Some cocktail books are intended for the casual mixologist, some are intended for the advanced user, and some are a mixture of both. Jim Meehan's The PDT Cocktail Book is an excellent example of the last category, as it's accessible to the inexperienced, yet valuable to the pro as well.
The American Cocktail, a new book put together by the editors of Imbibe Magazine, is definitely in the middle category. Although a novice cocktail fan would probably enjoy flipping through it, the recipes are really intended for those seeking a higher level of mixology.
When putting together this book, the editors did something very smart: they polled 50 of the best bartenders around the country, those men and women who are really dedicated to the craft of high-end cocktails, and asked them to submit a recipe.
The results are fascinating and unique, with a strong emphasis on bold flavors, local ingredients, and drinks that truly capture the essence of the bar/restaurant where they are served. This is cutting-edge mixology that is still, for the most part, accessible.
True, many of the recipes aren't going to be things that you can easily whip up at home. Several of them call for bespoke ingredients, complicated preparations, or obscure spirits, but by no means all of them. Here's an easy recipe that I tried, which made a delicious drink.
by Timothy Victor Faulkner, Sauced (Atlanta)
2 oz Four Roses Yellow Label Bourbon
1 1/2 oz Red Rock Ginger Ale (or other Spicy Ginger Ale)
1/2 oz Sugarcane Syrup
Combine the bourbon, ginger ale, and syrup in an ice-filled mixing glass and stir gently. Strain into an ice-filled highball glass. Rub a lime twist around the rim of the glass before dropping it into the cocktail.
Several of the bartenders I admire have drinks featured here, including Todd Thrasher from PX (Alexandria, VA), Jim Meehan from PDT (New York), Robert Heugel from Anvil (Houston), and Jeffrey Morgenthaler from Clyde Common (Portland). Having recipes from such experts makes this collection all the more valuable.
Readers looking for an introduction to cocktails or a list of simple recipes won't find much joy in The American Cocktail. But more experienced mixologists — or those who want to up their game a little — should definitely give this a look.
You know that the Mai Tai is my favorite drink, so I won't go into that again. Instead, I want to tell you about a variation of the Mai Tai I just discovered — that doesn't have any rum in it.
"But Professor," I hear you crying. "Rum is the cornerstone of the Mai Tai! How can you make it without rum?"
That's a good question. In this case, the answer is: you make it with Bols Genever Gin and rye whiskey. Sounds crazy, I know. But it works! Here's the recipe:
Recipe by Elizabeth McElligott and Jacob Grier
Shake with ice:
1 oz Bols Genever
1 oz rye whiskey
1/2 oz Combier
3/4 oz orgeat
1 oz lime juice
Strain and serve on the rocks or straight up. (I recommend on the rocks.)
At first sip, the flavor is reminiscent of a less sweet Mai Tai. But then the other flavors start to poke their heads up. There's a malty flavor, sort of like cereal grain. And there's also the spice of the rye, but it's subtle. It's definitely not rum, but it's not completely different from rum either.
Genever is the original gin, made in Holland centuries ago and only recently resurrected. It has a milder, slightly sweeter flavor than London Dry gin. It reminds me a little of fresh bread, while still maintaining the juniper and botanical flavors we typically associate with gin. A very interesting spirit.
It turns out that the Genever marries very well with the rye. (I used Rittenhouse 100-proof.) This kinda makes sense, as one of the grains Genever is made from is rye, along with corn and wheat. It's not a combination I'd ever have thought of — especially not as a substitute for rum — but it works.
Combier is a high-end triple sec. If you don't have it you can substitute Cointreau or a good, basic triple sec (like Bols). There's really no substitute for orgeat in this recipe, so get some.
A very tasty drink. I'll be making this one again.
Reviewed by Bob Montgomery
No category of spirit has benefitted more from the cocktail revolution than rye. This whiskey, which formed the backbone of pre-Prohibition drinking, had become nearly extinct by the 1980s. Today rye is to be found in every bar worthy of the name, and no fewer than 40 different ryes are now being distilled in the US. It is almost indispensible in the Manhattan, my favorite cocktail.
Redemption Rye is a recent entrant in this growing market. Sporting a distinctive bottle and a generous 92 proof, Redemption is made from 95% premium rye and aged at least two years in new charred oak barrels. It's distilled in Indiana and bottled in Bardstown, Kentucky, where Redemption also produces a High-Rye Bourbon.
Two years is on the young end for any whiskey, although rye tends to be bottled younger than Scotch, for example. Some of that brash character is evident in Redemption, but there are also some signs of a developing maturity as well. It would be very interesting to see what would happen with a few more years in the barrel.
