The Vieux Carre

I can feel another Eric Felten rager coming on -- my curious condition wherein I just want to make cocktails from his book, How's Your Drink? -- and as this one coincides with the advent of the new season of Mad Men, I give you the Vieux Carre.

First, please allow me to quote liberally from Felten's prose regarding the Vieux Carre's New Orleans origins (New Orligins?):

"Then there's the Hotel Monteleone's Carousel Bar, where the circular bar revolves slowly under a whimsical carnival canopy of carved wood, mirrors, and bare bulbs. The barstools don't go up and down, thankfully, but the experience can still be a little disorienting; get caught up in a conversation, and the next thing you know, you're on the other side of the room. Ask bartender Marvin Allen to mix you up a Vieux Carre, a terrific drink invented by the Carousel's barman in the 1930s, and unknown to most mixologists outside of the Hotel Monteleone."

He goes on to talk about the Crescent City's rightful place in history as the birthplace and current-day cultural keeper of the cocktail, and that's kind of where Mad Men comes in. One could make the argument that, as of the zeigeist-y right-now, Mad Men is carrying the mostwater for cocktail culture. The mustachioed, suspendered, arm-gartered, vested, tattooed mixologist, we're all tired of him and his haberdashery tropes, no? But we still can't get enough Mad Men, and when we watch Don Draper mix himself an Old Fashioned, zomg it looks so good. (Don would also chafe at the obligatory fawning that often seems expected from the modern-day barkeep.)

The only problem with Don is, he drinks Old Fashioneds! The man needs to evolve his whiskey-based cocktail repertoire, and I believe the Vieux Carre would be the perfect potable for the job. The Benedictine gives that needed sweetness (srsly, Don, you pussy) while the bitters likewise add a familiar component to a cocktail that otherwise offers something different.

Also, "vieux carre" translates to "old square," which is probably what Megan thinks of Don these days...

The Vieux Carre

(Adapted very little from How's Your Drink?: Cocktails, Culture and the Art of Drinking Well)

1 1/2 ounces St.-Remy Brandy

1/2 ounce Bulleit Rye Whiskey

1/2 ounce Stock Sweet Vermouth

1/2 teaspoon Benedictine

1 dash Peychaud's Bitters

1 dash Angostura Bitters

Lemon twist, to garnish

Mix all liquid ingredients over ice in a short glass. Garnish with twist of lemon.

Tasting Notes

Aside from noting the specific brands I used, the only change I made to Felten's recipe was using brandy instead of cognac. This is a swap we always make around here for spending-cap reasons.

Also, the Felten/Carousel Bar recipe calls for all ingredients to be mixed "over ice in a short glass." Meaning, build it in the glass rather than pre-stirring it in a shaker or mixing glass. This goes against today's conventional wisdom, which would probably dictate a vigorous mixing on its own in a separate vessel before pouring it over fresh ice in your drinking glass. But really, what would Don Draper do?

The Preakness Cocktail

In my rush of enthusiasm for all things post-vernal equinox, the Triple Crown is of course on my mind. I have a love/huh? relationship with horse racing which is also not a very deep relationship, but it's also a fun relationship. What I mean is, I really really don't understand horse racing, but when I lived in St. Louis I enjoyed playing "horse hooky" on summer afternoons, sneaking off with my friend Mike to the track, and of course there are all the cocktail traditions that go along with the sport.

The Preakness Cocktail actually bears a closer resemblance to a Manhattan than a mint julep, and it's not even the most "official" cocktail of the Preakness Stakes. That would be the Black-Eyed Susan, so named because the winning horse is ceremonially sheathed in a coverlet of Maryland's state flower. The Black-Eyed Susan, in turn, is like a first cousin to a Hurricane or some such monstrosity: it's made of vodka, cheap whiskey, sour mix and orange juice, garnished with an orange slice and a Maraschino cherry (skewered together on a cellophane-frilled toothpick, I'm sure). I believe it's what they serve to the muddied masses who buy the cheap tickets that allow them standing-room admission to the infield, which this May includes a Maroon 5 concert! Sounds about right.

Blech to all that! The Preakness Cocktail, I feel confident telling you even though I've never tasted a Black-Eyed Susan, is much better. It's a medicinal-tasting Manhattan, thanks to the Benedictine. (Yes, I know I've been big on Benedictine this winter. (Although actually not really, according to the archive.) Yay, winter's over! You probably won't see Benedictine here for a while.) A good five o'clock cocktail, this one, as it's all-alcohol, easy to whip up, quaffable but worth your contemplation on the way down.

