(Re)-introducing: The Old Fashioned Good Fella

The Old Fashioned Good Fella is actually for sale at a bar, despite the fact that I created it. I am no less surprised than you

I have peaked as an amateur drinksman. If this were a profession for me I’d immediately retire so I could exit at a high point.

One my own original creations now appears on the menu of an Italian bistro in my neighborhood of Bethesda, Maryland.

Craig Stoltz cocktail recipe Old Fashioned Good Fella
The Old Fashioned Good Fella, created by yours truly, available at Sal’s Italian Kitchen in Bethesda, Maryland. $12 at Sal’s, free at my house just up the road. Stop by either place!

I have personally witnessed real humans pay $12 for the privilege of drinking an Old Fashioned Good Fella. I once saw a guy try it and shoot his eyebrows up and nod his head, I think in approval.

The Old Fashioned Good Fella

  • 2.25 oz High West Double Rye
    • The nice rye bite stands up to the other powerful flavors
  • Scant half-oz Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur
    • If you’re not aquainted, this is a real charmer, smooth and spicy. Order it neat at the bar, after dinner. You’ll thank me later. 
  • 4 [!] dashes Regan’s orange bitters
    • I know, that’s a lot. Somehow it’s less of a drink with fewer dashes. 
  • Flamed orange peel garnish

It’s all in the name, fella

Both careful readers of A Measured Spirit may recognize this as a drink about which I have previously blogged, complete with origin story and its rickety relationship to the classic Old Fashioned. I then called it the Ginger Orange Flame.

I’ve got to say, “The Old Fashioned Good Fella” — inviting a sort of suburban mobster affectation by its purchaser — is a way better marketing name for an Italian restaurant menu item than “Ginger Orange Flame.”

That name I imagined dark and romantic, what with the promise of the tang of ginger and a reference to “flame.” This may say more about the activity of my imagination than anything else, but hey, it worked for me. At least before I thought about anybody actually buying it.

More importantly, The Old Fashioned Good Fella is also way better than “Craig’s Old Fashioned,” which the barkeep at Sal’s, much to my horror, proposed to name the drink at first. Happily, his manager refused.

I try to imagine myself ordering something called “Craig’s Old Fashioned” anywhere and fail utterly.

Starting a tab, pal?

I think the margin is pretty good for the OFGF, despite the abundance of High West Double Rye and Domaine de Canton, each retailing at about $40 a bottle.

If wholesale price is half of retail, let’s see…25 ounces per bottle, 2.25 of rye, .5 of liqueur…that’s only about $1.75 for the ingredients. Triple that for personnel, space, advertising, and all that other stuff, and…I may be making Sal’s a lot of money.

Someday, in fact, they may comp me for an Old Fashioned Good Fella.

I’m still waiting.

Those suburban mobsters are a tough group, I’ll tell ya.

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”

The Tom Waits cocktail: “27 Stitches”

Tom Waits no longer drinks. This didn’t stop me from creating a beverage inspired by his characters and stories. Warning: Things get a little weird

If you’re acquainted with Tom Waits — the most important and breathtakingly talented songwriter and performer of his generation I-don’t-care-what- you-say-because-if-you-disagree-you’re-wrong — you’d think it would be easy to come up with a Tom Waits drink.

Many of Waits’ early songs are exquisite, heartbreaking, often hilarious soundscapes where the main characters have been, to put it generously, over-served. Just a few titles illustrate: “The Piano has Been Drinking.” “Bad Liver and a Broken Heart.” “Gin-Soaked Boy.”

Waits with bottles
Tom Waits in his reckless youth: “Half drunk most of the time / all drunk the rest”

Until he met his wife Kathleen Brennan in 1987 and together they embarked on a remarkable journey of musical exploration that too few people know about, Waits says he lived a lot like the Bowery-bum scoundrels and layabouts that populate his songs.

