Diversion #5: Bourbon Milk Punch

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Background

Milk Punch is a drink with a very old pedigree, dating back to medieval Britain. These ancient recipes were extremely varied and included ingredients as diverse as curdled milk, wine, citrus juice and more. Milk punch then came to America; Benjamin Franklin had a personal recipe consisting of brandy, lemons, water and milk.

Cocktail visionary Jerry Thomas recorded the earliest forms of the modern Milk Punch in his landmark book, The Bar-Tender’s Guide (also known as How To Mix Drinks or The Bon-Vivant’s Companion). Since that time, the New Orleans recipe (made with Bourbon rather than brandy) has risen to international prominence. The drink is still a brunch-time favorite in that storied city, especially during the winter which is why we’ve chosen to highlight it today.

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Recipe

4.5 cl (1.5 oz) Bourbon whiskey
1 cl (1/3 oz) simple syrup
2 dashes vanilla extract
12 cl (4 oz) whole milk

Glass: Red wine glass or brandy snifter

Instructions: Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a large wine glass or snifter. Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.

Thoughts

Vanillaroma: This is a drink that certainly lives up to its name, it’s smooth, sweet, and bourbon-y. The aeration from the shaking makes it bubbly and refreshing and the nutmeg adds a delightful aroma. It’s a bit on the heavy side, being mostly milk, but not to the extent of a cream based dessert drink. As with most whisky drinks the specific choice of spirit will have a big impact on the final product, but I like the smooth bourbon we’ve used here. I could definitely see enjoying slinging back one or two of these at a lazy Sunday brunch.

Rum-Shy: This drink is tasty but very heavy. While other cocktails might refresh the palate and stimulate the appetite, milk punch will sit in your stomach like a rock. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; there’s a time and place for every drink after all and if you want a heavier drink to help you hibernate through the winter months you can do much worse than this milk punch. The drink has a strong bourbon flavor but the harshness of the alcohol is cut by the milk and sugar which makes this beverage very drinkable. The nutmeg provides a great aroma that complements the milk flavor excellently. If you’re feeling brave enough to try an unusual cocktail, give the bourbon milk punch a try.

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Entry #19: The Aviation

Background

The Aviation cocktail is a pre-prohibition classic invented by Hugo Ensslin at the Hotel Wallick in New York City. While the exact year it was created is unknown, the recipe first appeared in “Recipes for Mixing Drinks,” Ensslin’s 1916 bar book. Ensslin’s recipe consisted of gin, lemon juice, maraschino liqueur, and creme de violette, a sugary infusion of neutral alcohol and violet petals. With the onset of prohibition creme de violette became a rarity, and Henry Craddock, author of the influential Savoy Cocktail book, excluded it in 1930. As violet liqueur was not again widely available until recently, most bar books and even the IBA follow Craddock’s lead.

The name of the cocktail comes from the introduction of a new form of travel, heavier-than-air flight, likely based on the pleasant sky blue color imparted by the creme de violette. As such, we’ve chosen to do this remarkable cocktail on the anniversary of the first flight at Kitty Hawk, December 17th, 1903.

Recipe

6 cl (2 oz) Gin
1.5 cl (1/2 oz) Lemon juice
1.5 cl (1/2 oz) Maraschino Liqueur
.75 cl (1/4 oz) Creme de Violette

Glass: Cocktail glass

Instructions: Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry.

Thoughts

Vanillaroma: The Aviation is a beautiful cocktail, both in the glass and on the tongue. The pale blue tinge added by the creme de violette really is reminiscent of a clear sky. The botanical notes of the gin and the bite of the lemon juice combine well, and the bitter sweetness of the maraschino blends into the earthy, floral notes of the violet liqueur. It is honestly surprising how much the slight amount of the creme de violette adds. On its own it is a rather meek liqueur, sweet and understated, but here it really helps to tie the flavors together.

