GQ, my mind was blown. Mythology is a big part of of whiskey culture. But had the storytelling had become… just a story? A white lie perpetuated by evil marketers?
(Full disclosure: I’m an evil marketer myself, perhaps a little too familiar with tricks of the trade — and I don’t like being “had” by my own kind.)
Why Indiana? Midwest Grain Products (MGPI), formerly Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana (LDI), was also formerly Seagram’s. When Seagram’s went bust, a lot of good hooch was left behind. A few smart, enterprising people decided to bottle it, brand it and resell it.
And why not? Why let decent — and in some cases, excellent — whiskey go to waste?
But that’s only part of the story. There are only a handful of companies that make bourbon. And most of those companies only have one mash bill (think: recipe). Using Buffalo Trace as an example, this means that a $100+ bottle of Pappy Van Winkle contains exactly the same ingredients as a $10 bottle of Weller. The difference is in barreling and aging techniques.
But still. Shelves are littered with whiskeys, each with their own elaborate and often romantic backstory.
After I got over my initial shock, and let’s face it — sense of betrayal — I realized that these insights shouldn’t prevent me from enjoying a favorite brand.
After all, it takes a finely tuned nose and level of skill that I don’t possess to understand which whiskeys to blend, how long to age them, or what type of wood to use in their barrels. It’s still an art form.
Let’s take Belle Meade Bourbon, for example. Sweet and spicy, it’s one of my current favorite sipping whiskeys. But it’s a newcomer, the initial offering of the recently reborn Green Brier Distilling Co. Wanting to restore their family distillery to its former glory, Charlie and Andy Nelson looked west to help them launch their initial brand. And I don’t fault them.
Unlike some distillers-with-a-secret, they’re in the process of getting Green Brier up-and-running in order to distill future brands there themselves. Farming out Belle Meade was simply a means to that end — the fastest, most cost-effective way to relaunch Green Brier, begin building a buzz and restore its once-stellar reputation.
In the end, a good whiskey is a good whiskey, even if the truth behind its making is stretched. After all, I don’t know how many half-truths I’ve told under the influence of bourbon.
Signed by the distiller. Seems legit.