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.

The Carderock Golden Jewel

In which I inflict my “talent” on my neighbors in an update of the classic Bijou cocktail.

I “created” this one for a homegrown talent show in my community, in which I was invited to demonstrate my, um, “talent” in mixology at halftime of the festivities.

You’ve reached a sad point in life when your most recognizable skill involves alcoholic beverages.

And yet, here I am. Best to make the most of any  opportunity life hands you, I say.

The Bijou: A jewel. A really big jewel

Since “Carderock’s Got Talent” was a song-dance-performance event, I searched for “theatrical” allusions in the cocktail canon. This led me quickly to a pre-Prohibition classic called the Bijou. Early in this century “Bijou,” a French word meaning “jewel,” was a common name for a town’s theater.

The Bijou cocktail, debuted in the 1880s, was given the name because its high dose of Green Chartreuse gave the drink a hue of a dusky emerald.

Problem is: The original Bijou is a snoutful, intensely herbal from the Chartreuse, busy with the cutting notes of gin, fragrant with vermouth. Some say it disappeared with Prohibition not because it was forgotten but because it was too intense, as tastes drifted to simpler settings for gin, like a Martini.

The original Bijou has a dusky emerald hue.

A more accessible jewel?

But this was for a community event, where palates probably were more used to TGIFridays’ beverage menu than, say, that of a grand hotel bar filled with robber barons and their retainers.

Could I turn this big, uncompromising classic into something suburban showgoers might enjoy sippin? Let’s see, shall we?

Continue reading “The Carderock Golden Jewel”

The See-Thru Old Fashioned

Clearly, creating an Old Fashioned that looks like a Martini has its challenges

I was trying yet another spin-off of the Old Fashioned, this time using the lovely and potent Luxardo Maraschino liqueur and Angostura orange bitters to complement the rye. Not bad, as these riffs go, with some nice lathework by the maraschino and bitters smoothing the rye’s rough edges.

Sipping, I was moved to contemplation.

Say, [I mused], hadn’t I bought a bottle of unaged rye not long ago? And wouldn’t it be odd and [maybe] wonderful to use that clear liquor with the translucent Luxardo and the colorless orange bitters to make … a perfectly transparent Old Fashioned?

I had turned yet another suspect idea into a fool’s errand.

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The See-Through Old Fashioned, made with unaged rye, drinks hot.

Continue reading “The See-Thru Old Fashioned”

Of all the rum joints in the world….the Casablanca cocktail

Why would a rum drink be called the Casablanca? It doesn’t matter. Just make it

This version of a drink called the Casablanca is an outlier: No competing exotic backstories, disputed claims of authorship, layers of footnotes, etc. Nobody appears to take credit for this drink.

They should. It’s really good.

I thumbed across it in the encyclopedic but completely undistinguished The Ultimate Bar Book by Mittie Hellmich, which provides no detail about provenance. Neither does any online or print reference I could find.

One would assume this drink is somehow linked to the classic 1942 movie of the same name. This appears unlikely.

  • In the film, Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blaine drinks Scotch.
  • He refers to his Moroccan watering hole as a “gin joint.” [Says Rick famously to Ilsa: “Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.”]
  • I haven’t seen the movie enough to say for certain that no rum is served at Rick’s American Cafe, but the carfare between North Africa and the Caribbean alone, you’d think, would be a limiting factor.

The Casablanca cocktail recipe Craig Stoltz Measured Spirit cocktail blog
The Casablanca cocktail appears to have nothing to do with the classic movie. Who cares? It’s a delightful craft cocktail-ish spin on the Daiquiri .

A Measured Spirit Surmise™: In Spanish, “casa blanca” means “white house.” Spanish is spoken throughout the Caribbean, cradle of rum. Rum was originally made on sugar plantations, where presumably The Big House was white.

Don’t pause to ponder. Just make this drink: Continue reading “Of all the rum joints in the world….the Casablanca cocktail”

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.

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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.

Mixology of the mouth: The Sidecar

A sugared rim adds elegance, texture, and forward sweetness to the classic Sidecar — which is why you need to mess with the recipe.

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Demerara sugar adds a certain “whole grain crunch” to the classic Sidecar.

Regular readers of this blog — both of them — may note that controlling sweetness is a sort of crusade of mine. A perfectly balanced drink rides that delicate edge where tart and sweet and booze all contribute equally, none getting too much attention.

Which brings me to the Sidecar, a pre- [or during-] Prohibition [-ish] drink that in most contemporary renditions is mixed 2:1:1 — 1.5 oz cognac, .75 oz lemon juice, .75 oz Cointreau.

Harry Braddock’s [him again] 1930 The Savoy Cocktail Book has it at .5/.25/.25 [more evidence of the giantism that’s gallumphed into cocktaildom over the past few drinking generations.]

The Sidecar is a wonderful, and yes, perfectly balanced, drink —  solid, simple, satisfying, the color of parchment. Classic, as they say.

Just add sugar…to the rim

Somewhere along the way — let’s call it 1934 just for sport — the drink picked up a sugared rim. The great Dale DeGroff, in his 2008 The Essential Cocktail, recommends the 2:1:1 ratio along with the sugar rim, explaining that the flourish is an adaptation of Jerry Thomas’ [him again] Brandy Crusta [page 52 of his Bartender’s Guide, for those following along via knockoff reprint].

And so with the contemporary Sidecar we have a classically balanced drink — with an added garnish that tips it, for me, into an unwholesome sweetness.

And so it’s tinker time again. Continue reading “Mixology of the mouth: The Sidecar”