Rum-Shy: This drink is another fantastic example of pre-Prohibition mixology. Maraschino is an unusual ingredient and depending on how robust your neighborhood liquor store’s stock you may have some difficulty getting your hands on it. But rest assured, its well worth it. Maraschino has a unique and complex bittersweet flavor that combines well with the lemon and gin. The creme de violette, also tricky to find, lends the drink a distinct and beautiful color. I definitely recommend this drink for anyone interested in the flavors, craft and history of cocktails.

Entry #18: The Vesper

Background

Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond had very strong opinions on the niceties of life and as such he devoted an inordinate amount of writing to what James Bond ate and drank. Naturally, all of Bond’s tastes are Fleming’s own. The author’s taste sometimes do not align with cocktail orthodoxy, as exemplified by Bond’s famous line, “shaken, not stirred.” Loyal readers and those in the know about craft cocktails will recall that clear drinks, such as the martini beloved by both Fleming and Bond, ought to be stirred as to create a more aesthetically pleasing drink free from ice or froth. There are a variety of not-terribly-interesting reasons why Fleming might have preferred his martinis this way, but needless to say the line has created an unfortunate blot on the legacy of the martini.

Nevertheless, Fleming has one notable contribution to the world of cocktails: the Vesper. The drink is a variation on the traditional dry martini created by Fleming (or more likely a bartender at his request) and described in the 1953 novel Casino Royale and named after the love interest from that book, Vesper Lynd. The drink is notably strong, being essentially an 8:1 ratio of spirits to non-spirits and also notable for its use of Kina Lillet, today reformulated as Lillet Blanc. Lillet is a French fortified wine infused with quinine much like Dubonnet (see our entry on the Dubonnet Cocktail for more information.)

Recipe

6 cl (2 oz) gin
1.5 cl (1/2 oz) vodka
0.75 cl (1/4 oz) Lillet blanc

Glass: Cocktail glass

Instructions: Stir all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon.

Thoughts

Vanillaroma: In my mind nothing really distinguishes the Vesper from a regular dry martini besides the Lillet. Sure there’s some vodka in there, but all that really does is soften up the gin. Unfortunately for us I’m fairly certain our bottle Lillet has gone slightly off, so the taste was rather musky and ginny, not what I was expecting. The 8:1 ratio doesn’t really do anything for me, either, and I might like it more in a 4:1. Still, if you want “authentic James Bond,” give the Vesper a try.

Rum-Shy: This drink is strong. Let me repeat that: this drink is STRONG. This is most certainly the highest alcohol by volume drink on this list and its a contender for the most alcohol total. Fleming liked gin a whole lot and his signature drink lets you know it from the very first sip. The vodka, itself an 80 proof spirit is used to soften the flavor of the gin. Nevertheless, this drink tastes pretty much like a cold glass of gin. And if you look at the recipe I can’t imagine you’d think it would taste like anything else.

Entry #17: The Black Russian

Background

The Black Russian is a simple drink composed of vodka and coffee liqueur, usually Kahlua. This drink is part of a family of cocktails made using only a mixture of one spirit and one liqueur and served in on the rocks in an old-fashioned glass, such as the God Father (we’ll get to that) and others.

The drink was purportedly created in 1949 in Brussels. It was named for its color and for the nationality of its primary spirit - Russia. Vodka only became a popular spirit in Europe and North America during the middle part of the 20th century, largely due to the intervention of Smirnoff, founded by a Russian distiller who would later flee the Bolshevik Revolution and bring vodka to The West. Today vodka is one of the most popular spirits in the world, due in no small part to the ingenuity of bartenders in bringing new ingredients into the world of cocktails.

Recipe

5 cl (1 2/3 oz) vodka
2 cl (2/3 oz) coffee liqueur

Glass: Old-fashioned glass

Instructions: Pour ingredients into an old-fashioned glass filled with ice. Stir gently. For a White Russian, float fresh cream on top. Note: We’ve already done a slightly different take on the White Russian.

