I first came across this recipe in Jeff Hollinger and Rob Schwartz’s excellent book – Art of the Bar: Cocktails Inspired by the Classics. The book is from 2006 and captures a period when modern cocktail bars – focused on high quality ingredients, restored classics, a speakeasy style atmosphere – were just starting to open. (Audrey Saunder’s Pegu Club, for example, had just opened about a year earlier.) On the West Coast in the birthplace of Chez Panisse and California cuisine, this meant bartenders drawing inspiration from fresh, seasonal ingredients. Jeff and Rob were managing the bar at Absinthe Brasserie & Bar, a trend setting “New American” style restaurant that featured an equally excellent full bar program. It was a combination that was rare at the time, but is now almost ubiquitous in the restaurant scene in places like San Francisco or New York.
Since then, of course, the movement has exploded to the point that even mid-sized cities and towns can boast of at least one “mixology” bar – when even my Rust Belt, blue collar hometown has a speakeasy, you know a trend has gone national. Things have changed rapidly and the quality of the bar scene has improved dramatically. As a result, I’ve found the recipes in the book to be a bit of a mix. Some still taste fresh and interesting, while others have a dated feel or don’t quite hit the mark. Partially, I think that is due to a more limited access to niche spirits that we now take for granted. (Shudder to think about those dark days when one couldn’t get creme de violette for an Aviation! God save Eric Seed.) It was also during a transition time from the Cosmopolitan and Key Lime Pie on one side of the divide, and the Martinez and Ginger Rogers on the other – all recipes included in the book.
The flipside is many of the recipes are a bit more straight-forward, which is a blessing on those days when I come home exhausted from work and don’t feel like dealing with muddling or tinctures or ingredient lists seven items long. If you like a Rob Roy, I think you’ll like this even better. The addition of a barspoon full of herbal liqueur smoothes out the rough edges quite well. Art of the Bar called for Benedictine, per the original published recipe in Old Waldorf Bar Days (1931). However, David Embury in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks includes two recipes, one with Benedictine and the other with Drambuie. I preferred the latter, but both are good. Slainte!
2 oz. blended Scotch
1 oz. sweet vermouth
2 dashes Drambuie or Benedictine
dash of Peychaud’s or angostura bitters
Stir & strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon peel.