Category Archives: Cocktail of the Hour

Cocktail of the Hour — the Ward 8

photo (1)

Out of all the contentious drinks I’ve featured so far, the Ward 8 might just top them all. With at least three origin stories and hundreds of recipes, the diversity of its manifestations almost rivals the Old Fashioned’s. In fact, when a New York Sun writer called for readers to submit their Ward 8 recipes in the 1940s, he received more than 500 replies.

People get territorial over their whiskey cocktails.

According to the available mishmash of cocktail history, Boston was definitely the Ward 8’s birthplace. It was probably created within a decade of 1900, and is most likely named for one of the city’s voting districts. The most popular backstory is that it was created to celebrate a political boss’s election victory in north Boston, but this story seems to have originated in 1951. Other sources credit other bartenders who worked at the hotel where this alleged party occurred and yet others give credit to other venues.

The Ward 8 is a whiskey sour sweetened with grenadine. The use of orange juice and the amount of grenadine varies by recipe, but however it’s made, it usually turns out light, spicy and slightly dry. Since so many recipes for this beverage exist, I’m not going off the reservation by saying that if my recipe doesn’t suit your fancy, tweak it until it does.

Ward 8
1 tsp – .5 oz grenadine (to taste)
.5 oz lemon juice
.75 oz orange juice
2 oz whiskey
Add all ingredients to a shaker tin. Shake vigorously for 13-17 seconds or until cooled through and strain into a chilled coupe glass.

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Cocktail of the hour — the French 75

photo (1)Since it’s my birthday week, I thought that an easy, bubbly cocktail would be perfect for the Cocktail of the Hour re-inauguration. The French 75 is just gin, citrus, sugar and champagne (or prosecco, if you’re partial). Despite its simplicity, the drink packs a kick much like its namesake — an accurate and quick-firing field gun used in World War I.

Per cocktail lore, this lovely libation was most likely named by a Parisian bartender around 1915ish, but its roots go back much further. In the 19th century, upper class folks on both sides of the pond drank a mixture of bubbly, citrus, sugar and ice. Dump in a little bit of readily available gin and voila, the French 75.

Other stories indicate that the French 75 was also, in some circles, a brandy drink. The shift away from brandy may have been caused by the wine shortage that also changed the Sazerac’s base liquor. Personally, I prefer gin to brandy here — gin makes the cocktail herbaceous while brandy slightly spices and sweetens it. If I can get my hands on a bottle of Pierre Ferrand 1840, I’ll try it again and report back.

It’s also possible that a bartender subbed champagne for soda in a Tom Collins as some early versions of the recipe specify that the drink is served over ice. In this version of the French 75’s origin story, it’s not clear if the substitution was intentional. Regardless, the result was delicious.

Like the daiquiri and gimlet, this cocktail probably existed for decades before it was named, so history buffs and cocktail nerds alike can savor its qualities.

Recipe:
1 oz gin
.5 oz lemon juice
.5 oz simple syrup

Combine all ingredients in a shaker tin. Shake for 12-18 seconds or until chilled through. Strain into a champagne flute or coupe glass and top with 1 – 2 ounces of champagne.

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Cocktail of the Hour — the Corn ‘n Oil

Photo c/o Mike Tobey-McKenzie.

Photo c/o Mike Tobey-McKenzie.

Though today’s Blog Like Crazy topic is to tackle a controversial subject, I’m not going that far…yet. This cocktail’s name may be provocative given the current “debate” over farm subsidies and fossil fuels, but it’s named for neither of these things. With origins rumored to be in Barbados, the earliest recipe is a three ingredient highball.

Interestingly, none of the three ingredients resembled corn or oil. Some speculate that the oil part of the name comes from the thick black Black Strap rum, but the earliest iterations of the recipe call for aged rum, not its darker counterpart. This substitution was made rather recently by Murray Stinson of Seattle’s Zig Zag Cafe — the man responsible for bringing the Last Word back.

