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)
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.
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 …
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.)
My recent spate of laziness has gotten me behind on lots of linky goodness (including the above which I couldn’t actually link to), which fortunately us always there if I’m too lame to generate original content. Let’s start with what we plan on drinking tonight, but first a little background.
Among the many wonderful things I’ve learned about from my friend Ted Haigh, there was at least one horrible one, or so I thought at first. Malört is a Swedish-style bitter liqueur (although I’d hesitate to call it an amaro, as it’s very different from Italian liqueurs described as such) based on wormwood; “malört is actually Swedish for wormwood. Unlike absinthe it has no anise flavoring components, or any other spread of botanicals as far as I can tell — this stuff’s pure, whap-you-in-the-face-with-a-large-tree-branch wormwood with all its concomitant bitterness. It is, quite probably, the most bitter thing you will ever pour out of a bottle and into your mouth that’s considered potable and non-poisonous.
It’s Chicago’s native spirit in a way, first distilled by Swedish immigrant Carl Jeppson and still popular there, especially in the Polish and masochist communities. There are those who keep it in their collections as a test of mettle for their spirit-tippling visitors, or as a source of entertainment. In fact, there’s a whole pool of photos on Flickr entitled Malört face. The faces accurately express most people’s reaction to the liqueur, unsurprising based on the description that was actually printed on the back label (although no longer, apparently):
Most first-time drinkers of Jeppson Malort reject our liquor. Its strong, sharp taste is not for everyone. Our liquor is rugged and unrelenting (even brutal) to the palate. During almost 60 years of American distribution, we found only 1 out of 49 men will drink Jeppson Malort. During the lifetime of our founder, Carl Jeppson was apt to say, ‘My Malort is produced for that unique group of drinkers who disdain light flavor or neutral spirits.’
It is not possible to forget our two-fisted liquor. The taste just lingers and lasts – seemingly forever. The first shot is hard to swallow! PERSERVERE [sic]. Make it past two ‘shock-glasses’ and with the third you could be ours … forever.
Perhaps they thought that last line sounded a bit too … sinister. They’re not kidding about the lingering, though — the bitterness doesn’t hit you right away, and just as you’re thinking, “Oh hey, this isn’t as bad as you s– oh, JESUS!” Then it hits you and lasts a long, long time, a true everlasting gobstopper.
Dr. Cocktail also noted in the spirit’s CocktailDB entry that “it has been adopted enthusiastically by bikers and is a mainstay at biker bars.” I have no doubt of this, as I can see these guys using it to prove their manliness. Doc also notes an underlying flavor behind the unrelenting bitterness that he calls “eau de dill pickle.”
All that said … I kinda like the stuff.
It’s really not that bad — after the first time I never made the face, and although I don’t drink it often I will agree that it is bracingly, even violently bitter. I’ve never thought so far to try it in a serious cocktail, though, but a few inventive Chicago bartenders are way ahead of me.
Today’s issue of the Chicago Reader has a feature on Malört, and how it’s evolved past a practical joke, test of mettle or ingredient in intentionally foul cocktails into a serious cocktail ingredient. If you can balance the bitterness with other ingredients, you might just be on to something, as these guys are.
Brad Bolt, bartender at Bar DeVille in Chicago (a very cool guy whom I met when he visited L.A. last year) came up with the drink that’ll be our tipple this evening, which even comes along with a video showing him in Malört-slinging action. The proportions and makeup of this make me think of a Last Word (or a Final Ward, given that it’s lemon); this could be a signature drink for one of my favorite cities.
The Hard Sell (Created by Brad Bolt, Bar DeVille, Chicago)
3/4 ounce Beefeater Gin.
3/4 ounce Jeppson Malört.
3/4 ounce St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur.
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice.
Large grapefruit peel.
Combine in a shaker with ice and shake for 10-12 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Express as much oil as you can out of the grapefruit peel onto the surface of the drink, but do not garnish with the peel.
Here are a couple other Malört creations from Chicago bartenders that we’ll try within the next few days:
The Ukrainian Negroni (Created by Toby Maloney, The Violet Hour)
Combine in a shaker with ice, shake for 10-12 seconds and strain over rocks into an Old Fashioned glass.(Rather aptly named, I think, even if Bukowski never drank the stuff himself. The Reader adds, “The working name for this drink was the Dirty Old Man, after the column Charles Bukowski once wrote for an underground newspaper in Los Angeles. Joly says there.s no garnish because the writer would have just thrown it back at the bartender.”)
The Golden Eel (Created by Paul McGee, The Whistler)
Combine all ingredients except 7Up in a shaker. Dry-shake (without ice) to emulsify egg white. Add ice. Shake. Strain into a short nine-ounce water glass. Top with 7UP.
You can mail-order Jeppson Malört from Sam’s Wine in Chicago (which since seeing their URL for the first time I cannot stop calling “Sam Swine”). It’s only $15 — such a bargain for such a … ahem, sensual experience!
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