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.
My Baron Samedi hat was in use at New Year at a masked party & although sadly we didn’t have a rum-based cocktail at the time, I thought I’d properly honour the spirit of the Baron with his favourite spirit, and mix up a voodoo-themed cocktail this weekend.
The recipe comes from Difford’s Guide. and he describes it having been invented by the sculptor and bartender, Alex Kammerling in 2002.
I like the drink – the base is a rum Manhattan variant, made fresh by the addition of fresh lime and apple juices. This turns it into a longer drink, but with plenty of alcoholic heft. The Baron would approve. My only change is to add some bitters to give it a little more zip – and with a nod to the voodoo theming, I have used Peychaud’s bitters (Peychaud was born in Haiti, before settling in New Orleans). These seem to complement the apple and lime perfectly, but ginger would probably work just as well.
2 shots dark rum (I used Havana Club 7 Años, Diffords suggest Bacardi Carta Ocho)
3/4 shot Martini Rosso
2 1/2 shots of fresh apple juice
1/2 shot of lime juice
1/4 shot sugar syrup
Option – dashes of bitters to suit
Garnish by sprinkling cinnamon through a flame onto the drink.
Shake well over ice, then strain into a Collins (Diffords method) or Old Fashioned glass (my preference), filled with ice.
The dependable Manhattan has spawned many variations; the recipe is really simple, so it is very easy to substitute any of the ingredients to create something quite different: the Harvard is a variant where the rye or bourbon is replaced with cognac. Quite how a mix of French brandy with an Italian vermouth has come to represent on of America’s most blue-blooded, ivy-clad Universities is anyone’s guess, but my stab is a few alumni propping up a college bar one evening, deciding that they really needed a cocktail named after their alma mater*. The result is worthy, but not exactly groundshaking: cognac adds a fruitier dimension to the bourbon/rye original, which works well with the vermouth, but without the tension that the spikier spirits have. It’s a soothing drink, one to be lingered over on a cold evening, but I still prefer the original.
20ml. Carpana Antico vermouth
dashes of Angosturas bitter
Stir well over ice, then strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with a cherry.
* I am sure every college should have some sort of drink named after it; if my old Uni had a drink, then the UCL would most likely be a mix of tequila, whisky & Newcastle Brown Ale, garnished with a roll-up.
Very apt for Halloween, or Samhain (depending on your outlook and religion) is this recipe, taken from Imbibe‘s website. They list two versions of this drink – one with Grand Marnier for the orange component (straight whiskers), the other with triple sec (the curled version), the latter being one I have made here.
The combination of gin and orange is not a new one (this recipe is really just a variation on the Bronx cocktail), but here is quite refreshing & makes for a light and drinkable mixture. The vermouths add a richness to the flavour turning the whole thing into a Bronx with an added citrus kick. I am not sure where the satanic angle comes from, as this drink really isn’t evil in any way at all; perhaps the name comes from the hangover a few of these might engender.
1/2 oz. gin (Gordon’s here)
1/2 oz. triple sec
1/2 oz. sweet vermouth (antica formula)
1/2 oz. dry vermouth (Lillet blanc)
1/2 oz. orange juice (fresh is best)
dashes of orange bitters
Stir well over ice, then strain into a chilled coupe & garnish with orange zest.
This seems very apt, given our PM, David Cameron’s recent entanglements with questions of off-shore funds and inheritance. The drink itself is a variation on the Bronx cocktail – a solid mixture of gin, vermouth & fresh orange juice – with the addition of some dashes of Angostura bitters. How it got its name is open to question – some suggest the addition of bitters represents the attitude to taxation. My own take is that, like taxation, this mixture: gin, vermouth, some citrus & bitters is fairly universal. Either way, this is a very drinkable cocktail – it’s very refreshing, like the Ward 8 I tried last week, not heavy and the sort of cocktail you could imagine having more than one of.
40ml gin (I used solid, dependable Gordon’s)
20ml Italian vermouth (Carpano Antico)
20ml French vermouth (Lillet)
10ml fresh orange juice
Dashes of Angostura bitters
Shake well over plenty of ice, then strain well into a Martini glass. Twist orange zest over the surface to express the oils onto the drink and serve.