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Port Cocktails: The Suburban

“Drink more Port, boys and girls. Drink more port,” said Wesly.

“I like that,” I said. “May I quote you?”

“It wasn’t terribly profound; it just came out.”

“Sometimes the stuff that just comes out is the best stuff of all.”

“That’s what SHE said.”

Welcome to my life.

Ever since he saw that episode of “The Office” on the plane back from Spain, I hear that line at least once a day. But I digress.

Getting back to more relevant quotes from Wesly, he adds that “what the world needs now is more more rye cocktails,” one of my favorite expressions of his. Since this is a cocktail that’s been around for going on a century and one you’ve likely never heard of (I certainly hadn’t), in this case it’s a rye cocktail that just needs to be brought to more people’s attention. It’s also a Port cocktail that needs to be brought to more people’s attention as well — cocktails containing Port wine are delicioso. We’re still working on that bottle of Port I picked up the other day, and since it won’t keep forever I want to finish it within a few weeks. Hence, we shall continue posting about cocktails featuring ruby Port until the bottle is drained. Then I shall buy more.

See how that works? I like it.

I came across this one while browsing through Dave Wondrich’s Esquire drinks index, and it caught my eye for the same reason Dr. Wondrich finds it unusual. Rye whiskey and dark rum in the same drink, that’s a big fat yes. But with Porto as well?! That’s wacky! (In the best kind of way.) I wanted to try it right away.

The drink originated at the old Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York, named for a wealthy gent who raced horses, and for the horse race in which his steeds figured prominently. What does that combination of spirits and wine actually taste like, you may ask. From the above link: “If you could distill carved-oak paneling and club chairs, leather-bound volumes and three-cushion billiard tables, this is what you’d get. Mellow, robust, comfortable. The rum mellows the tang of the rye, the port tames the raw edge of the distillates, and the bitters add a touch of the exotic, like the stuffed head of that rare Asian gazelle that hangs over the doorway.” Well … no gazelle heads at our house. The closest we come to that are the jackalope heads looking down on us when we drink at Seven Grand. We do, however, have a club chair and leather-bound volumes, both appropriate company for this lovely drink.

The Suburban is more of an autumnal or wintery drink, and not one for the summer, as Dr. Wondrich notes. As I write this summer is still a month off, and our spring has been fairly cool — we’re still getting lows in the 50s at night, so it’s still snappy and bracing enough to sip this tipple. (I’m a New Orleanian after all, and as my friend Robb once said, that means that for me anything under 70°F is “cold,” and anything under 60°F is “very cold.”) And sip it we did, and did indeed enjoy it.

The Suburban Cocktail


1-1/2 ounces rye whiskey
1/2 ounce dark rum
1/2 ounce ruby port
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 dash orange bitters

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

Godsdammit … this and the Curari and the others I’ve been making recently are so good that I’m going to need to keep an open bottle of Port around all the time. Can we not have stasis boxes, like in Larry Niven’s “Known Space” sf novels, boxes inside which time does not pass, so that my myriad aromatized wines won’t go bad?


The Curari Cocktail

Yes, it’s a very obscure ingredient. Don’t blame me, blame Dr. Cocktail! It’s his fault! He’s the one who gets me to fall in love with all this stuff that’s impossible to find!

(A brief digression … other than truly vintage items like Abbott’s bitters and 13-year-old bonded Old Overholt rye distilled before Prohibition, hidden during and then bottled afterward, a fair bit of the impossible-to-get stuff he’s turned me on to way back when is now available, like allspice dram, Crème Yvette, falernum and more. Life in the cocktail world is really good these days.)

Amaro Cora

The idea to post this drink this week came from my having bought a bottle of ruby port to make the St. Charles Punch the other day. It was a Warre’s Warrior Port — a perfectly nice, respectable everyday port, about $14 at the corner market. It’s not one I’d rhapsodize about, but it’s perfect for mixing in cocktails. (The Dow’s 1994 Vintage Porto I got Wesly for his birthday is most decidedly not for mixing, but for sipping, savoring and rhapsodizing.) This’ll probably spark several port-based cocktail posts over the next week or so, so stay tuned.

