Friday, July 26, 2013

Cocktails of the Week: The Tuxedo/The Imperial

This started out as a post about one drink, but events quickly overtook me.

About the only thing that can be said with reasonable certainty regarding the Tuxedo cocktail is that it was spawned at the swellegant Tuxedo Park Club in New York’s Ramapo Mountains, the selfsame establishment where the namesake menswear was introduced Stateside in 1886. The drink’s recipe is featured in many early bartending books, with every Harry (Craddock, Johnson, and McElhone) getting into the act. The formula evolved with each appearance, leading to great confusion in the land. The original Tuxedo was likely made with sherry and dry gin – unless it was made with Old Tom gin, as in some reports – and bears only a distant resemblance to the cocktail’s current conception. In the revised Official Mixer’s Manual, Patrick Gavin Duffy blithely offers three different Tuxedos with no explanation, including one that doesn’t have gin at all.

Duffy’s third stab at the recipe is the drink I set out to make, essentially a very wet martini with the traditional orange bitters, enlivened by a splash of maraschino and served in a glass rinsed (or in my case misted) with absinthe (or any anise liqueur, in my case Pernod). Traditionally the cocktail was prepared with equal parts gin and vermouth, but I adhered to contemporary custom and opted for a more spirit-forward version, which has the added benefit of throwing a little more light on the spark of cherry sweetness provided by the maraschino.

Forego the dash of anise and switch to more flavorful Angostura bitters and you have the Imperial. I mentioned this drink the other night at the Zig Zag CafĂ© when Rosemarie said she wanted something like a martini but different. We turned to the redoubtable Ben Perri, who in turn consulted Jones’ Complete Barguide to confirm that I had the recipe correct. (Turns out there are an assortment of Imperial Fizzes as well as a brandy-based Imperial Delight muddying the brand.)

Jones calls for equal parts gin and vermouth in the Imperial. More intriguingly, it says the drink can be garnished with a cherry or an olive. The former would seem the favorite, given the presence of maraschino. But Ben said “I’m not feeling it” and went with the olive, which proved the right decision. The taste of cherry is already in play, and the martini profile is strong enough that the olive feels right at home. Before Rosemarie finished drinking hers, three other customers had ordered Imperials of their own. Single-handedly starting a mini-craze for an obscure cocktail. It’s my proudest moment of the year so far.

The Tuxedo

2 oz. gin
1 ½ oz. dry vermouth
¼ oz. maraschino
2 dashes of orange bitters
dash of absinthe or Pernod

Combine the first four ingredients. Stir. Strain into a cocktail glass rinsed or misted with absinthe or Pernod. Garnish with a lemon twist and a cherry.

The Imperial

1 ½ oz. gin
1 ½ dry vermouth
¼ oz. maraschino
dash of Angostura bitters

Stir. Strain. Garnish with a maraschino cherry or an olive, but for variety’s sake start with the olive.