DOTW: Americano

Posted by Anita on 12.07.07 7:03 AM

(c)2007 AEC ** ALL rights reservedAfter going to all that trouble to find our favorite sweet vermouths, it seems only fitting for this week’s drink to highlight vermouth’s strengths. So many recipes that call for sweet vermouth use just a splash, or drown its subtleties under a lot of strong liquor. But the Americano — essentially a highball Negroni, minus the gin — takes advantage of both vermouth’s sweetness as a foil and its bitterness as a complement to the drink’s other main ingredient: Campari.

Not surprisingly, Campari’s distinctively bitter bite pairs best with a less-herbal sweet vermouth. (Monseiur Prat, your services will not be required this evening.) Most recipes call for a 1:1 ratio of Campari to sweet vermouth, but I like my Americanos — and my Negronis, for that matter — on the wetter side. Especially when using a specialty brand like Carpano Antica, this slight imbalance helps the vermouth emerge from Campari’s assertive shadow. This is definitely one of those times to use the Cinzano, if you have it. Its sweetness isn’t as problematic here, and actually helps balance the bitterness.

A tall, cool drink may seem an odd choice for December, but consider its merits: The color’s a festive red, and the flavor’s sassy enough to hold its own alongside rich holiday hors d’oeuvres. With seltzer’s sparkle and a relatively low alcohol content, the Americano makes a savvy choice in a season that’s often filled with back-to-back parties. There aren’t any tricky measurements to remember, and the Americano’s strength is infinitely adaptable to the drinker’s taste simply by adjusting the spirit-to-soda ratio. In short, it’s the platonic cocktail-party option, a seasonal spritzer extraordinaire.

(c)2007 AEC ** ALL rights reserved(c)2007 AEC ** ALL rights reserved(c)2007 AEC ** ALL rights reserved(c)2007 AEC ** ALL rights reserved(c)2007 AEC ** ALL rights reserved

Americano
1 oz sweet vermouth
3/4 oz Campari
soda water
lemon twist (optional)

Add the vermouth and Campari to an ice-filled highball or rocks glass. Top with soda water and stir to combine. Garnish with a lemon twist, if desired.

Drink of the Week, drinks, recipes
4 Comments »

 

A sweet Italian sip

Posted by Anita on 12.06.07 6:19 PM

(c)2007 AEC ** ALL rights reservedRestocking the bar in preparation for holiday guests, we found we’d managed to squirrel away no less than four half-empty bottles of sweet vermouth. Shaking our heads at our folly, we decided to figure out which one we liked best and toss the others. Sure, we needed Carpano Antica for our favorite cold-weather Manhattan, but how different could the others be?

Plenty.

After some quick sips, it became apparent that even among the big three brands — Cinzano, Noilly Pratt, and Martini & Rossi — the differences were astounding. The lone French-made bottle, the Noilly Pratt was the most herbal, and most bitter, of the three …a potent reminder of vermouth’s linguistic origins in “wormwood”. The original sweet vermouths came from Italy — you’ll often see red vermouth referred to as Italian vermouth in old recipes — so it’s not surprising that we felt the Martini and Cinzano brands were closer to our ideal. (Some day we’ll have to check whether the reverse is true: Do the French make better dry vermouth, given its historic roots on the other side of the Alps?)

On our next trip to the liquor warehouse, our eyes were opened. We’d never noticed just how many sweet vermouths were on the shelf! With most bottles priced well under $10, why not round out our collection and get to the bottom of which was best? My sister and her husband were on their way to town, and a sweet vermouth tasting seemed just the ticket for four cocktail aficionados to while away the holiday weekend.

With a stack of shot glasses and a pile of notepads at the ready, the tastings began.

Our first round featured the supermarket stalwarts: Martini & Rossi, Cinzano, and Noilly Pratt (identically priced around town at $5.99 to $7.25). Just as we’d found in our earlier un-juried tasting, the Noilly Prat stood out from the pack: Its “herbal” “bite” was pegged as “very bitter” and “medicinal” by all. Tasted neat, Cinzano’s sweetness was its downfall: We called it “cloying candy” and “marshmallow sweet”, overwhelming its less obvious “citrus and spice” notes. The Martini & Rossi became the bottle to beat, universally praised for its “smooth”, “balanced”, “fruity warmth”.

