Poured with Pleasure

Bill Marsano’s blog on wine and spirits and cocktails: "If it’s good in a glass, I’m pouring it."

Category: Cocktails

Vodka, Grappa and the Italian Bloody Mary

image  Back in the 1960s the Nonino clan began making a silk purse out of the sow’s ear called grappa.

It’s Bloody Mary time in Gotham. Here at Wits’ End [corner of Nathan Lane and Wistful Vista] we like to celebrate at Chez Stadium, a.k.a. the roof. Thence we gaze upon the urban ebb and flow. Truth be told it is mostly slack tide on Sunday mornings, which by rule, rune and rubric is sacred to Brunch. ¶ Brunch began in England but was elbowed aside by mighty British breakfasts and the Jane Austenish civilities of ‘tea’. In time, America adopted brunch, then organized what had formerly been without form, and void. First, it was anchored to weekends, Sundays in particular. Second, a late start combined sleeping in with (this is what’s called ‘the beauty part’) soothing pre-noon drinking. Result: Garnished with crossword puzzles, TV sports and your pals, brunches sustain life, like water holes in the Gobi Desert. ¶ Its foundation drink, its cornerstone and keystone, is the Bloody Mary. Here is the way of it as per Hemingway & Bailey’s Bartending Guide to Great American Writers, which pairs 40-odd scribblers with as many drinks, plus anecdotes of the former and recipes for the latter.*The Bloody Mary . . . Into a highball glass hurl ice cubes, 2 oz. vodka; ½ oz. fresh lemon juice; ¼ oz. Worcestershire sauce; 3 dashes Tabasco; ¼ tsp. grated horseradish; pinches of cracked peppercorns, salt and celery salt; and 4 ounces of tomato juice. Stir. Garnish: lime wedge and celery stalk. ¶ Disputes follow as the night the day, so to weigh them all I called upon the high and the mighty, the bold and the beautiful, the bad and the worse. In short, my neighbors. Gino da Tavola, an Italian layabout who never met a drink he didn’t like, rejects the glass and insists on a Boston shaker for proper mixing. And the vodka? Massimo Veloce, retired Formula 1 champ, skances the wimpy 2:1 tomato-vodka ratio, saying only 1:1, as in the original dusk of its being, will suffice. Mal Dente, incompetent pasta chef and periodontal intern, says ‘Suit yourself. The ratio is strictly personal.’ Indeed, Mal recalls that Maxwell’s Plum, the feverish New York singles meat-market bar of the ’60s and ’70s, stooped to 1:0. No booze at all! Exposed, Maxwell’s limply claimed its Bloody Mary wasn’t really a cocktail but a ‘concept’, although that concept already had a name: Virgin Mary. ¶ My own gripe is with the garnish. Celery? Who thought that up?** Does it have a special affinity with the other ingredients? An overwhelming reason to be here instead of the salad bar? I think not. You want something to go with tomatoes, you’re talking basil, Thirsty Reader. And as basil has no better friend than Italy, I have Italianized the whole shebang. Thus: La Maria Sanguinosa . . .  

image

Behold the Italianized Bloody Mary. Photo ©2013 Francesco Dibartolo. Used by permission.

 

So: Muddle two or three basil leaves in a Boston Shaker—not one of those dinky little David Niven things—and add ½ oz. fresh lemon juice, pinches of dried oregano and ground

image image
A dinky David Niven-style gadget [left] is no great shakes compared to the brawny Boston Shaker.

dried rosemary, two or three crushed dried pepperoncini, a pugil [big pinch] of salt and 4 ounces Italian tomato juice. Taste, adjust seasoning to taste, add 3 ounces of Italian vodka. Mix, pouring from one half of the shaker to the other a few times; finish in an ice-filled highball glass; garnish with a fragrant basil sprig. That is a Maria Sanguinosa. ¶ Now to make Italian tomato juice, you purée a 28-oz. can of peeled Italian plum tomatoes [better: San Marzano] in your Cuisinart. Be sure they’re really Italian, not Italianish; i.e., only vaguely plum-shaped, and grown elsewhere. I shop BuonItalia, in Chelsea Market, where the owner, Mimmo [brother to SD26’s Tony May], is attentive to such details. His leading brand, organic AgriGenus, makes a thick, almost seedless purée that thins with water to any thickness you like. Mimmo stocks Sicilian sea salt, too. An excellent choice, too, is Academia Barilla’s Pomodorini Pelati, a.k.a. peeled cherry tomatoes. ¶ As for the alcohol content, Italy offers several brands of vodka, among which the reigning campione seems to be one of the newcomers, the highly rated Purus. List-priced at $36, it’s often available for as little as half that. Distilled from certified-organic Piedmont wheat and pure alpine water in an eco-friendly plant,  

imagePurus wears a tree-free label printed in soy-based ink, to the delight of Greens all over. Sadly, it’s distributed all over, but it is well worth seeking out. Despair not: you can find it online. ¶ But then,  why not try   grappa, the splendid spirit that Italians distill from industrial waste, i.e., pomace, the rubbish found at the bottom of the wine press. [Talk about trash into treasure.] The most celebrated of brands, and deservedly so, is Nonino, named for a family of distillers in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, a region that is Italy’s Far East. The 115-year-old Nonino company, which is ruled over by mamma Giannola Nonino and daughters Cristina, Antonella and Elisabetta, has been grappa’s leader in quality and innovation since the 1960s. Other distillers have followed the Noninos’ lead, Sibona, Domenis, Ceretto, Jacopo Poli, Nardini and Villa de Varda among them. Theirs are quality products [they’re Italian, after all], but they are significantly less known because only Nonino has become synonymous with grappa. But one caution is required: grappas run from 70 to 120 proof, so it is well to check the ABV on the label. ¶ So there you have it, La Maria Sanguinosa, ready for you and a summer of Sundays, and any other days as well. ¶ Now it remains only for us to add here a brief note about our much-admired friend and mentor, our rock, our guide, our help in ages past, Hizzonor M. Bloomberg. To wit: In 2009 he declared Oct. 5 Bloody Mary Day. Imagine that! Did he actually drink one on that occasion? That is not recorded, as the report comes from the one-time newspaper-of-record New York Times, but if he did, we may be sure that it was a very small one. ¶ Salute!
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*For example, the Guide pairs Raymond Carver with the Bloody Mary and says that Carver once ‘invited friends to a party, but failed to attend as he got drunk in another city’.

**It’s said to have been added at a customer’s request in Chicago, which city is responsible for some of the nation’s worst pizza. But who knows? The drink’s history is truly a shakerful of confusion. The name has been laid to a popular waitress, to Mary Pickford and to a Protestant-pummeling Queen of England. The drink may have been invented in the 1920s or 1930s or whenever by George Jessel and then improved by Fernand Petiot at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris or in New York, at the King Cole bar of the St. Regis Hotel, or by Henry Zbikiewicz,  of ‘21’. It either is or is not precisely the same as a drink called the Red Snapper.

© 2013 Bill Marsano

 

 

LoatherCon 2013 Scores Gift Bummers for Wine Lovers

It’s the most won-der-ful-l-l t-i-i-i-me of the year! Yes, Thirsty Reader: Your grumpy correspondent’s annual rant about the hideous gifts foisted on we who accept alcohol as our personal savior. There will even be a Year’s Worst selection. [Hint: it makes ice out of ice . . . .] I am rested and ready, too, having taken several months off, with much time spent expensively in a dentist’s chair. Also dealing with family feuds, a pregnant daughter-in-law’s fainting scare, the demands of grandson Henry, rotating flu-like illnesses and uxorial dentistry too, and finally the arrival of a second grandson, Charles Langley Day Marsano, to make the yuletide bright. He’s the first male of the family to be named for an aircraft carrier. ¶Now then: Gift giving is simple if you heed the sage: the perfect gift for the man who has books is more books. For drinkers, substitute drink and Bob’s your uncle. But beware the word –related. Wine-related, with its poisonous hyphen, crosses the Gadroon Border into wine accessories. That way madness lies! Riedel me this and I am yours

zzz7768-869437-p
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        Riedel                              Brand X

and yours alone, but Anchor Hocking me that and you risk a Miss-Otis-regrets-she‘s-unable-to-lunch-today moment. So: anything from a catalogue in the seat pocket of Hal-Al, the booze- and highjack-proof Islamo-Judaic airline, is just out of the question. OK? ¶ Finalmente a date was fixed and the word went forth announcing what is known in Gotham as LoatherCon. First to arrive was my downstairs diva Opera Winfrey, the Wagnerian soprano, towing her consort, Canon Mañana, sometime Heldentenor and lackadaisical evangelist [‘Save your own soul’ is his motto]. What they brought to the party, apart from a fine bottle of Wild Horse’s excellent 2009 Cheval Sauvage, made from the picked pickings of the Santa Maria Valley, and probably artisanally, too, was assorted icky jewelry and picnic junk.

