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July 27th, 2007

Tales of the Cocktail 2007

Ted Haigh & Lauren Clark

Wow. As we say in New England, that was wicked awesome. The last time I was in New Orleans, I was a dumb college kid hanging out on Bourbon St. drinking Hurricanes with the rest of the tourists. Fast-forward many years to Tales of the Cocktail 2007, where I attended seminars on vermouth and pimento dram and drank Pimm’s Cups at the honorable Napoleon House. The older, wiser me had a much better time.

Martin DoudoroffIf drinking cocktails for breakfast, lunch and dinner, then going out at night for more cocktails, is your idea of heaven, this is the event — and the town — for you. At a 10 a.m. session on applejack, we were served a Golden Dawn, a Jack Rose and a Wicked Kiss (a Widow’s Kiss with the addition of rye whiskey). Haigh (Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails), Gary Regan (The Joy of Mixology, Regan’s Orange Bitters), and Chad Solomon and Christy Pope (Cuff & Buttons) presided over the seminar with an unofficial fifth panelist: Lisa Laird of the Laird family. Yes, that Laird family, the ones who have produced Laird’s Applejack since the 1700s and who had George Washington over for dinner before the Battle of Monmouth. The cocktails were made with bonded Applejack, which is distilled with 100-percent apples (no grain neutral spirits) and aged for four years — and which, as far as I know, cannot be had in the Boston area. Too bad.

At Prohibition’s Shadow, which featured Haigh, David Wondrich, Robert Hess (drinkboy.com) and John Hall (distiller of Forty Creek Canadian whiskey), we sipped samples of Forty Creek, a blend of rye, corn and barley whiskies, all distilled separately then blended. That stuff was righteously smooth and had flavors of an old ale, like Thomas Hardy’s. Why Canadian whiskey? Well, where do you think speakeasies got their whiskey during Prohibition? The session itself turned into a bit of a speakeasy when John Myers, bartender, cocktail historian and author of the Thirstin’ Howl, suddenly pulled a bottle of Fernet out of his bag and began dispensing shots. Perfectly appropriate at this sort of convention.

Cocktails and the Blogosphere, another 10 a.m. session (oh, my head!) involved Fancy Free and Police Gazette cocktails by way of illustrating how obscure drinks get re-discovered and popularized through blogs. Full of whiskey and bitters, these are two libations that’ll set the vintage-cocktail enthusiast’s heart aflutter. Paul Clark (Cocktail Chronicles), Chuck Taggart (Gumbo Pages), Darcy O’Neil (The Art of Drink) and Rick Stutz (Kaiser Penguin) presided. The session’s money quote (by Paul, I think): “At the 10th anniversary of Tales of the Cocktail, we’ll be talking about the recently launched 100,000th drink blog.”

Jackson Cannon & Audrey Sanders

The money quote from the session simply titled Vermouth (with Haigh and Martin Doudoroff, the geniuses behind cocktaildb.com) came from Haigh just as we started: “It’s 11:30 in the morning, and you guys are at a session on vermouth? Get a life!” We sipped a Marconi Wireless (speaking of bloggers rediscovering old drinks) and a Rose and learned that it’s really hard to get information from vermouth producers (Martini & Rossi, Noilly Prat, etc.) on the spices they use to turn red or white wine into a classic cocktail ingredient. One of the panelists did manage to get hold of some info, and she recited a list of ingredients used in M&R and NP, but I was way beyond note taking at that point.

The Lost Ingredients session was a trip. I had never even heard of pimento dram or Batavia arrack, much less tasted them, before that day. The session was basically a live interpretation of “Gone but Not Forgotten,” the article Clarke wrote for the current issue of Imbibe. I urge any cocktail enthusiast to pick up that issue, because Clarke’s article includes info (and some recipes) on some of the amazing, re-emerging spirits we sampled at Lost Ingredients, including: pimento dram, a rum-based, allspice-flavored liqueur rarely found outside Jamaica — we sampled Taggart’s homemade version; Batavia arrack, a sugar cane- and fermented rice-based spirit produced in Java (formerly the Dutch colony of Batavia) and the basis of Swedish punsch; and falernum, a low-alcohol syrup flavored with limes, ginger, almonds and clove and a key ingredient in many tiki drinks. Read more about the Lost Ingredients session here.

Absinthe dripFinally, Sunday brunch: absinthe with a little sugar. I walked into that session a little late, and when I entered the room … wow, the licorice perfume enveloped me, a sensory experience I’ll never forget. Chemist and absinthe expert Ted Breaux gave a comprehensive presentation about absinthe history, myth and legal status, which is apparently still kind of fuzzy in the U.S. He devised the recipe for the new, legal-in-the-U.S. absinthe Lucid, which contains wormwood but only a barely measurable amount of wormwood’s active and feared ingredient, thujone. Anyhoo… somehow we were drinking real Swiss and French absinthe (the latter produced from a recipe of Breaux’s) in the traditional way, by very slowly letting ice water drip into the glass until the liquid became cloudy. This stuff was strong — over 130 proof! I don’t think absinthe should be banned, but I’m not sure if I recommend it as the first meal of the day.