Thoughts

Vanillaroma: The Black Russian is far from a complex cocktail, mostly because it’s primary ingredient, vodka, is flavorless. All vodka brings to a drink is neutral alcohol, and as such it’s more of a “volume knob” for other flavors. Here, it’s toning down the flavor of kahlua, which has a pretty potent coffee flavor. Now, I take my coffee purely as a delivery method for caffeine or whiskey, (we’ll get to the Irish coffee!) so I’m not the target audience for the Black Russian anyway. Still, there are plenty of coffee flavored drinks, so I can’t really see the appeal of one with so little going on.

Rum-Shy: This drink isn’t anything to write home about. The IBA uses a somewhat peculiar recipe (2 parts coffee liqueur to 5 parts vodka) which makes the drink much drier than most people would expect. While the IBA generally opts for drier cocktails, I think its a mistake in this case. Their recipe just doesn’t taste very good. Vodka is utterly characterless; its only real purpose is to add alcohol without adding flavor. Here however there really isn’t anything else in play to add flavor: the coffee liqueur isn’t present in enough quantity to add anything more than a very mild coffee flavor so the drink just ends up tasting vaguely bitter and that’s it. If you want my suggestionuse equal parts vodka and liqueur instead - this will give you a sweeter drink with a stronger coffee flavor. It’s not my favorite drink by any means, but it’s better than this.

Diversion #4: The White Russian

Background

The White Russian is a variation on an older drink, the Black Russian. But don’t worry about that one yet, we’ll get to it (soon)! This cocktail has nothing to do with anti-Bolsheviks during the Russian civil war, nor does it have much to do with Russia at all. It is merely named after the primary spirit, vodka, and its color, white.

This cocktail appears to date back to the 1960s, but it owes its modern popularity to the 1998 Coen Brothers comedy The Big Lebowski, where it is the favorite drink of the protagonist, The Dude. This cult classic film is largely responsible for this cocktail’s modern day renaissance.

Recipe

3 cl (1 oz) vodka
3 cl (1 oz) Kahlua
3 cl (1 oz) cream

Glass: Old-fashioned glass

Instructions: Build ingredients over ice in an old-fashioned glass. Gently stir.

Thoughts

Vanillaroma: While it’s not exactly a “classic cocktail”, the White Russian is a perfectly enjoyable drink in my book. It is similar to a Vodka Alexander, (equal parts cream, creme de cacao, and vodka) with coffee liqueur replacing the chocolate flavor. Unlike the Alexander, however, the coffee flavor is probably the biggest player here. The cream totally masks the vodka, but vodka’s only job is to give the drink some punch, and coffee and cream are perfectly wonderful flavors together. Honestly though, I prefer my White Russians shaken and strained over ice rather than built on the rocks, as the aeration adds a great mouthfeel to the cream.

Rum-Shy: This is a great drink for those who want a milder flavored cocktail. The vodka is basically invisible, which is what vodka does best. The coffee flavor is strong but not overpowering, while the cream gives it a pleasant… creaminess. This is a great drink to fool around with the proportions of: if you want a stronger alcohol flavor,it’s easy to add more vodka, and those who dislike the coffee flavor may want to change the amount of kahlua. It’s all fair game! Experiment until you find your ideal flavor and leave your guests quoting The Dude: “You make a hell of a Caucasian!”

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Happy Halloween, from How Gauche!

Entry #16: The Whiskey Sour

Background

The whiskey sour is an old drink, and its origins are murky. It was probably invented sometime in the 1860s or 1870s, somewhere in the United States. Like many of these old cocktails, there probably isn’t one place and time where it was created in a flash of inspiration; rather, odds are good that the drink we know today is the result of natural and widespread experimentation combining spirits, sugar and citrus juice.

Indeed, the whiskey sour is only one of many drinks in a broad category of cocktails known as “sours” (though it may be the oldest one.) Eagle-eyed repeat viewers may notice that the whiskey sour is very similar to the daiquiri, as well as slightly different citrus flavored cocktails like the sidecar, margarita and the jack rose. These drinks may all trace their lineage to this classic cocktail.

