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Cocktail of the Day: Headlong Fall

It was Wes’ turn to mix last night, and looking for something new (because everything old is new again) he visited CocktailDB and hit the Random Recipe Button. The first one that came up made him say “Ehh,” and push the button again. This was the second one that came up.

Headlong Fall Cocktail

1 ounce gin.
1 ounce dry vermouth.
1/4 ounce Bénédictine.
1/4 ounce pastis (we used Herbsaint) or absinthe.

Stir with ice for no less than 30 seconds.
Strain into a cocktail glass of civilized size.
No garnish.

Pale, greenish-straw color. Gorgeous bouquet. Wonderful balance. Heck, it’s enough to get me to fall in love with a fitty-fitty Martini (with orange bitters, of course).

“It should,” Murray pointed out in email, “be perfect while watching [Bush deliver] the State of the Union. Coincidence?”

Suze cocktails

Suze is a gloriously bitter (some might say monstrously bitter) French apéritif which I happen to like. If you like Campari, it’s not that far of a jump to Suze, but it might take some getting used to. Its primary flavor is gentian, a bitter root that’s also used in making aromatic cocktail bitters (although Suze is a drinking bitters); it has a variety of herbs for flavoring as well as a citrusy component. For an idea of its level of bitterness, think raw horseradish root without the burn. It’s got a very bright flavor, and mixes as well as Campari does, and in similar ways. It may not be all that easy to find (larger wine and spirits stores would be your best bet), and it’s a bit expensive (around $35), but if you like bitters it’s definitely worth trying.

I found this recipe after a little Googling; I haven’t tried it yet, but it looks pretty good.

Suze Cocktail

1 ounce orange juice.
3/4 ounce Suze.
1/2 ounce lemon juice.
1/2 ounce orange curaçao.
1/4 ounce grenadine.

Shake with ice and strain into a Champagne flute.
Garnish with a cherry.

I found several others on the Suze website, which I present here with their original names from the website, but in English and without all the pretty but frustratingly slow Flash animation you have to sit through before you can read each recipe:

Suze Couture

1 part Suze.
1 part spring water
2 dashes Monin violet syrup (or crème de violette if you have it).
Build over ice.

Suze Tonique

1 part Suze.
2 parts tonic water.
Build over ice.

Suze Caliente

1 part Suze.
1 part banana nectar.
1 dash grenadine.
Squeeze of lemon juice.
Build over ice

Suze Insolite

1 part Suze.
2 parts orange juice.
1 part crème de cassis.
Build in tall glass. From the illustration it looks as if the Suze and O.J. were stirred together with ice, and then the cassis poured in so it settles into a layer a the bottom. Pretty!

Suze Mojito

2 parts Suze.
3 parts Champagne.
20 drops (NOT dashes!) Angostura bitters.
1 soup-spoon of sugar.
1 squeeze of lemon juice.
7 large mint leaves.

No instructions, but I’d bruise the leaves with the sugar, add Suze, lemon juice and bitters and shake. Strain into a Champagne flute, add Champagne and stir gently to mix without deflating the bubbly. Garnish with mint sprig.

Suze Florida

1 part Suze.
2 parts red grapefruit juice.
Dash or two of sugar syrup.
Over ice

Suze Sensuelle

2/3 Suze.
1/3 cassis.
Over ice..

“Original et sensuel, un cocktail plus sucré pour les amoureux de nouvelles sensations.” (“Original and sensual, a sweeter cocktail for lovers of new sensations.” Or something like that.)

Suze Ensoleillée

1/3 Suze.
2/3 orange juice.
Over ice.

“Toutes les saveurs de Suze se révèlent dans la simplicité de ce cocktail ensoleillée.” (“All the flavors of Suze reveal themselves in the simplicity of this sunny cocktail.” Or something like that. The recipe on the site said to use 1/3 of each ingredient, which doesn’t make sense, so I extrapolated.)

Suze Extrême

1/3 Suze.
2/3 gin.
Over ice.

