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The Benchley

a 12BB original

 

1.5 oz Rye Whiskey
0.75 oz Dry Vermouth
0.75 Pineapple-Sriracha Syrup

Shake with ice and strain into a coupe

 

For Pineapple-Sriracha Syrup:

1 part canned Pineapple Juice
1 part White Sugar
Sriracha Hot Sauce to taste

Dissolve sugar in pineapple juice over very low heat
Stir in Sriracha

 

* * *

First off, Happy Repeal Day!  It’s the day when we celebrate our freedom to enjoy an adult beverage.  And so, we shall…

There are few things worse than seeing a favorite artist live, and the artist doesn’t play the hits.    Or, maybe, it’s seeing Larry the Cable Guy and being denied even one well-placed “Git ‘er done”.    When it comes to hiring a bartender for your event, there are a handful of expectations that come to mind – a bit of wit and charm, a level of skill behind the stick, or perhaps an introduction to some long-lost corner of mixology.  True bartending is more than just serving up drinks – that’s the easy part – it’s part theatre, part confessional, and always worth a generous tip.

Once we had decided upon the Blue Harvest as the first of two drinks we’d be creating/serving for the event co-hosted by our friend Garrett Markenson, we began work on the second drink with some clear objectives in mind.  As the Blue Harvest (beer, sweet vermouth, spiced syrup) is sweet, deep, and low proof, we needed something drier and a bit more bold.  Garrett had specifically requested whiskey, and we chose rye, which he and his compatriots have been known to enjoy at past events.  If you read our previous post, you already know of our concerns regarding overly boozy drinks (more easily inebriated guests) and the potential pitfalls of citrus (cost, prep, mess), so we looked beyond the Manhattan and traditional sours.  Finally, as the Blue Harvest would be quietly and unceremoniously ladled out of a punch bowl, we needed to fulfill one key expectation of our hosts and their guests – the magical music of a cocktail being shaken.

Taking all of the above into account, our first stop was the Algonquin, which combines rye with dry vermouth and pineapple juice.  Revisiting the Algonquin two years on, I have to confess that I found much less in the drink to admire than the first time out.  Part of this may have been due to my use of Old Overholt rye, which is 10% ABV lower than our usual Rittenhouse.   I chose Old Overholt for this occasion knowing that the guests would chiefly be younger, female, and most likely, vodka drinkers.   With the Overholt, the Algonquin is a distinctly lacking affair; still, I was set on a rye and fruit juice drink that didn’t involve citrus.  The path of least resistance was simply to tweak the Algonquin to my purposes.  It needed more “heft” – more viscosity, if you will – and a bittering element.   For the heft, adapting the pineapple juice into a quick syrup was easy enough.   For the bitters, my experiments were initially quite literal but, ultimately, unsatisfying.  So, I began to look at flavors that would complement and balance the sweet pineapple notes.   Sriracha is never far away in our house, and a couple of drops later, I was more than happy with the results.

The balance on the Sriracha is, of course, a matter of personal taste, but I always tend to strive for evenness, or – better yet – a war between sweet and hot that neither side wins.  And while adding a unique level to the profile of the drink was certainly the Sriracha’s primary mission, it also adds a distinct bit of theatre to the proceedings.  When you offer a well-known drink like a Martini or Margarita, many guests will arrive with prejudice, but when you offer a wholly unique choice (and the bar is free), most people will take the leap.

Having created a riff on the Algonquin, it was only fitting to name that drink after Vicious Circle founding member Robert Benchley, a man who not only contributed some of our best drink witticisms (“I know I’m drinking myself to a slow death, but then I’m in no hurry.”) but also loved drink to the point of terminal excess.  Indeed, in 1945, he died of cirrhosis of the liver.  Prior to that, however, he led an incredibly productive life as a writer, critic, and humorist, as well as an actor in Hollywood.

Benchley’s style of humor, which carried over into the roles he played as an actor, evolved while he spent time at the Harvard Lampoon in college.  He was equally annoyed by and fond of dissecting the foibles of the hapless “common man”, an unintentionally amusing fellow whose antics show him to be both clueless and purposeless.  This sort of thematic voice carried through in his work whether writing for Vanity Fair or scripting and acting in short films in Hollywood.   Today, Benchley is best known for his role as writer/actor in the short film “How to Sleep” (1933), which won an Academy Award and epitomizes his tongue-in-cheek, self-mocking style.  In whatever form, there is something infinitely refreshing about Benchley’s perspective on the world.  He called it as he saw it and he often saw it with a wry and bitter sensibility – rather like a good drink.

On this 79th anniversary of Repeal Day, 12 Bottle Bar raises a glass to our bibulous freedom.  Mix yourself a drink – a Benchley perhaps – and enjoy.  Cheers to all.

 

Esoterica:   After enjoying a few Benchleys, here’s some award-winning advice from the man himself on “How to Sleep”:

 

[youtube=http://youtu.be/F9yvSXzf6fc&w=400]

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