Category Archives: Cocktails

You Better Like Hanky Panky

When one is at the tail-end of a stomach bug, a little Italian digestif like Fernet Branca is the only way to make it through the last steps of a churning wilderness. The only cocktail I know that balances its bitterness with a deftly-integral orange peel is the Hanky Panky. Legend has it that it was created by the first (and reportedly thus far only) females head bartender at The Savoy’s American Bar, Ada ‘Coley’ Coleman. She recalls the creation of the cocktail thusly: ““The late Charles Hawtrey… was one of the best judges of cocktails that I knew. Some years ago, when he was over working, he used to come into the bar and say, ‘Coley, I am tired. Give me something with a bit of punch in it.’ It was for him that I spent hours experimenting until I had invented a new cocktail. The next time he came in, I told him I had a new drink for him. He sipped it, and, draining the glass, he said, ‘By Jove! That is the real hanky-panky!’ And Hanky-Panky it has been called ever since.”

This is not one for the sweet-loving faint-of-fruity-heart; the Fernet Branca is no joke, and most modern takes on this chestnut add some sort of sweetness (orange juice or other nonsense) to take the edge off of it. I prefer the original, just keep in mind that the orange peel is of absolute necessity

Hanky Panky
  • 2 dashes Fernet Branca
  • ½ part Italian Vermouth
  • ½ part Dry Gin

This, to my knowledge, is still the only classic cocktail that shares a name with a Madonna song. Can’t hate on that. Well, you can, but you shouldn’t be coming here.

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A Super Cocktail

Killing two birds with one stone, I tried out a couple of cocktail recipes over this Super Bowl weekend for an upcoming dinner party at my brother’s new home. This is the Blushing Betty. Our poison of choice for the evening is a bourbon, and this recipe is perfect for the winter, when citrus is in season and the warming properties of bourbon at at their most expressive. 

Betty is deceptively smooth, thanks in some part to the Maker’s Mark, and the simple syrup that plays an integral part in its make-up. The fresh grapefruit juice is both sweet and tart, coming as it does during its high season. All in all, a happy concoction, and the likely signature cocktail for the dinner party. 

Blushing Betty 
  • 1 ounce fresh juice from 1 pink grapefruit
  • 1 1/2 ounces bourbon
  • 1/2 ounce simple syrup 
  • Garnish: grapefruit wedge or twist

 

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Cocktail Hour with Lawrence Welk

When I was a kid, my family used to watch ‘The Lawrence Welk Show’ religiously. It was safe family fare (most television in the early 80’s was, for that matter, but my parents were so old-school they considered ‘The Facts of Life’ way too dirty for us to watch). We won’t mention what they put on television today. Back then Mr. Welk provided a super-safe-for-work alternative, and I ate it up. All those chiffon gowns and smiling blonde gentlemen… it was heaven. 

These days if I ever catch Lawrence Welk on PBS I pause and take a moment to enjoy the earnest corniness of the whole thing. It another era, and another world. Surely it wasn’t as rosy and perfect as they made it out to be, but we could always pretend. On this evening, I even found a Lawrence Welk cocktail, originated by The John Dory Oyster Bar in New York. It’s tequila-based, which at first seemed at odds with Lawrence Welk. I would’ve expected something on the champagne side of things, or whiskey or gin at least, but this one has Aperol in it, so I gave it a whirl and was not disappointed. The lime and Aperol combo is said to conjure a grapefruit in the winter. No time like the present for that. 

The John Dory’s Lawrence Welk Cocktail

  • Ice
  • 1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
  • Dash Regans’ orange bitters
  • 3/4 ounce Aperol
  • 3/4 ounce Dolin Sweet Vermouth
  • 1 1/2 ounces blanco tequila

Combine ingredients in cocktail shaker, shake it up, and strain into cocktail glass. (I garnished with a grapefruit twist to accentuate the intended effect.)

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Cockfail

For the most part, I can make a pretty decent cocktail. Years of practice have refined the process, and I can usually find my way around gin, vodka, tequila and bourbon pretty well. (Rum and whiskeys remain mysterious, but I’m open to experimentation.) That said, I still get tripped up from time to time. A desperate attempt to make use of all the pretty dogwood fruit one year resulted in a libation that looked far better than it actually tasted. A pisco sour using an egg white should have stayed in its shell.

