Tempered Spirits

Homemade Cocktails — Experiments, Critiques & Travels

MxMo XCIV: That’s Not A Martini! — Shanghai


Mixology Monday? Again? So soon? Well, well, time for a drink…one that is almost, but not entirely (un)like a Martini. At least, that’s what Dagreb over at Nihil Utopia has asked us cocktailians to concoct

This month’s Mixology Monday theme is that which is almost, but not quite, a Martini. Perhaps there are dashes (or more) of a liqueur (or two) added to the basic structure. Perhaps a Fino Sherry (or other fortified/aromatized wine) is standing in for vermouth. Maybe there’s Oxygene instead of bitters? Gin, certainly!

The drink must be “a Martini wearing a hat.” Lucky that I had this felt fedora hanging on the rack…

Shanghai (1 of 3)

The Shanghai

  • 3/4 ounce Queens Courage NY Old Tom Gin
  • 3/4 ounce Linie Aquavit
  • 3/4 ounce Dolin Blanc Vermouth
  • 1/4 ounce Bigallet China-China Amer
  • 1 dash Regan’s Orange Bitters
  • 1 dash Bittercube Orange Bitters
  • Orange peel, expressed but not dropped (optional)

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass or coupe. Express an orange peel into the drink, if you like. Share and enjoy!

The Shanghai is a drink I’ve had on the back burner for quite a while. For several months, it was little more than a quick experiment –an “A-ha!” notation — in the booze journal, but thanks to a round of taste-tasting at a recent dinner party and the impetus provided by MxMo, I’ve managed to refine the recipe.

Originally, the base of the Shanghai was a full 1-1/2 ounces of Queens Courage (you may have noticed that I’ve been playing around with this ingredient a lot lately — it’s great, it’s local to our neighborhood, and it lets me take the occasional dig at Brooklyn and Manhattan — all in good fun, y’all). While the single base makes for a delightful drink, I always felt that it ends up being just a little too sweet. Makes sense, given the fact that you’re adding a liqueur and a sweetened wine to a sweetened gin. Once it spends a few minutes warming up, the Shanghai starts turning syrupy.

So, as with the Blue Sky, I took a cue from Death & Co. and split the base, adding in the woodsy, caraway-heavy, and somewhat gin-like aquavit. The resulting transformation is quite remarkable — the drink turns what I call “round” — it’s more full, more balanced, more interesting (definitely file the gin-aquavit combo away for future reference). I went with Dolin Blanc as a binder because of its wonderful focus on herbs — thyme, oregano, and rosemary, to me — and the fact that it downplays the funky aftertaste typical of French-made vermouth. The orange bitters are also on the subdued, herbal side — you’re looking for savory richness here, no the bright candy-like notes of Angostura Orange or Fee’s — and add a last little bit of astringency and zing that compliment the Amer, which provides a heady aroma of orange peels and bittersweet, candied fruit. All told, the Shanghai provides a delightful wallop of orange, peppered spices, and caraway — a nifty little aperitif.

Shanghai (3 of 3)

So…how does it relate to a Martini? In short, it’s all about structure. Lest any of you forget, a Classic Gin Martini contains gin, dry vermouth, and orange bitters, and these days it’s typically stirred and served up with either an olive or a lemon twist. The Martini itself is based on a classic formula developed in the late 1800s: base spirit, fortified wine, perhaps a sweetener, and bitters. Countless cocktails — old and new — follow this arrangement.

So with the Shanghai, I plugged the standard Dry Martini formula into Jamie Boudreau’s “Golden Ratio” (I know, I use it all the time, but it’s a great starting point) and began making substitutions. Gin? QC is sweetened with honey, with a focus on lemon and black pepper, but retaining a degree of piney sharpness, so I figured it would pair better with an herbal white vermouth, not the drier stuff. The orange bitters were still working well, but it needed more of an orangey punch, so I took a cue from the Brooklyn cocktail and added in the China-China Amer (a phenomenal replacement for Amer Picon). The motive behind the aquavit is explained above.

A bit far-flung? Almost, but not quite, entirely unlike a Martini? The bones are there — you just have to dig a little bit to find them. In any case, I find the Shanghai to be a delightful little drink.

Oh, and last, but not least, the name. Some friends and acquaintances tried out the as-yet-unnamed cocktail at a dinner party, and I sought out a collective decision on the name. Because of its orangey sweetness and slightly exotic spices, it was declared reminiscent of sweet-and-sour duck sauce that often accompanies Peking Duck in Chinese-American restaurants. “Peking” didn’t have quite the right ring to it, however . We then decided that if you partook of a few too many of these highly-potable experiments, you could run the risk of being whisked away on a tramp steamer without your consent — shanghaied, as they say. The name stuck.


Shanghai (2 of 3)

Photos and text by IJL.

4 comments on “MxMo XCIV: That’s Not A Martini! — Shanghai

  1. karmabuoy
    February 15, 2015

    Sounds like a wonderful collection of flavors and aromas. Can one obtain Queens Courage outside of Queens? Can you recommend an alternative if not?

    • IJ Lauer
      February 16, 2015

      Yes, you can!
      It’s available in a number of stores around NYC and New Jersey: http://queenscourage.com/store-locator/
      Also available online, if it can be shipped to your state: http://queenscourage.com/buy-online/

      Finding an equivalent may be tricky — it’s a very particular gin, and it’s sweetened. You’ll want to substitute a citrus-forward “New American” or “Western” gin and add a very small dash of sweetener, either honey syrup (1:1 honey:water) or simple syrup.
      Try Leopold’s, Greylock, or Bluecoat (Bluecoat is not a favorite of mine, but it works in certain circumstances). No. 209 also looks promising.

      Your best bet may be Barr Hill Gin from Vermont — it’s made from honey, and has the same kind of spiced edge (use simple syrup for that one). Barr Hill’s Tom Cat, while delightful, is a world apart from QC, and would not work as a substitute, so stick with their standard bottling.

      I’ll ask a few acquaintances for their thoughts…

  2. deliciouscocktailtime
    February 22, 2015

    Dagreb is right – your photos are breathtaking and thirst-making!

    • IJ Lauer
      February 22, 2015

      Oh, well, thank you, Brenda. I try 🙂
      The photos are probably the trickiest part of the whole process!

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