The Verena Abbott Cocktail

This one’s an original, with several inspirations, and it took me a while to get right. I’m still not sure if I’m satisfied with it, but it is pretty darn good … and I’m not sure I can make it any better.

The first inspiration came from breakfast — Wes and I got some beautiful ruby red grapefruit in our box from Organic Express (now called Spud) a while back, and he was reminded of how his mom used to prepare them for breakfast. Halve them, score the sections, sprinkle with a generous amount of brown sugar and under the broiler until the sugar melts. Mmmmmmm, good good.

Next came from my near-obsession with the long-defunct product called Abbott’s Bitters. We tasted Abbott’s (after having heard about them for a long while) on our very first visit to Dr. Cocktail’s house a few years ago. He made us a classic Champagne Cocktail, which is very simple: a sugar cube in a Champagne flute, soak the cube with bitters, and fill with Champagne. He used Abbott’s, and more than soaked it — he must have used six or seven dashes. Abbott’s hasn’t been made since 1950, and the original formula hasn’t been made since the early 1940s, so vintage bottles of Abbott’s tend to be slightly evaporated, with a commensurate concentration of flavor.

The flavor of this stuff was amazing, deep and complex, with the “apple/pumpkin pie spices” (cinnamon, clove, nutmeg), hints of ginger and orange, and its complexity no doubt coming from the fact that it was the only bitters to have been barrel-aged. I was hooked.

Doc was kind and generous enough to present us with a bottle as a housewarming present, and as the level on that bottle began to go down, I was desperate to find more. Fortunately I had some lucky breaks, and I now have three 18-ounce bottles of the stuff, probably enough to last me for many years, if not the rest of my life, if I use it judiciously.

I also began collecting some Abbott’s memorabilia, including recipe booklets, matchbooks, an Abbott’s muddler, etc., and one of the recipe books (as well as the paper wrappers of the large bottles) had a recipe for what they called a “Grape Fruit Cocktail”:

I was a little reticent to use an entire teaspoon of Abbott’s Bitters on a half a grapefruit (the stuff hasn’t been made in 55 years, and the good stuff hasn’t been made for over 60, and is rarer than the proverbial hen’s teeth), so we decided to try good ol’ Angostura Bitters instead. About eight dashes on a half a grapefruit, sprinkled with dark brown sugar and under the broiler until the sugar melts.
Holy bejeebies, was that good. Serve that to your guests for breakfast sometime.

The second time we made this I said, “I want to make a cocktail that tastes like this.” I had several false starts — combinations of base spirit, grapefruit juice, brown sugar syrup and bitters that just didn’t work at all. I knew I was on the right track, but I got tired of myriad combinations that still didn’t taste right. Then one night it was Wes’ turn to mix our nightly cocktail, and he pulled one from Gary Regan’s The Joy of Mixology called the Bennett Cocktail, a classic 4:2:1 proportion of gin, lime juice and simple syrup with Angostura bitters that was delicious.

DING! The lightbulb went off over my head. Although I rarely use flavored vodkas anymore I’d just found a good deal on all four flavors of Charbay’s excellent fruit-infused vodkas (if you’re going to use flavored vodkas, Charbay and Hangar One are pretty much the best), and I’d been looking for something to do with them. I tried another version of my “Grape Fruit Cocktail”, and it worked.

I did a little tweaking of proportions here and there to see if it improved it any, and it didn’t. I think sticking with the classic proportion is the way to go. I like it a lot, although it’s not my favorite of my originals (that’d be the Hoskins), but I like it well enough. If you’re looking for a breakfast cocktail, this would work rather well.

I was torn about what to name it, and decided as I was writing this post. It’s named both after Wes’ mom and after Mr. C. W. Abbott, bitters-maker — the twin inspirations for the drink.

Verena Abbott Cocktail
(or, “Grape Fruit Cocktail”)

2 ounces Charbay Ruby Red Grapefruit vodka.
1 ounce fresh squeezed ruby red grapefruit juice.
1/2 ounce dark brown sugar syrup.
4 healthy dashes Angostura bitters.

To make brown sugar syrup, combine 1/2 cup dark brown sugar with 1/4 cup hot water. Heat gently until sugar is dissolved; cool and store in the fridge in a jar. Makes about 2/3 cup.

To make the cocktail, combine all ingredients in a shaker with cracked ice. Shake and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish: use a channel knife to make a long, curly twist of grapefruit peel, and drape over the edge of the glass.

If you’re feeling extraordinarily, foolishly extravagant, substitute 2-3 dashes of Abbott’s Bitters for the Angostura.

The more I think about the name, the more I like it. It sounds like a Hollywood character actress from Prohibition times, kinda.