By Aaron Hicklin
Like the way Italians drink their coffee? Try their cocktails.
When did we become such perfectionists about our drinks? The question seems more pertinent if you've spent time watching the cute and serious baristas of Stumptown's new 'brew bar' in Red Hook, Brooklyn, tinkering with their complicated array of coffee makers, or observed the bartenders at Manhattan's Little Branch, earnestly shaking and stirring and tasting.
Some of us are old enough to remember when Starbucks represented a great leap forward and the Cosmo was the height of sophistication. Then, mixing a decent cocktail was a specialist's art. It still is, but the specialists have proliferated. And they love to play. Last summer belonged to gin, with variations on the classic Collins to take the edge off the irrepressible heat.
This year gin is buttressed by Italian amaros like Campari and Aperol, and vermouths. The most celebrated of these is the classic Negroni, made of equal parts Campari, sweet vermouth, and gin, a simple recipe that's easy to get wrong if the proportions are out of sync (a heavier hand on the gin sometimes helps).
Brooklyn Social in Carroll Gardens has been making them with expert care since it opened in 2004, anticipating a revival that has spawned a whole new class of derivatives. An update (see Negroni Spagliato, below) substitutes Prosecco for gin.
At nearby Clover Club on Smith Street, the Bitter Tom starts with a bite, then rolls over and purrs like a pussycat, the pungency of Campari and gin beautifully tempered with grapefruit, lemon, and pomegranate molasses.
At Manhattan's faux trattoria, Morandi, the Aperol Collins uses Grand Marnier and Aperol to even gentler effect. It's as fragrant and lovely as a summer's day in Tuscany. If you're in the mood for something raunchier (and who isn't) you could do worse than the Nueva Italia at San Rocco, a spice-in-the-glass combo of tequila and Carpano Antica Formula, a red sweet vermouth with ancestry. Do yourself a favor and order a side of the popular Nutella cheesecake. This is not a drink fit for an empty stomach.
Three to Try
1' ounces Carpano Antica Formula (or any sweet red vermouth) ' 1' ounces Campari ' Prosecco
Stir vermouth and Campari and pour into a rocks glass. Top with Prosecco and serve with an orange slice.
2 ounces Tanqueray ' ' ounce lemon juice ' ' ounce Campari ' ' ounce grapefruit juice ' ' ounce simple syrup ' 1 teaspoon Benedictine ' 1 teaspoon pomegranate molasses
Measure ingredients into a Collins glass, top with soda. Roll gently into another glass and back again. Add a grapefruit twist.
1' ounces tequila ' 3 ounces Carpano Antica Formula (red vermouth) ' Orange bitters ' Angostura bitters ' Stick of cinnamon for garnishing ' Absinthe
Put ice in a rocks glass, rinse with a few drops of absinthe, and discard ice. Add tequila, vermouth, and a few drops each of orange and Angostura bitters and stir well. Pop in a stick of cinnamon and serve.