The lesser-known vermouths in our next tier proved that you mostly get what you pay for. Although the Boissiere ($7.29) was dubbed “not bad” by three tasters, the Gallo ($2.99) rated “foul”, “bad”, and “not pleasant” across the board. The true stinker was Lejon ($3.99), which sent us running for our water glasses: Strong “vinegar” notes and “artificial” flavors earned it a last-place finish: “Blech!” indeed.

Next up, a pair of boutique options. At $29, Carpano Antica’s the priciest of the lot, but it’s a house favorite for good reason. Its “very smooth” profile was noticeably more “spicy and deep” than its mainstream competitors. All of us noted its sweetness, but felt it offered a “chewy”, “caramel” complexity rather than a brash sugar assault. Our local entrant, Vya ($19) showed its “grapey” pedigree — it’s made by Quady, the winery behind the once-trendy Elysium black muscat. With “piney” hints of “juniper” and a “snappy” finish, one taster found it a bit too “menthol” for his palate.

We also tasted a flight of red-wine based aperitifs: The French-made Lillet Rouge and Dubonnet, and the Italian Punt e Mes. Too far off the beaten path to serve as straight replacements for sweet vermouth, they’re more like kissing cousins than actual alternatives. Lillet and Dubonnet were pleasant enough to drink on their own; Punt e Mes found few fans due to its very strong bitterness, although it’s a key ingredient in a handful of cocktails.

As a control, we stirred up a set of Manhattans to see if the differences between brands were too subtle to be noticed in mixed drinks. All of us agreed that the Carpano’s complexity shone through the iced-down whiskey to make a worthy upgrade. Of the non-boutique brands, the gents were aligned in their preference for Martini in their Manhattans. Meanwhile, I preferred the Cinzano — its sweetness isn’t such an issue when whiskey’s there to tame it — and my sister enjoyed both Italian vermouths equally. The Noilly Prat’s herbal tones were a little less obnoxious when mixed and chilled, but none of us cared for its flavor.

Our Manhattan-loving brother felt strongly that the only ‘proper’ drink of the bunch was the Martini & Rossi version. He allowed that the Carpano variation was lovely, “just not a Manhattan.” The dark-horse Boissiere Manhattan was deemed an acceptable option; if for some reason you find yourself in possession of a bottle, keep it… but none of us would recommend hunting it down for special purchase.

So which sweet vermouth should you buy? The Carpano Antica is our hands-down favorite for Manhattans, but it’s a pricey (and potentially unnecessary) option in many other drinks. If you’re limiting yourself to one all-purpose bottle, the Martini & Rossi does quite well. The Cinzano’s added depth makes it a natural in drinks with a strong bitter or sour component to counter its sweetness, but it’s a less-than-ideal pairing with other sugared liquors or syrups. Both are affordable enough that, if your space allows, there’s no reason to choose between the two big Italians.

Speaking of storage: Many wise folks will tell you to keep your vermouth in the fridge, and they’re right. It’s wine, after all, and vermouth can turn from ambrosial to undrinkable when improperly handled. Spoilage takes a bit longer with vermouth than table wine, courtesy of the former’s higher alcohol content, but even a fortified wine will eventually turn. Do yourself a favor and choose 375ml half-bottles when you find them — tossing half an oxidized bottle undoes any potential savings you’d see by buying the 750ml size — and keep the vermouths you really care about in cold storage as much as you practically can.

(c)2007 AEC ** ALL rights reserved(c)2007 AEC ** ALL rights reserved(c)2007 AEC ** ALL rights reserved(c)2007 AEC ** ALL rights reserved(c)2007 AEC ** ALL rights reserved

drinks
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DOTW: Rosemary Five

Posted by Anita on 04.06.07 7:24 AM

DOTW Rosemary Five (c) copyright AEC - Married With Dinner - All Rights ReservedI’ve confessed, repeatedly, to my tinkering tendencies. I never met a recipe that I couldn’t futz into an unrecognizable state. Now, it seems, my little problem is taking on a life of its own: I can’t even drink nice cocktails at perfectly respectable establishments without wondering just what might help make them a wee bit better.

