Drink of the Week: The Liberal (Old School Version)

The Liberal.At the start of Labor Day weekend 2014, I gave you the updated version of the Liberal, a classic cocktail that I still think fits very nicely with a holiday that was created to honor the American labor movement, but which was also placed on the calendar pretty far from International Workers Day (May 1), a holiday associated with labor movements that had more radical connections. As a center-left type who will very definitely NOT be voting for Jill Stein this coming November, I am quite comfortable being described as an old school bleeding heart liberal, and so I am happy to now be providing the old school version of the drink, more or less cribbed from Ted Haigh’s essential “Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails.” On the other hand, I’m sure conservatives could enjoy this drink as well; at least it’s not called The Progressive.

This version differs from the update I presented two years back in that it has equal parts of both whiskey and sweet vermouth, rather than emphasizing the base spirit, placing it a bit further from its roots as a variation on a Manhattan. It’s definitely a bit sweeter than the updated version, but I’m sure most people would prefer the older model for that very reason. See what you think.

The Liberal (old school version)

1 1/2 ounces bourbon or rye whiskey
1 1/2 ounces sweet vermouth
1/2 teaspoon Torani Amer
1-2 dashes orange bitters
1 cocktail cherry (optional garnish)

Combine the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass and either stir or shake vigorously, depending on your preference. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and add the cherry if you’ve got it. Salute your right to drink your cocktail shaken, stirred or at all, regardless of your race, religion (or lack thereof), gender identity or sexual preference.


Before we go any further, I should mention that I am doubling up on the original recipe. That’s because, back in the day, drinks were smaller and so 3/4 of an ounce of whiskey and 3/4 of an ounce of sweet vermouth made for a reasonably sized drink. Today, however, a drink that’s not even two ounces just might seem stingy, and no one likes a stingy liberal. Still, feel free to cut this one in half or engage in some liquid wealth redistribution and share this one with a friend.

It’s also worth noting that Ted Haigh’s recipe differs from mine in that I’m giving you a lot more leeway on your choice of whiskey.┬áHe calls specifically for 100 proof Wild Turkey, which is likely a misprint as Wild Turkey 101 is, not surprisingly, 101 proof. It’s also confusing because the venerable whiskey maker sells both a bourbon and a rye in that strength. I’m guessing he meant the bourbon, as that’s been around a lot longer. Nevertheless, I think that many different brands of bourbon and rye work very well on this one.

Not having any Wild Turkey on hand, I tried the Liberal with my default rye, 100 proof Rittenhouse, as well as Dickel and Canadian Club’s new rye. I also tried it, with very nice results, with Maker’s Mark, Michter’s and Evan Williams bourbons. In any case, the biggest difference was between using Carpano Antica vs. Noilly Pratt for the sweet vermouth. Somewhat surprisingly, given the bittersweet nature of the Carpano, using the less complex but always reliable Noilly Pratt resulted in a less sweet, lighter and more refreshing drink, which I personally liked better.

It’s also worth mentioning that one reason this version of the Liberal may go down a bit easier than the update is that it contains much less Torani Amer — a not always beloved substitute for the now pretty much unavailable Amer Picon, which the Liberal originally called for. If you don’t live in California, however, you might find it easier to substitute the Amaro of your choice, since for a number of reasons, Torani Amer is hard to find outside the Southwest. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to try a different amaro, so I can’t personally vouch for that.

I also found that I liked the Liberal a lot better shaken than stirred, though I know that goes against the conventional wisdom for this undersung cocktail. However, as a liberal, I will fight for your right to stir yours this holiday weekend, if such is your liquid preference.