Cocktail Hour: The Manhattan

I’m thrilled that Michael, our favorite mixologist, is back with a classic cocktail to warm us on these frigid winter days.  Read on to master the art of the Manhattan, then relax, grab a book, and light a fire.  Five o’clock is calling… As we all come off our holiday hiatus, it is traditional to use the New Year’s spirit to invigorate within ourselves a sense of renewal by enacting some manner of change intended to better ourselves as people.  For many this means more exercise, becoming more organized, or swearing off some pesky vice that has overstayed its welcome in our daily routine.  Simply put, this is NOT the time to stop drinking!  During my time matriculating at Annapolis, this time of year had a special name – “The Dark Ages”.  By definition, the “Dark Ages” began the day the Brigade of Midshipmen returned from Holiday leave and ended on the first day of Spring Break.  I vividly remember the lack of daylight, the frigid wind-whipped runs on the Chesapeake seawall, and the grinding academic work.  Even now living in Florida (as I write this it is 67 degrees and sunny), the “Dark Ages” still hold a special place in my heart.  I only regret not having ready access to a well stocked bar during my years as a Midshipmen – GPA be damned!

So I’m submitting to A&D few cocktail recipes to help us all make it through this lamented time of year.   I personally am a creature of the seasons and my cocktail consumption tends to mirror what is happening outside.  I dedicate this post to the readers in the frigid north and present another classic that is sure to stick to your ribs and make an evening sitting by the fire all the more perfect – the Manhattan.  I know its been awhile, so lets recap the First Commandment of mixing cocktails.  “Thou shalt use the finest ingredients in thy cocktails.”  I am not implying that one must use the exact bottles I present, only that your cocktail will only be as good as the cheapest ingredient used.The Manhattan, like the Martini, ranks among the most classic of cocktails.  Done correctly it is simple, tastes great, and provides the perfect dose of medicine to help shake off the Dark Ages grind.  With Manhattan recipes, the biggest points of contention are a.) the type of whiskey and b.) the proportions of base and modifier.  The great thing about the Manhattan Cocktail is type of whiskey and proportion are completely up to the person mixing provided the ingredients are of the finest quality.  The recipe I am presenting is my preferred (and the traditional) recipe, but one should feel free to experiment with slightly different proportions to satisfy their palate.  I will however talk about a few different types of whiskey that can change the character of your Manhattan to fit your mood – and the weather.

Basic Recipe:
2.0 Oz Whiskey
1.0 Oz Sweet Vermouth
2 Dashes Angostura Bitters

Whiskey:

The base of any Manhattan is Whiskey…..and there are so many types.  A Rye Whiskey is the traditional type used in Manhattans because it typically is more balanced in terms of sweet, spice, and smoke (peat) than other whiskies.  Right now, my “go to” rye is Bulleit Rye because it is of good quality but not so good that it demands drinking it neat or on the rocks, and its not difficult to acquire (available in most liqueur stores).Two other variations I’d like to present are using a Bourbon or a Scotch as the base of this cocktail.  For the Bourbon option I’ve been using a High-Rye Bourbon by Redemption.  This is a great bottle because it brings out the sweetness inherent to Bourbon but still retains a bit of spice found in Rye.  For the Rob Roy option (this is the name of a Manhattan made with Scotch instead of American Whiskey), I currently use Monkey Shoulder.  This is a blended Scotch that has all the qualities of a Single Malt (made using 3 different single malts from The Balvenie, Glenfiddich and Kininvie) – a tip of the hat to the Master Distillers that put it together.  It is not overly peaty like some of the Islay regions and has the smooth malt and citrus notes that make it a great option for this recipe.Vermouth:

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link – so do not skimp on the Sweet Vermouth.  This means that Martini and Rossi will not do.  I personally enjoy Dolin Sweet Vermouth but any high-end vermouth such as Carpano Antica or Cocchi Vermouth di Torino will do.

