Digital Speakeasy
Recipe: A Riff on EB White

White-TiniThis afternoon, I made a martini-style drink that’s a riff on an EB White favorite. I have never much been a fan of ‘proper’ martinis, mostly because there is precious little gin I enjoy enough on its own merits. Blade is one. Plymouth is another. 209 is a third.

But, given that we’re out of Blade and 209 and have only a few precious ounces left of Plymouth, I went with a new bottle we’d recently gotten called Corsair. This one is indeed a heavy hitter and has a lot in common with the London dry style, though it’s marketed as “American style,” but I’ve still enjoyed it more than most others. It’s got the sharp, dry herbal taste, but it’s understated enough to keep it from getting into the nasty medicinal territory that keeps me away from most big-production LDGs. I’ve mixed with it several times and not been disappointed. Still, I only used 2 ounces of gin as opposed to the 4 that EB White’s martini recipe calls for.

I also suppose that technically we didn’t have apricot brandy, so I used liqueur instead, which I think worked out well, and instead of honey I went with a dash of agave nectar.

  • 2 oz gin (experiment with different styles — a Blade or Plymouth version of this drink would be very different than the Corsair)
  • .25 ounce apricot liqueur
  • .25 ounce dry vermouth (I used Dolin)
  • .25 ounce lime juice
  • splash of agave to taste (probably less than &frac14 ounce)

Stir with ice & strain.

Lovely for a warmish Friday afternoon! Can’t wait to try it with Blade, Plymouth or 209. :)

Recipe: Cocchi Italian

cocchi italianTotally inappropriate for winter, but the other night I was craving something clean & crisp & not too terribly boozy. Something for early evening. Something along the lines of champagne or hefeweisen or wheat beer, but with a little more character.

During the San Francisco summer that is September & October, I had a lot of fun making Italian soda-style cocktails from various vermouths & digestifs — a few ounces of Carpano Antica or Fernet Branca or Averna topped with club soda, sometimes with a little citrus for garnish. As much as I enjoy a good light beer (as in color, not as in macro brews that end in “lite”) on a warm day, the Italian soda drinks made a nice change.

So I decided to do something similar, but using a lighter alcohol for the base. First I tried dry vermouth; that didn’t really work out. The Cocchi was very nice, but just a little sweet & a tad closed down. Hence:

Mixology principle #17: Nothing like a dash of Angostura to open up a fizzy drink.


Cocchi Italian
  • 3-4 oz Cocchi Americano
  • Top with an equal amount of club soda
  • Dash of Angostura bitters

Serve neat or over ice.

Of course, you can adjust the amount of soda water to taste; I found 1:1 to be just around right for mine. Much more Cocchi than that tasted too syrupy and, well, American soda-like, and much less tasted too thin & watered-down.

Light, refreshing, & with an interesting character. The bitterness from the Ango balances the sweetness from the Cocchi, & the herbal elements of both play exceptionally well together. This is one I’ll definitely have to keep in my back pocket for when the summer months roll around again.

Recipe: Port Antonio

Ugh…I’ve been treating this blog like my poor red-headed stepchild & for that I am truly sorry. Hopefully I’ll be able to post at least a little more often. :P

But enough mea culpas. Today, I have a tasty cocktail to share with you: the Port Antonio. We’ve had the recipe in the database for a while; I can’t remember where we originally got it, but a little googling revealed that it’s been covered by both Cocktail Virgin Slut & CocktailDB.

Port Antonio

  • 1 oz gold rum
  • ½ oz dark rum
  • ½ oz lime juice
  • ½ oz coffee liqueur
  • ¼ oz velvet falernum

Shake with ice, strain into a cocktail glass, & garnish with a lime wheel

port antonioThe recipe as we have it in our database calls for Lemon Hart 80, Diplomatico Reserva Exclusivo, & Khalua. This is the way Cocktail Virgin Slut has it, who mentions tracking it back to Stan Jones’s 1977 The Complete Bar Guide. (I don’t have a copy handy but I’m willing to take it on faith.)

