Tag Archives: cocktail of the hour

Without the right spoon

At some point, you just end up breaking down and buying the damn grapefruit spoon. Photo credit

At some point, you just end up breaking down and buying the damn grapefruit spoon. Photo credit to Viacheslav Blizniuk

Freelancing is a lot like eating a grapefruit without the proper spoon sometimes. It can be frustrating, barely rewarding, and energy consuming. Sometimes, it feels like you spend more energy trying to dig out just a little more fruit or juice with a blunt spoon. But once you’ve finally eaten the fruit and are squeezing the last drops of juice into your poorly paired spoon, you miss and spill the juice all over your shirt.

Or is that just me? Even better.

Over the past month, I’ve blogged my butt off for Birmingham Restaurant Week and been contacted by three different new clients. I’ve invoiced for more money this month than any other since I started freelancing full-time — a welcome change after having to dip into my savings in July. Even with all of these things going right, I’m still trying to figure out how this writing thing will work going forward.

Several of the sections of my blog have gone on to become recurring paid columns. Cocktail of the Hour is now a regular part of my articles for mental_floss. I was blogging about health and fitness in exchange for personal training, but the gym has since closed. In the past, I’d used blogging to keep myself accountable as a writer or for my own health, but it hasn’t stuck.

What I’d like to do is a weekly or monthly roundup post of what I did that week/month — where I fell short, what frustrated me, and any victories. I’d love for my blog to be a place where I can focus on what I’ve done rather than leaving it in my head to loop endlessly through a montage of small victories and overwhelming obstacles. I can and will do this thing, and I will do it right. I hope.

 

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Cocktail of the Hour — the Aviation

Aviation line.

Flying in style.

To truly enjoy the Aviation and appreciate its name, you have to think back to when air travel was a luxury. Picture a elegant seating area inhabited by suave gentlemen and well-coifed ladies. Imagine full-service dinners on tables with real table cloths served by happy stewardesses (term used for historical effect).

In that context, the Aviation’s name and makeup makes more sense. It’s a bit of a mystery — I couldn’t find much background on this Prohibition-era cocktail other than it was inspired by the air travel available around that time. It’s a crisp cocktail with a tart bite and a dry finish. Per the recipes I found online, it’s also incredibly versatile.

Per Wondrich’s article on Esquireit’s made with maraschino liqueur, but no crème de violette. This recipe first appeared in Harry Craddock’s 1930 edition of the Savoy Cocktail Book, and makes the drink reminiscent of the icy cloudscape that passengers experience when they fly.

According to most other sources, the crème de violette is essential: it provides the drink’s recognizable hazy purple-blue color. Either way, it’s a gorgeous drink that can call up memories of a simpler — and more glamorous — time. To find your way back, experiment with the proportions until you find what takes you back.

Recipe:
1 tsp Crème de Violette (optional)
1/2 oz maraschino liqueur
3/4 oz freshly squeezed and strained lemon juice
2 oz gin

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Add ice, and shake vigorously until chilled, about 12-18 seconds. Strain into a chilled coupe glass and garnish with a maraschino cherry (optional).

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Cocktail of the hour — the Harvard

Photo credit to Brent Beachtel

Photo credit to Brent Beachtel

Before high fructose corn syrup was king, colleges had cocktails. Not the sugar-soaked-violently-neon-OMG-Spring-Break cocktails, but more sippable drinks that packed a wallop. During the early 1900s, the Harvard was one such cocktail. This cognac-based Manhattan variation has a rich, earthy and spicy from the brandy that’s balanced by the warmth and sweetness of vermouth.

The Harvard first appeared in print in George Kappeler’s 1895 Modern American Drinks. Like the Manhattan, the Harvard’s original recipe calls for equal parts liquor and vermouth. After these ingredients are mixed, the Harvard’s recipe diverges with a splash of soda water. In the original proportion, the brandy gets lost under the additional dilution.

Within the first 20 years of the 20th century, this cocktail was rebalanced to be more spirit-forward. This newer recipe has endured to present, and changes the ratio to two parts cognac to one part vermouth. Changing the ratio balances the liquor content with both the vermouth’s sweetness and prevents over dilution, leading to a much more balanced drink.

Interestingly, Harvard variations including Chartreuse, citrus juice, maraschino liqueur and other sweeteners are occasionally mentioned in pre-Prohibition documents. That said, these Fancy (or Improved) Harvards have mostly been lost to history. Besides, this solidly balanced cocktail needs very little tweaking; it’s lush and delicious in its original form.

Recipe
2-3 dashes Angostura bitters
1 oz sweet vermouth

2 oz brandy

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir for 12-17 seconds or until well combine. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and top with some club soda. Garnish with an orange peel if feeling citrusy.

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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 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 — the Champs Elysees

Yum.

Yum.

If you’ve ever taken a French class, chances are that your teacher made you sing the song called “Champs Elysées.” When I first stumbled across the Champs Elysées cocktail on drinkboy.com, I couldn’t get the song out of my head for weeks.

Tasting this drink made the earbug worth it. As a Sidecar variation, this brandy-based beverage is at once herbaceous, bold and delicately balanced. By most accounts, it’s a cocktail that’s remained largely obscure since it first appeared in Henry Craddock’s 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book. In this edition, the recipe calls for Chartreuse, while elsewhere the green or yellow is specified. This ambiguity allows the bartender (or home bartender) some room to play, so use whichever you prefer.

So little is known about this drink’s history that, much like the Last Word, ordering it is a pretty easy way to demonstrate interest in classic cocktails. It’s also worth noting that brandy-based cocktails are sometimes viewed as foreign but are actually as old (if not older than) some of the most revered whiskey cocktails.

Recipe:

1 dash Angostura bitters

.5 oz simple syrup

.5 oz (green or yellow) Chartreuse

.75 oz lemon juice

1.5 oz brandy

Combine all ingredients in a shaker and add ice. Shake for 13-16 seconds or until combined. Strain into a chilled coupe glass and enjoy.

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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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