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.
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.
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.
An original variation of a classic. But you must never call it any sort of Old Fashioned
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.
The Scofflaw is a magnificent word, a great backstory, and a pretty good drink
The story of the Scofflaw cocktail starts in 1924, with a contest unloosed by a prominent Prohibitionist. He invited the public to coin a word intended to “stab awake the conscience” of people who dared consume alcoholic beverages during America’s Ignoble Experiment. “Scofflaw” was the winner.
Among the 25,000 rejected entries: “sluch-licker”and “alcoloom.”
You were about to guess: The plan backfired spectacularly. “Scofflaw” was quickly appropriated with pride by the very people it was intended to castigate. It remains a great word today, used to describe anybody who willingly, even cheerfully, violates disagreeable laws or rules.
Within days of the announcement that “scofflaw” would become the approved word to shame drinkers, an enterprising drinksman at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris created The Scofflaw cocktail to tweak the noses of Americans wallowing in their feckless idiocy of Prohibition.
A classic that’s leave-it-on-the-kitchen-counter-when-the-host-isn’t-looking bad.
I’m generally no bellyacher. But in my blunderings through cocktail literature I just surfaced a real stinker, and feel compelled to sound an amicus alarm.
The decoction I refer to is the Algonquin cocktail, which shows up on diligent lists of American Classics — A sip of history! A brush with greatness! Etc. Etc. Etc.
The drink is named after the venerable New York hotel where a group of early 20th century literati famously assembled at the restaurant’s “Round Table.”
Most members of the “Vicious Circle” were hotshot columnists, critics, editors, and writers [Alexander Woollcott, Dorothy Parker, Harold Ross], with a few playwrights and, on a good day, Harpo Marx. Continue reading “The Algonquin: No Sirree!”