Bitter End


After a couple of month’s hiatus, Mixology Monday returns today with a Tiki theme from Doug at the Pegu Blog:

The Tiki scene, like classic cocktails in general, is reviving nicely these days. The lush, decadent marriage of tropical flavors and exotic kitsch carries us away to a better, less dreary place. Please join in and add your words, images, and offerings to the Tiki Gods on the 20th. Since Tiki is more than just the drinks, feel free to post on whatever Tiki subject floats your outrigger canoe. I suspect most of you will want to offer up delectable drinks, but feel free to wax eloquent on aloha shirts, exotica music, decor, garnishes, food or whatever else moves you to enter the Tiki spirit!

The Bitter End is a cocktail I originally submitted to Portland Monthly for their Super Bowl drinks feature. Todd Steele, the owner of Metrovino, is a big 49ers fan, so this year’s football season came to a bitter end for him. In recognition of that we decided to make a cocktail with San Francisco’s favorite bitter liqueur, Fernet Branca. It just so happens to be a perfect fit for this month’s Tiki theme too:

1 oz Fernet Branca
1 oz lime juice
1 oz B. G. Reynold’s orgeat

Shake all ingredients with ice, strain into a glass filled with crushed ice, and garnish with a cocktail umbrella and cherries for bonus tiki points. Alternatively, just gulp the whole thing down quickly.

As far as cocktail construction goes, this is as basic as it gets: Equal parts of stuff that’s really bitter, really tart, and really sweet. Yet it all works. If the one ounce of Fernet is intimidating, worry not. This is actually a pretty sweet drink. If you’re making this with a different orgeat, you may need to adjust the recipe to account for relative sweetness.

For fun I also tried making this drink with the new Fernet Leopold from Colorado. This is a very minty take on the spirit, a bit more so than I prefer for sipping (though some of my friends love it), so I’ve been wanting to try it mixed. If you’d like to sample a mintier version of the Bitter End, give it a shot.

Finally, here a few other loosely Tiki-themed drinks from the archives:

Transatlantic Mai Tai — An all-grain version of the Mai Tai substituting rye and genever for the usual rums.

Kooey Kooey Kooey Cocktail — Rum, coconut milk, coconut porter, allspice dram, and a few other ingredients combine in this Tiki-themed beer cocktail.

Lazy Bear — One of the best-selling drinks at Metrovino, featuring the fantastic Smith & Cross rum from Jamaica.

Seigle Sour — It’s a whiskey drink, but the plantain syrup arguably takes it into Tiki territory.


Climbing Jacob’s Ladder


I don’t plan on writing about every Bols cocktail around town but when a drink is named Jacob’s Ladder of course I’m going to post it. My friend Andrew at Branch Whiskey Bar came up with this one combining three of my favorite things: genever, Fernet-Branca, and single malt Scotch:

2 oz Bols genever
.25 oz Fernet-Branca
.25 oz simple syrup
A few drops of Talisker
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 dash orange bitters

Stir with ice, strain, and serve up with an orange twist.

It’s an imposing list of ingredients but they come together nicely and the cocktail is very smooth. If you’re in Portland stop into Branch and give it a try.


Carlyle’s closing cocktail menu

I may have to make some changes as we run low on ingredients, but here’s the intended cocktail menu for our final two weeks, including three new additions. This will go into effect tomorrow:

Aquavit Hot Toddy – Krogstad aquavit, Swedish punsch, lemon, star anise $8

Antigua Old-Fashioned – English Harbour rum, coffee-orange bitters, sugar $8

Smoky Margarita – Herradura reposado tequila, Cointreau, lime, lapsang souchong syrup $8

Portland Stinger – Branca Menta, bourbon, brandy, lemon, grenadine $9

Thyme in a Bottle — Bombay Sapphire, Farigoule thyme liqueur, lemon, maraschino $9

Erica’s Impulse –Brandy, allspice liqueur, lemon, simple syrup, orange bitters $8

H’ronmeer’s Flame – Rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, Ramazzotti, flamed orange zest $9

Witty Flip – Brandy, J. Witty chamomile liqueur, lemon, orange bitters, egg, nutmeg $10

