Monday, December 31, 2012

It's New Year's Eve - thoughts turn to cocktails

Champagne, of course is traditional and I will have some but if you are looking for something else to imbibe, here are some thoughts on cocktails you might enjoy.

Martini. This is my preferred drink. And it is with Gin. In the last few years the word martini has been applied to any cocktail served in a martini glass. But that is a perversion. A Martini is gin and vermouth. Yes, I am a snob about this.
If it has vodka, then it is a Vodka Martini or more properly a Kangaroo Cocktail. In the 1920s when people first began mixing vodka and vermouth, the drink was called a Kangaroo Cocktail. For some reason the name did not stick and it became, simply a Vodka Martini (that’s the way James Bond orders it).and should be ordered as such.
I prefer my Martini three to one, meaning three parts gin to one part vermouth. The trend today is to minimize or eliminate the vermouth altogether but not for me. If it is a Martini it has vermouth in it.

There is disagreement on where the drink and the name came from. Many contend that it was because the cocktail was made with Martini and Rossi vermouth, thus the name. I subscribe to the San Francisco story, that the drink was invented at the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco and served to people waiting to take the ferry across the bay to Martinez. The people of Martinez of course claim the drink was invented there.

There is a variation on the Martini. If you make a martini and garnish it with a pearl onion instead of an olive, it is a Gibson. Supposedly, Charles Dana Gibson – he of Gibson Girl fame - asked a bartender to improve on the Martini recipe. All the bartender did is substitute the onion for the olive.

There are two cocktails that use champagne (or sparkling wine).

French 75. Invented at Harry’s Bar in Paris – Ernest Hemingway’s favorite hang out in Paris. In a tall glass with ice, pour two jiggers of Gin, one jigger of lemon juice, powdered sugar to taste. Fill with champagne. The name is said to refer to a French WWI cannon called a French 75.

The classic Champagne Cocktail. Soak a sugar cube in Angostura Bitters, drop in the bottom of a champagne flute and fill with champagne. This has been around since the mid-19th century. I first tried one after seeing Victor Laslo order one in Casablanca.

For Bourbon there are two classics.

The Manhattan. This drink dates to the 19th Century as well. It is said to have been invented at the Manhattan club. I make mine with two parts bourbon, one part sweet vermouth, a dash of bitters and garnish with a maraschino cherry. When Rye whiskey was readily available and was the whiskey of choice the Manhattan was made with Rye. However after prohibition bourbon supplanted Rye as the whiskey of choice. Non- traditionalists – not me - will make a Manhattan using Canadian or American blended whiskey, such as Canadian Club or Seagrams 7 Crown.

You can make the same drink with Scotch Whiskey and then it is a Rob Roy.

The other bourbon or whiskey cocktail is the Old Fashioned. Muddle a cube of sugar with a dash of water and bitters in the bottom of a rocks glass (often called an Old Fashioned Glass) and add bourbon and ice. Garnish with a twist of orange or lemon peel.


A bit of the hair of the dog that bit you – a Bloody Mary. This too is said to have been invented at Harry’s Bar in Paris. I sometimes use Pepper Vodka, as it gives an even better bite. In a tall glass with ice, I pour three ounces of vodka; a couple of dashes of Worcestershire sauce; a couple of healthy dashes of hot sauce (many people use Tabasco but I prefer Cholula); fresh ground black pepper and celery salt, to taste; rim the glass with a large wedge of lime then squeeze the juice into the drink (drop the wedge into the drink); then fill V8 juice and stir. I prefer the V8 to regular tomato juice – okay, about this I am not a traditionalist.

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