This whole sorry tale started out a few months ago with a dinner at Perbacco, SF’s ultra-popular downtown ristorante. True to their Italian niche, the Perbacco bar menu features a number of cocktails that feel like a hip bartender’s fantasy of la dolce vita: a bit of Carpano Antica here, a splash of Prosecco there, a titch of amaro, and plenty of sassy citrus for everyone! The drink that caught my eye on our first visit — and held my fickle gaze on a return trip — is a pretty little thing called the Rosmarino: Grey Goose vodka, lemon juice, rosemary simple syrup, and Clear Creek apple brandy; shaken, up, rosemary garnish. As delicious as it was, the apple flavor seemed a little misplaced, and the rosemary notes a tad thin (despite the not-terribly appetizing bits of muddled herbage floating around).

Not long after this, I tasted another citrusy drink on the menu at Bemelmans Bar on our NYC trip. Christened La Cinque (that’s “the five” in Italian for you non-jetsetters), the menu listed pear vodka, moscato d’Asti, fresh lime, simple syrup, and Angostura bitters. Surely, it was a lovely combination, although the syrup combined with the sweet moscato to take the sugar hit right over the top.

I’d made a batch of rosemary syrup a couple weeks back — steeping a few sprigs of fresh rosemary in a warm batch of 1:1 simple syrup — in an effort to figure out precisely what was needed to fine-tune the Rosmarino to my liking. But time got away from me, and the jar of syrup ended up in the freezer. So when the time came to try to replicate La Cinque at home, I decided to combine these two Italian-inspired recipes into a single cocktail. It took a few tries to get the balance right; you’ll want to tinker with the syrup levels depending on the dryness of your bubbly. Using a bone-dry California sparkler, we needed the full 1/2 ounce; if you opt for a Prosecco or other off-dry option, you’ll likely need the lesser amount… unless you like your drinks on the sweet side.

The Rosemary Five
– adapted from La Cinque, Bemelmans Bar (NYC) and Rosmarino, Perbacco (SF)
1 oz. pear vodka or pear eau de vie (such as Absolut Pears or Clear Creek Williams Pear)
1/2 oz. fresh lime juice
1/4 to 1/2 oz. rosemary simple syrup
3 dashes Angostura bitters
dry sparkling wine

Shake the vodka with the lime juice and syrup in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into a 6-ounce cocktail glass, and top with sparkling wine, to fill. Garnish with a sprig of fresh rosemary.

—–

A gentle reminder from your host and hostess: You’ve now just over a week to break out the bubbly and show us your best Champagne cocktails for MxMo14. In the meantime, we’ll be posting a few other sparklies we’ve collected over the last couple of months… all in the name of “research”, dontcha know?

Drink of the Week, drinks, Mixology Monday, recipes, wine & bubbly
7 Comments »

 

DOTW: Bloody Beach

Posted by a Special Guest on 02.02.07 7:07 AM

Bloody Beach (c)2007 DayneM

Editor’s note: Our next guest behind the bar is our friend Dayne, who lives — and drinks — in Seattle with his wife, Wendy (of fondue mac & cheese fame).

When Anita asked for a guest drink submission, I was a bit stumped at first. Most of the more-interesting things we make come from recipes I’ve found online in the first place, so simply re-posting one of those seemed a little boring.

A while back, I’d read Paul’s post over at The Cocktail Chronicles about the Blood & Sand, and followed that up by reading Gary Regan’s article on the same drink. It seemed like an interesting drink, though a bit bizarre: I’d never been much of a Scotch drinker — that’s slowly changing — and Scotch in a cocktail sounded especially strange.

Early last fall, I finally got around to acquiring some Cherry Heering with the intention of making Singapore Slings, but realized I finally had the missing ingredient for a proper Blood & Sand. Digging through old boxes of liquor that had come into our marriage from who-knows-where (I blame my best man, who has brought open-bottle remnants to more than one party), I found some Scotch, put everything together in the original equal-proportion recipe, and took a sip.