Then there’s this number, which suffers from the same fate of looking vastly superior to how it tastes.

It seems to be the season for blood oranges, so I picked up a couple from the market. Using the juice of one (and a slice of its vermillion flesh for garnish – the only time I like a slice in my drink) I added some vodka and Cointreau then shook it all up with some ice. (The secret to a good drink is to take ample time to shake and/or stir it with the ice. Far too often people rush through this step. I like when a little of the edge is taken off, and that only happens when there’s a slight bit of melting, and an instant or two of evaporation. Purists may scoff, but I’ve never been pure.)

Maybe the quantities were off, maybe the blood orange wasn’t quite ripe, or maybe I’ve just finally outgrown vodka, but this one did not turn out well. It did look pretty, though. Some days that’s enough.

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Retro Holiday Punch With Pizzazz

It was a punch that was present at most of our childhood holiday gatherings. The Ko House always seemed to have a bottomless crystal punch bowl in which a fancy ice ring floated, keeping things cool from the very start of a long Christmas Day all the way through to the evening. At various times the pack of us kids would travel by and dip the ladle in to grab a few more drops of sugary sustenance, dodging adults and disappearing into the background, or so we hoped. 

This year I brought back the holiday punch, with a couple of twists. It came about out of necessity, as Andy notified me we had an entire box of Orange Dry soda. In the punch of my childhood, ginger ale formed the effervescent fizz, so the Orange Dry seemed a suitable adult substitution. It also blunted the sweetness, which I did my best to avoid (but really, a punch is designed to be sweet, to go down smoothly). 

The tartness was accomplished by a frozen pink lemonade. The current generation isn’t as familiar with frozen concentrate, and I’m not all that different, but for some reason it works in this recipe. I whipped up a batch of the lemonade, and poured a few overflowing cups of it into a bundt pan, sprinkled in a healthy pile of fresh pomegranate seeds and raspberries, then froze it overnight for the fancy ice ring. I also put a bottle of vodka into the freezer (or leave it outside if there’s no room) to cool that down too. 

Right before guests arrived, I mixed the pink lemonade, 6 or 7 cans of Orange Dry, a few cups of vodka and a cup or so of triple sec (it’s a big punch for a big bowl), then scooped some orange sherbet on top of it all. The ice ring, knocked loose with some hot water and careful maneuvering by Suzie, floated in the middle of it all. 

It wasn’t quite the same as the innocent punch of our youth, but it was close. Its spirit was intact. The memories it conjured were warm and fuzzy. That’s the best one can conjure the older we get. 

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A HighBall With Andy’s Mom

It was the first and only Christmas I’d get to see Andy’s Mom. The year was 2000 – which in many ways seems a lifetime ago, and then again just like yesterday, so vivid is my memory of this night. We were stopping by Andy’s parents’ home to drop off gifts and wish them a Merry Christmas. It was my first time meeting his mother – I’d only just corresponded with her via a shared love for reading at that point (I’d given her a copy of ‘The God in Flight’ by Laura Argiri and she wrote back her notes and opinion of it. A rather bold choice of mine, considering all the gay sex in it, but she was unbothered and unfazed by it – only remarking that some of the more graphic moments might be better left out.) I knew then that we’d get along famously. Though I may have jumped the gun a little on that first meeting.

We sat down at their little kitchen table. Andy’s Mom asked if we wanted anything to drink. (He’d told me it would be ok to request an adult beverage, or I never would have suggested it.) I said a highball would be great, then proceeded to take it a little too far. What I planned on saying, and the sentence that was formulated in my head was, ‘Andy says you enjoy a good drink’ but what came out was, “Andy said you liked to drink!”

She looked at me for a second, then bent down to her son and whispered, “I’ll let that go since it’s Christmas.”

It was the perfect first meeting, and sadly one of our last, but it remains a fond Christmas memory, a way of holding onto our past, of bridging our time with lost loved ones. And it still makes Andy and I chuckle whenever we think about it.

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A Gold Rim Dinner Party

It doesn’t take much for me to find a quick and easy theme and throw a dinner party around it. In this instance the gold rim of these cocktail glasses provided all the impetus Andy and I needed to surround ourselves with four of our favorite people. The earliest hints of the upcoming holiday season glittered in the background as I served up a few Ginger Gold Rushes, recipe below.

