Cocktail of the Day: Hotel Nacional Special

This one is named after the hotel in Havana, Cuba where it was created (the hotel’s still there, too). It’s not exactly common, so don’t expect to be able to order it in your run-of-the-mill bar; fortunately, it’s easy to make at home. Also, if you’re fortunate enough to live near the fabulous restaurant and bar that is Cinnabar in Glendale (less than four miles from my house, baby!), it’s on their outstanding cocktail menu. (UPDATE: Cinnabar closed in 2005, sadly.)

If you can make sure that the apricot brandy you use is the dry, Hungarian style (like barack palinka), not the sweet “apricot flavored brandy” made by people like Bols and Leroux. (If you do have to use a liqueur I recommend Orchard Apricot by Rothman & Winter.)

Hotel Nacional Special

2 ounces golden rum (Cuban, if you can get it)
1-1/2 ounces unsweetened pineapple juice
1/2 ounce fresh squeezed lime juice
1 teaspoon dry apricot brandy

Shake with cracked ice until cold and frothy, and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with anything from a cherry to a “flag” (orange wedge and cherry speared with a cocktail pick or a paper umbrella).

Cocktail of the Day: Moscow Mule

I’d read about this one for years, but had only gotten the chance to enjoy them fairly recently. The Moscow Mule kicked off the “white whiskey” (i.e., vodka) craze back in the 1950s, concocted at the Cock ‘n Bull Pub in Hollywood by people with lots of poorly-moving vodka, homemade ginger beer and a truckload of copper cups to move. It’s a perfect example of making lemonade from life’s lemons (or limes, in this case).

Now “traditionally” served in the specially made copper cups (which are really cool), it’s icyyummyspicy and very refreshing. Spectacular in summer, I find it just as tasty in January. Better yet, I’m able to enjoy them even more thanks to our friends Robb and Jaason, who gave us a wonderful set of vintage copper Moscow Mule mugs as a housewarming gift! (If you can’t find the copper mugs, a highball glass will certainly do.)

Don’t use plain old ginger ale for this recipe; that makes for a wimpy mule. Use real ginger beer, made with actual ginger juice or extract — the pepperier the better! We like Blenheim’s, but whatever brand you use shouldn’t be too sweet and should really smell and taste as much like fresh ginger as possible. In fact, when you open the bottle and smell it, it should make you sneeze.

Moscow Mule

2 ounces vodka
1 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice (and NEVER Rose’s!)
4 ounces good, spicy ginger beer

In an 8-ounce copper mug, add ice and the ingredients in the
specified order. Stir and garnish with a lime wedge.

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.

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