March 30, 2011
“Floreant Agni” (May the Lambs Flourish)
– Motto of the original Lambs theatre club
The month of March is supposed to end like a Lamb but Mother Nature is not playing nice–it is still 30˚F outside! Nevertheless, this week’s cocktail captures winter’s last stand and book ends the month quite nicely! The Lambs Club Cocktail is midway between the light crispness of a spring cocktail and a heavy aromatic cocktail of the winter. The proportions are 2:1 vermouths to gin–a “perfect” martini if you will. Gin, a popular spirit for warmer months is tempered by the fortified flavor of not one but two variations of vermouth. The monastically produced Bénédictine blesses the cocktail with bar spoon of herbal sweetness.
The Skinny: The original Lambs Club cocktail dates from 1915 and is an East Coast cousin of the Martinez. The cocktail originates at the Lambs Club, a private theatrical club in New York. According to their website, the list of notable Lambs including Fred Astaire, Irving Berlin, George M. Cohan, W.C. Fields, Will Rogers, John Philip Sousa, and the list goes on. I’m sure these gents had no problem throwing back the signature cocktail. The thespian society was originally located at 130 West 44th Street but moved to north to 51st Street in 1974. The new Chatwal Hotel’s restaurant bar is at the original location and is named Lambs Club to honor the initial tenants. In this incarnation, the club has a distinct mid-century theme with red leather deco booths, a blazing fireplace, and bartenders in white jackets.
The Drink: Let’s start with the gin. A smooth crisp London Dry gin like Plymouth or Beefeater blends perfectly with the vermouths. The original recipe uses Plymouth so that is a good place to start. However, in this cocktail, the gin takes a supporting role. Since the vermouths take front and center, there is no sense skimping on quality. I recommend vermouth in the range of Dolin Vermouth de Chambrey or Noilly Prat.
Dolin comes from Chambery in the Savoy province of southeastern France. The sweet vermouth or “rouge” retains a complex flavor through the myriad of secret ingredients (including wormwood and chincona bark) and is lighter that most sweet vermouths. Many craft bartenders favor Dolin because of its characteristics, not to mention the producers have been using the same recipe since 1821.
Noilly Prat dates from 1813 and has been the “go to” dry vermouth in since the mid-19th century. In 2009, Noilly Prat changed their bottle design and started importing their original style formula to the United States. Apparently, the brand had been selling Americans a modified version of their dry vermouth. What did it matter anyway since dry vermouth is practically a rinse in martinis? Well, the advent of craft bartending changed vermouth’s perceptions. Once again we can savor the original Noilly Prat with its’ straw color and unique herbal flavors. In the Lambs Club cocktail you truly taste the difference!
Bénédictine is produced by the Benedictine order of monks in Abbey of Fécamp in Normandy, France. The liqueur’s secret recipe contains 27 herbs and spices but has a distinctive sweet taste. Bénédictine stands in for bitters and adds a touch of sweetness. The original Lambs Club recipe calls for 1/8 tsp of Bénédictine, but I feel a generous bar spoon helps balance the drinks better. Otherwise, the Noilly Prat dry vermouth pushes forth as the most dominant flavor. In addition, a lemon peel, oils extracted and added to the libation bring a hint of citrus to the equation.
LAMBS CLUB COCKTAIL
1 oz Plymouth gin
1 oz Dolin Rouge
1 oz Noilly Prat dry vermouth
Bar spoon of Bénédictine
Tools: Mixing glass, bar spoon, jigger, Julep strainer.
Combine vermouths, Bénédictine, and gin in mixing glass. Stir well with lots of ice. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon peel.
Insider’s Note: If you order a signature Lambs Club Cocktail at the eponymous bar in the Chatwal Hotel on New York, you may receive a what amounts to a Bourbon Bee’s Knees (aka The Gold Rush) served over a serious hand carved ice ball. Make no mistake, this variation (which I call Lambs Club Cocktail #2) is delicious, but I prefer the original 1915 recipe as it captures the essence of the martini’s evolution at the beginning of the 20th century. Plus it is damn good gateway drink as March leads us to il Primavera.
*Got a cocktail question? Reach Fredo on twitter @loungerati, email me at fredo(at)loungerati(dot)com, or simply drop me a comment below!
**Fredo Ceraso is the editor-at-large of the lounge lifestyle blog Loungerati.com. He is head cocktailian and a co-producer of The Salon parties. Fredo is a member of the USBG New York chapter and rolls drinks at many Lounge, Swing, Jazz Age, & Burlesque events in New York City.
***Payman Bahmani will return in April for his weekly Happy Hour column and is honored to have Fredo tend the bar while away.