Equal parts cocktails: Classic Manhattan

manhattanI was psyched to see an perfect equal-parts Manhattan take the top spot in Woodford Reserve’s recent drink competition.  Even the extra touches — 2 dashes bitters, 2 dashes absinthe — measure out in equal parts! That’s Jonathan Howard, a Nashville, TN bartender, in the photo above pouring out multiples of his drink for the lucky judges.

Jonathan Howard’s Classic Manhattan

1.5 parts Woodford Reserve Rye
1.5 parts Cocchi Torino Vermouth
2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
2 dashes Absinthe

Grab a Lewis bag and crack several pieces of large format ice. Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with cracked ice. Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

UPDATED 8/17: Oops! It was helpfully pointed out to me that a “perfect” Manhattan means equal parts sweet and dry vermouth – NOT equal parts whiskey and vermouth. Now corrected above. It’s a good thing I never claimed to be “perfect” myself, ha ha.

NYC friends: an All-American Whiskey and Cheese pairing event

Though I haven’t yet seen the new film about Abraham Lincoln, lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what Lincoln might drink.

That’s because I have the joyful task of procuring whiskeys for an upcoming event in honor of President’s Day:  A President’s Day Toast to American Whiskey and American Cheese! This event, to be held on Monday, February 11, is produced by the New York Women’s Culinary Alliance, an organization of which I’m proud to be a member, and will be hosted at The Flatiron Room,  a new “whiskey and spirits parlor.”

Heather Greene, an outspoken advocate of women and whiskey, will be talking about the hooch; cheese expert Diana Pittet will be explaining the cheeses.

A few seats are still available — but this is a limited-seating event, and truly, they won’t last long. So if you’re interested in attending, I suggest booking sooner rather than later. (And yes, boys are allowed!)

I don’t want to spoil the surprise by telling you exactly what will be poured — but I can tell you this:  we’re doing four whiskey pours, paired with four cheeses, all of American provenance. There might be a fifth “bonus” pour (shhhh). But here’s a little hint as to what’s going in the glasses:

A delectable single barrel bourbon that retails for $400 to $500 per bottle. (if that’s not worth the price of admission, I don’t know what is!)

One of the few American-made single malts around. And this is a special one:  smoky like an Islay Scotch, and just snagged a prestigious award for best artisan whiskey! I was pleasantly surprised that the distillers were willing to part with a bottle for our event – this will soon be a tough whiskey to get.

My new favorite bottled-in-bond rye whiskey for my new favorite cocktail, the Final Ward.

A locally-made bourbon finished in sherry casks. Think caramel mixed with dried peaches and plums. It’s delicious, trust me, and there’s a great story behind the bottle too.

That’s all I’m going to say about this event. Snag a ticket while you can.

Pictorial: Four Whiskeys, Old and Rare

A couple of weeks back, I attended an auction preview event at Bonhams. I knew that auction houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s often sell off old and rare wines, but this was the first time I’d seen spirits up for auction. While the main event was a bottle of 50-plus-year-old Bowmore Scotch (estimated to fetch between $160,000 and $190,000 – a real bargain, don’t you think?) a number of other old and rare whiskeys on display caught my eye, particularly the following four.

Maryland Rye Whiskey (priced at $200-$300). It’s not just the half-gallon milk jug or the wooden carry-handle. It’s that Maryland was once known as a rye-producing state, famed for its sweet, light style of rye (vs. the intense, spicy rye we know today), and it’s not something you see much of anymore. This was a bottle I’d be curious to try, if I ever had the opportunity.image

American Medicinal Spirits Co. – Special Old Reserve (priced at $500-$700). Seven one-pint bottles of “Prohibition bourbon” (distilled in 1916, bottled in 1933) were on offer, all labeled “For Medicinal Purposes Only.” Mmm-hmmm. If you say so.



John Hancock Whisky (no price listed). Oddly, this bottle wasn’t listed in the auction catalogue, so I have no benchmark on pricing. The best part is the label note:  “Pure and without drugs or poison.” Yikes! Although it’s hard to tell from the label alone, based on that telling little line, I’m guessing that this bottle is either Prohibition era, or even earlier, since the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 was intended to combat such adulteration.


Hanyu Distillery (priced at $400-600 for two bottles). This limited release bottling of 18-year-old Single Nippon Malt Whisky was a limited release bottling, and the distillery is now closed. Released in 2006, this is by no means an old whiskey, but apparently it sold out with lightning speed and the “shameless but classic” label is iconic in Japanese whisky circles.

Rock on, Rock and Rye!

My essay on Rock and Rye is in the November 2012 issue of Saveur magazine. You can read it here, or see a recipe for DIY Rock and Rye.

But there was so much more that didn’t make it into the article. For example, the numerous tipsy little ditties that pay homage to the sweet-and-spiced whiskey-based libation. My favorite is  Tex Ritter’s 1948 country music song, with these lyrics:

When there’s worry on your mind, here’s what you should try

Go to bed and rest your head and take some Rock and Rye.

It’s a light-hearted song accented by the clink of ice in glasses, and quickly deteriorates into slurring and hiccups. A word of warning:  it’s awfully catchy. Listen more than once, and you’ll be singing this for days.

