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Cocktail of the Day: The Robert (Bobby) Burns

Happy Rabbie Burns Day!

Or specifically, “Burns Nicht” if you’re going to be holding the traditional celebration for the Bard of Scotland tonight, in honor of his 214th birthday.

Robert Burns

(Quite a handsome bloke, wasn’t he?)

If you were hoping for that most traditional of Scottish dishes, always served on Burns Night by those celebrating the poet’s life, prepare to unleash a joyous shout of “Gie her a Haggis!” The USDA is going to relax its ban on the importation of the real MacCoy, made of the heart, lungs and liver of a sheep, mixed with beef suet, onions, oats, black pepper and stuffed into the stomach of the animal. (Mmm.)

Gie her a Haggis!

This is great news! See, thing is, though … haggis is good. I’ve had it, in Edinburgh, Scotland, no less. If you’re a Louisianian or a lover of Louisiana food who’s eaten and enjoyed boudin, then you’re pretty much there — it’s a very small leap from boudin to haggis. Think sheep instead of pork, oats instead of rice, stomach instead of intestinal casing (and the stomach is just that, a casing — you don’t eat that bit). It’s a big fat sausage, basically, no big deal, and as a waiter in a Scottish restaurant in New York said, “If you can eat a New York hot dog and not ask what’s in it, you can eat haggis.” It’s particularly good when served with the traditional accompaniments of “neeps and tatties” (mashed turnips and potatoes), some strong Scots ale, a wee dram (or four) of whisky … and, um, in my case in Scotland, a few dashes of Tabasco that I snuck out of my bag and applied when no one was looking. Untraditional but yummy nonetheless.

Of course, you’ll be needing plenty of guid Scots whisky tonight, whether you’re having haggis or not. There’s a huge world of it that I’m still only just beginning to explore, but these days I’m enjoying the maritime flavors of Islay whiskys — the wonderfully smoky Laphroaig 10-year (“like drinking bacon”), the intense “Band-Aids, sweat, leather and iodine bouquet” of Lagavulin 16-year (seen below) or the delightfully earthy, smoky, spicy, almost chocolatey Ardbeg Supernova, if you can still find it. Find a good blend too — don’t discount blended whisky, as there are many superb blends. Compass Box Asyla is a favorite, Famous Grouse is our regular mixing Scotch, and I loved the complex, nutty, spicy, fruit-and-toffee flavors of the Chivas Regal 18-year I tried recently.


If you’re a cocktailian, though, how about something (presumably) named after the Bard himself?

Continue reading …

How to make a Manhattan

I always try not to make any assumptions about my readership. I know there are a lot of cocktail geeks, nerds, and– er, ahem, aficionadoes and enthusiasts out there, but new folks discover this weblog all the time and might be new to the joys that the cocktail brings into our lives.

One of the very greatest cocktails in the history of Humankind, in the top five certainly, is the Manhattan Cocktail. Even though it’s basic — whiskey, sweet vermouth, bitters — there are many subtle variations. Bourbon or rye (I prefer the latter, but I’ve had dynamite Bourbon Manhattans depending on the Bourbon), brand of sweet vermouth, 2:1 or 3:1 (I think 4:1 is not enough vermouth), type of bitters. We’ve made dozens of variations, and enjoyed them all.

For the record, you may not omit the bitters in a Manhattan any more than you would cook a steak without salt and pepper. It’s worse than that, actually, and you are free to politely but firmly correct anyone who claims that “nobody wants bitters in a Manhattan,” which I’ve actually had some bartenders say to me. It’s like a chef saying that no one wants their food seasoned.

Here’s how we make them at home most of the time.


The Manhattan Cocktail

2 ounces Rittenhouse 100 proof rye whiskey.
1 ounce Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth.
2 dashes Angostura bitters.

Combine in a mixing glass with cracked ice and stir for 20-30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a brandied cherry or, for a drier and more sophisticated flavor, express the oil from a lemon peel over the drink and garnish with the peel.

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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.


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.)


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