When he's not busy running the cocktail program at New York City's Maialino, Erik Lombardo is giving us the rundown on all things spirits -- and showing us the best ways to drink them.
Today: A -- dare we say genius -- combination of 3 ingredients, and one of the simplest drinks you'll make this month.
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Cooking without drinking is like driving without listening to music: you’ll get from point A to point B, but you won’t necessarily enjoy the journey. There is something therapeutic about making a meal at home -- we compose a shopping list, do our prep, and for some, an integral part of this ritual is a drink. It may be a bottle of wine, something noncommittal and seasonally appropriate that can be re-corked and thrown in the fridge guilt-free. Others go the beer route. For those of you who have yet to settle on a clear favorite, may I humbly submit for your approval: the Americano.
The Americano was born in 1860 as the “Milano-Torino” in a bar called Caffé Campari. Its original name was a nod to the two main ingredients: Campari, which came from Milan, and Sweet Vermouth which came from Turin. The cocktail is incredibly simple, and is in fact only the slightest variation on having an aperitivo with a splash of soda. The genius comes in the way these two ingredients interact.
Campari is a 24% alcohol-by-volume aperitivo that by itself is overwhelmingly bitter and about as pleasant as chewing on a grapefruit peel -- no one walks into a bar and asks for a shot of Campari. Sweet vermouth is an aromatized wine that is likewise seldom enjoyed on its own, as many people find it pleasant enough but uninteresting, something for old Italian men in Bensonhurst to drink while they play Bocce.
Combined in equal proportion, these two aperitivi achieve a level of synergy that is far more than the sum of its parts. The Campari adds depth and complexity to the vermouth, which in turn brings a touch of sweetness that accentuates the citrus and spice in the Campari. Finishing the cocktail with soda water completes the picture, giving us a lightly alcoholic, tall, fizzy and refreshing drink that can be enjoyed in modest quantity without worrying about becoming too intoxicated to remember to boil water for the pasta.
The choice of sweet vermouth will change the cocktail dramatically. In the summer try it with Dolin Rouge, a light and elegant sweet vermouth from France. In the winter give Carpano Antica a chance -- the deep vanilla notes and slight smokiness will give surpising warmth to the cocktail. Cinzano (rumored to be the original) and Martini-Rossi are solid choices as well, just remember to always keep opened sweet vermouth refrigerated, because the reason you thought vermouth was gross in the first place was because the dusty bottle that was sitting on your parents liquor cabinet since 1983 went bad...in 1983.