June 29, 2012

The PDT Project: Algonquin

by Payman Bahmani

“I’d rather have a bottle in front of me, than a frontal lobotomy.”
–Dorothy Parker

The Algonquin Round Table is the popular name of a small group of young writers, actors, and comedians in New York City who met daily at the Algonquin Hotel for lunch and ruthless banter during a span of of about twelve years during Prohibition. The product of their daily witticisms and general shenanigans would trickle back into the national publications of the various members. Among the most notable of the members of the Round Table were Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Alexander Woollcott, George Kaufman, Harold Ross, and Harpo Marx.

They referred to themselves as the Vicious Circle and became quite recognized in their day for their contribution and influence on popular culture, particularly with regard to literature, comedy, theatre, and film. One of the most enduring creative contributions of the Algonquin Round Table was the founding of The New Yorker magazine.

Although it was officially Prohibition, it’s clear that the Circle was not a dry one. Humorist Robert Benchley famously admitted, “I know I’m drinking myself into a slow death, but then I’m in no hurry.” What is not so clear is whether the Algonquin cocktail was among the potables consumed by them.

According to writer and liquor historian David Wondrich, they were a highball and Martini crowd. Ted Haigh, in his book Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, casts similar doubt. Thus it appears the Algonquin was a cocktail created later to honor either the hotel, the famous literary collective, or both. The recipe in The PDT Cocktail Book is cited from a New York Sun column from 1935 by wine and restaurant critic Selmer Fougner.

Algonquin
2 oz. Rittenhouse Bonded Rye Whiskey
0.75 oz. Dolin Dry Vermouth
0.75 oz. pineapple juice

Tools: barspoon, mixing glass
Glassware: chilled cocktail coupe

Method: Stir ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled coupe.

Overall, the Algonquin is a cocktail that lies on the dry side of the spectrum. There’s a spicy and boozy backbone from the bonded rye, which is mellowed out by the herbal notes of the dry vermouth and rounded out with subtle sweetness of the pineapple.

Speaking of pineapple, there are a few things worth noting. The first is that fresh juice is better than canned (duh). If you must go with canned or bottled juice, then buy the unsweetened variety (double duh). If you’re juicing pineapple, don’t forget to fine strain it to remove the fine pulp and froth.

Which brings me to the final point, which involves why we’re stirring this cocktail as opposed to shaking it, which is what you’ve been taught to do when you have a recipe with juice or other opaque ingredients. In this case, since pineapple juice really froths up when shaken, we stir in order to limit the opacity of the drink, because the Algonquin is intended to look more like a Martini than a Margarita.

*This post is part of a series in which Payman takes on the task of making and writing about every cocktail featured in the PDT Cocktail Book, as well as providing an awesome photo of each drink taken by Vanessa Bahmani Photography.

**Got a question? He can be found on twitter @paystyle, you can email him at payman@pdtproject.com, or simply drop him a comment below.

2 Comments

  • Posted July 2, 2012 at 8:32 am

    Payman, great write up on one of my favorites. I would like to add a few thoughts. In 1935, given the proximity to repeal, strong American ryes like Rittenhouse were in short supply. I am pretty sure they used Canadian Club in the original recipe and dry vermouth like Noilly Prat, which recently returned to its original formula. Try it with those spirits and see what you think. It will not have the spicy element of the bonded rye, but CC’s sweetness will swing the taste from overtly dry to the well balanced. Salute – Fredo

  • Posted July 5, 2012 at 2:07 pm

    Fredo, you’re absolutely correct historically. And I agree that CC will swing the drink in a sweeter direction, which many will like. I actually like the higher proof and drier taste of it.

    I also have a problem with CC in general because it’s just not a quality rye, and while that was the best available for a long time after Prohibition, we now have so many great brands on the market that I never reach for CC. But as you mentioned, CC would be the closest to the original taste, historically speaking.

    I wonder how it would taste with a lower proof yet dry rye like Overholt, or a slightly sweeter rye like Bulleit that’s still 80 proof.

    As always, thanks for sharp observations Fredo!

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