Friday, June 28, 2013

Cocktail of the Week: The Harvey Wheelbanger

We’re changing the rules around here this week. The spotlight falls on a brand new drink, one I have yet to make myself but had a hand in inventing.

Ask friend and foe alike for a précis on my character and at some point, friend/foe’s voice will drop to the whispered tone reserved for the names of afflictions. “You know he’s ... a Mets fan,” friend/foe will say with commingled pity and wonder, both emotions apt.

It’s true. I remain stubbornly, stupidly loyal to the baseball team of my youth. There have been highs. There have been many, many, many more lows. Especially of late. But there is also hope. For the New York Metropolitans now have Matt Harvey, second year pitching phenom, possible starter of this year’s All-Star Game in Flushing, repository of all my dreams for the future. (No pressure.)

Ask friend and foe alike, etc., etc., and friend/foe will say, “Guy likes drinking.” So little wonder that more than one person suggested in the wake of Harvey’s dazzling first half that I should concoct a cocktail in his honor. It’s nice when a man’s hobbies overlap. I brought in a consultant: Ben Perri, estimable bartender at the Zig Zag Café, fellow New York ex-pat and baseball aficionado. We discussed parameters. No Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey, in part because it’s too easy but mostly because I don’t care for the stuff. Sports Illustrated dubbed Harvey “The Dark Knight of Gotham” and he pitched for the University of North Carolina, so clearly the base spirit has to be brown.

Earlier this week I caught up with Ben, who commented on the impressive debut outing of the Mets’ other touted pitching prospect Zack Wheeler. “We need a drink that pays tribute to them both,” Ben said. That’s when it hit me.

Ladies and gentlemen, Mets fans of all ages, Ben and I give you ... the Harvey Wheelbanger.

Sometimes it really is that easy.

The Harvey Wallbanger – vodka, orange juice, and the sweet, vanilla-heavy liqueur Galliano – is one of those cocktails that only could have achieved popularity in the 1970s. Esteem’d tippler Kingsley Amis branded the drink “famous or infamous,” dismissing it as “a Screwdriver with trimmings ... named after some reeling idiot in California.” That last bit comes from a treasured bit of lore claiming that the cocktail’s original advocate was a surfer (go on, guess his name!) who downed so many of them he’d bang off the walls trying to leave the bar. While Gary Regan cites an article crediting the cocktail’s invention to Newport Beach sportswriter Bill Doner, most experts lay blame or credit at the feet of barman Donato “Duke” Antone, who also claimed to have bequeathed unto the world the Rusty Nail.

New York Times writer Robert O. Simonson dove further into the Wallbanger’s history in this piece, discovering that its origins may have been considerably more corporate. Dale DeGroff adds the tantalizing tidbit that the apocryphal surfer downed so many of these drinks solely to collect the distinctive tapered bottles of Galliano. (The liqueur may be slowly making a comeback, but the cocktail that served as its primary introduction is more a liability at this point.)

The drink already has a baseball provenance; the 1982 American League champion Milwaukee Brewers were known as “Harvey’s Wallbangers” thanks to the team’s offensive prowess under the stewardship of manager Harvey Kuenn. The Harvey/Wheeler connection made it a no-brainer.

So what’s in a Harvey Wheelbanger? Galliano, obviously, a tip of the baseball cap to the cocktail’s forebear. Triple sec to complement it. Rye whiskey, as discussed. Not just any rye but Rittenhouse 100 proof, bringing the high heat. Ben then added Root liqueur as “the curveball, the off-speed stuff.” For the long, hot months of baseball season you want a tall drink, a cooler, so serve it over ice with club soda (“the gas”).

I drank the first-ever Harvey Wheelbanger at the Zig Zag on Monday night, and pronounced it good. It’s refreshing with a snap courtesy of the sneaky sarsaparilla finish. Before I left another customer had ordered one, because change is in the wind. The balance of power in the National League East is shifting to Queens, thanks to the presence of Harvey and Wheeler. Together, they are the joint Moses who will lead us to the Promised Land, or at least within hailing distance of a 2015 wild card bid. I’ve been a Mets fan too long to get completely carried away.

The Harvey Wheelbanger*

1 ¼ oz. Rittenhouse 100 proof rye
½ oz. Galliano
½ oz. triple sec
¼ oz. Root liqueur
3 oz. club soda

Combine the first four ingredients with ice. Stir. Strain into a Collins glass filled with ice. Top with club soda. Garnish with an orange slice and a cherry.

*Known as the Starting Rotation in Yankees/Braves/Nationals/Phillies/Marlins bars. Like there are any Marlins bars.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Cocktail of the Week: The Brown Derby

Let’s head to California for this next libation, even though doing so is probably incorrect. A drink called the De Rigueur with the virtually identical recipe appears in Harry Craddock’s The Savoy Cocktail Book and therefore predates this one, but honestly, I’ve talked about Harry enough. It’s the first day of summer and it’s still overcast in Seattle. I could use a little sun. So we’re sticking with the version appearing in the 1933 collection Hollywood Cocktails by Buzza & Cardozo. (Purists will point out that there’s even a second, very different drink called the Brown Derby. Considering the Hollywood connection, maybe it was a reboot of this one.)

