Friday, May 04, 2012

Cocktail of the Week: The Mary Pickford

Drink enough cocktails and you’ll soon establish preferences, developing a personal hierarchy of spirits. Mine looks like this:

1. Rye
1A. Bourbon
2. Gin

Then there’s fifty feet of crap. And then there’s us. (Sorry. Moneyball is on cable and I keep leaving it on.)

I wanted to expand my horizons, work outside my comfort zone. That meant rum. With its broad flavor profile, it blends admirably well while maintaining its own presence, leaving plenty of room for experimentation. I’d gained some valuable perspective on this spirit from Wayne Curtis’ And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails, which points out how at every key juncture in the development of America, rum was being poured somewhere.

Even more illuminating reading came courtesy of Charles H. Baker Jr., whom I have come to regard as one of the great men of the twentieth century. Baker was a writer who married exceedingly well, a fortuitous turn of events that permitted him to do the great work he was put on this earth to do: he travelled the globe sampling cocktails and recording their recipes for posterity. They were collected in the second volume of his 1939 book The Gentleman’s Companion, later reprinted as Around the World with Jigger, Beaker and Flask. Everything about Baker’s book speaks to a panache that is now in short supply. A Tahitian cocktail is introduced to him by a friend who “with 2 or 3 other Yale men set off from New London to circle the globe in their 65 foot schooner Chance,” and the concoction itself is “an insidious drink that ladies prefer, often to their eventual risk, joy and sorrow.” No wonder he still has ardent admirers.

As many of Baker’s recipes come from exotic, far-flung locales, rum is a staple. Earlier this year I visited Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco, a truly impressive bar with a lengthy menu drawing liberally from Baker’s book. Drinks are prepared and served in a style that would meet with the maestro’s approval. Their rendition of the Hotel Nacional Special, a mixture of rum, apricot brandy, and lime and pineapple juices which Baker dubs “one of the three finest Bacardi drinks known to science,” verges on a religious experience.

For my first stab at a more adventuresome rum drink I chose another born of Cuba. The Mary Pickford, crafted at Havana’s Jockey Club, was indeed named after the silent film legend, so how could I resist? There is no evidence, alas, that she ever sampled it.

The drink calls for pineapple juice, which both spurred me on and gave me pause. Freshly squeezed juice is mandatory when making cocktails. At Smuggler’s Cove, whole pineapple chunks were liquefied before my eyes for the Hotel Nacional Special. I attempted something similar with frozen pineapple chunks and a hand blender. The result was a fruit slurry that wouldn’t exactly mix well, although it did make a tasty dessert. In The PDT Cocktail Book, Jim Meehan notes that fresh pineapple juice is “preferable to canned” provided you can afford a juice extractor; I read his use of “preferable” as a tacit blessing to embrace canned juice.

One last note: three of the four founders of United Artists – Pickford, Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks – have cocktails named after them. The sole holdout is director D.W. Griffith. (OK, technically there was a fifth name on the UA paperwork, that of lawyer and former Treasury Secretary William Gibbs McAdoo. But what with Prohibition, who’d order a drink named after a T-Man?) Griffith’s legacy is an admittedly complicated one, but in the interests of completion the man needs his own cocktail. I am consulting with experts now to right this wrong.

The Mary Pickford

2 oz. rum
¾ oz. pineapple juice
½ oz. maraschino
¼ oz. grenadine

Shake. Strain. No garnish.