Chalk it up to getting older, but these days we gravitate more toward woodsy, bitter flavors and have retreated from sweet. The gateway to our cocktail enlightenment many years ago - a lush Manhattan - now rides the bench with a few other sweet jams. We're sentimental about our booze fabric - how else to explain the thought we put into writing about it - so we don't take this sea change lightly.
Thankfully, we've found another gear in our cocktail engine and have put pedal to metal to explore its range. About a year ago, mezcal hitched a ride and became a welcome dark passenger. The sight of it on bar menus these days, often rotated as a base in classics, always grabs our eye. We dig the smoky sting and illicit way it dances with other spirits. How we see it, mezcal draws out the alter ego of a cocktail and injects the play with intrigue and a little danger. It's a set of brass knuckles on a guy wearing pleated khakis.
One thing that has not changed with age: we are always game for a Negroni. The go-to order sits at the tip of our tongue when we saddle up to any bar. Still, we like to show some respect for the mad science and love a joint’s barman puts into the cocktail list, so we open our minds and always peruse it with genuine anticipation and wonder.
At Oakhart Social, our study is rewarded when skimming eyes find the Negroni 3.0 and light the hell up.
1 oz Broker’s Gin
1 oz Campari
1 oz Carpano Bianco
Rinse of Los Amantes Mezcal Joven
As we mentally unpack the list of ingredients, we find some intriguing components. For one, Carpano Bianco vermouth (white cousin to the sultry Antica) skews floral and perfume-y. And Broker’s Gin is heavy on the juniper berry taste, quite peppery. Campari fatigue set in for us long ago (at home we do Cappelletti or Meletti 1870 Bitter), but there's no denying its classic virtues. New to us is the Los Amantes Mezcal Joven.
Rubbing hands together, we gaze on as Brendan Cartin, Oakhart's beverage brains and brawn, works his craft with the sophisticated grit of a Porsche mechanic. When the fruit of his labor arrives, we lean in and draw a deep breath, catching smoky shades of citrus and violets on the nose. Then we taste, and instantly we're filled with a sense of outlaw lust, absolutely converted. The barbecued (charred) citrus of the mezcal delivers a 'shady character' layer beneath the lovely trifecta of bitter, spicy and floral flavors brought by the 1:1:1 players.
Momentarily we drift to a beach at dusk where, after a long day of surfing and sun worship, we gather with friends around a giant bonfire. Sun-kissed faces smile as a joint goes from one set of pinched fingers to the next. A bottle of aged rum is passed in tandem. The lingering bouquet on the moment is smoke, sunscreen, liquor breath and laughter. It's zen tainted perfectly with traces of vice and bad intention. We open our eyes to see Brendan nodding in our direction, like he knows where we just went.
If we're being honest, we're not that floored to encounter such a ballsy beverage here. As far as we're concerned, scrappy is Oakhart's middle name, which is to say, this shit is totally in character.
Brendan doesn't argue that point one bit and suggests that the renegade spirit creates the ideal culture for him. "Creativity with edge is definitely encouraged around here. It's like there's no such thing as a bad idea so long as it's pushing the limits in a smart way."
Pressed for insight on the inspiration for this jam, a mischievous smile spreads slowly across Brendan's face. "I love mezcal and the way it changes the character of a cocktail. There's something naughty about it, but not over-the-top. To me, this is a Negroni on spring break."
Sometimes a bad influence can be a really good thing, so here's to making Negroni Week just a little bit dicey at Oakhart Social.