All posts in Easter Drinks

Easter Drinks: Brandy Alexander

Brandy Alexander

Earlier in the Easter Season we profiled the White Russian, a modern dessert drink made with vodka, coffee liqueur, and cream. While the White Russian is a great drink, it’s but a shadow of its predecessor, the brandy Alexander. A descendant itself of the “Alexander” (made with gin), the brandy Alexander is sweet, yet refreshing.

It was also referenced by one of the most influential conservatives of the twentieth century. It is always important that a gentleman is able to make up his mind. With his expected wit, William F. Buckley, Jr. reminds us of such when, in one of his 1975 columns, he despairs of the indecisiveness of guests at a party:

[…guests] saying at a cocktail party, when asked, “What can I bring you from the bar?” -“Anything. Anything at all.” People who say that mean to be accomodating. Actually, they merely confuse and exasperate. I’d rather a guest asked me for a brandy Alexander than for “anything at all.” To be sure, I would have to learn to make a brandy Alexander.”

The brandy Alexander is made with 1/3 cognac, 1/3 crème de cacao, and 1/3 cream, all shaken over ice and served up in a cocktail glass with nutmeg to garnish. It’s a delicious dessert drink and, again, an excellent way to celebrate the Easter Season.

Easter Drinks: Boston Sour

IMG_0376

The Boston Sour, which has served as my drink of choice this spring, is one of my favorite cocktails.  Purists might object to our use of the more modern term “Boston Sour” for what is essentially a “Whiskey Sour,” but for the purposes of clarity, by “Boston Sour” we are essentially referring to a Whiskey Sour with egg white.

The origins of the Boston Sour predate the American Revolution, with some sources suggesting that the drink began as a type of rudimentary cure to scurvy.  Others have suggested that some early recipes indicate that the drink was used as a punch.  In any event, about 100 years ago, the egg white was added (thus separating the Boston Sour from the Whiskey Sour), which when shaken creates an appealing foam on the top of the cocktail.

There are many variations to the Boston Sour, but one of the most basic recipes includes:

  • 2 oz. whiskey
  • 1 oz. fresh lemon juice
  • .5 oz. simple syrup
  • .25 oz. egg white

I typically make my Boston Sours with Jack Daniels Green Label, but frankly any sweet bourbon will do. Alternatively, a mild rye will serve as an excellent base because the simple syrup provides plenty of sweetness.  If I have a good rye on hand, it is typically my first preference for any cocktail.

A more traditional taste could be achieved by mixing powdered sugar with soda water to create the simple syrup.  Of course, the benefits of the soda water will be rather limited once the carbon is released by the mixing and shaking process.

Enjoy!

Easter Drinks: Mint Julep

Mint Julep

We have one more Easter Drinks post to share as this Easter season comes to a close.

Refreshing and sweet, the mint julep is a classic American summer cocktail. The drink likely originated in the American South during the mid to late eighteenth century, making it one of the older American cocktails. Mint juleps can be made with gin, brandy, or whiskey. My favorite, however, is the classic bourbon mint julep.

Today, the mint julep is perhaps most famous as the drink served during the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.

Mint JulepWalker Percy, in his essay “Bourbon, Neat”, recalls the first mint julep he drank in a New York Hotel in 1941: “an atrocity, a heavy syrupy Bourbon and water in a small glass clotted with ice. But good!”.

Of course, he goes on to offer his favorite recipe for the mint julep in the postscript of the essay for his readers who, “don’t want to knock it back straight and would rather monkey around with perfectly good Bourbon”. And while I make my own mint juleps slightly differently, it’s Percy’s recipe which I’ll leave you with today:

You need excellent Bourbon whiskey; rye or Scotch will not do. Put half an inch of sugar in the bottom of the glass and merely dampen it with water. Next, very quickly – and here is the trick in the procedure – crush your ice, actually powder it, preferably in a towel with a wooden mallet, so quickly that it remains dry, and, slipping two sprigs of fresh mint against the inside of the glass, cram the ice in right to the brim, packing it with your hand. Finally, fill the glass, which apparently has no room left for anything else, with Bourbon, the older the better, and grate a bit of nutmeg on the top. The glass will frost immediately. Then settle back in your chair for half an hour of cumulative bliss.

Easter Drinks: The Sidecar

The Sidecar

Christus resurrexit! Alleluia!

And with the Easter Season we’re excited to bring back our Easter Drinks series. Last year we profiled a few drinks, including the Manhattan and the Martini, two classic cocktails.

The SidecarToday, we profile the Sidecar, a drink which adds a Continental touch to the family of classic American cocktails. The sweet cognac-based drink likely originated sometime around World War I, in Europe. American Prohibition lasted from 1920 to 1933, and during that time American cocktails thrived in Europe.

