Spicy rye and bitter orange usher us into autumn
We’re starting to notice the change of seasons. The sun slants lower in late afternoon, the breeze seems to be freshening.
So let’s sip something autumnal. The Brooklyn Cocktail hits just the right note of spicy and astringent (much like its New York City eponym).
Meet you across the Manhattan Bridge.
Recipe: The Brooklyn Cocktail
Several cocktails have celebrated the borough of Brooklyn. But this rye and vermouth version wins the popularity contest. It’s similar to the better-known Manhattan Cocktail (named after that other borough).
Both drinks contain whiskey and vermouth, along with bitters to boost their flavor. The Manhattan relies on Angostura bitters. The Brooklyn uses a mixture of Maraschino liqueur and Picon (a bitter liqueur, which is why it’s often called Amer Picon – “amer” means bitter in French).
This recipe takes about 5 minutes to prepare and serves 1.
- 2 ounces rye whiskey
- 1 ounce sweet vermouth (or dry vermouth if you prefer; see Notes)
- ¼ ounce Amer Picon or substitute (we used Bigallet China-China Amer; see Notes)
- ¼ ounce Maraschino liqueur
- garnish of a lemon twist or maraschino cherry (optional; see Notes)
- Combine all ingredients (except garnish) in a mixing glass half filled with ice. Using a long-handled spoon, stir briskly until the ingredients are well chilled.
- Strain into a cocktail glass (preferably one that’s been chilled). Garnish, if you wish, and serve.
- This drink is traditionally served “up” in a cocktail glass. We also like to serve it over ice in a rocks glass.
- Why stir rather than shake? Because all the ingredients are clear. Shaking introduces tiny oxygen bubbles, which can cloud the drink.
- But shake away if you want. Cocktail rules are made to be broken (and the bubbles dissipate quickly).
- The Brooklyn Cocktail (this version of it, anyway) was probably invented by bartender Jacob “Jack” Grohusko in the early 20th century. Competing “Brooklyn” cocktails have come along throughout the decades (most made with very different ingredients). Grohusko’s version won out mostly because it’s a very good drink. But also because recipes for it were printed in several cocktail guides, including the influential Savoy Cocktail Book, published in 1930.
- The Brooklyn originally was made with equal parts of rye and sweet vermouth, along with healthy dashes of Amer Picon and Maraschino liqueur. Over time, the ratio of rye to vermouth became to 2:1, and many people opted to substitute dry vermouth for sweet (that variation showed up in the recipe published in the Savoy Cocktail Book). These days, using dry vermouth is probably more common. But we much prefer sweet vermouth in this drink, so that’s how we make it.
- Gaétan Picon developed his namesake liqueur around 1837. Picon, who lived in Algeria for a time, may have developed Amer Picon as a malaria remedy. The mixture contained quinquina and other botanicals mixed with oranges. Orange is the most noticeable flavor in Amer Picon, though the botanicals get to play, too.
- Amer Picon became quite popular in Europe during the 19th century. Later on, it found a home in several cocktails.
- The Brooklyn Cocktail fell out of favor for a while, partly because Amer Picon stopped being produced (better malaria remedies, you know). Amer Picon is back now, although the formula is different – and it’s almost impossible to find in the US.
- Fortunately, there are some good substitutes for Amer Picon. And the Brooklyn Cocktail has become popular again in many craft bars (probably because its amaro-heavy flavor is one that bartenders like to experiment with these days).
- What are the popular substitutes for Amer Picon? Torani Amer (a California brand) is widely available in the western part of the US. We haven’t tried it, though we’ve read that it’s an OK (but not ideal) substitute. Golden Moon Amer dit Picon (from a Colorado distillery) is supposed to be quite good. Bartender Jamie Boudreau has devised a recipe that supposedly tastes very much like the original Amer Picon – but it makes a much larger quantity than most of us will ever use in a reasonable period of time.
- Several liqueurs from France and Italy are similar enough to the original Amer Picon to be used in cocktails – and they’re fairly easy to find in the US. We opted to use French-made China-China Amer, produced by Bigallet. From what we’ve read, its flavor is very close to the original Amer Picon.
- Italian Amaro CioCiaro might also work well as a substitute. Or you could try Amaro Montenegro (we’ve read that adding a dash of orange bitters to this one will yield a flavor closer to the original Amer Picon). Ramazzotti Amaro may be another workable choice.
- Several other classic cocktails use Amer Picon as an ingredient. Over the next year or so, we’ll be exploring some of them. If you’re interested in sampling them, you might want to find a bottle of Amer Picon substitute.
- BTW, the best source we know for drinks history is cocktail historian extraordinaire David Wondrich. He writes for a number of online sources and is currently working on the Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails for Oxford University Press. We followed his suggestion to use Bigallet China-China as an Amer Picon substitute.
- We like to use Rittenhouse 100 rye for cocktails. It’s fairly inexpensive and probably not great as a sipping rye. But as a cocktail ingredient, it’s superb.
- Some drinkers substitute bourbon for rye in this cocktail. We think that’s a mistake, but give it a try if you’d like.
- Dry or sweet vermouth? Sweet vermouth makes for a more complex and interesting drink, in our opinion.
- Maraschino liqueur is fairly bitter. It tastes nothing like the juice from a jar of maraschino cherries, so don’t try to substitute that.
- We recommend using ¼ ounce each of Maraschino liqueur and Amer Picon substitute in this drink. But you might prefer less (maybe ½ to 1 teaspoon of each).
- We’ve mentioned quite a few brands in this post, so our usual disclaimer: We’re noncommercial and don’t get compensated for mentioning brands. We buy our booze with our own money, and discuss only what we like and use (or would use).
- What garnish to add? Maraschino cherries seem to be popular, but we think a lemon twist works better (the extra hint of citrus is nice in this drink). Or you can just skip the garnish – we often do.
Falling into Place
“Lovely as an autumn leaf,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “I could fall for this drink.”
“Hard to believe this one ever fell out of favor,” I said.
“They found better meds for malaria,” said Mrs K R. “So Amer Picon went away for a while. To the distress of cocktail drinkers everywhere.”
“We had to do some serious research before we found a substitute,” I said. “Say, how many tabs can I have open before my computer melts down?”
“Fortunately, we never reached that limit,” said Mrs K R. “But we did work up quite a thirst.”
“Is that a hint?” I said, eyeing her empty glass.
“Maybe another round,” said Mrs K R. “To toast the imminent arrival of autumn.”
But just one more. Don’t want to take a fall.
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