GINGER GOLD RUSH

1 ½ OZ. BOURBON (BLACK MAPLE HILL)
1 ½ OZ. GINGER LIQUEUR (CANTON)
½ OZ. FRESH LEMON JUICE
SERVE WITH CITRUS TWIST. 

Of course the real secret to a good dinner party is not in the cocktails or hors d’oeuvre, not in the tablescape or entree, but always, and only, in the guests. Which is what made this gathering one of the best. 

“Well, you never knew exactly how much space you occupied in people’s lives. Yet from this fog his affection emerged–the best contacts are when one knows the obstacles and still wants to preserve a relation.” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald
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An Unclassic Cocktail: The Martinez

Libation literature would have it that a classic cocktail has to be tried and true with minor but not major room for variation. The Martinez defies this, made in several wildly differing forms, each one just too drastically separate from other incarnations because in this one every ingredient is vital, and every change results in a totally new drink. For my purposes, I used one of the more common versions to get a feel for the usual before branching out into anything outrageous. Only when you know the rules can you break them. 

With its gin and sweet vermouth base, this is largely considered the love child of a martini and a negroni. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about that, since I love each dearly, and can’t picture a happy hybrid. Fortunately, like its parents, the Martinez is distinctive enough to stand on its own. Consider it the Liza Minelli of cocktails. Here’s the recipe I used for my first try:

The Martinez 
  • 3 1/2 ounces Old Tom Gin
  • 1 3/4 ounces sweet vermouth
  • 2 bar spoons maraschino liqueur, preferably Luxardo
  • 4 dashes orange bitters
  • Ice
  • Orange twist, for garnish (optional)

They say Old Tom Gin is the traditional one for this, but I used the Bombay that was already open. For me, the key to this drink being good is in the sweet vermouth. There’s a lot of crappy sweet vermouth out there, and more dangerously, the longer vermouth stands on your shelf, the worse it gets. It’s imperative to use fresh sweet vermouth – the Carpano Antica Formula is delightful, and it conveniently comes in smaller bottles to avoid a batch getting stale. (You can also drink enough on a regular basis so that this isn’t even a question.) In a negroni, the campari is so prominent that you sometimes get away with less than stellar sweet vermouth – in this one you need the best, because there’s no disguising it. 

The other trick is to get that bottle of maraschino liqueur – you will use it for the Last Word if you have any sense. And bitters. Orange bitters. They will accentuate and highlight the orange peel with a deeper complexity and resonance than if you make one or the other stand alone. The devil may be in the details, but heaven is there too. 

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Future Dinner Party

Somehow we have twisted fate into finding an agreeable dinner date for a gathering with four of my favorite people, and I’m about to begin planning an adults-only dinner with a Gold Rim theme. (Everybody wants to go for the obvious rim-job reference, but it’s really just based on the cocktail glasses you see here. Sickos.)

For a Gold Rim glass, one needs a proper gold-themed cocktail to go with it. This is a perfect match:

GINGER GOLD RUSH

1 ½ oz. Bourbon (Black Maple Hill)
1 ½ oz. ginger liqueur (Canton)
½ oz. fresh lemon juice
Serve with citrus twist.

We’ll also have sidecars on hand, and lots of gold, including a new pair of curtains I bought specifically for the season. Yes, I’m that anal. It’s a Gold Rim party. What did you expect? The only question is which Tom Ford Private Blend best goes with gold. I’m torn between Amber Absolute and Rive d’Ambre. A delicious dilemma. 

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Simple Spring/Summer Spritzer

I love Campari. It’s a bit of an acquired taste – its bitterness is not instantly user-friendly, especially to a generation of drinkers weened on appletinis and other such nonsense. For the adults, a bit of Campari adds sophistication and flair to many cocktails. My favorite is the negroni, but simpler delights call to me when the weather turns lighter and brighter. For instance, this Campari spritzer – the simplest thing on earth. Just some Campari and club soda on chipped ice. When spring verges on summer, the simpler that things get, the better.

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The Hemingway Daiquiri

Don’t be fooled as I’d been for so many years: the daiquiri is no joke. The pretty thing packs a pretty punch, no matter how fancy the glass or presentation might be. This recipe is a rather rugged spin on the frozen concoction – with white rum, lime juice grapefruit juice and maraschino liqueur forming the base of it all, served over copious amounts of crushed ice. It’s a perfect poolside libation – easy to craft, fresh and vibrant in spirit and taste, and pretty with its peachy-pink tint. But again, it’s no joke. Hell, it was named after Hemingway, who knew his way around rum and gin.