The key ingredient in this drink is Amaro Cora — ahh, I so do dearly love amari — an Italian digestivo (and light enough to work as an aperitivo as well) from Turin in Piemonte, sweeter than most amari, with flavors of orange, cinnamon and other spices. This is a really good entry-level amaro, and probably the one I should have tried first instead of the one which I did, which was Fernet Branca, which at the time scared the crap out of me.

Better yet, Amaro Cora isn’t impossible to find — it’s still made, but it’s a mother to track it down in this country. In the July/August 2007 issue of Imbibe magazine Doc describes how he stumbled across the ingredient in the most excellent 1937 tome The Café Royal Cocktail Book from the UK and describes his reaction to it (something along the lines of “Aha … what is this? It’s still made?! What does it taste like? I don’t care, I must have it!”) and an amusing tale of Argentinean internet auctions, second-hand translations and losing money.

But you can still get it! It just takes a bit of effort, easily done. The only place I currently find it is via Mount Carmel Wines and Spirits in the Bronx, for the princely sum of $9.99. It’s lovely stuff. If you’re interested in Italian bitters you must have it. You can order it over the Internetsss and it’s cheap. So what are you waiting for?

The first drink Doc tried it in was a vintage cocktail from Café Royal called the Amarosa (for which he adapted the proportions for modern tastes and balance), then came up with this original, which he served to Wesly and me at a soirée chez lui several years ago.

This is a wonderful drink … one of the best Doc has ever come up with, I think. With the rich, spicy base of a rye whiskey underneath, the fruity notes of the port explode with ripe cherries and blackberries, and the Cora provides a hint of bitterness but marvelous citrus and cinnamon spice to accent the fruit, and the Regans’ give a perfect little boost to both the bitter and citrus notes. So much going on in here, and it’s all fun.

Even though he doesn’t mention it in his Imbibe piece, I could swear that when Doc first served this to us it was garnished with a cinnamon stick, a perfectly logical garnish given the spice notes in the drink. (Caveat — I was undoubtedly hammered at the time, an occupational hazard everlastingly delightful side-effect of being a houseguest of Doctor and Nurse Cocktail.) If one is not handy, an orange peel would not be at all inappropriate.

The Curari Cocktail

(by Ted “Dr. Cocktail” Haigh)

2 ounces rye whiskey
3/4 ounce ruby port
3/4 ounce Amaro Cora
2 dashes Regans’ Orange Bitters No. 6

Combine in a mixing glass with ice, stir for 30 seconds and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a proper cherry on a cocktail pick.

You really should pick up some Amaro Cora. Did I mention that it was cheap? (Well, I mean inexpensive, of course.)


Cocktail of the Day: The Sazerac Royale

“Come and see me if you get a chance,” read the message from Chris McMillian. “I’ve got a new drink for you.”

To describe my reaction as “intrigued” would be a fairly massive understatement.

(If you’re not familiar with Chris, read Wayne Curtis’ article about him in Imbibe, and watch some videos of him making cocktails, especially the Mint Julep. Well, maybe not that last one; that one’s better seen and sipped in person.)

While we were home in New Orleans for two weeks a visit with Chris, dean of New Orleanian bartenders and his lovely wife Laura, both of whom are founding board members of the Museum of the American Cocktail, was pretty high on our list. We’d been hoping to get to Cure and French 75 as well, but seven days at the Fair Grounds, a trip to Acadiana and visits with family and friends cut down on our bar time. We were lucky enough that timing worked out such that we were right near Chris’ bar when he was on during one of our only free days in the Quarter/CBD.

