David Wondrich calls it "New York's answer to the Sazerac." If you're a fan of that drink, you probably know that it comes from New Orleans. A true cocktail in the original definition of the word, the Sazerac features whiskey, sugar, water and bitters, plus a little absinthe—a fantastic classic. And since New York was originally a Dutch colony, it makes sense that their version would involve gin—but not just any gin. If we stay true to the period in which this was created, that gin would have been Dutch genever. It would be fair to call this the Improved Holland Gin Cocktail.
Not long ago, we explored genever in the Bols Alaska cocktail, so here's another fun way to use it. If you've been thinking about adding genever to your cabinet, let me tell you, it's time. The truth is, genever is a very interesting product that can surprise you when you try it in any classic gin cocktail. The bold maltiness provides an interesting backdrop for what becomes a somewhat delicate juniper nuance—not the strong pine flavor typical of most London Dry gins (which won't work as well here). And yet, even though you'll need to take a chance with an unusual spirit, our drink of the week is versatile. There's absolutely no reason you can't use an Old Tom gin in its stead, not that Old Toms are any more common than genever, but you do have options for this sublime sipper.
Improved Gin Cocktail
2 oz Dutch (or Old Tom) gin
1 barspoon rich simple syrup (2:1)
.5 barspoon maraschino liqueur
1 dash absinthe
2 dashes aromatic bitters
Stir with cracked ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist, expressing the oils over the drink.
But what about the name? What makes it Improved? Well, it turns out this drink started as an Old Fashioned. For those of you who only know the modern version of the Old Fashioned (the one with muddled orange slices, cherries and such) the original Old Fashioned cocktail was made by dousing a sugar cube in Angostura bitters, adding a splash of water to dissolve it, and mixing in some spirits with ice. It's more often thought of as a whiskey drink, but the gin cocktail is an acceptable variation. Both are better with some citrus peel, and if you really want to add some improvement, your recipe will include some liqueur (maraschino, curaçao, etc.) and a dash of absinthe. The result is definitely an improvement over the original gin cocktail, and it's delicious.
We've already mentioned this works great with an Old Tom gin. Hayman's is a brand I have found around the Twin Cities without much trouble, but my favorite is Ransom. Ransom Old Tom Gin is barrel aged and has a brownish tint with just a kiss of sweetness. Of course, most of my Ransom ends up in Martinez cocktails, but I can spare a little now and then for this drink. Try swapping the Luxardo maraschino liqueur for some Grand Marnier, or Cointreau. For the bitters, Angostura is an obvious choice, but there are modern replicas of Boker's Bitters out there now which would probably bring you closer to the period recipe. I tried Fee's Whiskey Barrel-Aged and Bittercube Bolivar with success, so here is another approach to trying your own variations. One thing you will quickly notice is that the good gin never lasts very long when you have a couple of recipes like this available.