What kind of drink do you want on Labor Day? Something so strong it’ll make you lose all ambition and forget you even have a job? Maybe you’d be better off with something so delicious and sweet it’ll make you glad you have some hard-earned sheckels and can actually afford some decent booze, but not so heavy duty with alcohol it’ll dehydrate you in the late summer heat or blitz you out to the point that you’re going to have to call in sick on Tuesday morning.
So, we turn to a variation on a genuine cocktail great, the Americano. This version substitutes Campari with Aperol, another liqueur from the same Italian manufacturer which only recently has become widely available on our shores but which I understand has been delighting Europeans en masse since some time not long after Benito Mussolini was given his eternal walking papers.
Aperol is something like a kinder and gentler lower alcohol variation on the super-sweet and super-bitter one-two punch of Campari. While I love it’s more potent cousin, Aperol is, on its own, a drink with just enough bitterness to underline its delightful sweetness. Using it in an Americano turns into a super refreshing beverage that’s as user-friendly as anything, but just complex enough, I think, to placate a not-too hardbitten cocktail snob. It’s worth a little labor, but making this drink is about as easy as drinking it.
The Aperol Americano
1 ounce Aperol
1 ounce sweet vermouth
Club soda or seltzer water
Orange slice (highly desirable garnish)
Add the Aperol and vermouth to an old fashioned glass with plenty of ice in it and maybe an orange slice or chunk. Top off with soda. Now here’s the difficult part — stir. You might consider toasting the hard working members of organized labor who helped you get that weekend you’re currently enjoying so much.
When I wrote about the Americano just slightly under a year ago, I described it as “a perfect drink for lightweights” despite the fact that I also noted it’s the first drink ordered by none other than James Bond in none other than the first James Bond novel, “Casino Royale.” Considering that lower alcohol content of Aperol vis-à-vis Campari, I guess this would be an even more perfect beverage for lightweights.
If that’s a little too perfect for you, it’s perfectly acceptable to do what I did and increase the Aperol and vermouth to 1 1/2 ounces each and make the drink in a somewhat larger Tom Collins/highball glass. It’s way good and it still won’t remove you from the workforce.
Last week, I decided it was time to finish off my Campari bottle in preparation for my upcoming move. I have now completed what I started — not the move, but the Campari bottle — with a really tasty classic cocktail featuring three other somewhat more common cocktail ingredients. Made correctly, this simple yet exacting cocktail named for a once world-famous fencer can parry the tastiest thrusts of all but the sharpest competitors.
The Lucien Gaudin
1 once gin
1/2 ounce Campari
1/2 ounce Cointreau or triple sec
1/2 ounce dry vermouth
Lemon twist (garnish)
Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice, preferably crushed or cracked, and stir — stir, I tell you — vigorously. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add lemon twist. En garde!
According to some olderhands at the cocktail blogging game, not to mention Encyclopedia Brittanica, the late Mr. Gaudin apparently suffered from a much too sensitive ego. The story goes that the 1928 Olympic French gold medalist committed suicide in 1934 after receiving a presumably not so grievous thumb wound from a non-fencer in the course of a duel.
How much more would the champion’s ego have been hurt to find that the relatively obscure drink named after him seems to be the subject of vastly more Internet posts that his actual life or accomplishments? To be fair, it is also rumored that Gaudin, who was a banker by trade, suffered some financial reversals during those middle years of the worldwide great depression. Even so, it’s a shame he couldn’t have pulled it all back together somehow, if only for the cocktail’s sake.
Well, at least the Lucien Gaudin is a dandy drink. Just be sure to be as accurate with your measurements as a duelist needs to be with his thrusts. When I strayed even slightly and by accident from the proportions listed above, the cocktail was nowhere near as refreshing.
Oddly, I also found that, while the common reasoning given for stirring rather than shaking the drink is strictly aesthetic, it also seemed to taste a lot better without the “clouding” that so bothers boozy aesthetes. I’ve no idea why that would be, though I suppose the emphasis on presentation in cocktails has some solid psychological underpinnings. I did find, however, that while Cointreau yielded the more interesting flavor, a version made with far cheaper Bols Triple Sec was also extremely nice. So, there’s that much leeway, at least.
In any event, even if the late Mr. Gaudin has gotten the short of the stick both from himself and from sporting history, we at least remember him here.
So, you’re starting a new job requiring a long enough commute from your home that it will ultimately require a costly move. Then, the second day of your aforementioned lengthy commute, your car starts hesitating in stop-and-start cross county traffic. Next thing you know, you’re staring down the barrel of a big, big transmission repair bill while suddenly finding yourself with a rented Ford Focus in your driveway instead of your charmingly banged-up Buick.
When that happens, you don’t want a drink that requires a lot of fuss. It’s better if it trying it out helps finish up some nearly empty bottles, lightening your liquor load on your impending cross-megalopolis move.
So, I’ll spare you the usual classic cocktail history lesson as well as the tortured connection to current events or this weekend’s holiday. (Could any cocktail possibly be appropriate for Memorial Day, anyway?) This is clearly a time when you — by which I obviously mean “I” — want my evening cocktail to be simple, stimulating for the taste buds, and strong — which is why I’ve gone and doubled the amounts for my version of today’s DOTW. Feel free to halve it if you’re situation is different or if you’ll be driving anytime soon.
Combine Campari, vodka, and bitters in a cocktail shaker. Shake as vigorously as you can manage and strain into — what else? — a chilled cocktail glass. If you like, throw in a lemon or orange twist — it can’t hurt and it might help. Sip and, if you you’re not likely to give a significant amount of your personal worth to a mechanic, thank your freaking lucky stars.