Stinson also changed the proportions of the ingredients. According to the label on John D. Taylor Velvet Falernum bottles, the drink is traditionally 3:1 Falernum to rum, but Stinson’s version calls for the opposite. Each recipe creates a very different flavor profile: the bottle’s recipe is a light, sweet summertime drink that would take the edge off a tropical summer. Stinson’s drink, on the other hand, is a spicy, rich, deep concoction that brings out a different type of complexity in the cocktail. Others have riffed on this recipe, adding Coke and other ingredients for completely different ends.

As with most other drinks, the most important part is that it’s to your taste. I’ve included both recipes so you can try both and draw your own conclusions.

Recipes:

Modern Corn n Oil

2-3 dashes Angostura bitters
.5 oz lime juice or two lime wedges
.5 oz John D. Taylor Velvet Falernum
2 oz Cruzan Black Strap

Fill a glass with ice. Add Falernum, top with rum and squeeze the lime juice on top. Add bitters and stir ingredients in the glass until chilled and fully combined.

Old School Corn n Oil

2 dashes Angostura bitters
.5 oz lime juice or two lime wedges
.5 oz rum from Barbados
1.5 oz John D. Taylor Velvet Falernum

Fill a glass with ice. Add Falernum, top with rum and squeeze the lime juice on top. Add bitters and stir ingredients in the glass until chilled and fully combined.

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Cocktail of the Hour — Blood and Sand

20131102-123144.jpgAs much as I love all things whisk(e)y, I’m still dipping my toes in the peaty waters of scotch and scotch cocktails. One of my recent favorites is the classic Blood & Sand. Composed of equal parts blended scotch, Heering cherry, orange juice and sweet vermouth, the drink is surprisingly smooth and sensuous.

This tipple first appears on the radar in Henry Craddock’s 1930 The Savoy Cocktail Book. Its name is most likely derived from the 1922 movie that starred Rudolph Valentino, but its history is otherwise unknown. More recently, its revival was almost halted by its ingredient list. In fact, master bartender Dale DeGroff rediscovered the recipe in the mid-1990s and was so intrigued by the combination that he both doubted its value and had to try one.

Though the ingredients might seem incompatible at first glance, the result is a rich, almost-tropical-punch drink. Rich cherry liqueur adds weight, sweetness and velvety texture that’s balanced by the orange juice’s acidity. The scotch gives the drink the smoky, peaty notes that are grounded by the rich wine-y-ness of the sweet vermouth. On paper, it appears of be a cacophony of tastes, but in reality, it all comes together for a right, delicious experience.

Recipe:

.75 oz orange juice
.75 oz Heering cherry
.75 oz sweet vermouth
.75 oz blended scotch 

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake until well-mixed, about 13-17 seconds. Strain into a chilled coupe glass and serve.

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Cocktail of the Hour — the Negroni

Image c/o Angel Negrin

Image c/o Angel Negrin

Despite all of the amazing alcoholic products exported from Italy, it’s not a place known for its cocktails. Since the country didn’t have to get creative to make illegal spirits palatable, few recipes have emerged. However, a few Italian cocktails have become critical parts of cocktail history.

One that has inspired endless variations is the Negroni. Like many other cocktails, this one doesn’t have a clear cut backstory. Its origin is traced by some back to 1919. At that time, Count Camillo Negroni is said to have ordered an Americano (equal parts Campari and sweet vermouth) with gin and no soda.

The result was and is a cocktail with a beautiful ruby tone. Taste-wise, the Campari adds a bitterness and sweetness that plays around the gin’s herbaceous bite. Sweet vermouth balances these flavors with a smoky, wine-y earthiness. Though many bartenders have rebalanced this cocktail to please modern palates, others argue passionately that these variations are not actually Negronis.

For that reason, I’ve included the original recipe. By what I can tell, it’s also the most historical, so it’s the best suited for my purposes. Other interesting variations to try include the Boulevardier (sub bourbon for gin), a 1794 (sub rye for gin) or a Boulevarista (sub tequila for gin). With one Google search, I uncovered more than twenty variations, and scores of others exist in books and bars all over the world. With the number of possibilities available, it’s just a matter of finding one that’s to your taste.

