I was browsing through the eGullet Spirits and Cocktails forum yesterday, reading about vermouth, and stumbled across this one. It sounded vaguely familiar but I knew I had never tried it before, so it was a natural candidate for our evening’s cocktail. Unfortunately I was the only one who had one, though; Wes was feeling a bit off after trying a neighborhood hot dog stand advertising “Chile Dogs.” Let’s just say it was no Hot Doug’s, that the frank was good and the bun was fine but rather than “chile” it was an endlessly greasy industrial-grade commercial chili that did a bit of a number on him. He was craving a soothing digestivo (although it wasn’t quite into straight-shot-of-Branca territory), so the glass of Amaro Nonino I poured for him seemed to do nicely.
As for me, I got out the Rittenhouse rye and got to work on this drink, which was invented by bartender Enzo Errico of Milk & Honey in New York. You’ve undoubtedly heard me talk about Carpano’s Punt E Mes before, but in case you haven’t — it’s considered to be a sweet vermouth but is quite unlike the garden-variety sweet vermouths you find, in that it has a delightfully bitter characteristic to it, sort of halfway between sweet vermouth and Campari (maybe at or a little less than Aperol level) which, if substituted for regular sweet vermouth, lends considerable oomph to a drink.
I first thought of this as a wonderful Manhattan variation — we do make Manhattans with Punt E Mes sometimes — but further Googling led me to a piece Paul Clarke had written on this drink a couple of years ago. According to one of the commenters, Enzo’s inspiration for this drink came not from the Manhattan (rye, sweet vermouth, bitters) but from another favorite of ours, the Brooklyn (rye, sweet vermouth, Amer Picon and maraschino), with the Punt E Mes standing in for the sweet vermouth/Picon combination. Fascinating! I wonder what this drink would taste like with a dash of orange bitters tossed in. Before I start futzing with it, though, I made one as Enzo intended …
The Red Hook Cocktail
(by Enzo Errico, Milk & Honey, New York City)
2 ounces rye whiskey.
1/2 ounce Carpano Punt E Mes.
1/2 ounce maraschino liqueur.
Combine with ice in a mixing glass and stir for at least 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. No garnish is specified but I added two homemade brandied cherries.
It’s mighty, mighty good. It’s one of those combinations that seem so natural, even obvious, that you want to smack yourself on the forehead and say, “Jeez, why didn’t I think of this?!” (You didn’t think of it because you’re a big doof and Enzo is made of awesome, that’s why.) This one definitely goes on the fall cocktail menu. Yes, we have a menu on our bar at home for guests, which we change seasonally. What a coupla geeks.