What we have today is still quite smooth, a bit sweet on the palate with some spice notes (think Christmas spices like ginger or clove.) As a sipping whiskey, it is a little hot at 92 proof and benefits from a splash of water or a few cubes of ice. I think its true potential is best realized as a mixing whiskey — it makes a fine Manhattan. At around $27 a bottle, it’s a very good value and well worth adding to your whiskey arsenal.
Quality Grade: B+
Value Grade: B+
Final Grade: B+
Bob Montgomery is the older, occasionally wiser brother of the Professor. He's a gifted cook and an old hand when it comes to whiskeys.
Today's Trivia Question:
Who was the only sitting U.S. president to personally lead an army into battle?
If you answered "George Washington," then you earned yourself a shot! I'll wait while you go drink it. In fact, even if you guessed "Benjamin Franklin" (who was never president and never lead an army into anything except a tavern), you can still have a shot. What the heck, it's not like I'm buying.
You back now? Good. (And you thought learning about history was going to be boring.)
The Whiskey Rebellion was one of the more interesting episodes in U.S. history because it occurred at the intersection of two great American pastimes: making liquor and bitching about taxes.
Back in the early days of the Republic there was no income tax. The government didn't spend a lot of money (nobody had thought up Social Security or aircraft carriers yet), so they didn't need a lot of revenue. Most of what they required was gotten through tariffs on imports. Nobody liked paying taxes (remember, that was one of the things the colonists hated about the British), but an import tariff was indirect enough that nobody complained too much.
Well, as is so often the case, the government found themselves a little short when it came time to pay its bills. The Revolutionary War had cost a pretty penny and back then the Treasury couldn't just sell bonds to the Chinese; they actually had to come up with some real money. So in 1791, they slapped a tax on whiskey.
Although this move was no doubt highly offensive to the drunkards of the day, the people it really pissed off were the farmers. The highest cost a farmer on the American frontier (we're talking Western Pennsylvania or Ohio) faced was transportation. They were growing a lot of corn and wheat and other grains, and hauling all that stuff to market was expensive. So someone hit upon the genius idea of turning a lot of that grain into alcohol, thus concentrating its value in a much smaller volume of merchandise.
Since these farmers were essentially in the whiskey business — they even used sometimes booze for currency — the government's new tax hit them particularly hard. And as the colonists' experience with the Brits had so recently shown, when people were pissed off about taxes, a little rebellion could be a very effective tool. Anger and resentment starting brewing, and eventually reached a boil in 1794.
The farmers began to organize, pledging not to pay the tax, and harassing the tax agents when they tried to collect it. (You think it's hard being an IRS agent today? Back then they used to get tarred and feathered — literally!)
Eventually things escalated to the point where 500 armed men marched on the estate of General John Neville, the local tax inspector. Shots were exchanged, the general's house was burned down, and at least two men were killed.
Emboldened by this action, the farmers next gathered a militia of 6000 men who massed in Braddock's Field, a few miles outside of Pittsburgh. They paraded around, flexed their muscles, contemplated sacking Pittsburgh, and even threatened to secede from the Union.
Enough was enough. In the face of such a serious challenge to the authority of the new federal government (keep in mind this was only 7 years after the adoption of the Constitution), President George Washington pledged to take action. He got his old uniform out of mothballs and, with Alexander Hamilton by his side, led an army of 13,000 men towards Western Pennsylvania. This was a larger army than Washington generally led during the Revolutionary War — the man meant business.
By the time Washington and his troops arrived in Pennsylvania, the rebellious farmers had dispersed. They may have been stubborn, but they weren't stupid. A couple of the ringleaders were captured and tried, but were later pardoned. The army went home and Washington went back to Philadelphia (the capital at that time). The anger gradually faded away.
In the end, protesting the tax was as much a pretext for standing up to the government as a legitimate beef. And the farmers had seen what standing up to the Feds can get you. Besides, a tax on whiskey really just meant the consumer paid a little more for his jug — it wasn't worth getting killed over.
As a result of the events of the Whiskey Rebellion, it became abundantly clear that the new federal government was firmly in charge of the United States and its peoples, not just in the settled cities of the East, but in all the states and territories. There was a role for the state and local authorities, but the ultimate power lay in the hands of the Feds — and they were willing to use force to back that up.
We've been paying taxes on our whiskey ever since.
Note: In preparation for writing this essay, I pulled several volumes off the shelf to consult. The primary book I used was The Age of Federalism by Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick (Oxford University Press, 1993). It's a well-regarded and learned treatise on early-American history. Just don't drop it on your foot.