I’ve been harsh to William Hamilton. The New York Times columnist who’s handled the “Shaken and Stirred” column since William Grimes gave it up a few years back, Hamilton is tasked with visiting some of the city’s newest and/or most happening bars, and reporting back on what’s being mixed. Too often, unfortunately, the drinks he covers are immediately forgettable, composed of flavored vodkas and juices-of-the-moment, drinks that may enjoy a brief flare of popularity at a particular bar before disappearing without a trace once everyone comes to their senses (or, more realistically, moves on to the next silly thing). And without harping on it too much, the man once even wrote about vodka and Red Bull. I’ll leave it at that.
But I have to give credit–Hamilton bears a good deal of the responsibility for spurring my interest in cocktails. A piece he wrote on the gimlet a couple of years ago convinced me I could mix a decent drink (and read interesting writing about cocktails), and I haven’t looked back since. And he’s also introduced me to drinks that have become personal favorites, such as the Gansevoort Fizz. Recently, a collection of his columns was published in a book, also titled Shaken and Stirred, and even though I’m sometimes disappointed, every other Sunday I turn to the Sunday Styles section first (after a quick review of A1), to see what he’s covering.
Today, I wasn’t disappointed. Hamilton starts his column, “WHY are there no new classic cocktails? I mean, the martini was a long time ago. With all this invention, why am I still drinking gimlets?” and then goes on to detail the drinks at Little Branch, a West Village watering hole that’s part of Sasha Petraske’s growing collection of establishments particularly well-suited for classic cocktail enthusiasts. Hamilton cites an option on the bar menu for “Bartender’s Choice – Leave It to the Professionals,” where you specify a set of parameters–gin drink, straight up, no juice, for example–and leave the rest to the bartender’s expertise. Hamilton mentions three drinks (one, sadly without a recipe–but containing gin, Grand Marnier, orange flower water, mint leaves and club soda–deserves a little exploration), and gives the proportions for this one:
- 2.5 ounces gin (Little Branch uses Plymouth)
- .5 ounce dry vermouth
- 6 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
- pinch sea salt
Stir with ice, strain into chilled cocktail glass, garnish with lemon twist.
Basically a martini that took an interesting life turn, this drink sounded promising–though the idea of tossing sea salt into my mixing glass threw me off at first, and I nearly left it out. That would’ve been a mistake. The Peychaud’s (six dashes, at that) really jazzed up the stodgy old martini, and the taste of the sea salt was almost imperceptible–almost. It was only in the finish, as the various florals of the gin and vermouth and the deep, rich sweetness of the Peychaud’s retreated from my palate, that the little hint of earthy saltiness crept forward (mind you, I used a small pinch). It’s an unexpected taste in a drink, but it’s done with such subtlety and in the presence of such full-character flavors that it works quite well.
So, my hat is off to Mr. Hamilton–should you ever take a wrong turn on Google and wind up here, I apologize for that disparaging remark I made about your column a month or so back. And should you make a really wrong turn, and wind up sitting next to me at a bar somewhere in Seattle, I promise I’ll buy you a Paez (or, a gimlet if you prefer). I’ll just let you be the one to explain it to the bartender.
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