Even if you are not familiar with the Brooklyn cocktail, you are probably not surprised that Manhattan isn’t the only New York borough with a cocktail named after it. But if you are living in the US, chances are you have never seen the Brooklyn listed on a menu, let alone had an opportunity to try one. Interestingly, it is the Brooklyn cocktail variants that have gained the adoration of cocktail enthusiasts in recent years, while the original is, well, somewhat ignored. So, why is that?
The often copied formula for the original Brooklyn cocktail contains an uncommon ingredient—a French bitter orange liqueur called Picon, or Amer Picon. This product is not currently exported to the US and hasn’t been for many decades. As a result, several classics like the Brooklyn cannot be made without substitution. One of the easiest subs is Torani Amer—an ingredient we have used in the past to make the Jaguar cocktail. Some folks also use Ramazzotti or CioCiarro, both Italian bitter orange liqueurs. Some have even tried making a DIY Picon using an Italian amaro as the base and adding some homemade orange peel extract (among other things) to beef up the orange flavor. As much as we would love to have a bottle of real French Picon, we know that the genuine product itself has evolved over the years and today’s version isn’t the same as it once was. With a lower proof and adjusted flavor, even the modern version is a substitute for the historic product. We are perfectly happy to make do with Torani Amer.
2 oz rye whiskey
.75 oz dry French Vernouth
.25 oz Amer Picon (sub Torani Amer, Ramazzotti, or CioCiarro)
.25 oz Luxardo maraschino liqueur
Stir generously with ice to chill, then strain into a cold cocktail glass.
You can find many adjustments to this recipe calling for dashes or spoonfuls of the minor ingredients, but we like these simple proportions. Most modern versions of this drink call for a bonded rye, so pick something high-proof and flavorful. We used Rittenhouse. For a garnish, you have options. We chose to skip the garnish completely as is often recommended, though some recipes suggest a cocktail cherry—but a lemon twist is also nice here.
What we have is a cocktail that could have given the Manhattan a run for its money had Amer Picon been available over the years. And, apparently, we have a mistake in this well-documented recipe. It seems that a misunderstood ingredient from the earliest published version of this cocktail has misled everyone into using French vermouth (sound familiar?), when we should be using the Italian red and sweet variety. Doing so makes a much richer cocktail for sure, and it was actually re-made in 2009 and called the Bushwick. Either way, it is the formula that has stood the test of time even if the original cocktail has slipped into obscurity. As written, this is definitely a boozy drink—as expected—so adequate stirring with ice is essential. The peppery rye flavor stands out like it should, but bitter orange and cherry from the liqueurs gives some body and balance to the somewhat oxidized flavor of the vermouth. Served in a frozen coupe, this is a lovely sipper on a hot afternoon.
The Brooklyn Formula
The basic starting place resembles a Manhattan—think of the whiskey:vermouth at a 2:1 ratio. This is a foundation that everyone is familiar with, and a dash of bitters brings it all together, right? But what if we skip the bitters and go for a bitter aperitif instead? We could replace a portion of the vermouth with an French (or Italian) amer (amaro) and some liqueur. It is that insight into bittersweet flavor permutations alongside the growing availability of bitter Italian liqueurs that has inspired the modern Brooklyn variants. Drinks like the Red Hook, Greenpoint and the Bensonhurst owe their inspiration to the Brooklyn. These “neighborhood” cocktails are, by some margin, our favorite spirit-driven recipes, and we return to them again and again. With most parts of Brooklyn accounted for, there are many cocktails to explore, but we are limited by the slow growth of our inventory. We hope to feature others in the coming months. In the mean time, enjoy the original and the various ways you can make it.