A Martini from Paris

Martinis are likely the most traditional and simplest of all cocktails.  An ounce of spirits, a touch of vermouth – or none at all – and you’re set.  These few simple ingredients create a classic cocktail that may be indefinitely customized according to taste: the base liquor, either gin or vodka; the amount of dry vermouth; the method of preparation, shaken over ice or stirred in the glass; and to finish, the garnish – cocktail onions, olives, olive juice, or a twist of lemon.

David Wondrich, Esquire’s resident cocktail historian, recently suggested an interesting alternative to the traditional martini – the Parisian Cocktail.  I had not heard of this drink before; Wondrich’s brief yet descriptive synopsis of the cocktail’s history provided context.  “As originally served in the early 1920s at Harry’s New York Bar, then and now a Paris institution, it was a nearly undrinkable blend of equal parts gin and vermouth and crème de cassis…In the 1930s, Frank Meier of the nearby Ritz fixed that by cutting the cassis back to a mere barspoon.”

While the inclusion of crème de cassis distinguishes a Parisian Cocktail from a common martini, Wondrich also recommended adding a little lemon juice.  That left me puzzled.  Why spoil a cocktail with such a storied legacy?  The Parisian has nearly a century of experience being poured in Paris’s salons and cafes, during times of boom and bust, war and peace.  Why tinker with history and simplicity?

Perhaps this final question is too strong; each drinker may prepare his drink as he wishes.  So I tried the cocktail both ways – with and without lemon juice – to determine which tasted best.  To me it was clear.  I prefer the Parisian as it was originally intended: an ounce of gin, an ounce of vermouth, and a spoonful of cassis – enough to taste but not so much as to imbalance the liquor’s herbal flavors.  A Parisian made with lemon juice, on the other hand, contrasted sharply and distastefully with the gin, overwhelmed the cassis, and gave the cocktail an ugly, grayish-cloudy appearance in the glass.

Regardless of how you take your Parisian Cocktail, I must thank Wondrich for his words, as they introduced me to a uniquely French twist on a traditional cocktail.

Published in: on February 11, 2011 at 12:09 am  Comments (3)  
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The Blackcurrant Solution

A simple glass of white wine is, during summer, a most pleasant refreshment for many.  Whether it is taken with a meal or alone, out of doors or in, it is light, cooling, and quite often delicious.  To most, no other beverage is so fitting with so many different summer occasions.  When maturity and civility are required during warmer months, white wine is the perfect choice.

I am not particularly fond of white wine generally speaking.  When selecting a wine I often find white to be insubstantial or far too sweet.  During hot summer months, red wine is too heavy.  And when wine is being served I feel uncomfortable ordering a beer.  Rosé is an excellent alternative but is usually not commonly served or available to those looking for other drink options.  For the non-white wine drinkers, what can be done?

Crème de cassis, the dark red blackcurrant-flavored liqueur, is a sure solution to an ordinary glass of white wine.  This cocktail, long known by the French as a kir, immediately emboldens and invigorates the white.  Although a kir is traditionally made with Sauvignon Blanc, the cassis is equally delicious alongside most other whites.  Its copper-colored hue is reminiscent of an August afternoon’s waning hours, just before twilight.

Unfortunately cassis is not standard fare in most home bars.  So next time a friend hosting dinner requests you bring a bottle of white, take along a small bottle of crème de cassis as well and introduce your host to a kir.  You’ll likely be noted for your unique gift – especially by those looking for a something a little different.

Published in: on September 12, 2010 at 4:15 pm  Comments Off on The Blackcurrant Solution  
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