Vodka Classics with Phil Greene

On Tuesday, April 20 Phil Greene of MOTAC led a seminar titled “Vodka Classics” at the Warehouse Theater in Washington, DC. Guests were treated to five different vodka cocktails prepared by the staff of The Passenger, led by co-owner Derek Brown.  Guests were served the Cook Strait Sling No. 2, the Moscow Mule, the Vesper, the Caipiroska and the Cosmopolitan.

Phil Greene of the Museum of the American Cocktail.

Phil began with the Cook Strait Sling No. 2, a cocktail he created using 42 Below Vodka from New Zealand. He presented this variation on the original version of the Straits Sling, which later became known as the Singapore Sling.  Phil noted that the first documented reference to the word “cocktail” in May of 1806 described it as a “bittered sling,” in other words, a sling (spirit, water, and sugar), but with bitters added.  The cocktail was first defined as a “stimulating liquor, composed of any kind, sugar, water and bitters is vulgarly called a bittered sling, and is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion inasmuch as it renders the heart stout and bold, at the same time that it fuddles the head.” The quote refers to a popular campaign tactic used by politicians to lure voters to their rallies.

The Cook Strait Sling No. 2

1.5 oz 42 Below Vodka

½ oz lemon juice

½ oz Cherry Heering Liqueur

¾ oz St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur

2 dashes Fee Bros. Aromatic Bitters

2 dashes Fee Bros. Gin Barrel Aged Orange Bitters

Shake all ingredients on ice, strain and top with seltzer.

Knowing that most people in the audience knew their way around a Bloody Mary, Phil refrained from making and serving one, but gave an overview of its colorful history. Phil explained that the origin of the Bloody Mary is a highly contested topic, with some saying that it was invented by Fernand “Pete” Petiot at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris.  One particular theory has it named after Queen Mary Tudor of England. Another story is that it was invented in Florida by actor/toastmaster/bon vivant George Jessel as a way of combating a wicked hangover in Palm Beach, FL.  According to Jessel’s story, it was named after his friend Mary Brown Warburton who, while sampling it, spilled some on her dress and shouted, “Now, you can call me Bloody Mary, George!” There is even a story of it being invented in the 1950s by Bernard “Bertin” Azimont, bartender of the Ritz Paris’ Petit Bar, claiming that he created it for Ernest Hemingway who, at the time, had been forbidden by his doctors from drinking. Bertin believed his mixture was stealthy enough as to not be noticed on Hemingway’s breath by his watchful wife Mary. “Hemingway, he said, was so pleased that he had got the better of his ‘bloody wife’ that he named the drink after her.” (Colin Peter Field, The Cocktails of the Ritz Paris).

Regardless of its origins, Phil recommends the Bloody Mary recipe from the St. Regis Hotel:

1 ounce vodka
2 ounces tomato juice
6 to 8 drops lemon juice
2 large pinches salt
1/3 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 dashes Tabasco sauce
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Ice
1 wedge of lemon.

Stir the vodka, tomato juice, lemon juice, salt, pepper, Tabasco and Worcestershire in a mixing glass filled with ice until combined and chilled. Strain into a Collins glass filled with ice. Garnish with a wedge of lemon. Makes 1 cocktail.

Phil informed the audience that vodka did not really get a foothold in the US market until the 1950s. Americans were more used to spirits with distinctive and more pronounced flavors, such as whiskey and gin. In the 1940s, John Martin and Jack Morgan introduced the Moscow Mule to promote Martin’s new product Smirnoff Vodka.  Morgan also wanted to promote his Cock n’ Bull brand ginger beer. The Moscow Mule was served in a copper mug and became the house special at the Cock n’ Bull on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. As the Smirnoff brand increased in popularity it ran many ad campaigns featuring the Moscow Mule with celebrities such as Woody Allen, with an accompanying ad campaign, touting that it will “leave you breathless.”

The Moscow Mule:

2 ounces Skyy Vodka

3 ounces Barritt’s ginger beer

1/2 oz fresh lime juice

Build in mug, filled with ice, garnish with lime wedge.

As vodka became more popular its appearances in pop culture began to grow. Vodka was the spirit of choice for Ian Fleming’s James Bond, where in “Casino Royale” he famously instructed a barman to bring him “Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice cold, then add a large slice of lemon-peel. Got it?” And thus the Vesper was born, named after the novel’s lead female character, Vesper Lynd. Bond is of course also famous for ordering his Vodka Martini “shaken, not stirred.” Both the use of vodka in a martini and shaking it was an act of rebellion by the bad-ass Bond as convention always called for stirring a martini so as to not cloud it with ice shards and they were always made with gin.

The Vesper:

3 oz Plymouth Gin (or Tanqueray)

1 oz Absolut Vodka

½ oz Lillet BlancShake well with ice, strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon peel.

To shake things up Phil also introduced the audience to the Caipiroska, a twist on the Caipirinha.

The Caipiroska:

2 oz 42 Below Vodka

2 tsp sugar

Half a lime, washed and quartered

Muddle sugar with lime.  Add ice and vodka and stir well.  Serve.

Moving to the more recent history of vodka-based cocktails, Phil explained the origins of the Cosmopolitan saying that it was invented in the mid-1980s by bartender Cheryl Cook in South Beach, FL. Around this time, the Martini was making a comeback and many customers were ordering them, seemingly just to be seen holding the iconic martini glass. However, for many, including women, martinis were a bit too strong and powerful. So she came up with the idea to create a drink that was visually stunning and uses the martini glass. Using a new product called Absolut Citron, a splash of triple sec, a few dashes of Rose’s Lime and some cranberry juice to turn it pink, the Cosmopolitan was born. Later, Dale “King Cocktail” DeGroff discovered the drink at the Fog City Diner in San Francisco. Thinking it could use some improving he created his own version at the Rainbow Room in New York.  He used Absolut Citron, Cointreau, cranberry juice and fresh lime juice, along with a flamed orange peel garnish.  The popularity of the Cosmopolitan was catapulted when Madonna was pictured sipping one at the Rainbow Room Grammy party the first year the Grammys moved from Los Angeles to New York. And of course, most Americans now know the Cosmopolitan (or the Cosmo) as a favorite drink from the HBO series “Sex and the City.”

Phil Greene prepares a Dale DeGroff Cosmopolitan.

Dale DeGroff’s Cosmopolitan:

1.5 oz. Absolut Citron Vodka

.5 oz. Cointreau

.25 oz. Fresh Lime Juice

1 oz. Cranberry Juice

Shake all ingredients with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a flamed orange peel.

Though the Cosmopolitan has its roots in the 1980s, DeGroff found a similar recipe by the Ocean Spray Cranberry Growers from the 1960s calling for one ounce of vodka, one ounce of cranberry and a squeeze of lime. Add triple sec or Cointreau and you have a Cosmopolitan.  Adding to the intrigue, Phil also showed a 1934 recipe for a Cosmopolitan that is somewhat similar to the modern-day drink.

As always, the Museum of the American Cocktail would like to offer thanks to the generous support of our sponsors for this event, namely:  Cointreau, Absolut Vodka, Plymouth Gin, 42 Below Vodka, St. Germain, Skyy Vodka, Barritt’s Ginger Beer, and Fee Bros. Bitters, as well as our friends at Lillet.

By Matt Keller

Matt lives in Washington, DC. When he’s not contributing to his blog District Cocktail – A Drinker’s Notes in Capitol City, his imbibing can be followed on his Twitter feed @DCcocktails.

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