Every cocktail recipe has two kinds of ingredients: liquids and history. Since the L’Allegro cocktail is my own mix I know the history, and I’ll start with that, but feel free to skip right to the recipe if you’re in a hurry.
Back in the day (a phrase I am old enough to use without irony), Will and I would often go out and have dinner and a few cocktails together. At the time, ordering even a Manhattan was somewhat unusual; trendy places were just starting to offer a selection of single-malt scotch, and it was well before vodka-and-stuff was called a “martini.” I recall one evening where we had more than our share of them at Turner Fisheries, somehow ending up on stage holding our drinks and being called the “Manhattan Guys.” I still make them on a regular basis; there is a reason it is a classic that you can order in almost any bar.
More recently, one of my early adventures in classic craft cocktails was the Brooklyn. Whiskey and dry vermouth were on my shelves, but maraschino liqueur and Amer Picon were not. That was the beginning of my exploration of amari, since Amer Picon is not available for purchase in the United States. The best advice I found was to use Amaro Ramazotti with orange bitters. It would be four more years before Will had the opportunity to make one for real, confirming the bitter orange notes. If you have never tried a Brooklyn, be sure to ask for one next time you’re in a craft bar.
I came to enjoy amari a great deal, both straight up as a digestif and mixed in many experimental cocktails. At one point I just decided to mix bourbon and amaro. It was really good, and though I came up with my own name for the drink, it turns out I was not the only one to have this simple idea. The cocktail is now widely called a Black Manhattan. I sometimes make them with rye, Irish whiskey, or scotch, and they’re all tasty and trivial to make.
My goal was to synthesize all the best elements of these drinks, both their ingredients and their memories. As always, I prefer that cocktails are straightforward to measure and mix. With a fair amount of tinkering, then, L’Allegro was the result:
- 2 oz Rye whiskey
- 1/2 oz Dry Vermouth
- 1/2 oz Amaro
- 1/8 oz Absinthe
- Maraschino Cherry
Add the rye, vermouth, and amaro to a mixing glass half-full of ice, and stir until very cold. Rinse or spray a chilled rocks glass with absinthe, add one large ice cube, and pour the drink in. Add the cherry to garnish.
The choice of ingredients is fairly important here. Now that a genuine variety of rye products is available (vs. the “craft marketing” of bottling and labeling MGP whiskey, make sure to pick one you like – it’s two-thirds of the drink. Do make it an 80-proof rather than 100. Next, the particular amaro is crucial. Averna, generally a Consumatorium favorite, is too chocolatey and heavy for this drink, and Montenegro is potentially distracting with its one-two punch. Ramazotti is the most neutral and the one we like the best here, although Meletti makes it just a little sweeter and sometimes that’s good. I tried it with Nonino, and it was no better than the Ramazzotti at twice the cost. The key to dry vermouth, as always, is less the brand and more the freshness, though Carpano Dry does add just a little sparkle. Finally, Pernod is now available in smaller bottles and you should have one in your bar.
The name is Italian for “the cheerful one” or perhaps “the happy man.” Pronounce it “la lay grow,” or practice this between sips. The eponymous poem by John Milton includes lines like these:
Haste thee nymph, and bring with thee Jest and youthful Jollity…
Come, and trip it as ye go
On the light fantastic toe…
And young and old come forth to play
On a sunshine holiday,
Till the live-long daylight fail
You get the idea. It’s happy hour.
Why You Will Like L’Allegro
It is familiar yet different: a smooth whiskey-forward mix, not quite as sweet as a Manhattan, not as rich and heavy as a Black Manhattan, not quite as heavy on the vermouth as a Brooklyn. The absinthe takes it beyond merely good to distinctive and memorable. The ingredients are staples for your home bar, usable in many other cocktails.