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The Negroni

I am just finishing up Jason Wilson's great book Boozehound.  While I have really enjoyed reading the entire tome, I find myself going back to his chapter on Italian aperitif wines and bitter spirits and making these cocktails again and again. I have already broken my New Year's resolution to stop adding bottles to my bar at an ungodly pace (yes, it's only January 7th - sigh), cleaning out my local liquor store's selection of bitter spirits and busily toying with bitter-flavored cocktails these past weeks. See these posts on the Brooklyn, Pamplemousse D'Amour and the Corpse Reviver No. 2.

Since the Ace is on a bitter kick I figured that I would profile probably the most basic and also the best-known of the bitter cocktails - the Negroni.  If this cocktail has not already permeated the cocktail menu at every hipster joint in your town, trust me that it will sometime in 2011.  And while I am not one for fads, I must admit that the Negroni is a great little cocktail that is worthy of your attention.  Not everyone will like it - after all, bitter has long ago exited the American taste palate and may take a long time to re-enter - but those that can hack the bitter qualities of the dominant spirit will love it.  

The basics of the Negroni are pretty simple.  The traditional recipe is as follows:


1 oz. Campari
1 oz. dry gin (I prefer Plymouth or No. 209)
1 oz. Carpano D'Antica sweet vermouth

Put an up glass into the freezer to chill. Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with lots of ice and stir briskly for 30 seconds until well chilled. Strain into the chilled up glass and garnish with orange zest.  

This is an excellent drink that balances the bitterness of Campari with the floral qualities of gin and the earthy, raisin-like qualities of Carpano. 

But Campari is just one of the plethora of interesting new bitter spirits out there that can lay claim to some form of European heritage.  There are a number of excellent new bitters and amari out there that combine herbs and vegetal flavors with fortified wine.  One new entrant in this space is Gran Classico, (see a profile of it from Imbibe Magazine here) a new product from Tempus Fugit Spirits that markets itself as the long-lost "Bitter of Turin".  It lists a Negroni recipe right on the back of the bottle, thereby competing directly with Campari for the hearts and minds of Negroni drinkers.

So I mixed up a pair of Negroni cocktails - one using the traditional Campari and the other one replacing Campari with Gran Classico.  

The first thing that jumps out at you when you compare these cocktails is the color.  Its tough to tell from the picture at right, but Campari has a bright red coloring - something along the lines of a raspberry syrup.  This gives the Campari Negroni its slightly supernatural but quaintly familiar red coloring. The Gran Classico Negroni is brown - much like you would expect from a Manhattan or any other whiskey- or cognac-based cocktail.  

As different as these two drinks look, the real difference is in the taste. Again, Campari tastes very good - and there's something familiar about the slightly syrupy sweetness of the Campari and the way that it downplays the bitter flavoring of the spirit.  It comes across to me like a spirit geared toward the traditional American market's attitude toward it's flavor profile - pleasantly bitter but not too much so. 

Contrast this with the Gran Classico Negroni, which was the winner for me. The Gran Classico spirit comes through with an unfettered bitter quality that lets the vermouth do the work in sweetening in this cocktail. I really preferred the herb-forward, bitter flavoring of the Gran Classico. In short, for my dollar the Gran Classico yields a higher-end, more artisanal cocktail.  

Campari is still a great spirit with a lot of utility in the home bar.  And many readers out there may find that they prefer the Campari flavoring over the alternatives. Whichever bitter flavoring you choose, there are a wealth of really great cocktail recipes out there that take advantage of this fashionable flavor profile.  More coming soon...


Three for Brunch Please

So I am headed off tomorrow morning for a little New Year's brunch at some friends' house, and Mrs. The Ace signed me up for brunch cocktails for the event. From a mixology perspective, weekend brunches can be very tough events for mixing cocktails. You normally get a lot of folks that don't prefer to tipple on some combination of the following occasions:

  1. Ever;
  2. Before noontime; or
  3. While their kids are running around the joint looking for steep staircases and/or sharp objects.

So The Ace keeps it simple at brunches. Money drinks only, folks. For tomorrow's little soiree I have picked three of my favorites. The process of prepping the drinks tonight inspired me - so here goes. This is what's on my brunch menu tomorrow AM. Stop by if you're in the neighborhood...