Horatio – Krogstad aquavit, Cointreau, Fernet-Branca, orange bitters $9

Curse of Scotland — Ardbeg 10 year single malt Scotch, Drambuie, maraschino, lemon $10

Queen Bee – Vodka, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, lemon, honey syrup, sparkling wine. $9

On a Whim – Trust your bartender to make you something good


Amari and the Shift Drink in the Tribune

The online edition of today’s Chicago Tribune (the print article ran in December) has a story about the’ increased use of the Italian bitter liqueurs known as amari in craft cocktails. I’m quoted a few times, and they included the recipe for my Shift Drink, a cocktail made in honor of West Coast bartenders’ love of Fernet-Branca. (For the record not all of my cocktails use Fernet-Branca or Branca Menta, but sometimes it does seem like it!).


Even more Fernet recipes

A few days ago Boston bartenders held an event that I’d have loved to be present at: A celebration of Fernet-Branca cocktails. They served some delicious-sounding recipes, including the Work in Progress from Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli at Craigie on Main:

3/4 oz Fernet Branca
1 oz Bols Genever
1 oz St. Germain
3 dashes orange bitters

Stir over ice, serve down, flamed orange peel.

Ron brought the recipe in to Carlyle last night, where he had one for himself and I hooked another customer on two more. It’s a curious combination of flavors, reminiscent of the Cooper’s Cocktail at Vessel. The rest sound intriguing too and I’ll be sampling them soon.

Previously: Carlyle held its own Fernet night, complete with Fernet sorbet and ice cream.


Fernet night at Carlyle: All the drinks

Last night’s Fernet-Branca event filled the Carlyle bar with curious cocktailians and long-time Fernet drinkers. While only a few industry types went for straight shots, the drinks using Fernet as an ingredient were a big hit.

The first two cocktails on our special menu have been covered here before. The Shift Drink was created in honor of bartenders’ favorite after work shot and combines rye, ginger liqueur, lemon, and Fernet. Next up was the Horatio, using Portland’s own Krogstad aquavit, Cointreau, Fernet, and orange bitters. This drink isn’t for everyone but it was a consistent favorite among last night’s crowd.

The third drink on the menu reads like it could have been created a century ago, but it’s actually a recent invention from Jim Meehan at PDT in New York. Here’s the recipe for the Newark as given by Chuck Taggart at Looka!:

2 ounces Laird’s bonded apple brandy.
1 ounce Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth.
1/4 ounce Maraschino liqueur.
2 barspoons Fernet-Branca.

Combine with ice and stir for 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. No garnish.

This is a brilliant classic-style cocktail, with the Fernet adding just a touch of bitterness to balance the other ingredients. Since I live under the regime of an archaic state liquor control board I had to settle for Laird’s lower proof applejack. This came out a little sweet in the recipe above so I adjusted the Carpano down to 3/4 ounces.

Our fourth drink took a break from Fernet to feature its minty cousin, Branca Menta. This is a cocktail my good friend Neil Kopplin and I came up with on the fly a few months ago, though most of the credit should really go to Neil. (Neil’s got a blog now, check it out here.) This Portland Stinger will definitely appear on our menu come the winter months:

1 oz Branca Menta
1 oz lemon juice
.75 oz grenadine
.5 oz bourbon
.5 oz cognac

Shake over ice and strain into an ice-filled rocks glass.

The last cocktail on the menu stirred up a lot of interest on Twitter: A Fernet ice cream float. Yes, really. One of the great things about working with an expert chef is that I can approach him with crazy ideas and he can make them happen. In this case, when I asked him if we could make a Fernet ice cream he already knew of a recipe. Fergus Henderson, inspired by his favorite curative cocktail, includes a “miracle in the form of ice cream” made with Fernet-Branca and crème de menthe in Beyond Nose to Tail: More Omniverous Recipes for the Curious Cook. (This sounds much better than the Fernet and garlic ice cream described in this book, don’t you think?)

