Some of the greatest cocktails are simply variations on classics, substituting one spirit for another. There are dozens of great riffs on the Negroni (like the whiskey-based Boulevardier), and you can make an Old Fashioned out of just about any spirit — or combination of spirits (like the Oaxacan Old Fashioned with tequila and mezcal, or the Old Bay Ridge with rye and aquavit).
But it doesn’t always work. Most of my failed experiments are forgotten, but three stand out because I named them before I even attempted them. I’m so enamored with my cleverness that I can’t give up on them. Not yet.
Failed Cocktail #1: The Fowl Shot
Bullshot, the beef-broth and vodka cocktail, is misunderstood and under-appreciated. Perhaps it’s because it’s basically boozy meat juice; maybe if it were made with bacon or involved bone marrow it could overcome its low reputation. But trust me, done right, it’s fantastic. For a nice history of Bullshot, read David Wondrich’s 2011 story “Bullshot: The Rise and Fall of the Beef-Broth Cocktail” in Edible Manhattan.
Wondrich’s recipe is as follows:
2.5oz beef broth
juice of one lemon wedge
two dashes Worcestershire
two dashes Tabasco
Shake over ice and strain into a glass of fresh ice. Grate black pepper on top.
Anyway, I was making Bullshot one night when I wondered out loud whether or not chicken stock would work too. “Fowl Shot!” my wife shouted. I thought it was brilliant. It manages to reference Bullshot and, randomly, basketball, while innovating in a very logical way. Unfortunately, it’s disgusting. Nothing I’ve tried, no spices, no amount of lemon juice or hot sauce has yet saved the Fowl Shot from being positively vile. I’ve even tried it with aquavit.
Failed Cocktail #2: The Lutheran
Like the Fowl Shot, the Lutheran Cocktail is based on clever word play. It’s a variation on the Presbyterian Cocktail — basically whiskey and ginger ale — substituting aquavit for the whiskey. Scandinavia, the origin of aquavit, is heavily Lutheran, hence the name.
It’s not as awful as the Fowl Shot but it just doesn’t quite work. Not terrible, but when whiskey is so much better, why bother?
The original Presbyterian uses scotch, and may get its name (again, we turn to Wondrich for some history) for the fact that it’s the national church of Scotland. I prefer mine with bourbon — a common variation — and with a little lime juice. That technically makes it a Mamie Taylor, but I still call it a Presbyterian because the first one I had at a bar was made with lime. That and Presbyterian sounds better than Mamie Taylor.
I start with a good spicy ginger beer, like Reed’s, Fever Tree, or Fentiman’s. Squeeze half a lime in a highball glass with two ounces of bourbon over ice and add the ginger beer. It’s great.
Failed Cocktail #3: The Fujimori Cocktail
I was determined to find a use for a bottle of pisco — the unaged grape brandy from Peru and Chile — that didn’t involve egg whites. Pisco Sours are fine, but I have an aversion to egg whites in cocktails that I haven’t been able to shake.
(For a quick primer on pisco, read Jake Emen’s article in Eater from October. He says it’s on the rise in the U.S. — apparently imports have doubled in the last four years.)
I remembered that Peru once had an ethnically Japanese president, Alberto Fujimori, and thought, hey — what if I took the venerable Japanese Cocktail and substituted pisco for brandy?
There are a number of problems with this, the least of which was that Fujimori, who served as Peru’s president from 1990 to 2000, fled the country in disgrace and was convicted of war crimes. Okay. Not a good name for a pisco-based Japanese Cocktail riff.
But Peru (and several other South American countries — did you know that Brazil has a Japanese community of 1.5 million?) has a history of Japanese immigrants dating back to at least 1899. Nikkei is the Japanese term for members of the diaspora, and it’s also what Japanese-Peruvian cuisine is called. That’s it! The “Nikkei Cocktail.”
So now that we’ve got the name sorted out, why did the cocktail fail? Actually, I don’t know that it did. This might be one I need to try again…once I restock my pisco.
In the meantime, we have the Japanese Cocktail. It dates back to the mid-19th century, appearing in the world’s first cocktail recipe book, the legendary How to Mix Drinks, or The Bon Vivant’s Companion by Jerry Thomas. It’s really simple and but for the orgeat, a common tiki ingredient that isn’t so common in stores, it would be much more popular.
0.5oz orgeat syrup
two or three dashes Angostura bitters
Stir ingredients over ice and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with lemon twist.
A few words about the Japanese Cocktail. Orgeat is a pain to make (here’s a recipe; preheat the oven, break out the blender, find some orange flower water and budget between three and twelve hours for the pulverized almonds to sit in simple syrup). Instead, try finding orgeat syrup in a well-stocked liquor store or online. Small Hand Foods in San Francisco makes a good one, and it’s increasingly available across the country.
One final note. In his 2007 book about Jerry Thomas, David Wondrich writes that in 1885, the Minneapolis Tribune called the Japanese Cocktail “[A] liquid attack of spinal meningitis. It is loaded with knock-kneed mental ceramics, and is apt to make a man throw stones at his grandfather.” That might be a better description for my Fowl Shot.