Bitters:

A few dashes of Angostura Bitters bring out all the subtleties in both ingredients and really round out the drink.  Do not use Peyschaud’s bitters unless you want to turn your expensive whiskey into something that tastes like Nyquil.  Peyschaud’s bitters has its place in other cocktails – the Manhattan is not one of them. The Process:

Add all ingredients into a cocktail shaker – or if you really want to class it up, get a beautiful mixing beaker as shown below.Add ice.STIR!  STIR! STIR! This Cocktail! Shaking Manhattans or other whiskey cocktails is one of my drinking pet peeves.  Please, for the love of all things right and just in this world, DO NOT SHAKE these drinks.  Shaking these cocktails adds too much water to the mix and greatly diminishes the flavor.  Also, help me on my crusade to make sure these drinks are made properly by demanding bartenders stir these cocktails when you order them out.  Strain into a Coupe or Cocktail Glass.  Garnish with a Cherry.A quick note about the cherry garnish.  Luxardo makes great cherries for cocktails.  I HIGHLY recommend, if you intend on making this cocktail regularly, to buy a jar.  They are readily available on Amazon and they last forever.  Don’t settle for the cheap Maraschino Cherries found in most grocery stores.  I’d skip those and garnish with a citrus peel before I allowed one to see the inside of my Manhattan glass.  Keep it classy folks.The Manhattan is alcoholic comfort food for me – I hope this helps everyone make it through the Dark Ages!

Cheers, MC.

all photos in this post by Michael

An Unforgettable Night at NEXT

Image 10Last night, I had the extraordinary experience of dining at Next for a best friend’s 40th birthday celebration.  19 courses, 3 1/2 hours, rare wine pairings.  I am exhausted and bleary-eyed (we were at the 10pm seating, finishing at 1:30am) but I must get the words down while the night is fresh in my mind.Image 3Next, created by Chef Grant Achatz (of Alinea fame) and his business partner Nick Kokonas, is unlike any restaurant in the world.  The cuisine is changed entirely every four months (“A Tour of Thailand”, “Belle Epoque”, “Kyoto”, and wild game focused “The Hunt” are past examples) and you must purchase tickets through Next’s website rather than call and make reservations.  Tickets sell quickly.  An entire four months can sell out in mere minutes!  Serendipitously, the birthday girl is vegan, Next’s exploration of vegan cuisine fell on her birthday month, AND she was able to acquire tickets.

The inventiveness, the art, the execution – all of those elements are still floating around in my head.  It was as if we were wandering through an enchanted forest, stumbling upon Lilliputian-sized food placed on lichen-dotted rocks, floating in ponds and teetering atop branches.Image 5The two photos above illustrate how even lighting and shadows play integral roles in the theatrical experience that is Next.  (You’ll have to excuse my bad iPhoto shots – I wish I would have had my good camera, but I didn’t want to spoil the mood or drive my tablemates crazy.)  Below, sourdough crackers dusted in green tea powder pose as edible tree tops.  The crackers were used to scoop up roasted avocado spiked with fried kale slathered on a rock (seen in the following image). Image 9Image 8My absolute favorite bite of the night was the tempura swiss chard with douchi (a fermented black soybean concoction) seen below.Image 6And the wine. Oh, the wine!!  The Gramont Nuits-Saint-Georges (a 2009 pinot noir)- served with the divine mushroom course –  was truly one of the best wines I’ve ever tasted.  The curry roasted cauliflower with naan (below) was another favorite. Image 2Next would not have been the unforgettable experience it was without the skilled, knowledgeable, tireless waitstaff (a special thank you to  Dave for putting up with my eight thousand questions!).  Thorough without being pedantic, they presented the 19th course (and 7th wine pairing) at 1:15am with the same level of enthusiasm as the first.Image 11ImageTo answer a few questions you may have:

  1. Yes, even the three non-vegan meat lovers were thrilled with dinner.
  2. No, we did not leave hungry.
  3. And yes, we were smart enough to arrange transportation home.

Next’s next menu is Bocuse d’Or, based on the prestigious international cooking competition held biannually in Lyon, France.

Next is located at 953 West Fulton Market in Chicago.  Click here to register for tickets.

