Saturday, April 17, 2010

Can I Interest You in Some Dessert?


nce upon a time, the martini was simple—gin with a wave of dry vermouth. Today’s martinis come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, and none of them are simple. Indeed, the only resemblance between the classic drink of Nick and Nora Charles and today’s martinis is the glassware.

And, of course, now we have the dessert martini. Credit for this yummy alcoholic sweet? Perhaps after so many green apple martinis in Jolly Rancher colors, the idea of throwing some chocolate into a martini glass caught on—after all, adding chocolate to anything is usually a good idea. Still, dessert cocktails are nothing new, and the dessert martini did have more than one forebear. There was the 1950s White Russian, with its milk-vodka-Kahlua combination, and before that, the 1920s classic, the Brandy Alexander—brandy, dark crème de cacao, and half-and-half. But brandy was then; vodka is now.

Vodka used to be flavorless, odorless, colorless. How times have changed. Today, there are more than 200 vodkas flooding the liquor market to keep pace with the Technicolor world of the modern cocktail, and there is nothing flavorless about them. Chocolate, espresso, caramel, vanilla, coconut…this resembles the dessert cart rather than a well-polished mahogany bar. But who’s complaining? The Olde Stone Mill (2 Scarsdale Rd, Tuckahoe 914-771-7661) has expanded its drink menu to include many dessert drinks; even the venerable Manhattan has raspberry in it.

There are gender expectations for drinks like these—men usually order the Scotch, women the sweet drinks. At Martinis & Chocolates (425 White Plains Rd, Eastchester 914-361-1182), however, bartender Deanna Mancini occasionally makes sweet martinis like the International-tini (vodka, coffee liqueur, Amaretto, Frangelico, and Bailey’s Irish Cream) for the gentlemen. Regardless of gender, it’s dessert first and martini second.

Originally published in Westchester Magazine.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Income Tax Cocktail: Some People Call Me Maurice


It's that time of year... when the nation bites its nails, and every sound you hear seems to say: "I owe what?!" April 15th looms, the tax filing deadline approaches, and the only sensible thing to do is drink. Responsibly, of course.

I haven't uncovered exactly why this drink is called The Income Tax Cocktail. I can only assume it is so named because it numbs the pain of filing a return. The Income Tax Cocktail actually began as the Bronx Cocktail, "a sister to the Manhattan," as described in Ted Haigh's Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, because of its call for gin rather than whiskey.

To further complicate the genealogy research, The Bronx Cocktail is basically a Perfect Martini with fresh orange juice, and was at one time a very popular drink. By a Perfect Martini, I mean perfect with a capital "P" — gin with sweet and dry vermouth. In most cases now, if you order a Perfect Martini, a bartender will assume you would like a well-made dry martini. Such are the times.

Back to New York City's northern borough, the Bronx: in 1934, according to some sources, The Bronx Cocktail ranked number three in the world's top ten cocktail list, which just goes to show you how old David Letterman really is.

So if you are keeping score so far, gin with sweet and dry vermouth and freshly squeezed orange juice is the Bronx Cocktail. If you add some bitters, it becomes the Income Tax Cocktail! This recipe is lifted right out of Ted Haigh's most excellent book:

1 1/2 oz. gin
3/4 oz. dry vermouth
3/4 oz. sweet vermouth
juice of 1/4 of an orange (squeezed right into the shaker)
2 dashes of Angostura Bitters

Shake in an iced cocktail shaker and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange wheel.

This is a very easy cocktail to make at home but not that easy to find out and about. Even if you were to come upon a bartender who knew of what you speak, the chances of fresh oranges, squeezed at the bar, may be slim. But do try it if you find yourself at a haute cocktail lounge.

A note on the great Angostura Bitters stand-off: (Actually it deserves more than a note, probably a whole column, but this will have to suffice — I have to do my taxes.) Earlier this year, there was a worldwide shortage of this certain type of bitters that sent ripples through the bartending world. Due to a rift between the House of Angostura in Trinidad and its bottle supply company, production of Angostura Bitters stopped between November and February. People were frantically trying Fee Brothers aromatic bitters or The Bitter Truth brand bitters from Germany — both worthy alternatives but not the household name we know. Things are back to normal or so I've heard, and that's a good thing for hangover remedies that require ginger ale and Angostura Bitters, but you still might find the singular bottle scarce on some shelves.

Some old bartender guides will name the Income Tax Cocktail as the Maurice. Now the question remains: is it Morris as the British pronounce it or Maurice as Steve Miller deems it? Well, he is the pompitous of love, whatever that may be. My recommendation for how to order? Drop the Income Tax moniker. It brings up too many bad memories. Order a Bronx with Bitters and set a trend in motion.