The Not-So-Loudspeaker

In which I blunder through the side door of a bastard classic

For the inaugural meeting of the Meaured Spirit Book Club(c), I turn to Harry Craddock’s The Savoy Cocktail Book [1930 version, via cheapo 2015 reprint].

It’s an exhaustive alphabetical compendium of that period’s drinks, including those that have stood the test of time and others that have disappeared into the icebin of history.

I once came across a blog by a guy who undertook the task of making every Savoy drink, from the Abbey to the Zombie. It took years. I assume he is now in custodial care. I hope his family visits him regularly.

Random acts of drink selection

For this meeting of the book club, I grabbed my Savoy and did the pick-a-random-page-and-point-with-your-eyes-closed thing. I failed 3 times to find a drink I could make, the inventory of the Measured Spirit Lounge having thinned during These Trying Times.

I finally scored with the Loudspeaker Cocktail. Happily, it includes one of Craddock’s drink notes, dripping with his characteristic British drollery and convoluted syntax:

“This it is that gives to Radio Announcers their peculiar enunciation. Three of them will produce oscillation, and after about five it is possible to reach the osculation stage.”

“Osculation” means “the act of kissing.”

Harry, you dog!

Dry and hard to drink

Anyhow, the Loudspeaker calls for 3 parts brandy, 3 parts gin, and one part each Cointreau and lemon juice.

It’s really dry and hard to drink. Mixing two base spirits is always challenging, and the proportions here didn’t help. It’s like the gin and brandy were having a loud argument, and the Cointreau and lemon were hiding under the covers waiting for the yelling to stop. [Maybe that’s why it was called the “loud speaker.” Har!]

I don’t know if that was a style of the day or just another drink that disappeared because it wasn’t very good.

From classic sour to equal parts

Today’s palate, by which I mean mine, is accustomed to what’s now called a “classic sour”: 1.5 oz base spirit to .75 each of a juice and sweetener. It’s more or less the formula for a daiquiri, a margarita, a whiskey sour, etc. You can use just about any base, sweetener, and juice and you’ll usually wind up with something drinkable.

So to update the Loudspeaker, I split the 1.5 base between the gin and brandy, then did .75 each of Cointreau and lemon juice. A basic sour.

But having split the base between gin and brandy, it had become an equal-parts cocktail.

It resembled a Corpse Reviver Number 2 — equal parts gin, lemon juice, Cointreau and Kina Lillet. Here brandy, a distilled wine, stands in for the Kina, an aperitif wine. Huh.

Without knowing it, I’d wandered through the side door of the home of a bastard classic.

I don’t know if it was the lower expectations from the first cocktail, or the fact that the drink was in my tank. But it’s really pretty good, well-balanced and bright. The gin and brandy are now sitting on the couch, exchanging mutually respectful thoughts.

Will I make it again? Not with so many pages of the Savoy yet to explore!

Don’t worry, I’m only drinking through the letter A.

The Not-so-Loudspeaker

.75 gin

.75 brandy [I used VS cognac. Like I said, I’m running out of stuff]

.75 Cointreau

.75 lemon juice

Shake, strain, no garnish. Because Harry Craddock said so.

Purple prose: In praise of the Aviation

Whenever I’m eyeing the bottles behind a bar, I scan for Creme de Violette. An undistinguished looking cylinder of dark purple with a circumference of silver label, the bottle of CDV is a key signifier, as they say in sociology: It tells me that someone in the chainCDV of custody is a fellow cocktail geek.

Bars that have it on hand use it almost exclusively to make a single drink: The Aviation.

The pre-Prohibition gin mix-up was first referenced in print in 1911, eight years after the Brothers Wright committed the act of flight in Kitty Hawk.

This is no coincidence. The Aviation takes its name from the dusky sky blue color the CDV paints the drink.

Where the Aviation gets its wings

The armature of the Aviation is essentially a gin sour: 1 part gin, 1/2 parts each lemon juice and a sweetener.

What makes the drink distinctive is the fact that the sweetener comprises Luxardo Maraschino liqueur and CDV. No simple syrup or sugar.

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This photo does the beauty of the Aviation no justice. But you get the idea.

