Thursday, March 27, 2008

Alembic Vs. Savoy: Showdown in Hobo Alley!

Last month (Valentine's Day to be exact) the Alembic undertook a monumental, and most impressive task - To serve their patrons cocktails from The Savoy Cocktail Book. Sadly I was unable to make it, but salvation was offered unto me when the good folks at Alembic decided that the first run was successful enough that they would repeat the event on the last Tuesday of every month. Huzzah!

Thus it was that last Tuesday Ed and I met up for a round (or three) of delicious, delicious booze. Here's what I had.

Honolulu Cocktail #2

1/3 Maraschino liqueur
1/3 Gin
1/3 Benedictine

This drink caught my eye with its tempting combination of three liquors I like very much. This one seemed like it was going to be an easy slam dunk of yum. I'm sure it would have been too if it weren't for the fact that the sweetness level of this drink was, on a scale of 1-10, somewhere around 8.I-can-feel-my-teeth-melting. Since hope springs eternal I prayed that perhaps, as the drink mellowed, the flavors would blend more and the sweetness would regress somewhat. Unfortunately, after plenty of chances for the drink to mellow, I was still sipping a concoction that to say was sweet would be kind of like saying Stalin wasn't a very nice guy. I finished it anyway because that's how I roll, but have to say I was pretty happy to move on.

Oriental Cocktail

1/2 Rye
1/4 Sweet Vermouth
1/4 White Curacao
1/2 Lime

This one was quite the opposite of the Honolulu - Very dry, almost too much so for my taste. The first sip left me with a "meh" sort of feeling, but the more I drank the more the flavors grew on me. The lime and Curacao worked well with the Rye, and the herbal notes of the Vermouth grounded the drink well. I could help but think that the drink would have benefited more than a little from a few dashes of bitters though.

Havana Cocktail

1 dash lemon juice
1/4 Gin
1/4 Swedish Punch
1/4 Apricot Brandy

I had known going in that I was going to have a drink using Swedish Punch. One of the amazing things about what Alembic is doing, is that many of the cocktail ingredients called for in the Savoy are either no longer produced or are impossible to get. So they replicate them to the best of their ability. One of those ingredients is Swedish Punch, of which a key component is Batavia Arrack. I had my first run-in with Batavia a few months ago at Slanted Door, and was surprised that a spirit which tastes so wretched straight could be made oddly compelling when (expertly) mixed. I figured it would interesting to try it wearing different trappings.

I thought I had a pretty strong sense-memory of the unique Batavia flavor. After the first sip I am now convinced that while it's one a person could learn to like, there's no way I'm ever going to get used to that first hit. The gasoline notes punched me strong, fast, and hard. I briefly wondered if I had perhaps jumped too deep into the Savoy pool, but since I roll in a particular way, I knew I couldn't abandon my tipple. Thank the Gods the next sip suited me a great deal better. The Batavia was still very front and center, but I was also picking up the sweetness of the Brandy and some of the botanicals of the Gin.

Overall I didn't find any of the drinks to really be at a "wow" level, but with the exception of the Honolulu they were very solid. It also made for a great opportunity to get a feel for the style of drinks that were being made at that time.

Of course, huge kudos go to all the folks at Alembic for doing this. It's a huge boon to those of us with an interest in cocktails, and I can't imagine how tough it is to hand somebody a cocktail book and say, "Here's your menu!" By the time Ed and I left, however, the place was packed yet the tenders were running like a well lubricated machine.

Perhaps most importantly, it turns out that when they do the Savoy thing, that's all they do. I can imagine some people being frustrated to be told they can't have a Vodka/Red Bull cause it's not in the book, however it warmed my drink nerd heart to see those people flip through the book and give a proper drink a try. I'd like to think at least a couple of folks left with a different idea of what really makes a good drink.

I'll certainly be doing my best to be there again next month. This time I'll probably spend more time going through my copy of the Savoy to pick out some interesting drinks to try. Did I mention that I had spent a few days before our visit going through the Savoy to prep? Yeah, I'm that guy.

Comments always welcome or feel free to e-mail us at drinkaweek [at] gmail [dot] com.


erik_flannestad said...

Oh, I suppose that was you two sitting next to me. I seem to recall that your first drink was the Honolulu #2.

I did try to explain about the mystery of Hercules, but you were too busy checking your various PDA devices to be bothered...

drinkaweek said...

I had a suspicion that was you! I thought about saying something but assaulting you like a bit of a fan boy seemed like it might be awkward. As for the Hercules I was quite rapt. The info about finding an old Savoy bartender who had tried it was something I never knew about. The real problem was that every time I leaned forward or backward so I could see and hear you, Ed (sitting in between us) moved his giant melon in the way. Frankly I wish I had just gotten up and walked the three steps so we could have had a proper conversation. Sorry 'bout that.

erik_flannestad said...

Ha! I thought so.

Two near misses now!

Well, sooner or later we'll get it right.