Cocktail of the Day: Widow’s Kiss

A fabulous drink, spicy with a hint of sweetness, served to me courtesy of my friend Dr. Cocktail and Dave Wondrich of Esquire magazine, whom I was very pleased to finally meet last weekend.

We really like the yellow variety of Chartreuse, a little lower in alcohol and a little mellower in flavor (fewer herbs in the mix), which among many other things goes well in Doc’s Lemony Snicket Cocktail in the summer and this — an old, old friend — in the fall and winter. We had one of these on a chilly evening recently as well, and in the photo below is a line of miniature version we made in January for a friend’s birthday dinner. (Sorry about the fake cherries, they were all we had on hand.)

Seven Widow's Kisses

The Widow’s Kiss

1-1/2 ounces Calvados (or Laird’s Straight Apple Brandy).
3/4 ounce Bénédictine D.O.M.
3/4 ounce yellow Chartreuse.
2 dashes Angostura bitters.

Stir with cracked ice for no less than 30 seconds; strain into a cocktail glass.

If you’ve read Ted “Dr. Cocktail” Haigh’s marvelous book Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, you’ll remember his wonderful description of this drink:

As the scene opens, you are up in your grandmother’s attic opening the dusty steamer trunk she brought from Europe in 1914. You reverently turn back layer upon layer of old lace and brocade … unveiling a packet of old love letters tied in silk ribbon. Ancient dried rose petals flutter down from between the envelopes.

This is what the Widow’s Kiss is like. Sweet, complex and darkly golden, thought-provoking and introspective. It is a cocktail of fall turning toward winter, and it wins Doc’s award as the most evocative drink ever. Have one by the fire.

Or in front of the space heater, as the case may be. (We couldn’t afford the house with the river rock fireplace.)

UPDATE: Eric Felten did an interesting article on this drink in his Wall Street Journal column back in 2008 in which he also described it as “way too sweet for modern tastes.” I strongly disagree — although I dislike overly sweet cocktails this one’s perfectly balanced and must not be futzed with. (That said, I can’t take anything sweeter than this.) He offers a different proportion which I have tried, but I must say I greatly prefer the original. If you can’t tolerate this much liqueur in a drink, you might want to try his version:

The Widow’s Kiss 2008
(modern adaptation by Eric Felten)

2 ounces Calvados.
1/2 ounce Bénédictine D.O.M. liqueur.
1/2 ounce yellow Chartreuse.
2 dashes Angostura Bitters.

Stir and strain, cherry garnish.

Cocktail of the Day: Millennium Cocktail

Several years ago Dale DeGroff was commissioned by Courvoisier to create a new cocktail featuring their Millennium cognac bottling, which he then called the Millennium Cocktail. He later figured he needed to change the name, as he was very happy with the way the cocktail turned out and he’d hate to see it relegated to the trash heap of millennial merchandise. Later on, he discovered that an out-of-print book called The Roving Bartender, written by Bill Kelly in 1946, had a cocktail called the East India Cocktail that contained the same basic ingredients. Dale’s version has some subtle but important differences that make for a wonderful flavor, and as far as I can tell, he’s still calling it the Millennium (he was last night, at least). It was lovely.

The Millennium Cocktail
Created by Dale DeGroff

1-1/2 ounces Cognac
1-1/2 ounces pineapple juice
1 ounce orange curaçao (I used Cointreau)
1 dash of Angostura bitters
Flamed orange twist, for garnish
Freshly grated nutmeg, for garnish

Shake all the ingredients vigorously with ice and strain into a
chilled cocktail glass.

To flame the orange peel, cut a thin, oval slice from the peel of a thick-skinned orange, about 1-1/2 inches by 3/4 inch long. Hold a lit match in one hand, and carefully pick up the peel in the other, “as if holding an eggshell.” Don’t squeeze the peel prematurely. Hold the peel by the side, between thumb and forefinger, skin side facing down, about four inches above the drink. Hold the match between the drink and the peel, closer to the peel. Snap the peel sharply, propelling the orange oil through the lit match and onto the surface of the drink. Be sure to hold the twist far enough from the drink to avoid getting a smoky film on the glass.

This takes a bit of practice. Once you go through a few oranges’ worth, though, you could be on your way to being almost as much of a pro as Pepe and Dale. (Well, let’s not aspire to cocktail godhood just yet, but you can definitely get the hang of it with practice.)

Cocktail of the day: Oriental Cocktail

Two cocktails, actually. The first is something I probably should have noticed before; the second is a terrific variation. They’re both great.

