The TalkTails on Monday, May 23 got back to cocktails I’ve been considering adding to The Number Ten Cocktail Menu, We’d mostly been looking at—and tasting, of course—different categories of whiskeys that have been new additions to The Number Ten American Whiskey List, but, hey, I could use a cocktail.
And I knew that I could always use the opinions of others when it comes to featuring one cocktail or another, and these TalkTails sessions provide ample opportunity to do just that. The participants in this particular TalkTails session, by trying out these cocktails, were asked for thumbs up or down and suggestions about tweaks or amendments regarding some aspect of the particular drink.
As I like to say, it takes a village to raise a glass.
I had three cocktails for participants to consider:
- Pink Lady
- Clover Club
- Warday’s Cocktail
An added feature of the sampling of these cocktails was the use—for two of the selections—of glasses from my modest collection of Nick and Nora barware, so that this element of cocktail history and practice could be discussed. I was immensely gratified that many at this TalkTails well-remembered the Thin Man movies, with one or two of the participants presenting surprising in-depth knowledge—for instance, I hadn’t recalled that Nick and Nora had a small bar in their bedroom, and I struggled to remember their dog’s name, which is Astor, by the way. And thanks for that, my to-remain-unnamed friend.
There is about 200 years’ worth of solid attention on how to make a delicious alcoholic drink and fortunately there are many easy simple ones—who doesn’t enjoy a well-made gin and tonic on a warm summer afternoon, sitting around the grill waiting for the coals to light or perhaps playing croquet? But there some drinks that take an extra effort and are well worth it. In fact, there are many such drinks drawn from the brilliant attention of drink makers past, including legions of ingenious hackers who tried to make the best of bad liquor cooked up in proverbial bathtubs by finding the best ways to disguise mediocre stock with the right twists and flourishes. And praise is due the cocktail saints who preserved the sacred books of cocktails during Prohibition, sometimes fleeing overseas to practice their calling.
Pink Lady is dry and gently tart, once so well-known and acclaimed, and so effective at handling lousy illegal booze, but fallen out of fashion because, well, it is pink, and by the 1950s it was called a girly drink and men were too worried someone might sneer, and the drink faded away. But this drink is truly wondrous, made from gin, calvados (or apple brandy), lemon juice, and real honest to goodness grenadine. And with egg white, too—gorgeous and delicious, and boozy, too.
Here’s a bit of background from Liquor.com:
Like many Prohibition-era cocktails, the Pink Lady has an ambiguous history: Its invention was likely a solution to the cheap gin that marked the age; adding other ingredients like brandy, lemon juice, and grenadine helped to mask the unpleasant flavor of the poor-quality spirits available at the time. The Pink Lady became a favorite of high-society ladies from the 1930s to the 1950s, and its reputation as a “girly” order was perhaps solidified in the 1951 title The Bartender’s Book, by Jack Townsend, the president of New York’s bartender’s union: “Why, surely you know her,” Townsend wrote of the typical Pink Lady imbiber. “She’s that nice little girl who works in files, who’s always so courteous but always seems so timid… Naturally you never expected to see her at a bar. She gets into one about twice a year, at Christmas time or some other high old time.” Sexism aside, Townsend didn’t underestimate the drink’s potency: “Just why she picks the Pink Lady for these occasions—since the Lady packs quite a wallop—remains a mystery, even to her perhaps,” Townsend continued.
As the writer of the Liquor.com article puts it after this quoted text, “These quotes might not have aged well.”
Pink Lady is a gin sour, but by using grenadine for the sweet as a foil for the sour of the lemon juice, an additional note is added. Furthermore, the use of apple brandy broadens the taste and I really like Calvados, the Normandy-region’s apple brandy, and with a VSOP expression, very refined and with a wonderful nose, there is a second backbone to this drink. The egg white provides a delightful mouthfeel and was probably used to cover up the harshness of poor booze, but although you can make this without egg white, the appearance and—in my opinion, anyway—the taste will be flatter and less smooth.
There is a cocktail called White Lady that has even older roots than this cocktail, and the most likely explanation is that the Pink Lady is a variant of White Lady, which too is a gin sour, but with the typical sweet from triple sec (Cointreau would be my choice). Believe it or not, the original version seems to have used crème de menthe, but the creator, Harry MacElhone, dropped the crème de menthe in 1929. You can think of the current version of White Lady as something of a gin-based Sidecar.
For Pink Lady—and, really, any cocktail that calls for grenadine—the grenadine has to be real and good. I’ve been making a grenadine—pomegranate juice, sugar, a vanilla bean (Madagascar, of course), slowly reduced by a fourth or fifth, with a couple of thin lemon slices added up front and some dashes of orange and grapefruit bitters added at the end. I blind tasted my grenadine against several quality brands and although I did not cry at the result, the conclusion was that my homemade grenadine was not the number one choice of the testers. For this session’s Pink Lady, I mixed some of my homemade grenadine with Jack Rudy Grenadine, mainly because of the demands of my pride, but also because I felt that the Jack Rudy was a bit too sharp.
