Sunday, May 15, 2011

The 1794 Cocktail

This cocktail commemorates the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794. A very brief overview: In the late 1700s, a tax was levied on whiskey in order to address millions of dollars in debt that had accrued under the Articles of Confederation, which prohibited taxation of states. As part of the new government that began operating in 1789 - after the ratification of the U.S. Constitution - Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton established the tax to help address the debt.

Famous whiskey insurrection in Pennsylvania (1880). Courtesy of NY Public Library.
The tax was highly unpopular among those on the western frontier of the U.S. It pitted the small, independent farmers and distillers of the west against the big companies back east. The western producers of whiskey protested the tax. They refused to pay, and were subsequently subpoenaed by the government. This eventually led to the Battle of Bower Hill in Pennsylvania - and loss of life. Clashes continued until the government finally prevailed in squashing the rebellion. You can read about this fascinating event in detail at Wikipedia (reservoir of all knowledge).

In the meantime, let's talk about the 1794 Cocktail. It's a delicious riff on the Boulevardier, composed of rye, Campari, sweet vermouth, and bitters. The original Boulevardier is a Prohibition-era drink made of bourbon or rye, Campari, and sweet vermouth. It is basically a whiskey-based Negroni (which is equal parts gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth).

The beauty of the 1794 Cocktail (which I understand was created by Dominic Venegas at "Range" in San Francisco) is that it allows for welcome variation in ratios. Campari is incredibly intense, and in my opinion, works better in the 1794 as an element of the drink rather than an equal partner. You also want a nice, spicy, solid rye that will stand up to the Campari while complementing it. Ryes I use in this are Wild Turkey 101, Rittenhouse 100, or Redemption Rye - all work well.

Vermouth-wise, I am happy using Noilly Prat Rouge, but even better is Vya sweet vermouth (out of California). You could try Carpano Antica Formula, but it's flavor is also intense and might be a bit much with the Campari. However, the beauty of this drink is that you can play around with the ratios and ingredients and see what happens.

As for the bitters in this drink, I read about using Bittermen's Xocolatl Mole Bitters from the Cocktail Virgin blog (which in turn credits "John from No.9 Park," a Boston restaurant). It just so happens that I received a bottle of this very bitters as a gift from close friends. It was a good excuse to experiment with this unusual but very pleasing cocktail - and I am incredibly glad that I did.

You'll find spiciness in the rye and a fruity note from the vermouth and Campari - cleanly undercut by the Campari's bitter finish. Surprisingly, the Xocolatl Mole bitters add a delicious undertone of gingerbread that suits this drink beautifully. It would be worth trying other bitters (orange would be a good match) as well.

A final note: My spouse, who cares not for Campari, loves this drink. So do not let any bias against that ingredient prohibit you from trying this!

The 1794 Cocktail
  • 2 oz rye whiskey 
  • 1/2 oz Campari
  • 1/2 oz sweet vermouth 
  • 1 or 2 drops of Bittermen's Xocolatl Mole Bitters 
Stir with ice until very cold, and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon or orange peel.

Bottoms up.


  1. I've been having this with a local craft Rye, but the over proof Rittenhouse takes it to another level. In my experience, one wants to be a hair shy on the Campari, and a hair heavy on the Vermouth, even if you are using Antica Formula. It just works. My preference is for orange peel over lemon. Had a friend try it who hates Campari and found it very, very smooth.

    1. I appreciate your feedback and suggestions!I fully agree about the Rittenhouse advantage, and I look forward to revisiting the balance of Campari vs vermouth. Thanks for commenting. Bottoms up!


Tasting notes? Suggestions? Please share your thoughts...