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The Derby – A Cocktail Mashup?

Posted by Reese On April - 24 - 2010

Are you familiar with the idea of a mashup in music terms?  It’s when you combine elements of one song with elements of another and the result is a new, hybrid song.  There are tons of examples, but here’s one of my favorites to get you started, “Galvanize the Empire” by Party Ben.  With me now?  The Derby is what I would imagine the cocktail equivalent of a mashup would be.  Bourbon and sweet vermouth from a Manhattan.  Sourness and sweet from a Whiskey Sour.  Combine all these elements and you have the Derby.  And, like all good mashups, this one is harmonious and stands on its own.

The Derby

Before I discuss the taste at length, let’s briefly talk about the changes I felt were necessary.  First, this drink as printed in Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails is tiny.  I get that old school drinks were typically smaller than what you’ll find these days, but this one is tiny even by those standards.  So, I bumped everything up by half and I’m much happier.  Next the lime in the recipe overpowered the other ingredients a little.  So, when I did my quantity increasing I didn’t increase that one as much, though it’s a pretty minor decrease.  Ok, now let’s talk tastiness.

The Derby (Cocktail Hacker)
1 1/2 oz Bourbon
3/4 oz Lime Juice
3/4 oz Sweet Vermouth
3/4 oz Orange Curacao
1) Combine ingredients in a shaker over ice
2) Shake until combined and well chilled
3) Strain into a chilled cocktail glass

Although I stick by my claim of a mashup, the flavor of this drink is definitely more in line with a Whiskey Sour.  Though, instead of bitters to add complexity here you have vermouth.  Certainly they add complexity and spice, but it isn’t as forward and bold as bitters can be.  Instead the sweet vermouth adds an undercurrent of flavor complexity.  I’d challenge you to tell me it was there without knowing, but the drink would be much flatter without it.  The lime juice as well changes up the flavor dynamic.  Ever made a Daiquiri with lemon instead of lime juice?  It’s a lot like that.  Finally, with my small tweak to the sourness level I find this drink to be really well balanced.  Overall this is definitely a super tasty cocktail.  You absolutely shouldn’t wait for the Derby to give it a try.

Harvey Wallbanger – Moving On

Posted by Reese On April - 17 - 2010

If you follow this blog you certainly know I’m a big fan of analogies and thought experiments.  I’d like you to engage in another one with me now.  Think back on a truly uninteresting cocktail you’ve had in your life (or meal if you prefer).  Do you have a clear memory of it?  I don’t.  In fact, it’s truly hard for me to remember uninteresting moments in my life.  Which actually makes perfect sense.  Interesting points are ones that we recall regularly and, quite likely, tell others.  Both of these actions cause that memory to get further ingrained in your brain.  The boring stuff just slips away.

The Harvey Wallbanger is one of those uninteresting memories that I’ll probably quickly lose to the sands of time.  Sure, it’s not a bad cocktail at all.  In fact it’s quite tasty.  But, is it great?  No.  Let’s face the facts, this cocktail is a Screwdriver with a twist (pun fully intended).  That twist, the Galliano, really isn’t that much, either.  Galliano, if you’re unfamiliar, has a light vanilla and anise flavor; emphasis on the light.  It’s very nicely balanced, but doesn’t pack a huge punch.

Harvey Wallbanger

Now, it’s interesting.  As I mentioned in the intro, my bottle of Galliano is, or should I say was, old.  At least 8 years to be exact.  Generally not a huge problem…might have lost a bit of punch..maybe not getting the real cocktail experience…crap, new bottle time.  My old bottle was of a 60 proof (30% ABV) variety that is now being phased out for the original, an 84 proof (42.3% ABV) version.  Is there a difference, yes, definitely.  The classic version (84 proof) packs more punch and has a stronger flavor.  Does it elevate this cocktail to greatness?  Well, no, not so much.  Still good though!  So, what’s the take away?  If you have a seriously old bottle of Galliano on your shelf consider getting rid of it.  Drinking, dumping, or tossing out the window is totally up to you.

Last note before I truly do move on.  The orange juice I used for this cocktail (Odwalla if you’re interested) was a little under-sour for my taste, at least for cocktail use.  So, I added a half ounce of lemon juice to the mix and found it much better.

Harvey Wallbanger (Cocktail Hacker)
2 oz Vodka
3 oz Orange Juice
1/2 oz Lemon Juice [Optional]
1/2 oz Galliano [84 Proof]
1) Combine vodka and orange juice over ice
2) Float the Galliano

So, there you have it.  The Harvey Wallbanger.  Good, sure, but not amazing.  If you’re planning to mix up some Screwdrivers in the future it’s worth trying this twist, but don’t go too far out of your way.

