Friday, May 20, 2016

A Trio of Classic Cocktails

Old Za Za cocktail
Old Za Za cocktail
They say April showers bring May flowers, but D.C. has it backwards this year. I saw plenty of flowers last month, and this month it has rained almost every day.

It's also not been particularly warm, so what would usually be an ideal time of year to sit outside and sip mojitos has instead pushed everyone indoors (it's no coincidence that I've noticed a lot of colds being passed around). So rain, cold and colds mean...time for a drink.

While we're sitting around inside wishing for sunny days of al fresco dining, why not try mixing up a classic cocktail you've never tried before? If you've mastered the Martini, Manhattan and Negroni, perhaps its time to seek out something else, something less well known.

The Boulevardier sounds like a wonderfully Old Hollywood drink, doesn't it? It's sort of like a Negroni but made with bourbon instead of gin, making it an ideal cold-to-warm (or warm-to-cold) weather transition drink. Robert Simonson's recent article on the drink pegs its origins to the late 1920s by writer and socialite Erskine Gwynne. His original version called for the drinks three ingredients--bourbon, sweet vermouth and Campari--in equal measure. As is typical for modern tastes, most recipes today employ a 2:1:1 ratio that doubles the proportion of bourbon.

Diamondback cocktail
Diamondback cocktail
I came across the Diamondback in Paul Clarke's The Cocktail Chronicles, an excellent book I wrote about last July. For whatever reason, I seem to be using a lot of yellow Chartreuse lately, and this is a nice simple drink of rye whiskey, apple brandy and chartreuse. Clarke doesn't tell us anything about the drink in the book, but his blog has a history of the drink, which he describes as an ideal intersection of rye whiskey and apple brandy. Clarke dates the drink to Ted Saucier's 1951 book, Bottoms Up. For my version, I added a couple dashes of bitters, following the lead of Doug Case, who wrote about the drink for his blog, Cold Glass, which includes the interesting tidbit that this was the house cocktail at the Lord Baltimore Hotel bar.

I found the Za Za Cocktail in Barflies and Cocktails, a cheeky little cocktail book published in Paris in 1927 by "Harry and Wynn," who were Harry McElhone of Harry's New York Bar (which is actually in Paris) and Wynn Holcomb, who was reporter and caricaturist (what a cool job) for the Paris edition of the New York Herald. Cocktail Kingdom resurrected and republished this little ditty in 2008 with an information introduction by David Wondrich (because if you're resurrecting a classic cocktail book, Wondrich is definitely the guy you want to write the foreword). The Za Za is the book's last drink, a simple libation credited to F. Newman (no idea who that is) that's 1/3 gin, 2/3 "Italian" (i.e. sweet) vermouth and 2 dashes of Pepson bitters, which I read were a forerunner to Dr. Pepper. Of course, I switched the proportion of gin and sweet vermouth, but then I made substation: I swapped out the gin for barrel-aged gin. The Za Za is basically a Manhattan made with gin, and you know I love Manhattans. So why not use barrel-aged gin in the Za Za, which is the closest gin can come to being whiskey? I call this drink the Old Za Za, and it's great. Got a nice woodsy quality to it.
Boulevardier cocktail
Boulevardier cocktail

1 1/2 oz. bourbon (I used Buffalo Trace)
3/4 oz. sweet vermouth (I used Carpano Antica)
3/4 oz. Campari (I substituted Aperol, which is less bitter and more citrus)
Orange twist garnish

Combine bourbon, sweet vermouth and Campari (or Aperol) in a cocktail mixing glass with ice. Stir until very cold (about 1 minute), then strain into a chilled couple glass. Garnish with orange twist.


1 1/2 oz. rye whiskey (I used Rittenhouse)
3/4 oz. apple brandy (I used Laird's straight apple brandy)
3/4 oz. yellow Chartreuse
2 dashes Boker's bitters (optional, not in the original recipe)

Combine whiskey, brandy, Chartreuse and bitters in a cocktail mixing glass with ice. Stir until very cold (about 1 minute), then strain into a rocks glass with a single large ice cube. No garnish.

Old Za Za
A variation on the Za Za Cocktail, Barflies and Cocktails, 1927

2 oz. Few barrel gin
1 oz. Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 dash Regan's orange bitters
Bing cherry garnish

Combine gin, sweet vermouth and bitters in a cocktail mixing glass with ice. Stir until very cold (about 1 minute), then strain into a chilled couple glass. Garnish with cherry.

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