Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Give That Woman A Drink

Clare over at Babes in Babylon laments the fact that drinks that are specifically targeted to woman are so lousy. It's true. In general, you don't get much lower down than the "girlie drink". In fact, my understanding is that in an early draft of the Inferno, Dante had Satan sunk waist deep in a frozen lake of chocolatini, but the image was too horrifying even for him. Clare asks:
If I’m not drinking beer, I’m usually drinking something amber in a shot glass or tumbler–sure, sometimes I’ll suddenly realize that my drinking habits are acceptable for neither the company nor the venue, and I’ll have what he’s having, but my heart’s not in it. I realize though, that this is an irrational fear, and that I need to get over it if I want to become an elegant and savvy woman who occasionally says witty things over sophisticated drinks.
Well, never let it be said that Pappy Darwin left a damsel in distress when she was seeking cocktail advice. Luckily, the "girlie drinks" fad is fairly new. When men were men, women were drinking, and everyone was black and white, ladies with class drank many of the same drinks that men with class did. Just consult Nora Charles, in the wonderful Thin Man movies, whose capacity for martinis was nearly as great as that of her husband:

And here, I think, we find the answer. If you are seeking the sophisticated drink to say witty things over, you need to stick to classic cocktails. Let's start at the top and work down.

The Martini
This is the classic of classics. Get a quality gin and a if possible a quality vermouth. I'd recommend Plymouth gin, but Citadel or Bombay (London Dry or Sapphire) will do just as well, depending on your taste. Some of the more unusual gins like Hendrick's can create a someone unusual martini taste, and are perhaps better straight. Sadly, it's got harder to be exclusive about one's vermouth. Noilly Prat used to be, to me, the gold standard. But they changed their formula a few years back and the new, sweeter dry vermouth (designed for Europeans who drink the stuff straight -- which just shows they don't know any more about cocktails than they do about maintaining a currency zone) just doesn't cut it in the dry martini. So go with the standard Martini & Rossi if that's what you can find, or branch out into something unusual (say, the California-made Vya) if you can find it.

The making is simple, though a shocking number of bartenders manage to slip it up anyway. Here's my stab at the classic:

1.5 oz gin
0.5 oz vermouth
1-2 dashes orange bitters (NOT Angostura bitters -- if you can't find orange bitters, don't use any)

Pour ingredients over ice is a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously. (If you're a true purist like Nick Charles in the above clips, shake it to a waltz tempo.) Strain into a cocktail class and garnish with an olive.

Yes, you can substitute vodka for gin, but really, do you want to be that kind of person? (Admittedly, I've been known to engage in such perversity at times, but don't say I didn't warn you.)

The Manhattan
Just as classic as the Martini is the Manhattan. The ratio here depends on the type of ingredients you have. Here's one I love, though it's a double (don't drink before driving):

4oz (rī)1 rye whiskey
2oz Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
3 dashes Angostura bitters
2 dashes Regan's Orange Bitters

Like a Martini, this drink is best shaken vigorously over ice and then strained. (Yes, shaking actually does give a different taste than stirring, though the difference dissipates after the first sip or two.) The Manhattan is traditionally garnished with a maraschino cherry, but I never do. My excuse is that it's not canonically required the way that the olive in the martini is.

You can make a very good Manhattan with Bourbon instead of Rye. The Rye is more traditional, but make sure it's a good Rye. (No, Jim Beam will not do.) However, Bourbon is canonical in a Manhattan in a way that Vodka is not in the Martini. Again, quality matters. Use your favorite Bourbon. (I go for Eagle Rare.) The vermouth is also important. If Martini & Rossi or some other cheap sweet vermouth is all you can get, cut the ratio down to 1 part vermouth to 4 parts whiskey, as cheaper sweet vermouths tend to be sweeter.

The Gimlet
If a drink features prominently in Raymond Chandler novels, I think it counts as classic.