Ramos Gin Fizz
Adapted from Henry Ramos recipe at New Orleans' Meyer's Restaurant (1880s)

2 oz. Hayman's Old Tom Gin
1/2 oz. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/2 oz. fresh-squeezed lime juice
1 oz. heavy whipping cream
1 egg white
1 oz. simple syrup or gum arabic
3 dashes orange flower water
2 drops vanilla extract
club soda
Orange Bitters

Pour all ingredients except for club soda and bitters into a shaker WITHOUT ICE for at least 30-60 seconds - long enough to emulsify the egg white into a nice frothy head. Then add ice and shake for another 60 seconds until the drink is extremely cold and frothy.  

Pour the contents of the shaker through a fine strainer into a tall collins glass.  Use a barspoon to stir the drink while pouring approximately 1 inch of club soda over top of the drink. The club soda will turn the frothy head of the drink into something like a meringue topping for the drink.  Finish the drink with a couple drops of the orange bitters.  

Okay - this drink takes a fair bit of work to prepare.  And the cream and the egg white might scare off one or two of you. But this drink is absolutely worth the time and effort. This is like cocktail comfort food - think orange dreamsicle for adults. Truly an incredible drink. The Ace uses this in all instances when the brunch companion claims that they "don't really like cocktails."   


St. Germain Cocktail
St. Germain's website  

2 oz. white wine (something simple and inexpensive will do just fine here) 
2 oz. club soda
1 1/2 oz. St. Germain elderflower liqueur

Pour the wine and St. Germain into a tall collins glass with 3 perfect ice cubes.  Use a bar spoon to stir the drink as you pour the club soda over the top of the drink.  Serve

This cocktail is not unusual nor is it particularly creative mixology.  It is, after all, straight off the distributor's promotional materials.  But that doesn't change the fact that this drink is perfect for this situation.  It is light, bright and bubbly (just like the The Ace!) and just tastes damned good.  


Celery Mary
Adapted from Scott Beattie's Artisanal Cocktails (2008)

1 1/2 oz. vodka (I use Hangar One Chipotle)
2 oz.  heirloom tomato juice (see recipe below)
1/2 oz. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/2 oz. Apple Farm apple balsamic vinegar
celery salt
kosher salt
black pepper 
15 pickled celery root matchsticks (see below)
13 young celery leaves

Combine the vodka, juices, vinegar, celery salt & pepper in a shaker and stir well. Add the celery root shoestrings and 10 of the celery leaves, fill the shaker with ice and shake. Pour the contents into a tall collins glass and garnish with the remaining celery leaves to serve. 

Heirloom Tomato Juice
Makes about 2.5 cups - enough for 10 cocktails

1 1/2 pounds heirloom tomatoes, at room temperature
1/2 tsp. kosher salt

Core the tomatoes and place them in a blender with the salt.  Puree until smooth, then strain the puree through a fine mesh strainer.  Press the puree through the strainer to get as much juice as possible.  

Note: Yes, I live in locavore Northern California.  And of course I am cheating - this is New Year's Day and I am using out-of-season heirloom tomatoes shipped in from god-knows-where.  My most sincere apologies.  This drink really is better with in-season tomatoes. I am working through my guilt one day at a time.  

Celery Root Matchsticks
Makes 150 pieces - enough for about 10 cocktails

1 pound celery root
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1 tablespoon dill seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons fenugreek
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 cups white wine vinegar
2 cloves
1 large bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
1 dried chili pepper

Trim the outside edges of the celery root into the shape of a cube.  Slice the cube into 1/8 inch thick squares, then slice the squares into matchstick-size pieces.  Set aside. 

Heat a stainless steel saute pan over medium heat.  Add the fennel, dill, fenugreek and coriander to the hot pan and shake the pan to evenly distribute the seeds over the surface of the pan.  Let the seeds rest over the heat until little wisps of smoke begin to rise out of the seeds (just a few seconds).  Remove the pan from heat and toss the spices in the pan a few times and set aside.  

Combine the sugar and vinegar in a stainless steel pot over high heat and bring to a boil. Stir in the toasted spice seeds and the cloves, bay leaf, cinnamon stick and chili pepper, then remove from heat.   

Place the celery root matchsticks into an airtight container along with the still-hot pickling juice and cool the mixture in the refrigerator before using.  The pickled matchsticks will keep in the refrigerator for 2-3 months.  

