Thursday, October 31, 2013

Cocktail of the Week: Satan’s Whiskers/Satan’s Soul Patch

Greetings, boys and ghouls. I thought it would be a scream on this Samhain-chanted evening to exorcize your tonsils with – yeah, OK, I’m putting a stop to that nonsense right there.

This week’s entry comes a day early, because there’s no point in highlighting a drink called Satan’s Whiskers after Halloween. As well as having a suitably seasonal name, it’s a natural follow up to last week’s gin-and-orange adventure.

Satan’s Whiskers first appeared in the Savoy Cocktail Book, and how many times have I written that sentence? Its claim to fame is that it can be served in two styles depending on the orange liqueur used, either straight (Grand Marnier) or curled (curaçao). My Whiskers have a kink to them for one reason: I don’t have any Grand Marnier.

Don’t get me wrong. I like the stuff. On its own it can be marvelous. But in mixed drinks Grand Marnier, like Bull Durham’s ‘Nuke’ LaLoosh, likes to announce its presence with authority. It tends to bully the other flavors around.

Straight Whiskers have long been the default choice because of the absence of a good curaçao. The secret to the liqueur is the use of Laraha orange peels. Larahas are the descendants of European Valencia oranges that didn’t take to the drier climate of the New World and became small and bitter. (For a demonstration of this process, have a relative move to Florida and then check on them in five years. Hiyo!) Larahas are largely inedible but that didn’t stop desperate sailors from forcing them down to stave off scurvy, to the extent that Amy Stewart, in her book The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create The World’s Great Drinks, speculates that the name of the island where the fruit grows comes from the Portuguese word for “cured.” This desperation led to the discovery that Laraha peels are uncommonly, almost seductively aromatic, and soon they were the source of a liqueur.

Curaçao has been bastardized over the years; hell, most people think it’s supposed to be blue. Then in 2012 cocktail authority David Wondrich joined forced with France’s Cognac Ferrand to create Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao. Based on 19th century formulae, their variation of this classic combines Curaçao orange peels and other spices with unaged brandy and Ferrand cognac. The resulting spirit, tinted a light amber and priced to move, has a nuanced taste, the brandy assertive but not overwhelming. It occupies a point on the spectrum where it could readily be substituted for Grand Marnier on one end and Cointreau or other triple secs on the other.

And, of course, it’s right at home in traditional curaçao cocktails like the curled Satan’s Whiskers. Which, I have to say, does not taste particularly diabolical. In fact, demonic monicker aside it’s scarcely a Halloween drink. Its orange flavor is so pronounced that it’s almost sprightly. I’d go so far as to call Satan’s Whiskers too much of a good thing. The standard recipe calls for orange bitters, but I’d opt for Angostura to provide a countervailing note to the abundance of citrus.

Or you could go one step further and make a Satan’s Soul Patch (or Satan’s Mouche, if one wants to sound Continental), a more substantial offering anchored by bourbon instead of gin. Especially if you plan on fixing one this evening. What better time to commune with dark spirits than Halloween?

Satan’s Whiskers (Curled)

½ oz. gin
½ oz. dry vermouth
½ oz. sweet vermouth
½ oz. fresh orange juice
¼ oz. orange curaçao
dash of Angostura bitters

Shake. Strain. Garnish with an orange twist. Make the “straight” version with Grand Marnier in place of curaçao. Make a Satan’s Soul Patch with bourbon in place of gin. Note that reading this post in its entirety means that your immortal soul is now the property of Keenan’s Kocktails, LLC.

Want more Cocktail of the Week? The first fifty-two essays are available in the Kindle bestseller DOWN THE HATCH: ONE MAN’S ONE YEAR ODYSSEY THROUGH CLASSIC COCKTAIL RECIPES AND LORE. Buy it now at

Monday, October 28, 2013

Miscellaneous: Happy Birthday, Edith Head!

Nothing beats Google stealing your thunder. If you’ve seen today’s doodle –

– then you already know that Edith Head was born 116 years ago. And if you’re a regular reader, you already know why Hollywood’s best-known costume designer is so significant here at Chez K. Rosemarie and I have assembled quite the bounty of material on Edie’s life and work, including her original design notes for the character played by actress Pat Crowley in the Martin & Lewis film Hollywood or Bust. Faded fabric swatches are still attached to the pages.

The gorgeous doodle by Sophie Diao spotlighting half a dozen Edith costumes (among them Kim Novak’s iconic suit from Vertigo) is generating plenty of interest in Edith’s work. Turner Classic Movies is running a day-long salute that focuses on her late-career films at Universal. Already this morning I’ve been at a Google hangout featuring Ms. Diao and Susan Claassen, who performs a one-woman show about Edith.