For the rums, I used Montanya Oro and Pampero Aniversario because they were what we had handy (and are both pretty good). To be honest I am not much of a Kahlua fan & gave some serious thought to replacing it with Tia Maria or Firelit, but decided in the end that, at least for the first time around, I should try it as close to as-written as possible.

The Port Antonio did not disappoint! A nice balance of sweet & sour (Falernum & lime juice are reliable that way), plus a delicious, rich, faintly chocolatey character from the dark rum & Kahlua. In short, a tiki drink for fall.

I do want to try it with a different coffee liqueur, just to see how it turns out; I may also try futzing with the amount of lime juice a little bit as I think there may be just a touch too much. If I do, I’ll post something more about it. In the mean time, highly recommend!

Recipe: Hail Mary & Flash-Infused Clove Bourbon

In the last few months, we’ve been doing impromptu cocktail labs with our good friend & mixologist-in-crime, Dan. Cocktail labs can vary in size and number of participants, but typical they are held at his place or ours, and participants generally bring anything mixo-wise that they are excited about or want to experiment with while the host venue provides the rest of the spirits.

It had been a while since we’d had a good cocktail lab. This is doubly sad because lately Dan has been experimenting with infusing his own spirits with various herbs / spices / fruit / what have you, and we’d had yet to sample the results. So the other night Dan packed up his experiments & brought them over for a few hours. (Infusions & home-made bitters, including more info on Dan’s experiments, will have to be a different post.)

dan's experiments

Dan’s experiments — more to come on that.

After tasting several of his creations, I voiced an inclination to infuse bourbon with cloves. This is not a new inclination; in fact, I’ve been musing about it since late-2008, ever since I had a Manhattan garnished with cloves at some industry event in SF. (Not that I’d ever done anything about it.) Fortuitously, Dan has also been experimenting with flash infusions, whereby particularly strong herbs or seasonings can be left to sit in a spirit for as little as 20-30 minutes with excellent results. We had already done a rather successful flash infusion of juniper berries and sage with tequila that evening, and Dan figured that cloves were strongly-flavored enough that a flash infusion could work. So we gave it a shot!

Flash-Infused Clove Bourbon:

Combine 4 oz Maker’s Mark (or similar) bourbon with 1-2 tablespoons whole cloves.

Let infuse for 30 minutes.


I think we used closer to 2 T cloves (though I didn’t measure), but how much you use can be adjusted to taste. It’s also probably worth tasting it every 5 minutes or so after 20 minutes to see where the flavor is in terms of intensity. We used Maker’s because we buy it by the handle & figured we could afford to throw it out if it sucked; alternatively, you could probably use anything you’ve got a lot of & whose flavor profile you don’t mind knocking wildly out of the ballpark.

It turned out fabulously! One thing that we are all learning about infusing spirits with things that come from plants is that you will inevitably get some amount of tannin-flavor; to me this comes across as tea notes. How much & how fast the tannins infuse into the spirit and how strong they ultimately are appears to vary widely from herb to herb. With the cloves (and with the small amount of time they were in the bourbon), the tannin flavor was definitely noticeable, but not overpowering, and I thought it actually worked very nicely (gave the bourbon a toddy-sort-of-feel when tasting it straight, and would probably work well in toddy-like cocktails).

Then we started mixing with it. We tried a few different things with varying results; I may end up posting a few others that turned out well, but we all agreed that this one was best and simplest:

Hail Mary

Combine equal parts:

  • Flash-infused clove bourbon
  • Yellow chartreuse
  • Grapefruit juice

Shake with ice & double strain into a cocktail glass

I love it any time a simple cocktail can be fantastic!

More to come on Cocktail Lab. We have all agreed that we do it far too infrequently, and that is a downright shame. We also agreed that this should be remedied. ;)

Post-script: When I re-made the clove-infused bourbon this most recent time, I sort of forgot about it and let it infuse for two hours instead of just thirty minutes. As you’d expect, it was much stronger in terms of its clove flavor, but still quite good and very usable! In fact, I actually thought the Hail Mary I made with this stronger infusion was better than the ones we made during Cocktail Lab. So I suppose the moral of the story is that one should experiment with different infusion times, as a lot of how good they are is probably down to personal preference.

