A toast to the past
Drinks of yesteryear find new life in 'The New Old Bar'
Most of the recipes, such as the Widow's Kiss, were mined from McDonagh's painstaking research of classic cocktails. (Handout)
In "The New Old Bar: Classic Cocktails and Salty Snacks from the Hearty Boys" (Agate Midway) co-written with Dan Smith, McDonagh offers user-friendly advice, describing the equipment needed to set up a bar and how to gradually build up a variety of spirits for use in the book's 200 recipes.
McDonagh and Smith, who own Chicago's Hearty restaurant, gained national attention as winners of the first season of TV's "The Next Food Network Star."
"The book is called 'The New Old Bar' because we are re-embracing pre-Prohibition drinks that are all about balance and complexity of flavor that we lost during the '60s and '70s, and especially the '80s, when we started drinking vodka that tastes like nothing and adding sugar and artificial flavors to drinks," says McDonagh.
Most of the recipes, such as the Widow's Kiss, a shaken cocktail created with Calvados, yellow Chartreuse, Benedictine and Angostura aromatic bitters, were mined from McDonagh's painstaking research of classic cocktails. Others he has updated.
He took inspiration from the vintage White Lady, made with gin, orange liqueur and fresh lemon juice, to create its opposite, the Dark Lady, that combines 11/2 ounces of Gosling's Black Seal Rum and one ounce each of anise-scented Galliano and fresh lime juice in a shaker. The cocktail is garnished with a lime wheel.
While shaking chills the drink and dilutes it with water, it also smooths the edges of the flavor of the ingredients to help them blend together and, most importantly, it adds millions of tiny bubbles.
McDonagh was inspired by Jerry Thomas, the father of pre-Prohibition American mixology, who recommended enjoying a cocktail "while it's still laughing at you."
"That means that once you've added air, you've added life to the drink and it's brighter and lighter and has a different mouthfeel," says McDonagh.
Smith contributes 25 recipes for cocktail-hour snacks.
"I like something salty and crunchy, like the wasabi pea and caramel corn mix that pairs texture with the drink," says McDonagh.
He ends the book with suggestions for toasts. Choose one to raise a glass to the resurgence of the delicious mixed drinks of yesteryear.
Yield: 1 cocktail
1 1/2 ounces Gosling's Black Seal Rum
1 ounce Galliano
1 ounce fresh lime juice
Lime wheel for garnish
Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake well. Strain into a chilled coupe and serve garnished with a lime wheel.