So again this is a pretty labor-intensive drink. But this is not your parents' bloody mary, folks. It's fresh and spicy (especially if you use the Hangar One Chipotle vodka), a little sweet with a yummy vinegar kick.  I tend to make a few batches of the celery sticks at once - pickled vegetables have a very half life in the fridge.  And the tomato juice is easy to whip up the night before.

Notes on preparation: 

  • The star of this drink is the apple balsamic vinegar.  It is truly beautiful stuff. It adds a little sweetness and a nice sharp acidity to the drink. Here's the website from the folks at Philo Apple Farm to order it - and YES they deliver.  
  • Celery leaves can be a little tricky to find, but they are essential to the drink. They give off a delicious celery aroma and a little grassy flavor - without any of the unpleasant stringy texture of actual celery. I usually get them at Berkeley Bowl - but when in a pinch I usually can find celery stalks at the big chain grocery stores with the leaves still attached.     

Reviving an Old Corpse

As you can see from my library page, I am a big fan of pre-Prohibition cocktails. Many of the books that I have used to develop my love of libations are from the era, so many of the cocktails from that era really speak to me.

Ah, and what a lovely corpse it is!One of the cocktails that has always intrigued me has been the Corpse Reviver No. 2. Different versions of the so-called Corpse Reviver cocktails began appearing in the cocktail world perhaps as far back as the 1800s, but I came across the Corpse Reviver No. 2 in Harry Craddock's Savoy Cocktail Book some years ago. The drink boasted a great combination of flavors - gin, orange liqueur, lemon juice and Kina Lillet.

At first glance this recipe looked quite easy to make. After all - I had plenty of gin, orange curacao and lemon on hand. And in a past life Mrs. The Ace lived in France and habitually keeps a bottle of Lillet Blanc in the fridge. I ran over to the liquor cabinet to whip up my supposed newest masterpiece.

The only problem - Harry Craddock's original recipe calls for Kina Lillet, not Lillet Blanc.  As you can read on this page, Kina Liillet and Lillet Blanc are unfortunately very different ingedients (for those too impatient to click through - Lillet Blanc is what was left once quinine was removed from Kina Lillet's recipe in the 1980s to suit modern American tastes). With Lillet Blanc, this is still a nice cocktail.  But the drink did still leave me a bit empty.  I filed it away in The Ace's vault as a "try again some other day" recipe.  

Fast forward to this past month, when I found a bottle of Cocchi Americano on the shelves at my local liquor store.  I had just read about Cocchi Americano in Jason Wilson's fine new book Boozehound so you can imagine my excitement to break out a Corpse Reviver once again with this new toy!  

Corpse Reviver No. 2
Adapted from Savoy Cocktail Book by Harry Craddock (1930)

3/4 oz. gin
3/4 oz. Combier (or other orange-flavored liqueur)
3/4 oz. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
3/4 oz. Kina Lilllet (use Cocchi Americano)

Place a coupe glass or other up glass in the freezer to chill - give 5 minutes for the glass to frost over. Combine all ingredients (except the absinthe) in a shaker with lots of ice and shake for at least 10 seconds. Pour absinthe into the chilled up glass and roll the absinthe around the glass as a rinse, then throw out the excess absinthe. Strain the drink into the glass and serve.

As you may have guessed - given that I am writing this post - the Cocchi Americano absolutely knocks this cocktail out of the park!  It adds that slight bitterness to the drink that makes this little gin beauty a complex, rich cocktail to savor.  

So yes, consider the old corpse revived - and enjoy the results!  Keep in mind that the drink was designed and thus named by Mr. Craddock as a drink to be taken in the morning or "whenever steam and energy are needed." And of course no exercise in dragging Mr. Craddock's timeless quotes around like this is complete without the reminder that you must be careful: "Four of these taken in quick succession will unrevive the corpse once again." 


The Old Fashioned

This past week I was in the Chicago area hanging out with Josh, an old friend from my grad school days.  I was away from the friendly confines of The Ace, but I wanted to be able to mix up a few drinks while away on vacation.  

The local liquor store was a little low on quality spirits available, but I was able to find a nice rye on offer (Michter's Single Barrel Rye) and they had Angostura's orange bitters.  So the answer was obvious - I would make my friend Josh and me some Old Fashioned cocktails.  