Recipe

4.5 cl (1.5 oz) Bourbon whiskey
3 cl (1 oz) lemon juice
1.5 cl (1/2 oz) simple syrup
Dash egg white*

Glass: Cocktail glass OR old-fashioned glass**.

Instructions: Shake all ingredients with ice. If using egg white, shake harder to make the drink foamy. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass or an old-fashioned glass filled with ice. Garnish with a slice of orange and a maraschino cherry.

*Optional
**We opted instead to use a sour glass.

Thoughts

Vanillaroma: This is the first drink we’ve done with egg white, and it’s a pretty good introduction to it as an ingredient. The sugar and citrus combine well with the whiskey and the egg gives it an incredibly silky texture and mouthfeel. The lemon juice incorporated into the egg-white foam on top also gives it a delightful citrusy smell, and the drink goes down easy and refreshingly.

As with most whiskey drinks, your choice of whiskey will have a huge impact on the final product. We used Bulleit bourbon, which has a high proportion of rye (28%) in its mash bill for a bourbon. Personally I think this is pretty ideal, and a straight rye whiskey might be a little too aggressive. If you’re not a big fan of rye you might prefer a sweeter whiskey like Maker’s Mark, but it’s really down to preference.

Finally, you shouldn’t be too concerned with the egg white in the drink. From a health perspective, only a tiny number of eggs (1 in 50000, roughly) are contaminated with salmonella. If you ate 2 eggs a day from the day you were born to the day you die, you’d likely encounter only a single contaminated egg in your lifetime. Additionally, you’re adding it to a strong solution of alcohol, which few bacteria can survive, so the risk of getting sick from an egg white cocktail is incredibly low.

Rum-Shy: This drink is quite good. I’d recommend this even to those who don’t drink much whiskey: the spirit’s characteristic fire is very muted by the sweet and sour flavors of the drink but you still get those wonderful barrel tastes. The sour flavor is well balanced with sweetness, in those classic divine proportions of the sour cocktail. The egg white might seem intimidating, but give it a try! It gives the drink a very interesting consistency and the foamy head is aesthetically pleasing.

Entry #15: The Bacardi Cocktail

Background

The history of the Bacardi Cocktail is a bit of an enigma. Obviously named after the Bacardi Limited company which was founded in 1862 in Santiago Cuba, the recipe has changed importantly over the years. The name “Bacardi Cocktail” first appeared in print in the 1917 edition of Hugo Ensslin’s “Recipes for Mixed Drinks” and was defined as “A jigger Bacardi white rum, two dashes gum syrup, and the juice of half a lime,” essentially identical to a daiquiri made with Bacardi rum. However, in the 1916 edition of his book, this was simply called the “Cuban Cocktail.” In another book published in 1917, Tom Bullock’s “Ideal Bartender,” the recipe for a Bacardi Cocktail was given as “1/2 jigger of grenadine and 1 jigger of Bacardi Rum.” He also includes a recipe for a “Bacardi Cocktail (Country Club Style)” which was defined as “1/2 juice of lime, 1 jigger Bacardi rum, 2 dashes grenadine,” very close to the modern version of the drink. The use of grenadine as the sweetener in a Bacardi may in fact be a conflation with an earlier cocktail, the “Rum and Grenadine” first cited in a 1913 newspaper article in the Oakland Tribune, with a recipe identical to what Tom Bullock listed as the “Country Club Style” Bacardi cocktail. The Bacardi company itself, after a 1935 trademark lawsuit in which it won a judgement that a bar serving a “Bacardi Cocktail” must make it with Bacardi rum, listed the recipe as identical to a daiquiri, though there is much mention of grenadine being included in the court documents themselves. Thus, the inclusion of grenadine seems to have been an American invention traced to Tom Bullock’s recipe.