Edith’s greatest costume was the one she created for herself, the public persona of “Edith Head” that afforded her visibility and career longevity. What better way to celebrate her trailblazing legacy than by seeing her in action? Here she is with Groucho Marx on an episode of You Bet Your Life.

So raise a glass to Edith Head, a one of a kind personality who in no way was off the rack. Maybe something with Fernet Branca; as Edith herself said, it’s “guaranteed to save your life on the day you want to kill yourself.” Happy birthday, Edith!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Cocktail of the Week: The Maiden’s Prayer

A few months ago, I took a mighty leap forward in my quest to see every film directed by Alfred Hitchcock when all nine of his surviving silent films, fully restored by the British Film Institute, screened in Seattle. What struck me about these early efforts, aside from his precocious talent, was the characters’ regular indulgence in cocktails. The movies were made in the late 1920s when Prohibition held sway over the Colonies, so perhaps rubbing it in is another example of Hitch’s mordant wit.

Rosemarie's favorite title card from CHAMPAGNE
Imbibing factors most prominently in 1928’s fittingly titled Champagne. The heroine of this screwball comedy, which survives only in a back-up print consisting of alternate takes, is literally a runaway heiress; the movie opens with her blowing a chunk of her father’s fortune to charter a seaplane so she can catch up to an ocean liner. As evidenced by a title card that quickly became Rosemarie’s motto, Betty is a dedicated student of mixed drinks and a devotee of the good life. She’s so profligate with her pop’s resources that he pretends he’s destitute in order to teach her a lesson. But Betty discovers heretofore unknown reserves of pluck and lands a position in a restaurant. On her first night, when nothing goes as planned, she takes a moment to watch in wonder as a bartender builds a complex cocktail. She asks what it’s called and is told a Maiden’s Prayer.

It was only a matter of time before I whipped one up myself and toasted Hitch with it.

The name came first, bestowed upon a genteel piece of piano music by Polish composer Tekla Bądarzewska-Baranowska in 1856. The ditty turns up in Kurt Weill’s satirical opera The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, but its most lasting impact would come courtesy of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. Wills heard the melody on a fiddle and knew it lent itself to western swing. His new arrangement and lyrics made the song a country staple. Here’s a rendition recorded by the Baron of Bakersfield, Buck Owens.

Another title card from CHAMPAGNE
No one’s sure which wiseacre decided to christen a drink after it. The earliest Maiden’s Prayer on record, according to cocktail historian David Wondrich, is one made with rum and champagne that appears in Frank Newman’s unsung 1907 book American Bar. Gin is the base spirit in the version enshrined in the Savoy Cocktail Book, with another variation adding Calvados and Kina Lillet. Adding to the giggly confusion is the similar Maiden’s Blush, made without orange juice and with grenadine. However you poured it the intent of the Maiden’s Prayer was the same, and here’s where the wiseacre part comes in. Esquire’s Handbook for Hosts (1949) suggested that the drink be “served on the edge of the couch,” intimating that the concoction was engineered for the overcoming of inhibitions. While it’s not a particularly potent libation, it’s easy to see how the combination of fruit juices and “just a little gin” could be made appealing to an unsuspecting member of the fairer sex.

Guess which one has egg white
When I prepared the drink, I followed gaz regan’s advice to add Angostura bitters. The note of spice they brought kept the drink from floating away on a cloud of citrus. A fellow Hitchcock fan and cocktail aficionado known only as El Benjamino, similarly inspired after the Champagne screening, ordered a Maiden’s Prayer at the Zig Zag Café and was asked by bartender Ricardo if he wanted it with egg white. This ingredient, which nudges the drink toward Ramos Gin Fizz territory, didn’t turn up in any recipe I’d seen. Intrigued, I made versions with and without, because my thoroughness is unparalleled.

Which did I prefer? I can say that in addition to the silken texture always brought by egg white, its presence smoothes out what is quite a tart cocktail. Which will you prefer? You’ll have to fix a novena of Maiden’s Prayers and decide for yourself. Suspense perhaps not worthy of Hitchcock, but the best I can do.

The Maiden’s Prayer

1 ½ oz. gin
½ oz. Cointreau
½ oz. lemon juice
½ oz. orange juice
dash of Angostura bitters
egg white (optional)

Shake. Strain. Garnish with an orange twist. If using an egg white, combine all the ingredients and shake first without ice, then with.

