Updated: Jul 7, 2020
Listen closely. Do you hear that? Haunting, discordant synthesizers. The shrill, screeching grind of an elevated train rounding the bend and pulling into the station. The buzz of flickering, fluorescent lights. The snake-like hissing of a can of spray paint. Feet pounding on wet pavement from The Bronx to Coney Island. The unnerving, off-time clinking of pony beer bottles under the cracking lullaby chant of "Warriors, come out to play!" in an increasingly urgent, unstable crescendo. The unified cry of New York City's youth coming together to take back their streets from the police and institutionalized systems of oppression.
CAN YOU DIG IT?
Far and away the most popular cocktail from Pouring Ribbons' NYC 1983 fall/winter menu (stirred brandy, anyone?), The Warriors cocktail will always have a special place in my heart. Not just because it is was the first cocktail I worked on at Pouring Ribbons, or because it was featured on the evening news here, or even because it's delicious. It's because it brought the actual cast of The Warriors to Pouring Ribbons, where we could celebrate our shared appreciation of one of my favorite films.
Warriors, Lizzies, Orphans, and Baseball Furies gathered in the East Village to celebrate the 38th anniversary of the film in 2017. After priming themselves at the iconic Otto's Shrunken Head, they marched over to Pouring Ribbons to try The Warriors cocktail after seeing it featured on local NYC news station WPIX 11.
I threw on my trusty Warriors vest (the same one I've been using as a Halloween costume every year for about a decade) and stirred dozens of the smokey, spicy, fruity cocktail inspired by the very people in that bar. It was a helluva time. I got into bartending to try to make the world a little smaller, but that night my world kind of exploded.
The Warriors recipe
1.25 oz Sacred Bond Brandy
.75 oz Del Maguey Vida Mezcal
.25 oz Demerara Syrup
1 tsp Laphroaig Quarter Cask Scotch
1 tsp Black Rum
1 tsp Hamilton Pimento Dram
2 dashes Reagan's No. 6 Orange Bitters
Ice: Large Cube
Build the cocktail, add ice, and stir. Strain into a rocks glass over a large ice cube.
I wanted to draw from both the iconic 1979 film The Warriors and the grittier, darker 1965 novel it was based on.
The film is a recognizable cult classic. The vests with their Hell's Angels-esque logo, the Baseball Furies and their nightmarish clown facepaint, the comic-book portrayal of New York's gangs, all piss and vinegar, as they navigate a city which becomes a character itself, thanks to the direction of Walter Hill.
Sol Yurick's novel, on the other hand, takes a more realistic, and ultimately horrifying look into the lives of NYC's youth gang culture. From beginning to end, there's brutality at every turn. It was never meant to be a summer blockbuster, but rather a coming of age story of disenfranchised black and brown NYC teens as they struggle to survive not just one night of trauma, but a lifetime of it. Their story still sees them navigating the violent streets of NYC, but sets it against the backdrop of their navigation into adulthood. It's a rough read.
I figured the drink should be an Old Fashioned riff since that's the most common call for inexperienced drinkers trying to look tough (I speak from past experience). It's also a straightforward sipper, one that's designed to season and mildly temper what would otherwise be nothing more than whiskey on ice.
2 oz Whiskey (Bourbon or Rye)
1 tsp Demerara Syrup
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
2 dashes Orange Bitters
Because the gang was a mix of different ethnic identities (all black and brown in the novel), I wanted to represent this by bringing together several different spirits and getting them to work in harmony.
Sacred Bond Brandy
Sacred Bond was always going to be the base of this drink. It's hot, fruity, spicy, and from a back-of-house perspective, it's cheap as hell. I could have gone for a bold bourbon or spicy rye, but the fruitier finish was essential. Additionally, I wanted to play up the thematic elements of the drink – namely, the familial bond between the members of the gang.
I know this product isn't yet available in every US market, so if you're looking for a substitute, I'd go with Copper and Kings American Brandy or a younger, higher proof Cognac like Pierre Ferrand 1840.
Del Maguey Vida Mezcal
Everyone's favorite mixing mezcal was the last element of the drink we finalized, but it works wonders. When most people think of mezcal, they immediately go to smoke. And yes, while most mezcal is nice and smokey, it's an agricultural product which imparts real terroir during the fermentation of the roasted agave. Open fermentation will almost always yield wild, funky, fruit notes. Think of Jamaican rum with its banana, or baijiu with its apple/pineapple. Vida's profile has tons of fruit - banana, mango, papaya, citrus, as well as cinnamon and ginger in addition to its earthy, woodsy smoke.
While most of the components of the cocktail add fruit or spice, it ends up needlessly dry, hot, and thin-bodied without a little sugar. It's an Old Fashioned after all. The rich syrup provides some much-needed body and a bit of sweet relief to what would otherwise be 2.5 oz of high-proof booze in a glass.
Laphroaig Quarter Cask Scotch
Even at .75 oz, much of the smoke from the mezcal is lost and needed a little help. You'd be amazed at how much a single teaspoon of Laphroaig punches through the other ingredients.
The Quarter Cask is richer and higher proof than Laphroaig 10 (96-proof vs. 80-proof), so I'd reach for something like Ardbeg 10 before Laphroaig 10 if looking for a substitute.
I was looking for some rum funk in the drink and, after trying several Jamaican rums and agricoles, settled on black or Black Strap rum. It's deep and rich, providing subtle funk and complexity. Pouring Ribbons' uses a house blackstrap, which blends Plantation 3, Plantation 146 Original Dark, Unsulfered Blackstrap Molasses, and Apple Cider Vinegar. It's truly potent stuff.
I've found Plantation OFTD works well as a substitute, but I'm sure Goslings or Cruzan Black Strap works as well.
Hamilton Pimento Dram
In the novel, each member of the gang carried a “war cigarette” they'd smoke when passing through enemy territory. I already had smoke from the mezcal but was still looking for something to emulate cigar box tobacco notes. Ultimately the allspice and Laphroaig/Vida combo play together like a cigarillo or a clove cigarette. St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram is a fine substitute if you don't have access to the Hamilton stuff.
Reagan's No. 6 Orange Bitters
Regan's orange bitters tie the whole old fashioned together and provide a cardamom bomb of spice to play with the pimento dram. I should stress: make sure you use two heavy dashes.
300g demerara sugar
Combine sugar with water and blend hard. [Yields 12oz of demerara syrup.]
If you don't have a blender powerful enough to warm its contents (e.g., Vitamix), you'll have better luck combining the sugar and water in a saucepan on the stove over medium heat. Stir until sugar is dissolved and remove from heat to limit evaporation.
Photo credit: Erik Ackley