Ugghh. Awful. Beyond bad.

OK, so maybe it was the Scotch. I don’t remember what brand was involved, but it made for a pretty horrendous cocktail. Could have been the vermouth too. Feeling that the drink deserve another try, I tested Ted Haigh’s 4:4:3:3 variation, with no better luck.

I mentioned my unsuccessful experiments to Murray and Kacy down at the Zig Zig, and both of them said the same thing: “Use rum instead” — an interesting possibility. Somehow, I’d never quite gotten around to trying this variation. But earlier this week, I pulled out all the makings and gave them a shake. The result was a pleasantly mild drink with a tiki-ish flavor profile, but much less sweet than most tropical concoctions.

Since that evening, I’ve tried another Blood and Sand with some Famous Grouse — again a party remnant, though coincidentally the same brand that Paul used in his original post — and Carpano Punt e Mes vermouth. Much more successful, and almost certainly closer to what the cocktail was intended to taste like.

But the rum variation is worthy in its own right. Using a new base liquor usually calls for a new name; it’s possible that someone’s already christened this drink elsewhere, but I haven’t been able to find it. So, I give you:

The Bloody Beach
3/4 oz. medium-bodied rum (I used Appleton V/X)
3/4 oz. cherry brandy (Cherry Heering or Cherry Marnier — don’t use a clear eau-de-vie)
3/4 oz. sweet vermouth (I used Carpano Punt e Mes)
3/4 oz. fresh-squeezed orange juice, strained

Shake all ingredients vigorously with ice, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Drink of the Week, drinks, other blogs, recipes
1 Comment »

 

DOTW: Bobby Burns

Posted by a Special Guest on 01.26.07 7:05 AM

Bobby Burns (c)2007 Erik Ellestad

Editor’s note: Over the next couple of months, we’ll be delegating Drink of the Week duties to a few of our cocktailian friends from time to time, as our bar supplies and equipment are rather limited in our temporary space.

First behind the stick is our friend and neighbor Erik, a talented amateur mixologist who’s currently working his way through the Savoy Cocktail Book, trying each drink in alphabetical order! Today, though, he shares the results of last night’s Robert Burns-influenced experimentation.

I had an idea to drink a Scotch-related cocktail last night, in honor of Burns Night, and Audrey Saunders’ Dreamy Dorini Smoking Martini was the first that occurred to me.

I composed the elements — 2 ounces of decent vodka, a couple drops of Henri Bardouin pastis, and a half an ounce of Jon, Mark and Robbo’s “The Peaty One” Scotch — and stirred them together.

Nope.

I didn’t like it.

I just kept thinking, this would have been better with vermouth instead of vodka. And how do I get this Band-Aid taste out of my mouth?

Maybe Islay-style malts just aren’t my thing.

I hated to be boring and retro, but I stirred together a hard-to-beat classic cocktail that’s even more fitting to the occasion.

Bobby Burns
1-1/2 oz. Italian Vermouth (I used Carpano Antica)
1-1/2 oz. Scotch whisky (I used Compass Box Asyla)
2 dashes Benedictine

Stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Drink of the Week, drinks, holidays & occasions, recipes
5 Comments »

 

DOTW: The Manhattan

Posted by Cameron on 11.10.06 6:48 AM

manhattan (c)2006 CTCYou can pick your friends—the saying goes—and you can pick your…um… poison, but you can’t pick your family. Happily, I have been blessed many times over through both blood and marriage. And so, while this Drink of the Week post is inspired by Mixology Monday #9 (bitters), it is dedicated to my brother-in-law Matt, who introduced me to a delightfully civilized drink: The Manhattan.

I had always been suspicious of The Manhattan, put off by crappy bourbon, unpredictable proportions, and those nasty, nuclear pink, jarred maraschino cherries that people actually eat instead of sticking on top of car antennas, where they belong.

But one night during a holiday visit many years ago, Matt commandeered the cocktail shaker and went to work with sweet vermouth, Angostura bitters, and Wild Turkey. I think. I’m a little blurry on the precise brand of bourbon, probably because we knocked off most of a bottle of whatever it was over the course of a gregarious evening.