Life moves along. He reports that he had his last drink in 1992. He credits Brennan with saving his life. Continue reading “The Tom Waits cocktail: “27 Stitches””

Introducing: A Walk on the Wild (South)side

Wild peppermint puts a badass twist on the gentle classic

My son, an environmental scientist, was doing whatever it is environmental scientists do somewhere in the wilds of mid-state Virginia. He came across a cluster of wild peppermint. This he would know as mentha canadensis.

Because he is a loving son, he brought back a handful for his dad to do something drinky with.

Wild peppermint2
Wild peppermint, aka Mentha canadensis: The badass of the mint family.

So what would I do?

I looked, I turned it around in my hand, admired its handsome scuzz. I washed it. I gave a leaf a good smack and sniffed it. Less mint, more “weed.” I bit an edge. Peppery [duh], firm. Again, weedy.

So what would I do with such a unruly bit of foliage?

Working deviously against type, I decided to desecrate one of the most sophisticated mint drinks I know: The Southside. Continue reading “Introducing: A Walk on the Wild (South)side”

Introducing: The Ginger Orange Flame

An original variation of a classic. But you must never call it any sort of Old Fashioned

A Measured Spirit Ginger Orange Flame cocktail
An “Improved Whiskey Cocktail,” maybe. But don’t call it an Old Fashioned. Even though it sort of is.

When a bar has a lousy cocktail list — swizzly vodka things, cranberry akai hoo-ha, something-tinis, etc. — I often scan the bottles along the back wall to see what I might be able to put together.

In this for worse or better I’ve been emboldened by Robert Simonson, whose wonderful book The Old Fashioned explains that this classic ur-cocktail is built along the original cocktail formula: booze, sugar, bitters, and “water,” which is to say ice.

The result, around the 1860s, was served by among others the ur-bartender Professor Jerry Thomas [him again] as the “Whiskey Cocktail.”

Almost immediately it spawned variations, as barkeeps scanned their own shelves to see how they could push things forward. The variations first added different kinds of sweeteners — curacao, maraschino.Then all hell broke loose.

These were often referred to as “Improved Whiskey Cocktails.”

Purists were horrified, Simonson reports, sending some of them back to the unadorned…wait for it…”old fashioned” cocktail.

As Simonson points out, this did not thwart the “rebels.” Over nearly 150 years a few great variations of the Old Fashioned and many bad ones have emerged, with every kind of booze, sweetener, bitters, and garnish imaginable.

The book curates some of the best variations — “Improved Old Fashioneds,” you might call them.

New, if not “improved”

And so I am perched on a barstool at a neighborhood joint, where I’ve worked through the short list of cocktails with little enthusiasm. Spying Old West Double Rye and Domain de Canton ginger liquor along the back wall, I think booze, sweetener, bitters….

I ask Sasha for a shot of the rye, half an ounce of Domaine de Canton. He tastes with a straw, scratches his chin, reaches for the orange bitters and applies them generously. Increases the dose of rye a bit. He flames an orange peel.

And you know what? It actually works. In fact, it’s really good.

There’s enough double rye to keep the bite, but the ginger liqueur softens the burn and brings a bit of its own spicy tang. The orange adds a citrus-y vibe, its volume turned up by the flamed orange.

Over several visits we work on the proportions. We’ve landed here for now.

The Ginger Orange Flame

  • 2.25 oz Old West Double Rye
    • A pricey bottle for home use at $40. Rittenhouse, about half the price, substitutes nicely; the 100-proof version does so even better
  • .40-ish oz Domain de Canton ginger liqueur
    • $30 to $40 a bottle
  • 4 [!] dashes Regan’s orange bitters
    • I know, that’s a lot. Somehow it’s less of a drink with fewer dashes. $6. Cheap! 
  • Flamed orange peel garnish

This is a boozy drink. Have two and you’re verging into Uber territory. It drinks smooth and has enough complexity to be interesting. It’s a sparky drink more than a contemplative one.

In a moment of weakness [perhaps he’d been drinking] Sasha said he’d put the drink on the menu as “Craig’s Old Fashioned.” This would be a first — a semi-original of mine appearing on a cocktail menu, where other humans might actually pay money for it.

