Suze, the gentian-first Swiss bitter, is a very useful bottle to have in the drink stock; not nearly as sweet as its Italian relatives, the flavour is dry and distinctively bitter, much more so than even Campari.
Gentian isn’t only found in Size, but here it’s so the dominant flavour, it gives the drink a very mysterious herbal-vegetal quality, quite unlike anything else; a simple shot poured over ice makes a very good aperitif, but too much can give that mouth-puckering feeling brought on by drinking large quantities of tonic water.
In the white Negroni, the combination of the Suze and a dry vermouth gives the finished drink a lighter taste, more herbal and delicate than its traditional and more robust cousin; people who don’t like Campari and might refuse a Negroni on that basis could find this one a more delicate and intriguing introduction; whether or not it’s better is a different debate altogether, but it’s certainly distinctive enough while remaining obviously related to the traditional version.
40ml gin (try a delicate, citrus-forward blend – I used the Japanese Roku brand here)
30ml white vermouth (I used the Spanish Casa Mariol vermut)
Stir the alcohols together over ice, then strain into an old-fashioned glass with fresh ice. Garnish with a large piece of lemon zest. Breaking the ‘always add bitters’ rule here, as Suze is herbal enough for you not to need them.
Note: if you like Suze, and I do, then reverse the quantities of the Suze and the vermouth for a more dominant flavour.
Naming cocktails is an odd thing: typically, the barman or establishment that invents a particular combination gets to name that drink (see the Ward 8 for one example). Many stories are known, some are the source of controversy & plenty are lost entirely. With a limited number of ingredients, especially in the classic cocktail era, it’s hardly surprising that some cocktails even come in different recipes bearing the same name: the Derby exists in a number of forms, all named after the famous American horse race.
So what does this have to do with the Negroni, and its many current expressions being offered in bars? The standard recipe, gin, vermouth & Campari is a great combination of strong, sweet and sour, making it a damn-near perfect pre-dinner drink, and its recent resurgence is not surprising. But the twist is that the Negroni itself is a variation – the standard history is that Count Negroni asked his favourite barman to strengthen the regular Americano cocktail by replacing the soda water with gin (most likely because he’d lived in London for a while and picked up a gin habit there), creating the famous mix. But, similar drinks exist, all bearing different names: the Old Pal replaces the gin with whisky, and the other bar classic, the Boulevardier has bourbon in the white spirit slot.
So why are modern Negroni variations not getting completely new names? My guess is that because of the popularity of the standard Negroni, bar staff are wanting to show the connection to the classic drink, whilst trying to do something original. Tequila for gin is a fairly straightforward change, and a basic silver or plata style tequila isn’t going to clash dramatically with the vermouth or Campari. As someone who isn’t completely sold on gin, except in a very dry Martini, the tequila change works very well. But I think the name ‘tequila Negroni’ is a little dull, so I have taken to renaming it the Jalisco Negroni, in honour of the area where tequila production is based. The drink, to my mind, has a slightly fresher taste than the gin version, and benefits from the lightness of the younger style of tequila.
20ml sweet vermouth
Stir the alcohols together in a mixing glass over ice, then strain into an Old Fashioned glass with a fresh single large ice cube. Garnish with an orange peel or a stick of cinnamon if you want to be thoroughly exotic.
The Manhattan formula, so simple but so adaptable, gives rise to endless variation. Some of these are deliberate attempt to rearrange the basic mixture; others seem to have arisen from the simple fact that a combination of a spirit, vermouth & bitters is a mighty fine one and a solid foundation for a very good drink.
One of these variations is the Palmetto, recorded in the Savoy Cocktail book. This puts the drink in the period between the publication of the book and the repeal of Prohibition, making it one of the cocktail ‘classics’. Harry Craddock’s recipe combines rum, vermouth and bitters & is faithfully recreated in Robert Simonson’s excellent book, 3 Ingredient Cocktails; I used his recipe here. One of the key things to note is that bitters here are very important – both rum and the Italian vermouth are quite sweet, so the citrus kick of the bitters is necessary to tie them together, but add too much & they will overpower the drink.
I’m not enamoured with this drink; the equal mix of vermouth and rum just doesn’t seem to work together for me, even with a good shake of bitters; somehow it’s just all too sweet. But it is a complex drink and worth trying, even just once.
1 1/2 oz good, aged rum
1 1/2 oz sweet vermouth
Dashes of orange bitters
Stir over ice, then strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish really seems to be optional for this drink, but a good slice of orange zest wouldn’t go amiss; if you use a cocktail cherry, you would be adding to the sweetness even further.
After the Manhattan (see dozens of posts, passim), my very next favourite drink is the Old Fashioned: this classic mix of whiskey, bitters & sugar is so simple, yet can having a seeming infinite variety through the choice of the whiskey and bitters: use a rye, and the cocktail becomes drier and spicier, use a bourbon, and it becomes sweeter and softer.