The Old Fashioned is perfect for these occasions.  It's a simple recipe with only a few easy-to-find ingredients, and it is relatively easy to make without a lot of bar tools.  Oh yeah - and it's an outstanding cocktail.  

The Old Fashioned also has the distinction of being another one of those classic cocktails that has been bastardized and nearly destroyed in the modern era.  Many overzealous bartenders have tried to soften the lovely hard edges of this fine drink with too much sugar, orange slices and/or maraschino cherries.  When all is said and done, the Old Fashioned is a mixture of whiskey, bitters, sugar and a little water with a tad of citrus oil for aroma.    

Being one of the true classic cocktails - and one with an outstanding name - the Old Fashioned has a significant place in American cocktail culture.  Many words have been written about the Old Fashioned.  A few of the more recent ones can be found on the American Drink blog here and here.  The drink even got a nice boost to its rugged manliness recently thanks to our friend Don Draper.   

Because of its general simplicity, the art of the Old Fashioned is in its proportions and in its preparation. You as the bartender are certainly welcome to play with the proportions to your taste - but I strongly recommend not playing with the preparation method.  100 years of this cocktail can't be all that wrong...

Here is the version that my friend Josh and I used to polish off that bottle of Michter's rye last week.

Old Fashioned Cocktail

2 oz. rye whiskey (bourbon works too, but rye is more historically accurate)
Angostura bitters (orange-flavored if available - but its fine to use their plan bitters if not)
club soda
1 sugar cube (or 1 tsp. of sugar if no cubes available)
1 orange

Place the sugar in a double old-fashioned glass.  Shake 2-4 dashes of bitters onto the sugar and muddle the bitters into the sugar to make a nice slurry of sugar-bitters in the bottom of the glass.  

Pour the whiskey into a separate mixing glass 1/2 full of ice and stir for at least 30 seconds - to get the whiskey nice and cold.  Pour the chilled whiskey and ice into the old-fashioned glass on top of the sugar-bitters slurry.  Pour a little club soda on top of the drink, and use a vegetable peeler to take a wide slab of peel from the orange.  Place the orange peel slab into the drink.  

Preparation Notes: 

  • It's fine to use bourbon - but rye whiskey is more indicative of the time from which The Old Fashioned originated
  • Orange-flavored Angostura bitters are clearly preferred here - but you may also use another orange bitters if you choose (Regan's No. 6 is great) or you can also just use Angostura's original bitters here to great effect 
  • Be sure to peel the orange over top of your drink glass to let the orange oils expunged in the peeling process fall into your drink
  • Peel off only the oily rind of your orange - try to avoid the pith (the white part) of the orange peel 

Gaby de Lys 

I have spoken a couple of times (including here) about Charles Baker's book The Gentleman's Companion. One of the favorites from this book is the Gaby de Lys.  I was originally drawn to this drink by the combination of orgeat (an almond-flavored sweetener) and absinthe (a strong anisette) - how could those two flavors possibly work together in a cocktail?  

But this drink really does comes together well.  The absinthe mainly lurks  in the background until the finish of the drink.  The orgeat gives the cocktail a silky texture to go with a greenish hue from chilled absinthe. It has a sophisticated, 1920s era air - much like the drink's namesake, who was an international stage star from that time. And then there's the unmistakable bite from the absinthe.  If you like pre-prohibtion era cocktails then this is an excellent one to try.  

Gaby de Lys 
Adapted from Jigger, Beaker and Glass: Drinking Around the World (1939) by Charles Baker

1 1/2 oz. gin
1/2 oz. orgeat (I strongly recommend using Small Hand Foods' fine orgeat)
1 tsp. absinthe

Place an up glass into the freezer and let chill for at least 5 minutes. Combine all ingredients in a shaker with lots of ice and shake well for at least 10 seconds until very cold.  Double strain into the frosted up glass and serve.  

 Notes on ingredients:

  • Be sure to use a simple gin without too much juniper flavoring.  I recommend Plymouth, Boodles, No. 209 or in a pinch Bombay regular (not Sapphire).  
  • Small Hand Foods has a great little orgeat that rocks in this drink.  If you have a homemade recipe of your own then go for it - just don't try using a high-fructose corn syrup-based bastardization of orgeat in this (or any other) recipe.
  • You may also use Pernod or herbsaint in the place of absinthe if you have those spirits laying around.