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The Moorehead Cocktail

Here’s another drink from the brandy seminar I attended in 2007, presented by Chad Solomon and Christy Pope and sponsored by Hennessy Cognac. This one wasn’t part of the seminar, but one I came up with afterward.

After Chad and Christy’s presentation, the bartenders present were invited to go behind the fairly well-stocked bar and play; i.e., create! Marcos and Patrick and Damian and a bunch of other guys got back there and made some very tasty stuff, none of which I remember because I didn’t write any of it down. (D’oh.)

There was one guy who was into the whole “flair” thing, juggling bottles and glasses and shakers over his head and behind his back and, in the process, dribbling spirit and mixer all over the floor. I am really not into that kind of thing; some people find it entertaining to watch but it adds nothing to the flavor of the drink and arguably takes away from it because he is not using jiggers to measure his ingredients. I’m also opposed to freepouring in general, as in many recipes a difference of even 1/4 ounce being out of proportion can completely kill a drink. (It takes almost no time to use a jigger to measure, folks … use ’em!) If my bartender is a talented juggler, fine — I’d rather see him juggle rubber balls or flaming bowling pins in between drinks than juggle my liquor. Also, a few of us noted that if we were his bar manager we’d be displeased with his cost control — he got just as much product onto the floor as he did into the mixing glass.

I got behind the bar after a while and knocked something off which wasn’t bad. I had never mixed brandy with St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur before, and there was a nice big pretty bottle of it (so hush). I gave it a semi-classic proportion, upped the level of the St. Germain due to its being less sweet than most liqueurs, and tossed in a couple of dashes of fruit bitters to make it a bit more complex and interesting. Several people tasted it and thought it pretty good; my favorite reaction was from one of the bartenders I’d been talking to, who had recently switched careers and had only been bartending for three months. He took one sip and made a big puckery Mr. Yuck face. I cracked up. “Wow, that good, huh?!” He, as it turns out, prefers sweeter drinks (which I do not), and this was was to his palate a bit tart. (I was a little boggled that anyone could find a drink with only a half ounce of lime juice in it to be “too tart,” but to each his own, I guess.) I gave him a minute to recover and prepare, and had him taste it again. Still not to his own taste, but he did appreciate the flavors and balance.

I thought about naming it after Wesly, since he wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t make it to the event, but I don’t think either of us are egomaniacal enough to name drinks after ourselves or each other. I thought of something somewhat close, though, and named it after one of my favorite character actresses whose name at least contains his in its first syllable. The tartness and pleasantly bitter edge of the cocktail suited her most famous character too, I think. (“Oh, do be quiet, Durwood.“)

Agnes MooreheadThe Moorehead Cocktail

2 ounces Hennessy VS Cognac.
3/4 ounce St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur.
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice.
1 dash peach bitters.
1 dash orange bitters.

Combine with ice and shake for 10-12 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. No garnish.

[UPDATE: I haven’t revisited this one since the night after I first made it. Now that over two years have passed, I think it’s time to try it again to see if it passes the test of time.]

Left Bank Masala Chai Cocktail

Here’s another drink from the brandy seminar I attended in 2007, presented by Chad Solomon and Christy Pope and sponsored by Hennessey Cognac.

The final cocktail we were served was an example of the very kind of thing Hennessy and the gathered bartenders want to have happen — the creation of new brandy-based cocktails. Working with Audrey Saunders at the Pegu inspired them to do more experimentation with the infusion of teas into spirits, which has tremendously exciting flavor potential. Audrey Saunders; Earl Grey Marteani, which is insanely good, begins with a bottle of Tanqueray gin that has been infused with loose leaf Earl Grey tea.

Infusing tea is easy but you have to watch it. The general rule of thumb is 1 tablespoon of tea leaves per 8 ounces of spirits, so you’ll need about 4 tablespoons for a liter, 3 for a 750ml. The infusion time is two hours — no more, no less, especially not more. Any longer than that will mean more and more of the tannins will be extracted from the tea leaves, making the spirit overly tannic. “Even two hours and twenty minutes can kill the whole thing,” Chad said.

They experimented with the infusion of spiced Indian chai into Cognac, thought of making it creamy without making it too heavy and settled on a vanilla-flavored almond milk (easily obtainable at Whole Foods and similar markets); this way you get the creaminess without the weight. They had tried soy milk and found it completely unsuitable (unsurprising, as I find soy milk to be completely unpalatable), but the almond milk had just the right touch. I tasted some by itself, which I’d never done, and it’s wonderful stuff — I’m going to lay in a supply for myself now. A nice, silky body and creamy, foamy head came from the addition of egg white.

This is a really, reall good drink, perfect for dessert or even for breakfast or brunch.

Left Bank Masala Chai Cocktail
(by Chad Solomon and Christy Pope)

1-1/2 ounces chai-infused Hennessy VS Cognac.
1-1/2 ounces vanilla almond milk.
1/2 ounce honey syrup (2:1 honey and hot water; allow to cool).
3/4 ounce pasteurized egg white.

Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker WITHOUT ICE. Shake for about 10 seconds without ice — this helps emulsify the ingredients nicely. THEN add the ice, and shake for a good 30 seconds. Strain into a wine goblet or decorative glass of your choice. Garnish with a grating of nutmeg and some toasted sliced or slivered almonds.


