Drink of the Week: The Liberal

the Liberal.The Liberal’s history goes back to before the turn of the 20th century, which means it’s probably dangerous to make any strong connections with modern day political affiliations, especially since this drink doesn’t have any particular story to go with it. When it comes to political labels, in any case, a lot of things have changed since 1895. That’s why modern day conservative writers feel like they can argue that they are the real liberals — as in libertarian — while today’s liberals are, in fact, fascists — a political affiliation that I’m pretty sure didn’t exist when the Liberal was first being mixed. Also, I think there’s maybe kind of a big difference between Benito Mussolini and Adlai Stevenson.

Still, as someone who has been a proud and very unapologetic actual bleeding heart liberal since the age of 12 or so, I can’t but be attracted to a drink with this name. If your politics are different than my own, however, I can reassure you that drinking the Liberal won’t impact your voting choices next year. Well, as long as you don’t drink five of them on election day, in which case you might find yourself voting for people who are dead, fictitious, or named “Huckabee.”

I can say that I like this version of the drink, which is primarily drawn from the recipe in cocktail historian Ted Haigh’s cocktail revival ur-volume, Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails. There is a stronger, larger, and less sweet version of this drink, but I don’t love it. Yes, this Liberal is open to charges of being subtly reactionary and stingy to boot. Nevertheless, our taste buds know no ideology and are immune to purity trolling. So, let’s get started.

The Liberal

3/4 ounce bourbon or rye
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
1/2 teaspoon Torani Amer
1-2 dashes orange bitters
1 cocktail cherry (very desirable garnish)

Combine the liquid ingredients in a mixing glass or a cocktail shaker. Add ice and stir vigorously. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, preferably a smaller one, and add the cocktail cherry of your choice.

As for your toast, I can’t tell you what to think or do, but you might consider the people who brought us the 8 hour day, the 40 hour work week, the minimum wage, child labor laws, and now accessible healthcare (guaranteed 100% death panel free). If you’d rather not have those things, you can still drink this, of course, but make sure you drink it from a clean glass and don’t get sick and lose your job, because then you’ll be on your own.


In his book,Ted Haigh calls for using 100 proof Wild Turkey, Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, and 3 dashes of Amer Picon, which brings up a few issues. For starters, there’s no such thing as 100 proof Wild Turkey these days, not precisely. Instead, we have Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon and Rye. I’m not sure which he meant, or whether the rye was even available when he first recreated the recipe. Since I had the 101 proof bourbon on hand already on hand left over from my pre-Derby Day post, that’s what I used first, along with the always excellent, if pricey, Carpano. Amer Picon is simply impossible to obtain, so I went with the most common substitute, Torani Amer, which is easily obtainable here in California, in any case. As for three dashes…how much is that and where I am supposed to find an amaro in a bottle with a dasher top?

Having made my adjustments, my first attempt at a Liberal was pretty excellent. Sweet, but not one bit cloying and complex enough for slow sipping, with a chocolatey undercurrent thanks to the Carpano. I followed it up with other versions, including ones with 1776 100 proof rye and my cheaper default sweet vermouth, Noilly Pratt. They were less rich in flavor, but still had plenty of complex, more floral, notes to keep your mouth good and busy.

One thing about this drink that surprised me, however, is that it really doesn’t seem to work shaken, which is my usual contrarian preference with the drink’s fairly close relative, the Manhattan. No, this one time the cocktail cognoscenti dogma about stirring over shaking drinks without juice in them proves to be correct. As usual, I could not care less about “clouding” drinks by shaking them. However, I do care a lot about flavor, and the Liberal simply tastes better that way. When I figure out how that reflects my political/philosophical leanings, I’ll let you know.



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Drink of the Week: The Liberal (modern style)

The Liberal.Yes, it won’t be shock if you’ve been paying close attention, but I’m a liberal. Not a Noam Chomsky-style ultra-progressive or a concern-trolling Tom Friedman/Joe Klein style enabler of everything that sucks. Nope, I’m just a plain old liberal with a mad crush on Rachel Maddow, personal liberty, ethnic/religious/sexual equality, not starting wars every alternate Thursday, and the concept of a mixed economy like they still have in Canada and Europe.

Why bring that up now? Well, most of us at least know that on Memorial Day, we’re really supposed to be honoring on our war dead, and Veteran’s Day is obviously about veterans, but few people of any political stripe consider that Labor Day is really supposed to be about people who have to work for a living for other, richer people. In other words, most of us. Unions are a real thing and if you like things like a 5 day week or overtime pay, you should be for improving them AND for growing them, not dismantling them.

So, since labor and liberal politics really do together, now more than ever, I can’t imagine a better drink for Labor Day weekend than the Liberal. Now, it’s not at all clear why this particular drink is called the Liberal and not the Libertarian or the Nonpartisan, but it’s definitely a drink that will make you feel like sharing the wealth, just a little. Let us begin.

The Liberal (Modern Style)

1 1/2 ounces rye or bourbon whiskey
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
1/4 ounce Torani Amer
1 dash orange bitters
1 lemon twist or maraschino cherry (desirable garnish)

Combine your whiskey, vermouth and your amaro digestif (that’s the Torani Amer) in the mixing vessel of your choice with a liberal amount of ice. Stir very vigorously and strain into a chilled cocktail glass or coupe. I’m usually very shaking-friendly, but I really don’t suggest shaking this one as it seems to come out surprisingly watered down and deflavorized if you do.

Add a decent maraschino cherry or very thin lemon twist. Since I’m a small-l liberal as well as big-L liberal, I’ll allow you to toast whomever you like. I, however, might suggest George Bernard Shaw, Molly Ivins, Groucho Marx, or Abe Lincoln, the originator of that long-dead breed, the liberal Republican.

A brief note: today’s version is, as is so often the case, just one of a number of different recipes with wildly differing proportions. This version appears to be of more recent vintage, but I hope to be giving an older version of it whirl fairly soon. The modern Liberal is pretty nice, if you’re not allergic to cocktails that flaunt their booziness. Nevertheless, it is a drink with issues.

The first problem some of you are going to encounter is finding Torani Amer. It’s fairly easy to dig up here in lefty-coastal California at your local high-end or big box liquor emporium such as Total Wine & More or Bev-Mo, I understand, however, it’s hard to find elsewhere. I guess you’ll have to buy it online until the revolution comes.

The second problem is that nobody’s really that crazy about Torani Amer. The thing is, in some drinks, it’s just the best ingredient you’ll find. The original version of the Liberal, in fact, called for Amer Picon, a product that really doesn’t exist anymore no matter where you live. (You can still find something with that name in Europe but, by all accounts, it’s changed dramatically.)

I actually tried this drink with the far more well-liked sister beverage to Torani Amer and Amer Picon, Amaro CioCiara, and it was actually too sweet. Torani Amer it is. It’s a fact of modern liberal life that, all too often, you have to accept damn near unacceptable compromises.


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