Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Perfect Cocktail

In the autumn of 2012, I conducted a series of cocktail competitions - an Iron Bartender, if you will. These weekly battles took place at Holeman & Finch, a decorated gastropub in Atlanta. Once a week, I would arrive at the bar, announce the liquor of the evening, and the two bartenders would each make a cocktail based on the "secret ingredient". Sometimes I offered latitude, simply naming whiskey or gin; other times, I would request a specific liquor like rye. During one of the Battle Whiskeys, Tyson Bittrich made for me a bourbon-based cocktail of his own creation, the Newport '65. Incorporating celery bitters, it was unlike any drink I ever had, and it was amazing.

Fast forward to February 2013 and Iron Bartender had been retired. I couldn't make it out to Holeman on a regular basis, so I attempted at one point to order the Newport '65 at my regular bar. Unfortunately, I didn't remember the exact recipe and my regular bar didn't carry celery bitters (to be fair, almost none do). On my third attempt, I arrived at the recipe below. It was boozy yet crisp, spicy with flavors that evolved during consumption. In other words, it was the perfect cocktail.

It's called the December '69, but this etymology has nothing to do with a mutual admiration society. The Newport Folk Festival in 1965 was Bob Dylan's first live set with an electric guitar, and my drink being derived from Tyson's Newport '65, I named it for Dylan's "derivative" - his son Jakob - born December 9, 1969.

December '69 cocktail
1 oz Bulleit rye
1 oz Maison Surrenne Galtaud cognac
3/4 oz Cocchi sweet vermouth
1/4 oz Fernet Branca
2 hard dashes Angostura bitters
Stir over ice, served up w/orange peel

Update: On April 17, 2013, the proportions of vermouth and fernet were slightly altered (and improved) on the suggestion of Omar Ferrer of Empire State South.


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