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Food & Drink

Cocktails From Behind The Iron Curtain

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Although the Berlin Wall came down over the period of a long summer, November 4, 1989 — when over 1,000,000 people gathered in East Berlin’s Alexanderplatz — is often regarded as the beginning of the end, not only for the Berlin Wall, but for the Soviet Bloc itself.

With the arrival of capitalism, it didn’t take long before shopworn consumer goods of the Bloc were eclipsed by an influx of shiny free market-perfected loot. Before the end of the communist era, the majority of alcohol consumed in Eastern Europe was made in government-owned distilleries, and its distribution was strictly controlled. Although the quality was acceptable, there were few brands and little pleasure to be associated with drinking other than that of an escape from the drudgery of daily life.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, these state-owned drinks began to fall out of fashion, as the growing middle classes of Eastern Europe developed a taste for imported spirits such as Scotch whisky and wine. Although the old spirits may have faded in popularity, many of them still remain, and for those of you planning to celebrate 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, here are five cocktails that bring together the best of East and West. Cocktail glasnost, if you will.

Cosmonaut Cosmo

Vodka was distilled throughout the Eastern Bloc, from grain, rye, sugar beet or potatoes. Some of the finest came from Poland, and this cocktail uses a vodka distilled from rye, although feel free to substitute your favorite brand.

Ingredients

1 oz cranberry juice

1 oz orange juice

1 oz Triple Sec

1 oz Wyberowa vodka

1 tsp fresh lime juice

Instructions

Mix the orange and cranberry juices, Triple Sec and vodka in a shaker with ice and pour into a chilled martini glass. Add the lime juice and garnish with a lime twist.

Slivovitz Slammer

The beloved plum brandy of the Slavic states carries a wicked kick when poured neat, but comes into its own in this refreshing cocktail using a well-known Czech brand.

Ingredients

2 oz Jelinek Slivovitz (again substitute any brand if this is not available)

1 tsp simple syrup (made by heating together equal parts sugar and water until sugar dissolves, then allow to cool)

1/2 oz lime juice

Soda water

Instructions

Mix the slivovitz, syrup and lime juice in a shaker with ice. Pour into a highball glass filled with crushed ice and top up with soda water. Garnish with a slice of plum.


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The Hungarian Bramble

Unicum, the favorite drink of Hungary under communism (which was called Zwack before the Soviet occupation, and is being once again sold under that name), is made with from a secret recipe containing over forty herbs and is then aged in oak barrels. During communism, the first family of Unicum, the Zwacks, were exiled and it was made to a different formula. However it is now available again in three different varieties. This cocktail is a take on legendary mixologist Dick Bradsell’s recipe, using Unicum Next, a liqueur made by the Zwack family sweetened with cherries.

Ingredients

2 oz gin

1 oz lime juice

½ oz simple syrup

½ oz Unicum Next

Instructions

Fill a highball glass with crushed ice and layer with the gin, lime juice and syrup. Top off with a layer of the Unicum and dress with two dark cherries on the stalk.

Armenian Brandy Alexander

Armenian brandy was such a favorite of Winston Churchill’s, who first discovered it during the lengthy Yalta Conference, that he asked Stalin to send him cases of the spirit to Britain to enjoy with his cigars. This cocktail uses Ararat, the most famous brand, made from white grapes and spring water.

Ingredients

2 oz Ararat Brandy

1 oz dark crème de cacao

1 oz heavy cream

Freshly grated nutmeg

Instructions

Mix the brandy, crème de cacao and heavy cream in a shaker with ice and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg just before serving.