Laura stopped by not long after we arrived and we were having a grand time all around when Chris asked if we’d like to taste something. Despite his great talent and profoundly deep knowledge of New Orleans and cocktail history, Chris is a pretty modest guy and doesn’t consider himself the type of bartender/mixologist who’s constantly coming up with new drinks. “If I come up with two new drinks a year that’s pretty good for me,” he says. In my experience those two drinks tend to be worth waiting for, and this was no exception.

The drink he prepared for us falls into the category of “Why didn’t anyone think of this before?” or even, “Hell, why didn’t I think of this?!” (Well, because he’s Chris and I’m me, that’s why.) The drink was so simple, yet so sophisticated and absolutely delicious.

It has its history in a few different places, starting with the classic Champagne Cocktail. Traditionally it’s a sugar cube soaked with Angostura Bitters, dropped into a Champagne flute and topped with bubbly. The Champagne treatment in a cocktail is often acknowledged by appending the word “royale” to a drink’s name, as in the classic variation on the Kir cocktail. That began as a combination of crème de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur) poured into white wine, a drink that was once commonly called blanc-cassis but was eventually called Kir in honor of Félix Kir, a mayor of Dijon, France in the early 20th Century who loved the cocktail and was frequently seen quaffing it. Substituting Champagne for the white wine made it a Kir Royale.

Simple enough, then — give a Sazerac the Royale treatment. This is an ideal apéritif and a perfect Sazerac variation to serve to those for whom a strong whiskey cocktail is a bit overwhelming. This drink is a knockout.

The Sazerac Royale

by Chris McMillian, Bar UnCommon, New Orleans

1/2 teaspoon Herbsaint Original or absinthe
1 sugar cube
3-4 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
1 ounce rye whiskey (Chris used Old Overholt)
4 ounces chilled Champagne
Lemon peel

Rinse a Champagne flute with the Herbsaint or absinthe and discard the excess. Drop the sugar cube into the flute and soak with the bitters. Add the whiskey, then carefully top with the chilled Champagne. Twist the lemon peel over the surface, rub it around the rim and commit the sacrilege of dropping it into the drink.

I’ll post Chris’ other new one later this week.


Cocktail of the day: The Custer

Last Wednesday I enjoyed a wonderfully low-key birthday celebration (joined by several bartenders — aah, my peeps! — including ones visiting from Portland and Seattle) at Copa d’Oro in Santa Monica, surely one of the best bars in the L.A. metro area. A world-class cocktail menu, a long and beautiful bar, an amazing stash of liquor, a friendly and inviting space, dangerously close to my day job … all that and grilled Nutella-almond butter paninis too? I’m so there.

A few months ago they debuted several new house originals on their cocktail menu, and I’ve been working my way through them ever since. Head barman Vincenzo Marianella is primarily responsible for the menu, and consequently we see lots of bitters and amari, plus some other Italian ingredients. One of these is the newly-reformulated liqueur Galliano, first developed in Italy in 1896 by a distiller named Arturo Vaccari (but now owned and developed by Lucas Bols in The Netherlands). Galliano’s infamy came about with the development of a drink in the 1960s called the Harvey Wallbanger, merely a Screwdriver with a Galliano float. The old liqueur, in that tall, beautiful bottle that doesn’t fit in your bar or on any shelf, was a very sweet vanilla-heavy concoction that most bartenders didn’t seem to have much use for, and if you ended up with a bottle chances are it remained rather full for many years, until its yellow coloring faded.

Recently Bols reformulated Galliano to its original recipe, now calling it Liquore Galliano L’Autentico. It’s a lot less sweet, with a higher proof, anise predominant in front but a broad base of herbs and spices, and the vanilla relegated to much more of a supporting role. Actually, it’s really good now, much more useful in cocktails, and you see it popping up in drinks at Copa here and there, both in improvised “market cocktails” as well as on the menu.

The new one I tried is the Custer, with Galliano providing sweetness and a spice base to the already nicely spicy base spirit, accented by two kinds of bitters taking the directions out to both fruity-tart and vegetal. I watched the bartender pretty closely, and this recipe seems to be spot-on.

The Custer Cocktail

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.

Continue reading …

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