Want more Cocktail of the Week? The first fifty-two essays are available in the Kindle bestseller DOWN THE HATCH: ONE MAN’S ONE YEAR ODYSSEY THROUGH CLASSIC COCKTAIL RECIPES AND LORE. Buy it now at

Friday, October 18, 2013

Cocktail of the Week: The Newark

It’s no surprise October is National Applejack Month. No other American spirit is so associated with autumn, each crisp sip redolent of harvest time. Applejack, the name borne of the colonial practice of concentrating cider through freeze distillation (i.e., leaving it out in the cold) or “jacking,” has been available commercially in the United States almost since the United States opened for business.

What is a surprise is my newfound ability to acquire the good stuff. In my local supermarket yet.

Laird & Company have long been America’s preeminent producer of applejack, which is apple brandy blended with neutral spirits. The country’s oldest licensed distillery also makes a 100 proof bottled in bond apple brandy. The uncut version has a brilliant flavor, not on par with Calvados – the French apple brandy that is the finest liquid known to man – but close. For years it was only available on the East Coast. Here’s how it good it is: it’s worth checking a suitcase for. I was once asked by the bartenders at New York’s Death + Company to courier several bottles as a gift to the team at the Zig Zag Café here in Seattle. I did so without keeping one for myself. Lousy Catholic school education.

I was on my ritual pass through the liquor section of my neighborhood store when I glimpsed a distinctive label. I stood rooted to the spot until Rosemarie happened past to confirm that I was not experiencing some miraculous visitation. The premier variety of Laird’s Apple Brandy is now for sale on the West Coast, without any of the fanfare such an announcement deserves.

The Jack Rose is the best-known applejack cocktail. I wanted to inaugurate this bottle with something different. The Newark is the brainchild of Jim Meehan and John Deragon of New York’s PDT. It’s another spin on the Brooklyn, this one not named after a neighborhood in that borough but the largest city in the state Laird’s calls home.

The cocktail uses applejack for a base instead of rye while keeping the Brooklyn’s maraschino. In place of Amer Picon – another bottle that led to a trip to baggage claim – is Fernet Branca. The Newark has a complex, almost rolling flavor, yielding different notes as it settles. The unmistakable presence of Fernet frequently predominates, held in place by the maraschino. The taste of apple, even with the high-octane Laird’s, is always present but forever distant, like a memory. A fitting profile for a fall cocktail non pareil.

The Newark

Jim Meehan and John Deragon, PDT, New York

2 oz. applejack, ideally Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy
1 oz. sweet vermouth
¼ oz. maraschino
¼ oz. Fernet Branca

Stir. Strain. No garnish.

Want more Cocktail of the Week? The first fifty-two essays are available in the Kindle bestseller DOWN THE HATCH: ONE MAN’S ONE YEAR ODYSSEY THROUGH CLASSIC COCKTAIL RECIPES AND LORE. Buy it now at

Monday, October 14, 2013

Miscellaneous: Housekeeping

Right. Thank you all for coming. Does everyone have his or her agenda? A short one today, so let’s get to it ...

1. I have been remiss in not pointing out that applications are now being accepted for the 2014 William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grant for Unpublished Writers. The prize is given by the organizers of the Malice Domestic conference to aspiring authors of the traditional mystery novel. Rosemarie and I were honored to be 2013 recipients for our book Design for Dying: An Edith Head Mystery. Winning the grant, which includes a $1,500 cash award for conferences or workshops and complimentary registration and board at Malice, has opened countless doors for us. We can’t speak highly enough of this program. You have until November 15 to throw your deerstalker into the ring.

2. After careful consideration, or at least a weekend’s thought, I have decided to turn off comments on the blog.

Why? Because they’re getting in the way of the science, obviously; no legitimate funding agencies will bankroll my research. But I’ll show them! I’LL SHOW THEM ALL!

Also, the ratio of spam comments to real ones has swollen out of proportion. Even moderating them has become several steps too many.

I may revisit the decision. At present my only option for disabling comments regrettably means hiding all previously published ones. I’m trying to find a workaround. In the meantime, if you have any questions or complaints there’s always email or you can yell at me on Twitter.

3. My book is still for sale at Amazon. Two weeks in and Down the Hatch: One Man’s One Year Odyssey Through Classic Cocktail Recipes and Lore is holding its own on the Kindle bestseller list. Buy yourself a copy before you have to start planning those holiday parties.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Cocktail of the Week: The Cin Cyn

Picking up that bottle of Cynar, the artichoke ambrosia, from where we left it last week. Don’t be surprised if I hoist it again in the next few entries. It’s a big bottle.

