Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Frisco

Golden Gate Bridge. Photo by Niall Kennedy, on flickr.
One of the features of the craft cocktail revolution that is intriguing to me is the search for the original recipe of a cocktail. Now, I'm not a fetishist for authenticity, either in my cocktails or elsewhere, so it's all a bit mysterious to me. But I admire their enthusiasm and dedication to tracking down the One True Recipe. This New York Times article actually provides a good example of trying to balance the quest for authenticity with the quest for a tasty beverage. Unlike noir classics, which start with a girl, this starts with a drink:
Last month I dined in a Los Angeles restaurant called Test Kitchen, which provides space for chefs from other establishments to try out new menus or put dishes through trial runs. On the night I was there the proprietors of Red Medicine, a progressive Vietnamese place that was getting ready to open, were introducing their food and cocktails, including a drink identified as the No. 15 and described as a mix of rye, Bénédictine and lemon. I had a No. 15 early in the seven-course dinner and several more as the meal unfolded because the drink so nicely matched the food and so beautifully hit the spot.
Of course, like any good journalist, Bruni needs to get to the bottom of this cocktail. He quickly found out that the No. 15 was a Frisco. Or like a Frisco. After a bit of research, he finds that the Frisco is spoken of in a variety of ways. The principal question is whether it's made from bourbon or rye.

The answer is vague and depends on how far you travel back in time. This I learned from Jim Meehan, a cocktail sage at PDT in the East Village. When I called him about the Frisco, he was immediately familiar with it, though like Ms. Saunders he went through a moment of rye-bourbon befuddlement, which he was determined to resolve.
“Call me back in 45 minutes,” he said.
That was all the time he needed to riffle through his research books and place a few strategic calls of his own. He said that a Frisco recipe from the early part of the 20th century mentioned whiskey without specifying what type, and Bénédictine. Frisco recipes from the 1940s, he said, specifically call for bourbon.
But it doesn't end there! Bruni tries a number of combinations of rye, bourbon, Bénédictine, and lemon juice,  and in his opinion, it's 1.5 oz of rye, 1/4 oz Bénédictine, and 1/2 oz lemon juice. Just for the ease of measuring (really!), I'm going to try the second suggested recipe of 2 oz rye, 1/2 oz Bénédictine, and 1/2 oz lemon juice.

What a great drink! The lemon juice, Bénédictine, and rye all blend together really well, with the lemon juice removing the sweetness of the Bénédictine, and the rye providing an excellent base. If I had any complaints, it would be that this drink is a bit acerbic. When I try it again, I might use Bruni's recipe, but switch the proportion of the Bénédictine and the lemon juice. Alternatively, you could try using Meyer lemons in place of the lemon juice.

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