Cocktail Bar: The Aviary

It took us awhile, in the course of our pre-Chicago research, to figure out exactly what The Aviary was. At first we thought it was just another high-end cocktail bar. Then we figured out that it was a kind of new, swanky cocktail bar and we might have to wait a while to get in. Then we found out it was attached to Next; then we figured out what Next is. Then we kind of went, “Holy shit. We HAVE to go there.”

So what IS The Aviary? It’s a cocktail bar attached to Grant Achatz’s relatively new molecular gastronomy joint Next. (If you’re a hardcore foodie or know Chicago well, you may know of Achatz’s other molecular gastronomy place, Alinea, one of the handful of restaurants in North America to garner three Michelin stars.) If you’re unfamiliar with molecular gastronomy (I only learned about it relatively recently), the thirty-second explanation is that it’s an avant garde kind of cuisine that involves doing crazy, labor-intensive / high-tech processes to food to make it extra fun / cool / novel / artistic / what have you. (Read more here or watch this cool video.) So The Aviary is like that, but with cocktails.

Apparently, when it first opened back in April, things were a little bit ape-shit in terms of getting in to try it. Things seem to have calmed down somewhat in recent weeks, but we still thought it safest to try to get a reservation. As anyone familiar with Next will tell you, though, this isn’t quite as simple as just ringing them up and putting your name down. What you’ve got to do is email reservations [at] theaviary [dot] com between 10am and 4pm on the day you want to go with your party size; then they randomly select 10 emails and assign you a reservation time (6pm, 8pm, or 10pm). They’ll take walk-ins if they have space, but we didn’t want to risk it, so we tried to get a reserved table for the second evening we were in town. And huzzah! Reservations accomplished for 6pm. (Realistically, the place was empty enough when we arrived that we probably could have walked in at 6pm, so if you can’t get a reservation, you might have some luck if you’re able to go on the early side.)

Inside, The Aviary is one big, spacious, room with high ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows. It’s arranged like a restaurant, though like many other high-end cocktail bars that do table reservations, the tables are smaller than in restaurants. Seating consists of plush couches that run around the perimeter of the room and chairs for those seated towards the inside of the room. The actual bar (kitchen?) is far to your right, with the “chefs” sequestered behind bars (like a bird cage—get it? Haha). The menu lists cocktails ($14 - $28), a few flight options, and several “bites” for $3 - $5 each (and they really are, literally, one bite each). Birds fly off to the left of the cocktail list; the farther out the bird flies, the more complex and daring the flavor combinations. The farther down the list, the dryer the drink will be. We perused for a moment, then got to work. (One last note — I completely failed at photographing the menu or taking notes of any kind, and they don’t list the cocktails online, so I’m mainly going off my memory. Apologies for any gaps.)

Round 1:

  • Blueberry (left - rye, sweet vermouth, maybe something else?) This one probably the one you’ll see a lot of if you do an image search for The Aviary, and it sounds like pretty much everyone orders one. The spirits are served inside a glass cylinder amidst strawberries, blueberries, citrus peel, mint, violets, and maybe a few other things. It arrives with a tiny glass, which, our server explained, encourages you to pour only a little at a time, allowing the rest of the liquid to sit in the container and infuse. With each pour, the drink was darker and more intense and fruity. I really enjoyed starting off with this one — it was relatively light and aperitif-like, especially at first, which let you taste a lot of the more subtle fruit & herbal flavors interacting with the rye.
  • Rooibous (right, pre-infusion, and above right, post-infusion - apologies, Aviary, if I’m spelling it wrong; it’s prounced ROY-bus; basically an herbally-infused gin tea) This drink actually came in a little chemistry set. (Actually, I’ve seen that piece of equipment before in coffee shops, so I’m assuming that’s its original purpose, but I don’t know the name of it and have been unsuccessful in finding out). In the top chamber, they put almonds, jasmine, lavender, orange peel, and maybe a few other things. The little pot below contained gin. Our server then lit a Bunsen burner beneath the gin, which caused it to evaporate up into the top chamber where it infused with all the lovely herbs. When the Bunsen burner was removed, the now-infused gin trickled back down into its little pot for me to pour into my mug, still steaming. I loved this drink! It was very, very tasty (you could really taste everything that was in it), definitely on the lighter side, and I could see it either as an aperitif as we had it or as a nice one to end the evening with.

