Friday, January 7, 2011

Blackstone Cocktail(s)

In 1908, Jacques Straub, (author of "Drinks"- 1914), set up the wine program for and stocked the cellars of Chicago's exclusive Blackstone Hotel. He remained there until 1920 when Prohibition put an end to this career.
Blackstone Hotel, Chicago 1914

Jacques was at the Blackstone from the very beginning, signing on in 1908 when the earliest parts of the hotel were completing. (Construction would continue through 1910.)

In the 5 or so years he was at the Blackstone before his book was published, he managed to create four turn-of-the-(last)-century "martini" variations. I'm not sure if these were offered all at the same time, seasonally, or sequentially. They do make a nice list though, and if one were pressed to create a vintage "Martini Menu", this would fit the bill nicely.

Mr. Straub was never a bartender, but he obviously had great taste and was a decent record keeper. This perhaps explains his penchant for shaking drinks that should be stirred, and vice-versa. His great collection of recipes aside, he's wrong in his instructions to shake, and without exception, the list below should be stirred.

Adapted we have:

Blackstone Cocktail

1.5 ounces (45 ml) London Dry Gin (I used Bombay Dry Gin)
.75 ounce (22 ml) Italian vermouth (Carpano Antica)
.75 ounce (22 ml) French vermouth (Cocchi Americano, for fun)
1 piece orange peel

Combine ingredients in a mixing glass with cracked ice. Strain into a cocktail glass. Flame the oils from an orange peel over the top of the drink, rub rim of glass with peel, and drop peel into glass. 

His intent in the cryptic recipe was probably to include the orange peel in the shaker and to strain it out of the mix before serving. I went with the flamed peel to add a little extra depth, considering the lack of bitters.

The drink was plush and elegant, just as you would expect from such a newly-minted high class establishment. Basically a "perfect" martini with orange peel.

Blackstone No.1

2 1/4 ounces (67 ml) Old Tom gin. (I used Hayman's Old Tom)
.75 ounce (22 ml) Italian Vermouth (I used Punt E Mes)
Lemon twist for garnish

Stir in mixing glass, strain into a cocktail glass. Twist lemon peel over top and drop into glass.

I used a Meyer lemon for the twist here and it's sharp, acrid, pine-like nose made the Old Tom more "gin-like" in my opinion. The sour/quinine profile of the Punt e Mes also offset the sweet Old Tom nicely. I liked this one more than I thought I would. It's simple ingredients provided a surprising amount of depth.

Blackstone No. 2
(Special Blackstone)

2 ounces (60 ml) dry gin (I used Plymouth Dry here)
1 ounce (30 ml) French vermouth. (I used Lillet Blanc)
orange twist for garnish

Stir in mixing glass, strain into cocktail glass. Add orange twist, zesting over top of the glass, and use as garnish.

A "wet" martini if ever there was one. If you like martinis, this one is delightfully easy to drink. The lillet is sweet and silky smooth on the mouth. The Plymouth comes through, but since Plymouth is a very light, smooth gin it's not overpowering. The orange zest provides the right balance on the nose making this a very drinkable, very enjoyable martini.

Blackstone No. 3 Special

1 dash absenthe (I used Kubler)
1 ounce (30 ml) French vermouth (I used Noilly Prat)
1 ounce (30 ml) dry gin (I used Bombay dry)
lemon twist for garnish

Stir in mixing glass, strain into cocktail glass. Add lemon twist, zesting over top of the glass, and use as garnish.

What can I say about this one? It's a gin martini, made in the old style (2:1 ratio), with dash absinthe. I took a little more liberty on this one and substituted a grapefruit twist for the lemon. After tasting it on it's own, I added one dash each of Scrappy's "celery" and "grapefruit" bitters. Then it was very, very nice. 

A menu worth of Chicago's "A" list, it's an excellent range of early martini variations. For me, the best experience was the gentle complexity of the No. 1 with the Meyer lemon twist. What is your favorite?


  1. Swooning over the Blackstone right about now. Thank you for sharing this rather versatile cocktail with us!

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