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Royal Smile

Here’s another in the series of four marvelous videos produced for the New York bar Dutch Kills by Shlomo M. Godder.

(adapted from The Artistry of Mixing Drinks, by Frank Meier, 1934)

1 ounce gin.
1 ounce apple brandy.
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice.
3/4 ounce real pomegranate grenadine.

Combine with cracked ice and shake for 10-12 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail coupe, and garnish with two thin slices of apple on the edge of the glass.


The Boulevardier Cocktail

I didn’t entitle this post with a “Negroni Variations,” because technically it isn’t, although it has two of the same ingredients and follows the same general formula.

This is a drink that I think should get a lot more attention than it does, ’cause it’s damned good. It isn’t a Negroni variation per se, as it developed quite independently from that drink, but fits in with them quite nicely. As Dr. Cocktail said in the above link, “The Boulevardier … appeared in Harry [McElhone]’s 1927 bar guide, Barflies and Cocktails … Obviously, this is a Negroni with bourbon in lieu of gin. The Negroni, however, would not see print for another 20 years, and Americans had never heard of Campari in 1927.”


1-1/2 ounces Bourbon whiskey
1 ounce Campari
1 ounce sweet vermouth.

Stir and strain. Garnish with orange slice, lemon twist or cherry at your discretion.

Ask for it by name!

Finally, here’s a variation on that which came about one night when bartender Chris Day and I were talking about cocktails in Google Chat. Our Boulevardier and Funky Negroni got together and had a demon spawn, which is actually amazingly good.

The conversation went something like this: I wanted a stiff drink, something with Stagg Bourbon. Chris and I had been talking about Smith & Cross rum. As I was musing about mixing Smith & Cross and Stagg, Chris said almost simultaneously, “Try a Boulevardier with a Smith & Cross float.” My eyes lit up and I said, “A STAGG Boulevardier!” He said, “Oh god, what have I done?” (AWESOMENESS, that’s what you’ve done!)

George T. Stagg Bourbon is arguably the best Bourbon on the planet. It’s certainly my special favorite, so full of flavor that it makes your head spin … quite literally. This is because Stagg is also barrel proof, slightly varying in proof each year but is generally around 144 proof. That’s 72% alcohol, kids — not to be trifled with. It’s a bit hot to drink neat — you might want to add a bit of cool water — but it mixes amazingly well. Given its strength proportions almost always have to be adjusted, but this gets easier with practice.

I wondered if the strength of this whiskey would overwhelm the Campari, but when I tried it with equal proportions I didn’t like it as much. The Campari is still there in the standard Boulevardier proportion, but it’s less assertive. That said, Wes and I both preferred the version below. “The other one was perfectly fine,” Wes said, “but this one … this is the one that makes you pound on the table, say ‘Fuck, fuck, fuck!’ and order it again.” Your mileage may vary; try it 1:1:1 if you like, and see if you like it. Justin Burrow in Houston said, “That drink should be called the ‘Naptime.'” That gave me the idea to call it this:


1-1/2 ounces George T. Stagg Bourbon
1 ounce Carpano Antica
1 ounce Campari
1/4 ounce Smith & Cross rum

Combine the first 3 ingredients with ice, stir and strain into a chilled coupe. Float Smith and Cross onto the surface of the drink. Lemon peel garnish.

Make sure someone else is driving you if you have this one.

And with that, our little series on Negroni variations comes to an end. This should give you plenty of stuff to try at home or in your favorite bar, as they should be pretty easy to order (i.e., “Genever Negroni,” “Stagg Boulevardier with a Smith & Cross float,” etc.). So, give ’em a try!


The Negroni Variations, Part 3: The Kingston Negroni

As we continue with The Negroni Variations … nope, it’s not a classical piece composed by the Italian equivalent of Johann Sebastian Bach featuring the Italian counterpart of Johann Gottlieb Goldberg. (Insert Woody Allen joke: “I-I-I don’t know anything about classical music … for years I thought The Goldberg Variations were something Mr. and Mrs. Goldberg tried on their wedding night.” ba-da-BUMP!)

This next one is the one that’s been killing me lately, and I mean in the best possible way. As with so many of us, I just can’t get enough Smith & Cross rum. This “traditional Jamaican” navy-strength rum (coming in at 100 English proof, i.e. 57% alcohol by volume) is so packed with flavor and funk and “hogo” that a bottle doesn’t last long on our shelf. I like it so much I briefly considered pouring a bottle into my humidifier so that I could breathe it. Eric Seed of Haus Alpenz, whoi imports this stuff, should be canonized for bringing this to us alone, not to mention all the other wonderful things he provides — Batavia arrack,Crème de Violette, allspice dram, Old Tom gin, Cocchi Americano … *boggle*

Oh, what’s “hogo,” you ask? From David Wondrich at the above link:

[B]ack when it was young, rum was possessed of a certain “hogo.” Derived from the French phrase for the “high taste” (haut goût) game meats develop when they’re hung up to mature before cooking — and by “mature,” we mean “rot” — hogo used to be a term of art in the rum trade to describe the sulfurous, funky tang that raw-sugarcane spirits throw off. For 300 years, rum distillers have sought ways first to tame and then to eliminate it: high-proof distillation (more alcohol equals less hogo), filtering, tweaking the fermentation, long aging in barrels — all very effective, particularly when used in combination. Perhaps too effective.