The substitution of lemon for lime, however, might possibly be traced to a peculiarity of the Spanish language that plagues many Caribbean drinks: the word for both lemons and limes in Spanish is “limon,” with limes sometimes being referred to in recipes as “limon verde,” or “green lemon/lime.” An unknowing reader could easily interpret this as referring to limes, green lemons, or even unripe lemons. Regardless of how the modern recipe came about, the Bacardi Cocktail is no longer just a branded daiquiri, but a unique cocktail in its own right.

Recipe

4.5cl. (1 1/2 oz) White rum
2 cl. (2/3 oz) Lemon juice
1 cl. (1/3 oz) Grenadine

Glass: Cocktail glass.

Instructions: Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Note: No garnish was listed for the Bacardi, but we feel a lemon twist was appropriate. A lemon slice would work just as well, or you could leave it ungarnished.

Thoughts

Vanillaroma: As noted, this drink is very similar to the Daiquiri, but it has a few trade-offs. I find the flavor of lemon juice a little less interesting than lime, but the pomegranate and cherry flavors added by the grenadine add much more complexity than sugar syrup. While the Bacardi uses a more sour juice than the daiquiri, it actually tastes less tart to me, which might be the influence of the grenadine. Overall, it’s a pretty good drink, and if you like a daiquiri it’s certainly something you should try.

Rum-Shy: The Bacardi is something of a flavor trade off with the Daiquiri, a drink with which it shares obvious similarities. The grenadine also makes it similar to a rum Jack Rose, a drink I’m considerably fond of. This drink lacks some of the complexity of that wonderful Applejack cocktail, but I’d say I like it more than your standard daiquiri. For those with milder tastes, I’d heartily recommend this one.

Entry #14: The Piña Colada

Background

Hailing from the shores of Puerto Rico, the Piña Colada is a classic tropical drink. According to commonly accepted lore, it was invented in 1954 by Ramón Marrero at the Beachcomber Bar of the Caribe Hilton International Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. After three months of intense work, he had created a drink which he felt captured the spirit of the island’s tropical shores. Since 1978 the Piña Colada has been the official drink of Puerto Rico, but this refreshing cocktail is a favorite the world over. We feel it’s particularly poignant on the last day of summer.

Recipe

3 cl (1 oz) white rum
9 cl (3 oz) pineapple juice
3 cl (1 oz) coconut milk*

Glass: Hurricane glass

Instructions: Blend all ingredients with ice using an electric blender. Pour into a hurricane glass. Garnish with a cherry and pineapple. Serve with a straw.

*As the original recipe called for coconut cream, we split the difference with the IBA and used half coconut milk, half coconut cream

Thoughts

Vanillaroma: For a drink that’s supposed to evoke the sandy shores of a beautiful Caribbean island, the Piña Colada is, well… bland. Made with just coconut milk, there’s barely even a hint of coconut. Even made properly with the full ounce of cream of coconut, it basically comes off as a pineapple slushie. The rum is totally hidden behind the juice and the coconut is there, but it’s not really doing anything. We certainly picked an appropriate day for this one, ‘cause like the end of summer, it’s a disappointment.

Rum-Shy: I found the Piña Colada underwhelming. It doesn’t taste bad, so to speak, but it’s very bland. It has a faint pineapple sweetness, but even with the cream of coconut we added it had almost no coconut flavor. Instead, the coconut milk just gives the drink a greasy mouthfeel. I’d much rather have a drink with a strong flavor than one that didn’t taste like anything. That being said, when it comes to mild tropical drinks, you could do a lot worse. It’s rich, sweet and not particularly alcoholic; if that’s what you’re after and you can spare the time to make this drink, it isn’t a terrible choice.

If anyone starts singing that song when drinking this, I give you permission to throw your drink in their face. Yeah, you know the one.

