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Friday, July 05, 2013

Cocktails of NYC, Brooklyn Cocktail

image by Amber Sexton

The Brooklyn, the most elusive of the drinks named for the boroughs of my hometown. As a resident of Kings County for over 20 years, I had always planned to end on it. But it took quite a bit longer than I initially anticipated, and this is definitely the longest it’s ever taken me to plan and execute a cocktail, or cocktail post. I’ve approached all the drinks I blog about, to learn about cocktails from making ones from a classic period. And I try to get at least close to how there were originally made, I’m doing this to develop my own palate and skills, so I knew I would take on Brooklyn last of all the NYC cocktails. I wanted to build up my chops before hitting this one.

The Brooklyn relies on a french amara, Amer Picon, which you cannot get in the US. The other twist is if you do manage to acquire a bottle, they have changed the product somewhat since 1979. The original is 78 proof, and the current variety is 40 proof. If you go down an internet rabbit hole as I have, you will read all sorts of grumblings of other possible changes to the recipe, which seem to have less credibility, but booze bottles have no ingredient labels so you can go crazy imagining all this. Maybe all of this pondering clouded my brain enough that it didn’t occur to me to ask my family members to bring me one when they went to Paris a few months back. An error I still can’t stop kicking myself over.

Substitutions have been made all along in the history of cocktails, during prohibition the rest of the world couldn’t get the rye called for in this drink and had to go with Canadian Club, bourbon or some other whiskey. I did know going in that I was going to need to find a stand in, but I’m completely uneducated on the taste of amaras, and most bars I can think of couldn’t give me a taste tour either. They will have one if they have any. I had been fervently pouring through the eGullet cocktail forums, especially Erik Ellstad’s Stomping through the Savoy topic, (which he continued on his own blog, but the comments on the egullet thread are a gold mine of info) and found a post which mentioned that David Wondrich himself had tasted an older bottle of Picon against all the amaras in his collection and posted the result to eGullet. His verdict is Amaro CioCiaro. When I say rabbit hole, you can really go insane on reading about subs for Amer Picon, there are recipes to make your own. It is the kind of thing I do like to take on but I felt a bit out of my depth. Anyway, authenticity was part of my search, but I also just wanted a good drink I would like. I have been served a Brooklyn before in a bar, prior to doing this reading, and I did not like it especially. My hypothesis became that this was due to an inappropriate amara being used for the Picon. I guess I was determined to like a drink named after my home borough, and didn’t leave it there. (I never felt the same determination about the gem Amber, which I’m also not fond of, but there’s really no way to alter petrified tree resin to be more like how I think of myself)

If you are still following along with me, there was more bad news, sadly my delay didn’t end with the decision to use Amaro CioCiaro. It proved extremely difficult to acquire, though clearly not nigh impossible like the Picon. Here I was with the answer, and as a bonus, it’s one of the cheapest amaras you can buy at under $20, yet no one has it in any liquor store in my travels around town. I did not want to order it in the mail, and pay similar shipping. I found one store waaay far away from my apartment on Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn that claimed to stock it on their website but I could not get over there, and I feared their website was lying anyway, perhaps they just occasionally stock it I’ve run into that before. If I lived near or ever was naturally in that neighborhood I would certainly check but I didn’t want to head out there and just be disappointed. My theory on why it is not carried is that customers for amaras are sophisticated and want the more expensive brands with deeper vegetal notes to sip. And I’m sure if a liquor store is going to stock something they barely sell, they want to make it worth their while for carrying it, and ring up $40 to $60 when someone bothers to buy this niche product. I just made that up, but I’m going with it.

