The dining room at the Banker’s Club was large and ornate, its linens crisp, and there was enough geography between table to prevent eavesdropping. Although I arrived on the dot, Lambert S. Denton was already seated and tinkering with a dry Martini. So dry, I found when he ordered one for me, it seemed as if the vermouth had been applied with an atomizer.
Listen, the Martini isn’t consumed enough today. I mean, I don’t know every single person drinking one at this moment, but I feel (and, like a good cop, sometimes you have to trust your feelings, or instincts) that not enough are. I feel that there was a time when all other cocktails were subsumed in the Martini’s overwhelming overwhelmingness, and that wasn’t a good thing. But now, perhaps, if my feeling is right, things – boozy things – during our modern cocktail renaissance have swung so far the other way thanks to the endless array of new and rediscovered cocktails that maybe not enough classic Martinis are consumed? Well, I’m going to do my part to balance that out, by having one right now. I like mine with the Embury proportions, meaning 2-1/2 parts gin to 1/2 part dry vermouth, and with a twist (lemon, naturally). Today, the gin component is going to be Thinking Tree Spirits Gifted gin, made down (down from me, at least!) in Eugene, OR. I was gifted a bottle recently, and couldn’t be happier. Gins always make swell gifts, friends. This particular gin is even called “Gifted” so it’s doubly perfect. It has a non-GMO Willamette Valley wheat base and is made by soaking botanicals (including Turkish juniper, Spanish coriander, fresh orange and lemon rind, star anise, lemongrass, angelica, grains of paradise, and cassia bark) in said base spirit for forty-eight hours before it’s distilled in a copper pot still. Then, English cucumber is infused in post-distilling. Neat! As you might expect after reading the last few sentences, it’s a complex gin-y number, with a junipery, cucumber-y, smell trailing citrus and bitters, and then a taste that echoes that (juniper, fresh cucumber) with more lemon and lemongrass and spice, finishing with nods towards the angelica and cassia. It makes, when mingled with the vermouth, an intriguing Martini – the many individual gins out there are what makes the Martini even more special now, as it allows them to shine. This one is a treat. I may have two. Helping to address that Martini imbalance and all!
This pretty amazing gin drink is sadly not one you see around these days – a crying shame, as it’s delish. Let’s work together to bring it back! It’s from the legendary Patrick Gavin Duffy’s Official Mixer’s Manual (1940 edition), one of the big and necessary books from the early-middle of last century. A tome all cocktail lovers should have, me thinks, full of drinks and drink-making history and wisdom (and Duffy’s genial crankiness). This one features a heavy dollop of gin as the base, and then smaller amounts of maraschino, sweet vermouth, and Cointreau. So, you’ll want a gin you’re really fond of: I’m using Monkey 47 Schwarzwald Dry Gin, whose smooth juniper, citrus, spice, pepper, botanicals, and berries balance is a treat. Add in the nutty maraschino, sweet and orange-y Cointreau, herbal vermouth, and a little lovely lemon oil and you end up with a cocktail fit for, well, a lord!
The Lord Suffolk
2-1/2 ounces Monkey 47 Schwarzwald gin
1/2 ounce Luxardo maraschino
1/2 ounce Cocchi Torino sweet vermouth
1/2 ounce Cointreau
Lemon twist, for garnish
1. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway full with cracked ice. Add everything but the twist. Stir well.
2. Strain into a cocktail glass, and garnish with the twist. Give a toast to the past, and then the future.
I sometimes feel a tiny bit of a Washington Tourist Board shill, as much as I talk about our awesomely awesome local distillers (and bartenders, and bars, and such). Which would be weird, if, well, they all weren’t so awesome! But they are, and so I’m happy to tout their lovely boozy products, and try to woo drinkers into trying them, sipping them, loving them like I do – and coming here to check the distillers out in person when possible. Really, we are spoiled with all the tipsy options being made this-a-way. This single drink is an example, and a good way to try multiple ones at once, as it features Skip Rock Distillery’s Belle Rose Light rum, a swell cocktail rum, aged in white wine barrels, soft, vanilla-y, oak-y, Brovo Spirits Jammy sweet vermouth, which is a merlot-based vermouth that’s rich with cherry and chocolate notes (very jammy indeed), and Sidetrack Distillery’s legendary Blackberry liqueur, which is lush and boasting deep berry flavors (which comes from growing the best blackberries in the world and then turning them into a liqueur on the same farm they grew on). Altogether, this cocktail shows off the delights from up here in a layered, lush, mixtures that’ll have you singing the WA distiller’s praises as much as me. And then we can both get a kickback from the tourist board!
