Drink of the Week: The Fin de Siècle

the Fin de Siècle.“Fin de siècle” is French for “end of the century, which means that we’ve all missed our opportunity by 15 years to have a  Fin de Siècle at the most appropriate point possible, assuming we were old enough to drink in 2000. Or, if you want to look at it the other way, we’ve all got 85 years to work on preparing the perfect Fin de Siècle in time for 2100.

The truth is, however, that the real roots of this post go back not to Y2K but to last week. My copy of Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails having been destroyed by a backed-up sink…yes, I leave cocktail books on the sink sometimes and, yes, I’m paying the price…I found myself seeing a number of somewhat similar cocktails in Robert Hess’s accurately named The Essential Cocktail Guide. Like last week’s drink, today’s drink contains sweet vermouth, orange bitters, and Torani Amer, substituting for Amer Picon — easily the most commonly called-for modern day cocktail ingredient that you can’t find anywhere in North America.

The main difference, aside from the proportions, is that our base spirit is changed out from whiskey to gin. The result is a bit lighter and drier, but no less tasty and sophisticated.

The Fin de Siècle

1 1/2 ounces gin
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
1/4 ounce Torani Amer (or Amer Picon, if live in Europe or own a time machine)
1 dash orange bitters

Combined all ingredients in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass with plenty of ice. Stir vigorously — or shake, gently, if you’re feeling rebellious — and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Toast anything that has come to conclusion or shortly will, including your tasty Fin de Siècle. Nothing lasts forever, after all, least of all a good cocktail.


I saw a few recipes online for this that mentioned Plymouth Gin, but most people seem to use your more garden variety London Dry style gin. I used premium (but I guess not super premium) Bombay Dry Gin and good ol’ value-priced Gordon’s Gin, both with results that were more than satisfactory.

I actually found that,much more than with the gin, my choice of sweet vermouth made a far more dramatic difference in the flavor. I was very happy with my Fin de Siècle when I used Noilly Pratt — my personal default sweet vermouth in slight preference to Martini or Cinzano. Still, there was no topping the slightly bitter, almost chocolate-like undercurrents of Carpano Antica; sometimes you just can’t argue with the cocktail snobs. If you want a sweeter drink that’s nevertheless not too offensive, I had decent luck replacing Torani Amer with Amaro CioCiara, suggested by some as another Amer Picon substitute.

Finally, yes, you can shake this drink but that’s not my preference this time around. For starters, this is second cousin to a gin martini. (We’ll be getting to it’s first cousin very soon). I really do think there may be something to the idea that shaking can “bruise” gin, i.e., add a slightly unpleasant bitterness. Mainly, though, I don’t think the additional water/ice crystals that shaking generates really flatters the Fin de Siècle. I think this may be a drink that wants to be cool, but not ice cold.

Now, have a great Memorial Day weekend. Maybe it’s a good time to remember what life could be, if only we were all nice enough and smart enough.


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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.



Drink of the Week: The Brooklyn (Canadian Club Sherry Cask Iteration)

The Brooklyn (Canadian Club Sherry Cask).This probably isn’t the first time, but we’re doing things a bit bass ackward this week.  That’s what happens when someone is nice enough to send something for free along with a recipe, and then that recipe turns out to be a very acceptable variation on a classic which we haven’t gotten to here yet. So, we’re doing the variation first. We’ll get to the “real” drink later.

In the case of this week’s drink, my old friends — and I do mean “friends” — at Canadian Club saw fit to send me another of their very nice off-the-beaten track expressions and one I hadn’t tried before, Canadian Club Sherry Cask. It’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect, a slightly more complex variation on their highly underrated original whiskey. It boasts a very nice sherry finish and just enough extra alcohol to be interesting at 82.6 proof, as opposed to the usual 80 proof. It’s actually very drinkable just on the rocks and I’m sure would work nicely in most of your basic cocktails. It was nice — almost too nice and gentle — in an Old Fashioned. I imagine it would make a delicious Manhattan, but I’ll have to try that one out.

As for this week’s drink, a traditional Brooklyn is made with rye whiskey, a more peppery flavored relatively distant relative of Canadian whiskey. It also features dry vermouth. This version features sweet vermouth, and the proportions are different as well. It’s safe to say that the Canadian Club Brooklyn is a lot sweeter than the classic. I’m sure a lot of people will prefer it.

The Brooklyn (CC Sherry Cask)

1 ounce Canadian Club Sherry Cask Whiskey (Regular Canadian Club might also work, as might rye — but I can’t vouch for them)
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
1/4 ounce Torani Amer
1/4 ounce Luxardo maraschino liqueur
Maraschino cherry (garnish)

Combine the whiskey, vermouth, Torani Amer, and maraschino liqueur in a cocktail shaker or similar vessel. If you’re a purist stir; if you’re me, shake. Strain into a chilled cocktail over your preferred cocktail cherry. Contemplate the fact that that, considering the way people are constantly tinkering with drinks, there’s no way I’ll ever run out of drinks to write about.

Canadian Club Sherry Cask. Now is the time at Drink of the Week when we discuss ingredients and their discontents. For starters, both the classic recipes with dry vermouth and rye and the one I received from Canadian Club contain a little known bittersweet liqueur called Amer Picon.

There are only two problems with this. First, Amer Picon’s recipe has changed so much over the years that some expert mixologists no longer recognize it as a proper ingredient for a Brooklyn. Also, Amer Picon is unavailable in the United States. On the other hand, many consider the 78 proof digestif, Torani Amer, to be far closer to the original Amer Picon recipe…and you can pick it up about $10 or $11 at BevMo. So, I used that.

My first tries were made using the universal fall back sweet vermouth, Martini & Rossi. It was very drinkable, if a bit medicinal…in a good way, I think. Less like Robitussin and more like some of the now forgotten medicines my mom gave me back in the Paleozoic era when rock and roll was still slightly controversial.

Then, as fortune would have it, a long awaited bottle of Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth arrived from another benefactor. We’ll be discussing this stunning fortified beverage again very soon but, trust me, it’s worth the extra money if you’re into sweet vermouth. In this version of a Brooklyn, well, it was kind of perfect. Gone was the pleasant but non-idyllic medicine flavor and in it’s place was a lovely chocolatey undercurrent. This is the way to make this particular drink, I think.


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