Saturday, September 26, 2009
The Jerry Thomas Project The Brandy Cocktail
Oh Julie and Julia, taking the blogosphere to a whole new level. I was quite sure that you couldn’t turn a child’s action figure into a feature film but the colossal hit Transformers proved why I am still standing behind a bar and not working for a big studio in L.A. So I certainly could never have guessed that you could turn a blog about epicurean cooking into what is one of this summer’s most talked about movies. But it inspired me to make all of Jerry Thomas’s cocktails and put it on my blog. Jerry Thomas isn’t a name you hear often, even in the upper echelon mixology world. It’s too bad most of us don’t know more about him as he is considered the father of American mixology and published the first cocktail recipe book, Jerry Thomas’s Bartenders Guide. Not only was he a master at mixing drinks, he also had a show of flare with flashy clothing and some juggling tricks.
So for the next couple of months, I will make all of Jerry Thomas’s cocktails from the book Jerry Thomas’s Bartenders Guide that was published in 1887. These cocktail recipes are all pre-prohibition and were certainly created long before the spirits market started spiraling into what after spending two days at a liquor convention will convince you has gotten completely out of control. There were certainly no TY KU’s (which is a spirit distilled from sake and yuzu that comes in a glowing green bottle) or vodkas with caffeine and guarana. I have to wonder with the plethora of vodkas on the market, who is thinking that they can out-market Absolut or Grey Goose. The people not buying one of the five major labels who decide to buy a small batch spirit are unfortunately few and already there are hundreds of choices. Not that I want to discourage the small batch distilleries, but I feel a bit overwhelmed by one spirit after another that has very similar flavor profile and slightly more or less attractive packaging.
I’ve decided to make the drinks in order of the book. The first drink is a Brandy Cocktail. Obviously, Thomas didn’t have the menagerie of glassware we are accustomed to today either. He specifies either a large, medium, or bar glass. He also doesn’t use ounces, just the measurement of wine glass.
The first drink is a Brandy Cocktail which calls for a small bar glass. As he later specifies to shake and strain it into a cocktail glass (what many call a martini glass), that is the glass I went with. He calls for 3 to 4 dashes of gum syrup, which he doesn’t give a recipe for, but I used simple syrup which we make using equal parts sugar to water. He then calls for 2 dashes of bitters (Boker’s or Angostura) and as I don’t have Boker’s bitters – I used Angostura. I have desperately tried to make Boker’s bitters but unfortunately, I have not found anywhere that sells catechu or tincture of cochineal (although it sounds like this might have only been used for color and I don’t know if it affected the taste of the bitters or not but as the recipe calls for such a large quantity I do believe that it must affect the flavor),.
Thomas calls for a wine glass of brandy, which we use Riedel stemware at my bar (a 30 ounce glass) so I decided to not use an entire wine glass. I was a bit afraid to add the 1 or 2 dashes of Curacao, as I only have blue and I thought it might turn the drink some nasty color. But the few dashes did very little to the hue and actually added some depth to the amber color of the brandy.
The drink was a lot tastier than I thought it would be. I assumed that it would be a bit too sweet with the simple syrup and the Curacao, but it was more like a brandy Manhattan with nice vanilla undertones.
Nice job Mr. Thomas.
Here’s a recipe for Boker’s bitters. Send me a sample if you find all of the ingredients to make them. (you might want to decrease this recipe - or else you are going to have six lifetimes of Boker’s bitters)
4 liters of whiskey
3 ounces of quassia
3 ounces of catechu
3 ounces of calamus
2 ounces of cardamom
40 ounces of tincture of cochineal
5 ounces of burnt sugar
24 liters of water