Saturday, March 8, 2008

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Dr. Noggin Cocktail

(In which Rowley vents on vodka and christens a new cocktail)

"Dr. Cocktail hereby announces:
Henceforth [the excessively fruity version of an old fashioned cocktail]
will never again be served!
The second version, with 2 dashes of bitters,
1/2 teaspoon of sugar, a few drops of water,
and a lone broad swathe of the orange peel ONLY,
muddled to express the orange oil,
and combined with good rye or Bourbon—
this drink is henceforth known EXCLUSIVELY as the Old-Fashioned
... See? World peace can be that easy."

~ Ted "Dr. Cocktail" Haigh
Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails

Vodka, apparently, makes me angry. Oh, not in a bloody Mary, of course. And there’s certainly a place for lemon drops in any mixer’s toolkit, especially when less seasoned drinkers are about and you serve ‘em crusta-style with a glittering rim of sugar hardened on the glass's rim and a fat lemon peel collar.

But when I go to a bar serving $11 cocktails that’s got more vodkas than all species and brands of whiskeys combined...sigh. I don't know if it's the Irish in me or the fact that I'm a leo (which gullible people take to mean I'm determined to have things my way), but I just start to sulk.

The neighborhood joint we visited last night had more Canadian whiskies, even, than bourbons. No rye to be seen. What the hell? I secretly suspected the owners were Canucks. Or Kennedys. Fancy vodka drinks filled the menu, with a smattering a gin and rum concoctions. I wanted to like it, honest I did. But the greenhorn bartender was nearly in the weeds just making our two drinks—from their menu, mind you, not some convoluted Jerry Thomas baroque masterpieces that I requested just to break his stones—well, after the first drink, my own mother could have served me chocolate cake on my birthday and I would have been pissy.

So after the first round of their new-fangled cocktails, I ordered an old fashioned from the bar manager. We talked about what I wanted and how it should be done. I watched as he muddled the orange peel with bitters and sugar, drop in ice, and reach for the bourbon. Turned to my friends, Dr. Morpheus and Dr. Noggin who had just joined us, for a beat to admit as they teased me that, yes, I should just have the recipe printed on the back of my cards, then looked back just in time to see him drop it all in a shaker and shake the bejabbers out of it.

Damn it.

This led to a lesson on why not to shake (in short, shaking ruins this particular drink by creating loads of tiny bubbles, making it almost effervescent plus cheap low-density ice-machine ice dilutes the drink way too fast). From the get-go, it tasted spent and watery. Hey, he asked why I wasn’t drinking it, and insisted I tell him.

So he re-made the drink. Less ice, no shaking. Nirvana. In a moment of inspiration, I dropped a half-ounce float of St. Germain elderflower liqueur into the glass. Then we did another that way. The doctors approved. And you know what? I wasn’t pissy any more. The guy salvaged the night for me with a dose of whiskey and professionalism. I’ll still give all that vodka the hairy eyeball, but for his eagerness to get the drink right and for being genuinely curious about why I thought the first version was bad (he agreed), I’m giving him a big thumbs up. And I’ll be back.

In the meanwhile, I'll probably be making more cocktails I've named after the neurologist. With apologies to Dr. Cocktail for gilding the lily, here's

The Dr. Noggin Cocktail

Use a vegetable peeler to get a single, wide piece of orange peel (just the zest, mind you—no white pith or pulp). Because the St. Germain is sweetened, you might back off the sugar called for in Haigh's old fashioned cocktail.

1 broad swath of orange peel
¼-½ tsp sugar
2 dashes of Angostura bitters
2 dashes of water
3 oz bourbon
½ oz St Germain elderflower liqueur

Muddle the orange peel with the sugar, water, and bitters in a rocks glass. Put one or two large lumps of ice in the glass. Pour on the bourbon and give it a brief stir. Add the half-ounce of St. Germain to the top of the drink and enjoy. Repeat as necessary.

Goes well with
  • Renewing an Old Fashion, a thorough review of the literature by Robert "DrinkBoy" Hess (in which I was tickled to see we had similar experiences with unsure bartenders) on the origins and variations of the old fashioned cocktail
  • Mister Mojito (David Nepove) sells hardwood muddlers in maple, cherry, walnut, and plastic (plus a smattering of other bar supplies worth checking out)

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