About the Creme de Violette: Many liqueurs can be taken straight, or thinned with soda to make a neat little sipper. Don’t try that with this gal Violette. She’s sweet to a fault and generic in flavor, maybe a bit flat from the flower petals used to distill it.

But properly measured, she brings some great fun to the party.

Continue reading “Purple prose: In praise of the Aviation”

Margarita bottle service? ¡Un otro, por favor!

At a Mill Valley restaurant, serve yourself and live large

Maybe I don’t get out enough, but this is the first time I’ve seen Margarita bottle service: At Playa restaurant in Mill Valley, California, $48 for a voluminous tankard of Margarita, iced and bucketed tableside in the fashion of an overpriced Chardonnay. 

The thing is, the Margaritas were unnecessarily spectacular: tart and bright, with the kick of el burro. All glasses were Old Fashioned style, half the rim wearing a collar of salt and half plain.

I was as usual going to do the Intrepid Cocktail Geek routine at Playa and order some unthinkable mezcal/anisette/Asian-pear-tincture/espresso-rose-water-bitters/nitrogen-frozen-Kool-Aid-garnish thingy named after the chorus of some Guatemalan rap song. 

Wisely, I deferred to our group’s preferences, and to my own curiosity about being served a whole bottle o’ cocktail fun.

It was so good we ordered it twice.

Seems like a brilliant mix of customer delight and business smart. Folks drink more when they serve themselves, the product is pre-batched, the wait-staff is freed from one-off re-orders and even from the salted-or-unsalted query.

And hey, it’s a rare chance to act nearly as cool as you wish you were.

True, it’s not like being a rapper in the red velvet room of a downtown club working through a case if Ciroc. But bottle service of high-power hootch, the vessel sweating in its metal bucket of ice as the gang tops each other off until — oops, gone already? ¡Uno mas, senorita! — is just a hoot.

nb: The food at Playa is so tasty it’s almost unfair to other Mill Valley restaurants. 

American Orange: A populist punch for 2017

American Orange Punch — a lot of work, a delicious outcome & an unsettling resonance with our peculiar moment of populism

Until quite recently I thought “punch” was essentially a huge cocktail served in a bowl — sort of a “family size” Manhattan with a ladle.

Now that I have twice conjured American Orange Punch I can report that I was deliciously, deliriously wrong.

An “authentic” punch, I learned from the magnificent David Wondrich volume, Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl, requires among many other things proper oleo-saccharum-izing, the vigilant filtering of pips [!], the manual agitation of sugar your mama never heard of, and the attentive employment of a vegetable peeler and cheesecloth — to say nothing of boiling, infusing, cooling, funneling, stirring, and, not least, carefully and repeatedly taste-testing.

This took me 4 hours the first time but only 3 the second.

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American Orange Punch: A populist libation

I chose from Wondrich’s volume American Orange Punch for two related reasons:

  • It was served at the epic 1829 inauguration of Andrew Jackson — the infamous “open door” White House party, where The People were invited in to celebrate the heartland hero’s election. By some popular accounts his supporters proceeded to get turbulently drunk on the stuff — smashing glassware, staging fist-fights, engaging in rude assignations, nearly suffocating the President by overpacking the parlor, etc. White House staff had to set the barrels of the punch outside to get the ruffians out of the place.
  • As it happened, both holiday parties I brought the punch to took place within a few miles of the White House. Call me seditious, but in 2016 the theme of a rowdy idiot populist mob descending on the White House, fighting, stealing stuff, breaking shit, screwing around, and generally defaming the office of the Presidency seemed to have a certain resonance. That all this was happening around a famously Orange American….well, I was too weak a man to resist.

Continue reading “American Orange: A populist punch for 2017”

The Italian Manhattan Project: Un Cappello da Uomo Perfetto

In which I try to create an “Italian Manhattan” but wind up blindly reinventing…one of my favorite classics

I’d say I “invented” this one, but I’m fast learning that claims of beverage authorship rank among amateur drinksters’ most dangerous lies, along with “I’ve only had two” and “I picked up the check last time.”

More about this below.

But here’s the story: I began playing around with an “Italian Manhattan” over a year ago, when I discovered the lovely Italian apertif Cocchi Americano, collected a few Italian amari, and fell into mixocological rumination.