The Preakness Cocktail

1 1/2 ounces Buffalo Trace bourbon

1 1/2 ounces sweet vermouth

1/2 ounces Benedictine

2 dashes Angostura Bitters

Lemon twist, to garnish

Combine all ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass or tin shaker and stir thoroughly. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon twist.

Tasting Notes

The traditional recipe, as you'll find it from many sources online, calls for blended whiskey instead of bourbon. But you all know that Rosie don't play that.

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The Tyr Na Nog

This is a post about friendship, a subject that tends to worm its way into your cranium quite a bit when a) it's January and b) you're spending your first of several years abroad, hundreds of miles from the people you like best and also from a TV that carries American college basketball.

Our friends Michelle and Dan, back in New York, are pretty awesomesauce peeps. I knew Michelle vaguely but fondly from the first time I lived in the city, before moving to the Midwest for several years. From the very minute I moved back to Gotham, thanks to forces I'll never quite understand but will forever appreciate, the friendship was just there, fully realized and present. We both met our respective fiances within a year, doubling the number of very cool people we got to hang out with whenever we hung out together.

Of course, Michelle and Dan are big cocktail fans. (Srsly, why else would Sean and I ever hang out with anyone?) They're not quite as fanatical as we are, I'd say, because in their hearts they save some room for beer, and also their whiskey allegiance veers towards the waters of northern Europe (IRL, UK, etc.) rather than the Nation of Kentucky. But a couple summers ago when Sean and I wanted to drive upstate to the Tuthilltown Distillery's Facebook Fan Appreciation Day (yes, that was a real thing -- shut up, Sean won a bourbon barrel!), we knew exactly who we wanted to come along with us.

If you were to ask me today for my favorite Michelle-and-Dan story, the one I'd tell was one I wasn't even around to witness firsthand. In fact, it happened while the two of them were vacationing on the Emerald Isle. The way I remember Michelle telling it, they were sitting in one of several pubs or B&B lounges that they stopped into on their trip, it was just the two of them, they were being quiet and sort of reading different things independently, and then Huey Lewis and the News' "Power of Love" came on the sound system. Without a word, they instantly high-fived.

Michelle and Dan are getting married in August. Sean and I are very touched that they asked us to create a cocktail for the occasion. Now, as I know from experience, there are several things you've got to consider when developing a wedding cocktail: What liquor brands does your reception site carry, and which are they willing to pour many times over? What's the glassware situation like; do they have 150 cocktail glasses, or better to stick with highballs? How much hooch can your guests handle? (This is the tricky part, coming up with something that will please the hardcore cocktailers and the I-never-touch-the-hard-stuff relatives au meme temps.)

Michelle and Dan, you can consider this cocktail a first draft if you like. In it, we used the Tyrconnell whiskey you brought back to the States for us. We also used Aperol and homemade cherry brandy, which, erm, probably takes this drink out of the running...? (Then again, neither's expensive, so maybe you and us and the cool place in Brooklyn where you're having your reception whose name I can't remember at the moment can work something out.) Besides my neverending love of wordplay, I wanted to name it Tyr Na Nog because, well, because something cheesy about marriage being like a mythical island where your fairy spirits will forever protect one another. (That was a first draft of a bad wedding toast.)

Or we can come up with something else and call it Awesomesauce.

The Tyr Na Nog

1 ounce The Tyrconnell Single Malt Irish Whiskey

1 ounce cherry brandy

1/2 ounce Aperol

About 1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in an ice-filled shaker. Shake vigorously and strain into cocktail glass.

Tasting Notes

I believe that, for this recipe, you could either buy a cheap-o cherry brandy like Hiram Walker's, or you could buy an almost-as-cheapo brandy-brandy and then cherrify it yourself. When we make cherry brandy at home, what we actually do is use this recipe to make brandied cherries, and then the leftover brandy we cook those in, we consider that to be our cherry brandy. It's served us well.

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The Prescription Julep

OK, OK, some of y'all are probably thinking, Enough with the juleps!

And then there are folks like me, who simply cannot have enough julep recipes at their disposal. I collect julep recipes like I used to collect Smurf figurines. Srsly, how you can possibly have enough deliciousness at your fingertips?

Why this particular recipe (which dates back to the 1850s and was recently written about by David Wondrich in his book Imbibe!)? Because by combining rye whiskey and brandy, it offers you a way to appropriate the grainy sweetness of bourbon when you haven't got any bourbon handy. It's a cocktail hack!

And speaking of deliciousness, Wondrich claims this recipe turns out an even better julep than a classic bourbon one. Ahem, ahem, Mr. Wondrich... bite your tongue.

