The Cocktail Spirit with Robert Hess

The Cocktail Spirit with Robert Hess is dedicated to the creation of quality classic cocktails. Watch as he mixes up cocktail recipes from the past using the best ingredients.

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Product Choice is Important - The Sidecar Cocktail

11 Dec 14 6    ·   Brandy, Cognac,

I recall one of the first times I went to the liquor store to “stock my liquor cabinet”. It was a tad daunting to try to make sense of all of the different bottles of booze and understand what I was needing. And the price range, wow! At the time, I didn’t really have any true knowledge of brands and quality variations, but I knew enough to realize that just because there might be a brand that I had heard of through their marketing efforts, didn’t necessarily mean it was a good product. Since there were several different products I needed to buy, and a budget to deal with, the $20+ products became less and less appealing. Knowing that with wines, price wasn’t really a useful measure of the quality, I assumed the same could be true with spirits, and so I tried to be selective on finding “bargain” priced bottles. At first, I thought it was just the recipes I was using which were making my cocktails lackluster. Thankfully I did the right thing when it came time to replace a depleted bottle, I intentionally bought a different brand, and since I only needed to buy one or two on this visit, I was able to buy something a little more expensive. My cocktails quickly improved. This isn’t to say that all of the good spirit choices have to be expensive ones. There are lower-cost products that you can use which can make cocktails as good, if not better than, their costlier counterparts. And sometimes, even if a more expensive product will make a better cocktail, is the difference noticeable enough to warrant the expense? Courvoisier, is a great cognac. Their VSOP costs, say $45 per bottle, but their VS is more like $25. A sidecar made with the VSOP will be a better drink, but will it be twice as good? If you were to compare them side by side, you’d probably pick the VSOP as the better drink, but you’d still really enjoy the VS as well. So in this case there is nothing wrong with going with the less expensive Courvoisier VS. Cointreau is a triple sec, and most recipes for a Sidecar simply list “Triple Sec” as an ingredient. Cointreau costs, say $34 a bottle, while you can get a bottle of triple sec for around $10. The difference here however can be quite amazing. Not only would you clearly identify a Cointreau Sidecar in a side-by-side comparison, but you might be hard-pressed to finish the one made with triple sec after this discovery. So selecting products you are going to use in your cocktails, realize that your choices will make a difference.

When Good Recipes Go Bad – The Old Fashioned Cocktail

4 Dec 14 4    ·   Bourbon, Rye Whiskey,

In Hannah Glasse's 1747 cookbook “The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy” the following recipe appears - A Savory Veal Pie: TAKE a breast of veal, cut it into pieces, season it with pepper and salt, lay it all into your crust, boil six or eight eggs hard, take only the yolks, put them into the pie here and there, fill your dish almost full of water, put on the lid, and bake it well. The recipe appears fairly simple and straight-forward, but it is also devoid of enough information to allow somebody who has never made it before really understand how to do it right. How large of a breast of veal is it? What sort of “crust” is supposed to be used? Are the egg yolks supposed to be left whole, or broken up? By “lid” do they mean a physical lid or a lid made of crust? What temperature to bake it at, and for how long? Many cocktail recipes are even less descriptive then Hannah’s recipe above. If we take the Old Fashioned for example, one of the earliest published recipes (not counting earlier recipes simply referred to as “Whiskey Cocktail”) for it is from "Modern American Drinks" (1895) by George J. Kappeler - The Old-Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail: Dissolve a small lump of sugar with a little water in a whiskey-glass; add two dashes Angostura bitters, a small piece ice, a piece lemon-peel, one jigger whiskey. Mix with small bar-spoon and serve, leaving spoon in glass. Drink recipes by their very nature are of course are far simpler than cooking recipes, but we are still faced with many unknowns here. For example, how large is a “small lump of sugar”? How much water is “a little”? What type of whiskey is expected to be used? When a recipe leaves out important details, it requires the reader to fill in the gaps to the best of their ability, often without having any idea what so ever what the actual thing they are trying to make should taste like when done properly. This means that whatever they end up with, they will consider as “the way it should taste.” And then they teach this to another bartender, who teaches it to another bartender, who… you get the picture. Perhaps more than any other cocktail, the Old Fashioned is the one to suffer the most from bad interpretations of a good, but poorly written recipe, as well as just plain bad recipes (typically based on a bad interpretation of a good, but poorly written recipe). Here is where a solid understanding of a recipe, and more importantly the foundation that it is built upon, can aid the reader in better understanding how to make it properly. That, plus more details is part of what it takes to make a good recipe. Of course you also can run into the problem of recipes that are just plain bad from the start regardless of how they are made.

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