“Servi givré, il révèle à l’extrême les arômes d’agrumes de Suze.” (“Served frosted, it reveals to the extreme the citrus fruit flavor of Suze.” Or something like that. The recipe on the site said 1/3 Suze and 1/4 gin, which also doesn’t make any sense. I’m therefore guessing again here. Some silly French webmaster has had a few too many Suzes. 🙂

That oughta keep y’all busy for a while! We’ll talk about Strega in another post.

A tale of two Bensonhursts

We’re huge fans of the Brooklyn Cocktail, which calls for rye whiskey, dry vermouth, Maraschino liqueur and Amer Picon. Of course, you can’t get Amer Picon in the States anymore, and even if you could, it bears no resemblance to the Amer Picon of old, the vintage 78-proof version that existed when this cocktail was invented. Torani Amer has been an excellent substitute, but despite its availability at Beverages and More and other places in-store or via mail-order, it can also be a little tricky to find.

In the comments section a while back, Julia said that she makes her Brooklyns with an Italian bitters called Amaro Ramazzotti, as Torani Amer isn’t available in Japan where she lives, and that it works beautifully. Last night we finally tried it, and man … she was right!

Of course, we had to come up with a new name, as “Brooklyn Variation” didn’t really cut it. I chose a name from Brooklyn’s largest Italian neighborhood (which actually dwarfed the size of Manhattan’s Little Italy). It may have a slightly different ethnic makeup these days due to shifting demographics, but historically when you think of Italians in Brooklyn, you think of this place.

Thing is, right around the same time Chad Solomon of Cuffs and Buttons in New York (and as of ’09 of The Tar Pit in Los Angeles, at least for a while) did the exact same thing, coming up with a Brooklyn variation using a different bitters and naming it after the same neighborhood. Well, since it’s pretty much his neighborhood and since he’s a famous bartender, his name is gonna stick. I’ll rename mine after one of that neighborhood’s more famous (albeit fictional) residents.

The Bensonhurst Cocktail
(created by Chad Solomon, 2006)

2 ounces rye
1 ounce Noilly Prat dry vermouth
2 barspoons (tsp) of Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
1 barspoon Cynar

Combine in a mixing glass with cracked ice, stir for 20-30 seconds and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.


The Kramden Cocktail
(created by Chuck Taggart, 2006)

2 ounces Wild Turkey 101 proof rye whiskey.
3/4 ounce dry vermouth.
1/4 ounce Maraschino liqueur.
1/4 ounce Amaro Ramazzotti.

Combine with ice in a mixing glass. Stir for no less than 30 seconds.
Strain into a cocktail glass; garnish with a stemless cherry.

Since it was a New York place name drink I was going to name it after Ralph and Alice Kramden’s address (328 Chauncey Street, of course), but that cocktail name, according to CocktailDB, is already taken.

The Chauncey Cocktail

3/4 ounce rye whiskey.
3/4 ounce gin.
1/2 ounce brandy.
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth.
1 dash orange bitters.

Combine with ice, stir for 20-30 seconds, strain into a chilled cocktail glass. No garnish.

If we keep going like this, the next variation will have to be called the Bang-Zoom. Or maybe the Norton.

An icy Sloe Gin Fizz

New Orleans singer-songwriter Paul Sanchez wrote this opening lyric to his wonderful Christmas song, “I Got Drunk This Christmas”:

I see a stocking hanging
But I don’t know whose it is
I hope Santa’s bringing
An icy sloe gin fizz.

I’ve always loved that song, but I couldn’t quite identify with his cocktail reference … as until last night, I’d never had an icy sloe gin fizz. In fact, until last night, I’d never even tasted realsloe gin. An odd gap in my cocktailian background, true; it was never around much during my earliest drinking days, and every time I saw the stuff in the store (which was not all that often), it tended to be a bottom-shelf liqueur. One sip of that stuff was all I needed to know that what those bottom shelf bottles were passing off as “sloe gin” was not for me.

