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Amsterdam Cocktail

1 oz Bols Genever
0.5 oz
Orange Liqueur
0.5 oz Orange Juice
4 Dashes Orange Bitters

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a coupe
Garnish as you like.  A cherry is nice.

* * *

Ah, orange juice.  When it comes to cocktails, it’s a bit like Tron 2 –holding so much promise but, when all is said and done, ultimately letting you down.  Because citrus in general is such an integral part of the mixed drink repertoire, we are naturally prone to think that oranges will provide the same workhouse integrity that lemons and lime bring to the picture.  Sadly, this isn’t the case.  When ripe, they’re too sweet and lack the zing of their cousins.  When tart, they just taste sour and unripe.  Even grapefruit has the orange beat.

This time of year, blood oranges are a favorite ingredient of mine.  Just last weekend, I whipped up a couple of pitchers of blood orange Margaritas for a party.  But even then, I only replaced a small amount of the lime juice so that the drinks didn’t lose their requisite bite.  In the flesh (literally), nothing is quite as sexy as a blood orange, but squeezed in a glass, the fruit adopts a soft, raspberry-like quality.  It’s fine if unexciting, and in a cocktail, it’s way to prone to being overpowered and losing all distinction.

I’ve been considering the Amsterdam Cocktail for quite some time, but the orange juice always held me back.   In structure, the Amsterdam is a cousin to the Orange Blossom (gin and orange juice) and the Abbey (gin, orange juice, bitters), with the obvious difference of Genever being called for here.  We know that Genever and Orange Liqueur play nicely together (see Amsterdam Hot Chocolate), but orange juice and Dutch Gin can easily bring out each other’s worst qualities – making a drink that is mealy and funky.  Given that the juice here comprises less than one quarter of the drink’s volume, I figured it might be time to give the Amsterdam a chance.  What really sold me, however, were the four dashes of bitters.  Now, we were talking.

As mentioned, this year we’re on the lookout for drinks that get it right by bucking conventional wisdom, and a copious amount of bitters is right up our alley.  Not that the bitters in this drink are scandalous by any measure, nor is the Amsterdam the only such drink to feature a larger than normal pour from the little bottle.  Here, it’s that someone knew the indifference of orange juice, knew the funkiness of Genever, and knew how to bring the whole thing together.  The Amsterdam comes to us via “Bartender’s Guide by Trader Vic”.  It’s a small drink – at just over two ounces before shaking – and it works wonderfully on that scale.  The balance is nice, and Regans’ Orange Bitters particularly shine, making a drink that is very bitter-forward but beautifully balanced.  A modern variation on the Amsterdam, found on the Internet Cocktail Database, runs as follows:

1.5 oz Bols Genever
0.75 oz Orange Juice
0.5 oz Orange Liqueur
1 Dash Orange Bitters

I’ve included this version for comparison and to show, in my mind at least, the imbalance of the recipe.  Too much orange juice and too little bitters leads to a drink which is flat and without character.  I’m not sure of the provenance of this variation, as other modern versions (such as on diffordguide) scale the original and, for the most part, retain its proportions.

There’s no great history lesson today, as I thought it important to take a moment to look at how what may seem to be subtle differences in recipes can actually lead to very different drinks.  When dealing with orange juice – especially alongside Genever – it’s important to consider how the other elements of the drink can make up for its deficiencies.  Here, bitters come to the rescue, but it really can be anything – a squeeze of citrus, splash of Absinthe, or even a pinch of salt.  The key is that when you find a recipe that doesn’t exactly soar, you don’t need to give up on it completely.  Just as with cooking, a little bit of “seasoning” may be all it takes.

Esoterica: Anthony Burgess gives defines the title of his book “A Clockwork Orange” to mean “…an organic entity, full of juice and sweetness and agreeable odour, being turned into an automaton.”  Which is exactly what happens to protagonist Alex, bitter orange though he was.

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