Friday, August 24, 2012

Cocktail of the Week: The Block and Fall

As bartender at New York’s Ashland House hotel, Patrick Gavin Duffy served men of letters like Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde. But Duffy’s contribution to world literature warrants praise of its own. The Official Mixer’s Manual (1934) provides an invaluable record of pre-Prohibition cocktails and cocktail culture. Duffy’s book was “revised and enlarged” by the food writer James Beard several times, with the later iterations losing some of the original’s sterner sentiment. My 1956 copy doesn’t include Duffy’s cranky counsel on how to practice the trade of bartending, which includes the admonition to keep interaction with the customer to a minimum. Ben Perri of the Zig Zag Café tells me that in earlier editions of the Manual, drinks that Duffy deems no longer worthy of being prepared are marked with an asterisk. My friend Eddie Muller sums up the book’s old school appeal by noting that his copy highlights “exactly TWO (2) cocktails with a vodka base.” By 1956, the number had swollen grotesquely to a tumescent twelve.

Duffy remains a tremendous resource, full of drinks that have unfairly fallen out of favor. Consider the Block and Fall. Much as I’d like to believe the stories that the drink’s name is a warning of its potency – have one, walk a block, and you’ll fall – the handle is simply a variation on block and tackle.

That said, this cocktail is strong. It’s also astonishingly complex, growing more nuanced as it settles. Cognac and Cointreau may not at first glance seem like a natural pairing but they complement each other nicely, with applejack providing a welcome bite and the Pernod floating pleasantly above it all. It tastes like a vintage cocktail, something Duffy might have poured for J. P. Morgan (another of his customers), meant to be sipped while sitting in a leather chair and conspiring to knot the unruly republic together with railroads. It’s one I’m launching a campaign to bring back.

The Block and Fall

Patrick Gavin Duffy, The Official Mixer’s Manual

1 oz. Cognac (or brandy)
1 oz. Cointreau
½ oz. applejack (or Calvados)
½ oz. Pernod

Stir. Strain. No garnish.