I’ve always had a love affair with fancy cocktails. Coming of age in the ’90s in San Francisco, I naturally gravitated to the swing/rockabilly scene and spent my nights sipping on Manhattans at swanky joints such as Bimbo’s and Club Deluxe. I was in heaven!
As the years went on, I craved more glamour both from my surroundings and my cocktails. But in the 2000s, the crazy mash-up of the electro music trend and the dot-com boom didn’t cultivate my type of scene. The charm seemed to be slipping away from our fair city as techies in chambray shirts and skinny boys with asymmetrical haircuts chugged beers and Vodka Red Bulls all over town.
Then, on a trip to New York, a good friend took me to Hotel Delmano in Brooklyn. I was easily charmed by the Victorian feel, the cute boys in bowties behind the bar, and the most wonderful drink menu I had ever seen. At the risk of sounding like a lush, I spent the next week sampling every liquid offering at Delmano. It was during this time that I met my one true cocktail love — the Rattlesnake, a sweet whiskey-and-egg-white concoction.
I returned with recipe in hand and tried to perfect the drink at home. Not long after that trip, San Francisco bars caught on to the artisan/Savoy cocktail movement. With the likes of the Alembic, Rickhouse, and Bourbon & Branch opening, I could finally meet my beloved cocktail in a proper setting. The Hideout, the tiny back bar inside Dalva, became my favorite after-work hangout. They serve exquisite drinks in a space with lovely decor and good lighting. When I walk into the room, the bartenders now know to immediately start mixing a Rattlesnake.
Now that I’ve had the Rattlesnake prepared for me by the best mixologists in town, I’ve recognized that my homemade version isn’t up to par. I asked the fellows down at the Hideout to demonstrate the proper preparation of my signature drink. A private demonstration from Eric, Dalva’s adorable owner, left me shocked at how many important steps I had missed.
I went in at 3 p.m. on a Tuesday ready to learn. Here are my findings.
The key ingredient of the Rattlesnake is the egg white. This is what gives it a frothy and creamy consistency. But it’s important that you don’t overdo it —the cocktail only requires half an ounce, or about two-thirds of an egg white. It’s best, of course, if you use fresh organic eggs.
First, separate the whites into a container and briskly stir them together. Next, measure out exactly half an ounce and pour it into your cocktail shaker. Eric suggested always adding the egg whites first, just in case you pour too much. You don’t want to ruin your precious liquor.
Next, add one and a half ounces of lemon juice and half an ounce of maple syrup. Eric prefers grade B organic maple syrup. It’s unfiltered and has a rich, dark flavor that mixes well with the other ingredients. Finally, add two ounces of rye whiskey and two dashes of Peychaud’s Bitters.
The Savoy cocktail menu calls for absinthe rather than Peychaud’s, but I like the drink made both ways. I’ve also seen Rattlesnakes made with different whiskeys, but traditionally the recipe calls for a rye. I’m a firm believer that the classic is best.
Once you have all your ingredients in the shaker, throw the top on and give the mixture a firm, dry shake for about 20 seconds. Eric suggests keeping the ice out at first to froth the egg whites without watering them down. Jason, one of the lead bartenders at the Hideout, chimed in during our session that you can get an even frothier Rattlesnake by throwing in the spring from the cocktail strainer during the dry shake.
Next, add your ice and vigorously shake the mixture for about a minute. Finally, double strain into an “up” glass. (Double strain means to pour through the cocktail strainer into a tea strainer held directly above the glass.) This clarifies the drink and makes it smooth. All cocktails should be double strained, according to Eric.
Finish the drink with a dash of Peychaud’s and a lemon peel. Twist the lemon peel to spritz the drink with citrus and then rub it around the rim of the glass. Voilà — the perfect Rattlesnake.
After sampling the results of Eric’s demonstration, I sauntered back to work happy and slightly tipsy. I also felt secure in the knowledge that that my Rattlesnake will always be waiting for me just down the road, should I want a night off from mastering it at home.
Want to take part in my fancy cocktail obsession? Try the Rattlesnake down at the Hideout. Other notable establishments that make a mean Rattlesnake: Beretta, the Alembic, and Mister Lew's Win Win Bar. Or simply make one at home following the detailed directions above. Trust me, there’s nothing like putting on a fancy outfit and enjoying a lovely cocktail in your own home. Even better, come over and I’ll mix you one!