Over the last decade the cocktail renaissance has spread across the country and helped turn bartending from a mere side-job for college students and aspiring actors into an honorable profession. It has also resurrected previously unknown names like Jerry Thomas and Harry Johnson by turning them into prophet-like figures, and their recipes have become gospel for a new generation of barkeeps and cocktail geeks. Once unknown drinks like the Last Word or Corpse Reviver No. 2 are now commonly requested by customers, proof that we are in the midst of a paradigm shift rather than a mere fad.
It seems there is still room for growth, as the treasure trove of old books is rich with old recipes that haven't yet become household names. The Black Jack is one of those old recipes, and it employs an ingredient not found very often in old recipes: coffee. The PDT Book credits the cocktail to a book called Drinks published in 1914 by Jacques Straub, who was wine director of the Pendennis Club in Louisville, Kentucky and a foremost wine expert of his time. Despite Straub's wine expertise, his book is packed with hundreds of cocktail recipes.
The recipe in the PDT Cocktail Book is actually a modern revision of the old recipe, with a few adjustments here and there. Straub's recipe is a simple equal parts each of brandy, kirschwasser (cherry eau de vie aka cherry brandy), and cold coffee, with a sugar rim.
Black Jack (Jacques Straub, 1914)
1 oz. brandy (use Cognac even though it doesn't specify, as that is most likely Straub's intention)
1 oz. kirschwasser
1 oz. cold coffee
Rub the rim of a cocktail glass with a lemon wedge and dip the glass in sugar. Shake the ingredients with ice and strain into the glass.
The PDT recipe specifies Cognac instead of just any brandy and increases it to 1.5 ounces and decreases the kirschwasser and coffee to 0.5 ounce each, making it a more Cognac-focused drink. The PDT recipe makes up for the decrease in coffee by making a more concentrated cold brew. Additionally, the PDT recipe relocates the sugar from the rim into the drink by way of 0.25 ounce demerara syrup, a move I favor.
Black Jack (PDT)
1.5 oz. Pierre Ferrand Ambre Cognac
0.5 oz. Clear Creek Kirschwasser
0.5 oz. 9th St Alphabet City Coffee Concentrate (recipe below)
0.25 oz. Demerara syrup
Three brandied cherries on a pick, as garnish
Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail coupe. Garnish with three brandied cherries on a pick.
9th St Alphabet City Coffee Concentrate
80 oz. filtered water
0.5 lb. coarse-ground 9th St Alphabet City Coffee Blend
Steep for 12 hours at room temperature using a Toddy Coldbrew System. Fine-strain, bottle, and store in the refrigerator. If you don't live in NYC or don't have access to a Toddy Coldbrew System, you can use your favorite coffee blend and make a strong concentrated brew, then fine-strain and chill it.
Both recipes are delicious but I must say that as a matter of flavor balance and recipe structure I prefer the PDT variation. For one, I think replacing the sugar rim with demerara syrup in the drink makes better sense. As a general rule I opt against rims unless necessary, much preferring to incorporate the flavor in the drink itself. I even prefer my Sidecars without a sugar rim. I believe sugar, spice, or salt rims make more sense when texture is a goal in addition to flavor--but I digress.
As a matter of recipe structure I like that the PDT recipe brings the Cognac to the forefront and let's the kirschwasser and coffee play the role of modifier. Kirschwasser doesn't have the depth of Cognac, so increasing the Cognac adds complexity and allows both ingredients to shine in their best light: in this case with Cognac as the base and kirschwasser as the modifier providing complementary notes of cherry and stone fruit.
One modification I prefer to make to both recipes is to stir the cocktail instead of shaking it. The shaken version produces a more airy and effervescent texture, which is fine, but I sometimes like to preserve the silky texture of the ingredients by stirring this drink.
Here's to great cocktails: old, new, and revised.
*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 [at] pdtproject.com, or simply drop him a comment below.