Real sloe gin is made from sloe berries, the tart blueberry-like fruit of the blackthorn plant (a member of the plum family) and grows primarily in Europe, along with sugar and real gin. It’s a homemade product throughout Britain, with people going out to pick sloes, steeping them in gin and letting them age for the rest of the year, although commercially available brands were also available for decades. The chance that most of those cheap domestic brands would contain both real gin and real sloes was slim to none.

Sloe gin started popping up more and more as an ingredient in various drinks during my later cocktail education, and I began to get curious. After I became a devotee of Plymouth Gin, I found out that Plymouth make a sloe gin as well! The bad news is that it’s not exported to the United States (bah). Well, I’d never let that stop me before. After effusively enthusiastic recommendations from Dr. Cocktail that Plymouth Sloe Gin is indeed The Best There Is (in fact, other than the homemade article, All There Is and None Else Are Worth Bothering), and then reading this taste test in the Guardian

The best way to drink sloe gin is neat (it is not as alcoholic as ordinary gin, with an ABV of 26%), in a small glass, so that’s how we first tasted it. There were two samples. One was purply, intensely sugary and tasted confected and sickly, like a syrupy cough remedy — that was the Gordon’s. It went straight down the drain. The other had more russety tones, like clotting blood. A waft of bitter almonds and damsons (the sloe is a member of the plum family) came off the glass. Enough sugar had been added to take the edge off the rampant astringency of the fruit, but not so much as to domesticate it. It was delicious — grown-up and very addictive. This one was made by Plymouth (£9.99, from Asda and Safeway).

“Russety, like clotting blood”?! Oh my. Well, the rest of it sounded fantastic, and I knew I had to have some to add to our bar.

Plymouth Sloe Gin

I really wanted to try Paul’s icy sloe gin fizz, plus there was still a cocktail in Doc’s book that I couldn’t make because I didn’t have any sloe gin and didn’t want some syrupy, sickly, artificially-flavored bottom-shelf brand. I wanted the best, and Plymouth is the best. One easy internet mail order from Royal Mile Whiskies in the U.K. and one shocking credit card charge later (it cost £1 more to ship the bottles than it cost to buy the bottles, oy), I am now the proud and happy owner of one liter of Plymouth Sloe Gin.

Beautiful tartness, not too sweet and not too powerful, only 52 proof. The waft of bitter almond definitely comes through, and what they said about it being addictive … oh my. This stuff is way too good for me to have to spend £41 for a liter of it with shipping from the U.K., especially at the rate at which we’re likely to be drinking it. Doc recommends Mohawk as an acceptable domestic version (sadly, I don’t recall noticing that brand at any of my usual hooch-buyin’ haunts); I usually only see Hiram Walker, and I’m suspicious of their quality.

The good news is that Plymouth Sloe Gin is now finally available in limited quantities in the U.S., for about $32 a bottle. Hooray!

Okay, I know that Christmas was a month ago, but look what Santa brought me …

Here’s the classic, simple recipe.

An icy Sloe Gin Fizz ... two of them, in fact!

Sloe Gin Fizz

1-1/2 ounces sloe gin.
1 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice.
1 teaspoon simple syrup.

Combine with ice in a cocktail shaker and shake for 8-10 seconds.
Strain into an ice-filled 5-ounce Delmonico glass, top with soda and stir.

The closest equivalent to a Delmonico glass is described by CocktailDB as a “diner or coffee shop breakfast juice glass.” For taller drinks, double the ingredients and use a Collins glass. By volume, the amount of soda in this drink should be just over 1/3 once the ice is in the glass. Don’t over-soda it!

Yes, I’m aware that in the above photo the drinks are chilled with refrigerator ice. It was all I had on hand at the time. Gimme a frakkin’ break. (This was pointed out in the comments section of the original post by someone who completely ignored the fact that those fizzes are served in vintage 1939 New York World’s Fair Delmonico glasses. Sheesh.)

