Hello all and welcome to Cocktail U. Today’s lesson not only names an adult beverage to serve with last week’s Ham Hock Soup, but also asks what makes a classic cocktail classic and how far you can stray from the original and still call it such.
First, let’s re-visit Great-aunt Helen’s soup.Yum. And as we had snowfall yet again today here in Minnesota, it still works for the season. Choosing a cocktail to serve with a hearty soup was a stretch, but I was determimned. Vodka seemed right, though perusing favorite cocktail books unearthed zero vodka cocktails that matched well with rich, salty soup.
What finally caught my attention was the Rob Roy. Already a fan of old-school classic cocktails, I remember ordering this Scotch version of the Manhattan at a throwback Italian restaurant many years ago. I haven’t had it since, but it struck me as something with enough bite to cut through rich ham broth.
It was then that my education began. Preparing for this post, I had been flipping through a book worth reading cover-to-cover.Dickson’s book delves into what happened to America’s thirst for booze during Prohibition. Strangely enough, outlawing the sale of alcohol re-birthed the cocktail. Alcohol was understandably hard to come by, and when it could be had it was often nasty. Adding other ingredients – sodas, fruit juices, etc. – improved taste and the cocktail took off. Contraband Cocktails also offers recipes, each with its story.
So the Rob Roy, then.My memory is of a ruby red beverage. When I made it using the above recipe, I sighed at my lack of sweet vermouth and used the extra-dry I had on hand instead. What I got was this:Not red. Was it still a Rob Roy? A quick search turned up this bit of Wiki-wisdom:
Like the Manhattan, the Rob Roy can be made “sweet”, “dry”, or “perfect”. The standard Rob Roy is the sweet version, made with sweet vermouth, so there is no need to specify a “sweet” Rob Roy when ordering. A “dry” Rob Roy is made by replacing the sweet vermouth with dry vermouth. A “perfect” Rob Roy is made with equal parts sweet and dry vermouth.
What I had done, then, was make a Perfect Dry Rob Roy. It was tasty enough, but I really wanted red. Rob Roys are supposed to be red. Right?
A dash to the local liquor store earned me a bottle of Noilly Prat, my favorite sweet vermouth. (Thank you, Princess!) At home, I remade the drink and saw some color.According to experts, the proper garnish would have been two cocktail cherries, but herein lie the questions: Was it still a Rob Roy when I used extra-dry vermouth? Does the one-cherry treatment take away from its authenticity? Instead of Angostura bitters, I used Boomtown Bitters, a small-batch artisanal bitter made in New York. Does this mean my cocktail is no longer a Rob Roy? Can you tweak a classic cocktail and still rightfully call it by its name?Honestly, I don’t know that the answers matter. I liked my Perfect Rob Roy (equal parts vermouth and Scotch, sweet vermouth instead of dry) better than the dry version as the sweetness balanced the bitter of the bitters. What I call either or what you call your twists on favorite beverages isn’t important. What is crazy important is that you create something you enjoy and that you enjoy it thoroughly.Cheers to that and many good cocktail wishes going forward!
Next go round, we’ll dive back into Great-aunt Helen’s recipe boxes. Here’s hoping the weather warms and we’ll be looking for a dish that works with proper spring weather.