I’ve praised the oh-so-sweet and then oh-so-bitter one-two punch of Campari before while discussing the hugely underappreciated Negroni as well as the oh-so-refreshing Americano. As the name implies, here’s a drink where the Campari flavor is really and truly front and center, perhaps too much for some folks. Certainly, replacing the gin in the Negroni with vodka (and actually using less of it), doesn’t do anything to complicate the drink or stand in the way of the Campari flavors, even if they could use a bit of leavening. That’s why I think I found adding in the stronger flavor of 100 proof Smirnoff resulted in a more satisfying taste experience as well as a more effective attitude adjuster.
Vodka-disliking cocktail snobs won’t be surprised that, while I’ve tried this drink with a number of brands, the results with the 80 proof vodkas, however, didn’t vary by much. Indeed, the very cheap Seagram’s and the much more high-endish Kettle One I used to make it didn’t really change the experience by that much. Still, since I like Campari, I’m declaring that a reason to like this drink. In fact, next week’s drink will also feature it, but it’ll be just a mite more complex…unless something else happens to my car.
Of all the boozy discoveries I’ve made in the relatively short time I’ve been writing DOTW, easily the most personally fascinating to me is Campari and the great cocktail made with it, the Negroni. Mine is a lonely passion, however. American bartenders tend to play down Campari and Campari-based drinks, even while they usually stock it. It’s not hard to see why because it’s a dangerous drink, taste wise. It’s essentially the bitterest of bitters mixed with the sweetest of liqueurs. When you drink it straight — and you really should, just once — the sweet part leads the charge followed by a sharp, intoxicating punch of bitterness. Pleasure followed by a punishment I personally find quite addictive.
Fortunately, the Negroni is not alone among Campari-based cocktail classics. This history of the Americano goes back the mid-19th century, when it was first known as the Milano-Torino before the Italians noticed that we Yanks we’re taking to the drink. No doubt, that was because it does such a great job of softening the Campari 1-2 punch.
Wikipedia also points out that the Americano is the first bar order made by James Bond in Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel, Casino Royale. Relax, however; you don’t have to be a super-spy to enjoy this and you certainly don’t need to be a super-mixologist to make it. In fact, it’s a perfect drink for lightweights and/or lazy bartenders with a mild adventurous streak.
1 ounce Campari
1 ounce sweet vermouth
Orange slice or lemon peel (optional, but desirable, garnish)
Pour equal parts Campari and sweet vermouth over ice cubes in a rocks/old fashioned glass. Top off with carbonated water of your choice. Add citrus slice/peel of your choice. Stir.
If you’d like a bit more hydration or if you’d like to put a bit more distance between yourself and the Campari bitters, it’s also perfectly acceptable to make an Americano in a Colllins/highball, leaving more room for the carbonated water. As to the type of soda water, club soda or plain seltzer/carbonated water are fine, though I understand 007/Ian Fleming suggested using Perrier with it in the short story, “A View to a Kill.” On the other hand, since that magnificent snob recommended using the French mineral water as a relatively inexpensive way to improve “a bad drink,” he couldn’t possibly have been talking about the Americano.
Like Campari, Sambuca, and the like, Pimm’s Cup #1 is a bottle you’ll see at a lot of bars but which, at least here in the States, no bartender ever seems to open and which most barfolk will tend to discourage you from trying. They have their reasons because, on its own, it’s definitely not for everyone. It’s a concoction of gin and various herbs that has a nicely sweet but also fairly bitter flavor. It’s somewhere between a liqueur and Angostura.
It may be a little harsh straight, but it can mix very accessibly. A popular cocktail classic in the UK that has been referenced on both “Mad Men” and “Boardwalk Empire,” Pimm’s Cup, the cocktail, combines this relatively low alcohol (50 proof) base spirit with various types of soda and fruit and vegetable garnishes.
In my experiments, I avoided some of the very elaborate recipes which are more like very large and very wet fruit salads and eventually settled on the simple recipe below, adapted freely from the method used by Minneapolis mixologist D.J. Kukielka. It’s a winner — a tasty refreshment for lightweights with discerning palettes.
The Pimm’s Cup
2 ounces Pimm’s Cup #1
4 ounces (approximately) ginger beer or ginger ale
Cut-up cucumber (to taste)
Cucumber slice (garnish)
Lemon slice (garnish)
Place cucumbers in cocktail shaker and muddle. (Having an actual muddler on hand is a real help here, and essential if you want a truly well-stocked bar.) Add Pimm’s Cup #1 and ice. Shake very vigorously and strain into a Tom Collins glass over ice (preferably crushed). Top off with ginger ale and garnishes. Stir with swizzle stick or barspoon.
I’m barely exaggerating when I say that there are a million recipes for this beverage on line, and they’re all pretty different from each other, which I suppose befits a drink that is something like the British equivalent of sangria. I get the impression that you could pretty much throw any fruit you can think of in, if you want. Still, I had by far the best luck with the recipe above and, though it’s more expensive, ginger beer does work slightly better than good old Canada Dry.
If you want to be really authentic, however, be aware that the original recipes often call for lemonade. The confusion here is that what the British call lemonade and what we Yanks call it are two different things. UK lemonade is a lemon soda which some compare to 7-Up — and many online recipes specially call for American-style lemon-lime soda — but Brits inform us that true British lemon soda tastes fairly different than our uncolas. If you’re lucky enough to live in a city like Los Angeles with a large British ex-pat population and specialty stores to go with it, or want to go online and don’t mind spending a little extra cash, I bet you can find some and go full Brit.