Sunday, October 30, 2011

Weekend Whiskey's Lower East Side

A Manhattan on the rocks has always been my drink of choice for a pre-dinner cocktail or a hotel bar nightcap. I used to joke, back when I was a grad student at NYU, of ordering a "Lower East Side": a Manhattan made with cheap whiskey.

But in more than two decades of drinking them, I had never made one for myself. Manhattans were restaurant drinks; plain bourbon on the rocks was for home. Even if I might want to fix a Manhattan, I didn't have any vermouth on hand; and I never bought vermouth because I never fixed Manhattans.

During a recent trip to the liquor store, though, I finally thought to buy some vermouth. What I didn't think through, though, was which vermouth to buy. I wound up grabbing a bottle of Tribuno, figuring in my innocence the brand of vermouth matters about as much as the brand of maraschino cherry.

I was mistaken.

The Manhattan I made (4 parts rye to 1 part sweet vermouth, with a dash of bitters, stirred and strained) tasted like a watery rye. Later I tried a brandy, cider, and vermouth cocktail, which tasted like watery brandy and cider.

I came to realize my old joke got it backwards. A Lower East Side is a Manhattan made with cheap vermouth.

And then I asked myself, if it's going to be cheap anyway, does it have to be vermouth?

I asked myself this because I happened to have in my refrigerator a bottle of cheap sangria, concentrated to a near-vermouth proof through poor man's freeze concentration:
Poor Man's Freeze Concentration

Place a quantity of beer or wine in a freezer until it's frozen solid. (If freezing in the bottle it came in, remove some first to allow room to expand as it freezes.) Remove from freezer, invert container, and allow to melt at room temperature until half the original volume of liquid is obtained.
Starting with Madria, a perfectly quaffable bottled sangria, freeze concentration produces an extra-sweet, extra-dark, extra-alcoholic wine that I'm looking forward to trying mulled as the cold weather sets in.

So why can't a sweet, concentrated wine with added flavors be used in place of sweet vermouth in a cocktail? It's not as smooth as a good vermouth, but if it were I'd just be making a Manhattan, right? I use bourbon for the extra sweetness, and depending on the bourbon an extra splash of simple syrup may be called for.
Weekend Whiskey Lower East Side
2 oz bourbon
1/2 oz freeze concentrated sangria
splash simple syrup
dash bitters

Mix with ice. Strain into cocktail glass, or serve on the rocks. Garnish with cherry.
I suppose this would also work starting with homemade sangria, though that sort of defeats the purpose of a cheap Manhattan.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Weekend Whiskey Old Fashioned

I'm not big on whiskey cocktails.

Sure, I'll order a Manhattan when I'm having a nightcap in a hotel bar. And I've got a mint plant on the back deck for juleps in the spring and summer.

Well, and the hot scotch and lemons in the fall and winter. Oh, and I'm getting fond of rye bucks. And if you want to get technical, I suppose egg nog with bourbon might count.

So okay: I'm not huge on whiskey cocktails. Eight or nine times out of ten, if I've got a glass with whiskey in it, it's just whiskey (give or take some water or ice).

But one cocktail that you would never have found in my double Old Fashioned was an Old Fashioned. Not because I don't like Old Fashioneds, but because I'd never tried one.

This, I'm happy to report, has been corrected. I've not only tried 'em, I have endured the necessary experimentation to develop my own house recipe, one that even my wife the G&T drinker says she would drink. And if you drop by, as you're welcome to do, and I ask what you're drinking, and you say, "I'm feeling Old Fashioned today," here's how I'll mix your drink:
Cover the bottom of a double Old Fashioned glass with triple sec. Add two sturdy dashes of Angostura bitters. Fill the glass halfway with cracked ice. Add enough rye to float the ice, and stir. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.
It's a dry, even peppery drink, at least with the Pikesville rye I have. The lack of soda water may be less controversial than the lack of sugar or simple syrup, but the triple sec adds enough sweetness (along with the citrus notes) that I don't miss the sugar.