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Smoky Cocktails

Here was our view of the Angeles Crest fires last night, looking off our back porch.

Angeles Crest Fire, 8/27/09

One of my friends wrote us a real estate ad: “Mordor-adjacent, with dramatic views of Mount Doom.”

That’s about eight miles away. It’s far, and we’re not particularly worried so far, but it’s scary and freaky and very disquieting to see sheets of flame coming off the top of that mountain. So, a sheet of flame that’s about 3/8 inch tall from eight miles away is how tall exactly? 0.375″ in degrees of arc, divided by …. uhh … math geeks, feel free to chime in. (I’m figuring about 80 feet.)

Well, we figured that if the air was going to be full of smoke (oddly enough, we hardly smelled any last night, due to the lack of wind), we ought to drink some smoky drinks too. Scots whisky was appointed.

Copper Swan Cocktail
(Created by Gary Regan, 2000)

2-1/2 ounces Highland Park single malt Scotch whisky.
3/4 ounce apricot brandy (liqueur, not the eau-de-vie).
Lemon twist.

Stir with ice for 20 seconds. Strain into chilled cocktail glass and serve up with a twist or, if you prefer, into an Old Fashioned glass with fresh ice.

The name came from the swanlike copper neck of old copper pot stills, which are traditionally used to make single malt Scots whisky. This was one of a series of single malt Scotch cocktails Gaz created, resulting in aghast cries from those who assert that one should never mix a single malt Scotch. “Garbage in, garbage out!” he rightly replied. I chose to use Rothman & Winter’s Orchard Apricot rather than Apry for its lower sugar content. We didn’t have any Highland Park 12 in the house, so I went with the 18. Lest you gasp in horror … this was a frakking fantastic drink.

Lucques Restaurant in West Hollywood, CA makes a variation of this that looks interesting, kind of a blend between this, a Rob Roy and a Breakfast Martini. It’s sufficiently different such that it should have its own name, I think, although they still call it by the same name as the original. I think it deserves at least a numeric distinguishment.

Copper Swan Cocktail No. 2
(Adapted by Lucques Restaurant, West Hollywood, CA)

1-1/2 ounces Highland single malt Scotch.
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth.
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice.
1 tablespoon apricot preserves.
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters.

Combine with ice, shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

Given the proximity of the fires, and the “Oh, FECK!” factor, even though they weren’t close enough to be really worrisome, we resolved to keep drinking, and stayed in the Scotch oeuvre. This next one is from Harry Craddock’s Savoy Cocktail Book, yet in a Gargantuan quantity for six people. We adapted it thusly and found it to be delightful, like a Rob Roy but with near-equal proportions, far more bitters and a little more sweetening to offset the bitters. Lovely.

Flying Scotsman

1-1/2 ounces Famous Grouse Scotch.
1-1/4 ounces Carpano Antica sweet vermouth.
1 teaspoon Peychaud’s bitters.
1 teaspoon simple syrup.

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Lemon twist garnish.

We’re still not getting much smoke tonight, although my eyes burned a bit this morning. The fire’s moving toward Altadena, and we have good friends who are only about a mile away from its current position. Wish them, and everyone else in Altadena and La Cañada-Flintridge, the best of luck.


Punch of the day: Cape Fear Punch

I’ve mostly given up on the Food Network, because about 90% of their programming is crap (then again, as Sturgeon’s Law is often cited, albeit slightly incorrecty, 90% of everything is crap). I do still watch “Good Eats” occasionally, because Alton Brown is one of the few remaining good things about FN. A recent edition of his show that’s been sitting on our TiVo finally got watched last night, and it was about punch, a subject near and dear to our hearts ’round our house.

As usual, Alton has done his homework (which I suspect included reading David Wondrich’s Imbibe!), and right off the bat taught the Teeming Masses the long-cherished basic formula for punch … while dressed as a 17th Century buccaneer:

ONE of sour
TWO of sweet
THREE of strong
FOUR of weak, plus

(Alton, of course, being a fellow geek, had has deckhand recite, as he got to the fifth part, “He who controls the spice controls the Universe … the spice must flow!” Heh.)

He started off with a very simple punch recipe, using pints as the measurement and making a rather huge batch. One of lime juice (with the spent hulls), two of Demerara sugar, three of Batavia Arrack (to my surprise and delight) and four of tea (warm, so as to help dissolve the sugar), with grated nutmeg. The arrack will likely be difficult for some folks to find, but a title card said that it’s available “on the world wide web” (the source for all things).

The main punch recipe he dealt out, though, looked mighty good, and I’m looking forward to trying it:


For the base:
750ml rye whiskey.
750ml water.
1/2 cup Demerara sugar.
3 bags green tea (although I’d be tempted to substitute oolong).
375ml rum.
375ml Cognac.
4 whole lemons.

For the punch:
2 small oranges, thinly sliced.
4 small lemons, thinly sliced.
2 750ml bottles of sparkling wine.
1 liter sparkling water.
Large ice block.

For the base: Pour the rye whiskey into a 4-quart container. Fill the now empty rye whiskey bottle with water, pour into an electric kettle or saucepan, and bring to a boil. Add the sugar and stir until the temperature drops to 190 degrees F. Place the tea bags in the kettle and steep for 3 minutes.

