Make friends with a Prohibition-era charmer
The Old Pal is practically cocktail royalty. His daddy is the classic Negroni. And his sibling is the charming Boulevardier Cocktail.
The Old Pal himself sports rye, dry vermouth, and Campari. That makes him the lightest, driest, and spiciest of the trio.
Just the personality you want in an old pal, no?
Recipe: The Old Pal Cocktail
As with many classic cocktails, there’s a bit of mystery surrounding the drink’s origins. More in the Notes.
But it’s clear that the Old Pal is related to the Negroni -– a wonderful mixture of gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari. And to the Boulevardier, which uses bourbon in place of gin.
This recipe takes about 5 minutes to prepare and serves 1.
- 1 ounce rye whiskey
- 1 ounce dry vermouth (French white vermouth)
- 1 ounce Campari
- garnish of a lemon or orange twist (optional; see Notes)
- Place all ingredients (except garnish) in a mixing glass half filled with ice. Stir briskly with a bar spoon or other long-handled spoon until the contents are well chilled (about 30 seconds).
- Strain into a cocktail glass, preferably one that’s been chilled. Add garnish, if desired, and serve.
- Why stir rather than shake? Because all the ingredients in this cocktail are clear. Shaking can introduce oxygen bubbles, which cloud the drink.
- That said, we often shake anyway. It’s easier – and the oxygen bubbles dissipate quickly.
- A lemon twist garnish is traditional in this drink. But a twist of orange goes particularly well with Campari, so we often use that.
- When this drink first became popular (during the 1920s), it called for Canadian whiskey, which generally uses rye as the predominant grain. A good rye whiskey, like bourbon or scotch, needs to age. But this was the Prohibition era, when demand for Canadian spirits was soaring in the US. So Canadian distillers started diluting their aged rye with neutral grain spirits. The alcoholic quotient was the same, but the flavor was diluted.
- Nowadays, there are many good Canadian whiskies that don’t use neutral grain spirits. But the more popular brands that you’re likely to see in the US still do.
- For that reason, most modern recipes for the Old Pal call for rye whiskey. We like to use Rittenhouse 100. If you don’t already have a favorite brand of rye, ask your friendly liquor store for a recommendation.
- The original version of this drink may have specified sweet vermouth rather than dry. But using sweet vermouth turns this drink into a rye-based version of The Boulevardier.
- Speaking of The Boulevardier: It was popularized by Harry McElhone, who owned and operated Harry’s New York Bar in Paris. The Boulevardier was actually the brainchild of Erskine Gwynne, a frequent patron at Harry’s.
- McElhone also made the Old Pal famous. The drink was named after William “Sparrow” Robinson, a sportswriter for the Paris office of the New York Herald Tribune. Robinson was well known around Paris, and his friends often called him “Old Pal.”
- So did McElhone create the Old Pal? Or did Robinson invent it himself? No one knows for sure. A recipe for the drink first appeared in McElhone’s 1927 book Barflies and Cocktails. But one story claims that Robinson actually invented the drink in 1878. Choose the tale you like best.
“How do you do?” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “I love to make friends with new drinks.”
“And this is one I can buddy up to,” I said.
“Right now, though, I’m a friend in need,” said Mrs K R. “Of another round. Want to mix one up?”
Sure thing. That’s what old pals are for.
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