Cocktail Hour: The Daiquiri

DSC_0856Our resident mixologist is back with the fascinating history of Hemingway’s favorite cocktail – the daiquiri.  We mixed up a batch  following Michael’s recipe and I promise you, this is not the boat drink you think it is.DSC_0860

The Daiquiri

This cocktail resides in same family as the most classic of cocktails: the Martini, the Manhattan, the Sazarac, and the Old Fashioned.  It’s history is over 100 years old, originating in pre-prohibition and prohibition era Cuba, when the country was open for tourism and its nightlife thrived.  The Tropicana club with its “Las Diosas de Carne” (translation Goddesses of the Flesh) burlesque dancers, the Buena Vista Social Club (from the popular Artisan Entertainment documentary), and the New Year’s scene from the Godfather II all reflect the environment in which the Daiquiri was conceived.

From historic sources: “The drink was created by Jennings Cox, an American engineer who managed the Cuban properties for two American companies (credit as co-creator is also often given to a Cuban engineer named Pagliuchi). With important guests on the way, and finding himself without a source of gin – the genteel spirit at the time – Cox worried that they would not find the local tipple palatable if served neat. He added lime juice and sugar to the island’s pure cane rum, and a classic was born.”

It is believed to have been the favorite cocktail of Ernest Hemingway and Jack Kennedy (ironic considering he is responsible for severing diplomatic ties with Cuba in 61….perhaps Bay of Pigs was really intended to oust Castro in an effort to save his beloved cocktail? – but I digress).  Ultimately, it was the United States Navy – specifically Admiral Lucius Johnson – that brought the cocktail to the mainland via the lounge at the Army and Navy Club on Connecticut Ave NW in Washington DC (of which I’m a proud member) where active and retired officers can still host happy hours (the lounge is now named for the cocktail).

Now that we’ve covered the historical commentary and, hopefully, established the Daiquiri’s historical bona fides – let us move on to some more technical aspects of mixing this cocktail.

Let’s start by stating what the Daiquiri is NOT:

1.  The Daiquiri is NOT a frozen drink.  Never should any respectable Daiquiri , like the Margarita, see the inside of the blender.
2.  The Daiquiri is NOT a frozen drink.
3.  The Daiquiri is NOT a frozen drink.  Hopefully you get the point.

Now lets talk about the principles set forth in my last post apply to the Daiquiri.

1.  The Daiquiri, like any great cocktail, consists of a base and a modifier.  In this case the base is light rum and the modifier is citrus (lime juice) and sweetner (simple syrup or substitute). The purpose of the modifier is not to mask the base liquor but, rather, to enhance its flavors on the palate.  The base liquor is ALWAYS the main event.  Never use premixed sweet and sour mix unless you are looking to have a substandard cocktail with 5 times the calories.
2.  The use of high quality ingredients will result in a high quality cocktail.

And so I give you my preferred Daiquiri recipe:

2 Oz Cruzan Light Rum:  Anyone who has spent time at a college kegger knows there exist many different types of rum (Captain Morgan Spiced, Malibu coconut, ect..).  I will say, IMHO, most are revolting.  There are two kinds of rum worth drinking – period.  Dark rum and light rum.  All distilled liquor is clear when it comes out of a still and only takes on its color after being aged in some type of wood barrel.  Light rum is, therefore, NOT aged.  There are a few good mixed drink recipes for a dark rum out there, but the Daiquiri is not one of them.  A high quality (read expensive and imported….sometimes illegally) aged dark rum is not for Daiquiris, but should be enjoyed simply over a large piece of clean ice with a squeeze of lime and sipped.  I am not as picky with my brands of light rum as I am with my Gin as Rum is distilled from sugar cane and lots more forgiving than Gin.  Cruzan makes a light rum I enjoy, and I recommend using something comparable provided it doesn’t give you a huge hangover.

1 Oz Fresh Squeezed Lime Juice:  As far as I know, Mother Nature has only one brand.  Don’t skimp on the fresh fruit, there are natural sugars resident even in tart citrus fruit that are lost in the stuff you’d buy off a shelf.  Remember fresh is always better.  I prefer my Daiquiris (like my margaritias) on the tart side.  This is personal preference so feel free to adjust your proportions between 1/2 – 1 oz to satisfy your taste.