The spelling of Cin Cyn – or is it Cyn Cin? – is a nod to two of its ingredients, red vermouth (Cinzano being a popular brand) and Cynar. In some circles it’s known as a Gin-Cin-Cyn, a la Rin Tin Tin, to include the base spirit.

By now the cleverboots among you have made a pair of deductions. The drink is a variation on the classic Negroni, and its name is pronounced “Chin-Chin.” Dubbing the cocktail after the informal Italian toast “Cin Cin” is a way of honoring the national origin of its elements. The phrase is said to be an onomatopoetic rendition of the sound of clinking glasses, which is a lovely thought.

Too bad it’s untrue. The toast isn’t Italian, either. (If I’m going to burst bubbles, I might as well burst as many as possible). Its usage comes from eighteenth century British and Portuguese traders who misheard the Chinese expression “qing-qing,” or “please-please,” a response to offers of food and drink.

The Cinzano plug in the name aside, any sweet vermouth will work here. I opted to keep the Italian theme but ratchet up the flavor by using Punt e Mes, with its robust bitterness. That, in turn, demanded a staunch gin that could keep pace, like Tanqueray. Angostura or Peychaud’s bitters are typically included, but I followed the lead of Jason Wilson and went with the orange variety. They make a fine complement to the orange peel, a length about an inch or so wide, used as a garnish instead of a narrow twist. After the oils have been expressed, of course.

And what does that mean, exactly, expressing the oils? I had it illustrated beautifully to me a few weeks ago during the Bartending 101 course I bought myself as a birthday present. It was taught by Anu Apte, owner of Seattle cocktail haven Rob Roy, through her Swig Well Academy. Anu prefers wider swaths of peels as garnish because they offer more essential oils and thus more complexity. She demonstrated by holding some orange peel up and squeezing it. A visible cloud erupted from it, a spray of concentrated flavor. Hold the garnish with the peel facing down over your glass and do likewise, and that intense burst of citrus goes directly into your drink, augmenting what’s already there.

The Negroni is one of the most adaptable cocktails in the canon, with the Cyn Cin – sorry, Cin Cyn – a notably effective innovation. It’s not as bitter as a standard Negroni with Campari, even when made with Punt e Mes. The taste is both deeper and more mellow, especially with the additional orange notes. This spin on a spin of a staple earned the Chez K seal of approval in record time. It’s one of the best drinks in the Cocktail of the Week run so far. It’s sensational. How sensational? Worth buying a huge bottle of Cynar sensational.

The Cin Cyn

1 oz. gin
1 oz. Cynar
1 oz. Punt e Mes
dash of orange bitters

Stir. Strain. Garnish with a length of orange peel after expressing the oils.

Want more Cocktail of the Week? The first fifty-two essays are available in the Kindle bestseller DOWN THE HATCH: ONE MAN’S ONE YEAR ODYSSEY THROUGH CLASSIC COCKTAIL RECIPES AND LORE. Buy it now at

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Book: Professor Cocktail’s Zombie Horde, by David J. Montgomery

The Zombie is the foundation on which the mighty temple of Tiki stands. Yet much of its history is shrouded in mystery. We know it was first poured by the legendary Don the Beachcomber in 1934. But what exactly was Don pouring? And how close to or wide of the mark were his many, many imitators?

Wonder no longer, because David J. Montgomery (in his guise as Professor Cocktail) is here to serve as your personal Indiana Jones and unearth Tiki’s greatest treasure. In an exhaustive yet entertaining work of scholarship, Montgomery scours available sources to compile every Zombie known to man, living, dead and undead.

Montgomery starts with the master, featuring not one but several recipes attributed to Don the Beachcomber including the one recognized as the original. He surveys variations from Trader Vic’s, other joints famed and forgotten, and renowned bartenders of history. Montgomery offers savvy, honest criticism of each, like advice about which ones to avoid and spirit suggestions. Want whiskey and rum versions? They're here, too. Professor Cocktail’s Zombie Horde also boasts several never-before-published riffs on the classic from noted contemporary mixologists like Jim Meehan of New York’s PDT.

Written with senses of both history and humor, Professor Cocktail’s Zombie Horde finally gives one of the greatest and most misunderstood of mixed drinks the treatment it deserves. Once you're done reading, a bottle of rum won't be enough. You'll require several. Buy it now at Amazon.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Cocktail of the Week: The Little Italy

You’ve got your list of foodstuffs of which you are not particularly fond. I’ve got mine. On it is the humble artichoke, not so much because of taste as appearance. I don’t like to baffled by what I’m eating. Artichokes, with their puzzle of petals and strangely fleshy hearts, seem more the product of a video game designer’s imagination than nature.