zzzzcorkscrew-cufflinks ‘Just imagine’, saith Canon M., ‘wearing silver cufflinks inlaid with tiny oak chips, or modeled after wee corkscrews. Waving your wrists in the air, desperately hoping someone will notice.’ As for the picnic tools, they put me in mind of Christopher Hitchens’ line about picnics being among ‘the four most overrated things in life’. Right: Plates on laps, plastic forks, bad seating, poor climate control and bugs to boot. The current offense: neck harnesses for stemware and even holsters for those who prefer
zzzznecklace2 zzzzholster
shooters from the hip. These people should be fed alive to Joan Rivers. ¶ Cole Junger, noted outlaw psychiatrist and salad-bar entrepreneur, denounced his clumsy and largely useless Corkcicle. Yes, it’s still here, partly because of dubious raves by Oprah Winfrey, who deemed it a ‘favorite thing’, and on Amazon. Of which more anon. Reader Ted Hope disagreed: ‘The haughty and leaky Corkcicle has struck’, wrote he. ‘Fresh out of its box, into the freezer, into a warm, part-bottle of good Malbec for 15 minutes and into a glass. It was at this point discovered, upon tasting, that the Corkcicle had a leak’. ¶ Voici le problème: The -icle part is of thin plastic—two shells, glued together—with a 20-inch seam that’s destined for failure. We figured this out over Cole’s Château St. Jean Cinq Cépages, a nifty Bordeaux blend that was excellent company. FYI, clever Ted has now returned to chilling with two or three frozen grapes. ¶ Also back: electric corkscrews. I skanced them last year, but Chem & Chaw, the irresolute Catskill tummelers, got one this year, and they brought it along with Ravenswood’s Barricia Vineyard Zin, which is the reason they’ll be invited back for next year’s do. C&C found an Ozeri Nouveau II, in their stocking; see and hear it here: http://vimeo.com/47489581. Amazon’s average
ozeri 
customer rating is 4.5 stars out of 5. Honest? Chem explains that some Amazon raves are fakes, especially if they are brief and vague, like ‘Wow! Sensational idea. Great stocking-stuffer!’ ‘When you see 200 raves and hardly any pans,’ Chaw says, ‘read the pans.’ So I did. And most critics reported poor performance and even total motor failure; some noted flimsy construction. So why all the raves? A hint comes from reviewer captainramius: ‘ . . . I received a message from the manufacturer explaining that they’re a small business, U.S.-based [even though the product is made in China], blah-blah-blah, and encouraging me to write a review [a positive one, they clearly hoped] . . . my only advice is simply don’t buy this one.’ ¶ Moving on . . . Excessively and even sickeningly dainty, cute, sentimental or cornball: the Brits have a word for it: twee. Sad to say, but wine attracts twee as blue serge draws lint. This came up with the arrival of Agnes Day, a pious do-gooder, and Mae, her hapless and accident-prone sister*. They drink communion wine religiously, so they brought B.V. Georges de Latour Private Reserve and Louis M. Martini Cabernet, which qualify as spiritual experiences**. Their gifts were, on the other hand, were ungodly. A pretentious uncle who uses gift as a verb sent his ‘favorite acolytes of Bacchus’ some items of décor for their apartment’s ‘vinous nook’: a set of ‘bistro-style’ chalkboard bottle tags and an embarrassing plaque.
zzzzplaque zzzzCHALKBOARD-HANG-TAG
They’ll use them once, on his next visit, then send them to the admirable Housing Works thrift shop. Things were worse for Tragic Johnson, the failed NBA star. He brought some very welcome Mad Hatter Napa Red and a less-welcome 5-liter oak barrel, personalized in a mean attempt to prevent re-gifting. This low point in bar-top décor cost $120 at The New York Times Store, which was a shock because a] we remember a time when the Times was a newspaper and b] the thing is lots cheaper from Wine Enthusiast. You’re supposed to age wine in it, which I heartily disrecommend. You’ll commence to
bigbarrel gabbling about kiln-dried staves vs. air-seasoned, split vs. sawn, also the angels’ share—pretty much the whole geekish clamjamphry, in fact. Old friends will begin avoiding you. By the time you realize that the FedEx guy is just ringing your bell and bolting for his truck it’ll be too bloody late. ¶ Spirits- and cocktail-lovers were blighted as well. Housemaid Grenadine, our own all-star Caribbean mixologist and charlady, brought a bottle of George Dickel’s fine new rye whiskey, with which she made a clutch of Manhattans, and an electric mixer, with which she refused to mix them. ‘A drink is a social gesture, above all’, H.G. says, ‘and mixing it, especially at home, should be a warm and personal act of generosity, with batteries not included. Of course if shaking is just too burdensome for poor little you, then you might as well go whole hog: b
uy pre-mixed cocktails in cans. Just don’t invite me.’
Brandi Alexander, the tall and tan cocktail waitress, brought American Harvest, the new organic-wheat vodka from Idaho [which is apparently short of potatoes] and the Worst Gift of the Year: the Japanese Ice-Ball Maker. A little background: Tokyo consider itself a world c
zzzzmetrokaneocktail, and Dale DeGroff, whose Craft of the Cocktail is a barman’s bible, says ‘the Japanese invented the hard shake, the merits of which are limited to the theatricality of the technique’ [YouTube: ‘Japanese cocktail shake’]. They also invented their own big chill: ice balls
which melt a bitmore slowly
than cubes and fascinate folks who are given to staring into their drinks. The artisanal type, carved by hand with planes and scrapers, on the spot, by the bartender, is preferred by demented purists. For the rest of us, and for our Brandi, there’s the ice-ball maker, which turns ice into . . . ice. Slowly, too. And at enormous expense. ¶ Thus: Day before, make a batch of ice blocks in the special molds supplied with kits from Williams-Sonoma, japantrendshop.com and others. Day of, warm the device in tap water, then insert a fresh block of your specially molded ice and sit back while warmth and weight melt the block into a ball. Have a baby or take a college degree online while you’re at it, for the magic [endothermic reaction is the term of art], proceeds at a glacial pace. Then empty the drip pan, if supplied, or mop the counter, if not, and extract the ball. Repeat. Endlessly. ¶ There may be trouble ahead: Most most of the online videos are deceptive; you won’t make many balls before the zzzziceballmold
fiddlers have fled because you get only one ball of one size at one time. Many sizes are available, and the bigger balls are, by the way, real heavyweights. Brandi says she shattered two hand-blown glasses by casually dropping balls in. Williams-Sonoma’s $700 model makes a ball a bit smaller than a pool ball in about 40 seconds; its $1100 model makes baseball-size spheres and takes even longer. The thing gets slower with use and must be reheated periodically, thus the maker’s posted output of a mere 30-40 balls an hour. Simple arithmetic says that’s an average 90 seconds to 2 minutes each. And there are larger and slower models for up to $1435. All in all, a good argument for small, intimate gatherings. ¶ So that was LoatherCon ’13. We cried for madder music and stronger wine, were true to each other in our fashion, and broke up before the cops came. And at least no one amongst us had the ill-luck to find one of these beneath his tree:
zzzzrabbitrack zzzz2276 

I’m sure these got lots of raves on Amazon too.

 *No modernist she, Agnes remains devoted to the King James Bible because, she says, ‘it shows that Our Lord spoke such beautiful English.’ For her part, Mae is so humble she cannot bring herself to ‘call my Creator by his first name’ and so addresses her prayers to ‘Mr. Almighty’.

**George and Louis, bless them, sailed through the Prohibition years by making communion wine for Catholics and sacramental wine for Jews. Nationwide, congregations grew exponentially; locally, G. and L. grew rich.

