Monday, May 7, 2012

Cocktail of the Week - Three From Hugo R. Ensslin's Recipes for Mixed Drinks (1916)

Enrico Caruso in a New York cafe, 1910

Minnie & I are forever trying new things, though most of the new things we try are very, very old, at least by most people's standards. The other evening we attended a matinee of the great silent Italian film by Nino Oxilia, Rapsodia Satanica & on our walk home we were understandably yearning for tastes of the Old World. As chance would have it there was a cart of books parked outside of Argosy Book Store & in this cart was a forlorn, rather shabby copy of Hugo R. Ensslin's wonderful Recipes for Mixed Drinks from 1916. Immediately smitten, we grabbed it up & made our way home for the most profoundly happy of Happy Hours.

Three recipes from the book caught our eye immediately so we set to work scouring our liquor pantry for ingredients & thankfully did not have to make a trip to the store. 

The first cocktail we tried was The Caruso, mainly because dear Minnie so adores that dandy & sexual reprobate, Enrico Caruso. It is Minnie's tale that she was in the Vesuvio Hotel in Naples the night Caruso died. She must have been a mere child as the doctors rushed around the lobby shouting "Morfina per il Grande Tenore!!!" but she recalls the events as if yesterday & today had clasped hands. One never questions anything Minnie says because if she has fabricated an event it is fabricated from table leg to chandelier, from grand foyer to cellar door. And if she senses doubt in her audience, she raises her chin just so & that is that. 

The Caruso is made quite simply & as follows:

1/3 dry gin (unfortunately Ensslin's preferred El Bart is no longer available)
1/3 French vermouth
& 1/3 creme de menthe

It was a sweet, strange drink, completely transforming our palate, readying it for further decadence. We drank three of these apiece while listening to a 1911 recording of Caruso singing Donizetti's opera, The Elixir  of Love & may I be bold enough to suggest you do the same, dear friends.

Enrico Caruso after being arrested for pinching a young lady's bottom at the Central Park Zoo Monkey House,  1906.
Here's another perfectly fine, slightly more ornate recipe for the Caruso:

1½ oz. Cognac
½ oz. sweet vermouth
¼ oz. Benedictine
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Stir artfully for at least 30 seconds; strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Now, whether you are buying from a local liquor retailer who insists that he's selling "real" absinthe or ordering the green fairy from abroad, you are not -- repeat NOT -- consuming the Grand Wormwood which inspired Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner or Baudelaire's Fleurs du Mal. Much like opium, the "real" in the recipe has been lost to the Exterminating Angel, Time. Still, we decided to attempt one of Ensslin's lovely absinthe concoctions using something Minnie insists is as close to the "real deal" as we will ever get. She produced it from the pantry with a flourish, though the bottle itself was unmarked & could just as well have been the makings of a Molotov cocktail. With this, we set about making The Chrysanthemum Cocktail --

3 dashes of Minnie's absinthe
Half dash of Benedictine
& a half dash of French vermouth

Another strange, dizzying little drink resulted & because we were pleased with our light-headedness, we made the drink again using my preferred Italian vermouth. I was extravagantly pleased with the result. Minnie shrugged & pursed her lips.

The poet Verlaine sacked on absinthe

Since Minnie found a cocktail that matched her interests, I thought it only fair I find one to satisfy mine. Like the works of Rudyard Kipling, I only read the Scotsman Bobby Burns when intoxicated & then I read them both aloud & at the kind of volume that often suggests a prelude to violence. It is only then that I feel the confidence to navigate the patois of these two prematurely pastured poets & can roar defiantly through all of Poems, Chiefly in a Scottish Dialect, pausing only for another burr of booze. After some strutting about  my prodigious versifying to Minnie, she agreed our final Ensslin cocktail would be The Bobby Burns: 

HALF Italian vermouth!
HALF Scotch Whiskey (we used our new Scotch beloved, 12-year-old Old Pulteney)
& two dashes of Benedictine


1 oz of Glenfiddich Scotch (or use the Old Pulteney for the finest results imaginable)
1 oz of Italian vermouth
1/6 of an ounce of Benedictine

Stir with ice for a minute or two, strain into glass & garnish with a lemon twist.

The Bobby Burns Cocktail

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