Drink of the Week: The Fancy Free Cocktail

The Fancy Free Cocktail.I love cocktails, but after an exceptionally tiring day, I don’t always love making them, so it’s nice to have a few options that require minimal effort. While the Old Fashioned, a Martini, and a Manhattan are all great possibilities on such an evening, they all also involve endless questions and debates regarding the right way to make them and innumerable, mostly valid, interpretations. Sometimes, you don’t want a drink with an interesting backstory, much less one offering endless iterations. Sometimes, you just want a sweet something to help you relax and nothing else.

Yes, the Fancy Free Cocktail, which I discovered via Robert Hess’s “The Essential Bartender’s Guide” (you can also see him making one circa 2009 here) is accurately named. You can serve it up (i.e. in a cocktail glass with no ice), but if you’re even lazier, you can build it in a glass and have it on the rocks. Garnishes are entirely optional, in case you can’t bring yourself to grab a fruit peeler or drop a cocktail cherry in. But you’d better like your drink strong and sweet.

The Fancy Free

2 ounces bourbon (rye may be an acceptable substitute)
1/2 ounce maraschino liqueur
1 dash Angostura/aromatic bitters
1 dash orange bitters
1 orange twist or cocktail cherry (entirely optional garnishes)

Method 1: Add the liquid ingredients to a mixing glass or cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Stir or shake (this is another one I personally prefer stirred) and strain into our old pal, the well-chilled cocktail glass. Add the garnish if you so choose.

Method 2 (the more fancy free Fancy Free): Add all the ingredients to a rocks/old fashioned glass with plenty of ice. Stir a lot and then add the garnish if you’re in a garnishing mood. Drink nice and slow.

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Some compare the Fancy Free to an Old Fashioned, and if you build it in a glass, it kind of looks like one. I’d say in its heart, it’s more like a Manhattan, however. The main thing is that richly sweet, complex flavor of the maraschino tends to dominate here, much more so than the sweetening agents in the above drinks. Moving on, I will say that I slightly prefer Method 1 of making this; I think it probably has something to do with finding just the right amount of dilution.

I tried a number of bourbons with the Fancy Free Cocktail, including Michter’s, Evan Williams and Maker’s Mark. All were fine. For whatever reason, Rittenhouse Rye was slightly less satisfactory, but really not bad. That’s interesting because, on paper, a less sweet rye may have been a slightly superior counterpoint to the maraschino. For whatever reason, though, this drink seems to embrace it’s inherent sweetness. Hence, while I think I’m the only person to suggest a cocktail cherry with a Fancy Free, I do so without embarrassment. It doesn’t hurt!

Speaking of maraschino liqueur — which by now you should know is a proper liqueur and in no way related to the red stuff you see in a bottle of blood-red supermarket┬ámaraschino cherries — I used both of the widely available brands. Sometimes, the very subtle distinctions between Luxardo and Maraska maraschino can make a difference in a cocktail, but not here. Maybe this drink is just too footloose and, yes, fancy free, to care about brands!