Here’s the way I prefer to make it these days. I like to kick it up with a bit more gin, but you can leave that out if you like.

Sloe Gin Fizz

1-1/2 ounces Plymouth Sloe Gin.
1 ounce Plymouth Gin (optional).
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice.
1 barspoon (tsp) simple syrup.
1 egg white.

Combine ingredients in a shaker WITHOUT ICE. Dry shake for at least 30 seconds, a minute if you can manage. Add ice and shake again for 20 seconds. Strain over ice into a tall Collins glass, and top with soda water.

Oh man, talk about good …

The Vowel Cocktail

Danger, Will Robinson! It’s an obscure ingredient!

Actually, it’s not that obscure. You can get the currently available brand at Beverage Warehouse if you’re in the L.A. area, or anywhere you’ve got a nicely-stocked spirits store, I’d imagine.

I found mine in a rather unlikely place …

Kümmel is a spirit from Germany that’s complex and herbal, with its primary flavoring agent being caraway. Nowadays the brand you’ll tend to find is Gilka, from Berlin, but that stuff’s $28 a bottle and it was a little low on my liquor-purchasing list.

Then I spotted an ancient-looking bottle just like this in the liquor cabinet at our friends’ Gregg and Mike’s house, as we were invited to just dig in and mix.

“Where’d you get this?!” I asked.

“At the little liquor store up on Colorado, across the street from Fatty’s, believe it or not.” Right in our neighborhood. “There was another bottle left, too!”

I sped to the little liquor store the next day, and there it was, very bottom shelf behind the counter, marked $9.99. The ladies behind the counter seemed befuddled that I wanted it, and even more so because that bottle had probably been sitting on their bottom shelf since long before they bought that store. They argued briefly as to whether or not to give me some kind of discount — “Who would want that?” I heard the younger one say. However, Big Mama won out, and said to charge me as it was marked. I didn’t care … if I was going to experiment with a new liqueur (and caraway is one of those tastes I’ve always disliked but have barely begun to acquire), $10 was better than $28. And a vintage bottle, no less! I was feeling very Dr. Cocktail, realizing, of course, that an old bottle of Hiram Walker anything is pretty much worthless.

An ancient bottle of kümmel
Tax stamp

The contents were far better than worthless, though. I still haven’t tasted the good stuff from Gilka, but this stuff wasn’t bad at all — the caraway predominated, but it was pretty complex, and wasn’t all that sweet (which, for me, is good).

This led us to finally be able to try one of the cocktails in Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails that we hadn’t gotten to yet — The Vowel Cocktail.

Making the Vowel Cocktail
Et voilà ... The Vowel Cocktail

The Vowel Cocktail

1 ounce blended Scotch.
1 ounce sweet vermouth.
1/2 ounce kümmel.
1/2 ounce orange juice.
2 dashes Angostura Bitters.

Shake and strain. No garnish.

It looks a little brown and murky, but the flavor of this drink is like nothing you’ve tasted before.

Wes and I took a sip and our eyebrows shot up. It was very caraway-y, and I probably shouldn’t have liked it. But there was a lot going in in there … My first impression was to say, “This is weird,” as in, “This is really different, which it was.

Second sip. “What do you think?”

“I think it’s really good.”

“I think it’s really good, me too!”

Lots and lots going on in this drink, from rye bread to a hint of smoke to spice and a little citrusy tang. We immediately wanted pastrami sandwiches after this drink but alas, had to wait until the next day for that.

There was just one thing … Apparently the recipe for the Vowel Cocktail is the ONE publisher’s misprint in [the first edition of] Doc’s book! The text reads as 1-1/2 ounces kümmel, which seemed strange to me but I went ahead and made it anyway, and ended up liking the result. When we tried it again with the proper amount of 1/2 ounce kümmel, there was much less assertiveness and more subtlety from the kümmel, which was a good thing. The basic flavor combinations still worked really well.

The good news is that this is another step towards my acquisition of the flavor of caraway, which I had never liked in the past. Next stop, aquavit!