Bright flavor, low alcohol—the perfect warm-weather apéritif
Temperatures have started to climb in our part of the world, with humidity following suit. So we’re looking for pre-dinner drinks that are refreshing, but not filling.
Good thing we found the Bamboo Cocktail—a tasty combination of sherry and vermouth. It loads on the flavor, but goes light on the booze.
So your mom would love it. Which is handy, since Mother’s Day is coming up this Sunday. Sip it while singing her praises.
Recipe: The Bamboo Cocktail
The Bamboo Cocktail was invented by Louis Eppinger, manager of the Grand Hotel in Yokohama, Japan. Eppinger, who was born in Germany, learned to tend bar in San Francisco. He devised this cocktail sometime in the 1890s, though no one knows what inspired it. We do know that it was popular at his hotel bar—and that the recipe soon traveled throughout the world.
Sherry and vermouth (the two main ingredients in this drink) are both fortified wines, with an alcoholic content that usually runs around 17% (34 proof). By contrast, most spirits (like gin or whiskey) are 80 proof and up. Because sherry and vermouth are so low proof, they can oxidize quickly once they’re opened, making their flavors less bright. So we always store the bottles in the refrigerator after we open them.
We think this drink tastes best when made with a fairly dry sherry (see Notes).
This recipe takes about 5 minutes to prepare, and serves 1.
- 1½ ounces dry sherry (we prefer a fino or amontillado)
- 1½ ounces dry vermouth (aka French vermouth—the white stuff; but see Notes for a variation)
- 1 or 2 dashes Angostura bitters (we prefer 2, but suggest you start with 1)
- 1 dash orange bitters
- lemon or orange twist or wedge for garnish (optional)
- Combine all ingredients (except garnish) in a mixing glass half-filled with ice. Use a long-handled spoon to stir briskly for 20 to 30 seconds, until well chilled.
- Strain into a cocktail glass (preferably one that’s been chilled). Add garnish, if using, and serve.
- Why stir rather than shake this drink? Because the ingredients are clear. Shaking tends to introduce small bubbles, which make a drink cloudy. This is not a problem when the ingredients are opaque (think citrus juice), but it can be unattractive when the ingredients are clear.
- Bitters add flavor (and some color) to this drink, so they’re important. But feel free to experiment with the type of bitters you use. We would definitely suggest orange bitters, but another aromatic bitter could be substituted for Angostura.
- There’s a “perfect” version of this drink that’s worth trying. In cocktail parlance, a “perfect” cocktail means one made with equal parts of sweet (red) and dry (white) vermouth. So to make a Perfect Bamboo Cocktail, just substitute ¾ ounce each of sweet and dry vermouth for the 1½ ounces of dry vermouth specified in the recipe.
- Our recipe reflects the standard modern ratio for this drink (a 1:1 ratio of sherry to vermouth). Originally, however, Eppinger may have used 3 parts sherry to 1 part vermouth. It’s an interesting variation—but not as good in our opinion.
- Sherry originated in the Cádiz province of Spain (specifically, around the town of Jerez de la Frontera). This region has produced wine for over 3000 years. Sherry was developed after Moorish invaders introduced distillation to the area, probably sometime during the 8th century AD.
- In the EU, any fortified wine sold as sherry must be made in a specific region of Cádiz. In the US, however, “sherry” can be used as a generic name for domestically produced fortified wines.
- There are numerous varieties of sherry. Fino is the driest (and probably the best known); it typically has a very pale color. Amontillado is darker, and oloroso is darker still. Wikipedia offers a useful list that describes the different types of sherry.
- For this drink, you should use a sherry that’s fairly dry. So try a fino or amontillado. How much should you spend on a bottle? Well, some sherries are quite expensive, but you don’t need those for cocktails. Something in the $10 to $15 range should work quite well.
- Louis Eppinger also created several other drinks, including the Million Dollar Cocktail (a mix of gin, sweet vermouth, pineapple juice, grenadine, and egg white). That’s a nice one—we owe you the recipe.
“Mmm,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “Nice to sip a cool drink on a hot day.”
“And this Bamboo Cocktail is particularly tasty,” I said. “That’s a cold, hard fact.”
“Yes, this is a drink I could warm up to,” said Mrs K R.
“But it’s low alcohol,” I said. “So you stay cool and collected.”
“Good,” said Mrs K R, “because I’d give a warm welcome to another of these.”
“Glad to warm the cockles of your heart,” I said, reaching for bottles.
“Cold glass, warm cockles,” said Mrs K R. “Think we have a new motto.”
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