A surprisingly drinkable mix of mezcal and rye. The presentation? Loco
Placed before me at a random mezcaleria in Healdsburg, California:
“Maybe that should be served up, without the ice cube?” said I.
The waitress baby-sitting the bar this early afternoon referred to the handwritten guide the head bartender had left behind the counter.
“No,” said she. “It says to serve with the big ice cube.”
“Maybe it should be served in an Old Fashioned glass?” I offered.
“No, he said to serve everything in a Margarita glass.”
When in Rome, etc.
Gamely, I took a sip. The ice cube brushed my nose.
The odd thing is, it was an unexpectedly arresting drink. It looked like a train-wreck on the menu — all those unrelated flavors in one place! — but it was at least a solid B, with extra points for originality.
I have no idea what it was called on the menu.
So I am naming it here.
La Nariz Congelada, or The Frozen Nose
1.5 z mezcal
.5 Luxardo maraschino liqueur
Stir in a mixing glass, serve up in a coupe with one big ice cube, because…well, WTF. Brandied cherry garnish.
Frozen Nose cocktail tasting notes
Mixes two base spirits and a liqueur, each with vivid, distinctive flavors.
The smoke of the mezcal, the grainy edge of the rye, the high-pitched sweet of the Luxardo…somehow balance themselves.
Instead of a bar fight, this somehow comes off as a slightly edgy barstool conversation among three very strong-minded people who’ve never met.
Which is to say: A fascinating entertainment, but slightly dangerous.
Okay, so I tried this in an Old Fashioned glass. Worked much better.
It’s time to give the humbly obscure kumquat its mixological due
The alcohol-industrial complex has concocted a bewildering number of horatory days, weeks, and months. There’s National Martini Day [June 19], National Bourbon Heritage Month [September], and National Liqueur Day [October 16]. Inevitably, this gets weird. In an act of collaborative mercy, Harvey Wallbanger Day and National Shot Day both happen on November 8. Because there is no god, there is now a National Rhubarb Vodka Day. And so on.
Which provides me all the justification I need to take the following action:
I hereby declare, with the authority invested in me by absolutely nobody whatsoever, National Kumquat Cocktail Fortnight™. Hereafter it shall be observed annually from February 25 through March 11 (March 10 on leap years).
Kumquat season, you say?
Kumquats — small ovals of citrus the size of an olive, sweet of skin and sour of belly, believed to be native of China — have a limited season, from January through March. This makes a fixed celebration during this period actually defensible. [I’m not sure the creators of National Rhubarb Vodka Day can make the same claim.]
This compressed availability issue may explain why, against all reason, the kumquat has failed to become a stable behind craft cocktail bars everywhere. It should.
Kumquats are pretty little things, easy to muddle, and fairly versatile for an exotic.
The miniature orange orbs are sharp and punchy, a frisky variation on – and easy collaborator with – the more familiar citrus flavors we know too well.
They have a funny name that invites a lowbrow leer.
You can probably find them from January through March at Whole Foods and similar high-fallutin’ food barns.
Like the very best people I know, kumquats are sweet, tart, and just slightly bitter.
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.
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.
If you appreciate a rich, smoky Scotch or mezcal, you may enjoy a drink infused with real smoke that you generate and capture yourself. Or you may just want to hold the fire extinguisher
I’ve ordered “actually smoked” drinks several times while patronizing the kind of crafty bars that do this type of thing.
I refer to beverages where a live flame is used to carbonize artisanal wood, the smoke is captured in the glass and forced into the liquid, and the result is served while the mist is still rising.
I’ve always enjoyed the ritualized pyrotechnics, the self-conscious showmanship of barkeep, the delighted buzz of the patrons who haven’t previously witnessed a drink whose preparation would alarm the fire marshal.
Yup: Time to give this a try at home!
Ignite cedar plank. Use kitchen torch, or the propane sort from a hardware store. Make sure it flames — no fire, no smoke.
Invert Old-Fashioned glass. Center it over the burned spot. Marvel as the gas fills the chamber.
Flip glass, pour liquid. Quickly cap to with plate to force smoke into mixture.
Remove cap, garnish, smell the smoke, taste it.
How to smoke & drink
Mix up a simple, citrus-free drink: Your favorite Manhattan, Old Fashioned, Negroni, etc. [Shown: Rittenhouse rye, Antica Carpano vermouth, orange bitters.] Stir, no ice: Smoked drinks are best served at room temperature. Prepare your garnish.
Go outside, or at least do this over your stove top with the exhaust fan roaring.
Grab one of those grilling planks of cedar, pine, birch, etc. that you find at kitchen stores, hardware stores, and some groceries.
Use a kitchen torch, or a hand-held propane canister with a brass nozzle, to ignite the wood. Don’t be a fire wuss! Get a big ol’ flame going. You need to generate sufficient smoke density.
Invert a sturdy Old Fashioned glass over the burned spot
Delight as you watch the chamber fill with mist.
Flip the glass over, pour in your mixture, and slap a saucer or piece of wood on top. This “pushes” the smoke into the beverage, effectively forcing the liquid and gas to intermingle.