Round 2:

  • Bourbon (left - a cognac-based drink; there’s not actually any bourbon in it) Before serving this cocktail, they set a piece of wood from a bourbon barrel on fire, then turn the glass upside down over the flame until it extinguishes. The server brought this setup, along with the actual cocktail in a different vessel, to our table; when she turned it over, a big cloud of bourbon-ey smoke went up from the glass. Then she poured the cocktail into it. Although there is no bourbon in the cocktail, you would swear that’s what it is from the aroma (which does a pretty amazing job of sticking to the glass). Very tasty, and although the actual cocktail was subtle, the bourbon aromas gave it a lot of body and flavor.
  • Pine (right - scotch ale, champagne, angostura bitters, maybe something else?) At least I think that’s what it was called. Or Spruce. Something Scottish. No flashy tricks to this drink; just a very unique, tasty, well-balanced cocktail. I think this is the first beer cocktail I’ve ever had that I thought was really fantastic. The bird definitely flies far to the left on this one; it will not be for everyone (particularly if they’re not beer folks), but we really enjoyed it.

Round 3:

  • Ginger (top & middle - ginger-flavored super-cooled ice balls, chili peppers, vodka, lemon grass) The rocks glass filled with the ginger ice and peppers is served separately from the glass of vodka; the idea is to pour the vodka over the ice, then used the swizzle stick fashioned from lemon grass to mix it all together. I wouldn’t say it was my favorite of the night, but it was still pretty tasty.
  • Pineapple (bottom right - sanbittèr, green chartreuse, maybe something else). The only really fancy thing about this one was the bizarre glass it came in, and the way a layer of ice was frozen around the inner surface of the glass, forming a kind of ice tube. (This kept the drink cold and the outside frosty.) Much like the Scotch / Pine beer cocktail, this one was just good. I’m a sucker for anything with green chartreuse, and though I still have not thoroughly investigated this sanbittèr stuff, it definitely lent something tasty to the cocktail. (It did not taste like pineapple, just fyi.)

On a final note, we read a couple of reviews by folks who didn’t really think the cocktails themselves were that good, and that most of Aviary’s appeal was all the MG tricks. I have to say that I 95% disagree — I thought that all the cocktails we had were actually very tasty. No, we probably would not have paid the extra $5-8 per drink if this had been a more traditional cocktail spot, but even without all the cool MG stuff, the end results themselves would certainly not be out of place on the menu of a place like Tiny Lounge or Violet Hour. (We did hear that the famous Old Fashioned that comes served in a frozen egg that must be cracked open wasn’t all that spectacular, but then again we also heard that the Ginger was watery and weak, which we did not find to be the case at all.)

In my opinion, though, super fun and worth it. Here’s hoping that the next time we go, the crazy basement space (supposed to be polar opposite of Aviary) will be open!

Cocktail Bar: The Tiny Lounge

After a couple of rounds at The Whistler, we made our way over to The Tiny Lounge in North Center. Contrary to what you might assume, The Tiny Lounge is actually not all that tiny, but was definitely on the empty side when we were there. This was awesome, because we got to hang out & chat with Ollie the wonderful bartender until they closed at two.

Initially I think the plan (insofar as there was a plan) was to have a couple rounds & call it good for the night. Fortunately, conversations with Ollie led to, um, slightly more than a couple of rounds from the menu, and then a couple more off of an outdated menu, and then a small beer flight, and yyyyyeahhh. It was not a short evening, nor a cheap one, but it was DAMN tasty.

