Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Little Italy Cocktail

This cocktail was introduced to me by the bartender at Island Creek Oyster Bar in Boston's Kenmore Square (at which I spent far too much time - and far, far too much money) one evening in October. The fellow was an understated but skilled practitioner, and once he knew that the Manhattan was my favored cocktail, he was quick to suggest all manner of variations.

This libation was my favorite of the night, and I gleaned the recipe by watching him make it. It's basically a Manhattan with a rye base, but as the name suggests, the flavor of Italian ingredients transforms the old classic, capturing the essence of Manhattan's "Little Italy." It's one of those drinks that is very simple, but challenging in terms of ingredients: you should really use Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth, as it has a distinctive flavor that blends very well with the other hard-to-find ingredient, Cynar.

Cynar is an Italian artichoke-based bitter liqueur. I have found it locally at the ever-bountiful Cambridge Wine and Spirits, at the Fresh Pond Mall (you can also find the Carpano Antica Formula there, as well as the superb California vermouth "Vya"). The other place to look is Dave's Fresh Pasta in Somerville.

After a little research (and I stress a little because I am extremely lazy and my research is cursory at best - which means you should always exercise a healthy skepticism whenever I claim to know anything), I discovered that this delicious drink was created and named by one Audrey Saunders of New York's Pegu Club. And as Imbibe magazine says, "This cocktail is New York all the way. It’s the perfect expression of the neighborhood that Pegu Club’s Audrey Saunders named it for, with the American brawn of rye whiskey and the richness of Italian ingredients."

While you must have the Cynar, and finding the Carpano is highly advisable, the choice of rye is up to you. I used Wild Turkey 101 Rye in my version, because my favorite rye - Rittenhouse 100 - has seemingly become quite scarce in my neck of the woods. However, if you can find the Rittenhouse 100, it's called for in the original recipe, so I suggest going for that. You'll save a few bucks, as well.

Here is the monkey-exact, original recipe:

Little Italy Cocktail
  • 2 oz Rye whiskey (Rittenhouse 100 in the original)
  • 1/2 oz Cynar
  • 3/4 oz Carpano Antica Formula vermouth
  • Luxardo maraschino cherry in syrup
In a mixing glass with ice, stir the ingredients until very cold. Strain into a cocktail glass, and garnish with the cherry.

You can find good quality, flavorful cherries, such as the Italian Luxardo cherries in syrup, at the Boston Shaker, or at specialty liquor stores (or even online from If you hate the bright red maraschino cherries found in supermarkets, then these are worth the extra $10 or $15. Otherwise, the others are fine for garnish.

Salute! Bottoms up.


  1. Im on a train to get me one of those cocktails as we speak!
    Nattyboy's drinks are well worth four hours up the coast on Amtrak :)

  2. supposed to be working on a powerpoint presentation, but spending all my time at the mixing glass, drinking virtually and vicariously. It's a delicious place, even if I have to suspend gratification.

  3. I also made this with Old Overholt rye, which worked fine. Because Old Overholt is not as robust as Rittenhouse, I increased the dosage by an ounce. With the higher ratio, Old Overholt held its own against the Cynar.


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