Recipe:

1 oz Campari

1 oz sweet vermouth

1 oz gin

Combine in a mixing glass and stir for 12-15 seconds or until combined to taste. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with an orange peel.

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Cocktail of the Hour — the Martinez

Photo c/o Angel Negrin

Photo c/o Angel Negrin

As you might have gathered, cocktail history is equal parts interesting, contentious and vague. For every cocktail with a crystal clear genealogy, five more exist in a much more nebulous place. Such is the case with the Martinez.

Sometimes called the father of the Martini, this drink is supposedly named for the town in California where it originated. Other cocktail lore suggests it is one of Jerry Thomas’s creations or is named after the bartender who invented it. Unfortunately, there is little information to back up any of these stories.

Even if the Martinez didn’t have a direct impact on the creation of the Martini, each drink represents a different route for mixing gin-based drinks. The Martinez is basically a gin Manhattan complete with sweet vermouth, while the Martini gets the dry vermouth treatment.Interestingly, recipes for each cocktail have varied widely over the last century. Thomas’s How to Mix Drinks (etc) presents a cocktail that has a 2:1 vermouth to gin ratio, while The Savoy Cocktail Book inverts these proportions.

Personally, the more modern recipe is more pleasing for my palate. Though you can occasionally catch me drinking straight vermouth, I prefer cocktails that accentuate the base spirit rather than covering it. In this case, the vermouth tends to overpower the Old Tom gin. This style is heavier on botanicals than the now-popular London Dry gin, and is not as widely available. In fact, only one store in the entire state of Alabama carries a brand of Old Tom.*

The result is a light, nutty drink with a sweetness balanced by the addition of bitters. Even though it finishes dry, the addition of the sweet vermouth provides a depth of flavor beyond the Martini’s searing dryness.

Recipe

2 dashes orange bitters

1 tsp maraschino cherry liqueur

1 oz sweet vermouth

2 oz Old Tom gin

Combine ingredients in a mixing glass. Add ice, stir for 12-15 seconds or until the drink is to your taste. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon peel.

*Hayman’s Old Tom gin is available at Lou’s Pub in Birmingham. Disclaimer: I have not been paid or compensated to mention them in this post.

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Cocktail of the hour — the Moscow Mule

Photo credit to Mary Katherine Morris

Photo credit to Mary Katherine Morris

As a disclaimer, the Moscow Mule is the first and will probably be the last vodka drink I feature here. With a name that translates literally as “little water,” this colorless and tasteless spirit doesn’t add anything to cocktails other than alcohol content. Too many other delicious products exist to focus much energy on a substance that is renowned for its ability to blend in.

Ranting aside, the Moscow Mule is almost solely responsible for making vodka popular. Back in 1934, Rudolf Kunnett bought the rights to a French vodka brand called Smirnoff. Five years later, employee Jack Martin convinced the Heublein Inc. corporation to buy out Kunnett. They then bottled all of the remaining stock with whiskey corks from another unsuccessful venture. Despite its popularity with a certain faction of day drinkers, the product still hadn’t caught on by 1946.

At this time, Martin started hanging out in a Hollywood joint called the Cock ‘n’ Bull Pub. The bar’s owner was having an equally bad time trying to sell the spicy ginger beer he had been bottling. When both ingredients were dumped into a copper mug (made by yet another struggling businessman) and a lime wedge squeezed on top, the Moscow Mule was born. Topped with a meaningless but catchy name, this mixed drink was marketed well and helped popularize vodka.

Though we have this drink to blame for the increasingly sweet and artificially fruity vodka drinks that followed, this simple and refreshing concoction may just serve as the gateway to  drinking a Southside or Tom Collins. If that’s the case, this vodka drink may just be able to cancel out a little bit of the harm it’s done to the popular palate.

Recipe

.5 oz lime juice

2 oz vodka

ginger beer

Squeeze or pour lime juice into a chilled Collins glass or copper mug. Add a few cubes of ice, then add vodka and, if desired, a splash of simple syrup. Fill to the brim with ginger beer and lightly stir to combine. 

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