November 9, 2011

Making the Perfect Vintage Cocktail

Guest Editors: Taylor Brittenham & Jeremy Schwartz

Guest Editor

You may not be as good-looking or dapper as Don Draper and your girlfriend may not be quite as hot as January Jones (January was two spots higher than your girlfriend on the Maxim list last year), but that doesn't mean you can't drink in Mad Men style. So we've invited Taylor Brittenham and Jeremy Schwartz, the real life gorgeous cocktail-loving couple and owners of Bitter Tears to give us a brief "how-to" on vintage cocktailing. So listen up as Taylor gives us the scoop on, well, drinking ...

Cocktail culture has gone retro with the recent spike in speak-easy inspired bars and menus. The classics are gaining popularity and introducing new audiences to old school staples such as Manhattans and Sazeracs. We first started seeing mainstream interest in classic cocktail culture with the huge success of the television show Mad Men. Suddenly all things Mid-Century were linked to the show and the price of Dorothy Thorppe glassware skyrocketed. It also resurrected the “three martini lunch” and put the focus on 1950's culture, which seemingly always revolved around having a drink and a smoke in hand.

Now that a new generation is becoming familiar with the names and tastes of the popular vintage libations via hip bars and media, naturally the next step is to bring it home. It's easy to create delicious cocktails at home. There are certain tools and ingredients which will assist you in your journey to becoming an at-home mixologist.

Tools: A cocktail shaker and strainer is first and foremost, naturally. Also handy are jiggers (used to measure out your ingredients), a bar spoon (for those stirred, not shaken recipes), and an ice bucket for entertaining.

Spirits: Having one or two spirits of your preference on hand can create a bevy of beverages. They don't have to be top shelf (we like Old Grandad Bourbon which usually retails around $10 or Beefeater Gin, $17). Generally speaking, if you're mixing drinks quality is not always a deal breaker.

Vermouth: If you're fond of martinis or drinks on the dryer side, go for a dry vermouth. If you lean more towards the sweeter side, pick up a sweet vermouth.

Liqueurs: To expand beyond the familiar mixers such as sweet and sour or pina colada mix, look to liqueurs for inspiration. My go-to liqueur is Campari, which is an Italian herbal aperitif. Campari appears in numerous vintage recipes. When mixed with sweet vermouth and practically any spirit, it creates a wonderful bitter-sweet concoction which I adore. You'll also find many recipes which include Benedictine (also a herbal liqueur), Cointreau (orange liqueur often found in margaritas), St. Germaine (another favorite- it has been referred to by bartenders as a crutch liqueur because it can make nearly any cocktail recipe taste great), and maraschino liqueur (you can't make a Blood and Sand without it!).

Bitters: Beyond playing a key role in making a Manhattan, bitters have become a must have for the mixologist and budding enthusiast alike. What are bitters? Bitters are an aromatic flavoring agent made from infusing herbs, spices, flowers, fruit peels and barks in high-proof alcohol. Just a few drops can add a whole new dimension and complexity to a drink. These herbal based extracts have seen a recent renaissance. Numerous artisans (including Bitter Tears) sell a multitude of exotic flavorings. From hibiscus rose to peppercorn bacon, and many more in-between, there are plenty of options out there to really wow your tastebuds.

And there you have it – a basic primer on creating your at home bar. I've included one of my favorite at home recipes to start you on your journey. Happy drinking!

The Boulevardier
1 ½ ounces bourbon
1 ounce Campari
1 ounce sweet vermouth

Stir with ice in a shaker or pint glass for about 20 seconds or until nice and cold. Strain into a cocktail glass.

Note: Swap out bourbon for gin and you have a Negroni!



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