I think we knew we were in trouble when we spent the better part of two years trying to track down a bottle of Cocchi Americano. On our first trip to San Francisco we dined at a restaurant in The Mission called Beretta. While there were many memorable aspects of that meal, the polenta fries and the meatballs are worth a return trip in themselves, it was a cocktail called The Old Pretender that caught D’s attention. D is a lifelong Rusty Nail drinker. He likes his heavy on the Drambuie in a 1:1 ratio with the scotch. The Old Pretender is Beretta’s twist on this old classic. D swears that the addition of the Cocchi Americano (pronounced coke-y), an Italian aperitif wine aromatized with orange peels, cinchona bark and a proprietary blend of herbs and spices, performs an alchemic reaction elevating the drink to new heights. And I must agree. While I tend to find D’s version of the Rusty Nail syrupy sweet and cloying, The Old Pretender is a beautifully balanced and nuanced drink with lovely citrus notes and surprising layers of spice.
The Old Pretender
We should have snatched up a bottle while still in the Bay Area, unfortunately the airline’s exorbitant baggage fees meant that we were travelling with carry-on luggage and could not bring a bottle onto the plane. We arrived home and did some cursory searching, always returning empty handed. Not to worry, I thought to myself, I was secretly hoping that D would forget about the Cocchi and I could surprise him with a bottle for Christmas. Never one to leave a project to the last minute I started my search months before the winter holiday. I began with the provincial liquor stores and then moved on to the private distributors. Nada. The Liquor Board was not carrying the product and virtually no one I spoke to had even heard of Cocchi Americano. I put in a formal request with the BC Liquor Distribution Board and another at Legacy Liquor, Vancouver’s finest private liquor store and savior of this project, and then began the long wait.
A funny thing happened over the next year or so, while the product continued to be unavailable in the province, many of the local bartenders were starting to use the spirit in their cocktails. These were never drinks that were on the menu, but libations provided only when we lamented the unattainability of the aperitif. It would seem that these dedicated individuals were bringing bottles back from their own travels and were willing to share with like-minded folk.
Mercifully Cocchi Americano became available here this past year – about 2 years after we started our search. It is fantastic in The Old Pretender but also a great substitute for Lillet Blanc when making classic cocktails. The recipe for Lillet (formerly known as Kina Lillet) was changed in 1986, reducing the amount of quinine and thus bitterness in the wine. Cocchi Americano offers more spice and bitterness and is our aperitif of choice when making The Twentieth Century Cocktail and The Corpse Reviver #2. But don’t believe us, try it for yourselves!
The Old Pretender
- 2 ounces Famous Grouse Blended Scotch
- ½ ounce Cocchi Americano
- ¼ ounce Drambuie
- Stir over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Cocchi Info Source: http://drinks.seriouseats.com/2011/02/what-is-cocchi-aperitivo-americano-aperitif-cocktails-drinks.html
Video tutorial The Old Pretender: https://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=602924901586
I made pomegranate grenadine from scratch using this incredibly simple recipe attributed to Todd Thrasher that I found in Jason Wilson’s Boozehound (adapted for quantity):
- 1 473ml bottle Pom brand pure pomegranate juice
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 ounce fresh lemon juice
- Rind of 1 small orange, in large strips
Bring the pomegranate juice to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the remaining ingredients and lower heat to medium-low. Simmer the mixture very gently about 45 minutes, until reduced by half. Strain through a fine sieve and allow to cool.
I was thrilled with the product of this recipe. The dark red syrup is not too thick but is wonderfully flavorful. It has a molasses essence that is sweet but at the same time very tart. The orange rind permeates the syrup, reminding me of holiday spices. There’s really no excuse to buy commercial grenadine when you can produce one of this quality so simply and affordably.
The grenadine will keep for two weeks in the fridge, as is. To extend the shelf life for up to two months add an ounce of 151 rum.
As a side note I’m absolutely using this grenadine to deglaze my holiday ham. It’s stunning!!
I was curious about this cocktail, largely because I really wanted to try the kirschwasser. We have several cherry-based spirits in our liquor cabinet and I wondered how this would compare. As with any new product we bring into the house, we tasted it on its own before using it as a cocktail ingredient. We discovered that kirschwasser is exceptionally dry, almost like a cherry grappa, and not at all like its sweeter cousins: maraschino, cherry heering, or Luxardo morlacco. I continued to be intrigued.
Once mixed the cocktail, which donned an enticing ruby hue, had a lovely nose, reminiscent of a pinot noir rosé or of a summer sangria, with red fruit dominating. We found the palate, however, to be governed by the gin. I actually found that the kirschwasser made the gin more pronounced, rather than balancing it out. As the cocktail warmed up (is a cocktail supposed to warm up?), the drink mellowed, with the cherry notes increasing on the nose and the Dubonnet emerging on the palate. Whilst I attempted to coax some thoughts from D regarding The Blackthrorn, he reached for Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails and thumbed ahead to the next libation, The Blinker, declaring: “I’m gonna love The Blinker. I hate grapefruit and I’m not crazy about raspberry, but for one week The Blinker will be on my top 5 list!” It would seem that five gin cocktails in succession is D’s limit. Incidentally, D also demanded that I stop using the word ‘libation,’ declaring it to be “pretentious.” Sheesh. I’d like to see him come up with seven synonyms for ‘cocktail.’
Ted Haigh notes that The Blackthorn is a sister cocktail to The Amarosa, which regrettably, we have yet to try. Our search for Amaro Cora weighs on us. Damn you, Amaro Cora! D keeps threatening to buy a 30-year-old bottle off an auction site for an outrageous price but I have, thus far, reigned him in. As for The Blackthorn it is a pretty little thing that shows well but lacks pizazz on the palate. The lemon zest and cherry garnish help to reinforce the subtle flavors of the drink itself.
The Blackthorn Cocktail
- 2 ounces gin
- .75 ounce Dubonnet Rouge
- .75 ounce Kirschwasser
Stir over ice. Strain. Garnish with a cherry and a lemon twist.
The Blackthorn ingredients