Okay, mainly because of my pride.
- 1½ oz. Beefeaters London Dry Gin
- ½ oz. Calvados VSOP (often uses applejack)
- ¾ oz. lemon juice, freshly squeezed
- ½-3/4 oz. grenadine (half and half mix of Number Ten house-made grenadine and Jack Ruby Grenadine)
- 1 oz. egg white (pasteurized)
Mix ingredients in shaker without ice (dry mix) using an electric hand wand (with whisk attachment) is faster and more effective for quickly emulsifying the mix, then add ice and shake until cold, pour into cocktail glass and garnish with a brandied cherry (Luxardo Maraschino). Use less or more of the grenadine, depending on taste.
I don’t mind serving this cocktail—or the next one, Clover Club—over ice. A generic Belgium ale glass presents well, but the traditional service is up, which is how we had it.
I think, though, that I would use a different gin that carries a more pronounced juniper note characteristic of London Dry, and I was pushed to this by my use of juniper-focused Boodles Gin in the following cocktail, but first, I would simply up the gin portion to two full ounces and see if Beefeater still works, since Beefeater is an unimpeachable London Dry.
Speaking of pink and its stupid association with “girly,” the Clover Club was the calling card cocktail of the same-named gentlemen’s club in Philadelphia, circa 1890s in the heart of the Gilded Age, and then spreading far and wide among discerning drinkers before falling away in the face of Prohibition. Here the pink is from raspberry simple syrup—which I hand make—along with gin, dry vermouth, lemon juice, the afore-mentioned raspberry simple syrup, and egg white, and it is traditionally served with fresh raspberries for garnish.
Here is what Liquor.com has to say:
The pre-Prohibition classic is one of Philadelphia’s greatest contributions to cocktail history, but like many drinks of its day, the Clover Club all but disappeared for most of the 20th century. Eventually, it found its way back into rotation, helped in part by its appearance in modern cocktail books, including Gary Regan’s Joy of Mixology. Its resurgence was solidified in 2008, when Julie Reiner opened a cocktail bar in Brooklyn named for the classic drink. Naturally, the bar put a Clover Club on the menu, and the cocktail has remained there since.
There are many similarities between Pink Lady and Clover Club. The two cocktails are fundamentally both gin sours, of course, and, indeed, some recipes for Clover Club call for grenadine, not raspberry simple syrup, although I can’t help but suspect that this call may be more on the bartender’s laziness than taste. After all, as long as Clover Club looks like a Clover Club—pink—what’s the big difference, right? To further confuse the issue, one online source states, “…in our research we found a recipe for the Clover Club was printed in the Pittsburgh Press in 1909.*” But note that the asterisk reports that the recipe came from The Last Night on the Titanic by Veronica Hinke, published in 2019, and sub-titled Unsinkable Drinking, Dining, and Style, so who knows about the claim’s accuracy.
There are many slightly differing recipes for this cocktail, but the main camps come down to whether or not you add dry vermouth to the mix, and that is very much my camp, since I think that the vermouth helps blend the other ingredients more harmoniously, which is often the role of vermouth in cocktails. A good vermouth—fresh, cold, and well-made, such as the Quady Vya Extra Dry Vermouth out of California or even Dolin, the solid standby—carries botanical notes that support the gin, even while broadening floral notes that work well with the raspberry. Like Pink Lady, the use of egg white in Clover Club both smooths the drink and softens it. For the Clover Club, I’m used Boodles, an England-made London Dry gin that is somewhat higher proof than the usual gin and carries the pronounced juniper note and underplays citrus. Here’s one other thing that I learned about Boodles online: “The gin is named for the British men’s club rumored to have been a haunt of men like Ian Fleming and Winston Churchill.” The connection between clubs and cocktails shouldn’t surprise anyone, and for that reason alone I couldn’t resist this choice.
The biggest challenge in the making of this cocktail is getting the sweet/tart balance right, and one difficulty in this is the variability that comes from house-made raspberry simple syrup: not only can simple syrup easily be made too strong (or “rich” in bartender terminology), but the slight reduction of the macerated raspberries means that the variously ripe berries can add more of their own sweetness. By the way, to extend shelf life, and ounce of alcohol added to a bottle of this syrup can keep a well-refrigerated bottle good for six weeks or longer; I use Everclear. And also by the way, the filtering of the syrup is a royal pain, the demands of which had sent me to online sources of various strain meshes to get the syrup clearer than the use of cheesecloth can.