©2013 Bill Marsano

Books Do Furnish a Room

. . . and minds, too—but in declining numbers these days. Anecdotal evidence comes from the housing market. Real-estate agents and ‘stagers’—the people who dress up empty houses so they look lived-in and buyable—think books are dowdy and old-fashioned. Bookshelves are always small; they display mostly arty knickknacks and tchotchkes, with maybe a few books on the side. ¶ Bookcases are not tolerated. clip_image002
Design layouts and home-décor shows are filled with of houses [always called ‘homes’] that are empty of books. ¶ Contrary as ever, I’m back again to argue for books as gifts this Christmas,* for La Dickinson was right; there is no frigate like a book, etc. . .  for vineyards near and far; for sweet private pleasures and armchair reveries of wine and spirits; for the people who make them and love them. There’s much to settle into in this year’s harvest, and I’m going to throw in some titles from past years as well. Why the oldies? Because writers can use a little support, you know. Anne Lamotte has written that she once thought being published would be ‘an affirming and romantic experience, a Hallmark commercial where one runs and leaps in slow motion across a meadow filled with wildflowers into the arms of acclaim and self-esteem. This did not happen for me.’ So drink deep, Thirsty Reader. ¶ This year’s magnum opus is Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, by Jancis  Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz. Huge, heavy, scholarly but not at clip_image001
all turgid; it is filled with vintage prints. As a book per se it’s not so hot because its low-contrast type and text crammed into the gutter can be tough to read; likewise, to get the straight skinny on Malbec, say, you needs must see under Côt, a name that is known to few and used by fewer. You get all this for $175 or your first-born child, but despair not, amici mie. My new nextdoor neighbor is Bernie Médoc, a négociant who surfs the net from his cell at Club Fed; he’s seen it on Amazon for a piddling $110 plus shipping, and other retailers online and off will surely go along. ¶ Durable, useful and affordable, Wine for Dummies, by Ed McCarthy and Mary Ewing Mulligan, is back with its fifth Edition. Their book has sold more a million+ copies in 37 languages since 1995, so if the your question is ‘Who has really been spreading the word on wine?’ the answer is EMc and MEM. 
clip_image004They have expanded their reporting on of Southern Italy; emerging Spanish regions; Argentina; the Sonoma Coast’s wineries; Schramsberg; and blogs; they’ve also updated their vintage chart. And more, but I’m out of semi-colons. Why a new edition now? Mary says that ‘Evolving online sales, blogs, cellar-management sites, online "communities” and apps mean the wine world is not the same place it was even just six years ago.’ You got a problem with that? ¶ A handy companion will be Alan Young’s Making Sense of Wine Tasting: Your Essential Guide to Enjoying Wine. ¶ Italy: it’s so small it could be the seventh-largest American state, and globally it’s not really very far ahead of Burkina Faso. Thus it has been thoroughly raked-over lo these many years, so can can conclude that Italy been done, right? OK, but then Tom clip_image006Hyland turns up to discover grapes and producers that most people have never even heard of. Tintore, say, or Bianchello and Torbato; and Didier Gerbelle, Emilio Bulfon, and I Cacciagalli. This lot and many more can be found in Hyland’s Beyond Barolo and Brunello. ¶ UCal Press’ Finest Wines series stakes out terroirs in Champagne, Rioja, Tuscany, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Germany,  and California. Then there are The Complete Bordeaux: The Wines The Châteaux The People and Saint-Émilion, a large-format text-and-photo love letter from the besotted Philippe Dufrenoy and Jean-Marie Laugery. For Malbec Nation, latch onto Sgra. Laura Catena’s Vino Argentino, which to wine by the long ton adds useful touring information and recipes, too. How’d she find the time? Gaucho Marx tells me she’s a wife, a mother, an M.D., a producer in her own right [Luca is her label] and strong right arm of her distinguished dad, Nicolás, of Catena
Zapata. Even father afield is The Top 100 South African Wines & Wine Lists, while closer to home are Washington Wines and Wineries: The Essential Guide, by Paul Gregutt and The New Connoisseurs’ Guidebook to California Wine and Wineries, by Charles E. Olken and Joseph Furstenthal. ¶ Daniel Okrent’s Last Call, a superb tale of Prohibition days, is often hilarious, and it’s also important: the prohibitionist urge yet lives amongst us; it’s a snake that won’t die. Okrent is excellent on the con jobs, lies, hypocrisy, political chicanery and relentless bullying that led to the Ignoble Experiment. Read clip_image008and learn, Thirsty Reader, read and learn. It will go down well with Andrew Barr’s Drink: A Social History of America and Richard Mendelson’s From Demon to Darling. Thomas Pinney covers The Makers of American Wine while Patrick E. McGovern’s Ancient Wine goes back, way back: to the Stone Age, actually, and so does Tom Standage’s History of the World in 6 Glasses. Charles L. Sullivan has a tighter focus in Zinfandel: A History of a Grape and Its Wine. The lighter side, a.k.a. Bar Bet Trivia, is found in The Curious World of Wine: Facts, Legends, and Lore, by Richard Vine. Really. ¶ For more books that have actual writing in them see Coquilles, Calva, and Crème: Exploring France’s Culinary Heritage by G.Y. Dryansky and Joanne Dryansky, who took a slow boat to France in the ‘60s and stayed there. Gerry was once a bigshot fashion reporter, so he serves much delicious but not malicious gossip from that world-let [e.g., Régine misses a fancy party when her elephant gets lost in the Bois de Boulonge; the Duchess of Windsor takes the floor, so to speak, at a resto superbe where the facilities, well, ain’t] and there’s a leisurely voyage into la france profonde and the small restaurants, small fêtes and small villages that are struggling with changing times, spendthrift ego-feeders and the EU’s swollen tribe of power-crazed officials and
clip_image010 bureaucrats. Harriet Welty Rochefort later followed in the Dryanskys’ wake, marrying a Frenchman, his family and France, too. Now she spills les haricots in her Joie de Vivre: Secrets of Wining, Dining, and Romancing Like the French.¶ James Conaway’s earlier and excellent non-fiction books on Napa Valley’s heroes and villains [read those, too] inspired his fiction: Nose, a mystery that’s funny, witty and murder-free. The plot’s maguffin is a wine: a mysterious Cabernet that tantalizes Napa no end and provides targets for Conaway’s sharp elbows: cult wineries, ridiculous geekspeak, self-important bigshots, land abusers, chemical polluters, and the overall cheapening of Napa’s heritage [although I guess they call it a ‘brand’ these days]. Also lifestyle pomposity and hard-eyed lawyers, courtesy [da-dum!] of a blogger who knows too much. A blogger hero? Who knew? ¶ Gourmet magazine sank ingloriously under a misguided quest for hipness, but longtime columnist Gerald Asher didn’t go down with the ship. A Carafe of Red, his latest collection of essays, recalls how good it was and he still is, and so does his earlier A Vineyard in My Glass. ¶ The newest of American heroes is the Self-Reinventor, who, say in midlife, leaves a desk job in Chicago and hauls his family west to make wine, despite knowing nothing about it, and who yet manages to create what Mr. Parker called ‘one of the world’s greatest wineries’. Sounds like John Shafer of Shafer Vineyards, and it is: A Vineyard in Napa is written by John’s son Bill and 
Andy Demsky. ¶ Doers, dreamers
clip_image012and DIYers will enjoy Sheridan Warrick on The Way to Make Wine; Deborah M. Gray on How to Import Wine, and Christina Perozzi and Hallie Beaune’s The Naked Brewer. Tempted? Then turn to Bill Owens’ How to Build a Small Brewery. Darek Bell’s Alt Whiskeys aids and abets the would-be craft distiller, as do The Craft of Whiskey Distilling, Modern Moonshine Techniques, 99 Pot Stills and The Art of Distilling Whiskey and Other Spirits, all by the busy Bill Owens. Armchair  enthusiasts are more likely to sink into Whiskey and Philosophy, Fritz Allhoff and Marcus P. Adams’ fireside book, and two global tours, Whiskey Opus and World Whiskey, a pair of typical Dorling Kinderseley products: they are well-made books, profusely illustrated, highly legible and thorough—right down to the two single malts that are currently made in Pakistan. What?
clip_image014clip_image016
¶ Perhaps that calls for a drink. A vintage cocktail, say. Richard Bennett is eager to guide your choice in The Book of Gin, which takes its place beside Gary ‘Gaz’ Regan’s The Bartenders Gin Compendium. Both books help to keep gin, a truly sophisticated spirit, from being drowned by tsunamis of vodka, a spirit that is, by contrast, merely refined. Chicago’s Hearty Boys, Steve McDonagh and Dan Smith, offer an array of ‘old standards’ cocktails imagein The New Old Bar: Classic Cocktails and Salty Snacks, and Philip Greene, who just happens to be one of the founders of the Museum of the American Cocktail in New Orleans, mines the literary past in To Have and Have Another: A Hemingway Cocktail Companion. ¶ Now what more can I say except . . . READ RESPONSIBLY!

 

*Also Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Festivus.

© 2012 Bill Marsano

 

FDR: Cocktail Hero

Could November put a teetotaler in the White House? Mitt Romney is forbidden drink as a Mormon, so let’s hope that, if elected, he will serve.

image USS Augusta was FDR’s longest yacht [600’] for the shortest time: Just enough time for he and Winston Churchill to thrash out, over drinks, no doubt, the Atlantic Charter in 1941.

That is, let him separate the personal from the presidential. Abstinence is tyranny when forced on guests. ’ I don’t claim, Thirsty Reader, that drink makes a president good or bad; I ask only that hospitality and sophistication rule; that the nation’s greeting be something more warmer than Come on in, the water’s fine. Bush II was teetotal for cause, but he poured Newton Unfiltered Chardonnay, Peter Michael ‘Les Pavots’ and the lovely Schramsberg Brut Rosé for the Queen of England. Other of our presidents have offered only cold comfort. Take Rutherford B. Hayes. At his White House, said Secretary of State William Evarts, ‘water flowed like wine’. The Carters were rigid that way too, and made no bones about it. Ted Kennedy recalled their at-homes: ‘You’d arrive at 6 or 6:30 P.M., and the first thing you would be reminded of, in case you needed reminding, was that he and Rosalynn had removed all the liquor from the White House.

Thus the inebriati turn admiring glances toward Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He it was lifted the curse of Prohibition from our parched nation. The Noble Experiment, which promised an epidemic of morality, led instead to a tsunami of crime, corruption, hypocrisy, lost tax revenues and lost jobs. And organized crime made a killing. Literally.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzFDR5  The President in a stress-reducing moment.

No man of the people—him with his WASPy pedigree and his cigarette holder—FDR nonetheless had the common touch. He campaigned to end Prohibition and did so first chance he got. In March 1933, scarcely three weeks in office, he legalized beer and light wines, and the horses were out of the barn. Clydesdales toured the suds-loving cities of the East and Midwest even as brew was shipped to the White House by air. With a Repeal amendment already rolling, the jig was up in jig time. When Utah ratified Repeal that very December, Prohibition was, at last, dead as a smelt.

In the White HouseFDR instituted for his staff and pals what he lightly called the children’s hour, at which they relaxed at day’s end, draining stress not over the traditional cookies and milk but over cards, tobacco and martinis, with the two-pack-a-day President as Mixologist-in-Chief.

Now the classic martini—dry gin, vermouth, olives or lemon twist—is the Fred Astaire of cocktails [the Manhattan is the Cary Grant]. Proportions are a matter of to taste but should always maintain the drink’s Fredly style: lean and elegant. Likewise the question of shaking or stirring is a personal matter: the former gives more texture through its raft of ice shards [created by vigorous muscle-work if you don’t have something like the Post-Imperial shaker shown below]; the latter gives silky smoothness. Shoot anyone who brings up that wheeze about stirring clockwise vs. counterclockwise.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzPostImperialShaker.Full1.web  The Post-Imperial Cocktail Shaker, freely adapted from a 19th Century device. The artist Benjamin Cowden created it earlier this year. See a video, and other of Cowden’s unique scultpures, here: http://www.twentysevengears.com/Portfolio.html.

Here’s the shopping list for the basic or classic martini: two ounces of gin and ¼ to 1/3 of an ounce dry vermouth plus olive garnish. Eric Felten, whose recipe that is, also offers a version of ‘classic 1930s proportions’—adding just a wee bit more vermouth plus two dashes of orange bitters. FDR went perhaps a little beyond the pale. His specialty was the dirty martini, a variation that requires a potent dosage of olive brine. To make matters worse he mixed his dirty martinis personally, relentlessly and, if the we read the fossil record aright, very, very badly. Indeed he bids fair to go down as the most enthusiastic and least competent of presidential martiniphiles. Some guests are said to have dreaded the soirées for the sheer awfulness of his martinis which, dirty or not, have been described as ‘soggy with vermouth’ and/or mutilated, according to staffers cited by Nannette Stone, with orange juice, grapefruit juice, absinthe and even anisette. Whether from design or exuberance is unclear.zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzv3

FDR & Co. aboard Vireo, which is now displayed, handsomely restored, at Mystic Seaport. For more: www.mysticseaport.org. FDR’s ice yacht is in the National Parks Service’s ‘custodial storage facility,’ a name that suggests the cavernous warehouse seen at the end of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’. Odds of its ever being seen again don’t seem very good.

