Blast from the Past: The Aztec’s Mark
This Blast from the Past originally appeared in Cheers magazine, circa 2007.
The Aztec’s Mark
On average about fifty new cocktail recipes make their way to my e-mail in-box every week. I look at every one of them, and they get filed in a gigantic excel file, often with little notes to the tune of “interesting” or “uuuurgh” or “this sounds great TRY IT IMMEDIATELY” or “what the hell is this guy thinking?” Do I make all of these drinks? No, I don’t. I eyeball them, and if they look interesting I print them out and stuff them into my back pocket. Then, when I get behind the bar with Martha at Painter’s, my local joint, if we’re not too busy I’ll make one or three of the drinks, taste them, and pass them around the bar. This way I get to use Painter’s booze, right?
I used to do the Painter’s gig on my own–it’s a one-night-a-week-but-not-every-single-week-depending-on-what-else-is-going-on sort of affair that we call organized chaos—but I got lazy recently and passed the muddler to Martha Schueneman, a friend who knows her way around when she gets behind the stick, and carries enough sass in her shaker to give as good as she gets from the regulars. I show up after Martha has set up the bar, jump back behind the stick for an hour or two, make some drinks, make nice with the customers, and leave Martha to clear up the mess and put the stools on the bar. Nice guy, huh? At least I’m keeping my hand in . . .
A few months ago I got an invitation to meet the brand ambassador for Bénédictine for a drink at Flatiron, the hot cocktail lounge on West 19th Street in Manhattan. I like Flatiron. I like Bénédictine come to that. I agreed to go into the city to meet this guy, and on the appointed day I jumped onto a train heading toward Grand Central. It’s a 90-minute journey so I usually arm myself with whatever trashy novel I happen to be reading at the time, my i-Pod, my cell phone, and my P.D.A. I do my best to keep up with the 21st century. On this particular trip, though, I decided to go through all those scraps of paper in my back pocket. See what kind of recipes were lurking in the wings.
One recipe in the bunch fell into the what-the-hell-is-this-guy-thinking category, but I’d printed it out anyway. Why? Because the bartender who sent it to me has a bit of a reputation. His name is Neyah White. He works behind the stick at Nopa in San Francisco. I’ve been to Nopa. Nice place. Great drinks, too. Neyah wasn’t there that night, though, so I’ve never actually met him, but friends of mine in Fog City have told me that they hold him in very high regard when it comes to the cocktailian craft, so even though this recipe looked weird, when I stuffed it into my pocket I was thinking, well, let’s give it a go–I’ll be using Painter’s booze, after all.
I stared at the ingredients listed on the paper: bourbon, Bénédictine, and crème de cacao. Sounds okay up to now, right? White goes for Maker’s Mark in this drink, and Maker’s works well with Bénédictine–they share some honey aspects that gives them a common bond, they then go off in completely different directions–soft fruits in the whiskey, bold spices in the liqueur–and come back together in harmony when a buttery note in the bourbon envelops the herbal aspects of Bénédictine. The crème de cacao works well here, too. Heck, chocolate works well with near-as-damn-it anything. Gin included. Ever have a Twentieth Century Cocktail? Gin, Lillet, crème de cacao, and fresh lemon juice. Incredible. I digress.
There’s one more ingredient in Neyah White’s drink. It’s the ingredient that spurred me to write what the hell is this guy thinking?. It’s Tabasco. Two drops of Tabasco sauce. To be fair, in his missive, Neyah did write “be careful here, too much and the vinegar will kill the drink” after listing the fourth and final ingredient. This might be one of those drinks that’s pleading to be put out of its misery, I thought as I looked out from the train at the Hudson River in all its Fall glory. Still, though, I was about to meet the brand ambassador for Bénédictine in a bar with a well-earned reputation for hiring and training bartenders who know their stuff. Perhaps I’ll spare Painter’s the expense, I thought. Maybe Flatiron can pick up the tab for this one.
I was in luck. Katie Stipe was behind the stick at Flatiron. Katie’s one of the best bartenders in the city. And since we’re talking about New York that makes her one of the best in the country. She eyed the recipe, gave me the nod, and I joined the Bénédictine guy and his entourage at a table. This is bound to endear him to me, I was thinking. Either that or he’ll storm out of the place and tell the French government never to allow me to set foot in their country again. You takes your chances with these things.
The cocktail arrived. I took a sip. My friends around the table were watching for my reaction. The bourbon led the pack. The Bénédictine and the crème de cacao backed it up in a wonderful photo-finish. Where’s the Tabasco? Did Katie forget the Tabasco? No, she wouldn’t do . . . oh, there it is. Just a tiny spark of heat, right at the back of the throat. Warm, glowing heat the likes of which only Tabasco offers. Now I know what the hell Neyah White was thinking.
The Aztec’s Mark
Adapted from a recipe by Neyah White, Nopa, San Francisco
1 1/4 ounces Maker’s Mark
1/4 ounce Bénédictine
1/2 ounce dark crème de cacao
2 drops Tabasco sauce
1 orange twist, for garnish
Stir over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add the garnish.