In addition to being a classic brandy cocktail, the Sidecar is part of the ‘crusta’ class of cocktails (other classes include fizzes, juleps, collins, etc.), meaning it is served with a sugared-rim glass. The drink’s ancestors include the Brandy Crusta, made with cognac, curaçao, lemon, and bitters. The Sidecar presents a simpler combination of flavors, but retains its sweet, festive nature.

Eric Felten at The Wall Street Journal, tells a few of the stories of the cocktail’s invention:

The standard creation myth for the Sidecar is that it was first concocted in World War I for an officer just arrived in Paris from the front, having ridden all the way in a motorcycle sidecar. The location of this conception is alternately given as the bar at the Paris Ritz or that other Parisian institution, Harry’s New York Bar. A competing tale came from travel and society writer Basil Woon, who claimed to be present when the first Sidecar was born. John, the bartender at a bistro called Henri’s, staggered into work late and bleeding after a motorcycle accident. Woon ordered cognac, his friend ordered Cointreau, and the woozy barman accidentally mixed them. The creation was named after the sidecar in which the bartender had been addled.

The essential ingredients of the Sidecar are:

  • Cognac (1 part)
  • Cointreau (1 part)
  • Lemon juice (1 part)

The proportions can be adjusted to taste. The Sidecar is shaken with ice and strained into a sugar-rimmed cocktail glass, garnished with a lemon twist. It is a perfect drink with which to celebrate this Easter.

Easter Drinks: The Manhattan

Whiskey Cocktail

The Manhattan is a classic American cocktail, and is certainly a fitting way to celebrate as we come to the final days of the Easter season.

This “gimmick free” cocktail consists of whiskey, vermouth, and bitters.  Simple, yet sophisticated, the Manhattan magnifies the tastes of the whiskey and reveals a strong yet smooth flavor of its own.  Kevin Sintunuang in the Wall Street Journal notes:

[U]nlike its cosmopolitan brother in arms, it is dark and moody: If the Martini is James Bond’s drink, the Manhattan is Bruce Wayne’s.

This is the second cocktail we’ve profiled, so I wanted to review a few notes about this particular genre of drinks.  The cocktail is a drink with at least one bitter ingredient and one sweet ingredient, mixed with a liquor.  Cocktails can be divided into those meant to be consumed before dinner, and those meant to be consumed after dinner.  The before-dinner cocktail should be relatively dry, whereas the after-dinner cocktail can be sweeter.  Most cocktails are served in either cocktail glasses or old-fashioned glasses.  The Manhattan’s sweet ingredient, the vermouth, along with its bitter ingredient, the bitters, put the cocktail into the before-dinner category, and it is always served in a traditional cocktail glass.

The Manhattan originated in New York City in the late 19th century, and, having survived through Prohibition, it continues today as a popular American drink.

To make a Manhattan, begin with the following ingredients:

  • Rye whiskey (5 parts)
  • Sweet vermouth (2 parts)
  • Angostura bitters
  • Maraschino cherry

Stir the whiskey, vermouth, and bitter over ice.  Strain into a cocktail glass already garnished with a cherry.

The nice thing about the Manhattan, though, is that you need not be a strict traditionalist.  The Manhattan adapts easily with variations.  Try shaking the drink instead of stirring it (though be prepared for it to taste watered-down and appear less clear).  Substitute rye for bourbon.  Switch out the vermouth for St. Germain.  Garnish with a slice of orange or a twist of lemon.  With the Manhattan, the possibilities are endless.

Easter Drinks: The Martini

Martini

I must admit, the martini is my favorite cocktail.  The chilled, dry, gin-based drink is the perfect cocktail to sharpen one’s appetite before a meal.

Before I go further into discussing the cocktail, I want to touch briefly upon the spirit itself, gin (of course, a martini is only properly made with gin, not vodka as some would have you believe).

To make gin, a fermented grain mash of barley is distilled once and then re-distilled with juniper berries and other flavors.  The liquor’s roots date back to the 11th century, when it was first made by Italian monks.  It wasn’t until the 1600s that the drink became more common, however.  In the 1800s, gin, like many other liquors, was given a boost in quality after the invention of the Coffey continuous column still in Ireland.  As stills were perfected, gin gained particular popularity in England, and it’s from there that we get the dry “London gin.”

It is in America, however, that the martini was invented: gin with dry vermouth, garnished with an olive or twist of lemon.  The drink, a descendant of the Manhattan, appeared in America in the mid to late 1800s. The martini’s existence was sustained during Prohibition by the illegal gin industry, and when the Twenty-first Amendment was passed the country was ready to embrace the martini as one of its favorite cocktails.

The 1960s, 70s, and 80s however, were dark times for the martini.  We can certainly blame Jimmy Carter’s campaign rhetoric against the “martini lunch” for the cocktail’s loss of popularity, but that was merely a symptom of the wider problem.  These decades embodied a direct rejection of tradition, culture, and leisure, and the martini was one of the first casualties.