1/2 Oz Luxardo Marashino Liquor:  This is a bit of substitution.  The classic Daiquiri calls for 1/2 – 3/4 oz simple syrup (super saturated sugar water – google it) to balance the tart from the lime juice.  The Marashino liquor does this job, plus adds a little more depth and complexity to the cocktail.

2 Drops Fee Brothers Grapefruit Bitters:  I am a bitters fanatic.  I think they bring so much more to a cocktail without burdening the ingredients with extra heavy modifiers.  They allow you to keep the cocktail simple in ingredients while enhancing the flavor palate simultaneously.  I came up with the grapefruit bitters while reading a recipe for the “Hemingway Daiquiri” which calls for the addition of grapefruit juice to the mix.  Instead of adding all the juice (and sugar), just put a few drops of the bitters in to get the same effect.

Preparation:  Measure and mix all ingredients in a graduated shot glass (for accuracy and consistency) and pour over ice in a cocktail shaker.  Shake vigorously.  Double strain (to remove pulp from the lime and ice shards) into a cocktail glass or coupe.

Garnish:  Take a wheel from the fresh lime you squeezed, slice and place on the rim.

Drink:  Close your eyes and imagine yourself dancing at the Tropicana on a caliente Havana night!

Cheers!

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Cocktail Hour: A Simple Crisp White + Smoked Whitefish Spread

DSC_0776Sometimes nothing is better than a crisp white on a warm summer evening.  Yesterday marked the summer solstice, and we spent it on our just finished stone terrace with chilled sauv blanc and this smoked whitefish spread.  I picked up the smoked whitefish fillets from a fisherman’s stand at the farmers’ market in Lake Bluff yesterday, and they were so delicious I’m going back for more at his stand in Lake Forest today!DSC_0779Smoked Whitefish Spread

serves 4 (though you might want to double – it disappears fast!)

  • 2 cups smoked whitefish, skinned, checked for bones, and broken into large flakes
  • 6 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • the juice of 1 lemon (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallot or onion
  • 2 scant teaspoons capers, drained and chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon Worstershire
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  1. Place all ingredients except for the smoked whitefish in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth.
  2. Stir in the smoked whitefish flakes by hand just until combined.
  3. Chill.  Serve with crackers or salt and pepper kettle chips.

recipe and photos via the aesthete and the dilettante

Cocktail Hour: Fresh Strawberry Mojito

DSC_0313This cocktail is summer in a glass!  It’s my version of a mojito – light, refreshing, and just sweet enough, starring mint from the garden and the ripest, juiciest farmers’ market strawberries.  Dare I say it almost feels healthy?

Fresh Strawberry Mojito

serves 2

  • 2/3 cup fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered
  • 8-10 mint leaves
  • 2 tablespoons agave syrup (or more, depending on the sweetness of your berries)
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1/3 cup light rum
  • 2 tablespoons Cointreau
  • ice
  • club soda
  • lime slices for garnish
  1. Place mint leaves and strawberries in the bottom of a cocktail shaker and muddle with the end of a wooden spoon until strawberries are crushed and mint leaves are fragrant.
  2. Add agave, lime juice, rum, Cointreau, and a big handful of ice cubes to the cocktail shaker.  Shake vigorously until combined and chilled.
  3. Strain into two ice-filled high ball glasses, top each glass with club soda, stir gently, and garnish with a lime wedge.

DSC_0188DSC_0252recipe and photos via the aesthete and the dilettante

Cocktail Hour: The Martini

I’m thrilled to introduce a new weekend feature just in time for summer, Cocktail HourMichael, my almost brother-in-law and the most talented mixologist I’ve ever known (this is not hyperbole), has graciously agreed to share his knowledge and his recipes during the month of June here at a & d.  And in true Michael fashion, he’s kicking off Cocktail Hour with a classic.Image 2

The Martini.

