Sometimes I come across drinks online, in books, while talking to people, etc, that I try and scribble down in my notebook before I forget them. Otherwise, at some point, I end up wondering "what was that one drink I read about recently? It looked so good." I try also to include some notes about where it came from so when I do reacquaint myself with it I'm not racking my brain trying to remember how I came across it. One of the purposes this notebook serves (aside from its primary function as a testament to my sloppy handwriting) is to offer up drinks like the Ott's Special when I feel like making something but lack direction when it comes to the specifics.

The Ott's Special appears in William Tarling's Cafe Royal Cocktail Book (1937) and is attributed to Jack Powell. It has Strega, an Italian herbal liqueur which doesn't show up too often in old bar books. It also has gin, dry vermouth and orange bitters. This makes for a solid core with variations that include the Poet's Dream (sub Benedictine for Strega), Caprice (ditto, but with a slightly different ratio ), Fairbank (creme de noyaux for Strega) and even more if allowances are made for style(s) of vermouth (Bijou, San Martin, Fourth Degree, Baron...).

Substituting similar, or even vaguely similar, ingredients in a favorite drink can make for enjoyable variations and hints at the potential some drinks have as a template for continued experimentation (Last Word, Negroni, Manhattan, basic sours and fizzes, etc). And if all that's not enough there are other ratios out there which enable an even broader range of experimentation.

Just as I like to give newly acquired gins and vermouths a spin in the Martinez (because, well because I love that dang drink and it's not too dissimilar from the goings-on here) I've taken a similar approach with herbal liqueurs by modifying the Hoffman House (my go-to Martini version, 2:1 + orange bitters), by including 1/4 oz of whatever seems like it might work. Which brings us back to the Ott's Special.

I figured I'd go ahead and make both to taste them side by side. For the Hoffman riff I used Green Chartreuse and subbed Cocchi Americano for the dry vermouth. I suppose this could also be called a riff on the Puritan which is a 2:1 Martini with Yellow Chartreuse and orange bitters. While we're at it, I'll go ahead and throw the Alaska in this mix as well. It has less to do with the Ott's Special than any of the other drinks previously mentioned but it is delicious and in the neighborhood (gin, Yellow Chartreuse, orange bitters) just maybe a block or two over since there's no vermouth.

 

Ott's Special (and ingredients) left, No-named Hoffman-House-riff on the right.

Ott's Special (and ingredients) left, No-named Hoffman-House-riff on the right.

These are similar at the outset. Both are bracing and in each case the contributions made by the herbal liqueur add complexity. The Green Chartreuse however, in the Hoffman riff, even at just 1/4 ounce is undeniable and defines this drink with a sharp, crisp bite and herbal qualities which tie in well with the gin. Cocchi contributes a slightly floral quality and sweetens things up just a bit. The Strega in the Ott's Special, like the Chartreuse in the other drink, gets along well with the gin but the result here is smoother and rounder. This is at least partly due to the proof of the modifier. Strega is 80 whereas Green Chartreuse is 110. Strega's mint, fennel and juniper (among a host of other botanical elements) are prominent and combine easily with the gin.

 

Alaska Cocktail

Alaska Cocktail

This drink is one that I make every now and then but hadn't thought too much about until putting this post together. In the past I've always used a London dry but after digging around and reading a recipe from 1914 which specified old tom for the gin I decided to try some versions along those lines. Hayman's old tom was particularly nice. The herbal qualities of the Chartreuse were up front and mingled effortlessly with the citrus and spice flavors of the gin. Maybe effortlessly isn't the right word. Harmoniously? They got along without clashing. Smooth and easy.

This version, with the Hayman's, was sweeter than ones made with London dry but not in a way that was off-putting. Plymouth and Tanqueray Malacca worked well too. The softer gins still register juniper but less aggressively than what you find in a standard London dry. The result, especially with the Hayman's, is a drink that stands on its own and offers something unique. When a/b'd with a London dry version the latter comes across as an odd but workable Martini variation.

The ratio in the 1914 recipe was 2:1 in favor of the gin though modern recipes tend to skew more heavily in that direction. I tend to land somewhere between 4:1 and 5:1. Regardless of the style of gin used this drink seems capable of withstanding adjustments for preference, brand, mood, company, etc.

 

Ott's Special - Cafe Royal Cocktail Book, William Tarling, 1937
2 oz Gin
3/4 oz Dry Vermouth
1/2 oz Strega
2 dashes Orange Bitters
Garnish - Orange Peel

Stir, Strain, Up

*Original recipe is 2:1:1. I modified it a little to decrease the sweetness and make it more gin forward.

 

No-Name-Hoffman-House-Riff
2 oz Gin
1 oz Cocchi Americano
1/4 oz Green Chartreuse
2 dashes Orange Bitters
Garnish - Orange Peel

Stir, Strain, Up

 

Alaska Cocktail - Jacques Straub, Drinks, 1914
2 oz Gin, Old Tom
1/2 oz Yellow Chartreuse
2 dashes Orange Bitters

Stir, Strain, Up

*Recipes for this one vary. Some are sweeter, some drier. Source cited was 2:1 with 1 dash orange bitters. Adjust for preference.

Posted
AuthorTrey