.5 oz Campari
It’s Mixology Monday again, and our hosts this month are the Scofflaw’s Den, lovable ruffians and scoundrels that they are. The theme they’ve chosen is: bourbon.
I’m a great fan of bourbon, but I found myself overwhelmed by this month’s theme. So many options! Also, I’ve written a fair bit about bourbon in the past, as has every other cocktail blogger. What new thing could I highlight?
Fortunately, external forces came to my rescue, in the form of weather. It’s now Summer (with a capital S) here in Pennsylvania, temperatures in the 90s and up and humidity arcing skyward. I saw my first firefly tonight; they’ve probably been out for a while, but I’ve been sequestering myself in air-conditioned environments, the better to survive.
(Dear Readers who live in truly hot and humid areas: Yes, I know. This is nothing. I’m a wimp. Think how I’d whine in a really steamy climate!)
Anyway, when the weather grows sticky like this, I’m drawn to one particular bottle: Campari. It’s brisk and bitter and syrupy-sweet all in unison. It comes from Milan, Italy, where things are hot and humid on a regular basis, and it’s based on bitter orange. Technically, it’s a bitter, but one you can mix in larger proportions. It clears the palate and contrasts with the sweltering air, cutting through everything. I adore it in hot weather.
(Side note: Here’s the Campari website. Please be warned that they have concocted a rather stretched fiction about a "world of passion" that needs to be restored, somehow incorporating their ads that involve Salma Hayek but also a bunch of other stuff, and that the whole thing is built in Flash. Enter at your own risk.)
So, this month’s MxMo gave me the opportunity to explore ways to combine two of my favorite liquors, Bourbon and Campari. The trick is what to put with them. Many bourbons come across as sweet, but not sweet enough to balance the tart/bitter one-two punch of Campari. I needed something that brought sugar to the party along with a bonus to unify and blend — herbiness, if possible.
The first thing I tried, which worked delightfully, was Benedictine. Most unfortunately, I used up my last bit of Benedictine in that preliminary experiment, and when I went to the local retail arm of the PLCB to get another bottle I was informed that the commonwealth of Pennsylvania no longer carries that item. I won’t waste the rest of this post with my curses on that particular arm of government.
It seems that a few other states face related Benedictine shortages, so I searched for an alternative. Maraschino liqueur was too sweet by far, Amari too thick. What to do?
I tried green Chartreuse, and my problems were solved. Chartreuse brings in the sweetness to balance Campari’s bitter elements, but not so much as to overwhelm. And it carries a few bits of herby flavor to boot.
For my bourbon, I used Wild Turkey (80 proof), which I find combines well with many things without losing its character, and which is quite reasonably priced.
I suspect that the resulting cocktail will please me and few others. It’s a warm variant on a Negroni; the Negroni has been memorably described as "the reverse of a mullet — party in the front (sweet), and business in the back (mild bitter aftertaste)." The addition of bourbon warms the combination, while adding green Chartreuse makes it more complicated than related vermouth variations. If you do try it and like it, I’d love to know. If you’ve already invented it and have been drinking it for years, I’d definitely love to know — you can probably save me some experimentation in the future.
But in the meantime, everyone needs to swing over to Scofflaw’s Den, to see what they’ve been shaking up. It’s sure to be a delight.