The olive brine may have represented the tang of the sea for FDR, who was a sailorman to the bone. He’d always liked messing about in boats: a bark canoe at Campobello, an iceboat on the Hudson, a 21-foot knockabout called the New Moon, the 25-foot sloop Vireo, the houseboat Larooco and his personal Presidential yacht, the ex-Coast Guard cutter Electra, renamed Potomac. He borrowed the heavy cruiser USS Augusta for his first meeting with Winston Churchill [as a former Assistant Secretary of the Navy, he apparently had connections]. Another presidential yacht, the Sequoia, was inherited from Herbert Hoover, and the two together

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz1Potomacfast  Now a favorite with San Francisco party planners, the ex-Coast Guard cutter Electra had a subsequent  career as FDR’s presidential yacht. The smoking lamp was always ‘lit throughout the ship’, as Navy lingo has it; the drinking lamp was too. FDR’s other presidential yacht was the Sequoia. Charter one or both at usspotomac.org/ or sequoiayacht.com/.

floated in seas of irony. The former, built for government work, became a rich man’s toy; the latter,  built as a rich man’s toy, joined the government. Both were used against rum-runners. Of all people. Retired, the Potomac was briefly owned by Elvis Presley; the Sequoia was dumped, like the White House liquor and the Panama Canal, by Jimmy Carter.  Quite the little housekeeper, our Jimmy.

In an era before sound bites, the term Martini Diplomacy never surfaced, but FDR certainly practiced it. Certainly it sealed his friendship with Winston Churchill, who would say that meeting FDR ‘was like opening your first bottle of champagne; knowing him was like drinking it.’ As to just how much FDR drank, that is a vexed question, and you wouldn’t like to rely on the testimony. His friends, and there were many, swore to two small drinks and in bed at 10, but his crew of flame-keepers have been counterbalanced by his detractors, equally numerous, who’ve gone so far as to claim that he was regularly carted off to his room by his Secret Service agents, singing college fight songs as he went. We must settle for the fact that he did as much for the martini as to it, and that he set a high standard for presidential hospitality. Long may it wave.

Which gin for the martini? Good question; one that invites exploration. Cocktail King Dale DeGroff [very cold, straight up, olive and twist] favors Beefeater but nods he favorably image toward several others: Tanqueray and Tanqueray 10, Old Raj, Bombay White Label, Gordon’s, Plymouth [left, in its new and much-improved bottle] and Sipsmith. Explorers are in fact spoiled for choice, as there’s also vociferous support for Boodles, Bombay Sapphire, Junipero, France’s Citadelle, Tanqueray Malacca, the rare and insanely priced [$700!] Nolet Reserve, and even one of the bargain-priced oldies, Gilbey’s. Among others, such as Broker’s, which has been getting attention and awards recently. But in vermouth you have essentially two choices: Martini & Rossi and Noilly Prat. M&R is DeGroff’s favorite; he says NP is ‘very in-your-face and can overpower the more delicate gins’. Maybe that’s because NP has, sadly, ceased to bottle the martini-oriented vermouth it had long provided to the American market; instead it’s concentrating on its Euro-style aperitif version. Here and there you’ll hear a voice cry out for the less-known likes of Boissiere [sounds French but is Italian] and California’s small-batch Vya. But vermouth there must be, in detectable quantity. Ignore, please, the 15:1 bravado of the Mad Men era, likewise the foolishness of ‘showing the vermouth to the gin’. That top-hatted, walking-stick-wielding bon vivant of old Lucius Beebe wrote prose so florid, Brendan Gill said, ‘that one could have built grottoes out of it,’ but when it came to such nonsense as naked martinis he wasted no furbelows on the show-offs: ‘Anything drier than 5:1’, he said, ‘is just iced gin’. Anonymous, most prolific of experts, goes further: ‘Ordering a dry martini means you are a sophisticate. Ordering a large glass of cold gin means you are a drunk.’ ‘Nuff said.

As for glassware, by all means prefer the conical stem, the glass that means martini around the world. But one of a ordinary size, please. The fad for glasses the size of hubcabs has not quite abated, but they’re clumsy to handle and cause what begins as a briskly cold drink to turn warm and soupy right before your eyes. Also shun anything imagefragile, ill-balanced and spill-prone, such as Benjamin Hubert’s unique but risky design at left, a dry cleaner’s dream. A martini on the rocks reposes in an Old Fashioned glass. Martinis, finally, are made with gin: that’s their default spirit. Substitution requires a modifier, as in the vodka martini. Anything else? No, nothing else. Any old booze can be flung into a stemmed glass and often is, but that does not a martini make.

Come we now to the what scholars and academics call ‘the literature’, which exists in plenty. Any respectable personal library might well include Eric Felten’s suave How’s Your Drink?: Cocktails, Culture, and the Art of Drinking Well, Dale DeGroff’s The Essential Cocktail: The Art of Mixing Perfect Drinks, Gary Regan’s The Bartender’s GIN Compendium, Nannette Stone’s The Little Black Book of Martinis: The Essential Guide to the King of Cocktails, A. J. Rathbun’s Good Spirits, Imbibe!: From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to "Professor" Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar, by David Wondrich and Dale DeGroff, and William L. Hamilton‘s Shaken and Stirred: Through the Martini Glass and Other Drinking Adventures.

Nothing quite like curling up with a good book and a good drink, eh? Cheers!

©2012 Bill Marsano

Booked for the New Year

Shakespeare is always an inspiration to me, and a passage from one of his history plays seems apropos just now:

For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings;

How some have been deposed; some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed;
Some poison’d by their wives: some sleeping kill’d
–Richard II

To which I iambically add:

And ‘mongst those Princes number now by dint
Of sword-like pow’r and grandeur lordly Print!
Undone, laid low by electronic strife,
Like Python’s parrot, ‘tis bereft of life!
Look you! See in ev’ry Nook and Kindle
Fell triumph of ‘Please don’t fold or spindle.’
Punchcards were once meant for bills and wages,
Now they’re bytes that gobble up our pages!
I needs must warn sans buts or ands or ifs:
Beware thee alway of Geeks bearing gifts.
–found in Old Saint Paul’s Church, Baltimore

So before going placidly amid the noise and haste to my New Year’s list of recent drinks books, I’ll add mine own lament for print. It’s a little sad, I know, so I’ll just sit here and rant for a bit and then shut up.

I grew up in print. I have set type by hand using only a California job case and a brass ‘stick,’ things that are now found mostly in flea markets. Each stick represented a paragraph or so*.It was then ‘proofed’ on ‘wheatstraw paper’. Letterpress printing, voila! I’d do it for hours at a time for the pure pleasure of it.

zbriarpressorgcase  The California Job Case, the most popular among many case designs. The term ‘lay of the case’ refers to the compartments for letters, punctuation marks and other bits of lead. Typesetters learnt the lay of the case as typists their keyboards. Image courtesy of briarpress.org.

My first job was proofreading for three cynical trade rags** whose office was in two parts. One, so dreary that cubicles would have been an upgrade, held me, four editors and a few war-surplus linoleum-topped desks for the seldom-seen ad staff. Beyond was the Dickensian composing room, into whose sweaty depths I delivered page-proofs for correction.

Hot, noisy and intermittently dangerous, this hell-hole enshrined four towering Linotype machines. Ugly, infernally complicated and about 8 feet tall, the Linotype was a high-speed electro-mechanical type-setter. It used the ETAOIN SHRDLU keyboard, which took full advantage of fast fingers. [The QWERTY keyboard dates to the 1870s, when typists had to be as slow as their typewriters.]

zwpglino
A Linotype in sales-catalogue dress. Multiply this too-clean image several times, add terrific heat, crowding, noise, dirt and the smell of hot lead and printer’s ink to get an idea of an over-worked, under-pressure composing room of 50 years ago.

Invented in the early 1880s by a German immigrant named Ottmar Mergenthaler, the Linotype soon conquered book and newspaper  publishing. Almost as fast as an operator could type it clamped brass letter-molds called matrices in a vise, filled them with molten lead and produced a one-piece ‘slug’—a line o’ type—then spit it out to be composed into paragraphs and pages for proofing. This paragraph, for example, would represent 10 slugs. [See Linotype machines in action in the upcoming film Linotype. There’s a link to the trailer at the bottom of this column.]

It was incredible then [who could imagine its 10,000 parts casting hot lead inches from its nonchalant operator?] and is more so now [who can believe the world’s press once depended entirely on this 19th Century contraption?].

For all its Goldbergian grandeur the Linotype was in the end no more than another T. Rex, an apotheosis, yes, but of a primitive and doomed technology. Like the Clipper ship, the piston-engine Lockheed Super Constellation and the Hudson 4-6-4 steam locomotive, it was the mighty apex of an ingenious age, born on the cusp of a Great Extinction.

Perhaps all is not lost, not yet. Publishers, who as a rule prefer to improve the shining hour by cheating authors with confiscatory contracts and opaque royalty statements, have lately tried making books more physically attractive—more pleasing to hold and behold—according to The New York Times. What a concept. Must have struck ‘em like a thunderbolt. Meanwhile, your conventional booksellers*** say printed books suddenly regained some of their lost ground over the Christmas holidays. Maybe it’s because there’s not much warmth in a gift card reading:

Print, my dear, is old hat, so outmoded!
Hence your Christmas book must be downloaded!

And so at long last to the list.

Mixology, bartendering, bar-cheffery—by any name, it’s pouring books as well as drinks. A.J. Rathbun has a quartet: Luscious Liqueurs, Wine Cocktails, then Champagne Cocktails and finally Ginger Bliss and the Violet Fizz: A Cocktail Lover’s Guide to Mixing Drinks Using New and Classic Liqueurs. All useful, but I fear A. J.’s prose style has declined since his splendid Good Spirits debut. Blind pigs have gone from illegal to, say publicists, exclusive, upscale, even celebrated. Hence Speakeasy: The Employees Only Guide to Classic Cocktails Reimagined, by Jason Kosmas and Dushan Zaric, and The PDT Cocktail Book, by Jim Meehan and Chris Call. Backward glances: Brian Van Flandern and Laziz Hamani’s Vintage Cocktails and a brace by the bracing Dave Wondrich, Imbibe! From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash and Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl. Not to forget, please, James Waller’s revised, updated and often witty Drinkology and, for those who plan ahead, Anthony Giglio and Jim Meehan’s Mr. Boston Summer Cocktails.

