This timeless charmer will intrigue and satisfy
The US had an election last month, and the results are in: We need a drink! And what more appropriate choice than the Liberal Cocktail?
It’s a bipartisan standard that dates back at least 125 years. So if you’re hankering after some traditional values, this is your drink.
Mix up a round of these beauties, then give us your vote of thanks.
Recipe: The Liberal Cocktail
The Liberal is a variant of the Manhattan Cocktail and a close cousin of the Brooklyn Cocktail.
The Liberal is made with rye or bourbon whiskey, sweet vermouth, Picon liqueur (or a substitute), and orange bitters. The drink’s distinctive flavor owes much to the bitterness of Picon (which is often called Amer Picon because “amer” means bitter in French). See the Notes for more on Picon.
This recipe takes about 5 minutes to prepare and serves 1.
- 1½ ounces rye or bourbon (see Notes)
- ½ ounce sweet vermouth (Italian red vermouth)
- ¼ ounce Amer Picon or substitute (we like Bigallet China-China Amer, but see Notes)
- 1 to 2 dashes orange bitters
- garnish of a lemon or orange twist (optional)
- Place all ingredients (except garnish) in a mixing glass half filled with ice. Stir briskly until the contents are well chilled (30 seconds or more).
- Strain into a cocktail glass, preferably one that’s been chilled. Garnish, if you wish, and serve.
- Why stir rather than shake this cocktail? Because all the ingredients are clear. Shaking introduces oxygen bubbles, which can cloud the drink. But shake anyway if you prefer.
- We like the flavor of rye in cocktails, so that’s what we use for the Liberal. No need to buy an expensive sipping rye – our favorite for mixed drinks is Rittenhouse 100.
- Want to try bourbon in this drink? We suggest using one with some zest to it – such as Wild Turkey 101. Again, you don’t need a premium sipping brand for cocktails (it would be good, but a bit of a waste).
- We like to use Martini and Rossi sweet vermouth for cocktails because it’s good quality and available everywhere. But there are several great vermouth brands available these days, so we encourage you to experiment (Punt e Mes, for example, would be terrific in this drink).
- Amer Picon was invented in the 1830s, probably as a malaria remedy. The mixture contained quinquina and other botanicals blended with oranges. It became quite popular in Europe during the 19th century, eventually finding a home in several cocktails.
- But Picon went out of production for much of the 20th century – which is probably why the Liberal Cocktail fell out of favor for decades.
- A version of Picon is back on the market now, but it’s difficult to find. Fortunately, several good substitutes are available. We particularly like Bigallet China-China Amer (see our post on the Brooklyn Cocktail for discussion of other substitutes).
- Our usual reminder: We’re noncommercial and don’t get compensated when we mention brands. We buy our booze with our own money, and recommend only what we use and like. We always encourage you to consult your friendly liquor store personnel when selecting brands if you’re unsure about what to buy.
- So what are the origins of the Liberal Cocktail? A recipe for it first appeared in George J. Kappeler’s Modern American Drinks, published in 1895. Kappeler’s version included equal parts of Amer Picon and whiskey, along with a dash of sugar syrup. Over time, the drink evolved to include red vermouth and bitters. The formula we suggest is now fairly standard (though you can find drinkers who favor somewhat different ingredient quantities).
- The original drink featured a lemon twist, and that remains the most popular garnish. We prefer an orange twist, though, because it works well with orange bitters (and with the orange undertones of Picon). Some drinkers garnish with a maraschino cherry. Of course, you can just skip the garnish entirely – we often do.
“This drink is the winning ticket,” said Mrs Kitchen Riffs. “And much needed after that l-o-n-g election season.”
“Good thing I’ve filled your glass to the rim,” I said. “You might say it’s a liberal pour.”
“Not to mention one satisfying sip,” said Mrs K R. “A flavor filibuster, in fact.”
“Fortunately, there’s more where this came from,” I said. “When it comes to drinks, we have ways and means.”
“OK, another round of these, Mr Chairman,” said Mrs K R. “It wins by acclamation.”
I’ll take that as a vote of confidence.
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