This time, I added a small quantity of my favourite amaro, Montenegro, to balance the sweetness of a bourbon-based whiskey a little further than the bitters alone; even just a quarter of an ounce of this amaro adds another edge to the drink. It’s quite a different take on an Old Fashioned, so absolutely deserves to have its own name; it becomes the Vecchio Stile.
The bitters are very important: here I have used Dr Elmegirab’s Orinoco bitters. Their solid bitter hit & spice base are pretty much a perfect foil for the Montenegro.
2 ozs of bourbon (Bulleit is highly recommended)
1/4 oz Amaro Montenegro
1/2 tsp sugar
Dashes of Orinoco bitters
Muddle the sugar and bitters together, with a dash of water, in an old-fashioned glass. Add a large ice block to the glass and let chill a while.
Stir the Montenegro and bourbon together over ice, then strain into the chilled glass, with a last stir to combine the alcohols, bitters & sugar. Garnish with orange peel.
The Belmont is a truly odd little recipe – three ingredients: gin, grenadine & cream. I can’t think of many recipes that combine gin and cream, but the Belmont just goes straight for it, via the grenadine. The result, as described by my friend & fellow cocktail explorer, Craig Riley, is a ‘grown-up Baileys’. He’s right – the gin and cream should clash horribly, but the grenadine just seems to act like a silky buffer between the two, making them harmonious rather than jarring, and letting the drink become a smooth mouthful. The secret is a good grenadine – I used the Jack Rudy small-batch syrup, which has a good balance of sweet and sharp, along with a deep ruby colour. This gives the resulting drink has an attractive pale pink colour as well, another unusual trait. Not a cocktail you would want many of, but as something, smooth, refreshing & very unusual, worth a glass at least.
2 measures gin
1 measure grenadine
1 tsp. cream
Shake everything with plenty of ice, then strain into a cold coupe.
No garnish or bitters for this one, so it breaks a lot of the cocktail rules. But then it uses cream, so it’s already way off track, anyway.
This simple mixture of cognac, almonds and lime sounded like an interesting recipe from Harry MacElhone, but it involved making the orgeat syrup first, as my attempts to find a ready-made product suggested they were all a bit disappointing. That may seem like overkill, but I at least have an ingredient now to use in various Tiki-style recipes, as the recipe produces around 250ml of the sweet, almond-flavoured syrup which will last a month or so in the refrigerator.
The story goes that MacElhone invented this drink in honour of a Japanese delegation visiting Paris in the 1920s while he was running his eponymous bar there. The ingredients themselves don’t suggest Japan to me, as my visits to the country have not indicated that there is overwhelming demand for almond or lime flavours; the cognac might have been a nod to the French location of the drink’s birthplace.
I am not quite sure what to make of the finished drink: the combination of cognac and almond syrup is silky enough, but the lime juice is slightly too strong to my taste. Thinking on other lime-based drinks (such as the Margarita), I cannot see why it should jar here, but it does – perhaps its is the cognac-and-lime mix that seems a little harsh. Either way, the drink was not as smooth as I was expecting, and despite the sweetness of the orgeat syrup, the lime has a really attack on the back of the throat. The next time I make one of these, I plan to use a properly Japanese substitute : yuzu juice. This has the required citrus tones, but slightly less attack. I think this will balance the drink better.
2 ozs cognac
1/2 oz orgeat syrup
1/2 oz lime juice
Dashes of Angostura bitters
Shake the ingredients well with plenty of ice (probably a good time to practice your Japanese shaking technique), then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with lime zest.
Every barman has a corpse reviver recipe: the drink they slide across the bar to the jaded customer without a word, just the unspoken understanding of what the client needs right now, right then. The recipes date back to the mid-C19th, served to young bucks who had over-indulged the night before, and now revived (if you will) for a modern generation of hungover clients.
The #2 mix is allegedly more popular these days, but this #1 mix relies of a swift punch to the kidneys with darker alcohols: brandy (or cognac) and calvados, that wonderful French apple brandy. I have mixed together the standard alcohol kick with Tristran Stephenson’s #1.1 beta recipe, found in his excellent Curious Bartender book, that uses an English apple brandy.
The drink is one you should drink swiftly. ‘While it is still smiling at you’, as they say.
30ml brandy or cognac
30ml calvados (I used Somerset apple brandy here)
30ml Italian vermouth (I used Vermut)
Stir well over ice, then strain into a cold coupe. No garnish is required – you don’t want to delay serving this drink to a customer in distress.
And in a slight, but I think important variant, I dropped a few spots of clove bitters (my recipe) into the centre of the drink. They settle to the bottom, adding a sudden & unexpected dimension as you drain the glass, and one that certainly opens the eyes. Stephenson says ‘add them if you want to break the rules’. I do & so I did.