Bourbon & Branch, San Francisco, 2008

Here’s a fun little drink that sits between worlds: sort of a sour, sort of a tiki drink, and none of the above. Good aged rum with lime and spiced syrups plus a dose of bitters sounds straight out of Don the Beachcomber or Trader Vic’s, but this is from San Francisco’s Bourbon & Branch, a password-protected speakeasy deep in the grubby Tenderloin. These secret-entry bars are sometimes more show than substance – startup spots trying to capture some of the magic of places like Bourbon & Branch, Please Don’t Tell, or Noble Experiment – but when done right, the barrier to entry serves a good purpose. In the neighborhood full of bums surrounding Bourbon & Branch, the tiny, 24-at-a-time, subterranean room of PDT, or the weekend AXE-effect shitshow in San Diego’s Gaslamp around Noble Experiment, a speakeasy makes good sense. It controls the experience, adds drama, and cuts down on the riff-raff.

With a perfect balance of spirit, sour, sweet, and spicy, the Rum Crawl is a sure-hit crowd-pleaser, especially for those who may not care for more spirit-forward cocktails. It’s also an opportunity to use more of that homemade Falernum – its holiday spices of ginger, clove, and allspice plus the fragrant cinnamon and Angostura bark in the Fee Brother’s once-a-year bottling of Whiskey-Barrel Aged Bitters are a perfect match for fall and winter entertaining.

THE KIT

Hardware: Shaker, Jigger, Vegetable peeler
Ice: Ice cubes
Glassware: Cocktail glass or coupe
Spirits: Aged rum (recommended: Appleton Estate Extra 12)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Falernum, Ginger Syrup (recommended: B.G. Reynolds’)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lime juice, Whiskey-Barrel Aged Bitters (recommended: Fee Brothers), Orange twist

HOW TO

Chill a cocktail glass or coupe in the freezer at least ten minutes. In a shaker about a third-full with ice cubes, add:

2 oz aged rum
3/4 oz lime juice
1/2 oz falernum
1/4 oz ginger syrup
2
dashes whiskey-barrel aged bitters

Shake well to blend and chill, then strain into the chilled glass. Pinch an orange twist over the drink to express oils onto its surface, then rub the twist around the glass rim to coat. Garnish with the twist laid across the surface of the drink.

The Varnish, 2011

I stopped by The Varnish in Downtown Los Angeles late one night, looking for a spot to kick back and enjoy just one more sip that wouldn’t put me over the edge. With nothing specific in mind, I asked general manager Chris Bostick for something “tall and low-proof” and he obliged with a snap of the fingers, producing this stunning, friendly, and balanced delight.

It specifies Gran Clasico, made by Tempus Fugit Spirits up in Novato, north of San Francisco. It’s a bitter liqueur in the style of the great Italian amari like Montenegro and Ramazzotti. Track that down and the rest is probably already on hand: lime, orange, simple syrup, and the bubbles of your choice – seltzer, soda, or mineral water.

THE KIT

Hardware: Shaker, Jigger, Barspoon, Straw (optional)
Ice: Ice cubes, Cracked ice
Glassware: Collins glass
Mixers & Liqueurs: Gran Clasico, Simple syrup, Seltzer or tonic water (recommended: Fever-Tree) or sparkling mineral water (recommended: Pellegrino)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lime juice, Orange wedge

HOW TO

In a shaker about a third-full with ice cubes, add:

1 oz Gran Clasico
1 oz lime juice
1/2 oz simple syrup

Shake well to blend and chill, then strain into a Collins glass filled most of the way up with cracked ice. Top with:

2 oz seltzer, tonic water, or sparkling mineral water

Squeeze in the juice from one orange wedge and stir lightly to blend, then garnish with the orange wedge. Optionally, serve with a straw.

Milan, Italy (1860s)

Situation: you’re gearing up for dinner, but it’s still a ways away. A Negroni sounds great, but in this heat? Not exactly refreshing. You just want a little something to sip on, something tall, something… satisfying. Satisfying without knocking you on your ass, if possible. Americano to the rescue.

Back in the 1860s, Gaspare Campari (yes, that Campari) ran a bar in Milan, the Caffè Campari. Locals enjoyed a late-afternoon cocktail of half-Campari / half-vermouth cut with seltzer they called the “Milano-Torino” (vermouth being from Turin and all). As more and more Americans visited Italy during Prohibition for a break from the squares ruining the party back home, the Milano-Torino became their favorite. So much so, the barkeep at Caffè Campari renamed it the “Americano.” Try it out next time you need a vacation from the heat.

THE KIT

Hardware: Jigger, Barspoon, Straw (optional)
Ice: Cracked ice
Glassware: Collins glass
Mixers & Liqueurs: Campari, Italian vermouth, Tonic water (recommended: Fever-Tree), sparkling mineral water (recommended: Pellegrino), or seltzer
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Orange wheel

HOW TO

In a Collins glass filled with cracked ice, add:

1 1/2 oz Campari
1 1/2 oz Italian vermouth

Stir well to blend and chill, then top with:

1 1/2 oz tonic water, sparkling mineral water, or seltzer

Stir lightly to blend and garnish with an orange wheel. Optionally, serve with a straw.