Saturday, August 11, 2007

Savoy Hotel Special

The commute home tonight took forever. In fact, I listened to the entire "Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars" by the time I got home. It's not a short album, either. I was expecting to find a little bit of someone else's orange juice left in the refrigerator and was disappointed to meet only an empty jug. Monkey Gland plans fizzled and I hit the trusty cocktail guide to find a substitute.

Nearly all of the classic cocktails have some sort of citrus juice in them - lemon is the most common but there are plenty with lime or orange. I had no fresh fruit, so it looked like martinis were imminent. Gin is still strongly represented in the cabinet and dry vermouth is there by default. But luckily I ran across two drinks, both with Pernod, suiting my ingredients perfectly. And we stick to the anisette theme!

The London Fog - 2 ounces gin shaken with 1/4 ounce Pernod and served over ice - lost the first round to the Savoy Hotel Special, mostly because I already had a cocktail glass chilling in the freezer and the Savoy has a few more ingredients.

Stir 2 ounces gin, 1/2 ounce dry vermouth, 2 dashes grenadine, and 1 dash Pernod over ice. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Have a look below.

The elements.



Ready to serve.

The first impression is very much like a martini - after all, it's mostly all gin and vermouth. There's a light but clear essence of anise mingled with the gin and vermouth aromas. The grenadine smooths out the bracing bite of the gin with its sweetness, but this is by no means a cocktail for all tastes. And it certainly isn't a drink to ponder because as it warms up, it snaps back.

For fans of the dry martini, this is an interesting variation. In fact, at a chain restaurant, if the bartender could even be bothered to stir one up for you, it would probably be called the Liquorice Martini or something equally banal. And you can certainly taste 1930 in there (the cocktail was inspired by "The Savoy Cocktail Book" from 1930). Pop "The Thin Man" in your DVD player, stir up a pitcher of these Savoy Hotel Specials and drink along, pondering bygone days when drinking was more than a hobby; it was a lifestyle.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Absinthe Frappe

The best cocktail book I've come ever come across was published in 1998 and co-authored by Paul Harrington and Laura Moorhead. At the time, there was a website called Cocktail Time, part of Wired Magazine Online. Each week the site would feature a drink with illustrations, the recipe, and a story about its history. Also included was a searchable recipe archive, descriptions of different ingredients, and instructional videos. Unfortunately the site no longer exists but the book, "Cocktail: The Drinks Bible for the 21st Century" continues to serve me well. If you want a copy of your own, however, you're pretty much out of luck. It has become a collector's item and sells on Amazon for upwards of $100.

My drink of the evening is the Absinthe Frappe, made with 1 ounce of Pernod and 1 teaspoon of simple syrup shaken with ice and strained into an highball glass of cracked ice. It's one of the few cocktail recipes in the book made with anise flavored liquor. (The Monkey Gland is on deck to try).

The Absinthe Frappe is not particularly complex - for fans of black liquorice, this will be a nice choice. It's sweet and spicy and obviously strong in anise flavors. But it's not transcendental. And because it's shaken it lacks the ceremony typically associated with drinking absinthe.

There seem to be two popular ways to serve absinthe - the French way and the Czech way. The French way goes back to the late 19th century in Paris with artists like Degas, Picasso, and my personal favorite, Toulouse-Lautrec. A shot of absinthe is poured into a glass. A special absinthe spoon is placed across the glass with a sugar cube sitting atop. Ice water is dripped on the sugar cube, melting it into the absinthe and causing it to cloud up. Drinking it this way is very deliberate and methodical - it's impossible to rush the melting of the sugar cube.

In the Czech mode, a sugar cube is dipped into the absinthe, then set on fire until it caramelizes. That burned sugar is then mixed with the absinthe and some water. Although it doesn't seem like it as you sip, absinthe is some really strong stuff - my bottle is 110 proof, easily the strongest bottle in the cabinet - so flaming should occur fairly easily.

The Absinthe Frappe, then, achieves much the same result. Sugar is added to the Pernod (which tastes strangely similar to Absente, the absinthe in my cabinet). Water comes from the shaking and the ice, and it ends up much colder than water dripped through a sugar cube. It also is stronger because it has far less water added. For the impatient or those not taken with ritual, the Absinthe Frappe may be a fine substitute for absinthe imbibed the traditional way.

The Monthly Sip Launch

It all started innocently enough a few months ago. A new aparment brought about old habits. Many a night had been whiled away in college, sipping Martinis or Tom Collinses or the amazing Clover Club. But cocktail night faded away in the tropics with the availability of cheap beer, attractive ladies, and uncouth friends. Relocating to New York City on a budget of zero also put a crimp in the cocktail style. That all changed in May, with the first declaration of a liquor of the month and a band to accompany it.

May started strong and was difficult to top: gin and Beatles. Has there been a greater band than the Beatles or a greater liquor for cocktails than gin? Particularly notable was the Jasmine - 1 1/2 ounces gin, 1/4 ounce Cointreau, 1/4 ounce Campari, and 3/4 ounce lemon juice shaken hard over ice. The result is like grapefruit juice with a wallop.

June introduced me to bitters and Bob Dylan - Campari, Pimm's, Cynar and others. For those of you interested, Pimm's goes down well with ice and some bitter lemon soda. Chances are you've never tried bitter lemon soda (sort of like Sprite mixed with tonic water) but if you're looking for it in the New York area, try Gristedes grocery stores.

July, and with it the heat of summer, was dedicated to the Beach Boys and rum. Thanks to my windowboxes, I have a steady supply of fresh mint for mojitos which are very refreshing on a hot summer night.

I approached August with some trepidation. What to drink? What to listen to? After much debate and deliberation (The Kinks, Queen, XTC, The Who, Johnny Cash, The Rolling Stones and ABBA were all considered) the winner was David Bowie. To match Bowie, I went with anise flavored drinks - so far I have Ricard, Pernod, and a bottle of Absinthe. In the coming weeks, Ouzo, Raki, Sambuca, Arak, and others are expected.

If there is a point to this project and this blog, it is to discover and appreciate interesting drinks and interesting music. Tune in regularly to learn more!