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Award Winning: Lonely Angel No. 35

Lonely Angel #35

A cocktail is always infinitely more compelling to me if it has an interesting story to accompany it. And of the original recipes I’ve created, Lonely Angel No. 35, a Negroni variation that uses the French St-Germain elderflower liqueur, definitely takes the cake in the story department.

I created this drink on the night of Thursday, October 4, 2012. It was my birthday. But it was a birthday night devoid of the usual birthday accoutrements. There was no cake. There was no dinner out at a restaurant (or an exquisitely prepared feast at home). No friends or family around to celebrate, as Molly was in NYC on business. Boo-hoo, right? I wasn’t even home for most of the evening myself as I had performed a concert earlier that night. So when I arrived back at home at 10:30 p.m. that night, I decided that I’d fix myself a drink. Always up for an experiment, I decided to mix a variation on my beloved Negroni.

My choice of ingredients was influenced as much by what we currently had on the shelf as by the disappointment I was still nursing after learning that my cocktail The French Intervention wasn’t eligible for Martha Stewart and St-Germain’s Fifth Annual Can-Can Classic Cocktail Competition because it didn’t feature enough St-Germain. The contest rules–which I originally neglected to read, of course–specified that submitted drinks needed to include 1 oz. of St-Germain; The French Intervention only uses 1/2 oz. A Negroni variation, I thought, could be the perfect showcase for that volume of the liqueur as long as the other ingredients could stand up to it.

I chose Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage Bourbon in place of the gin and Cynar instead of Campari to shade it more towards the mellow side. The coup de grâce, however, was my decision to float four dashes of Angostura for an initial added kick of bitterness. That simple tweak makes the drink. If you know St-Germain, you know that it finishes strong. So putting the Angostura front and center sets up a really neat effect and balances the drink as it progresses across the palate.

I ended up submitting this drink to the Can-Can Classic Cocktail Competition and promptly forgot that I had. That is until two weeks ago when I received emails from both St-Germain and Martha Stewart Living. Though Lonely Angel No. 35 wasn’t the grand prize winner, it was chosen as a runner up. As a prize I received a bottle of St-Germain as well as a custom St-Germain bicycle. Not too shabby!

Lonely Angel #35

So, the name. The ‘lonely’ part should be obvious—I was alone on my birthday. What’s more lonely than that? The ‘angel’ in the title is a bit more cryptic and convoluted. My birthday is October 4. Written out numerically it is 1004. If you say that number in Korean—one thousand four—it is pronounced chun-sa. In the Korean language that is also a homonym for ‘angel.’ Get it? And No. 35? It was my thirty-fifth birthday. So there you have it.

Lonely Angel No. 35
Runner Up, Fifth Annual Can-Can Classic Cocktail Competition

1 oz. Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage Bourbon
1 oz. Cynar
1 oz. St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur
4 dashes Angostura Bitters
Wide orange twist for garnish

Combine the bourbon, Cynar, and St-Germain in a mixing glass. Stir with ice and strain over one large ice cube into a rocks glass. Float four dashes of the bitters and garnish with a wide orange twist.

White Negroni: Anger That Forgot Where it Came From

White Negroni

I was originally planning to title this post “A White Negroni and the Trouble with Suze” as a way of venting the frustration I had accumulated while playing around with the bitter French aperitif to largely lackluster results. My struggle came not necessarily from the liqueur itself, but rather from how it seemingly refused to play well with others. I found that the very qualities that make Suze such a singular spirit when enjoyed on its own—a quick splash of sweetness followed by an intense and long, lingering bitterness—also make it somewhat difficult to tame in the context of a mixed drink. Definitely not an impossible task, but perhaps one of the reasons you don’t see a heck of a lot of cocktails with Suze in them.

White Negroni

Now, I like my bitter aperitifs as much as the next guy, but when it comes to cocktails I prefer balance. And that proved to be the main challenge in constructing this drink since despite many efforts to reign in Suze’s persistent bitterness in various ways, it continually bullied its way to the front of the palate. Eventually, thankfully, finally, and much to my pleasure, lest I feel as though I’d wasted a few weeks time not to mention half a bottle of a perfectly wonderful bitter liqueur, I arrived at a combination of gin, Suze, and vermouth that, to me, felt balanced. (And that, coming from a Libra, should carry some weight.) However, the perfectionist in me wasn’t quite content.

After tasting a version mixed with Old Tom and another with a London Dry—each lending their own unique and interesting flavor profiles—I decided to split the difference and go with equal parts Hayman’s Old Tom and Plymouth, which makes for a nice combination and also appeases the Negroni purist in me by keeping the drink in equal parts. The coup de grâce is a trio of lemon peels twisted over the drink. Of course, as always, you are free to play with the gins to satisfy your own taste, but the following is how the drink is served at our house.

Anger That Forgot Where it Came From

3/4 oz. Plymouth Gin
3/4 oz. Hayman’s Old Tom Gin
3/4 oz. Suze
3/4 oz. Dolin Blanc Vermouth
3 wide lemon twists

Combine the gin, Suze, and vermouth in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir until well chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, twist the three lemon peels over the drink, and drop one in for garnish.

Roll Out the Barrel Aged Negronis


Patience, they say, is a virtue. But for me it’s not something that is terribly innate. However, during a period not too long ago when I found myself favoring the Negroni on a nightly basis, I stumbled upon this New York Times article, which led me to Jeffrey Morganthaler’s post about barrel aged cocktails. As it featured the Negroni as a prime candidate for barrel aging, I was excited to give my current drink of choice a six-week steep and see what the outcome was.

As I’d never had a barrel aged cocktail of any kind I wasn’t sure if laying out the cash for a full on barrel was the best idea. Luckily, Tuthilltown Spirits sells a 375ml barrel aged cocktail “kit” probably for people just like me. Once it arrived I measured and mixed my gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth, poured it into the jar, and stared at it for six weeks.

Barrel Aged Negronis

When the moment of truth arrived, I made a classic Negroni and lined it up next to the barrel aged version to compare. And to be honest, I was a bit surprised when I took the first sip of my six-week old concoction. Unlike the brightness of the original cocktail, my barrel aged Negroni tasted much smoother. The bitterness of the Campari was softened by the oak notes now present as a result of the aging. Put in music terms, if the original Negroni has a lot of high frequencies, the aged version has a more mid-range profile. Most striking to me, however, and not at all surprising I suppose, is the way the flavors melded together to create something much more like a singular spirit than a mixed drink.

The final verdict was that the barrel aged Negroni was so distinct from the original version that trying to compare them was more or less pointless. If you like Negronis you might like barrel aged Negronis. Or you might not. Try one for yourself if you really want to know!

Barrel Aged Negronis
Barrel Aged Negronis

One part gin (I used Beefeater)
One part Campari
One part sweet vermouth (I used Martini and Rossi)

Mix the gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth together without ice. Pour into your aging vessel and let stand for approximately six weeks. After six weeks, transfer your aged cocktail into a glass jar or bottle. When ready to serve, measure 3 – 3.75 ounces, stir with ice, then pour into a chilled old fashioned glass over a large ice ball. Garnish with an orange peel.