In any case, my prejudice melted, and if I never sought The Manhattan out, neither did I avoid its presence. Those awful cherries, though. Ugh. Not a chance.

The next stage in my journey came this fall, when Murray of the Zig Zag Cafe promised us that if we brought a bottle of Carpano Antica vermouth on our next trip to Seattle, we’d be rewarded. When Murray speaks on things of a spiritous nature, my friends, I listen. Bottle in hand, we wafted in out of the northern night to be greeted by a Manhattan made with Carpano Antica, Rittenhouse bonded rye, and Bitter Truth bitters. Magic.

Since then, I (heart) Manhattan. It’s a drink that rewards customization with different ingredient styles and (carefully!) proportions. You’ll find recipes that recommend anywhere from one-half to two ounces of vermouth for two ounces of bourbon or rye. These days, I feel like anything less than a 2:1 ratio tastes like a shot, not a cocktail, but as I have written before, I am pigheaded, uncultured, and have displayed questionable drink-ordering skills.

The recipe below produces a very smooth drink, and is doubly appropriate for this particular MxMo, as it contains two bitter ingredients: orange bitters and Carpano Antica. The Bulleit bourbon lends body without calling attention to itself, and the fruitiness of the orange bitters (of which the Hermes is a difficult-to-find but excellent example) balances the extra bite of the Carpano Antica, which you could replace with regular sweet vermouth for increased mellitude. If you need fruit, soak dried Bing cherries overnight in whatever suits your fancy. I used brandy and…POW! Drunken Cherries.

Cheers, Matt! (And happy 5th Anniversary to you and P…)
MxMo 9

Old Manhattan
2 oz. Bulleit bourbon
1-1/4 oz. Carpano Antica vermouth
2 dashes Hermes orange bitters

Stir with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a Drunken Cherry.

Drink of the Week, drinks, family, Mixology Monday, other blogs, recipes
13 Comments »

 

Fabulous field trip

Posted by Cameron on 10.11.06 6:48 PM

Beer (c)2006 AECGirls, the next time your man (of any gender) gives you the tiniest bit of lip about shopping excursions worth the name — and I mean the kind that require provisions and a Sherpa — you just take Medea Jones’ advice. Saddle him up for a field trip like the one we did last Saturday.

Start at The City Beer Store, a new-ish spot down on Fabulous Folsom: Less Scummy, More Yummy! (and that one’s a Medea Jones original, sealed with a kiss, lovey, so remember that you read it here first). Your faithful correspondent has previously pined on these pages for the bodacious Seattle beer scene and the absolutely fab Bottleworks. Well, color me amber with glee!!! City Beer is too cute for words and it’s just jam-packed with little and big bottles of malty joy, all begging to be taken home. Everything is sold as singles, and the boys there encourage experimentation. Not like that, presh!!! I mean you get a discount if you mix and match your purchases. Love the funky concrete loft decor, (Ed. no, really, it’s a converted live-work loft) and the three taps — soon to be five — pouring draught beer. It’s a store! It’s a bar! It’s a store and a bar!

Pause! Breathe! Wave! Blow kisses! Touch the pearls for sincerity! Wave!

On to the next destination, the gritty, downmarket BevMo on Bayshore for a little atmosphere and some things that a girl just needs…like a bottle of Clear Creek Pear Brandy for Falling Leaves and a shopping cart full of wine! Special to Mr. Windbreaker Man, lashing four one-gallon jugs of Gallo into the milk crate on the back of your powder-blue moped: Those are just the weekly rations, aren’t they? Call me. We must party.

Where next? Why, Blackwell’s Wine & Sprits in The Avenues! Now, there was a time when I’d never venture west of Park Presidio unless it was for a really hot pickup roller derby match. But not any more, chickadees! A frantic cross-country quest for Carpano Antica at the end of September put paid to that. Cue scene from A Nightmare on Booze Street. Yours Truly is on the mobile with who-ever:

“Um, HI! I’m looking for a bottle of Carpano Antica. Do you have it?”

“Yes, I’ll wait.”

“Hi! I’m looking for a bottle of Carpano Antica?”

“Carpano Antica.”

“It’s a kind of vermouth, I think.”

