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.
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.
Video tutorial The Old Pretender: https://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=602924901586