Cocktail of the day: The Custer

Last Wednesday I enjoyed a wonderfully low-key birthday celebration (joined by several bartenders — aah, my peeps! — including ones visiting from Portland and Seattle) at Copa d’Oro in Santa Monica, surely one of the best bars in the L.A. metro area. A world-class cocktail menu, a long and beautiful bar, an amazing stash of liquor, a friendly and inviting space, dangerously close to my day job … all that and grilled Nutella-almond butter paninis too? I’m so there.

A few months ago they debuted several new house originals on their cocktail menu, and I’ve been working my way through them ever since. Head barman Vincenzo Marianella is primarily responsible for the menu, and consequently we see lots of bitters and amari, plus some other Italian ingredients. One of these is the newly-reformulated liqueur Galliano, first developed in Italy in 1896 by a distiller named Arturo Vaccari (but now owned and developed by Lucas Bols in The Netherlands). Galliano’s infamy came about with the development of a drink in the 1960s called the Harvey Wallbanger, merely a Screwdriver with a Galliano float. The old liqueur, in that tall, beautiful bottle that doesn’t fit in your bar or on any shelf, was a very sweet vanilla-heavy concoction that most bartenders didn’t seem to have much use for, and if you ended up with a bottle chances are it remained rather full for many years, until its yellow coloring faded.

Recently Bols reformulated Galliano to its original recipe, now calling it Liquore Galliano L’Autentico. It’s a lot less sweet, with a higher proof, anise predominant in front but a broad base of herbs and spices, and the vanilla relegated to much more of a supporting role. Actually, it’s really good now, much more useful in cocktails, and you see it popping up in drinks at Copa here and there, both in improvised “market cocktails” as well as on the menu.

The new one I tried is the Custer, with Galliano providing sweetness and a spice base to the already nicely spicy base spirit, accented by two kinds of bitters taking the directions out to both fruity-tart and vegetal. I watched the bartender pretty closely, and this recipe seems to be spot-on.

The Custer Cocktail


2 ounces Sazerac rye whiskey (6 year).
1/2 ounce Galliano L’Autentico.
3 barspoons Cynar.
2 dashes celery bitters (Bitter Truth).
2 dashes rhubarb bitters (Fee’s).
Orange peel.

Combine ingredients with ice in a mixing glass, stir for at least 20 seconds and strain into a chilled Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with a large orange peel after expressing the oil.

Mighty good, and lots going on in there — make one and enjoy it. Better still, if you’re local to L.A. head out to Copa and have one of the crew make it for you. Then stay for a few more, and have a grilled panino with ’em.

UPDATE: Vincenzo has confirmed that it’s 1/2 oz. of Galliano. Thanks!

6 Responses to “Cocktail of the day: The Custer”

  1. Jonathan Stout said:

    Nov 19, 09 at 1:07 am

    That is a fantastic cocktail – it’s so complex! Thanks for posting the recipe. I’ve gotten that every time I’ve been at Copa, but I never get around to bugging Vincenzo for the ratios.
    (and Happy Belated B-Day!)

  2. Chuck said:

    Nov 19, 09 at 8:31 am


    Go ahead and bug Vincenzo — I’ll be curious to see how close I was, even though I was watching Roberto like a hawk when he made it.

  3. Chuck said:

    Nov 20, 09 at 8:31 pm

    OK, after making it again at home I’ve revised my estimate — change the amount of Galliano to 3/4 oz. And if you see Vincenzo before me, definitely ask him!

  4. Vincenzo said:

    Nov 21, 09 at 1:36 pm

    Are you kidding me???You all can “Bugg” anytime. I can send you all my recpes
    it is 1/2 Galiano but maybe Roby though you were bitter and need more sweet…LOL

  5. Mike S. said:

    Nov 22, 09 at 8:58 am

    Really good drink. The change (or restoration) in Galliano was news to me, and of course my bottle contains the old formula. Is the difference significant enough to warrant replacement?

  6. Chuck said:

    Nov 22, 09 at 9:22 am

    Thanks, Vincenzo! Yes, I’m a very bitter man … but only in the glass. 😉

    Mike — Yes! You’ll find that Galliano L’Autentico has less sweetness and more spice, which is always a good thing in my book. The difference is such that before bartenders almost never used it, and now really good bartenders (like Vincenzo) use it a lot. Start off with a 375ml bottle and give it a try — you’ll have an easier time making that size fit in your bar anyway.