“No, I don’t know what you do with it, honey, but I hope I’ll find out!”

“Well, my friend said if I showed up with a bottle he’d make it worth my while.”

“Yes! Ha ha! An offer you can’t refuse!”

“4-1-5…Wait, why do you need my telephone number?”

“A-N-T-I-C-A.”

“V-E-R-M-O-U…oh, never mind!”

But then I found Blackwell’s, way-y-y-y-y out on Geary, where Gary and Tristan simply saved my life. So, zip zip zip and we’re back to the present, or at least the more recent past, when we visited again. Tristan recommended some wines for when the spirit is willing but the pocketbook is weak: very lovely, very French. I went all wobbly in the knees again on beholding the wall of booze. I’m on a complete bourbon kick these days and honestly, I’m stacking the bottles sideways in the closet, my foil-wrapped cherry bon-bons. I screwed up my courage and limited myself to a bottle of Bulleit (very chic on the custom cocktail circuit — mixes well, but bo-ring alone…. OOPS! Did I say that?), and one of the 15-year-old Pappy Van Winkle, which is simply impossible to find but is my Favorite Bourbon Of All Time, aside from the Sun King, of course.

There! A plan for a happy Saturday! I’m exhausted just writing about it. Mitzi, fetch the English cucumber slices and fill the bath with raita. I must regain my strength.

Love and kisses,
Miss Thing, Medea Jones

The City Beer Store
1168 Folsom Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 503-1033

BevMo Bayshore
201 Bayshore Boulevard
San Francisco, CA 94124
(415) 648-1233

Blackwell’s Wines & Spirits
5620 Geary Boulevard (between 20th and 21st)
San Francisco, CA 94121
(415)386-9463

beer, drinks, shopping
8 Comments »

 

Good to be home

Posted by Anita on 09.28.06 11:30 AM

violet martini (c)2006 AECBoth of us made it home safely to San Francisco from our various wanderings last week. Words can’t describe how lovely it was to sleep in our bed and cuddle with the dogs.

But, in this case, “home” has an alternate meaning. This week, we’re making a pass through Seattle — our second hometown — en route to a wedding near Portland. As is our custom, we headed straight from the rental-car lot to the Zig Zag Cafe to visit our friend Murray. And as soon as we walked in the door and drank in the pink-tinged light, felt the coziness of the low ceiling envelop us, and caught a smile from behind the bar, I felt my stress level drop a dozen notches. It’s such a cliche… but it’s true: Zig Zag feels like home.

We’d brought Murray a fresh bottle of Carpano Antica, so of course he started us off with little tastes, both of the “king of vermouths” (as it’s known, probably only by its PR agent and people who read their fluff) as well as the two other hard-to-find ingredients that the Zig Zag boys are using to make one hell of a top-shelf Manhattan: Rittenhouse bonded rye, and a new German aromatic bitters called Bitter Truth. The Antica is a lovely sipping vermouth all on its own, with a complexity that makes you understand why folks went to the trouble of resurrecting it. It’s also got a stunning packaging, with a wine-bottle-shaped profile and a gorgeous duotone label. The Bitter Truth bitters lay on the cloves and other sweet spices with a heavy hand — just the way I like it. Cameron couldn’t resist trying the complete cocktail after tasting the components.

Before I had a chance to think much about my thirst-quenching needs, Murray brought out another bottle with a similarly gorgeous label, this time a Japanese creme violette called Hermes Violet — a gift from an admirer in Tokyo, ooh la la. I’d read about violet-flavored liqueuers in cocktail books — Creme Yvette and similar brands were the original third flavor in the Aviation — but for the most part they’re incredibly difficult to find. I’d never even seen a bottle, much less tasted it.

Unsurprisingly, the sweet-syrupy deep-purple-hued concoction tastes just like old-fashoned violet gum or pastilles. Murray made me a “sample” of a martini he’s been serving: Boodles gin and the Hermes Violet, with a lemon twist… oh my. Faintly lavender colored and absolutely subtle at first, it became sweeter and less floral — but no less interesting — as it warmed. This is my kind of cocktail…

bar culture, drinks, Seattle, travel
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