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Cocktail of the Day: Hotel Nacional Special

This one is named after the hotel in Havana, Cuba where it was created (the hotel’s still there, too). It’s not exactly common, so don’t expect to be able to order it in your run-of-the-mill bar; fortunately, it’s easy to make at home. Also, if you’re fortunate enough to live near the fabulous restaurant and bar that is Cinnabar in Glendale (less than four miles from my house, baby!), it’s on their outstanding cocktail menu. (UPDATE: Cinnabar closed in 2005, sadly.)

If you can make sure that the apricot brandy you use is the dry, Hungarian style (like barack palinka), not the sweet “apricot flavored brandy” made by people like Bols and Leroux. (If you do have to use a liqueur I recommend Orchard Apricot by Rothman & Winter.)

Hotel Nacional Special

2 ounces golden rum (Cuban, if you can get it)
1-1/2 ounces unsweetened pineapple juice
1/2 ounce fresh squeezed lime juice
1 teaspoon dry apricot brandy

Shake with cracked ice until cold and frothy, and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with anything from a cherry to a “flag” (orange wedge and cherry speared with a cocktail pick or a paper umbrella).

Cocktail of the Day: Moscow Mule

I’d read about this one for years, but had only gotten the chance to enjoy them fairly recently. The Moscow Mule kicked off the “white whiskey” (i.e., vodka) craze back in the 1950s, concocted at the Cock ‘n Bull Pub in Hollywood by people with lots of poorly-moving vodka, homemade ginger beer and a truckload of copper cups to move. It’s a perfect example of making lemonade from life’s lemons (or limes, in this case).

Now “traditionally” served in the specially made copper cups (which are really cool), it’s icyyummyspicy and very refreshing. Spectacular in summer, I find it just as tasty in January. Better yet, I’m able to enjoy them even more thanks to our friends Robb and Jaason, who gave us a wonderful set of vintage copper Moscow Mule mugs as a housewarming gift! (If you can’t find the copper mugs, a highball glass will certainly do.)

Don’t use plain old ginger ale for this recipe; that makes for a wimpy mule. Use real ginger beer, made with actual ginger juice or extract — the pepperier the better! We like Blenheim’s, but whatever brand you use shouldn’t be too sweet and should really smell and taste as much like fresh ginger as possible. In fact, when you open the bottle and smell it, it should make you sneeze.

Moscow Mule

2 ounces vodka
1 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice (and NEVER Rose’s!)
4 ounces good, spicy ginger beer

In an 8-ounce copper mug, add ice and the ingredients in the
specified order. Stir and garnish with a lime wedge.

Cocktail of the Day: Widow’s Kiss

A fabulous drink, spicy with a hint of sweetness, served to me courtesy of my friend Dr. Cocktail and Dave Wondrich of Esquire magazine, whom I was very pleased to finally meet last weekend.

We really like the yellow variety of Chartreuse, a little lower in alcohol and a little mellower in flavor (fewer herbs in the mix), which among many other things goes well in Doc’s Lemony Snicket Cocktail in the summer and this — an old, old friend — in the fall and winter. We had one of these on a chilly evening recently as well, and in the photo below is a line of miniature version we made in January for a friend’s birthday dinner. (Sorry about the fake cherries, they were all we had on hand.)

Seven Widow's Kisses

The Widow’s Kiss

1-1/2 ounces Calvados (or Laird’s Straight Apple Brandy).
3/4 ounce Bénédictine D.O.M.
3/4 ounce yellow Chartreuse.
2 dashes Angostura bitters.

Stir with cracked ice for no less than 30 seconds; strain into a cocktail glass.

If you’ve read Ted “Dr. Cocktail” Haigh’s marvelous book Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, you’ll remember his wonderful description of this drink:

As the scene opens, you are up in your grandmother’s attic opening the dusty steamer trunk she brought from Europe in 1914. You reverently turn back layer upon layer of old lace and brocade … unveiling a packet of old love letters tied in silk ribbon. Ancient dried rose petals flutter down from between the envelopes.

This is what the Widow’s Kiss is like. Sweet, complex and darkly golden, thought-provoking and introspective. It is a cocktail of fall turning toward winter, and it wins Doc’s award as the most evocative drink ever. Have one by the fire.

Or in front of the space heater, as the case may be. (We couldn’t afford the house with the river rock fireplace.)

UPDATE: Eric Felten did an interesting article on this drink in his Wall Street Journal column back in 2008 in which he also described it as “way too sweet for modern tastes.” I strongly disagree — although I dislike overly sweet cocktails this one’s perfectly balanced and must not be futzed with. (That said, I can’t take anything sweeter than this.) He offers a different proportion which I have tried, but I must say I greatly prefer the original. If you can’t tolerate this much liqueur in a drink, you might want to try his version:

The Widow’s Kiss 2008
(modern adaptation by Eric Felten)

2 ounces Calvados.
1/2 ounce Bénédictine D.O.M. liqueur.
1/2 ounce yellow Chartreuse.
2 dashes Angostura Bitters.

Stir and strain, cherry garnish.