A lot of that hogo has been removed from smooth, easy-to-drink rums of today. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing — give me a glass of Zaya or Appleton Extra any day — but there’s something to be said about that funk, properly tamed. Smith & Cross doesn’t exactly tame it but makes for a delicious rum that won’t funk you to death, although it will funkify your life. (Ah, my stream of consciousness calls for a musical interlude …)

I had forgotten what this drink, first sight of which came from bartender Joaquin Simo at Death & Co. in New York was actually called and started calling it the “Funky Negroni” — fortunately Garret reminded me it’s really called …

(adapted from Joaquin Simo, Death & Co., NYC)

1 ounce Smith & Cross Jamaican rum
1 ounce Campari
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth (Carpano)

Stir & strain, no garnish.

Joaquin takes the vermouth back to cut down on the sweetness, but feel free to kick it back up to 1 ounce if you like. The way I first heard about this was without a garnish, but sometimes I enjoy an orange twist with it.

This drink came into my house, mated with another one and begat a Devil’s Spawn … a most diabolical, wonderful one. Stay tuned!

Bulleit Rye Whiskey: A first look

Bulleit Rye whiskey“Hi Chuck, hope you’re doing well. I am working on the launch of the new Bulleit Rye, and we’d like to send you a sample.”

Well … sure! Okay then! Twist my arm, why dontcha?

I love getting emails like this.

It’s exciting news that Bulleit are putting out a rye. I’m a huge fan of their Bourbon, its own high rye content being one of the reasons (about 28% of the mashbill, in fact). Such a high rye content gives wonderful spice notes and produces a drier product that one that’s mostly corn. (Remember, by law Bourbon whiskey must be at least 51% corn, and rye whiskey must be at least 51% rye.) The new rye won’t contain any corn — the mashbill will be 95% rye with 5% malted barley for natural grain-based enzymatic action for converting the rye grain’s starches to sugars in fermentation. Their rye grains have been obtained from Germany, Sweden, Canada as well as the U.S., and they use a proprietary yeast strain for fermenting the mash. The age is described as being “between 4 and 7 years.” It’s a hefty dram too, with the finished product coming in at 90 proof (45% abv).

I had read that Tom Bulleit and his distillers had been working on this product for about 7 years, talking to whiskey lovers as well as bartenders for ideas and inspiration. That’s plenty of time to give it some age and fine-tune. I could hardly wait to taste it.

Whiskey has quite a history in this family –- the Bourbon made from a 175-year-old recipe by Augustus Bulleit, Tom Bulleit’s great-great-grandfather. The production process for the Bourbon also uses a proprietary yeast culture (I wonder if it’s the same one as the rye) and a Kentucky limestone-filtered water source originating from the Salt River, both of which help impart a unique character.

There’s a lot of fascinating history to their Bourbon. I’m not one to parrot liquor company press releases, but when it involves a good story, mysterious disappearances and the city of New Orleans, I take an interest. Here’s the story, courtesy of Bulleit:

“[In the 1820s the young Augustus] emigrated from Alsace-Lorraine, France. Augustus arrived in the city [of New Orleans, Louisiana] during a time of great growth and prosperity. The United States had recently obtained the territory from Napoleon Bonaparte in the Louisiana Purchase, and New Orleans had successfully defended itself from a British invasion during the War of 1812. The population of the city doubled in the 1830s, and by 1840, New Orleans had become the wealthiest and third- most populous city in the nation.

“The strategic location of New Orleans, at the base of the Mississippi River, made it one of the primary gateways to the West for many early pioneers. To service this ever-growing community of frontiersman, a sizable industry selling needed products for the journey West was forming along the banks of the Mississippi. It’s easy to imagine a young Augustus Bulleit observing the growing American population, the swelling movement west, and noting the ease of transport from the North as a result of the river.

“Around 1840, Augustus Bulleit took his newfound entrepreneurial ambitions and moved from New Orleans to just outside Louisville, KY. Augustus established himself as a tavern keeper, where he began producing small batches of bourbon. Relentless in his pursuit of perfection, he experimented with countless recipes, finally finding one that consistently met his expectations. And thus, Bulleit Bourbon was born.

“Augustus’ bourbon was sold throughout Kentucky, Indiana and New Orleans where it quickly gained the reputation as the bourbon of choice for America’s most haled and hardy adventurers—the frontiersmen.

