I get to write a simpler, if not shorter, post because, gosh darnit, the only thing I know about my newest entry is that I stumbled over it at Liquor.com. I also found another mixed drink with pretty much the same name, and I found another one with similar ingredients, but I have found neither hide nor hair of this Ascot Cocktail’s provenance. I suppose it could be named after the English racetrack or the old timey frou-frou tie one calls a cravat.
That’s fine. In terms of flavor, however, I’d match the Ascot against many a venerable classic beverage. This is a drink that can hold it’s head high next to a Perfect Manhattan — in some ways I like it better. When you’ve got the right ingredients, it’s got a more subtle, easygoing flavor I quite enjoy.
The intrigue here is that this is another one of those relatively rare but always intriguing drinks based on two base spirits. In this case, it’s a combination of perhaps the most venerable and aristocratic of all hard liquors and a vulgar, ubiquitous, newcomer to cocktail history. Monsieur Cognac, meet Comrade Vodka.
The Ascot Cocktail
1 ounce cognac or brandy
1 ounce vodka
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
1/2 ounce dry vermouth
1 cocktail cherry (optional, but highly recommended, garnish.)
Combine the ingredients in a mixing glass or cocktail shaker with lots of ice and stir very vigorously. (For some reason, I can’t bring myself to even try shaking this one; I fear that too much ice and water could throw the whole thing off.) Strain into a cocktail glass, add the cherry if you’ve got it, have a sip, and — you know what — this week I’m going to let you decide what to contemplate.
Lately I’ve been too cheap to use legitimate Cognac, preferring a decent brandy — mainly because they are actually the same drink but you pay extra for the name, regardless of quality. Much as Champagne is simply sparkling white wine made from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France, Cognac is just brandy made from grapes grown in the Cognac area. I’ve had some very good brandy and some truly awful Cognac. Also, sometimes an inexpensive and thoroughly mediocre French brandy will work perfectly well in a good cocktail.
This time, though, I felt like putting on the dog and decided to buy a couple of legitimate Cognacs in addition to the my default brandy, Reynal, a solid product that’s actually made in Cognac from less exclusive grapes. My Cognacs were Maison Rouge VS, a spirit I’ve had good luck with in the past with a mildly rough edge, and Martell VS, which is sweeter than most Cognacs but also just plain smooth and tasty. My dry vermouths were the end of a Martini bottle and the beginning of a Noilly Pratt Extra Dry bottle. My sweet vermouths were my usual choices: Noilly Pratt and Carpano Antica. My vodkas were Smirnoff, Smirnoff 100 Proof, and Stolichnaya.
Once again, all the vodkas worked equally well. I’ve nothing against brandy, but softening out some of the flavors makes for a more subtle, gentle drink…even when using 100 proof vodka. Carpano Antica dominated, and not in a good way, when it was paired with the Martell. I’d stick with a more basic sweet vermouth for this one, if you don’t have NP, Martini or Cinzano would probably be fine.