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La Yapa

La YapaSometimes we have to make tough decisions. For example, Derby Day or Cinco de Mayo? As a friend of ours recently said, you don't really have to make that choice—you can have a Mint Julep in the morning and Margaritas all day long!  It's good advice, but instead of focusing on Kentucky or Mexico, we decided to break from tradition and feature a cocktail invented in Portland, Oregon with influences all the way from Argentina.

La Yapa is a wonderful whiskey cocktail based on a sour formula with a complex flavor profile. It was created by Jamal Hassan during his tenure at Whey Bar, boozy companion to Portland's Ox restaurant. Ox cuisine is Argentinian inspired, so it stands to reason that the cocktail program would have similar influences. More than one cocktail on the menu contains Fernet-Branca, but we are getting ahead of ourselves.

This cocktail appears to be named for a Spanish word used in Peru, Bolivia and Argentina that means a little something extra. It's a reference to a friendly tradition followed by tradesmen exchanging goods during a time before supermarkets and convenience stores. Like a baker's dozen, an extra item or additional quantity was customarily given for good measure. A farmer might add an additional tomato to buyer's bag, like the baker who adds a thirteenth bagel to a dozen. La Yapa is a bonus, above and beyond the expectation. In this regard, the drink is aptly named, having bold flavors that make it more than your typical whiskey sour.

La Yapa by Jamal Hassan
1 oz rye whiskey
1 oz fresh lemon juice
.5 oz Fernet Branca
.5 oz falernum
.5 oz grenadine
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Combine all ingredients and shake with ice cubes. Strain into an ice-filled rocks glass and garnish with an orange twist.

It calls for rye whiskey. This is a good example that illustrates rye's virtue in a mixed drink. The extra kick of spicy flavor helps it stand up to all of the other items competing for your attention. A smooth bourbon could get lost among these other influences. That's not to say you shouldn't experiment, just that the recipe specifies rye for good reason.

The combination of whiskey and lemon juice is familiar and delicious, especially when balanced with an appropriate amount of sugar. We love that the full ounce of juice in this drink remains tart even with the addition of grenadine and falernum. We used our own homemade grenadine and suggest you do the same. We also used our own falernum which introduces a bit of a wildcard. If you have a bottle of John D. Taylor's Velvet Falernum, that's probably more authentic, but our homemade stuff has fantastic flavor. Your mileage may vary, but we could easily identify the cloves and ginger through the sour lemon, while the grenadine stayed somewhat behind everything else.

It wouldn't be Argentinian without Fernet-Branca, even though Fernet comes from Italy. Argentinians supposedly consume more Fernet than anyone, so this is an important ingredient that ties it all together. Indeed, this bitter amaro brings even more herbal character to the glass and oddly doesn't seem to make it any sweeter. The bitter effect is definitely present as is a subtle menthol overtone which sounds stranger than it tastes. These additions are secondary to the fact that this is still a whiskey sour, but if you are looking for another cocktail that uses Fernet-Branca, this is a good one. Overall, La Yapa is a winner that works as well as a Julep or a Margarita any day!

5 comments to La Yapa

  • Glenn

    There's a very common word in south Louisiana, "lagniappe" (pronounced "lan-yap"), which means exactly the same thing: A little something extra. I wonder if it's linguistically related to La Yapa. Seems plausible. Anyway, just made some falernum and mixed up La Yapas. I couldn't find anything close to Fernet-Branca, so we went without, but still damn fine. Will be featuring these at our upcoming dinner club. Thanks & keep up the great work!

    • Glenn, I also read somewhere that there is a swahili word for "giving" that sounds the same too. Interesting. These all must be related.

      As for the Fernet, you really must try this stuff. It's definitely an odd ingredient with an acquired taste, but it does a "a little something extra" in this drink for sure!

  • Glenn

    Well, if they don't have it at Walmart, I probably won't find it in my town. :(

  • Glenn

    I finally got a hold of some Fernet-Branca. Gomer's in Kansas City is a great liquor store.

    • It's definitely an acquired taste, but once you get the feel for the stuff you start trying it in all sorts of ways. My wife likes it on the rocks with a lime wedge. The La Yapa is great though!

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