Add the tea, rum, and Cognac to the whiskey. Peel the zest from the lemons, being careful to get only the yellow zest and not the white pith. (A vegetable peeler works best.) Wrap the peeled lemons in plastic wrap and reserve in the refrigerator. Add the lemon zest to the mixture, and stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

For the punch: Strain the base into a large punch bowl. Juice the reserved lemons and add to the punch bowl. When ready to serve, add the sliced oranges, lemons, sparkling wine, and seltzer water; stir to combine. Add the ice block and serve with freshly grated nutmeg per serving to taste.

You can do this in two batches, to keep the bubbles fresh. Add half of the base with one bottle of the sparkling wine and half the seltzer, and repeat when your guests have drained the bowl.


The List (including the Fourth Degree Cocktail)

The guys at Anvil Bar & Refuge in Houston (one of my very favorite bars) have released “The List,” which is one hundred “libations we feel you should try at least once in your life … for better or worse.”

Click for a larger, more readable version

When I went through this list and counted, I found that I had had 89 of those libations. Last night, I decided to start for the finish line and raised the total to 90.

Fourth Degree
(as served by Harry Craddock, Savoy Hotel, London, 1930s)

3/4 ounce London dry gin.
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth.
3/4 ounce dry vermouth.
2 barspoons (1 tsp) absinthe.

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon peel.

Erik, as part of his long exploration of the Savoy Cocktail Book, wrote about the Fourth Degree and said he’d enjoyed it more by drying it out a bit, upping the gin to 2 ounces (and using Junipero) and 1/2 ounce each of the vermouths. However, the original proportions worked out beautifully for him by using Tanqueray, Dolin Dry and Martini & Rossi Rosso. Last night we used Beefeater, Dolin Dry and Dolin Rouge (with PF 1901 as the absinthe), and it was pretty damn good. I’ll try the drier version too, and see what I think.

Next, the Coffee Cocktail will make it 91.


An Evening at Copa d’Oro, Part 2: The Newark

Continued from Part 1

After the lovely Decadence & Elegance, in the section of the menu called “The Boys from Out of Town,” featuring drinks by bartender friends from around the world, I spied one that made me go “Ooh!” It’s yet another Manhattan variation, but man … there’s something about Manhattan variations that I just can’t get enough of. Simple tweaking of the bitter component, or a small addition of another flavor, can transform it into such a new and wonderful drink. (The Manhattan itself might just end up being my favorite drink, period … it regularly gets into a shoving match with the Sazerac for that position.)

I really like the bartender who came up with this one — great guy, and a monstrous talent. I hope I finally get my procrastinatory behind to his city and into his bar sometime soon. You can use any good sweet vermouth for this, but Carpano Antica is specified (as it’s the best). Use Laird’s 100 proof bonded apple brandy for this, too. I think they had run out the other night and were using Laird’s applejack, and the former is far superior. I decided to kick this up a notch and used Laird’s 12 Year Old Apple Brandy the other night, as I was feeling extravagant. Hoo-boy …

(by Jim Meehan, PDT, New York)

2 ounces Laird’s bonded apple brandy.
1 ounce Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth.
1/4 ounce Maraschino liqueur.
2 barspoons Fernet Branca.

Combine with ice and stir for 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. No garnish.

This drink is wonderful. The alchemy created brings notes that are chocolatey with even a hint of mint from the Fernet, the medicinality of which fades far into the background with the combined efforts of that beautiful, bright apple flavor and the deep, rich spiciness of the Carpano. Bravo, Jim! (And thanks to Roberto for making it for me, and for taking such good care of us last Wednesday night, and thanks to Joel for confirming the proportions for me.)


An Evening at Copa d’Oro, Part 1: Decadence & Elegance

Dangerously close to work, so far from home … but the cocktail menu is too good not to be tempted to head over. Copa d’Oro in Santa Monica, run by our friend Vincenzo Marianella, is a stupendously good bar with a world-class cocktail menu, including their 6-8pm Happy Hour Menu — classic cocktails like Aviations, Daiquiris and Ward Eights are a whopping $5.

So yes, a Clover Club to start, please! I was considering continuing in that vein to save a little money, but the rest of the drinks on the regular menu are so damned good, and then of course I spied the bottle of housemade Pimento Dram behind the bar (Damian’s recipe, I believe) … well, that did it. I watched him make this one, so I’m pretty certain about the proportions.


1-3/4 ounces Courvoisier Exclusif Cognac.
1/2 ounce Apry.
3 barspoons Pimento Dram.
2 barspoons Cynar.
3 dashes Angostura Orange Bitters.
2 orange peels.

Spray the inside of a chilled cocktail glass with the oil from a large piece of orange peel. Discard the peel. Combine ingredients and stir for 30 seconds. Strain into the prepared cocktail glass, and garnish with another orange twist.

Lovely drink. The Apry, allspice and Cynar play together very nicely, and the double dose of orange oil kicks up the aromatics that much more.

I’m breaking this post into two to make sure the cocktails index separately, so on to Part 2