The Prescription Julep

(with thanks to Serious Eats for passing along the original version)

1 1/2 ounces Remy Martin

1/2 ounce Old Overholt rye whiskey

1/2 ounce simple syrup

A few mint leaves, plus a sprig for garnish

Drop mint leaves into bottom of julep cup or Collins glass. Cover with simple syrup and muddle. Add ice to fill, then add brandy and rye. Stir briskly. Garnish with sprig.

Tasting Notes

The original recipe calls for two teaspoons of sugar dissolved in a half-ounce of water -- call this simple syrup if you want. It also calls for muddling the sugar/water combo in the bottom of the glass. No offense 1850s, but I own a microwave. I make simple syrup.


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The World's Greatest Jack and Coke

Now just hear me out.

Back in July, out of semi-desperation, I bought a pre-bottled, pre-mixed, $11 Jack and Coke from a vendor at a Mets (again, just hear me out!) game. It was surprisingly good, actually rather delicious, with no chemical sheen to the taste and a proper balance of liquor and cola. I noticed, perhaps for the first time, that Jack Daniel's is well suited to the and-Coke genre. Bourbons almost blend in too well, with too much overall roundness to the highball; rye whiskeys can work but can also go down scratchy. Jack and Cokes are smooth up front and finish with a pleasantly peculiar, sour twist. Duly noted.

This post, however, is more about the Coke part. Not long at all after that Mets game, the Times ran a story on The Rise of the Hipster Soda Jerk (not its real title). And yes, the piece read as a cavalcade of waxed mustaches, sassafras, seltzer siphons and suspenders, but also the notion that "soda" oughta be "special" -- uttered by not one but two of the jerks quoted.

Instantly, I vowed that I couldn't agree more, and swore that someday I'd attempt the homemade cola syrup recipe that accompanied the story. And thus, the seed for the World's Greatest Jack and Coke was planted, germinating for several months before finally taking root over the Christmas break, when we finally got around to buying ourselves a SodaStream (Merry Christmas, Martelorres!) and sourcing the three ingredients that neither my home pantry nor the supermarket 'round the corner kept in stock: dried lavender buds (food-grade); whole vanilla bean (yes I know I should have this); citric acid. The first two I got at Whole Foods, but the citric acid was a BITCH to find. (I finally did at a bulk/health food store.)

So: What is it like, to make your own cola? Pretty low-key, not as intimidating as the recipe reads on paper. You basically grate and crush a bunch of stuff (citrus peels, star anise, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger) and simmer it. Then you strain it and mix the resulting liquid with a buttload of sugar. (Seriously, the amount of sugar will make you think twice.) Most of your time will be spent grating, then minding your simmering pot, then stirring in your sugar until it dissolves. But I did all this while having about 10 friends over and managed to ignore my syrup for long stretches without harming it.

The Times' recipe notes that caramel color powder is optional. I did without because I was dying to see what cola looked like when it wasn't forced to look like fudge pop. Dear The Coca-Cola Company: Why do you insist on making this stuff the color of cow dung? My syrup came out the most splendid, sunny, optimistic, adorable shade of orange. It was fucking translucent! Like the dawning of the age of Aquarius, like tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya, tomorrow.

Alright, enough already. We break out the SodaStream, carbonate our filtered tap water, bippity boppity boo, put it together and what've you got?

Folks, you will love go apeshit for this cola. You will kvetch and clutch your pearls and Facebook-post about it and just die for this stuff. THIS is what you get when you look up refreshing in the dictionary. And what you'll find incredibly nifty is that it tastes like Coke but also tastes nothing like Coke. I mean, your tastebuds will get intuitively that this is cola -- not orange pop or root beer or flavored seltzer -- but then again, if this is cola, why am I getting this undeniable grace note of pure lavender? And why does this lavender taste so right in what is still undeniably cola?

Mixed with a shot of Jack and a squeeze of lime? Yeah, it's the World's Greatest Jack and Coke.

The World's Greatest Jack and Coke

1 1/2 to 2 ounces Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey

About 3 ounces homemade cola

A quarter of a lime

Fill a highball glass with ice. Pour in your Jack, then your cola. Top off with a squeeze of lime.

Tasting Notes

We actually bought an airplane bottle of Jack just for this drink, which is technically 50ml, or 1.7 ounces. So that's why I said 1 1/2 to 2 ounces above, to taste.

You'll also note in our pics that we used one of our big-ass ice cubes for this, as I think is wise for any highball drink. Welcome to the rock!

The Times' cola syrup recipe can be found here. I followed it to the letter except: 1) I didn't whirl the white and brown sugars together in a food processor before combining them with the simmered liquid; 2) I used coffee filters instead of cheesecloth to strain my simmered mixture.

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