Friday, February 22, 2013

Cocktail of the Week: The Diamondback

Step #1: Buy a welding mask.

OK, that may be taking precautionary measures to an extreme. But the first time I ever tried a Diamondback it was made with Rittenhouse rye (100 proof), Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy (100 proof) and green chartreuse (110 proof). You do the math. To quote noted expert Dr. Julius Hibbert, by all medical logic steam should have been shooting out of my ears. But it’s not the potency that draws me back, it’s the complexity. The Diamondback has many levels. Even its nuances have nuances.

Given the drink’s undeniable sting, you would be well within your rights to assume that it was christened after the rattlesnake. You would be wrong. According to Ted Saucier’s Bottoms Up! (1951), its namesake is the Diamondback Lounge, late of the Lord Baltimore Hotel in, you guessed it, Baltimore.

Saucier’s recipe also spawned the small degree of controversy around the Diamondback. Once again it’s time to ask the musical question: Which chartreuse do you choose? Saucier called for yellow. Order the cocktail now and it’s virtually certain you’ll be served one with green. In preparing for this post I made one with each, because my commitment to research and my love for each of you knows no bounds.

Yellow chartreuse’s herbaceous sweetness dominates; in some drinks that has its appeal, but here it overwhelms the rye, a particular shame with one as sweet and spicy as Rittenhouse. As for the green, the color means go for a reason. It conducts its business with ruthless efficiency, content to let the whiskey lead.

While the original ratio of 2:1:1 is still preferred, a number of bartenders including Jim Meehan of New York’s PDT opt for a more spirit forward version, with a full two ounces of rye and a half ounce of the other two elements. Use that formula and green chartreuse is the only choice. My preference is Saucier’s classic recipe with the more potent liqueur. Be sure to lift your welding mask before sampling.

The Diamondback

1 ½ ozs. rye
¾ oz. applejack
¾ oz. green chartreuse

Stir. Strain. No garnish.