Pulling this drink out of the old reliable Beachbum Berry’s Grog Log, in pursuit of something in which to give the new falernum a spin — and given my purpose, could there be a more perfect name than the “Test Pilot”?
I first tried this last week, and immediately became very fond of it. The Bum credits the recipe to Don the Beachcomber, circa 1941, and as he wrote elsewhere in the book, one of Don’s secret ingredients was the combination of Angostura and Pernod. I can see why — both are used in minute doses, so you don’t actually taste their flavor up front, but Angostura does its deep, spicy thing in the glass while the Pernod takes its mildly sweet anise-ey flavor and spreads it out to the far corners of the drink, so you don’t actually taste anise, but you know something is in there that’s rounding the edges of all the other flavors.
I’d go even further and say that Don’s use of this bitters-pastis one-two punch is the missing link between the old-school classic cocktails of the Gilded Age and beyond, and the mid-century Tiki movement that Don helped launch. Bitters, of course, are one of four ingredients in the original cocktail as it was defined, and many of the old classics were given a little vavoom and a touch of wahoo with a few drops of absinthe (witness: the Third Degree, basically an old-time dry martini with a dash of absinthe; and the McKinley’s Delight, a rye Manhattan with a little cherry brandy and a dab of the old monster).
The Test Pilot is an excellent primer to tiki drinks. Like any good cocktail, it doesn’t taste like any of its constituent parts, but rather it’s a carefully balanced amalgam of all the different ingredients. I’d serve this to anyone who looked down their nose at tiki drinks, as proof that this style of libation can be balanced and layered, and can have a gentle sweetness that is in perfect accordance with the tartness from the citrus.
For this version, I’ve used Herbsaint in place of Pernod (I was looking for a reason to crack that bottle I brought back from New Orleans, plus the good Grog Log informs us that Herbsaint enjoys a certain degree of historical accuracy), and I’ve used Appleton V/X for the dark Jamaican rum (perhaps not exactly what was intended, but Lemon Hart Jamaican is nowhere to be found around here, and Myers just disappoints me), and slightly more flavorful Cruzan white in place of the light Puerto Rican rum. Also, I lacked a wooden oyster fork — really, there’s such a thing? — so I just tossed the garnish on top.
For blending, I decided to also use an immersion blender in place of one of the upright canister types — partially for noise & hassle-of-cleaning reasons, but also because the stick blender gives me a little more control, so I can pulse it a few times with crushed ice over five seconds or so, and have a drink that’s mixed, but without the consistency of a slushy.
- 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
- 1/2 ounce Falernum
- 3 teaspoons Cointreau
- dash Angostura bitters
- 1/8 teaspoon Pernod
- 3/4 ounce light Puerto Rican rum
- 1 1/2 ounces dark Jamaican rum
Blend with 1 cup crushed ice for 5 seconds, then pour into double old-fashioned glass. Add more crushed ice to fill. Garnish with a wooden oyster fork with maraschino cherry skewered on prongs.