With one exception, we were wowed by everything we had here. Alas, not everything we had is listed on the website menu, and I will admit to not having been diligent about my note-taking while I was there, but here are most: tl cocktails 1

  • Lakshmi (left, on the right - hayman’s old tom gin, st. germain, mathilde pear liqueur, cava) - This was the one that we weren’t as impressed with; Don thought the cava was out of balance with the rest of the ingredients, whereas I just thought it was slightly too subtle for my taste.
  • Wyatt Earp (2nd pic, on the left - rye whiskey, ginger-infused simple syrup, fresh pear juice, fresh lemon juice) - A spectacular whiskey cocktail with all kinds of tasty things in it that I wouldn’t have thought to try. Delicious & well-balanced.
  • Gingerberry Rose (top of the lower two pics - nolet’s silver gin, cranberry-ginger reduction, rose water, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup, fresh egg white, mint leaf) - Just amazing. Incredibly hard to describe, as it was so unique, but like the Wyatt Earp, a big part of why this was so good had to do with the interesting (yet fantastically well-balanced) combination of ingredients

    tl cocktails 2

  • Root Down (next to the Wyatt Earp - hayman’s old tom gin, ramazotti, angostura bitters, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup, fresh egg white, orange zest) - What more can I say? This was fabulous as well, and super-root beer-ey!

I deeply, deeply wish I could remember the name of this last cocktail with the strawberry garnish and what all was in it, but it doesn’t look like they have that one online right now. However, if you look closely at the menu shot at the very top of this post, you can see part of the list of ingredients (click to embiggen). It’s near the bottom right corner, and the part you can see says “balsamic syrup, rhubarb bitters, splash of cava.” There may have been a time when something like balsamic syrup in a cocktail might have caused me to raise a doubtful eyebrow, but now these types of things just get me all excited about what new and different flavors they’ll bring.

And WOW! Did it ever. At first, I was amazed at how well the balsamic & strawberry flavors melded together; then I remembered that only a few weeks ago I’d made a salad that had included strawberries and was dressed with balsamic vinegar and it had worked fabulously. Still, freaking amazing cocktail, and I’m so sad that I can’t remember what it was (but seriously, if you’re there, ask Ollie or whoever’s working about it).

Lastly, for all that this is a cocktail blog, I must give mad props to The Tiny Lounge folks for their wine and beer lists. They apparently don’t do a ton of volume in wine, but they do have some pretty special stuff (Turley, for example, a pretty small central California producer that we get down to a couple times each year) for crazy low markups (like under 50%). And as I mentioned before, we ended up doing a mini-beer tasting while we were there, which gave us the opportunity to try some really tasty stuff from microbreweries we’d never heard of (a couple of which were local). In particular, I loved the Left Hand Milk Stout, so maybe give that a try if that’s your bag.

Two down, four (?) to go!

Cocktail Bar: The Whistler

WELL. We just got back from six days in Chicago, and let me tell you, we were not remiss in our cocktail research while we were there. Pre-trip, there was definitely a spreadsheet of various & sundry Chicago cocktail bars, links to reviews, & location information including both street address and proximity to our hotel. Sadly, we weren’t able to hit them all, but I’d say we got a generous sampling and now know exactly where to head when we go back (because it’s very clearly a ‘when,’ not an ‘if’ — cocktails aside, Chicago is an AMAZING town).

The first bar we went to was a cozy spot in Logan Square called The Whistler. Most definitely the smallest of the places we visited, The Whistler functions as both a high-end cocktail bar as well as a live music venue (there was contemporary jazz going on when we arrived), with a small patio with a few tables & chairs out back. Between the jazz and the mostly candlelit interior, I could see where the place got its hip / retro reputation. On the other hand, it was pretty funny to read all the reviews dubbing The Whistler “the most hipster-est bar EVAR;” either it was an off night, or Chicago has a very different idea of what a hipster is than we do here in SF. There were a couple of dudes in skinny jeans and one with some nice beard action, but for the most part it just seemed like regular guys & gals chillin with some good drinks. Then again, the only beers available are PBR and Lone Star, so take from that what you will.

roman spring & busy bee

To cocktails! In spite of the fact that it was a Tuesday night, the place was reasonably full, and it took a few minutes of leaning over the bar with intention to get an order placed and a few more after that before drinks arrived (nothing we’re not used to here, of course).

