Rojo Bianco

A while back, I got a sample of Don Julio Reposado Tequila. I poke around in several directions to find a recipe to mix it into, and found this drink, from the 2008 Food and Wine Cocktails.

This drink is a Philip Ward joint, from Death & Co. in New York City.

Rojo Bianco

  • Ice
  • 2 oz. reposado tequila
  • 1/4 oz. bianco vermouth
  • 1/4 oz. Campari
  • 1/4 oz. maraschino liqueur
  • dash of Angostura bitters

Technique: Stir all ingredients over ice, and strain into a chilled coupe. No garnish.

Man, this is an odd drink. Tequila and Campari. Bianco vermouth and maraschino. I have a perhaps surprising analogy to describe this drink, so bear with me.

Nearly forty years ago, Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash recorded a bunch of duets together, but none of them really worked out. (What a wasted opportunity, guys. How could you have screwed this up? Oh yeah, drugs.) The one song that even partly succeeded, “Girl From the North Country,” appeared on Dylan’s album Nashville Skyline.

The Rojo Bianco reminds me of that song. The lead ingredients, tequila and Campari, never really harmonize. They don’t clash, but they don’t come together either. You listen to the song and think about their voices, twirling around each other, but never melding. At the same time you think about the mains, you forget about the backing band. You know it’s there, but you pay attention to Dylan and Cash and forget anything else. The bianco and maraschino definitely sweeten the drink and balance the Campari’s bitterness, but aside from softening the Campari, they fade behind the dueling vocals. I don’t know whether it matters to use bianco vermouth instead of regular French vermouth.

And yet, I love “Girl From the North Country.” I hear the other tracks these guys recorded in those sessions, and I hate them for squandering the moment. But “Girl…” is a good song, despite how broken it is. And the Rojo Bianco is a good cocktail, even though the ingredients never harmonize.

Edited to add: Joaquin Simo, Phil’s colleague at Death & Co., left a comment below that F&W misprinted Phil’s recipe. I haven’t tested the proper version yet, but here it is:

Rojo Bianco–Phil Ward

  • 2 oz. El Tesoro Reposado tequila
  • 3/4 oz. M & R bianco vermouth
  • 1/4 oz. Campari
  • 1/4 oz. Luxardo maraschino liqueur
  • dash of Angostura bitters

Technique: Stir all ingredients over ice, and strain into a chilled coupe. No garnish.


Martin Miller’s Mixological Might!

Last weekend, Martin Miller’s Gin hosted a gin mixers’ competition at Death & Co. in New York. Bartenders from the UK and the US battled to impress a distinguished panel of judges. Although invited to attend, I was unable to do so, having made previous plans to adopt a kitten this weekend. Yes, that’s right, a kitten, smartass.

I was able, though, to join Miller co-founder David Bromige and his posse at Milk & Honey on Friday evening. As surprising as this may seem, this was my first visit to M&H, and I’m grateful to Miller’s PR man, James Monahan, for the invitation.

First, let me describe Milk & Honey, for those who’ve never been. Getting in is not easy; you need the unpublished number, and you need to reserve in advance. M&H founder Sasha Petraske wants to keep the vibe intimate, the bar uncrowded, and the sidewalk outside the bar uncluttered by chattering fools. If you’ve ever been inside or outside a crowded New York bar on a weekend night, you can see the advantage to his approach.

Nothing outside the bar announces that it’s a bar. Well, almost nothing. There’s a red metal pail hanging from a hook, filled with sand and cigarette butts. The letters “M &” are on the door, the H having disappeared by the time of my visit. The bar is inside a storefront that at one point was apparently a tailor’s shop. (Incidentally, I’d love to know the pre-M&H history of the space. If anyone knows, e-mail me–adashofbitters at gmail dot com–or comment here.)

The bar has six tables (banquettes), plus bar stools and a bit of standing room. The tight control at the door means you never have to push through a crowd to move through the bar. Nothing irritates me so much as having to make people physically move so I can reach the bar, the loo, or the exit. M&H has no cocktail menu but will match a drink to your taste. Our table ordered a batch of Miller’s-based gin drinks–two Last Words, a Ramos Gin Fizz for Mr. Bromige, and a Negroni for me. (The best Negroni I’ve had. I wonder what vermouth they used.)

David Bromige is a wonderful drinking companion. He briefly related the history of his spirit, and how he, Martin Miller, and Andreas Versteegh came up with the formula, after many, many rounds of testing. He described the gin as a vanity project, one that they enjoyed so well they eventually chose to market it.

He described Miller’s distillation process: the botanicals are steeped in grain alcohol for 24 hours before distilling. Actually, the botanicals are steeped in batches. One batch, in one still, contains juniper, iris, cassia, licorice, coriander, angelica, orris, and nutmeg; the other batch contains citrus peels. This brings a layered, nuanced flavor to the final product. They then ship the distillate to Iceland, where it’s cut with glacial water, bottled, and shipped to its destination.

Iceland provides another advantage than just the water–it’s midway between Miller’s two main markets, Europe and the United States. This cuts the cost of shipping the gin to the U.S.

Jeffrey Morgenthaler has an extensive series of posts with more details and photos of the process, beginning here. Morgenthaler was a guest of the people of Miller’s Gin, who flew him over to convince his skeptical mind that the Icelandic water actually does matter to the flavor of the gin.

Anyway, we finished up at M&H and moved on to Sasha Petraske’s newest place, White Star Bar. Although White Star specializes in absinthe, this didn’t feel like the night to expand my mind; I’ve only tried three or four products in the absinthe category. Instead, I tried something off the well-curated cocktail menu–the American Trilogy, a mix of rye whiskey, applejack, and orange bitters.

I also got to chat, albeit very briefly, with Jamie Boudreau and Paul Clarke, both of whom were in town to participate in the competition. Boudreau was there to dazzle the judges with his gleaming white smile, and Paul was along to snap his fellow judges out of Jamie’s spell. “Don’t fall for his charm! It’s a trap!”

But our visit was altogether too short because everyone else was off to Employees Only bar for a late-night nosh and more drinks. I, on the other hand, didn’t want to barge in on my crash-pad host at 3 or 4 or 5 or 6 am, and I had a busy Saturday planned, adopting the aforementioned kitten with Mrs. Bitters.

I’ll post again soon on results from the competition, plus a couple of images that James e-mailed, and maybe a couple more jokes at Paul Clarke’s expense.

Martin Millers Gin: Be a Tastemaker

MxMo: Made from Scratch

I got nothing.

We’ve been so busy this month that I just didn’t get my shit together in time to even make anything from scratch, let alone write it up.

That doesn’t mean I won’t have something else to post this week, though. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, point your eyes at Doug’s Pegu Blog for his wrap-up post, later this week, and thanks to Doug for hosting.