I had started to move on to other drinks when my search for the amara became frustrating, I did go spontaneously into virtually any liquor store I was near for a while in a vain hope of finding it. In the meantime I picked up a wonderful rye made by a Brooklyn distillery (though it has Rosendale NY on the label), Widow Jane Rye. If you read my posts on the Bronx, the Queens and the pinnacle of them all the Manhattan, you know I tried to include spirits made in NYC. I did fudge it for NY State on the Manhattan, and this is sort of a fudge also, because it is perhaps made in the Catskills rather than Red Hook, but I really like it. It’s got spice, but it also finishes sweet, I have found that for many rye drinks which have other ingredients which are sweet, it’s nice to have the spicier notes counter those, so I don’t want to choose a rye which is super smooth. Widow Jane is also unfiltered which means you find little flakes of sediment in it sometimes, which I don’t mind.

image by Amber Sexton

Ultimately traveling to L.A. on vacation without a car brought an end to my search for Amaro CioCiaro. I spontaneously walked into a huge liquor store, as I had been doing futilely all over New York City. Boom! I saw it on the shelf, and not too much later it was in my luggage home. I then got in the door and poured a little taste. It is not especially bitter, it’s sweetish with bitter notes, it’s aromatic, it’s chocolaty, and definitely gives heat at the back of the throat, and I gather it’s not as citrusy as Amer Picon because it’s not particularly orange tasting.

So now all the players are in finally on the field. This left me to finally mix it up and try it. I looked up recipes for the Brooklyn cocktail and found this eGullet page which presented a whole new set of issues, but those I could resolve in my own apartment by consuming several alcoholic beverages. This is the kind of problem I enjoy. I tasted most of these and and came up with my own proportions as well, and I’ll share two recipes I like.

The recipe by Ted Haigh is:

2 oz rye (Widow Jane)
3/4 oz dry vermouth (Noilly Prat)
2 teaspoons Amer Picon (Amaro CioCiaro)
2 teaspoons maraschino liqueur (Luxardo)
(adding orange bitters is optional and a good idea because that is supposed to be how the CioCiaro falls short in similarity to Picon)
BTW when I measure 2 teaspoons it comes out to 1/4 oz so you can just measure that out if you have a trusty 1/4 ounce measure.

Shake or stir with ice (many folks stir vermouth drinks, I like the cloudiness and ice chips from shaking) and strain into a glass.

Once I tasted it I thought “This is very like a Manhattan, but a bit different.” And I like that. The drinks are truly sisters, similar but definitely individuals. If you include a Luxardo cherry in your Manhattan as I do, they become even more aligned. I like that the Bronx and Queens are smilar to each other as well. In these proportions I can really taste the vermouth, which you should in a drink in this family, yet many of the other notes pop out too, and it’s a bit sweeter than a Manhattan. However it was a bit disappointing to me that the maraschino is more strongly detected than the amara. This was possibly because I’m more accustomed to drinking cocktails that use it so it is easy for me to recognize. It was not disappointing because I disliked the drink, but because I went out of my mind to get the amara and it wasn’t the strongest note. And I felt I wanted to find a way to separate out the sisters from each other. I had the same issues in other words, as the participants in the egullet thread I linked above. However all the traditional recipes out there for the Brooklyn pair up the proportions of Picon and maraschino, they are greater or less, but they are equal to each other.

Here is my favorite variation, though I’ve gone between it and the one above numerous times and I like each for different reasons, in different moods. My variation ups the amaro and pairs it in proportion to the vermouth instead, though reducing the amount of vermouth and maraschino.

2 oz rye
1/2 oz dry vermouth (I actually tried 3/4 as on that egullet thread and didn’t like it as well)
1/2 oz Amaro CioCiaro
1/4 oz maraschino

This whole thing got me thinking about separating these two borough cocktails. After I took my picture, I decided that I might switch my cherry use and only put it in a Brooklyn, where it seems more natural to be since there is already maraschino liqueur. Neither drink originally called for the garnish, but a cherry has persisted in the Manhattan as it is usually served, but now I feel it might be more misplaced there. Or maybe when I want to feel the two cocktails are closely related I will dunk it in my Manhattan, and when I want the drinks to have very discrete tastes I will not. If anything has become clear to me, is a Brooklyn offers more options to play around with than the Manhattan, which I never vary, and I think I’m still playing with it. That’s definitely fun.

Posted by Amber Sexton on 07/05 at 11:24 PM
CocktailsNew York • (0) CommentsPermalink
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