Sorry, after last week’s Kill and Tell Cocktail Talk (read that one for a little more information on the book by Howard Rigsby), I realized I had to have at least one more, while I could still type – before the Martini kicks in. It’s not actually as drinky a book as some from the era, and the PI star isn’t as hard-drinking as others (he turns down a number of drinks), but hey, it’s not like he isn’t gonna drink at all!
“What would you like to drink?” I asked. “I can make a fair Martini.”
She had begun to look worried again, but she seemed to shrug it off. She smiled. “A Martini sounds grand.”
I made it five to one, and when she had tasted it she rolled her eyes upward. “While I can still talk there’s something I’d like to tell you,” she said.
The world of spirits, liqueurs, and the cocktails one makes with them has undergone a wonderful internationalizing over the last, oh, 15 years (that number is not scientific, but more a musing digit that might approximate an impossible-to-actually-measure figure). By that I mean, so many products from around the globe once only consumed in their particular region or country are now being accessed by thankful drinkers in other spots. Make some sense? And this internationalizing is still rolling out, with more products showing in more spots. Again – thankful drinkers, including me! One type of produce that we’re finally seeing more of in WA (where I’m at) and the US in general is Shochu, the distilled tipple popular in Japan and made from a number of things: rice, sweet potatoes, buckwheat, and more. I’ll fully and readily admit I’m not a Shochu expert, but what I’ve had, I’ve enjoyed for its earthy, rich flavors (varying depending on the base product distilled) and friendly drinkability.
So, I was very excited recently to receive some Shochu in the mail (don’t be upset with me! I know I’m lucky), from Honkaku Spirits, which is one of the companies helping to spread the word and accessibility of Shochu, along with other Japanese spirits. They’ve been around since 2020, and are focused, amazingly enough, on working with family-run distilleries, which is awesome! One of their newly released imbibables is Jikuya White Sweet Potato Shochu, which is what I’m sipping today. Crafted at the Jikuya distillery (around since 1910! And specializing in sweet potato Shochu “completely sourced and produced in Kagoshima, among other specifications”!) by fourth generation Master Brewer-Distiller, Ms. Maiko Jikuya at the base of Mount Shibi, this Shochu clocks in at 25% ABV, and delivers a lovely flavor. Starting with a light-on-its-feet herbally, flowery (not heavy perfume flowers, but wildflowers) essence, it flows into notes of red berries and hints, just hints, of tea. Neat! Very approachable, very drinkable. And, delicious over ice, solo or with sparkling water (sidenote: there is also a Jikuya Black Sweet Potato Shochu, which is earthier, and well worth trying, too).
Shochu is often served neat, with ice, or with soda water (as well as with warm or room temp water), sometime with fruit juice added to the latter. It’s not as often utilized in cocktails. Not to say it isn’t! Just, from what I’ve seen, not as often. But while I enjoyed/enjoy it solo, I had to test it out with a few other ingredients, cocktail-style, because, well, that’s what I do! And after a little finagling, I came up with a combo that I think lets the Jikuya White Sweet Potato Shochu shine, but also lets it play nicely with others. This Shochu has such a delicate but memorable (hah! That’s a funny combo, but it works for me) nature, I wanted the cocktail to match, so it took a bit to find the right pairings. I landed on maraschino liqueur (I went with Luxardo Maraschino), whose somewhat lighter nuttiness was a swell fit, Dolin Blanc vermouth, due to the floral notes and bit of cuddle it always brings, and Scrappy’s singular Cardamon bitters, whose light spices and more florally goodness shone with the others. This foursome together sings a (if I can say this while being humble) liquid delight! It manages to be both layered in flavor, spice, floral, fruit, and maintain that delicate, brightness from the Shochu. You may want to have another the minute you finish the first. As you do, give a toast to the whole world, which – for thankful drinkers – has become a smaller place.