East India Cocktail

Here’s another drink from the brandy seminar I attended in 2007, presented by Chad Solomon and Christy Pope and sponsored by Hennessey Cognac.

After going over The Sazerac, smashes, daisies and the Sidecar, we tried another classic cocktail called the East India Cocktail, which was quite obscure until it was inadvertently resurrected by Dale DeGroff.

Back at the turn of the 21st Century Dale was commissioned by Courvoisier to create a new cocktail featuring their Millennium Cognac bottling, which he then called the Millennium Cocktail. He later figured he needed to change the name, as he was very happy with the way the cocktail turned out and he’d hate to see it relegated to the trash heap of millennial merchandise. Later on, he discovered that an out-of-print book called The Roving Bartender, written by Bill Kelly in 1946, had a cocktail called the East India Cocktail that contained the same basic ingredients albeit in greatly different proportions. Dale’s version has some subtle but important differences that make for a wonderful flavor, and as far as I can tell, he’s still calling it the Millennium (he was the night he gave me one, at least). It was lovely.

The original East India recipe called for Cognac with just a couple dashes each of orange Curaçao, pineapple juice and bitters. Dale’s Millennium had equal parts brandy and pineapple. This version of the East India that Chad and Christy made for us splits the difference, and retains the finishing touches on Dale’s drink, one of which was to be a huge influence on my own signature cocktail.

The East India Cocktail
(Modern, Dale DeGroff-inspired version)

1-1/2 ounces Hennessy VS Coganc.
3/4 ounce pineapple juice.
1/2 ounce Grand Marnier.
1 dash Angostura bitters.

Combine ingredients with ice in a mixing glass, shake thorougly for 10-15 seconds. Strain into a cocktail glass. You’ll have a lovely foamy head, which is what happens when you shake pineapple juice. Flame an orange peel over the surface of the drink, and grate a little nutmeg on top.



Here’s another drink from the brandy seminar I attended in 2007, presented by Chad Solomon and Christy Pope and sponsored by Hennessey Cognac.

From the Smash we moved on in our cocktail history to a drink called the Daisy, which contined spirits, sugar and water (or simple syrup), citrus and a bit of orange Curaçao. From this basic recipe you could vary the spirits as with many of these historic drinks — brandy, whiskey, rum and gin were frequently used to make Daisies — but you could vary the liqueur as well. For a classic daisy the best orange Curaçao is recommended — Senior and Marie Brizard make good ones, but the best of all is the classic Grand Marnier, richly flavored with its brandy base.

Chad and Christy demonstrated a variation/evolution from the classic Daisy formula with this drink, in which the Curaçao is replaced by yellow Chartreuse, in a slightly higher proportion to the lemon juice to give it a nice balance. Green Chartreuse is typically specified, which you certainly can use, but the yellow has a slightly softer, sweeter profile that works really well in this combination; I love the way yellow Chartreuse plays with lemon juice.

The Champs-Elysées

1-1/2 ounces Hennessy VS Cognac.
3/4 ounce yellow Chartreuse.
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice.
1 dash Angostura bitters.

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake for 10-12 seconds, strain into a chilled rocks glass, either up or on the rocks as you prefer.

From then it was on to the Sidecar


Brandy Smash

Here’s another drink from the brandy seminar I attended in 2007, presented by Chad Solomon and Christy Pope and sponsored by Hennessey Cognac.

This is an historical cocktail, when things started to get a bit more complex in the mixing glass. The category of drinks is called the Smash, referred to by the Father of All Bartenders, “Professor” Jerry Thomas, as “a julep on a small plan.” It had some similar ingredients to the well-loved julep — spirits, sugar and mint — but rather than being slowly sipped through a straw in a silver cup packed with shaved ice, the smash was strained off the ice, more bracing and meant to be consumed quickly.

The classic Smash was usually made with brandy, whiskey or gin (most likely Dutch gin rather than the London dry we’re used to today), shaken with fine cracked or shaved ice and a couple of nice sprigs of mint, then served over fresh cracked/shaved ice and garnished with mint and orange slices. In more recent years, Dale DeGroff adapted the Smash to more modern tastes with the addition of a bit of citrus to it, which makes it a much more pleasant drink. The addition of about half a medium lemon, cut into quarters and muddled in the mixing glass with the mint, does more than add a bit of juice — this way, you get lemon oil from the peel, and that makes a huge flavor difference.

Sounds simple, but you’ll be surprised how wonderful this drink is, and while you’re at it you’re drinking history.

The Brandy Smash
(Modern version)

2 ounces Hennessy VS Cognac brandy.
3/4 ounce simple syrup.
1/2 lemon, quartered.
Small handful of mint.

Place the lemon in the mixing glass, top with the mint and muddle until you’ve released the lemon oil from the peel, along with some juice. Don’t pulverize the lemon and especially not the mint.

Add the simple syrup and brandy, fill with ice and shake for 10-12 seconds. Strain into an Old Fashioned glass, either up or on the rocks, and garnish with another sprig of mint.

Bartender’s hint: before you garnish, place the mint in the palm of your hand and give it good “spank;” i.e., clap your hands with the mint in your palm. Sure, it’s a bit showy (yet impressive-looking), and it serves to help release the aroma of the mint, which’ll go right up your schnozz as you’re sipping. Mmmmmmm.