Saturday, September 6, 2008

My favorite cocktails, part 2

The Vieux Carré cocktail is one of those rare old drinks with a guaranteed provenance: it was invented in the 1930s by 'Walter Bergeron, the head bartender at the Monteleone Hotel in New Orleans, and is named after the French term for what we call "The French Quarter" ... le Vieux Carré ("Old Square")' -- according to the Gumbopages and everyone else.

Like The Last Word, it has a critical component originally developed by a religious order--Benedictine liqueur--but in the Vieux Carré, the liqueur is a tiny addition. It is very much a New Orleans cocktail, combining the French (cognac & Benedictine) with the American (rye whiskey), and the New Orleans specialty: Peychaud's bitters. Unlike a lot of cocktails whose provenance is not so certain, the recipe has been essentially identical no matter where I've found it. The only question that arises is whether to stir or to shake the drink. Ordinarily, I would err on the side of stirring, but shaking the drink does create a nice little foamy cap (the picture above is of a stirred drink).

In either case, the drink is disturbingly easy to lap up, just delicious.

Vieux Carré

1 oz. cognac (Courvoisier VSOP)
1 oz. rye whiskey (Rittenhouse BIB)
1 oz. sweet vermouth (Antica Formula)
1/2 tsp. Benedictine
2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 dashes Peychaud's bitters

Shake it or stir it with ice and pour over ice cubes in an Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with twist of lemon.

Monday, September 1, 2008

My favorite cocktails, part 1

When I originally "planned" this post, it was going to be "cocktail", singular. In the last few weeks, however, my fascination with one particular drink hasn't ebbed, but the list has grown on me. So the next plan was to write a post about three cocktails. Or maybe four. With a beautiful photograph of each one, naturally, which was where the "part 1" came from.

In order for me to photograph a cocktail, I've obviously got to mix it. And after the photo session, what then? Throw it out? Are you insane?!!

So it's best I break this up and not end up face down on the Afghan rug.

The modern revival of the cocktail has several pieces. In addition to the crucial return to quality ingredients (no mixes, no faux "maraschino cherries", no crappy well liquors) and attention to detail, it has been about rediscovering "lost" cocktails or forgotten details about classic cocktails, and it's about creating delicious ways to combine ingredients in brand-new cocktails--like the mixologists at the recent competition here in Portland. Much of this innovation is chronicled online; in fact, I'd have to guess that the proliferation of New Mixology has been fueled to a great extent by the Internet and the ability to share ideas, recipes and enthusiasm with other professional and amateur mixologists around the planet.

The Zig Zag Cafe in Seattle's Pike Place Market was founded in 1998, at what must have been the beginnings of this movement. (At some point, and soon, I need to make a pilgrimage to visit, preferably with a soft bed and dark curtains somewhere close by.) credits the bartenders at the Zig Zag with rediscovering The Last Word from a 1950s' era book, The Jones Barguide. It's an unusual cocktail, combining as it does equal parts of four beverages, two of them extremely full-flavored liqueurs. A common first reaction on seeing the recipe is that it needs a significant adjustment, increasing the percentage of base alcohol and reducing the liqueurs--but it doesn't, and the first taste confirms it. As Drinkboy says: "You could consider it as being a gin drink for people who might not like gin. It's addition of Lime Juice, Maraschino, and Chartreuse to the Gin provide an excellent balance of sweet, sour, and herbals to this very approachable cocktail."

I have yet to see The Last Word on a Portland cocktail list, although Lance Mayhew produced a beauty for my son, Alex, and I at Fifty Plates (and it looks past time to update that website!). Alan Akwai came back from a trip to San Francisco reporting that the drink "was everywhere".

It's an impossible drink to describe. Either make your own or find a bartender who can. A final benefit of The Last Word is that it will be the only cocktail to make a dent in that ridiculously big bottle of Maraschino. Without it, the bottle would hang around the home bar for 20 years.

The Last Word

1 oz. Tanqueray No. 10 gin
1 oz. fresh lime juice
1 oz. Green Chartreuse
1 oz. Luxardo Maraschino

Stir with plenty of ice and pour into a chilled cocktail glass. Following Lance Mayhew's lead, I garnished it with a homemade brandied cherry.