We tried four drinks in all:

  • Busy Bee (above right - Bols Genever, Hayman’s Old Tom Gin, Lime, Combier Orange Liqueur, Honey, Mint) - This was delicious, easy drinking and very well-made. Not ground-breaking in terms of what it was, but tasty nonetheless.
  • Roman Spring (above left - El Dorado 12 Year Rum, Old Fitzgerald Bourbon, Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth, Cynar) - This one wasn’t bad, but it was definitely a lot of intense flavor in one drink. Was not really the drink for either of us, but it was still interesting.
  • Viking Funeral (below right - North Shore Aquavit, Luxardo Amaro Abano, Lemon, Egg White) - This was really the winner of the night. The VF may have only been the second or third aquavit cocktail I’ve ever had (the previous ones were at a North Shore tasting in SF, interestingly), and it was certainly the first in several years. It adds such a clean, crisp flavor, and I love what the egg white did for the mouth feel. roman spring & busy bee
  • Southern Exposure (below left - Tabernero Pisco, Mezcal Vida, Raspberry Syrup, Maraschino Liqueur, Lime, Mint, Allspice Dram) - We also thought this one was excellent. The smokiness of the mezcal worked really well with the allspice & mint — definitely not combinations I would have thought to try!

Also, here’s the kicker — these tasty elixirs will set you back a whopping $8 each. As good as they are, you really can’t beat the value.

Not a bad start. Not at all. Thanks for the good times, Whistler! :)

Spirit: OWS California Gold Rush Rye
California Gold Rush RyeI am now kicking myself for not taking a picture (this one is from the K&L Spirits Blog), but on Thursday evening, Davorin Kuchan of Old World Spirits was at Elixir (one of my favorite whiskey & cocktail bars) in San Francisco showing off his wares. In particular, we were super excited to try his new rye (soon to be released!), which he’s christened “California Gold Rush.”

If you like rye, you must try it. Let me caution you, though—this is not your run-of-the-mill rye whiskey. The nose to me had a lot in common with Kuchan’s heavenly eux de vies, including the tang of brandy and some of the fruity notes. This made a lot of sense once he explained that he used the eux de vie yeasts instead of more traditional brewer’s yeasts. I also got a lot more of the unadulterated rye in both the nose and the taste than in most other ryes that I’ve had. Apparently Kuchan wanted this rye to embody the smells of his grandmother cooking fresh rye bread, which you get even more in the aftertaste. Because it’s aged in oak barrels, a lot of rye tends to have a strong caramel or vanilla character to it; California Gold Rush, on the other hand, apparently spent very little time in oak so that the pure rye flavors come through without being overpowered.

I enjoyed this rye a lot. It’s definitely a unique bottling, though, so it may not be for everyone. Still, I don’t think you can go wrong with giving it a try if you’re able to get hold of it. (As with everything OWS makes, it will be a small batch, and will most likely only available locally.)

While we were there, we also got a little taste of the next generation of the Rusty Blade barrel-aged gin (on the short list for most delicious spirit I’ve ever had) and the most recent version of the Black Walnut Liqueur. I’ve always loved the stuff, but this incarnation had a little more pumpkin spice / clove / nutmeg going on than the bottling we have at home, which I found incredibly tasty. Definitely need to make sure we get more of that when the current bottle runs out!

Recipe: Corpse Reviver #2 & Rusty Corpse

I had my first Corpse Reviver #2 while touring Old World Spirits in Belmont (I may have mentioned them once or twice before…) with a few other spirit lovers. The owner and distiller, Davorin Kuchan, was telling us about his Blade gin (which I think is wonderful — more about it on the “Gin” page).

