The Stinger, mellowed with age

Hate Stingers? Me too. But if you’re in D.C., try the barrel-aged version at McClellan’s before you swear off the drink for life

I’ve always loathed the Stinger. Maybe it’s because the drink’s upper-crust associations never resonated with me — a low-born, Cleveland-bred scion of public assistance. [As it happens, I have similar contempt for martinis. Huh.]

But it may also be because the three [3] Stingers I’d had until Friday night were made by, um, me, using the kind of white creme de menthe that sits in a plastic bottle on the bottom shelf of the county liquor store — gummy-sweet as mint candy, sure to tip your blood glucose levels into the trouble zone.

Which is why, when I saw a Stinger on the menu at McClellan’s Retreat, a handsomely dark and woody saloon near Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C., I told the cheerful barkeep by name of Brian that, well, I hated Stingers.

“So let’s get you something else,” said he, sagely.

“But you guys have some serious drinks on the menu. And it says it’s barrel aged. Maybe this is the one I should try to rule them out for the rest of my life.”

He approved.

“If you hate this one, you hate hate Stingers. If you hate it, it’s on me.”

20161001_143406.jpg
A 45-day barrel-aged Stinger served at McClellan’s Retreat in Washington, D.C. Cool bottle!

Just like a Stinger, but smooth

Brian produced a handsome little bottle that recalls both a 19th century apothecary vessel and a pocket flask, and poured the contents over rocks in a Double Old Fashioned glass, garnishing with a generous tuft of mint.

The McClellan’s barreled Stinger was a revelation, far smoother and richer than anything I expected. Refreshing, but without that childlike high-menthol screech. Surprisingly…elegant.

The brandy was a Sacred Bond bottled-in-bond number, weighing in at 100 proof. The creme de menthe was Giffard’s Menthe Pastille, a French brand dating to 1885 and, it is said, comprising both a mellow and a wild mint.

The ingredients are barreled in oak at McClellan’s for a month and a half, lathing away the high-proof ethyl edges and sort of quieting the whole thing down.

No sting.

Truth told, I plucked out the mint not long into the engagement. The garnish overstated the mint, unbalancing the proportions of the beverage itself.

I nursed the Stinger — not just to prevent the potent brandy from unbalancing me from my bar stool, but to savor it.

Yes, to savor a drink I thought I’d hated.

So: Do I like Stingers? I have no idea. I love the Stinger at McClellan’s.

 

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”

For sprited political conversation: The Basket of Deplorables Cocktail

For spirited political conversation 2016 style, serve this 2-ingredient powerhouse to your “friends on the other side”

You know how sometimes you just want to “reach out” to “your friends on the other side” and “exchange points of view” in a “mutually respectful way” so you can “understand” each other better?

No?

Huh.

Well, just in case you get a hankering, I recommend serving this simple two-ingredient cocktail to your guests. It’s definitely not sessionable, nor particularly well-balanced. But it has an unforgettable nose.

The Basket of Deplorables cocktail: The ideal elixir for political discourse in 2016
Ingredients for the Basket of Deplorables cocktail, an ideal elixir for political discourse in 2016

 

The Basket of Deplorables Cocktail

  • 2 oz bleach
    • Preferably Clorox, lemon-scented
  • 1 oz ammonia
    • Any brand will do

Garnish: Upside down American flag, lightly flamed

Directions: Build in an Old-Fashioned glass. Do not stir. Serve up. Garnish. Evacuate.

Basket of Deplorables Cocktail tasting notes

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Zazarac: Not a misprint. Just a mixstake

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.

Z2 chart

 

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.

 

 

Zazarac cocktail Craig Stoltz A Measured Spirit Cocktail Blog
The Zazarac cocktail: It’ll put a [mis-]spell[ing] on you.
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.

Continue reading “Zazarac: Not a misprint. Just a mixstake”

140-character booze review: Lord Wimsey Gin

A Measured Spirit public service: Time-saving booze reviews with no room for preening, blather, and B.S!

1st gin from Md.-based maker. Think 1/2-hearted flavored vodka. Juniper-free; odd orange nose. Desecrates Wimsey name. Weak debut. Buy? Ha!

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”

The Cocktail-o-Matic

A long-forgotten 1950s product applies “modern” technologies to re-invent the ink-on-paper cocktail recipe book. You can figure out how this one ends

The 1950s were the flowering of American modernity — an aesthetic sensibility, tugged along by a newly affluent middle class, devoted to clean lines, simple forms, and a sense of an urgent new century unfolding.

The 1950s were also some really stupid times.

Witness the Bar Guide.

Bar Guide Measured Spirit cocktail recipes Craig Stoltz blog
The Bar Guide: A 1950s technology breakthrough that failed spectacularly to make paper-bound cocktail recipe books obsolete. Pictured at right: #79, the XYZ cocktail.

The Bar Guide is a shiny plastic device the size of a Canasta deck that updates the cocktail recipe book with “hep” modern technologies like plastic, newfangled printing methods, and a cool thumb wheel with traction grooves.

Its chief accomplishment appears to be transforming something that works quite well into something that’s confusing, hard to use, and easy to break.

And this was way before the Barnes & Noble “Nook GlowLight Plus.”

I’m thinking of a number between 1 and 80

Located at the heart of the Bar Guide is a paper scroll bearing 80 numbered cocktail recipes, each condensed to the size of a fortune cookie.

Continue reading “The Cocktail-o-Matic”