You young whippersnappers! You think just because some glorified bartender figures out there's more to a cocktail than syrupy fruit liqueurs and vodkas shaken together with too much ice, you've invented more trendy cocktails. Well, we were drinking these cocktails back when you got three for a dollar and went back to work after! Now put the vermouth back in the martini, throw out that Commie vodka business, and get off my lawn!
In all seriousness, where the past 10 years have been the Vodka Decade--vodka was turning up in martinis, for God's sake--many of the rediscovered cocktails that have been turning up on menus contain the ultimate "old man" spirit: gin.
Gin is an acquired taste when you've been used to the soulless, flavorless chill of vodka. A friend of mine, trying it for the first time, said it tastes like fellating a pine tree, as succinct a description of cheap gin as I've ever heard.
Gin producers, facing oblivion, listened, and they improved the quality of their spirits. It started with Bombay Sapphire. Plymouth started being exported, though its juniper flavor was a little much for gin newbies. Hendricks came out with its non-standard bottle and appealing-to-quirkiness adverts, though the slippery cucumber flavor makes for a great G&T and a very odd martini. The French and Americans have gotten into the gin business, with Citadelle and Bluecoat American, both quite good. The most versatile gin, though--the one that seems to play best in every preparation, from martinis to complex cocktails--is Martin Miller's.
Below are five "old man" cocktails enjoying a renaissance.
An apéritif in Continental Europe can be anything from anisette to Champagne. What stimulates the appetite best, though, is a bitter flavor. The Negroni, invented in 1919, is equal parts gin, Campari and sweet (red) vermouth that's stirred with ice and strained into a cocktail or old-fashioned glass with an orange twist. Don't serve huge pours of this; it's a sipping drink.
2. Ramos Gin Fizz
The world owes a very great debt to New Orleans, mostly for its food--but the Roosevelt Hotel, just off Canal Street, has given us the Sazerac (a topic for a separate post) and the Ramos Gin Fizz, a brunch favorite that's one of the best excuses ever for drinking before noon. It's complex but worth it. Shake together 2 ounces of gin, 1 ounce of simple syrup, 0.5 ounces each of lime and lemon juices, 1 ounce heavy cream, a dash of orange flower water, and an egg white. Add ice and shake again, then strain into a highball glass and top with a spritz of soda water.
3. Tom Collins
One of those drinks that everyone's heard of, but no one seems to know how to make. You can buy bottles of sticky, processed Collins mix in stores, but it's easy to make this at home. Superfine sugar is not the same thing as powdered sugar (the latter has cornstarch in it)--make your own by taking plain sugar and putting it through a food processor for 30 seconds. Shake 2 ounces of gin, 1 ounce of fresh lemon juice and 1 teaspoon of superfine (not powdered) sugar with ice. Strain into a highball glass filled with ice and top with 3 ounces of club soda. Garnish with a maraschino cherry (or better yet, a brandied black cherry) and an orange slice.
4. Pink Gin
Once you've fallen in love with gin, the simplest of cocktail recipes is open to you. Pink gin is nothing but 3 dashes of Angostura bitters and 3 ounces of gin that's put in an old-fashioned glass and swirled until the drink turns pink. That's it. This may be the oldest gin cocktail recipe in the world, since it reached its heyday during the reign of Queen Victoria.
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The gimlet is the first of the gin-based classic cocktails to be corrupted by the insidious forces of vodka, as well as the cocktail most open to mixological meddling. Traditionally, it's just 2 ounces of gin and with almost (but not quite) the same amount of Rose's Lime Juice--yes, that sticky, sweet concoction nearly universally panned by bartenders everywhere--stirred with ice and strained into a cocktail glass (or poured over ice in an old-fashioned glass).