In a recent issue of Ardent Spirits, Gary Regan brought up a nearly-forgotten classic that appeared in Harry Craddock’s The Savoy Cocktail Book, from the Savoy Hotel in the early 1930s. Wes tried it a couple of weeks ago and it’s his current favorite. I like it a lot myself, and I particularly like the variation. “We need more rye cocktails in the world!” he says, and I agree … and I’ll add that we need more Irish whiskey cocktails too.

The original recipe for this one called for proportions and then “the juice of half a lime”; given how the juice content of limes tends to vary, Gary modified the recipe to specific measurements, and it seems to work much better that way. As for the cocktail’s name … well, there’s a story. “In August, 1924, an American engineer nearly died of fever in the Philippines, and only the extraordinary devotion of Dr. B_____ saved his life. As an act of gratitude, the engineer gave Dr. B_____ the recipe of this cocktail.”

I think people should be rewarded with cocktail recipes more often.

The Oriental Cocktail

1-1/2 ounces rye whiskey
3/4 ounce Cointreau
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
1/2 ounce fresh squeezed lime juice

Combine in a shaker with cracked ice; shake and strain
into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a brandied cherry.

Wes likes to drizzle a teaspoon or so of the cherry juice (or even better, some brandied cherry juice) down the inside of the glass so that it makes a little layer on the bottom. Very pretty, and you get a little burst of sweetness at the end.

One of Gary’s students at “Cocktails in the Country” came up with an ingenious variation. Make the exact same drink, except substitute Irish whiskey for the rye. The difference it makes is amazing, and in my opinion it’s an even more complex drink. When making this variation, the drink is called a James Joyce.

Cocktail of the day: Lavender Lemonade

A welcome contribution from Malika Henderson, who describes this long drink as “a perfect summer drink”. I’ve adapted it to my taste; she made hers with vodka, but as I agree with Audrey Saunders’ sentiment that most of the time a vodka cocktail is a cocktail with a hole in it, I decided to give it a bit more flavor.

Lavender Lemonade
(adapted from Malika Henderson)

1 ounce lavender syrup.
Juice of one lemon.
1-1/2 ounces Plymouth gin.
Sparkling water.
Ice.

To make the lavender syrup: bring 1 cup water, 1 cup sugar and the zest of one lemon to a boil; remove from heat, then add 1 cup lavender blossoms. Let steep overnight, then strain and bottle.

Fill a highball glass with ice, add the syrup, lemon juice and vodka, then top with sparkling water. You may leave out the gin to make it nonalcoholic, and it’s also great with white rum too.

Malika and Catherine publish a quarterly newsletter called “Food Notes and Stories” which looks really good. You can see what it’s all about, including excerpts, on their site. I might just have to become a subscriber.

Cocktail of the day: Blue Moon

This one might take a little effort, but if it sounds intriguing to you, it’s more than worth it. If you’ve ever loved the aroma and flavor of violets … if you ever enjoyed C. Howard’s Scented Gum or Violet Mints, imagine what real violets and not artificially violet-flavored things might taste like.

I first tried this at Dr. Cocktail’s place, and thought it was incredible. “I need to be able to make these all the time,” I thought. Unfortunately, I couldn’t; at the time the primary flavoring ingredient was no longer made (which is not atypical of drinks from Doc’s bar). The drink called for gin, a touch of lemon juice, and a violet-flavored liqueur called Crème Yvette. Crème Yvette used to be made by Charles Jacquin et Cie (the people who make Chambord), but had been defunct for years; Doc got his batch from someone who knew how Jacquin made it, and who made his own for himself and his friends. Sigh … what to do?

Fortunately, there’s a similar liqueur Crème de Violette — not quite the proprietary formula of Crème Yvette, but close enough. The one I found at the time was made by Benoit-Serres in Villefrance-de-Lauragais, southeast of Toulouse in the south of France. They don’t export their products (bad news), but there lots of good news too!

UPDATE: As of 2008 Rothman & Winter Crème de Violette from Austria is available in finer spirits shops, and in early 2010 the original formula of Crème Yvette will be re-released by Robert Cooper, heir to the Jacquin company and the man who brought us St. Germain.

This is a very, very good thing, because with original Crème Yvette this is an absolutely exquisite cocktail.

Blue Moon

2 ounces gin (we like Plymouth).
1/2 ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice.
1/4 ounce Crème Yvette (or Crème de Violette).

Shake or stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass;
garnish with a twist of lemon.

For a subtler cocktail, reduce the lemon to 1/4 ounce and the Yvette to 1 teaspoon.

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