Fridays are for cocktails. Grab yours.

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Fancy Boston Watering Hole

I’ve held this one close to my chest because I’m always afraid of overexposing a good thing when I find it, but with my four readers I don’t anticipate this causing too much of a jam. The Hawthorne Bar, at the bottom of the Hotel Commonwealth, is one of my favorite bars in Boston, and on a recent stop-in I found out that they also serve some of the best deviled eggs too. They are surely splendiferous to look at, and their flavor matches their beauty.

The cocktails are an Eastside (we’re moving on up) and something with chartreuse and aperol in it. Though the latter fought a bit too much with itself, I appreciate the experimentation. No risk, no glory.

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The Harvey Wallbanger

My only previous exposure to Mr. Harvey Wallbanger (and the only reason we have an impossible-to-store bottle of Galliano in the house) was in this Harvey Wallbanger cake. That thing was heavenly, and in the years since I made it, I’ve been tip-toeing around the original cocktail from which the cake was derived. I finally tried it a couple of weeks ago, with some fresh Florida oranges, and I have to say that I was less than impressed. It turns out I don’t like Galliano all that much. It has a sweet medicinal property that disagrees with my palate completely. Still, there are those who will wax nostalgic for this, and if you happen to have some Galliano still hanging around from the 70’s, now’s your chance to give it a whirl.

 Harvey Wallbanger 

  • 1 1/2 ounces vodka
  • 4 ounces orange juice
  • 1/2 ounce Galliano
  • 1 orange slice for garnish

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A Winter Cocktail Classic

Behold the Manhattan.

Though I prefer most of my cocktails on the less-sweet side of things, I do indulge in a Maker’s Mark Manhattan now and then. It’s not technically winter yet, but at 30 degrees it certainly feels like it, so I say let Manhattan season begin. This is my favorite warming drink. As cold as it is, the whiskey just warms the soul from the inside out.

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Christmas In A Glass

In a season of love and friendship, I’m sharing a recipe that was shared by my friend Joann, who got it from friends across-the-pond. Sharing is what this season is all about, and nothing is better to share than a good cocktail recipe. It’s the perfect cup of holiday cheer, and was even monikered “Christmas In a Glass” which is about as festive as one can get. This is a simple, but potent, recipe for Mulled Wine. I made it for New Year’s Eve last year and, truth be told, drank most of it myself since Andy and Suzie weren’t as tickled by it. (There’s no accounting for taste.)

It comes from another across-the-pond gent, Jamie Oliver (better known in these parts as The Naked Chef). While not the biggest fan of hot cocktails (if you’ve ever tried to finish a mug of hot buttered rum you know what I’m talking about) once or twice a season I can get into the spirit. In this case, there’s such a glorious alchemy of citrus and spices that it absolutely transforms a simple Italian red wine into something magical. The key ingredients on which you cannot skimp are the freshly grated nutmeg and vanilla bean – both are integral to the pungent wonder of this holiday affair.

Jamie’s Mulled Wine ~“Christmas in a Glass”

Ingredients

  • 2 clementines (peeled and juiced)
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 lime
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 3 fresh bay leaves
  • 1 whole nutmeg , for grating
  • 1 vanilla pod , halved lengthways
  • 2 star anise
  • 2 bottles Chianti or other Italian red wine 

Method

Peel large sections of peel from your clementines, lemon and lime. Put the sugar in a large saucepan over a medium heat, add the pieces of peel and clementine juice. Add the cloves, cinnamon stick, bay leaves and about 10 to 12 gratings of nutmeg. Throw in the halved vanilla pod and stir in just enough red wine to cover the sugar.
Let this simmer until the sugar has completely dissolved into the red wine and then bring to a boil. Keep on a rolling boil for about 4 to 5 minutes, or until you’ve got a beautiful thick syrup. It’s important to make a syrup base first because it needs to be quite hot, and if you do this with both bottles of wine in there you’ll burn off the alcohol.
When your syrup is ready, turn the heat down to low and add your star anise and the rest of the wine. Gently heat the wine and after around 5 minutes, when it’s warm and delicious, ladle it into glasses and serve.

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