Our Brown Derby is indeed named after Los Angeles’ famed hat-shaped eatery, but it wasn’t created there. The drink was born in the Vendôme Club, operated by nightlife impresario Billy Wilkerson. Wilkerson is one of those characters about whom enough can never be written. He started the Hollywood Reporter, using the paper’s gossip columns to stir interest in his clubs like the Trocadero and Ciro’s. He broke ground on the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas only to be muscled out by partner Bugsy Siegel. He discovered Lana Turner at a soda fountain.

The Vendôme became the first place where one had to lunch in Hollywood, an essential venue where luminaries went to see and be seen. It was at the Vendôme that Louella Parsons learned about the pending split between Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, a landmark divorce in that both parties had cocktails named after them. Many spirits historians note that the Vendôme dubbed this drink after its neighbor then cite the original Brown Derby on Wilshire Boulevard. But given the Vendôme’s location on Sunset the more likely namesake is the Derby’s second outpost on Vine Street, alleged birthplace of the Cobb Salad.

The cocktail is basically a showbiz sour – spirit, sweetener, citrus – with the elements given additional pizzazz. Bourbon and honey are perfectly cast opposite each other, while above them grapefruit walks a tart tightrope. The recipe below comes from Jim Meehan’s The PDT Cocktail Book, as does the stronger-than-usual formula for honey syrup: a 2:1 ratio of honey to water, simmered over medium heat until the honey dissolves. If you’re going to include a flavor as distinctive as honey, you might as well taste it.

The Brown Derby

2 oz. bourbon
1 oz. grapefruit juice
¾ oz. honey syrup

Shake. Strain. No garnish.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Cocktail of the Week: The Fancy Free

And then there are the drinks where you don’t have much to say about them other than: I like this one, you should try it. Although it is appropriate for June 14, which is National Bourbon Day.

The Fancy Free had fallen out of my home bartending repertoire. I was reminded of it by Lesley M. M. Blume’s recent book Let’s Bring Back: The Cocktail Edition, and it’s worked its way into the rotation again. Few drinks serve as a better showcase for maraschino, the clear spirit distilled in Italy from sour cherries and typically found in a lanky bottle with a base swaddled in straw. It has hints of sweetness – Ernest Hemingway preferred it in his daiquiri in place of sugar – balanced by notes of almond, and no other commonly used modifier so says ‘cocktail’ to me. The Fancy Free rightly gives it center stage.

The recipe apparently first appears in the immortally titled Crosby Gaige’s Cocktail Guide and Ladies’ Companion (1941). Crosby suggests an unnecessarily fussy presentation, serving it like a Sidecar in a glass with a sugared rim. The Fancy Free is essentially a variation on the Old Fashioned, with maraschino subtly substituting for muddled sugar or simple syrup, and some contemporary adherents treat it thusly, pouring it over ice in a tumbler. I split the difference and enjoy mine up, skipping the added business on the glass’s rim. Bourbon and maraschino complement each other so well they don’t require accessories.

The Fancy Free

2 oz. bourbon
½ oz. maraschino
dash of Angostura bitters
dash of orange bitters

Stir. Strain. No garnish.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Cocktail of the Week: The Dark & Stormy

Let me help you clear that ginger beer from last week out of your fridge. Here’s another drink to use it in. Only be careful what you call it.

The Dark & Stormy, one of the two unofficial national cocktails of Bermuda, has a marvelously evocative name. Dark rum, ginger beer. What could be simpler? A lot, it turns out, once the lawyers get involved.

Blame the Royal Navy for the drink’s existence. Back when it was still issuing a daily ration of rum to sailors, it opened a ginger beer bottling plant at its primary base in Bermuda. The rest of the story writes itself. Gosling Brothers, Ltd., founded in the islands in 1806, became best known for a particularly dark variety of rum first sold only in barrels, then in repurposed champagne bottles liberated from the officers’ mess and resealed using black wax. Hence the name Gosling’s Black Seal rum.

In the 1970s, the company trademarked the Dark & Stormy name, usually rendered Dark ‘n Stormy. As this Diffords Guide article explains, “it is the name of the drink that is protected under law, not its ingredients.” What does this mean? You won’t get hassled by the man if you pour a dark rum other than Gosling’s Black Seal into your ginger beer. But if you choose another brand, choose another name for the resulting beverage while you’re at it, because in the eyes of the law it ain’t a Dark & Stormy. Or a Dark ‘n Stormy. Sorry. The nuances of trademark elude me.

For decades Barritt’s Ginger Beer of Bermuda was the favored partner in this drink. Now Gosling’s makes their own. (I’m still using Crabbie’s out of England.) In America lime juice is typically added, a Yankee innovation that would be frowned on in the islands where even the lime garnish is deemed optional. Some recipes use simple syrup, and at least one deploys peeled ginger root for an additional boost of spice. Dale DeGroff cooked up an alternate take that deploys two kinds of rum as well as pineapple and orange juice, which at least in terms of ingredients pushes the drink closer to a rum swizzle, Bermuda’s other unofficial national cocktail.

My own version trusts the ginger beer to do its job but ups the ante with lime bitters for an extra tropical punch. I haven’t consulted with my attorneys to see whether this change violates the law, so as the legal fog clears I’ve filed a claim on the name The Tenebrous & Gusty. Whatever you call it, it’s one of the great refreshments of summer.

The Dark & Stormy

2 oz. Gosling’s Black Seal rum
3 oz. ginger beer
2 lime wedges
2-3 dashes of lime bitters

Add the bitters to a highball glass filled with ice. Pour in the Gosling’s Black Seal rum. Top with ginger beer. Squeeze the lime wedges into the drink, then add them to the glass. Stir.