“In 1860, America was rapidly expanding further west, and Augustus’ adopted hometown of New Orleans had become a major distribution point for his whiskey. That year, while transporting barrels of whiskey from Kentucky to New Orleans, Augustus Bulleit mysteriously disappeared just outside of New Orleans.

“Walter Q. Gresham, a farm boy from Augustus’ neighborhood, who later became Secretary of State under President Grover Cleveland, formed a search party to travel from Indiana to New Orleans in search of Augustus. The searchers came back empty handed, with no knowledge of what happened to Augustus. However, they did discover that his whiskey and flatboat had been sold. His body was never found.

“Shortly after Augustus’ disappearance, the Civil War began and his case was lost in the chaos of the time. While presumed dead, his death has never been certified.

“After Augustus’ disappearance, it seemed the making of his legendary bourbon would disappear with him. However, as decades passed, the Bulleit family never lost its passion for telling the story of Augustus Bulleit, nor the desire to resurrect his signature creation. After more than a century, the family returned at last to bourbon making. In 1987, Tom Bulleit fulfilled a lifelong dream by reviving his family’s ancestral distilling enterprise, using the original recipe of his great-great-grandfather.”

That’s a hell of a story!

About a week after I enthusiastically responded to the email, the Liquor Fairy — dressed in brown with brown shorts as usual — deposited a package at my door containing this:

I must confess I was looking forward to seeing that big pretty bottle with the new green label, but I love getting little medicine bottle samples. Given the limited quantity though, we were going to have to taste and mix carefully.

Into the Riedel Bourbon glasses it went, one ounce each.

First impressions on the nose: fruity! A bit of dark berry but the thing I noticed first was bananas. No, not quite. More like banana esters, like the ethylene gas from when you keep bananas in a paper bag to help ripen them. (This is a good thing.) Tropical, almost floral. Dry spice, a touch of toffee, unburned tobacco (an aroma I love; why must people ruin that aroma by setting it on fire?). Very round and inviting.

On the palate: Lean, robust, medium dry, very crisp. It’s spicy but not overwhelmingly so, and not necessarily the brown “Christmas” spices; it’s almost lightly peppery. Great rye flavor. The brown sugar and nutty toffee notes from the nose come in here too but it’s not the kind of sweetness you get from a high corn Bourbon. The finish is dry and nutty with that little touch of sweetness and a really nice rush of spices. It’s big and complex and spicy and absolutely delicious. Wow.

We couldn’t wait to mix this. We had just enough left to make one Manhattan. I had barely an ounce and a half left — to that I added 3/4 ounce of Carpano Antica vermouth and a dash of Bitter Truth Aromatic Bitters. Lemon twist.

Superb. This rye is not only great for sipping but for mixing as well — that was a terrific Manhattan.

I wish I had more of it to do a more studied tasting, but you can bet that as soon as I see this on the shelves I’ll be picking up a couple bottles. Release date was a week ago on March 1, but I have yet to see it pop up at my usual spirits emporia. Keep an eye out. You’re going to want this one.

Well done, Bulleits!


L.A.’s Best Cocktails, according to Jonathan Gold

It’s a Los Angeles-centric cocktail post, folks … so if you don’t live in the City of Angels or don’t plan to visit soon, this one might not hold your interest.  You never know, though — you could end up here one day!

Jonathan Gold, Pulitzer Prize-winning food writer from the L.A. Weekly, has been drinking his way across town for quite a while now. (This is a job I would not mind having.) All the while, he’s been thinking about essence:

We have, I think, nearly come to agreement on what an essential restaurant might be in Los Angeles, a place that may have transcendent food or occupy a niche in the social ecosystem, but explains something to us about ourselves. Our ideas on the subject are firm. The nature of an essential cocktail may be more subjective. To one man we know, 55 essential cocktails means 55 glasses of Chivas, because that’s all he’ll ever drink. To us, an essential cocktail says something about L.A. […]

Three years into the cocktailian revolution, there remains little agreement about what an essential bar should be, but a rough consensus about how an essential bar should be run. At the best bars, be it The Varnish or Tiki-Ti, syrups are fresh, juices are prepared daily, and the ice, whether chipped from a giant block or made by a $10,000 machine, is clear and cold. Even a novice can tell a great bar from a mediocre one by the sharpness of the report from the shakers.

But 55 essential cocktails? Why not 99? Why not 82? Why a number associated with that which Sammy Hagar cannot drive? Because I drive. Because I have a human liver. Because however much you may adore the saketini at that little place in Torrance, it is only essential if you happen to be eating a sliver of yellowtail sashimi there at the time.

Bottoms up!

He’s come up with his voluminous list of what he considers to be the 55 very best tipples in Los Angeles, at a variety of places undoubtedly familiar to most of us locals, as well as some I still have yet to try. I think you’ll find it’s a pretty solid list; perhaps it’ll give you some inspiration for a formidable (and, one would hope, weeks-long) bar crawl.