The right amaro, I reasoned, could plausibly stand in for red vermouth, the Cocchi for white, yielding a kind of Manhattan Perfetto. [A “Perfect Manhattan” is a version of the classic whose vermouth dose is equally split between dry and sweet. A more complex version, an acquired taste.]

A Measured Spirit Craig Stoltz cocktail recipe blog
Un Cappello da Uomo Perfetto, aka the Italian Manhattan. Created in Bethesda, Maryland by way of Brooklyn. Not Italy.

This turned out to be harder than I hoped — even to my palate, weakened by years of actually drinking my failed experiments instead of dumping them in a shoe like a proper gentleman.

The Cocchi comes across like a herbal, slightly citrus-y vermouth with a surprising bitter finish that to me “dries” it out.

This led me to seek balance with what turned out to be either too much amaro, the wrong amaro, or both. I tried Averna, Cynar, Ramazzotti, and the unpalatable [I don’t care what “they” say] Fernet-Branca. The vermouth stand-ins swamped, overwhelmed, or disrespected the rye, all without bringing much sweetness to the effort. The whole thing was just a lot of bickering in a glass.

So I got out of the Italian Manhattan business entirely for about six months. [Into the creative vacuum rushed among other things the Hillbilly Martini, which I’m not sure was a productive diversion.]

But then, not long ago, I made an Old Fashioned sweetened with Maraschino liqueur. I loved it. Back into my brainpan oozed the Italian Manhattan Project. Maybe if I relieved the amaro of the burden of sweetening… Continue reading “The Italian Manhattan Project: Un Cappello da Uomo Perfetto”

Happy Hour Quickie #4: Moscow Mule

This week’s fast, easy, and effective recipe. Hey, you’ve got only an hour

This week’s Happy Hour Quickie© abides by 2 of our strict HHQ™ rules — it comes together quickly and is impossible to screw up.

But the third rule — that it require only easily available ingredients — is a slight stretch. You may have to visit a decent grocery or package store to provision one key ingredient.

A Measured Spirit cocktail recipe blog Craig Stoltz
To make a proper Measured Spirit Moscow Mule, you must use Fever Tree ginger beer. You must not use a large copper mug.

Happy Hour Quickie recipe: Moscow Mule

  • 2 oz vodka [1.5 oz for the more sessionable version — which is to say a drink of which you can have more than two without having to summon Lyft]
    • As with nearly all vodka drinks, brand just doesn’t matter. But Smirnoff’s is the original. Don’t use any of those high-priced Gray-vedere-roc-whatever brands. Total waste. 
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
    • Most recipes call only for a lime wedge garnish.  I like the addition of citrus juice.  Eliminate it if you wish.
  • 4 oz [measured] Fever Tree Ginger Beer
    • Use only this product, which has a high-spice, make-your-lips-tingle buzz. Most easily available ginger beers [Barrett’s] are too wan to carry the drink.  

Squeeze the lime juice into an Collins glass, a double Old Fashioned, or a small copper mug. Add the vodka. Fill the vessel with cracked ice. Top with the Fever Tree.

Garnish with a slice of lime. Feeling rakish? Just toss the spent lime shell on top. Continue reading “Happy Hour Quickie #4: Moscow Mule”

Happy Hour Quickie #3: Daiquiri

This week’s fast, easy, and effective recipe. Hey, you’ve got only an hour

This week’s Happy Hour Quickie — in addition to meeting the strict HHQ rules that the drink must be made from easily available ingredients, come together quickly, and be impossible to screw up — is a seasonal classic.

Happy Hour Quickie Daiquiri recipe

DaiquiriThis week I offer my favorite version, an evolved/stolen/tweaked Daiquiri that meets my preference for tart over sweet:

  • 1.5 oz white rum
    • Mid-shelf, ol-dependable, easy-on-the-wallet Bacardi works just fine
  • 1 oz lime juice
    • Fresh-squoze only — you knew that
  • .75 simple syrup
    • 1 oz for the more common, sweeter, arguably more balanced version

Shake and strain into a Martini glass or coupe [stronger], or over fresh ice in an Old Fashioned glass or, with cubes, into a Collins glass [more “sessionable“].

The drink can go naked or wear a lime wheel on the rim. Continue reading “Happy Hour Quickie #3: Daiquiri”