- 2 oz. Boodles London Dry Gin
- ¾ oz. Quady Extra Dry Vermouth
- ½ oz. lemon juice, freshly squeezed
- ½ oz. raspberry simple syrup
- 1 oz. egg white
Mix ingredients in shaker without ice (dry mix) using an electric hand wand (with whisk attachment), which is faster and more effective for quickly emulsifying the mix, and then add ice and shake until cold, pour into cocktail glass and garnish with fresh raspberries.
Warday’s Cocktail takes a very different slant, with Calvados equal with a nice London Dry (Bombay is a solid choice), a lesser amount of sweet vermouth, and a touch of Green Chartreuse, served up, cold, with lemon twist. Warday’s Cocktail is boozy, herbaceous, and carries one of the longest, most enjoyable finishes known to man.
Researching the history of this cocktail was challenging, but first, a comment on the name. Considering what is going on in the world at the moment, I was initially put off on the name, since, you know, war, but I came to learn that Warday’s is to be pronounced to rhyme with “jar” or “bar” and that this version of “warday” is early 20th Century slang for workday. As in, a cocktail to have after work, and frankly I can’t find fault with that. I’m hard pressed to come up with another cocktail with which I’d rather end the workday.
One early find in my search for this cocktail’s history came from Cocktail Virgin (http://cocktailvirgin.blogspot.com/2019/12/wardays-cocktail.html):
Two Tuesdays ago, I was flipping through the 1937 Café Royal Cocktail Book when I spotted the Warday’s Cocktail. I had first tried the drink back in early 2008 when I found it the Savoy Cocktail Book. My journal entry shows that it was the same recipe, and that [as the author had written in his or her note] “The Chartreuse wasn’t specified and my notes say that I used Green but Yellow might do just as nicely (in fact, a quick Google search seems to indicate that most modern recipes for this drink use Yellow). The sweet vermouth and Calvados add a lot of fullness which is balanced by the gin and Chartreuse’s complexity.” I stuck with Green Chartreuse for it is my default when the color is not specified, and also the combination reminded me of an apple-rich Bijou; Yellow would most likely provide a softer and more rounded drink. Once prepared, the Warday’s Cocktail’s nose was dominated by the Chartreuse’s herbal aromas. Next, grape and apple notes mingled on the sip, and the swallow showcased pine, apple, and herbal flavors. Overall, the teaspoon of Chartreuse went a long way and offered a much better balance than the equal parts Bijou.
Something that struck me as wondrous when first I tried this cocktail, was that Warday’s Cocktail has a very long finish, where the flavor persists for quite a while. I was pleased as punch to find a reference to this very characteristic in a very interesting blog post titled “Forgotten Classics & Lesser Known Tipples” (https://louixlouis.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Loux-Louis_Cocktail-Menu-1.pdf), which, from all appearances, seems like a PDF of a cocktail menu
from somewhere not clearly noted, but with a little digging turns out to be Louix Louis, located on the 31st floor of the St. Regis, Toronto, a bar I now would very much like to visit.:
Wardays Cocktail, $18 created: 1930’s // herbs, dark fruit, boozy, botanical; Gin + Apple Brandy + Sweet Vermouth + Green Chartreuse; First written about in the Savoy Cocktail Book in the 1930’s; there is relatively no history associated with this timeless classic. It is one of the most complex and long lingering cocktails that exist.
- 1 oz. Bombay London Dry Gin
- 1 oz. Calvados
- ¾ oz. Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth
- barspoon Green Chartreuse
Combine ingredients in shaker, add plenty of ice and stir until very cold, and strain into chilled coupe glass, garnish with long lemon twist.
Root-toot-toot, A Bit of (too much) Dilute
One of the challenges to mixing large samples of a cocktail—in this session, there were eight pours for each, small portions, yes, but totaling a bit over three full-sized cocktails—and avoiding over-dilution is, especially challenging when there is a lot of volume to mix and many glasses to pour. Although the cocktails all came out well, each would have been better if made in just one serving at a time, or, at most, two. By the time you are making three or more servings at once, it is too easy to leave the cocktail in ice too long. Not to mention make a mess by stirring or shaking a big volume in a normal shaker, but let’s not talk about that.
One solution is to batch the cocktail ahead of time, when bulk stirring and straining happens faster (no messing around pouring and garnishing glasses, until later), and then the cocktail can be refrigerated and kept as cold as you want and can’t dilute any further. This would have been a great approach for Warday’s Cocktail, but you can’t really do this with cocktails that have “live” ingredients, as are juices (and egg white and grenadine or raspberry simple syrup), since the drink with this type of ingredient continues to interact, altering flavor. If a cocktail has juice, don’t batch, just like you shouldn’t batch a cocktail that is typically shaken, but for other reasons, but now I’m treading on sacred ground.