Our first batch came out with very strong flavors. I loved it, as did many of the customers who tried it, though others found it a little overwhelming. Our batch for last night’s event was much milder. I have no idea why the two varied so much and I preferred the first, but the second still performed well in our Fernet Float:

1.5 oz bourbon
.75 oz Fernet-Branca
3/4 bottle of Fentiman’s Curiosity Cola (chilled)
scoop of Fernet-Branca and crème de menthe ice cream

Combine the first three ingredients in a tall glass and stir. Add the ice cream and serve with a straw and spoon.

We finished the night with another dessert item, this one a straight up sorbet. Fernet-Branca’s high alcohol content makes it a tough ingredient to work with when freezing. Our first batch tasted fantastic but was too alcoholic to solidify. This recipe works much better, but it will eventually separate so it doesn’t have a long shelf-life. What it lacks in convenience it makes up for in deliciousness:

30 oz orange juice
4 oz lemon juice
5 oz Fernet-Branca
1.5 oz ginger juice
14 oz superfine sugar

Whisk or blend everything together, spin in an ice cream maker, and freeze over night. (To make the ginger juice, chop ginger, add a little water, blend, and strain.) The sorbet is tasty and complex, with the Fernet and ginger spicing it up nicely. By cutting the alcohol a bit more I think one could possibly freeze this into popsicles too, which would surely be a hit at any bartenders’ picnic.

Thanks to everyone who came out last night for this event. I had a great time putting it together, and it will hopefully be the first of many evenings putting a favorite spirit in the spotlight.


Fernet-Branca night at Carlyle

Spend enough time with West Coast bartenders and sooner or later you’ll find yourself sipping a powerful, bitter spirit called Fernet-Branca. You probably won’t like it. Then you’ll try it again and you still won’t like it. But something compels you to keep going and you find yourself strangely drawn to the mysterious elixir. And then you’re one of us.

For one night only, Carlyle celebrates the cult favorite amaro with a special menu of cocktails featuring Fernet-Branca. Fernet for dessert? We’ve got that too. (Here’s a hint: Fernet and creme de menthe ice cream. It’s delicious. Seriously.)

Whether you’re a long-time Fernet drinker or trying it for the first time, join us on Monday, August 31 for a night with this memorable spirit. Complete details are available on our Facebook invitation page and I’ll post all the recipes here after the event.


MxMo ginger: The Shift Drink

Shift Drink

This month’s Mixology Monday is hosted by blog pal Rumdood, one of the small handful of cocktail bloggers I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in person. (And it’s going to remain a small handful a little while longer: I learned last week that, contrary to my initial plans, I won’t be able to attend Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans next month.) Rumdood’s chosen theme is ginger.

For the ginger contribution to the drink I’m using Domaine de Canton, an excellent liqueur made with ginger and Cognac. I’m also using two spirits I’ve come to appreciate much more since getting back behind the bar in Portland, rye whiskey and Fernet-Branca. Or maybe this is just a sign I spend too much time at 50 Plates. Hence the Shift Drink:

1.5 oz rye whiskey
.75 oz Domaine de Canton**
.5 oz Fernet-Branca
.75 oz lemon juice*

Shake all of the above with ice and strain into a cocktail glass, garnishing with a twist of lemon.

Ginger and Fernet pair very well and the whole drink comes together nicely. If you have a taste for cocktails with a strong bitter component, this is one to try in the summer months.

*Updated 9/1/09: Since publishing this I’ve been upping the amount of lemon juice used, a change now reflected in the recipe above.

**New Update 9/29/11: I recently revived this recipe for Metrovino and altered the recipe yet again. Instead of Domain de Canton I’m using a ginger syrup made by simmering fresh ginger with equal parts sugar and water. Nothing against Canton, which is delicious in this drink, but the syrup does just as well and allows us to keep the price down.