With the high-quality hooch, it would have to be a $10+ drink, high for a neighborhood joint. So it needs a compelling name. A drink called the “Ginger Orange Flame” would sell way better, with its hints of pyrotechnics and, perhaps, romance.

Plus, by refusing to call it any kind of “Old Fashioned,” I think Robert Simonson would approve.

Of the name, at least.

The Ginger Orange Flame, like so many riffs on the classic, may be an acquired taste.

Happy Hour Quickie #2: Margarita

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

I’d say “everybody loves a Margarita,” but first, it’s demonstrably untrue. And there are at least 4,000 instances of that exact phrase in digital circulation, per Google. So instead I’ll say it’s a popular, cheerful drink — a bright and balanced classic of the “sour” type, and endlessly riffable.

More to the point, it also meets our immutable Happy Hour Quickie criteria: Easily gettable ingredients, fast assembly, and hard to screw up.

Classic Margarita recipe

  • 2 oz. silver Tequila
  • .75 oz lime juice
  • .75 Cointreau

Garnish: Salted rim, if you want. Float a lime wheel for some visual interest.

Margarita: Essential details

  • Always 2 oz. Tequila. This is ideally a boozy drink, and you want the tequila to push forward.
  • Absolutely, positively, fresh, squoze-on-the-spot lime juice only. No pre-mix permitted. But you knew that.
  • Use Cointreau for the orange liqueur. Triple sec, especially the cheap stuff, just doesn’t have the clean zip.
  • Don’t use one of those Margarita glasses with the well at the bottom. They look cheap and silly. I have no idea why this glass exists. Can either of the regular A Measured Spirit readers explain?

Quickie happy tweaks

  • Agave Margarita
    • Replace the Cointreau with agave syrup.
    • You’ll lose the orange-y notes, but gain a sort of earthy, vegetal authenticity. Agave is made of the same plant as Tequila.
    • You’ll want to back off on the agave a bit — it’s sweeter, drop for drop, than Cointreau. Start with .25 oz and taste your way up into the zone.
    • Agave also dials down the alcohol content of the glass without sacrificing the tequila vibe, since you’re replacing a liqueur bottled at 40% alcohol by volume with a virgin sweet.
  • Ginger Margarita
    • Replace the Cointreau with Domain de Canton ginger liqueur.
    • My favorite of the many “[WTF]-rita” variations.
    • Elegant, slightly exotic — without messing with the classic profile. Cut a piece of ginger root and run it around the rim to create a slight ginger lip tingle. Go ahead, I dare you.
  • A Measured Spirit’s Margarita Oscuro ™:
    • Swap in reposado tequila [a lightly golden version, barrel aged for less than a year] and Grand Marnier [an orange liqueur whose brandy base produces more of a “bottom” than Cointreau, at least in my humble estimation].
    • Oscuro roughly translates to “dusky.”
    • This transforms a bright and happy party drink into a darker, richer sipper. Perfect for a solo cocktail hour contemplating a summer sunset.

Hey, introverts need a happy hour too.

The Apple DramDram

A train-wreck on paper. A pleasant journey in the glass.

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The Apple DramDram: A perfect Thursday night, turn-off-the-TV-and-contemplate libation.

I love drinks that, on paper, look like Amtrak derailments but wind up taking you wonderful places.

No matter how well you think you know ingredients, what they’re made of, where they’re distilled, the diameter of the barrels they’re aged in, and all that other Liquor.com hoo-ha, any given mixture can somehow stir up an unexpected delight.

The Apple DramDram

  • 1.5 Laird’s Applejack
    • I think only Laird’s still makes old-school American applejack. I don’t know if the frequent stand-in Calvados would work here. 
  • .5 dry vermouth
    • Dolin
  • .5 Drambuie
    • Scotch-based liqueur
  • .25 St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram
    • Annoy your friends by calling this “pimento dram”
  • Dash apple bitters
    • Pretty obscure. A generous barkeep sent me home with a small plastic container of the bar’s bespoke creation. It was cinnamon-y too. 

Continue reading “The Apple DramDram”