Long before wine writing descended into the murk of scores and tasting notes there was the pleasure of Gerald Asher’s monthly essays in Gourmet—until a new editor reduced him to recommending pairings. Was Gourmet otherwise dumbed-down, as in the issue devoted to recipes from TV sitcoms? The mag’s shut-down in 2009 was laid to cable-TV shows and other competition for ads, but maybe the editor was distracted by writing three books, editing two recipe collections, giving lectures and doing a TV series. Fortunately, the man Frank Prial once called a poet hasn’t disappeared for good, as evidenced by his latest book, A Vineyard in My Glass. Buy it.

Crime is the star of Max Watman’s nifty Chasing the White Dog: An Amateur Outlaw’s Adventures in Moonshine and Daniel Okrent’s even niftier Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. Watman blows the whistle on the romance of moonshining and pretty much blows up his kitchen, too. Both are well-written, especially Okrent’s: I think it’s the best book on temperance lunacy since The Life and Times of the Late Demon Rum by J.C. Furnas. [Furnas’s other great accomplishment was to expose Lillian Hellman’s Julia fraud.]

The how-to and self-help stocking is well-stuffed as ever, what with Drink This: Wine Made Simple, by Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl; The Everyday Guide to Wine [2 paperback books and a DVD], by MW Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan; the expansively titled  The Sommelier Prep Course: An Introduction to the Wines, Beers, and Spirits of the World, by Michael Gibson; 100 Perfect Pairings, by Jill Silverman Hough; The Food Lover’s Guide to Wine, by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg;
zzzzjennifer zzzjuliapurple
Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan, Julia della Croce

Making Sense of Wine Tasting: Your Essential Guide to Enjoying Wine [5th edition], by Alan Young; Secrets of the Sommeliers: How to Think and Drink Like the World’s Top Wine Professionals, by Rajat Parr, Jordan Mackay and Ed Anderson; Authentic Wine: Toward Natural and Sustainable Winemaking, by Jamie Goode and Sam Harrop MW; and for reinvention purposes, How to Import Wine, by Deborah M. Gray.

Liquid-specific entries include The Bartender’s GIN Compendium, by master cocktailian Gary Regan; Grandi Vini: An Opinionated Tour of Italy’s 89 Finest Wines, by Joe Bastianich; Real Men Drink Port—and Ladies Do Too!, by Ben Howkins; The Craft of Stone Brewing Co.: Liquid Lore, Epic Recipes, and Unabashed Arrogance, by Greg Koch, Steve Wagner and Randy Clemens; Madeira, the Island Vineyard [2nd edition], by Noel Cossart and Emanuel Berk; and The Finest Wines of California: A Regional Guide to the Best Producers and Their Wines. It’s part of a series that includes individual volumes on Chianti, the Côte d’Or, Tuscany, Champagne, Rioja and Bordeaux. And it pairs well, as they say, with Paul Strang’s South-West France. MW Benjamin Lewin, knight-challenger of wisdom received and conventional, does so twice, in In Search of Pinot Noir and in Wine Myths and Reality.

While impatiently awaiting the 4th edition of Jancis Robinson’s The Oxford Companion to Wine you can profitably adopt the CIA’s 3rd of Exploring Wine, by Steven Kolpan, Brian H. Smith and Michael A. Weiss; and Opus Vino, by Jim Gordon.

And when you’re ready to dig in, try The Kentucky Bourbon Cookbook, by Albert W.A. Schmid and Dean Fearing, and Italian Home Cooking, by the award-winning Julia della Croce. In my kitchen Italian cooking is home cooking, but that never stopped me from adding more Italian cookbooks to my shelf before and it isn’t about to stop me now. And don’t forget The Winemaker Cooks, by Christine Hanna (see below) , cook, looker and president of Sonoma’s Hanna Winery & Vineyards.

zzzzzzzzChristine HannaAs soon as I can I’ll make something to go with the following recipe, kindly provided by Chef Schmid: It’s called The English Professor’s Kentucky Bourbon Marinade, and it goes like this: Mix equal parts of bourbon, soy sauce and pineapple juice. Add a few [or a few more] Szechuan peppers, if you like. In it marinate chicken [up to 1 hour], pork [2-3 hours] or beef [at least 4 hours]. Pan-fry or grill. You’ll still have 364 days to cook Italian.

Now then, lest I appear to have gone soft-centered on you, I will here cite the two worst books I’ve read in a coon’s age or donkey’s years, whichever is longer. They are, for your edification and dismay Boozehound: On the Trail of the Rare, the Obscure, and the Overrated in Spirits, by Jason Wilson, and The Wild Vine, by Todd Kliman, You have been warned.

If you right-click on any of the above titles you’ll be able to ‘open’ Amazon and order directly.

For lagniappe here are a few of my own reviewer’s tips. For example, if the flap copy says anything like ‘ . . . teaches writing at . . . ‘ and/or mentions an author’s work with NPR, odds are it’s best to am-scray whilst still thou canst. In the Acknowledgments, danger signs include fulsome praise for the editor, who probably did nothing more than praise and grin [editors don’t have jobs—they have lunch] and the copy editor, who has likely missed author errors by the long ton while [if really on the ball]—adding factual errors of her own devising. Also, Amazon’s reader reviews have gained importance as professional reviewers, to quote the poet-pugilist Mike Tyson, ‘fade to Bolivian’. But be sceptical. Many of its 5-star reviews seem to be mere empty raves by enthusiasts and the ignoranti. The few-star reviews more often show knowledge and critical perspective.

And a Happy New Year to All!

©2012 Bill Marsano

Linotype the movie is expected to arrive in theaters some time next month. See the trailer below:

"Linotype: The Film" Official Trailer from Linotype: The Film on Vimeo

——————————————————————-

*Hence ‘two sticks on  page 12,’ journalese for a story that is insignificant or being downplayed.
**One of them, U.S. Tobacco Journal, supposedly founded by Oscar Hammerstein I.
***Societal outcasts; pariahs who own actual, you know, like stores, yo?

Christine Hanna photo: Sheri Giblin Photography, S.F.

Mum’s the Word

Royal wedding? Big deal, were we not able to smuggle in a Gin and Tonic for necessary relief. All in good time, of course, Thirsty Reader. Compose your mind in patience.

Come the 29th the Prince and the Commoner will be wed, and in a mood of unaccustomed generosity I pledge to forgive all related clichés [tying the knot, getting hitched, connubial bliss, etc.]—except the nonsense about leading her down the aisle. Aisles come in pairs and are at a church’s sides, parallel to the nave, which is where, with weddings, the action is. Only inadequate ecclesiastical vocabulary can account for this aisles error, so let’s hear no more of it. Anyway, Bill ‘n’ Kate seem to be decent kids who’ve kept themselves mostly out of the tabloids. Good cess to ‘em, says I, but with none of those Colonial yearnings that make too many Americans go all caramel-centered over Team Windsor. [My favorite example: the Sensitive Soul who reacted to 1997’s tragedy crying ‘Diana? Dead? But if she could die, what hope is there for the rest of us?’] Still, I suffer something of a frisson when I think of Kate wearing that ring: surely it’s cursed?

unnamed The sapphire alone in Kate’s engagement ring would retail for about $300,000; pikers can buy Amazon’s replica for $19.99 + shipping. Similar fauxnies are going like coldcakes for as much as a grand apiece. 

sickbagblueSick to death of what is rapidly becoming a tawdry business? A young English artist of wit and originality has made her protest plain with her line of souvenir airsickness bags in four colors: about $1.65 from lydialeith.com. Royal condoms are also helping the monarchy morph steadily from institution to horselaugh.

The breakthrough for this wedding is that the royal family is no longer obsessed with virginity. Kate is allegedly a maidenhead short of maidenhood but ‘No biggie,’ says Prince Philip, reports Nigel Dumpster, dirt-dishing star reporter-hallucinator of Britain’s gutter press. [Back in the day—Diana’s, specifically —the royals got the blue creevies at the prospect of ‘some bloke going round saying he’s had the Queen of England.’] Kate’s fans, re-styling her deficit, say that makes her a modern bride. Shocked, shocked is my nextdoor neighbor H*Y*M*E*N K*A*P*L*A*N, Jewish virgin and proselytizer for purity. (‘Invest in your future—save it for marriage’ is her mantra). Never mind: the latest nonsense is the rumor that Kate may be in whole or in part Jewish [her mom’s a Goldsmith]. H*Y*M*E*N e-mails me a definitive denial: ‘MOT? IMNSHO, NFW! FO-MCL.’ [I have no idea what that means.] ‘Yeah, sure’ she says, revert-ing to actual words and scoring a rare double positive. ‘Goldsmith’s as Jewish as Fort Smith!’

fort_smith03  Fort Smith, Ark.: Jewish? You make the call

Yet there is or was one royal who won me over: the Queen Mum [1900-2002], whom Helena Bonham Carter played so splendidly in The King’s Speech. Born Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon, she was successively Duchess of York, Queen Consort,
and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mum. Her family was Scottish, mere minor nobility [not even Triple-A], but that didn’t matter: she married the Duke of York, who as second in line to the throne was pretty mere himself. In short [he stood a semi-kingly 5’9”], he didn’t matter either. Until.

Queen_Mother),_192The Duchess of York, by Philip de László, 1925.

Until Wallis Simpson did Britain the great but rarely recognized favor of sweeping the king off his feet and his throne to boot. Edward VIII and Wallis went on to a life of global freeloading as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor; York became King George VI with the Duchess as his Queen Consort, and they became, with Winston Churchill, the great pillars of British wartime morale. That was especially so in 1940 London, during the Blitz: 76 consecutive nights of Luftwaffe air raids that leveled large parts of the city. The city’s East End, whose docks were critical to the shipping of food and arms, took a beating far worse than anything seen in movies.

st pauls  The London Blitz: St. Paul’s survives, Edward R. Murrow broadcasts live from the rooftops [‘This . . . is London. . .’] and the Queen says she is glad that Buckingham Palace took a hit.

When finally Buckingham Palace itself was hit the Queen said she was glad: ‘It makes me feel I can look the East End in the face.’ Would she evacuate her children to safety in the countryside? No: ‘The children won’t leave without me. I won’t leave without the King, and the King won’t leave.’