Calvados Cocktail – Bitter but Awesome

Posted by Reese On April - 11 - 2010

As I mentioned in my intro a couple weeks back (geez, has it really been that long?) any drink with 3/4 oz of bitters sounds intimidating.  I mean, come on.  You’re supposed to use these in dashes.  They’re cocktail spices after all.  As such, I expected this recipe to be like adding a tablespoon of pepper to one plate of eggs.  It’s really not that way at all, though.  Think of it more like an Indian curry.  You add a ton of spices, but the end result is still delicious and harmonious.

Calvados Cocktail

That said, like curry, the level at which the spice becomes overwhelming varies for each person.  For me 3/4 oz of bitters was too much spice.  I ended up dropping them to 1/2 oz and found the harmony I was looking for.  But, what about the other senses?

The aroma is striking.  The calvados gives the drink a great apple essence that is truly crisp and fresh.  It’s really impressive to me how well they’ve distilled down the purity of the apple and bottled it.  Delicious.  The flavor, while retaining the apple flavors, is more about the orange.  The bitters, the juice and triple sec all work together to create a great orange base flavor.  The brandy elements of the calvados round it all out.  This really is a fantastic cocktail that I will definitely be mixing up in the future.

Calvados Cocktail (Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails)
1 1/2 oz Calvados
1 1/2 oz Orange Juice
3/4 oz Cointreau
3/4 oz Orange Bitters
1) Combine ingredients in a shaker over ice
2) Shake until combined and well chilled
3) Strain into a chilled cocktail glass

But, I did have two weeks to work on this one.  And, while I’ve been crazy busy, I must have come up with more, right?  Oh, yes.  Well, a bit more at least.  So, let’s talk a bit about that base spirit again.  Due to the common apple origin, I figured applejack  was worth a go.  And it was.  Less of the apple flavor comes through, though.  While this version is good, the calvados is what makes it great.

Next, I tried a recipe variant that I found in the Joy of Mixology.  Interestingly, Gary switched it up a great deal.

Calvados Cocktail (Joy of Mixology)
2 oz Calvados
1/2 oz Triple Sec
1/2 oz Orange Juice
1/2 oz Lemon Juice
Orange Bitters to Taste

Added lemon juice and orange bitters to taste with no notes as to what that should entail.  Then tweaking the levels of the triple sec, the orange juice and the calvados.  Interesting indeed.  Even with all the changes the resulting drink is also very good.  Not surprisingly, the flavor profile is much different.  I opted for 1/2 oz of bitters to keep the comparison as even as I could.  Were Gary to mix this drink up for me I think he’d go for less bitters.  The reason I say this is because with the additional sour from the lemon juice the bitterness is much less important to the flavor.  This version is certainly another awesome cocktail.  Should it really be called a Calvados Cocktail as well?  Hard to say.

So there you have it.  It was a busy two weeks for me but, thankfully, there were tasty cocktails to keep me going full steam.  If you’ve got a bottle of calvados gathering dust on your shelf you owe it to yourself to mix this drink up.  Either version.  They’re both tasty.

The Boulevardier – Bittersweet Deliciousness

Posted by Reese On March - 27 - 2010

I expected this drink to basically be a Manhattan with an additional bitter bite from the Campari.  There is certainly truth in that view, but it’s also lacking.  The Boulevardier is delightfully bitter like a Negroni.  And, while the vermouth and bourbon flavors hint toward a Manhattan this is something deeper and, in a strange way, brighter.  The orange flavor of the Campari really shines through.  The result is a drink that is deep in its complexity but fruity and bright at the same time.  In case it’s not clear by now, I really enjoyed this cocktail.  If you’re a Manhattan lover you absolutely need to give it a try.


Despite my love, I do have some tweaks to suggest.  First, let’s look at the whiskey.  Captain McBoozy dropped a comment on my intro post for the week pointing back to a drink he had come up with.  Turns out his recipe is a Boulevardier with a bit more bourbon.  In addition to his fortuitous discovery he also had some great comments on the whiskey to use.  His suggestion, in summary, is to go big or go home.  Specifically try a bourbon, or other whiskey for that matter, that’s high proof.  Naturally, I had to try it for myself.  I started the week with Bulleit and was definitely not disappointed.  Bulleit is 90 proof, so high, but not super high.  Next I pulled down a higher proof whiskey, specifically Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey (94 proof).  The Captain’s head was definitely in the right place with this one.  The additional proof helps cut some of the sweetness of the Campari and vermouth.  If I had some on hand I would have loved to go even higher, maybe some of the 105+ proof bourbons out there.  Next time perhaps.