Here’s a playlist to enjoy while sipping your Rock & Rye.

Rock & Rye, Tex Ritter  (yeah, that’s the late John Ritter’s dad)

Rock & Rye, Earl Hines & His Orchestra

Rock & Rye, Charlie Spand

Rock and Rye Polka, Polka Dots Polka Band

Rock & Rye Rag, Al Dexter (track #9)

Buttered Yum: 6 spirits to butter besides rum

photo credit: Corey Bunnewith

My story for Wine Enthusiast online is up this week, celebrating Hot Buttered Rum Day on January 17. (Don’t you just love these “holidays”?)  As usual, there was a lot more than could possibly be squeezed into the article.  For example, I learned you can “butter” spirits beyond just rum. For example:

1. Hot Buttered Rye – this was on the menu at Rye in San Francisco, and regularly sold out. UPDATED:  also available at Rye in Williamsburg.

2. Hot Buttered Tequila – in addition to the “Hot Buttered Toddy” that ran in the WE piece, Camper English also takes on Hot Buttered Anejo (aged tequila) in Fine Cooking magazine.

3. Hot Buttered Bourbon – hat tip to Bon Appetit, circa…1999? wow. Practically retro!

4. Hot Buttered Scotch – Also in the whiskey category, photography and cocktal maven Kathryn Yu reports that Peels has hot buttered Scotch on offer.

In other words, butter can be added to pretty much any dark spirit (brandy, applejack, Scotch…) to create a Hot Buttered Whatever. But wait – not just dark spirits:

5. Hot Buttered Cachaca – when he was at Coppa, this was a specialty of Boston bar wizard Corey Bunnewith. Of course, he was getting all pastry chef on this drink, creating a brown butter noisette to fat-wash the cachaca, and adding Maldon sea salt, maple syrup, and a final dollop of compound butter sourced from a local dairy, seasoned with nutmeg and vanilla, and aerated in an ice-cream maker.

6. Hot Buttered Pisco – also courtesy of Kathryn Yu, who spotted this on PDT’s cocktail list last year.

Other random Hot Buttered Stuff I was unable to cram into the article:

–Cold Buttered Rum – as made by Todd Thrasher at Restaurant PX in Alexandria, VA.

–Buttered rum variations made with compound butters – mmmm. Craft (NY) was selling a spiced rum with compound butter one evening I passed through (they were making their own spiced rum, by the way), and we have Bunnewith’s compound butter above.

–And finally, a labor-intensive but delicious-sounding Hot Buttered Rum recipe from The Tipsy Parson, which was just too dang long to include in the WE piece, but sounds so delightful and-over-the-top that I just couldn’t quite let go just yet. Seriously – lots of buttered rum recipes begin by making a labor-intensive batter. This one begins with a creme anglaise – and then a batter too! This is an advanced-level buttered rum.  So here it is:

Hot Buttered Rum 

By Tasha Garcia Gibson of The Tipsy Parson, New York

Despite the somewhat labor-intensive batter, Garcia Gibson says the batter can be made ahead of time and frozen in ice cube trays. After, that, it’s simply a matter of adding hot water:  “at this point, it doesn’t dirty a pan.”

However, a word of caution:  When making this batter, you won’t be alone in the kitchen for long. Garcia Gibson says that when it’s time to make the batter, the staff quickly gather around, spoons in hand:  “Everyone turns into children wanting to put their spoon in the bowl!”

Step 1:  Make the Crème Anglaise

  • 3 cups heavy cream or whole milk
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 6 large egg yolks, at room temperature

Set a large fine strainer over a medium bowl and set the bowl in a shallow pan of cold water.

In a large saucepan, combine the half-and-half and vanilla bean and cook over moderately low heat just until small bubbles appear around the rim, about 5 minutes.

In another medium bowl, whisk the sugar and egg yolks just until combined. Whisk in half of the hot half-and-half in a thin stream. Pour the mixture into the saucepan and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the sauce has thickened slightly, 4 to 5 minutes. Immediately strain the sauce into the bowl in the cold water bath to stop the cooking. Scrape the vanilla seeds into the sauce. Serve right away or refrigerate until chilled.  Yields 1 quart.

Step 2:  Make the Batter

  • 1 pound butter, softened
  • 1 pound confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 1 pound light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 quart crème anglais

Cream butter and sugars together in kitchen aid until smooth. Add crème anglais and mix until creamy. Mixture may be poured into ice cube trays and frozen in individual serving sizes or used fresh.

Step 3:  Make the Drink! 

  • 2 Tablespoons (1 “ice cube”) of batter
  • Boiling water
  • 1 ¼ ounces spiced rum
  • Freshly grated nutmeg, to garnish

Place the batter cube in the bottom of a footed mug. Add 1 oz of boiling water and stir until the mixture is melted. Add the rum, and top with more boiling water. Stir until the mixture is melted. Sprinkle top with freshly grated nutmeg and serve.