After letting us try it straight, he whipped up a batch of Corpse Reviver #2’s, which were fantastic for a couple of reasons. First, because this was kind of a turning point for me with gin, and it made me so happy to taste one that I really loved and didn’t just tolerate. Second, because the cocktail itself was just delicious, and I’d never had one before. And finally, because it was one of the first times I’d had a gin cocktail where I could taste the gin and was happy about that fact. The particular profile of the Blade gin melded so well with the citrus and anise — it struck me as flawlessly balanced, with the other flavors really bringing out the unique notes in this particular gin.

Here’s the traditional recipe:

Corpse Reviver #2

1 oz. gin
1 oz. Cointreau
1 oz. Lillet Blanc
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
1 dash absinthe

Shake with ice, then strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange peel.

As if the Blade on its own wasn’t amazing enough, Kuchan went and barrel aged a bunch of it to create a small batch of what he calls "Rusty Blade". We tasted a barrel sample while we were there, which was one of the strangest alcohol-tasting-related experiences I’d had at that point. The stuff was amazing; when it came out, we bought two bottles (and would’ve bought more if it weren’t so pricey; you have the cost of French oak barrels to thank for that). It remains one of my favorite spirits for both mixing and sipping.

Rusty CorpseSo, once we got the Rusty Blade, I had to try the Corpse Reviver #2 with it. Call it a “Rusty Corpse,” if you want:

Rusty Corpse

1 oz. Rusty Blade barrel-aged gin
1 oz. Cointreau
1 oz. Lillet Blanc
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
1 dash absinthe

Shake with ice, then strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange peel.

This was just amazing. The barrel age brings just a little additional warmth and roundness to the other cocktails, while still maintaining the lovely balance of the original. This is a modification I’ll likely be making again and again (until we run out of Rusty Blade, that is). :)

Recipe: The Gentle Hand

Try as I might, I have never much cared for Campari.  To me it is excruciatingly, unbearably bitter, and though I can tolerate drinks made with a small amount of it, I’ve never enjoyed cocktails where it’s a significant ingredient.  As Campari is a rather historic and ubiquitous substance in the world of mixology, this means there are a number of classic drinks that I can’t really appreciate, including the Negroni, the Americano, and the Right Hand.

Enter the wonderful world of Aperol.  AperolLike Campari, Aperol is a bright-red, herbal-tasting Italian aperitif (made by the same company, in fact), and aspects of the two flavor profiles are strikingly similar.  Aperol, however, is only 11% alcohol, whereas Campari is 25% (in the US; ABV varies from 20%-28% in other countries).  In addition (and most relevant for me), Aperol is on par with, say, grapefruit juice in terms of bitterness, whereas Campari has always struck me as more on the level of fingernail polish remover (not its actual flavor, mind you; just the level of bitterness).

I was thrilled when we got our first bottle of Aperol, because it meant there was some hope of me finally being able to appreciate something that remotely resembled all the Campari drinks I’ve never been able to choke down.  The first cocktail I modified was the Right Hand, which I first encountered on the back of a bottle of Bitterman’s Xocolatl Mole Bitters:

Right Hand

1 ½ oz Aged Rum (Matusalem Gran Reserva)
¾ oz Carpano Antica
¾ oz Campari
2 dashes Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters

Stir and serve up in a cocktail glass

In the modified version, I used Pampero Aniversario in place of Matusalem (because it’s reasonably close & what we had on hand), and of course substituted Aperol for Campari.  As you’d expect, the result was definitely sweeter than the original, and the grapefruit flavor didn’t come through as strongly. To balance out the sweetness, we also threw in a few dashes of grapefruit bitters, which worked amazingly well in terms of bringing the flavor profile a little bit closer to the original.

The herbal flavors in the Aperol still work well with the vermouth, and the warm, spicy flavors from the rum and bitters round it all out and tie the Gentle Handsweetness and bitterness together nicely.  Best of all, I can drink it.   For this reason, I christened it the “Gentle Hand”:

Gentle Hand

1 ½ oz Aged Rum (Pampero Aniversario or similar)
¾ oz Carpano Antica
¾ oz Aperol
2 dashes Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters
3 dashes Bittermens Grapefruit Bitters

Stir and serve up in a cocktail glass

Campari lovers may scoff, but at least I finally have a use for Campari recipes.  :)