This will be, I warn you, perhaps a somewhat rambling post, as I take the chance to go over a few things that have been sifting through the old neurons in me brain.
One thing I always try to do – be it in the relative chaos of a TDN or just when sitting around, plotting a drink – is try my best to figure out where the initial idea for a cocktail came from, where the genesis of the taste, in my brain, was inspired. This could be relatively simple – “Let’s sub this ingredient for this one”. It could be a bit more cloudy, leading to me thumbing through Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails or The Joy of Mixology just to say “Ohhhhh, that’s where I’d heard of doing that before.” More rarely, it’s something completely random, usually in an attempt to use an ingredient that I’m having issues with or because I like something that no one else does.
Both of those were shown in my last drink of TDN Chartreuse the other week when I came up with The Slimer. Clearly, its name derives from the Ghostbusters character and I mostly only picked it out because of the color of the drink. The idea, though, came from the desire to use two disparate ingredients, one of which was the theme of the TDN and the other an ingredient I haven’t cared for much so far but I think might have potential.
1.5 ounces green Chartreuse (it must be the green!)
1 ounce Zen green tea liqueur
.5 ounces orgeat
Shake and strain into a chilled glass, garnish with a flamed lime peel
Now, that was one of my weaker drinks of that night – in my not-so-humble opinion – but I didn’t think it was that bad. It is a bit sweet, and could easily be perhaps seen as one of those college bar shooter type drinks, but hey, whatever. At the end of that TDN I enjoyed it and my tastebuds typically work pretty okay even while drinking.
My second drink of the night (and I’m not counting my mostly-joke of a drink, the Chartreuse Bomb, where I suggested dropping a shot of chartreuse into a hefeweizen) has a rather poor name, I think, mostly because – well, I can’t remember why I came up with the name for it. However, it has a distinct evolutionary path.
The Initech Cocktail
2 ounces Dolin dry vermouth
1 ounce Anchor Junipero gin
1/2 ounce green Chartreuse
2 solid dashes Bitter Truth Orange Bitters
Stir, strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
The evolution of this drink came like this: when Dolin vermouth came back to DC just recently, a friend of mine (Jake) started drinking “reverse martinis” with it. At some point, he told me he was basically just drinking Dolin with a float of Junipero.
Remembering that the original martini recipe included orange bitters, I first tried to recreate the float with an addition of chartreuse. Unfortunately, I could not get the drink to float right, so I just made it a stirred, reverse martini style drink, and I thought it came out quite tasty.
Thus we have: martini -> reverse martini -> Initech Cocktail via the ideas of multiple people.
My first drink of the night, however, is probably one of the two best received drinks I’ve ever come up with since I got into this whole cocktail thing.
The Chartreuse Blanc
1/2 ounce green Chartreuse
1 1/2 ounces Dolin blanc vermouth
2 dashes Regan’s #6 Orange Bitters
Stir and strain.
The evolution of this one, really, was based off a single ingredient tasting. I knew that the theme of TDN was Chartreuse, obviously, and when I tasted Dolin for the very first time I was amazed at how it had some of the floral/herbal taste of Chartreuse in it.
I feel like the Dolin can eat the Chartreuse right up; I kept the proportion down to keep this as a lower proof drink (remember that Chartreuse is pretty strong!) but from what I’ve heard you can really crank it up. I wouldn’t suggest that, though, if you’re using the Martini & Rossi bianco (which is just not as good, by any means).
But why did I get to all this?
Last night I was sitting at The Gibson, chatting with Derek and a visitor to DC named Rich at the bar. We were talking about drinks in general, and how there are so many ingredients that you can always seem to come up with new combinations. I mentioned how after I come up with a drink, I try to do some research to see if I can find similar ones that might’ve unwittingly inspired me, and if I know where the inspiration comes from, I do my best to credit all involved.
Our conversation drifted through a number of different topics in addition to that, including football (go Steelers!), work, travel, etc. At one point, Derek decided to make a Manhattan variation for Rich that we tentatively called the Pittsburgh. Simply put, it was a standard rye whiskey Manhattan with port instead of the sweet vermouth and also used a dash of whiskey barrel aged bitters from Fee’s, garnished with a cherry.
I sipped on one as well until my ride showed. From The Gibson, my friend Mary and I headed down to the Verizon Center to visit Gina Chersevani at PS7. I hadn’t been able to make it there since she moved from EatBar to there (having bailed last Friday to hang with my brother instead) and so we wanted some place that would be cool to check out.
First off, that is a GREAT place to do so, and the drinks that Gina is coming up with there are awesome! There was a bit of a crowd when we got there but it emptied quickly and soon it was just a few of us – Gina and Lauren behind the bar, a few people who mostly knew each other at the bar, and chef Peter Smith coming in and out to try out things – when I mentioned to Gina about the Pittsburgh.
She took the opportunity to point out one of the drinks I’d already tried that evening: the “Across the Pond”, made with Bulleit bourbon, Six Grapes Port, and lemon. Still, the drinks tasted nothing alike, in my recollection – and then I remembered the Sandeman’s sponsored TDN back in December.
The Portugese Manhattan
2 ounces rye or bourbon
1 ounce Sandeman’s Founder’s Reserve Port (ruby port)
2 dashes cherry or orange bitters
Stir, strain, garnish with either cherries or a twist of orange peel – or flamed orange peel, if you’re into that kind of thing.
That was at 10:52 PM EST on December 18th. What am I, prescient? No…it just seemed, to me, to be a fairly obvious substitution:
SeanMike -> I can’t believe we haven’t had something like the “Portugese Manhattan” – 2 ounces bourbon/rye, 1 oz Sandeman Founder’s Reserve port, 2 dashes orange or cherry bitters
rumdood -> SHUT UP SM
BonzoGal -> So logical
rumdood -> Damn you you bastard
DrinkPlanner -> no-brainer
SeanMike -> that’s why rumdood also thought of it
Now, I will admit – I wouldn’t have thought of this had it not been a Sandeman’s sponsored TDN, and probably wouldn’t have tried it if I hadn’t had an open bottle of such port. Still, my memories of that drink are still at odds with the Pittsburgh and the Across the Pond – which also shows how three different drinks of nearly the same ingredients can be completely different due to the styles of the ingredients.
Cocktail recipes are interesting beasts. Like in music, there are tons of combinations, but not all are harmonious. It can be hard if not impossible to properly attribute all of the influences on any new cocktail and every trip to a good bar, every read of a new cocktail book (no matter how old), every discovery of a new ingredient and even every conversation with a fellow cocktail enthusiast can lead to new or only-thought-new cocktails. Short of direct, clear plagiarizing – something that I, personally, haven’t seen a lot of in the community, as most cocktailians seem eager to give proper credit for recipes – inspirations are everywhere.
It can be an interesting challenge though: much like Matt Browner-Hamlin showed us in terms of the Adam Bernbach‘s “taste of a drink evolution” post, the actual inspirational heritage of a drink can be greatly illuminating.