An original cocktail: Montmartre

Montmartre is a hill (the butte Montmartre) which is 130 meters high, giving its name to the surrounding district, in the north of Paris in the 18th arrondissement, a part of the Right Bank. [Wikipedia]

A few years ago I was staring at the lovely bottle creme de cassis in our liquor cabinet I’d hand-carried home from Paris and thinking what a shame it is that I don’t like Kir Royales all that much.

Kir Royales (Kirs Royale?) are fine. It’s just that if the Champagne or sparkling wine is good enough, I don’t want to ruin it with sweet black currant flavors, and if it isn’t good enough, sweet black currant flavors aren’t going to help much. Another worthy option is to use it in a Rouge Gorge–add a dollop of creme de cassis to a glass of red table wine that needs some help. But here again, same problem.

I decided it was time to develop a new cocktail that would take the creme de cassis out of the back of the cabinet and put it on proud display. My starting point was a sweet Manhattan: bourbon, sweet red vermouth, Angostura bitters (or as our friend Jane calls them, “Agnostic bitters”), and a maraschino cherry. A lovely drink.

My concept was to substitute creme de cassis for the sweet red vermouth, but the combination of sticky cassis and sweet bourbon is just too much–I knew that without needing to taste it. My solution: rye! An under-appreciated cousin of bourbon, rye is basically the same stuff, but it’s made with a bigger proportion of rye than corn or other grains. If you don’t like members of the brown liquor family, you’ll think rye tastes the same as bourbon, but if you do like them and are paying attention, rye has a much brighter taste. The perfect foil for cloying cassis, I thought.

I kept the dash of Agnostic bitters, and I added a dash of West Indian Orange Bitters, again for brightness in contrast to the cassis.

But now the dilemma: what to do about the maraschino cherry? In early versions of the Montmartre, I attempted to keep them, but they’re a hideous color, and they taste as artificial as they look. They were horribly outclassed by the cassis.

I tried a few variations on the citrus theme, but they were all too bright, losing the specialness of the cassis and burying the subtle brightness of the rye.

Eventually I hit upon the ideal garnish: sour cherries. Whole Foods sells a brand called Zergütt that are, despite the name, pretty good. However, their syrup is too sweet and thick. My solution? Pour off about half the syrup (save it for Old Fashioneds–trust me on this), replace it with rye, and stick it back in the fridge for at least a few days. Use a splash of this rye/juice in the cocktail, too.

So here it is, the final draft. This has become a favorite at our house and also at our friend Jane’s house. Jane’s much better about writing things down, so every so often when I forget a detail on one of my cocktails, I call her to ask. With thanks to Jane for her service as cocktail archivist, here is:


  1. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with crushed ice.
  2. Add an 8-to-1 ratio of rye whiskey and creme de cassis, i.e. 4 shots rye to 1/2 shot cassis. If you like your drinks sweeter, go 4-to-1.
  3. Add a dash each of Angostura bitters and West Indian Orange Bitters.
  4. Garnish martini glasses with three sour cherries soaked in half the syrup and half rye.
  5. Splash a little of the rye/syrup from the cherries into the cocktail shaker.
  6. Shake well and strain into the cocktail glasses.

Blood Orange bitters or Regan’s Orange Bitters are worthy substitutes for the West Indian Orange Bitters, but there is no substitute for the Angostura Bitters, which are essential.

Many people would tell you cocktails should be mixed with large, hard, super-cold cubes of ice. They are right in many cases. Harder, larger, colder ice gives you a colder cocktail with less water diluting the spirits. However, some drinks benefit from some ice-melt, and in my opinion, the Manhattan family and the martini family are two such categories. Both gin and whisky can keep their flavors buttoned-up, and adding a small amount of water unbuttons their shirts and reveals glorious cleavage and alluring scents.

“Bruising” is the term some people use, and although it sounds pejorative, bruising is in some cases exactly what the liquor needs. When you add a few drops of water to the room-temperature spirit and you see oily swirling reactions taking place, what’s happening is that certain oils and esters are being disturbed, releasing their aromas (thus flavors) to your noise and tongue. Scotch whisky afficionados intentionally add a very few drops of “branch water” to their single malts for this very reason.

For the Montmartre in particular, using crushed ice accomplishes several things: it increases the surface area of ice available to the liquid, thus cooling it faster or further; it increases the melting and dilution, thinning the potentially goopy texture of the creme de cassis; and it reveals the subtle flavor dimensions of the rye whiskey.


A Bloody Mary recipe for people who think they don’t like them

Here, by popular demand, is my recipe for a Bloody Mary that even Bloody Mary-haters are likely to like. I should know, because I was one of them. I thought the Bloody Mary was a pretty disgusting drink, but I had friends and for a time a partner who liked them, so I tried to accommodate their requests but also create something I could enjoy with them. I succeeded a little too well–now I crave them myself from time to time, I’m disappointed when other people’s still suck, and I end up having to recreate my recipe for a lot of people. Some people have described this is an alcoholic cold tomato soup or a pureed gazpacho with a kick, and those are pretty valid descriptions.