Queen_Elizabeth_The_Queen_MotherOfficial portrait as Queen
by Sir Gerald Kelly

She was a trooper all her life. Aged 101 she broke her pelvis but still stood for the anthem at her late husband’s memorial service; injured again later she attended Princess Margaret’s funeral. The family fretted over the long trip involved but she did not. She asked only to be spared the press, so as to avoid being photographed in a wheelchair. She had wit. She was keen on horse racing and fishing. In hospital for a fishbone stuck in her throat, she said dryly ‘The salmon have got their own back.’ My relentless colleague J.T.D. Keyes tells me this: Aware that her staff included many elderly gay men, she once rang down from her bedroom to ask ‘How would one of you old queens like to bring this old queen a large gin and tonic?’

Speaking of which . . . It’s time to make one, because the G&T is a British classic, probably created in Injah during the Raj and an American favorite; and it was the go-to drink of the Queen Mum. To be sure of getting it made right, I’m calling in my Huckleberry friend Bruce Ramsay, who serves as
PouredWithPleasure’s miscelatore dei tutti miscelatori, for wisdom and counsel.

GIN and TONIC

Let the gin be Gordon’s London Dry if, like the QM, you prefer traditional taste (no rose petals or lemon-grass here!) and outstanding value. Otherwise, Beefeater is a wonderful, respected alternative. Be sure that your ice cubes are fresh ones, not antiques that have been hanging around since the Ice Age. The tonic must be chilled and must be top drawer, too. Q Tonic and Fever-Tree are the best; stuff that comes in a plastic jug the size of a HEAT round is not. As for limes, those dull in color and hard as golf balls are too old; don’t stir without fresh ones.

Q-Tonic The highly regarded Q poses with a G&T that can be fairly called excessively responsible. Why not Schweppes, the old stand-by? Because it’s fallen, nay plummeted from favor because of high-fructose corn syrup and too many calories. It’s suspected of using synthetic quinine, too.
Now for the assembly. This is a built drink, that is, it’s built in the same glass in which it’s served. Fill a Tom Collins glass (or other 10-12 ounce glass) to the rim with ice. Add 1-1/2 to 2 ounces of Gordon’s gin. Carefully pour your tonic down the side of the glass, not over the ice. (This, says Japanese master mixologist Kazuo Uyeda, ensures that the tonic’s refreshing carbonation will be preserved.)

Gently pull a long spoon upward through the drink to stir. Add a straw for decorous sipping and your choice of lime garnish: wedge on the rim or wheel slid down inside the glass. The wheel is a bit more decorative but the wedge is more practical for those who wants a squeeze of juice to adjust the flavor.

You have heard from the Master, Thirsty Reader. Now, let us stand and toast the Queen Mother’s memory. Cheers! Three cheers, in fact.

©2011 Bill Marsano

Paddy and Pazzo: Double Cause for Celebration

Well, yes, we are late here at PWP, but we have excus-es, as usual: a] we have two holidays to deal with, b] although they are called days we celebrate them here as months and c] the dog ate our homework.

So here’s the deal: March 17 is St. Patrick’s Day, a.k.a. St. Pat’s and Saint Paddy’s. (What’s this St. Patty’s Day I read of latterly? Is there some girl saint I don’t know about?) March 17 is also Italian Unification Day: the 150th anniversary of the day in 1861 that Italy ceased to be what Prince Metternich called [correctly] a ‘geographical expression’ and became a nation. (So far as was possible for Italians, who seldom speak with one voice unless gli azzuri, the national soccer team, are in the World Cup.)

In any event, a double holiday lasting a month: doesn’t that call for a drink? The question is rhetorical, and in any case, we’ll have a couple, Irish and Italian.

Irish whiskey has returned from the Vale of Desuetude thanks to both cocktail culture and increased interest in whiskies of taste and character. This has done a power of good for the likes of Bushmills, Midleton and both Johns (Jameson and Powers), as well as Kilbeggan, The Tyrconnell, and Tullamore Dew. Newcomers like Con-nemara, Knappogue Castle, Clontarf, Michael Collins, and The Irishman sip awfully well too, as does Irish grain whiskey, which the Irish take far more seriously than the Scots do theirs. Although there’s just the one —Greenore—it’s bottled at 8 and 15 years. Greenore Limted Edition 15years 70cl 700ml The 15-year-old (left) has won top grain hon-ors at the Worlds Whiskies Awards three years running. So make yourself a Shillelagh (pronounced shi-LAY-lee), which is named for a traditional black- thorn walking stick, homemade back in the day (before anyone knew it was artisanal) and used to support the in-firm and to discipline the impertinent. (In extremis, a hurley may be substi-tuted. Combine the concept of rough justice with ‘giving it to ‘em with the bark on’ and the result is shillelagh law, an ancient religious rite. 

Shillelagh

Fill your rocks glass with ice and equal parts Irish whiskey and Bailey’s Irish Cream; stir. And there you are. The drink is a simple one, not to be confused with another, called the Irish Shillelagh, which will would you with chasing after overproof white rum, sloe gin, peach schnapps and other stuff. If you tire easily, you can stop at the glass and the whiskey—the stuff is won-derful sipped neat. Adding the Bailey’s honors Irish in-genuity: It was created in the 1970s, when whiskey vet-erans Tom Jago, James Espey and Peter Fleck learned of enormous new tax breaks being offered to commercial users of Irish dairy products. Buying cream by the long ton, they applied the ’just add alcohol’ approach with notable success.

And so recently (while I should have been writing this, in fact) I unlimbered the crystal barware and adminis-tered the sacraments aided and abetted by my nextdoor neighbor Upton O’Goode, an relentless prankster from County Donegal, who dropped in with his two rascally brothers Doone and Compton. Together we toasted the memory of Mulligan, Stu, a punctilious librarian and pedant who was killed in a duel over the proper cata-loguing of Lafcadi O’Hearn.

The Italian counterpart of St. Patrick is San Pazzo, who drove the snakes out of the countryside and into elect-ive office. As for Italian drinks, I’m going to preen my-self on my own inventions—the Red Priest and the Si-cilian Vespers. Both are based on Prosecco, for which the world has been going crazy for some few years now. Too crazy, if you ask me. With Prosecco raised to DOCG status, its vineyard is being expanded, which bodes ill for quality. So before exploitation does to Pro-secco what it has done to Pinot Grigio, Soave and Fra-scati, get some and chill it, and some cherry juice and Sicilian blood-orange juice, too, to 45 F./7 C.

 mionetto IL labelonly JEIOlabel
Perfect Proseccos for your Red Priest and your Sicilian Vespers, to say nothing of your Bellinis.

Mionetto Il and Bisol Jeio Prosecco are available al-most everywhere. The Sicilian Vespers requires blood oranges, which are available fresh in some markets be-tween October and March. Beware: blood oranges are ugly little things, nothing like your standard California products, which are big and cosmetically perfect, like Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton. And equally tasteless. They’re very pulpy, so juicing can be a messy business. Bottled juice is fine (it’s usually a blend of Sicilian San-guinello, Tarocco and Moro oranges. It’s available on-line and off-, but I often sneak mine in from Italy in my luggage. [Yes I’m deranged; why do you ask?]

Sicilian Vespers

5 oz. Bisol Jeio Prosecco
2 oz. Blood-orange juice

For the Red Priest you substitute cherry juice. Making it is a real project, so you might want to start with the bottled juice and see how it goes.

Red Priest

5 oz. Mionetto Il Prosecco
1 oz. Plymouth gin
1 oz. cherry juice
1 tsp. lemon juice
Optional garnish: a cherry, preferably sour.

Mixing and Glassware

Prosecco’s effervescence is fragile, so pour the (thicker) juice into the (thinner) wine: the resulting self-stirring effect requires little or no help from your bar spoon. (I admit that others counsel the exact opposite, but with-out explanation.) My nextdoor neighbor Louie DiNuo-vo, a relentless pest and freeloader, recommends add-ing some muscle: an ounce of Gran Gala or Cointreau, or Cherry Heering, as appropriate. Serve both of these drinks in flutes, Collins glasses, or one of the tall nar-row column glasses that are the cynosure of all eyes at these days at Colicchio & Sons on Tenth Ave., where deleetmeetteet.

Bar-Bet Background: The Red Priest is named for An-tonio Vivaldi, the Venetian composer called il prete ros-so for his red hair. The Sicilian Vespers recalls March 30, 1282, when enraged Palermitani revolted against their French masters. Verdi’s opera I Vespri Siciliani uses the ringing of the Vespers bell—the call to evening prayer—as the signal for the revolt to begin, but many historians believe was merely coincidental with the ris-ing, which was more spontaneous than plotted. Either way, the French screamed bloody murder.

Sláinte and salute!

©2011 Bill Marsano

Glorious 4th, Fabled 14th

A festive month, July. It is the National Month of Baked Beans, Blueberries, Hot Dogs, Ice Cream and Picnics. Moreover, it embraces many an excellent National Day. Cow Appreciation Day, for example (I appreciate cow best when it’s plated), and official Days for Fried Chicken, Lasagna, French (and maybe even Freedom) Fries, Sugar Cookies, Cheesecake, Junk Food and—for take-out—Paper Bags.

Poured on the 4th of July

Still, when it comes to the big blasts, Thirsty Reader wants something special to drink, and the Fourth of July is a poser. I’d recommend some George Washington ‘red whiskey’—rye 

2010WhiskeyBottlemade to George’s own recipe at his own (reconstructed) still–but sad to say barely 500 half-bottles are available and you’d have to go to Mount Vernon to get one. There’s a chance or at least a hope that more will be made in coming years. Shame to leave a still unused, no?

What then, to drink? The cocktail king Dale DeGroff, seconding my notion that rum, an early American favorite, should be involved, sent me to Esquire magazine’s Dave Wondrich. A mixological sage, sachem and sagamore of  wit and style, Dave proposed a Colonial concoction in which French and American ingredients go together like Lafayette and the Continental Army: Fish House Punch.