In my next post, I’ll provide some snapshots of what happened outside of the Tales of the Cocktail sessions.

Posted in Absinthe, Applejack, Cocktails, Events, New Orleans, Vermouth, Whiskey | 6 Comments »

November 15th, 2006

Launched – the cocktails

Brother Cleve - Millionaire
Here are the recipes for the drinks featured at drinkboston.com’s launch party, along with highly condensed versions of each bartender’s remarks about his/her drink. In order they were:

The Jack Rose (mixed by Jackson Cannon)
Some recipes call for lemon, some for lime. Applejack, a nearly forgotten spirit, is the base. Do not attempt to mix this drink without real pomegranate grenadine.
2 oz Laird’s Applejack
3/4 oz handmade grenadine (see recipe below)
1/2 oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice
one dash Peychaud’s Bitters

Shake over ice and strain, garnish with a lemon twist.

Grenadine: 2 parts pomegranate juice, 1 part cane sugar. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer to thicken slightly. Remove from heat and finish with a touch of orange flower water. Let chill, store in refrigerator.

The Sazerac (mixed by John Gertsen)
Born of the mishmash of New Orleans culture in the early to mid-1800s and believed by many to be the first cocktail. Antoine Peychaud was an apothecary whose proprietary blend of medicinal bitters was mixed with cognac before rye became the preference (rye was America’s whiskey before bourbon became more popular).
1 sugar cube (4-7 grams)
7 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
1 oz water
3 oz Sazerac rye whiskey
A few drops of Herbsaint (pastis)

Muddle first three ingredients in mixing glass. “Rinse” a pre-chilled, old-fashioned glass with Herbsaint (pour drops of Herbsaint into glass, swirl and discard). Add rye to mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir well for 30 seconds and strain into Herbsaint-rinsed glass. Squeeze lemon twist over glass and rub around rim. Discard peel.

The Widow’s Kiss (mixed by Misty Kalkofen)
Drinks like this fell out of favor as people’s tastes moved to fruit-flavored liqueurs rather than “scary” herbal liqueurs like Chartreuse and Benedictine. There’s no real story behind this drink (it probably originated in 1895). Let’s make one up!
1 & 1/2 oz Calvados
3/4 oz Benedictine
3/4 oz yellow Chartreuse
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Stir. Strain. Garnish with a cherry.

The Millionaire Cocktail
(mixed by Brother Cleve)
This is but one of several widely varying drink recipes that go by the name “Millionaire.” It appears in Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails, by Ted Haigh (aka Dr. Cocktail).
1 & 1/2 oz Myer’s Original Dark Rum
3/4 oz apricot brandy
3/4 oz sloe gin
juice of one fresh lime (about 1 oz)

Shake well in an iced shaker. Strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with lime.

Posted in Applejack, Calvados, Cocktails, Events, Liqueur, Rum, Whiskey | 2 Comments »

October 17th, 2006

The Marconi Wireless cocktail

MarconiThere are a million old cocktail recipes out there. Sometimes, you’ll stumble upon one that’s really intriguing, as I did recently with the Marconi Wireless. It’s not only tasty, it’s got all sorts of cool historical and cultural connections.

I was flipping through a 1957 paperback that my significant other, Scott, picked up at a flea market recently: The Art of Mixing Drinks (“Based on the famous Esquire Drink Book” exclaims the book’s cover). I was looking for a recipe using applejack; luckily the book has an entire section on applejack cocktails. The Marconi Wireless caught my eye: 2/3 applejack, 1/3 Italian vermouth, 2 dashes orange bitters. ‘Hmm, I bet that’s good. And it’s so simple!’ I thought. Sure enough, it was a snappy, satisfying drink, and we had to find out more about it.

Part of our excitement about the Marconi Wireless had to do with the fact that we visit Wellfleet, Cape Cod frequently and always pass Marconi Beach, the stretch of sand where Guglielmo Marconi transmitted the first transatlantic wireless message from the U.S. in 1903. Cocktails, Wellfleet, historic events — that combination jazzed us. We thought, ‘Man, every bar in Wellfleet should be serving Marconi Wirelesses!’

With a little digging, we found a 1992 New York Times article that William Grimes wrote on historic New York City hotel bars. It turns out that the Marconi Wireless was among several potions invented at the Waldorf-Astoria, and it is listed in the Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book. When was the cocktail invented? Perhaps when Marconi was feted by the American Institute of Electrical Engineers at the Waldorf in 1902 for his role in pioneering radio communication. Or maybe later, in 1912, when Marconi gave testimony at the Senate hearings at the Waldorf on the Titanic disaster. One of the things he was questioned about was how Marconi Company wireless operators who survived the wreck came to receive payment from the New York Times for their stories. In 1902, the cocktail would be an homage. In 1912, a jeer. Thoughts, anyone?

Fun sidebar: our research also led us to the term “cocktail party effect.” The term emerged in the early days of air traffic control, when the difficulty of discerning the intermixed voices of pilots over one loudspeaker was compared to that of zeroing in on one conversation amid the loud chatter of a cocktail party.

Posted in Applejack, Cocktails | 2 Comments »

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