5 Things I’ve Learned About…Rye

The November 2010 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine is out today, and it includes (among other things) my review column on Rye whiskey.  You can pick up a copy at the newsstand, or view it in digital format on Zinio. (While you’re browsing, check out my article on booze-infused ice cream on page 26, too!)

An aside for spicy food & beverage aficionados:  rye is for you. It sure looks and smells like Bourbon, since barrel aging imparts to both that amber color and caramel scent. Since I did a review column on Bourbon  just a couple of months earlier, I couldn’t help drawing comparisons between the two.  But rye has spice and bite!

Here’s what I learned in the course of researching the rye column: 

1. Unlike Bourbon, rye bites you back every single time. There’s rarely anything sweet or mellow about it. That mash bill makes a huge difference:  Bourbon is at least 51% corn, and Rye is at least 51% rye. But a lot of ryes don’t stop there. Some came in at 99% or even 100% rye. In fact, some of these ryes were freakishly strong, and made me cough. One even made me yelp out loud with pain.

2. Aging seems to make rye stronger, not necessarily mellower. Again, this is in sharp contrast to Bourbon.

3. That doesn’t mean that rye is unpalatable. Once I adjusted, I found ryes to be lively and fun. Like Bourbon, I got a lot of caramel notes in the aftertastes. But overall, rye has a lighter taste and feel, with more toasty, spicy notes. Some people say rye whiskey puts them in mind of rye bread; for me, it was more like gingerbread:  lots of cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, and allspice flavors, for example.

4. Mixologists are in love with rye right now, since it was the spirit used in pre-Prohibition cocktails.

5. Bargain alert:  It’s also among the least expensive of the whiskies.

Hittin’ the Sauce: 3 great hot sauce cocktails

When cocktailians talk about “the sauce,” usually we’re referring to booze. But this is a blog dedicated to fiery cocktails, so let’s get literal and talk adding hot sauce to drinks.

Tabasco hot sauces (photo credit: Tabasco)

Tabasco hot sauces (photo credit: Tabasco)

When I interviewed cocktail consultant Danny Valdez, then head bartender at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans and a fellow spicy-drinks fanatic for Chile Pepper magazine, he explained:  “Being in the South, we love spice and the majority of us douse anything edible with hot sauce. So having cocktails with hot sauce was inevitable.”

In fact, Danny describes hot sauce as “a common tool in the bartender’s tool box.” He uses hot sauce to select a specific heat level, taste profile, or aroma to drinks – and doesn’t shy away from using its vinegary twang to rev up flavors. One recent experiment:  a Roasted Tomato and Chipotle Bloody Mary, which incorporates Chipotle-flavored Tabasco, and subs in balsamic vinegar in place of the traditional Worcestershire sauce.

 There’s some precedent for dashing hot sauce into cocktails:  The Shrub, a classic cocktail that uses vinegar as a key component –also a key component in hot sauce. In his book, “How’s Your Drink,” Wall Street Journal drinks columnist Eric Felten discusses how colonial Americans enjoyed mixing rum with a style of syrup, called a shrub:  fruit (often raspberries), sugar and white wine vinegar. The finished cocktail now is often referred to as a Shrub. At the modern-day bar, the shrub has taken on new life as gastriques (caramelized sugar mixed with vinegar or citrus and flavorings).

Like lemon, lime or a vinegar-based gastrique, hot sauce’s role in a cocktail is to add that touch of acid and brightness that cuts through the sweetness of a drink, while also adding a touch of heat.

Here are three recipes for using hot sauce in cocktails, which I’ve categorized into “subtle” (just a touch of heat highlighting a drink with complex flavors), “classic” (moderate heat, and the hot sauce is an integral part of the cocktail), and “stunt spice” (this drink is ALL about the hot sauce!).

#1. SUBTLE:  The Gilded Splinter

Adapted from T. Cole Newton, Commander’s Palace, New Orleans.  This drink is a fine example of how the piquancy of hot sauce can add sizzle to the swizzle:  the lush fruit of Grand Marnier and Maraschino liqueur plays against a single  “healthy dash” of Tabasco; egg whites subdue the capsaicin burn to a pleasant simmer and create a rich, velvety texture.

3 tablespoons Grand Marnier

1 tablespoon Maraschino liquor

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 egg white

Healthy dash of Tabasco, or other favorite hot sauce

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a coupe or cocktail glass.


#2: CLASSIC:  The Michelada

This beer-based cocktail is a new classic. Without the hot sauce, this drink is nothing special, just a gussied-up glass of beer. It’s the hot sauce that elevates it to cult status.


#3: STUNT SPICE:  The Bone

This drink was created about five years ago by cocktail historian Dave Wondrich for the now-closed Chickenbone Café in Brooklyn, where the food-friendly shot was often paired served on a plate, encircled by slices of beef – together called “Beef on The Bone.” With a 3 healthy dashes in a short drink, this is downright incendiary – you can’t miss the heat!


¼ cup 101 proof Wild Turkey rye

1 teaspoon fresh lime juice

1 teaspoon simple syrup

3 dashes Tabasco, or other favorite hot sauce

Mix all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice, and “don’t be timid” with the hot sauce, Wondrich says. Shake it “viciously” and strain into a shot glass.