A few basic principles.  First, using only liquors of the highest quality will result in a good Martini.  This applies for all ingredients.  Just as a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, a high quality Gin with cheap Vermouth will not taste good.  Most people don’t like Martinis because they use bad liquor.

Second, the basic principle of mixing cocktails is to find the blend of ingredients (modifiers) that compliment the Base.  Without the modifier, a base will never be more than chilled liquor – not a cocktail.

According to Embury’s “The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks” (put down the Mr. Bostons….this is the best book on cocktails out there), “most of the present generation learned to drink and most of the present-day bartenders learned their profession during the past 37 years.  The first 14 years of this period were devoted to the famous ‘experiment, noble in purpose,’ and the remaining years have not yet been sufficient to erase wholly the ignoble effects of that era.”

Paying mind to the above principles, the Martini is the most elegant of drinks.  In its purest form, the martini has one base (Gin or Vodka) and one modifier (Vermouth).  It is, in essence, the Hydrogen of the Cocktail Periodic Table.  Many people prefer Vodka to Gin, and I will not judge them.  I will, however, offer the reasons why I prefer Gin.  First, it is the liquor originally intended for the Martini – which was also known as the Martinez.  Second, a good Gin has a depth and viscosity that Vodka does not – Gin really is Vodka infused with juniper and other botanicals.  Last, Vodka is a soul-less liquor (by definition, has no color, smell, or taste) which makes it the ideal liquor for people who like being drunk but don’t like the taste of liquor.

That being said, the proportions of Gin to Vermouth is largely left to the taste of the imbiber.  I do discourage, however, the notion of just “washing the glass” or “adding a few drops” of Vermouth.  This practice negates its role as a modifier and, as stated above, leave one with only a chilled glass of liquor.  People largely don’t like vermouth in their gin because they are adding substandard (read Martini and Rossi) Vermouth.  A good Vermouth will negate all the bad things in straight Gin.  It will reduce the volatility (reduces vapor temp) which eliminates the burn so often associated with a bad Gin and leaves the delightful, smooth flavor of the distillers botanicals behind.

And so:  I give you my favorite recipe for a martini.

2 oz Smooth Ambler Gin.  We stumbled upon the Smooth Ambler at one of the better liquor stores in the area and bought a bottle because it was made in West Virginia.  Who would’ve guessed it was to be the best Gin we’ve ever tasted.  The viscosity and botanicals are perfect.  It is made in small batch pot stills (as opposed to larger column/continuous stills used by large companies) using organic ingredients and it was rated at 94 points by Wine Enthusiast magazine.  If you don’t trust Wine magazines to judge your liquor, the Gin won bronze this past May at the San Fransisco World Spirits competition.  Folks, this is good stuff…..don’t knock it before you’ve tried it.

1 oz Dolin Blanc Vermouth.  This is the Vermouth being poured by most high-end craft cocktail bars in the country and for good reason.  I’d also recommend Lillet as a suitable alternative.

2 drops Bittermens Boston Bittahs.  I didn’t discuss bitters at all before, but the original Martini recipe called for a dash of Orange Bitters.  These amazing ingredients are the spice rack of any serious barstock.  Would one try cooking or baking with no salt, pepper, cumin, cinnamon ect??  Of course not.  Start experimenting with different bitters and they will take your drinking habit to the next level.  The Bittermens here will round out the cocktail and add the slightest hint of citrus to your “just about perfect cocktail”.

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A note about mixing.

I prefer mixing all ingredients in a small graduated shot glass.  I then add to the shaker with ice.  Shake vigorously.  And the secret is to double strain by pouring it through a small fine sieve or strainer (see my equipment below).  This frees the cocktail from extraneous ice shards (they will collect like slush in the strainer) and gives the drink that clean mouthfeel.

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Garnish.  For this summer martini, garnish with a lemon twist.  Be sure to twist your lemon peel to express the oils before wiping the glass rim with it and dropping it in the drink.  Cheers!

Thank you, Michael!  We can’t wait to hear what’s in your cocktail shaker next week.  Now, if I could just talk the two of you into moving in next door…