Diversion #3: The Dubonnet Cocktail

Background

Dubonnet is a fortified wine based aperitif flavored with botanicals, spices, and quinine. First produced in 1846, in response to a challenge by the French government to make a drink which would encourage men in the French Foreign Legion serving in north Africa to take their quinine. While similar efforts elsewhere produced tonic water (and the gin and tonic!) this cocktail was essentially the French solution.

It is also (less or more famously, depending on your perspective) the favored drink of Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, as well as her daughter, Queen Elizabeth, who is said to take a Dubonnet and gin before lunch every day.

Recipe

4.5 cl. (1 1/2 oz) Dubonnet Rouge
1.5 cl. (1/2 oz) Gin
Dash orange bitters

Glass: Cocktail glass

Instructions: Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Thoughts

Vanillaroma: This is the first cocktail we’ve done without a principle liquor, and it’s a rather different beast than the others. While the ingredients make it very similar to a wet martini (gin, sweet red fortified wine, and orange bitters), it really highlights the importance of ratios. You can only taste the barest hint of juniper from the gin; the other botanicals really blend into the flavor of the Dubonnet. Naturally, Dubonnet’s mild herbal taste is foremost and there is a nice orange finish from the bitters. The bottom line here is that the drink is very much a showcase of its main ingredient. If you happen to enjoy Dubonnet like I do, you’ll come away pleased. Otherwise, this probably isn’t the drink for you.

Rum-Shy: Dubonnet is an intriguing drink. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a wine person. Nevertheless, despite tasting very wine-y, I like Dubonnet Rouge a great deal. It’s relatively sweet with pleasing herbal notes, making it one of the few wine products I legitimately enjoy. In the cocktail itself the Dubonnet mostly overpowers the liquor, but the gin flavor is still present. All in all, the Dubonnet Cocktail is a very interesting drink with a complex but accessible flavor, especially for lovers of wine and a good aperitif.

Entry #13: The John Collins

Background

The John Collins, better known as the Tom Collins (more on that in a moment) has a very unusual origin. In the 1870s there was a faddish prank originating in New York involving a man named Tom Collins. The perpetrator of the prank would ask the victim if he knew someone named Tom Collins. When the victim said that he didn’t know such a man, the perpetrator would say that Tom Collins had been insulting the victim and that moreover, he was somewhere nearby. The goal of the prank was for the victim to get angry and rush off to confront someone who didn’t really exist.

By 1876, the name Tom Collins had been adopted for this drink, first recorded in early American mixologist Jerry Thomas’s The Bartender’s Guide. While the original recipe was probably made with sweet Holland Gin (Jenever), it quickly became the norm to use Old Tom Gin, a less sweet variety of gin popular in 18th century England. Today, Old Tom Gin is nearly impossible to find as the modern standard is London Dry Gin, the least sweet variety. According to the IBA, this drink ought to be called a Tom Collins only if it is made with Old Tom Gin. A drink made with London Dry ought to be called a John Collins.

Recipe

4.5 cl (1.5 oz) Gin

3 cl (1 oz) lemon juice
1.5 cl (1/2 oz) simple syrup
6 cl (2 oz) soda water
Dash Angostura bitters

Glass: Collins glass

Instructions: Pour all ingredients into a Collins glass filled with ice. Stir thoroughly. Garnish with a lemon slice and a cherry. Serve with a straw.

Thoughts

Vanillaroma: Effervescent and refreshing, the John Collins is a pretty good light cocktail. It’s tart but still slightly sweet, with a touch of botanicals from the gin and some aromatic components from the bitters. Not really something I’d order at a bar or make for myself often, but balanced and enjoyable nonetheless.

Rum-Shy: This dink has a similar flavor profile to the daiquiri, and like the daiquiri I don’t have all that much to say about it. The lemon gives it a tartness and the gin an astringency, making it something of a mouth puckerer. Nevertheless, it’s pretty mild and drinkable. Serve the John Collins when you need a drink any palette can enjoy, or when you need to add a touch of elegance only the Collins glass can provide.