It's getting cooler now with October behind us, and once we set our clocks back, darkness will descend before the cocktail hour. For many, that's a sign that winter is coming, and with the inevitable onset of cold weather and blanketing snowfall, nothing warms the heart more than snuggling up to a blazing fireplace sipping rich, dark spirits. Well, at least for me, enjoying the flavors of rye whiskey, brandy and sweet vermouth seems to be an experience that fits better with the colder, darker months of the year.
For our Drink Of The Week, we set our sights on the classics again, turning our clocks all the way back to the 1880s. Imagine yourself in the days of Jerry Thomas, Saratoga Springs, New York, enjoying the spas—or more likely—the horses, the gambling, the cocktails. By then, the cocktail had established a firm grasp on social culture and the Saratoga was a popular feature.
Comprised of two base spirits, the Saratoga combines rye whiskey, brandy and sweet vermouth in equal proportions. Of course, it wouldn't be a cocktail without bitters, so here we have two dashes of Angostura.
1 oz rye whiskey
1 oz brandy
1 oz sweet vermouth
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Add the ingredients to a mixing glass and stir with ice to chill. Dilution happens slower when stirring, so it is important to take some time to properly cool the drink and take the edge off the spirits. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon wedge.
Although it happens to be less popular today, Americans are finally finding their way back to rye whiskey. If you are normally a fan of bourbon or even Canadian blends, you owe it to yourself to try a nice rye, especially in a mixed drink. Rye's bolder, spicier character holds up well in cocktails, especially in flavorful classics. I'll have more to say about rye soon. When this recipe appeared in Jerry Thomas's Bar-Tender's Guide (the 1887 revised edition) he calls for shaking it with two lumps of ice, but given that this drink is all spirits, it benefits from being stirred instead so that you can preserve its gem-like clarity.
To me, this cocktail is begging for experimentation, not because it isn't good as-is—I love the way it leans toward the Manhattan but the brandy retains a certain boozy elegance that demands pause and reflection after each sip. On the contrary, the combination of rich flavors makes it an interesting candidate for careful substitution. If you start thinking creatively, you could come up with some interesting ideas, and I mean more than simply swapping the bitters. Why not try some Maraschino liqueur and sherry in place of the vermouth? How about a port wine or Madeira? Play with the whiskey and try one of your favorites, or maybe a flavored brandy for the other base spirit. After adjusting to balance the sweetness, you might reinvent something that already exists, or maybe you can come up with a new cocktail destined to survive another century! Either way, I am curious to know what you tried. How was your Saratoga? How was your improvised variation? Let me know in the comments below.