It originates, Dave explained, in the oddly named Schuylkill Fishing Company of Pennsylvania, a.k.a. the State in Schuylkill. Founded in 1732 by some of Philadelphia’s biggest shots, it was the Colonies’ first angling club and, because it survives even today, is the nation’s oldest. The members built what has been variously called a house, clubhouse, courthouse and castle on the banks of the river Schuylkill, which Dave pronounces ‘Skookul.’ (Here we have disagreement, Dave and I, because I vote for ‘Skookle,’ having lived for my sins several years hard by its boathouse-littered banks.) Next (I may be a little loose with the chronology here), they created Fish House Punch. A cooling antidote to Philly’s brutal summers, it soon became popular and, saith Dave, ‘small wonder: This refresh-ing tipple is so tasty that you’ll want to put away about a quart of it, and so strong that after you do you’ll forget where your pants are–even if you happen to still be wearing them, which is by no means certain.’

Of the numerous recipes around, Dave kindly contributed this, which ‘has the best balance of authority and deliciousness.’

Fish House Punch

1-1/2 cups superfine sugar
2 quarts water
1 quart lemon juice
2 quarts dark rum
1 quart cognac
4 ounces peach brandy

‘In a large bowl,’ he counsels, ‘first dissolve the sugar in enough of the water to do the trick, then incorporate the lemon juice. Next, add the spirits and the rest of the water–or as much of it as you wish to contribute (less in summer, to allow for meltage). Slip in as large a block of ice as you can procure. (Use your imagination — if worse comes to worst, a mixing bowl full of water that’s been frozen overnight will do the trick; run a little hot water on the outside of the bowl to unmold.) Let the iced punch stand in a cool place for an hour or so before serving. Do not garnish the stuff with fruit, herb, vegetable, or paper umbrella.’

Finally, there’s the vexed question of what quality rum and cognac to use. Certainly you’ll do very well for rum with Cruzan Estate, although you might want to try Bacardi 8, Pusser’s Navy Dark (especially you Patrick O’Brian fans), Barbancourt 8 or Gosling’s Black Seal. Nor need anything but the economy stay your hand if Mount Gay Extra Old, Pyrat XO or Pampero Aniversario takes your fancy. In cognacs you can swing from the Big Four (Rémy Martin, Martell, Courvois-ier and Hennessy) to the obscure glories of Delamain, Dor, Kelt, Marcel Ragnaud, and Pierre Ferrand.

Of course, bunging the best into punches and cocktails will cost plenty without really making a big difference to the final pour, but if being free-handed makes you feel liberal and kingly, go right ahead. It’s your money as well as your style. Many top-shelf distillers would go bankrupt if all their customers did was sip like country parsons. Besides, using any five-star stuff in a punch gives the snob crowd apoplexy. Never a bad thing, actually, and sometimes fun.

As for Lafayette, he figured importantly (note the rare correct use of importantly) in 1781 in the Battle of Yorktown, helping to trap and besiege the British army there, which led to the surrender of Lord Cornwallis. In 1824 Lafayette embarked on a triumphant farewell tour of all 24 American states and was elected to membership in the Schuylkill Fishing Company of Pennsylvania in 1825. Thus do we come full circle. And now, mes amis, on to France.

Aux Armes, Citoyens!

Merde! So much cause for complaint in France aujourd’hui. The soccer team (humiliated and in disgrace), retirement age (now raised to 62) and the government’s annual Bastille Day bash (cancelled). Désolée, but a $1 million garden party would be gauche in this economy, which is so grim that a government minister was actually scolded for using $15,000 in public money to buy fancy cigars. Never mind. In the words of Toots Wheat, baguette queen of Paris and party girl of the Boul’Mich, ‘That calls for a drink!’

For Bastille Day, or any other, for that matter, I propose the cocktail of choice be the French 75, a classic that takes it name from a famous World War I artillery piece. That 75 was admired as a battleworthy piece (what civilians would call a cannon) by both French troops and the American doughboys who went ‘Over There.’ (The 75 refers to its bore diameter in millimeters; 75 mm or just under three inches).

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 A French 75 in war paint. Photo courtesy of the First Division (‘The Big Red 1’) Museum at Cantigny, Ill.

The French army of 1914 was both overdressed and undergunned. The poilus made a stirring sight in their blue tunics and red pantalons, but certainement they were also highly visible targets. Worse, they were saddled with the Chauchat, a contraption widely hailed as the worst machine gun ever built: Seemingly always en crise, it was as dangerous to friend as to foe. Not an asset in what turned out to be a machine-gun war. Far better was the French 75 field gun. It was powerful, durable and more or less immovable: an advanced recoil mechanism kept it from bouncing wildly about when fired. Thus it didn’t have to be laboriously re-aimed (‘re-laid’ is the term of art) each time, and so had the (then) amazing ability to fire both rapidly and accurately.

How it gave its name to a cocktail is murky; Speakeasy, a book of ‘classic cocktails re-imagined’ by the diligent folks at a Manhattan bar called Employees Only, says some folks believe the drink was created by Raoul Lufbery, a Franco-American World War I hero. Bit of a stretch, that: Lufbery had no truck with artillery. He was a fighter pilot with the legendary Lafayette Escadrille. He scored 17 kills flying Nieuport biplanes, challenging mounts that combined a fast rate of climb with balletic agility and a ‘disconcerting tendency to disintegrate in flight’. He kept a lion cub named Whiskey and allegedly stiffened his Champagne with gin. So. At the very least it’s a fine story, and cocktail scholars agree that the original drink did contain gin, brandy creeping in only later.

Making a French 75

Harry Craddock’s The Savoy Cocktail Book says to put two measures of gin, one of lemon juice (in 1930, the year of publication, it was unnecessary to specify fresh) and a spoonful of powdered sugar into a tall glass of cracked ice, then fill with champagne. His recipe carries the warning ‘hits with remarkable precision’.

British powdered sugar may be different from the American version, which is also called confectioners sugar and which doesn’t dissolve readily in cold drinks. Use superfine sugar (a.k.a. ultrafine or bar sugar) instead.

If you’re going the modern way, perhaps you’ll substitute the gin (Tanqueray, Citadelle, Bombay, or—to salute Lufbery—Portland’s Aviation) with cognac. Probably not brandy unless it’s something special, like Ukiah’s Germain-Robin.

Craddock’s 75 won’t, I suspect, be so bracingly cold as Americans would like. Brits seem to prefer luke-ish cocktails (maybe because they hate their filthy cold climate), and they apparently teach the shunning of ice as a professional skill and a moral obligation. Last month in Pamplona, at the Locavore Cafe, I sought ice from Garçon McCullers, the literate and literary waitron. Apparently she’d apprenticed in Old Blighty because on bringing forth the ice bucket she excavated with meticulous care one ice cube and tonged it delicately into my drink. (Mission accomplished!) Anyway, your 75 will require more ice—but not too much. Let your shaker be but half full or a little more—crowding a drink slows cooling—and then shake mercilessly. One bartender I know says ‘Stop when your hands hurt from the cold.’

There’s elbow room here for the creative mixer. Some recipes nix the old 2-1 gin-juice ratio in favor of 50-50, others say 4 gins to 1 juice As for the bubbly, the quantity depends on the glass used, the capacious Collins or the skinny flute. It’s up to you. (Colin Field, ruler of the Paris Ritz’s Hemingway Bar, will allow an ice-filled tumbler as an alternative.).

Of garnishes, Saint Harry says naught, so do as you will if you will. Lemon peels, orange wheels and twists, lemon wedges, cherries—all sorts of things turn up in all sorts of recipes. I’d leave well enough alone, frankly. Do you want to drink or do you want to eat?

So there you are. Aux armes, citoyens! Or in this case, aux coudes (elbows).

Talk Derby to Me

May’s a month of multiple Saturdays, and whether they be four or they be five is no matter. Only the first one counts, as it is sacred to the Kentucky Derby.

It is a libel that so much eating and drinking occurs in and around Louisville that the race is just a sideshow, but certainly attention must be paid to the Mint Julep. Print
The Mint Julep in its traditional silver—or at least silvery—cup, looking perhaps a little too dainty, though, no? Surely a snowball of ice is wanted , not to mention lusher greenery and a shorter straw so you can put
your nose in it? Two, bartender! The Julep means bourbon and Kentucky is the oom-phalos thereof, although it can be made anywhere on U.S. soil (I long for someone to give it a try at some far-distant U.S. embassy). Every Kentuckian knows how to make The Perfect Mint Julep and most eagerly press the recipe on parched visitors (a minority wince melodramatically, as if it has to peeled off their skin). All agree on the use of fine bourbon, mint, water, ice and sugar—and disagree: Things fall apart; the center cannot hold, so I have consulted with Kentucky’s masters on styles and recipes.

Some Julep mavens crave laboratory precision. Others, free-handed, recognize the concept of ‘to taste’. Still others seem to communicate with the Spirit World. Such an one was the late Booker Noe of Jim Beam, Knob Creek, Basil Hayden’s, Baker’s and, of course, Booker’s. He instructed me thus:

Booker Noe’s Mint Julep
1.5 ounces of Booker’s Bourbon
1/2 Tbsp mint syrup (make ahead)
Crushed ice
1 mint sprig

Fill julep glass with crushed ice. Add syrup and bourbon; garnish with mint. (Booker made mint syrup sufficient for 10 Juleps like this: boil 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar for five minutes; do not stir; let cool; pour into a quart jar filled with mint leaves; refrigerate "for hours." Discard mint.

Second nature to Booker, who once closed a particularly jolly dinner with ‘Let’s go to my house for a drink! Does anybody know where I live?’—but a bit shy of details. Cocktail maven Gary Regan (ardentspirits.com) helps some, recommending ice crushed fine enough to frost a traditional sterling Julep cup or Collins glass, and he likes a snow-cone top. Getting no help on the Mint Question (should it be tightly or loosely packed?) I boldly decided on a middle course: pack it pretty tight. As for bruising, you’re on your own. It’s a must for some, herbal abuse to others. For garnish Regan demands an abundance of six-leaved sprigs. Also, short sipping straws: He likes to bury his nose in fragrant greenery. He counsels a little more generosity with the bourbon, perhaps, and at last finds peace.

