Friday, March 22, 2013

Cocktail of the Week: The Crux

Among my favorite moments in cocktail bars are those exchanges that make your drink choice a collaborative process. You provide direction while yielding to your bartender’s expertise, indicating what taste you’re in the mood for while leaving room for interpretation. With a few questions, an accomplished professional can divine exactly what you didn’t know you wanted.

You do not expect one of those questions to be, “How do you feel about Hawaiian Punch?”

That’s the question that Ben Perri of the Zig Zag CafĂ© put to Rosemarie when she said she was in a Cognac state of mind. Ben parried with the Crux, an overlooked offering that he described as a sophisticated version of the battery-inducing childhood favorite (watch the ad), having the flavor with none of the cloying sweetness.

Rosemarie was intrigued. The cocktail was exactly what Ben promised. I wrote the recipe on a coaster and started making them at home.

There’s not much history on the Crux. Its first appearance is apparently in Jones’ Complete Bar Guide (1977), now out of print. Stan Jones was a lifelong bartender who worked the stick in Southern California. During the dark ages of cocktails, a grim and best forgotten time of pre-packaged mixes and liquor on the gun, Jones collected some 4,000 recipes, several of which like the Crux might otherwise have been forgotten. Given the diligence Jones showed in talking to his fellow veterans in compiling his opus, it’s unclear where the Crux came from or whether it was a Jones original.

Hawaiian Punch famously featured seven kinds of fruit (again, watch the ad). In the equal parts Crux you get lemon juice, plus the bitter orange notes of Cointreau and both Cognac and the fortified wine Dubonnet providing a touch of the grape. That’s, what, three, maybe four fruits? Clearly there’s some kind of wizardry involved, because the result is wonderfully balanced and not remotely saccharine. Or, to put it another way, damned if doesn’t taste like Hawaiian Punch all grown up, holding down some tech sector job and living in a swank bachelor pad.

The Crux

¾ oz. Cognac
¾ oz. Cointreau
¾ oz. Dubonnet
¾ oz. lemon juice

Shake. Strain. No garnish.