Actually, what I drink is slightly heretical when it comes to the Gimlet, but reprobate that I am I recommend that you follow me into my heresy by adding a dash or two of bitters to your Gimlet. Here's my recipe:

2oz Gin
0.5oz Rose's Lime Juice
2 dashes of Angostura bitters

Rose's is pretty sweet and dominates the drink with its sweet/bitter mix, so this can be a bottom shelf gin. I use Burnett's.

The Old Fashioned
In the classic comedy It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, a character leaves the controls of his small plane to mix an old fashioned. "What if something goes wrong?" he's asked. "What can go wrong with an Old Fashioned?" he responds. The crash follows inevitably.

However, crashes do not necessarily follow an Old Fashioned, so fear not.

In the bottom of an Old Fashioned glass, mix 1 teaspoon sugar with 2 dashes of Angostura bitters.
Add ice and 2oz Bourbon, then stir.

Yes, you can garnish it with fruit (a cherry, lemon peel and an orange slice, to be exact) but it's not required, and it's certainly not a "girlie drink". What indeed can go wrong with an Old Fashioned?

For wisdom on these and many other classic cocktails, there's no better guide than Eric Felten, the former WSJ drinks columnist, in his charming book How's Your Drink?: Cocktails, Culture, and the Art of Drinking Well. Not only does he provide outstanding classic cocktail recipes, but he serves them up with all the appropriate history, book and movie references.



Matthew Lickona said...

JOB puts vodka in his martinis. Go figure.

There are so many fun joints in San Diego making interesting cocktails these days. You simply must visit.

And four ounces of rye in a single Manhattan? You, sir, are a serious man, not to be trifled with.

rhinemouse said...

I am not ashamed of the chocolatinis I have drunk, because how can you be ashamed of chocolate + alcohol?--but I will gladly admit that canonical cocktals about 100x better.

My nomination for a Genuinely Awesome Girly Drink would be the White Lady, which is 2 oz. gin, 1 oz. Cointreau, and 1 oz. lemon juice. Mmmm.

Now I must try to convince myself that I don't need to run out and buy more expensive liquor. I fear it's a doomed battle.

Banshee said...

I'm Irish on one side and Scottish on the other, so it's the water of life I prefer. As a soothing medicine, a warming drink mixed with hot things, or all by itself as a contemplative sip, whisky and whiskey are lovely things.

I perceive that the gentleman likes bitters. I suppose sometime I'll have to try them, but after the nastiness of "sours" by friends who swore I'd like them, I am reluctant.

Sigh. And yet, I would like to branch out a bit. Man does not live by Irish coffee alone.

(The Meijers near me carries some kind of gentian bitters in the German food aisle. I think it's really some kind of digestive cordial, though.)

GeekLady said...

..I ordered an old fashioned at a bar just a few weeks ago, and I ended up needing to go online to find a recipe for the bartender.

Lauren said...

In tropical climes, or just summer, I like a good mojito or margarita. Sangria is also yummy, and depending on the recipe can have a lot of hard liquor in it. So maybe it's a cocktail or maybe just fruit wine? Mostly I'm a beer girl. In the winter, we've been partaking of hot buttered rum. Sweet and "girly" but beloved by both sexes, at least among our acquaintance. Love a good gin martini, but my body can't handle it anymore. I also stopped ordering them at bars because of the fad a few years ago of making them "dirty." Yuck!

Clare said...

This is fantastic. Thanks!
If you and Mrs. Darwin ever need a babysitter to go out on the town and sample some of these drinks, call me up and I'll fly right in. And I promise I won't drink on the job.

bearing said...

Rum and Coke isn't a girly drink, is it? Because that's my favorite bar drink to order, and I personally think it should count as a classic.

Also fond of a properly made whiskey sour, which tastes sweet but at least *sounds* manly when you pronounce it. And I think margaritas don't count as a girly drink, as long as you eschew strawberries and blenders and such, and have them in Mexican restaurants from a pitcher with friends.