Chris Morris, Master Distiller of Woodford Reserve, is one who goes in for surgical precision. Here’s his

Chris Morris’ Mint Julep
4 mint leaves
1 tsp. powdered sugar
2 1/2 oz. Woodford Reserve Bourbon
Crushed ice
1 mint sprig


Of course you fling all this stuff together in a glass or a cup with some ice, but when Morris runs the show, the calipers, micrometers and gas chromatographs come out. Chris says to muddle the four mint leaves,IMG_0100 which should be mature and     Here’s Chris Morris now, preaching the gospel of ferociously muddled top-drawer mint and the civilizing effects of the No. 4 ‘alligator’ char.

 medium size (not too tiny and young, nor too old and beginning to dry out), with exactly three drops of Wood-ford Reserve and a teaspoon of powdered sugar in the bottom of a julep glass or sterling-silver cup. This will create a sugary mint paste. Spread the paste evenly over the bottom of the cup with the muddler. Add the straw and fill the cup 2/3rds full with crushed ice.  Pack the ice down gently with the muddler. Add the bourbon and top off with loose crushed ice. Garnish with a mint sprig next to the straw.

Jimmy Russell—of Wild Turkey, Rare Breed, Russell’s Reserve and Kentucky Spirit—has been proclaimed ‘the very greatest and wisest practicing distiller in Kentucky’ by the legendary     Jimmy Russell At right, the peerless Jimmy Russell in his glory, or rickhouse, entranced and bedazzled by the splendid amber liquid. A posed photo, of course, but one that captures the man’s contemplative devo- tion to his calling.                Jim Murray. Gentle and soft-spoken, he takes any aggression out on the mint. He pummels it to release its essential oils. In an aside, he spoke of what pretenders call ‘branch water’ or ‘branch,’ (in-dicating free-flowing water from the branch of a river or stream as distinct from well wat-er).’ ‘It’s an old-time term,’ Jimmy says, ‘but not used any more ex-cept by Hollywood scriptwriters and people who are trying to make an impression.’

As for what grade of bourbon should be used, people can argue for hours about whether top-shelf stuff wasted on a subarctic cocktail. A nice question, and with characteristic bravado, I’m going to duck it. Consult your purse and self-image, and choose a brand from among Regan’s four grades: Sipping Whiskey, On-the-Rocks Whiskey, Cocktail Whiskey and Kitchen Whiskey (which he says is ‘for cooking–or the cook. Not that it matters.’)

Fred Noe, Booker’s son, makes two perfect Juleps from family recipes. His Knob Creek version differs from his Jim Beam ver-sion in being weightier–1.5 ounces of bourbon compared to 1 ounce, sweeter (1 tsp. sugar in 2 tsp. water to just a pinch and a splash) and mintier (stemmed leaves are added before the ice). Otherwise they’re much the same: in a glass, dissolve sugar in water, fill with crushed ice, add bourbon; garnish. These are likely to be less sweet than those using simple syrup: Sugar dissolves but reluctantly in cold water. Experiment is advised.

Tom Bulleit leans to the view that most juleps are herbally challenged, a flaw he remedies aggressively in his Authentic Mint Julep. Great bourbon is required, he says, modestly recommending his own Bulleit brand, but after that he says ‘the key is creating a rich mixture of mint, sugar and water that will flavor the bourbon to your taste.’

For a make-ahead mix sufficient for eight juleps, Tom recommends that 30 to 40 tiny tender leaves be washed, patted dry and left to soak at their ease in a small bowl of bourbon. After 15 minutes roll them in thin cotton cloth and wring them out over the bowl. Repeat several times for maximum extraction. Set aside for at least an hour, returning the leaves to the bourbon if desired. Combine extract with simple syrup and refrigerate over-night. Comes the great day, pack a glass with crushed or shaved ice, add a mint sprig and follow it with 1.5 oz. of Bulleit. Or a little more, to taste.

Kevin Smith (pictured) of Maker’s Mark is one also precise, and generous, too. He starts with a liter of his bourbon, obviously with a party in mind. His way with mint is the same as Tom Bulleit’s, but he insists on only distilled water when making his simple syrup. Then Maker'sMarkMasterDistillerKevinSmith comes a serious departure from tradition. Julep recipes almost always call for pouring the bourbon in last, but Smith prefers to mix them all together up front. As follows: Pour a quart of Mak-er’s Mark bourbon into a bowl (store the remainder, or sip it restoratively), stir in a cup of the simple syrup, and then add the mint extract, one tablespoon at a time. Taste as you go, Smith says: It’s easy to overdo the mint—most people do—and once it’s in you can’t take it out. Generally, he says, three tablespoons will suffice. When you think the mix is right, pour it back into the liter bottle and refrigerate it for at least 24 hours, so the flavors will ‘marry.’ (Any less and they just get laid, I suppose.) To serve, fill glasses halfway with ice, add the mint sprig, then add more ice—to about a half-inch above the rim—insert the straw and dust with powdered sugar.

And so . . . success at last? Hardly. Despite my herculean effort and noble self-sacrifice it’s hard for me to avoid, Thirsty Reader, a slight feeling of let-down here, of having, as they say at the race track, faded in the stretch. As your guide, your mentor, your help in ages past, I went forth in fond and confident hope of spying out One True Recipe, the Julep in its Platonic form, and bringing peace for our time.

Fat chance! There isn’t just one Perfect Julep but hundreds, even thousands, for each devotee carries in his heart his own idea of perfection. That, Thirsty Reader, is what makes horse races.

I’ll Take Manhattans

As the Manhattan is the Cary Grant of cocktails, so is the martini (the real thing–ginful, sinful and vodka-free) is the Fred Astaire. One is more suave than elegant, the other more elegant than suave, the twain indispensable to civilized life. Eric Felten, James Beard Award-winner and columnist for the Wall Street Journal, says in How’s Your Drink? (a Napoleonic book: short but powerful) the Manhattan is father to the Martini; merely ‘substituting gin for the whiskey’ did the trick. In time dry gin replaced the sweet Old Tom gin of the 1880s, there was no going back. Carpano_Bottle Not so with the Manhattan, Thirsty Reader. Carpano Antica Formula red vermouth provides a good excuse to go back–to the 1780s, when Antonio Benedetto Carpano formulated it in Turin. Spicier, livelier, more muscular than modern vermouths, Antica is a rewarding Italian immigrant. At $30 a liter, it doesn’t travel steerage. (In fact it travels in a decorative tin that’s great for pasta stowage.) Tasting was in order.

I lugged my flagon down to the bat cave of Bruce Ramsay, miscelatore di tutti miscelatore. A mixologist sometimes found at Huckleberry Bar, one of Brooklyn’s finest, and I do not mean cops, he is a classicist. My huckleberry friend is not much given to concoctions that require 16 ingredients, most of which have to be bought by night from djinns in desert lairs. (‘They put the anal in artisanal,’ he says.) And so he excavated some stalwart rye (Rittenhouse 100 and Old Overholt 80) and fine bourbon (Woodford Reserve 90.4), his home-macerated black cherries and the tools of his mystery.

So a measure of Antica Formula was followed by twice as much whiskey, three dashes of Angostura and much stirring over much ice. No shaking! Unless the cocktail is clouded with fruit juice, egg or dairy in the mix, shaking could bruise the booze. Such is the wisdom Bruce has absorbed at the elbow (or knee or   other joint) of King Cocktail himself, Dale DeGroff. Our stemware included two rarities from the Ramsay Archive: Bruce’s Top Hat (by Morgantown Glass), rescued from Manhattan’s long-gone Hotel Knickerbocker, and a prissy little saucer-type etched with the official seal of Saskatchewan, one of many sold when the provincial government suffered an attack of abstinence. manhattan

The Antica made excellent Manhattans, brisk and spicy. We liked the Rittenhouse model best, and the extra alcohol didn’t take over; the Old Overholt was  persuasive, too. The Woodford, we thought, tended to mask the Antica with bourbon’s sweetness. It made a gentler, rounder drink perhaps more to current taste. (Indeed, bourbon is very common in today’s Manhattans, and some bartenders’ guides say merely ‘whiskey’ or ‘blended whiskey.’)

Red vermouth won many of its fans in the 1950s and 1960s–the Sunny Italy era of tourism, when Americans learned the delights of sipping on balconies under the Roman sun instead of being busy all the time. The big brands were Martini & Rossi (‘No Martini—No Party’), Campari and, perhaps biggest of all, Cinzano, which so dominated Italy’s outdoor-cafés that many people thought Cinzano manufactured ashtrays and patio umbrellas. (Cinzano is the destination of the wine the peasants hide from the Nazis in The Secret of Santa Vittoria, a pretty story but, as Italians say, ben trovato or well-invented.)

Find your own sunny balcony and try these Sunny Italy favorites:

Americano

Named for its popularity among Americans visiting Italy at the turn of the last century, says Felten, who adds that it was James Bond’s first recorded drink (in Casino Royale).

1 1/2 oz. Campari
1 1/2 oz. Sweet vermouth
Club soda
Combine the Campari and vermouth in a chilled, ice-filled highball glass filled, add club soda, stir*, garnish with lemon or orange peel.

Negroni
Often credited as the creation, in 1920, of Camillo Negroni, a Florentine Count who ordered his customary Americano stiffened with a whack of gin. The making of it is a mere bagatelle, says Mère Bagatelle, the frivolous French floozie who lives and loves across the hall, in her fashion. Practice a couple a times and you win the merit badge for sure.All you have to do is put together equal measures (ounces, cups, buckets) of gin, Campari and sweet vermouth. Stir and serve up or on the rocks, garnished with orange—slice or peel. Felten, by the way, says shake. Other historians say the inventor was American, and that a real Florentine Negroni requires a sugar-rimmed glass and olives on the side. Your call.

Either might benefit from Antica instead standard vermouth, and the Negroni from some of the top-shelf gins: Plymouth, Magellan (which really is blue), Bombay Sapphire (which isn’t), would be better with a bourbon Manhattan? Scientific inquiry, after all, knows no end, so do experiment amongst yourselves while Bruce and I recover from our labors.

Top Hat photo by Bruce Ramsay