“I didn't think it would work but it DOES."
HOW WE LIKE IT
- 1 1/2 ounces Dickel Rye
- 3/4 ounce Dolin Blanc vermouth
- 3/4 ounce pineapple juice (fresh or unsweetened pre-made)
Combine and shake with cracked ice, strain into a chilled coupe glass.
Writing about the Algonquin is tricky, which is slightly ironic given the name. A drink named after a hotel with a famous group of writers leads you talk about the writers, the hotel, and the rich history of both. The truth is you can ditch all those references and get to the heart of the matter: this is a drink that shouldn’t work. My muscles aren't always on the same page when I reach for the pineapple juice to make this drink. It’s similar to the flinch I experience when I reach for a glass of orange juice after I’ve brushed my teeth. “Are you sure this is right? Wait, we know OJ tastes good but something isn’t right. We sense danger, although we’re awfully tempted by the luscious scents coming out of that glass.” An Algonquin walks the line between dry and sweet, an easy sipper light on the tongue when it comes together.
The modern cocktail revival has ripped pineapple juice back from those would pour it with flavored rums, bury it under fruit, and call it a day. A splash of pineapple juice adds tart acidity to a drink and, when done right, balances spirit-forward flavors. (When the weather gets warmer we’ll go into a Mary Pickford, another favorite of mine.) That said, it’s still a tricky ingredient, which is why the paradoxical Algonquin survives and thrives.
THE INGREDIENTS & TASTE
Like most things in life, fresher is better, but let’s talk about the reality of fresh pineapple juice. Depending on where you live, and what you have in your kitchen, fresh pineapple juice is not an option, so take heart a lack of fresh juice shouldn’t stop you. The key to making this with store-bought is to be sure it’s plain old juice. Any sweeteners or additions are going to drag the rye and vermouth out to the beach and kick sand in their faces until they cry uncle and run for the hills. The brightness and bite of fresh juice is why I think an Algonquin is worth ordering in a bar where they make their own juices, but fresh juice isn't a deal-breaker.
You want a good rye when making an Algonquin but let’s not kid ourselves, you lose a lot of the complexity in a rye when you bring vermouth and pineapple juice into the mix. I’m not sure there’s reason to use a rye on the sweeter side of the scale either, this is no place for corn and bourbon. A well aged rye that’s mellowed a bit does nicely. Avoid the stuff that sets your mouth on fire and sends panic signals to your eyeballs.
We experimented with Redemption rye, Royal Crown’s Harvest, and Dickel to get some variations.
I find Dickel Rye is perfect for the job, with a hint of spice but an overall mellow pour.
The last part of the equation is the vermouth and where I think personal preference really plays the biggest role. The older recipes reference the need for ‘French Vermouth’ and in our house that means Dolin, and usually Dolin Blanc. The lighter flavor, hints of herbal notes, and slight bitterness on the back of the tongue add welcome complexity. Darker vermouth like Dolin Rouge adds a warm, burnished color to the drink but the darker sweetness didn’t play as well with the acidity of the pineapple. (It was like finding a lovely old book with beautiful end papers and a beaten spine only to find last year’s beach read on the pages.)
Umami: Not a prayer.
Shaking the drink brings out more of the sweetness of the pineapple. Stirring leaves the rye front and center.
I've tinkered with finishing touches but nothing has been a slam dunk. The drink lacks a strong nose beyond what the vermouth gives you, so a final touch doesn't hurt. A few dashes of bitters add a complementary aroma and final notes on the tongue but are by no means necessary. I’d like to experiment with crystalized pineapple as a garnish but I don’t want to mess with the sweetness any more than necessary. (Vermouth infused dried pineapple? That’s another story and something on my long list of 2016 to-do’s.)
Glass-wise, an Algonquin deserves a your finest coupe so you can hold it by the stem and sip while the world rushes by.
If it’s a song it’s Al Casey’s “Ain’t Misbehavin’” - An equally smooth, and easy update on a 20’s classic.
If the bar you frequent makes their own pineapple juice you owe it to yourself to order something featuring it. Some poor barback had to juice the damn thing, the least you can do is order an Algonquin and toast their effort.