My usual recipe caveat: I don’t use or write recipes. I have a vague method that changes a bit each time, and I’m probably forgetting a few things. I’ll try to post corrections if I figure out what, and please feel free to raise your concerns in this regard in the Comments section below!
The most important thing is to recognize that a Bloody Mary is not V8 with vodka in it. It’s also not Mr & Mrs T’s with vodka in it. It’s spicy tomato juice with a whole bunch of good stuff and gin in it. Trust me on this–if you do your research, you will learn that the traditional Bloody Mary is made with a London Dry-style gin, not vodka–that’s a later variation, same as martinis.
Now, I suppose you could start with V8 if you happen to like it, but I happen to hate it–the carrot flavor is way too dominant for me. Yuck. I start with a quart jar of spicy tomato juice, and a brand that I’ve found to be pretty good is Knudsen’s. There are others, I’m sure, and Spicy V8 is a reasonable choice if you do actually like V8. Whatever you get, taste it before you start, so that you have a sense of how salty and spicy it is already and you can adjust the rest of the process according to your taste.
Next, an essential, traditional ingredient is–believe it or not–beef stock. Yes, indeed. Sorry, but this is not a drink for vegetarians. You could experiment with vegetable stocks, or maybe a good dashi without the miso, though; the goal is an umami (savory, meaty) flavor, and for my money, beef stock is where it’s at. I like Farmer Brothers “Special Soup Base Beef Flavor,” which comes as a glossy brown goo in ginormous tubs and has a lot less MSG than most options. I take a heaping tablespoon of that goop and mix it in a 2Q mixing bowl with just enough almost-boiling water to dissolve it, no more–say, 3-4 tablespoons.
(The plan here is to mix up a one quart batch of Bloody Mary base that you’ll store in your refrigerator. To serve, you’ll shake some of it with booze in a cocktail shaker.)
To this I add several hefty squirts of every kind of Tabasco sauce and similar product that I can find in our refrigerator. Currently we have:
  • red Tabasco
  • green Tabasco
  • chipotle Tabasco
  • Frontera Grill Red Pepper Hot Sauce
  • Cholula Hot Sauce
I’d be happier with a few more. Now add:
  • several cloves of garlic, crushed (and “several” could be a lot, really)
  • a hefty scoop of fresh grated horseradish, or a heftier scoop of the pregrated stuff that comes in a little jar
  • a dash of Liquid Smoke if you have it (or an extra squirt of chipotle Tabasco, if you don’t)
  • a squirt of extra virgin olive oil (because most of the flavors are fat-soluble)
  • kosher salt (you get what you deserve if you substitute iodized table salt–feh!)
  • ground cumin (really can’t overdo it here)
  • ground coriander
  • ground cayenne
  • ground Spanish smokey hot paprika
  • oregano
  • celery seed (not too much)
  • ancho chili powder, if you have it
  • any other chili-esque variations on the theme that you can think of
  • a dash of the brine in your jar of green olives (see below)
  • juice of half a lime
  • freshly ground black pepper (I like Telicherry)
Mix all this up and then add it to your spicy tomato juice. Now taste, adjust, and add what you think is missing. If this is way too strong for you, then you’ve made enough base for two quarts of your favorite tomato juice.
Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with crushed ice. Add a shot or two of a good London Dry gin (I like Beefeater for these, but there are many good choices. I think Tanqueray is too fruity for a BM). Add your tomato juice mix. You want approximately a 4:1 juice-to-booze proportion. Shake well, because these liquids have very different viscosities and they need to be persuaded to play nicely with each other.
Strain into a highball or lowball glass half-filled with more crushed ice, several stuffed green olives, a hand-squeezed lime wedge, and an optional narrow, leafy stalk of celery.
An excellent alternative to gin is a good akevit, preferably with strong caraway flavors, such as Ålborg’s standard akevit in the green bottle. (The Jubilæum is good too, but I don’t think it’s as good a choice here.) When you make a Bloody Mary with akevit instead of gin, it becomes a Danish Mary.
Another good alternative is Hangar One Chipotle Vodka. I know, I said vodka’s all wrong, but that stuff if so good, it’s the exception to prove the rule. I wouldn’t bother with any old brand’s pepper vodka, though–the Hangar One Chipotle stuff is a multidimensional, rich, savory, picquant, difficult vodka.
Please note a few things that you do not want to add under any circumstances, at least not if you’re planning to serve these to me:

  • Worcestershire sauce
  • celery salt
  • vodka
  • Clamato (Yech! That stuff is disgusting, and if you like it, the drink goes by a different name–for a reason! It’s a different drink!)
That’s my method, best I can remember. Please enjoy it, let me know what you think, and by all means raise an alarm in the Comments if you think I might have missed something.

Nano-opera: Carmen

This nano-opera comes to us from my Twitter friend, SAS expert Michael Tuchman (
Carmen: Soldier doesn’t want to marry nice girl. He chases bad one. He gets cold feet. She dates hot celeb, so he kills her.