Give it a minute. Pull off the cap, run your citrus garnish along the rim, drop it in.
Smoking & drinking & tasting
Oh, it’s smoky all right.
By “smoke” I don’t refer to the metaphorical scent of a peaty scotch or heady mezcal. I refer to the vivid, slightly alarming smell of a brush fire by the side of an Arizona freeway.
At first, the smoke overpowers anything in the glass. Like a game of professional baseball or a first date, the first few minutes are the most difficult to tolerate.
As the gas dissipates, however, you wind up with a libation that’s as good as whatever you mixed up, but with a layer of satisfying, vivid smoky notes.
Would I do it again? Sure.
But I think I’m more likely to repeat this with friends, or at one of A Measured Spirit’s legendary cocktail parties. Like I said, I enjoy the pyrotechnics, the showmanship, the warm buzz of the crowd.
Oh, one final ingredient I forgot to mention: Fire extinguisher.
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.
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.
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.]
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.]
The obscure Zazarac is not a misspelled Sazerac. It’s a drink unto itself. Its obscurity likely derives from the fact that nobody who makes it once is likely to do so again
One of the most obscure drinks I’ve blundered across is the Zazarac.
That may seem like a misspelling of the Sazerac, that otherworldly classic that comes to us via mid-19th century New Orleans. And some will argue that the Zazarac was the same drink, spelled differently as a litigation dodge.
But there are better reasons to believe that the Zazarac, as captured in certain editions of Harry Craddock’s definitive-for-its-time The Savoy Cocktail Book (1930), is its own thing.
And what a peculiar thing it is.
Zazaracs: Not just a spelling difference
Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails, the definitive scholarly exhumation of defunct cocktails, mentions two versions of the Zazarac, which he found typed in a 1930s bartender’s pocket notebook.
I’ve lined them up below, adding what I’m calling #3, which appears in Harry Craddock’s book.
As you can see, the household comprises one perfect child and three black sheep.
The Sazerac and Zazaracs #s 2 and 3 all abide by the classic definition of a “cocktail”: Base spirit, sugar, and bitters. All share absinthe. But from there things get hairy.
Z1 omits bitters, flouting the “cocktail” definition. It adds sweet vermouth and Amer Picon [a dark, bittersweet, fragrant French apertif, a bit like Italy’s Averna]. It tosses in curacao, an orange liqueur similar to Cointreau or triple sec. So it goes in pretty deep with orange.
Z2 uses Peychaud’s, sure enough, but then tosses in orange bitters and Amer Picon — again, an unusual commitment to orange.
Z3, explored below, adds white rum as a second base spirit [!], and anisette, a sweet licorice-flavored liqueur whose anis-y power essentially doubles down on the absinthe. It retains a hint of orange only via the bitters.
It seems unlikely to me that any of the Zazaracs were attempts to produce the Sazerac and avoid legal trouble with the New Orleans Sazerac House importer, the French maker of Sazerac cognac, or any number of taverns nationwide with the same name.
At best they are heavy-handed riffs, at worst original desecrations.
And since all versions add to rather than replace ingredients of the Sazerac [excepting the swap of bitters in #3], it seems unlikely that early American supply chain issues drove these variations.
Nope. These Zazaracs are not legal dances to stay out of court. For better or worse, but mainly worse, they are purposeful creations unto themselves.
The Sazerac and the Zazarac have as much in common as a lucid dream and your kitchen junk drawer.
The Zazarac recipe presented here is a modified version of what appears in Wikipedia.
I know that’s lame, but bear with me. There’s a lot of confusion here, and the Wikipedia one appears to hunker pretty closely to one in the Savoy book, which became the reference recipe going forward.
Anyhow: Let’s grab a pair of tins and shake things up.
Actually we should stir them up, but that’s another twist in this odd little tale.
Zazarac Cocktail recipe [via Craddock, I think]
1 oz rye
Or Canadian whiskey — Canadian Club if you want to get specific. Canadian whiskeys skew more rye-heavy, so this alternative makes sense.
.5 oz rum
I used Bacardi white, which aligns with several recipes I dug up.
.5 oz anisette
I used pastis, a French version of that family of licorice-flavored beverages. To be more historically and culinarily accurate —and I know how deeply important that is to you— you should use Sambuca or Ouzo. It’s a maceration vs. distillation thing, and an anis vs. licorice thing, for what it’s worth.
.5 rich simple syrup
“Rich” simple syrup mixes sugar to water 2:1. The original called for gum arabic, aka gomme syrup, an even sweeter elixir.
3 dashes absinthe
Yeah, I know. Absinthe + anisette. Anisette — pastis in particular — is often used in place of absinthe. Why use both in the same drink? Who knows? Worse: Many Craddock follow-ons call for .5 oz absinthe.
1 dash each Angostura and orange bitters
Shake, strain into an Old Fashioned glass, garnish with lemon peel.
The recipes all say to shake, though there’s no citrus in sight. Maybe that’s a relic of the days when gummy gomme was used, which may have needed more agitation. Beats me.