The great Graham Greene hasn’t made an enormous amount of time Cocktail Talking here on the ol’ Spiked Punch (though do the read the past Graham Greene Cocktail Talks), which is a shame because A: I like his works lots, and B: he liked a good drink. Probably because we shade a little lower-brow (though he did write a fair amount of what he called “entertainments” which might lean into pulp pockets perfectly), or just because I forget to mark the pages of potential Cocktail Talks when reading his books. Or re-reading, I should specify, as I believe I’ve read them all at least once, re-reading being the case recently as I was re-reading his book The Comedians, which takes places mostly on Haiti during the tragic reign of François “Papa Doc” Duvalier. Circling around one main character and a few main satellites characters (who meet on a boat heading towards the country), it’s a sometimes chilling, always moving novel. Definitely one that one should be read, especially if you carry an interest in political history around like a traveling bar.
“What’s your poison?”
“Have you a whiskey?”
“I have next to everything, old man. You wouldn’t fancy a dry Martini?”
I would have preferred a whisky, but he seemed anxious to show off the riches of his store, so, “If it’s very dry,” I said.
“Ten to one, old man.”
He unlocked the cupboard and drew out a leather traveling-case – a half-bottle of gin, a half-bottle of vermouth, four metal beakers, a shaker. It was an elegant expensive set, and he laid it reverently on the tumbled table as though he were an auctioneer showing a prized antique. I couldn’t help commenting on it.
“Asprey’s ?” I asked.
“As good as,” he replied quickly and began to mix the cocktails.
It was just hours ago (a week’s worth of hours, that is) that I was sipping some Stambecco and Soda, and in the post about it right here on the Spiked Punch, I went into some detail about Stambecco amaro (be sure to read up), which is made curiously-enough from maraschino cherries, along with a host of botanicals, spices, magic, and goats (well . . .) like any good amaro. It’s a very singular kind of a sipper, tasty, sure, but singular. While this drives it towards being something that’s swell solo, and (as demonstrated in said earlier post) with soda, I couldn’t wait when it showed up to try it mixed with a few other choice pals in a cocktail. Some experimenting of this and of that and here we are drinking How the Rogue Roar’d.
Oh, first, let me say that this cocktail isn’t roguish in the manner of a 17th century thief boosting a coach and four on a dusty road at midnight. But it does roar with a very layered flavor, and has a roguish (the twinkly-eyed lovable rogue way) combination of ingredients. But, mostly, I’ve wanted to have a drink called this forever (it’s a line from Henry IV, Part I, as well as the name of a Shakespeare and Hathaway episode), and here is one that finally deserves this very moniker. So, what’s in it? Stambecco, naturally! And, Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin with Sardinian Citrus. You can read more about this gin treat in the The Suspended Palace with Drumshanbo Gin recipe, but I’ll say here that it boasts a host of regularly-used and rare botanicals and citrus (as well as Gunpowder Tea – which is quite roguish, if not as explosive as you might guess at first read). And, our rogue also features dry vermouth of the Dolin variety (probably needs no explanation), as well as a dash of the delectable Scrappy’s Orange bitters, and, to top it all off, a strawberry. Stambecco goesy, as you might guess, well with cherries, but the strawberry seemed so fitting a top hat for this drink, as there are oodles of fruit and spice notes, while maintaining a dry nature that the slightly sweet strawberry bounces nicely off of, and if that’s not enough, it’s April, so we can dream of summer easily, which means dreaming of strawberries. So, rogue, roar with this cocktail!
The Man Behind the Evening's PlansA.J. Rathbun is a freelance food and entertainment writer, poet and author, a frequent guest on the Everyday Food program (Martha Stewart Living/Sirius satellite radio), and is a contributor to culinary & entertainment magazines such as Every Day with Rachael Ray, The Food Network Magazine, Real Simple, Wine Enthusiast, and many others. Of course, there's so much more to it than that...Read More