I should probably try a gimlet. I have never really had anything having to do with gin, and never tasted a martini. Although since I love olives, maybe I would like a dirty martini.

My secret girly-drink shame is that I keep peach schnapps around so that if we ever have fresh orange juice I can have a Fuzzy Navel.

bearing said...

P.S. Isn't against the laws of the blogosphere to post on this subject without a link to Girl Drink Drunk by the Kids in the Hall?

Darwin said...


Bitters are very different from "sour mix" if that's what you're talking about. They're a very strongly flavored aromatic liquor that is added in quantities of a few drops.

Orange bitters (far harder to find) is pretty easy to explain, as it imparts a citrusy taste. Angosture bitters is dark reddish brown (looks like iodine) and has a slightly bitter, herbal taste that (in small quantities) is a very good complement to bourbon or whiskey.

And yes, I am just plain fond of them. :-)


Well, we never turn down babysitting! That reminds me, however, that I'd meant to include the warning: a lot of bars honestly don't produce very good classic cocktails. This is generally fine for me, as I'm very much an at-home drinker by preference and necessity, but I can't necessarily speak for the quality of what you'll get asking for these at the average bar, or even a relatively expensive bar that hasn't been in on the classic cocktail revival.

Jenny said...

I am so out of my league here. I can literally count how many mixed drinks I have had in my life. I never knew what to order when on the college scene and wasn't willing to risk $5 or $10 on something I didn't like. I wish I knew more about it or knew someone who knew more about it, but I don't. I usually stick to the safe and known glass of wine.

Anonymous said...

A lot of what is called "mixed drinks" are just some things slopped together. A well mixed "drink" will have the alcohol complement the flavor, so that it will sneak up on you and knock you on your a**.

That is why I usually don't order anything alcoholic at a bar - most of those "bartenders" aren't mixologists and it shows. I'll only order a drink at a couple of the high-end restaurants.

Clare said...

I think I'm mostly interested in being able to entertain with a decent cocktail, although I do like bars. Warning well taken.

Anonymous said...

You may scoff at this, but my dad made his Manhattans with a dash of grenadine syrup. They were always a big hit at the Holy Name Society's annual winter dance.

Matthew Lickona said...

It's not outrageous. Often, a bit of the maraschino syrup from the jar of cherries gets into our Manhattans.

Darwin, have you tried Dolin vermouth? I can't speak to the dry, but the sweet is good.

Foxfier said...

bearing -
at my sister's "I'm pregnant" bar-hop (she was the DD) I ordered a jack and coke, and the bartender hit on me for the rest of the evening as someone who knew her drinks. So I'm guessing no, not a usual girl drink. It was so freaking strong I nearly gagged, but that's another point.... (The proper proportion is somewhat less than 50/50 in my book.)

I favor an amaretto sour, myself, or a simple gin and tonic. (Bonus if there are black lights--takes me back to my first Real Date with TrueBlue, in the PI.)

I've been mixing drinks since I was five or so, and my most prized possession is a just-barely-post prohibition reprint of a pre-prohibition drink book.
(Has awesome things like a very long, round-about suggestion that the bartender deck any drunk that harasses ladies that are drinking. Named "How To Mix Drinks.")

Foxfier said...

Oh, other disclaimer: I think Jaeger is a great thing to sip, and am still in mourning about Fireball Whiskey (it's cinnamon syrup made with whiskey, basically) not being available from the bases' supplier.

Jonathan said...

Forgive me, for I have sinned. I have never had a Manhattan with Rye. Not many places carry it around here, except BevMo. It's not really found in bars, either, so bourbon has to do. And it does.

However, there's another problem. Small town bars generally don't carry bitters, or if they do, only Angostura. So I haven't had any bitters in mine, but I did once have someone use a dash of grenadine. It was different, and not too bad.