MxMo, special stimulus edition

Horatio cocktail

Back in the fall, cocktail blogger Matthew Rowley suggested that a good Mixology Monday theme would be “hard drinks for hard times.” Paul Clarke says he had doubts about the idea. The next available MxMo slot wasn’t available until February and by then the economic hard times might be over, right? Hahahahahahaha. But that’s all right, Paul was just worried about planning a blog event. It’s not like he quit his job and decided to move to the West Coast with no particular plan in mind and has been massively underemployed for six months. *Ahem*

Yes, well, moving on. Matthew, unfortunately, has been laid off, and we’re all feeling the pinch from the recession. Well, not all of us. If you’re connected to the federal government, there’s $787 billion up for grabs. Why shouldn’t bartenders get a slice of the pie? Last week I sent my representatives in Congress, Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden and Representative Earl Blumenauer, a letter making the case for allocating some of that stimulus package to my proposal for a lame vodka bar:

Dear [Congressman],

It is my understanding that Congress has set aside $800 billion to help stimulate the economy and is looking for ways to spend it. There are many “shovel-ready” projects like bridges and hospitals competing to receive these funds. These are all great ideas — you can never have enough bridges and hospitals — but they take a long time to get going. I have my own project in mind and I’d like to propose spending some of the stimulus money on it.

I am a bartender and moved to Portland about four months ago, before the economy tanked completely. I’m only working one night a week. I have a lot of experience and creativity though and I’m confident that I could start up a really awesome bar. I have some great locations picked out and am ready to start anytime. The only obstacle is obtaining funding. Since banks are more interested in getting a return on investment than making sacrifices to stimulate the economy, I figure we should work together on this. There are several reasons why opening a bar would be excellent stimulus for the economy.

Bartenders have a big multiplier effect: For stimulus to be effective, we have to be sure that the money is re-injected into the economy and not socked away in savings. Nobody spends money like bartenders. If we work together to open a bar, you can be sure that my employees will spend 100% (or more) of their earnings. Most of that money will be given directly to other bartenders, or maybe strippers, who will also spend it right away, continuing the cycle. I’m confident that my staff would multiply spending far more than people in more responsible professions.

Production is fast: Spirits like whiskey can take years, even decades, to age. My bar will focus entirely on vodka and flavored vodka, which is ready to sell almost immediately after distillation. Our vodka purchases will encourage producers to increase production, buying grains from our nation’s farmers and equipment from our manufacturers. And we’ll be sure to only serve American vodkas, not those from Russia or, even worse, France. (I’m willing to make this a condition of receiving stimulus funds.)

We spill a lot: My bartenders will specialize in flair, juggling bottles in an amazing display of alcoholic dexterity. This requires hours of training and we’re sure to spill a lot vodka and shatter a lot of bottles while we’re practicing, forcing us to buy much more liquor than other bars. This will stimulate the economy even further.

We create positive externalities: Keynes argued that “animal spirits” are an important factor in macroeconomic behavior. By inebriating and entertaining our customers, we will excite their animal spirits and dull their judgment so that they are once again eager to invest. (Obviously my bar alone won’t save the economy, but similar bars could be opened throughout the country. Maybe we could franchise?)

We’ll name a drink after you: Everyone remembers great leaders like General Manhattan, Captain James Daiquiri, and Colonel Sazerac thanks to the cocktails that bear their names. In honor of your leadership during this economic crisis, I would gladly name a drink on our menu after you.

I realize this is an unorthodox proposal, but extreme times call for novel thinking. My bar is shovel-ready. As a sign of my commitment, I’ll even buy the shovel. I look forward to working with you to save the American economy.


Jacob Grier

Sadly, not one of the congressmen has responded yet. I was ready to stimulate the shit out of this economy, but instead I have to mix drinks at home. You fail, legislators.

This is a cocktail I’ve been playing with a lot recently, and it uses only ingredients I had on hand — nothing new purchased for this MxMo. I call it the Horatio:

2 oz Krogstad aquavit
.75 oz Cointreau
1 barspoon Fernet Branca*
2 dashes Angostura orange bitters

Stir over ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a round of orange peel expressed over the drink. I don’t always include brand names in a recipe, but in this case each bottling is distinctive. That’s not to say you can’t make substitutions, just know what you’re dealing with.

The name references aquavit’s Scandinavian heritage. Aquavit is the primary ingredient, but with the powerful Fernet Branca hailing from Italy, you might say this cocktail is more an antique Roman than a Dane.

If you don’t have aquavit and Fernet on hand, fear not. A bottle of Jack and a couple of ice cubes will serve you just fine.

*Update 3/9/09: I’ve tinkered with this recipe a bit since originally posting it, cutting down slightly on the Fernet Branca. This gives it a less syrupy mouthfeel.