Fortunately the martini has regained popularity in recent years.  The late Judge Robert Bork (in a piece I highly recommend) recounts the role he played in its reappearance:

Just a few years back, no one under the age of forty drank it. Though I can hardly take full credit for the drink’s resurgence, I made a contribution. When I was a judge, I used to tell my clerks, who had never tasted one, that martinis are essential to cultural conservatism. Furthermore, I described the ideal recipe. Several of them accepted my argument, with only one unfortunate result: they took to entering bars in Washington and ordering “Judge Bork martinis.” This gave a somewhat false picture of life in my chambers.

So, how does one go about making a martini?  Well the first step is to start with a very fine gin.  I cannot stress this enough: poor gin will make for an even worse martini.  I recommend Plymouth Gin, an English brand distilled in copper stills at a former Dominican monastery in the old harbour area of Plymouth.  The current version of the bottle is a reminder of its Dominican heritage with the phrase “Black Friars Distillery” embossed on the glass.

My preference for Plymouth gin is also one of the rare occasions I find myself agreeing with a New York Times article.  Writer Eric Asimov notes that after four writers tried multiple martinis with various gins, Plymouth came out on top:

Our favorite martini gin, Plymouth English Gin, could not have been more stylish and graceful.  Plymouth has the classic juniper-based gin profile, yet it is uncommonly subtle and smooth.

But whichever gin you select, please know that the quality of the martini often directly correlates with the quality of the gin.

MartiniThe next ingredient is the dry vermouth (fortified wine with botanicals).  If you’re new to buying vermouth, be sure you purchase the dry, not sweet, variety (look for the green bottles, not the red ones).  For years the Noilly Prat, produced in France, was the choice vermouth for martini drinkers.  The version exported to America was less sweet than its European counterpart, making for a drier, more classic martini.  But in 2009 the company changed its exported version to match the European flavors, making for a “sweet, floral” taste.  People weren’t happy:

Martini drinkers are conservatives. Not necessarily politically, but in temperament: They abjure fad and fashion in drink, hewing to the Platonic form of the cocktail. They would stand athwart history yelling Stop — if yelling weren’t inconsistent with the proper comportment of a Martini drinker.

I’ve had the new Noilly Prat, and it’s a solid vermouth, but it’s not my favorite in the martini.  I now use Dolin or  Boissiere extra dry, and both are good fits for the drink.

So you’ve picked out your gin, and you’ve picked out your vermouth.  But the question remains: in which proportion will you mix the two?  This, of course, is the key to the balance of the martini.  Too much vermouth and you mask the rich flavors of the gin.  Too much gin and you’re drinking a glass of gin, not a martini.

My preference for a martini is a 5:1, gin to vermouth, ratio.  I understand that this is on the low end, but there ought to be enough vermouth to enhance and highlight the flavors of the gin.

The next question to address is whether the martini should be shaken or stirred (though both are done over ice).  Traditionally, the martini was stirred in a mixing glass before being poured into a cocktail glass. Thanks to Ian Fleming’s fictional character, though, many today prefer their martini, “shaken, not stirred.”

While I enjoy a martini either way, one must remember that shaking a martini not only dilutes the gin (as the ice breaks up when shaken), but it results in air bubbles which ruin the clarity of the drink when poured.

Last, but not least, is the martini’s garnish.  Judge Bork, in his description of the martini, shuns the traditional olive garnish, saying:

[O]lives are to be eschewed, except by people who think a martini is a type of salad.

His choice is the drink’s alternate garnish, the lemon twist.  Some like their martini with a silverskin cocktail onion instead, but this is more properly referred to as a Gibson.

So, there you have it, the martini.  Five parts gin, one part dry vermouth, stirred with ice and strained into a cocktail glass, garnished with an olive or a lemon twist.  Happy Easter!

Easter Drinks: Mississippi Mud

Mississippi Mud

The Church commands us to celebrate the rising of Christ over the next several weeks, and we are more than happy to oblige by sharing some of our favorite celebratory drinks with you.  First up is the Mississippi Mud, a personal favorite.  We first tried the Mississippi Mud during a typical Boston snowstorm (Nemo). Stuck indoors during a blizzard with nothing to do we were determined to get this drink right.

A Mississippi Mud has four basic ingredients, chocolate, whiskey, coffee, and whipped cream.  Put either chocolate chips or a block of chocolate in the bottom of a mug and add whiskey.  Carefully pour freshly made coffee (preferably Mystic Monk) on top and stir quickly so that the chocolate melts and dissipates IMG_2087evenly in the drink.  Top with whipped cream to taste.  Usually whipped cream is added with a spoon, not poured, if home made so that the drink is properly layered.

A Mississippi Mud is best enjoyed with a good Walker Percy novel.