Now to the other tweakable ingredient, vermouth.  I started with Cinzano.  And, in all honesty, I’m not trying to piss you off McBoozy, it’s just what I had in the fridge at the time.  Like with the Bulleit I wasn’t disappointed, but from the adamant, shall I say, ravings of the Captain, I picked up a bottle of Carpano Antica.  Holy crap.  The man is absolutely right again.  Carpano makes you realize what really amazing sweet vermouth is all about.  Problem is, it’s pricey, like $35+ a bottle pricey.  So, I’m going to leave it with this.  Use whatever sweet vermouth you like.  This drink is going to be good.  However, if you feel like splurging, pick up a bottle of Carpano.  It will elevate this drink from good to wonderful.

Last note.  As I mentioned above the Captain bumps the bourbon up to 2 oz in his recipe.  I really like this change.  It cuts down on the sweetness of the drink a bit.  You could even bump it up a bit more to 2 1/2 oz to go even drier.  Though, if you’re increasing the whiskey and going with a high proof spirit, be careful.  You’ll become intimately involved with the floor quicker than you’d like.

The Boulevardier (Captain McBoozy)
2 oz Bourbon (High Proof)
1 oz Campari
1 oz Sweet Vermouth (Carpano Antica)
1) Combine ingredients in a shaker over ice
2) Stir until combined and well chilled
3) Strain into a chilled cocktail glass

Twelve Mile Limit – The Bartenders Got it Right

Posted by Reese On March - 20 - 2010

There’s no doubt that the lawmakers got a lot of things wrong during Prohibition.  The bartenders, on the other hand, were right.  The Twelve Mile Limit definitely exemplifies that statement.  The drink is well balanced, extremely flavorful and, overall, tremendously pleasing.

Twelve Mile Limit

In this week’s picture I decided to share a bit of my insanity in the form of my cocktail notebook with you.  So, on that note (pun fully intended), I’m going to let my notes do some talking about this drink.  “First off, the color is incredible, a deep burgundy red.  Really looks very regal.”  And that it absolutely does.  This drink uses a lot of grenadine, at least in comparison to the amount you typically see in cocktails.  I, of course, reached for my homemade hibiscus grenadine.  The result is a deep red that is truly striking.

“The aroma bears the rye and brandy very nicely.  The rum is a bit lost however.”  Again, very true.  Though I think there are a couple reasons for the rum getting a bit lost.  First, the rum I picked at first (Flor de Caña) is very smooth, but also quite light.  This drink definitely needs a bit more boldness.  So, to change it up I tried Wray and Nephew Overproof for the next mix.  Wrong answer.  The alcohol flavor was much too bold.  For try number three I reached for a rum recommended by Rum Dood for this drink, Montanya Platino.  The fact that Montanya is a Colorado rum is just icing on the cake.  The Dood was definitely right, this is a great rum for this drink.  Though it was still a light for my tastes.  So, let’s talk about that second point.  I think the rum can be bumped up a bit.  For my preferred recipe (below) I increase the rum to 1 1/2 oz which brings its flavor more to the forefront.

Twelve Mile Limit (Cocktail Hacker)
1 1/2 oz White Rum (Go Bold)
1/2 oz Brandy
1/2 oz Rye
1/2 oz Grenadine
1/2 oz Lemon Juice
1) Combine ingredients in a shaker over ice
2) Shake until combined and well chilled
3) Strain into a chilled cocktail glass

A couple quick notes on this recipe.  First, by adding more rum I’ve pumped the alcohol content up to 2 1/2 oz.  That puts this drink solidly into the formidable foe category.  So, like most formidable foes, be cautious in your consumption.  Second, that extra 1/2 oz also lessens the depth of the red color a bit.  I’m okay with that.  Adding more grenadine is an option, but I’d rather not have that additional sweetness, so I go without.

A final bit of discussion, the Three Mil(l)er.  I tried it and I’d like to call shenanigans on myself.  This drink is certainly related to the Twelve Mile Limit and it may have come before, but the relationship is more that of an older cousin than a parent.  I mixed up the Three Miller recipe from the Savoy.  It’s much drier than the Twelve Mile Limit, but that’s to be expected since the only sweetener is 1 tsp of grenadine compared to 3.  The lemon juice flavor is really only an accent; at 1 dash you don’t even pick up the sourness.  Lastly, with 1 1/2 oz of brandy and 3/4 oz of rum this drink is all about the brandy.  It’s the center of the aroma and the flavor.  So, while related to the Twelve Mile Limit, this drink is a completely different beast.  Still worth trying though.