It is once again time for Mixology Monday – the monthly online cocktail party! This month, Dagreb from Nihil Utopia throws an interesting challenge out – Forgiving Cocktails! Specifically, he describes this as:
I’ll be honest, when the MxMo theme is too metaphorical I struggle with the concept; usually I opt out. Hopefully my theme for this month doesn’t vex you in a similar fashion. The idea has been rolling around in my head for a while, the idea of forgiving cocktails. I’ll attempt to explain.
It could be the antithesis of a drink so delicately structured that even 1/8 oz too much or too little of an ingredient causes a train-wreck. I’m not suggesting all out free-pouring but perhaps you’ve come across a recipe that can roll with the punches of an over/under pour now and again. Perhaps you’re at a ballroom or a hotel and the unenthusiastic and/or fresh-faced (bar) staff don’t inspire confidence. They may not know Campari from calamari but If you want a cocktail what do you do? Order something that can’t go too wrong. A Manhattan? Perhaps a Negroni or whatever in your wheelhouse is the drink equivalent of pizza, …or sex. (you recall that old adage don’t you?)
This idea of forgiving cocktails first began for me when one night I swapped the “bottom shelf” for the “top middle shelf” and was delighted by the results. It wasn’t exactly the same but it was delicious none the less! The idea continued with other drinks that welcomed whichever brand I was pouring. Perhaps for you similar things have happened with a Mai Tai or an Adonis. Perhaps you’ve made a stinger with Spanish brandy and been pleased with the results? Whatever it may be find or invent a drink you feel is a forgiving cocktail and share the results.
I admit that I was struggling at first. I have fallen back on using some familiar cocktails that are not so exacting in proportions for previous Mixology Mondays. The Old Fashioned provides a lot or variation that is varied to taste, even the Sazerac is a quick variation on the Old Fashioned in many ways. The Negroni is a simple three part cocktail where the ratios themselves do not matter so much as balancing the different components. What was I going to find that was new and different? Keeping with Paul Clarke’s admonition of simplicity, elegance, and timelessness reflected in MxMO C – Cocktail Chronicles, how was I also going to keep it simple?
A few days ago I was reading a 1964 version of The Joy of Cooking and stumbled across the description of the Champagne Cocktail that included splashes of brandy and chartreuse.
Yes, you read that correctly.
My mind started turning over and over with the possibilities. The basic Champagne Cocktail is a bitter drenched sugar cube at the bottom of a champagne flute, topped with champagne and garnished with a lemon twist. A quick check of Imbibe by David Wondrich notes his enjoyment of the Champagne Cocktail variation that includes brandy. When I went to check my 1997 Joy of Cooking, there was not even a mention of specific cocktails in the Entertaining section. Something seemed like a true horizon opening before me.
Somehow, I had not considered the possibilities here in this simple format. Like an Old Fashioned, this basic rubric adds a little bit of sweetness, a little bit of complexity and bitterness, and a hint of citrus to a base component. The characteristic dryness of most champagnes would be offset and accentuated, like salt on chocolate, with these ingredients. After the Feast of the 7 Fishes posts last week, I thought immediately of Prosecco – the less dry and less carbonated cousin of champagne from Italy. Because the Prosecco has more sweetness, I went with a Fernet to drench the sugar cube, specifically the Luxardo Fernet that has a greater bitter component than the more mint-forward Fernet Branca. Once I added the Prosecco, I topped the drink with a splash of Cappelletti vino russo amaro to add the citrus components and also to play its herbal flavors against the Fernet’s. The lemon twist completed the drink and the bubbles streamed beautifully from the sugar cube.
- 1 Sugar Cube
- Splash of Fernet
- Splash of Cappelletti or other citrus amaro like Aperol or Campari
- Lemon Twist
- Place a sugar cube in the bottom of a sparkling wine flute
- Soak or drench the cube with the Fernet, careful not to spill it down the glass
- Top with Prosecco
- Add the splash of Cappelletti
- Express the lemon twist over the drink, rub the rim, and garnish
The Fernet and Cappelletti serve to dry out the Prosecco a bit while the sugar cube in the bottom contributes a more forward sweetness. The glass streams bubbles off the sugar cube, slowly dissolving it into the drink as you go. The complexity of the herbs certainly comes through with a strong flavor of bittering agents like gentian that prevents the sugar from making the drink too sweet.
The best part as I sit here writing is that I am imagining how many different ways I can manipulate this beverage. Different wines, obviously, have different flavor profiles, and different accentuating components will change it completely. In the wake of our truly expansive craft beer scene, using a beer here is also running through my mind. Any recipe that lives in measurements of a “splash” or “dash” is forgiving and what may be a substandard bubbly can be brought back to life with a splash from an already opened bottle of amaro or liqueur.
Cheers, Dagreb, for helping me stumble upon this new line of thought I will likely revisit soon!