Little wonder, though, that artichokes would factor in a liqueur. As Amy Stewart observes in her book The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks they have long been viewed a digestive aid, a reputation borne out by contemporary research: “they may stimulate bile production, protect the liver, and lower cholesterol levels.”

The surprise is that Cynar (pronounced CHEE-nar and named after Cynara, the plant’s genus) is of fairly recent vintage, having been launched in 1952. It has over a dozen botanicals in play but has staked a claim to that oh-so-lucrative artichoke market. “At last, that weird plant your mother made you eat – in liquid form!” The resilient thistle is pictured right on the bottle, defiantly defining the brand. For decades Cynar has been popular in Europe as an aperitif, served on the rocks with soda and a twist of orange. But of late it’s become a miracle ingredient in craft cocktail bars, a must-have additive the way elderflower liqueur was a few years back. Understandably so, because Cynar is an unusually versatile amaro, one with sufficient bite to substitute for Campari but with a light herbaceousness that mixes incredibly well. Credit perhaps is due to the artichoke’s prankster qualities – as Stewart points out, it can fool the taste buds, temporarily blocking certain receptors so whatever they process next will taste excessively sweet – but Cynar can seemingly be added to any cocktail with delightful results.

What better place to begin, then, than with a classic? That’s what Audrey Saunders of New York’s Pegu Club did when she created the Little Italy. The Manhattan may have spawned the Brooklyn, which in turn gave rise to a host of borough-based offspring, but Saunders’ progeny sticks to the original stomping grounds enough that there’s no need to cross the East River to name it. (Note that her preparation calls for a little syrup from authentic maraschino cherries, but some of that elixir always finds its way into the glass when I’m mixing the drinks.) The Little Italy is a bitter Manhattan with a dense flavor, and consequently I’d take it closer to the source and add a dash of Angostura or aromatic bitters. It’s the perfect introduction to a liqueur that shouldn’t work, yet does beautifully.

The Little Italy

Audrey Saunders, New York

2 oz. rye
½ oz. Cynar
¾ oz. sweet vermouth

Stir. Strain. Garnish with authentic maraschino cherries.

Want more Cocktail of the Week? The first fifty-two essays are available in the Kindle bestseller DOWN THE HATCH: ONE MAN’S ONE YEAR ODYSSEY THROUGH CLASSIC COCKTAIL RECIPES AND LORE. Buy it now at

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Down The Hatch: Publication Day

Could you use a drink? Then have I got the book for you.

Today’s the day, gang. Down the Hatch: One Man’s One Year Odyssey Through Classic Cocktail Recipes and Lore is now available at Amazon. Your very own collection of the first fifty-two Cocktail of the Week posts, revised and updated, along with an all-new introduction, is only a click away. At $2.99 it’s cheaper than a happy hour drink, and made with more love.

You get more than fifty recipes, each one garnished with history and served with enthusiasm. But don’t take my word for it. I’ve already told you what gaz regan had to say about the book. Now here’s the estimable Philip Greene, author of To Have and Have Another – A Hemingway Cocktail Companion and co-founder of the Museum of the American Cocktail:

“In his classic The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, David Embury noted he was ‘not a distiller, an importer, a bottler, or a merchant of liquors. I am not even a retired bartender. My practical experience with liquors has been entirely as a consumer and as a shaker-upper of drinks for the delectation of my guests.’ Vince has taken much the same approach, and the result is a very fine cocktail book. It brings to mind Ted Haigh’s classic Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails for its depth of research, readability, and in colorfully telling the stories behind the drinks (what we all strive to do). It chronicles a man’s immersion into craft cocktails, with a delicate balance of history, folklore, technique, humor, and the human side of mixology, personal taste. Vince’s book is eminently approachable by geek and novice alike, and offers to the latter a fine introduction to many of the other experts on whose shoulders we all stand, i.e., Craddock, MacElhone, Embury, Baker, Amis, Regan, DeGroff, Wondrich, Felten, Wilson, the aforementioned Haigh, et al. I look forward to including Mr. Keenan’s book alongside these others behind my bar.”

Still not convinced? Here’s David J. Montgomery, Professor Cocktail himself, on my “cocktail memoir.”

No Kindle? No problem! Download a free Kindle app at Amazon and you can read Down the Hatch on any computer, tablet or smartphone. What are you waiting for? Buy a copy and help me support my growing family of bartenders.