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How to substitute spirits, with style

April 7, 2010 By: Gary Regan

Some years ago I found myself sitting at a bar in Bardstown, Ky., with Terry Sullivan, a man who makes a living doing the same sort of stuff I do. He pretty much drinks for a living.

The bartender that evening was a really affable character, quick with a smile and few words of welcome, and fast and efficient behind the stick, too. Sullivan and I watched him pumping out drinks for the waitstaff for a few minutes before he poured us a couple of beers to slake our thirsts.

"I think it's time for something a little more serious," said Terry, when our beer glasses were nigh-on empty, and he waved his hand in the air to let our friend behind the stick know that his services were needed again.

"Can you make me a Sidecar with bourbon?" Terry asked.

"Of course, sir," the bartender said.

"Make it two, then. I think my friend here will probably join me."

Drinking with Terry can be a dangerous affair. He stands 6 feet, 4 inches, weighs in at 295 pounds, and has been practicing the craft of the quaff for, well, let's just say it's been a few decades. When you consider the fact that I'm very reticent to let anyone outdrink me, you might begin to understand what I was anticipating that evening. What I wasn't anticipating, though, was the worst drink I ever tasted.

The bartender, you see, didn't understand the formula for a Sidecar. It's made with cognac, a straight spirit; Cointreau, an orange-flavored liqueur; and lemon juice, which balances out the sweetness of the liqueur. To make a Sidecar with bourbon, then, since bourbon is a straight spirit, one would substitute bourbon for the cognac, right? Our Kentuckian bartender that night, though, served us a mixture of cognac, bourbon and lemon juice. It slowed us down a little. Just a little.

Creating new drinks using the pimping method is simple if you understand the formula. For instance, I tried a new pear-flavored liqueur by the name of Xanté recently, and quite tasty it was, too, so since Xanté has a cognac base I fixed myself a faux Sidecar, using Xanté instead of Cointreau.

You can try this at home. Just be sure to replace liqueurs with liqueurs, straight spirits with straight spirits, and so on and so forth. You might have to adjust proportions a little, but it's an easy way to make yourself something new.

One person who does not use this method when she's creating drinks is Victoria D'Amato-Moran, a San Francisco drinks consultant with a company she calls Cent'Anni Cocktails. Victoria creates drinks, I think, by going on shamanic journeys and consulting her power animals.

Or perhaps she conducts seances and asks for guidance from the 19th century bartenders who laid down the foundations for the cocktailian craft. However she does it, Victoria comes up with some very original, and very tasty, new cocktails on a very regular basis.

Take her recipe for Strega's Walnut Manhattan down to your neighborhood watering hole, have your favorite bartender whip one of these babies up for you, and you'll see what I mean. Just be sure that he doesn't substitute scotch for the Strega.

 

Strega's Walnut Manhattan

Makes 1 drink

Adapted from a recipe by Victoria

D'Amato-Moran of San Francisco.

  • 1 lemon twist
  • 1 1/2 ounces Old Potrero or other rye whiskey
  • 1/2 ounce Carpano Antica Formula or other sweet vermouth
  • 1/4 ounce + a dash more Charbay Black Walnut Liqueur
  • 1/4 ounce Strega liqueur

Instructions: Rub the yellow side of the lemon twist over the interior of a chilled cocktail glass; discard the twist. Place the remaining ingredients in a mixing glass, add ice and stir. Strain the drink into the pre-prepared glass.

The Cocktailian is reprinted with the kind permission of The San Francisco Chronicle. Gary Regan is the author of The Joy of Mixology, and co-host with Mardee Haidin Regan, of ArdentSpirits.com, and the Worldwide Bartender Database. You can reach him at gary@ardentspirits.com.


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