Many cocktails are born out of deliberate, thoughtful tinkering behind the bar, others from basic riffing off of classic recipes. Or you may want to use what you have on hand, throwing the ingredients together, and hoping for a happy accident. The cocktail we’ve been obsessed with for the past couple months is a little bit of all of these.
We’ve long appreciated New Orleans-style classics like Cocktail a la Louisiane (rye, Benedictine, sweet vermouth, absinthe, Peychaud’s bitters), the Boulevardier (bourbon, sweet vermouth, Campari), and the Sazerac (rye, absinthe, Peychaud’s, sugar). But they’ve grown a little sweet for our taste of late, particularly from the use of the vermouth. Hoping to work around the sugar, we tossed rye, Campari, absinthe, and Peychaud’s together on a whim, and the result was a revelation. Somehow this seemingly intuitive combination wasn’t already a classic. We asked at nearly every bar that we drank in — from Boston to Austin, via Brooklyn — in our evangelizing.
After some experimenting, we realized that the beauty of the mingling flavors in what we’re calling Red Dwarf lends itself to a wide spectrum of variation; upping the rye component for a hotter, boozier blend, or the Campari for brighter bittersweetness. It could be served on the rocks, chilled, or, in a pinch, as is, in a glass. But in order to perfect the recipe, we called upon Scott Holliday of Rendezvous, one of the city’s best veteran cocktail makers. “It’s an interesting cocktail and one I was skeptical of at first,” he said. “I’m a big fan of vermouth in general and often in cocktails it plays a valuable role as liaison between the other ingredients. As with dilution, it allows dense flavors to unfold and gives space for the more subtle ones to show themselves.”
That said, he was eventually won over. “This cocktail drinks clean, bitter-forward first, then alcohol.” He also likes the bitterness from nibbling on the orange rind after the drink is finished. “Delicious.” The cocktail, named Red Dwarf because it is red and we couldn’t think of anything else, is served down (the opposite of serving it up).
We sampled a few variations at Rendezvous, using the base of rye and Campari, with Peychaud’s, and switching between absinthe, which we were using at home (lovely St. George absinthe), and pastis, plus the oil of grapefruit, lemon, and orange.
Surprisingly, the Pastis Henri Bardouin won out over the Vieux Pontarlier absinthe Holliday used, as did the orange oil. “What we’ve done with the Peychaud’s and pastis or absinthe is replace the aromatics of the vermouth in those cocktails with less sweetness, as you’d hoped, all while tipping the glass in the direction of New Orleans and Father Sazerac.”
Luke O’Neil can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.