The Brooklyn Cocktail, perhaps first compounded at the Waldorf-Astoria, is a long way from the junkies and alcoholics whose violent, dead-end existence in Red Hook is chronicled in Selby’s cult classic, but, come on, you know you want to make a Brooklyn Cocktail. Here is the classic version:
Brooklyn Cocktail (from the Savoy Cocktail Book)
1 Dash Amer Picon
1 Dash Maraschino
2/3 Canadian Club Whisky
1/3 French Vermouth
The biggest problem with the Brooklyn in its traditional formulation is that it uses two ingredients that have been hard to come by these past decades: maraschino liqueur and Amer Picon.
Nowadays, the resurgence of maraschino is firmly established, in particular the tall, beautifully straw-wrapped Luxardo version that you’ve no doubt seen on many a back bar. Luckily, people no longer mistake it for the curdled syrup of day-glo cherries, a far cry from true brandied cocktail cherries, but know that it refers to a clear, musky liquor made in northern Italy and the Dalmatian coast from marasca cherries. Ironically, one of the country’s largest producers of the horrid maraschino cherries is based in Brooklyn.
Amer Picon, however, is a different story. Amer Picon was a bitter French aperitif made with herbs and burnt orange peel, favored by, among others, Basque expatriates in Bakersfield, California. The problem with Amer Picon is that is not available in America, and even the version sold in France is a retooled, lower-proof recipe that does not hew to the flavor of the original. Some devoted souls actually make their own based on a popular recipe from Jamie Boudreau that has been favorably compared to closely guarded caches of the original. I go a different route, one blazed by no less of an authority than David Wonderich, using the more available Amaro CioCiaro, orange bitters, and a little high proof grappa.
With this adaptation, fiddling with the proportions slightly and swapping out the blended Canadian whiskey for rye, we get…
Brooklyn Cocktail (Frontier Mixology Version)
2 oz. rye whiskey
1 oz. dry vermouth
¼ oz. maraschino liqueur
¼ oz. Amaro CioCiaro with a barspoon of high-proof grappa
2 dashes orange bitters
Stir well with ice; strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
(Once you’re able to make an Amer Picon substitute, you can also whip up some Picon Punch.)
As has been (was?) the case generally with Manhattan overshadowing Brooklyn, so it has been in cocktails. Although every New York City borough has a namesake cocktail with the exception of Staten Island, apologies to proud Shaolin resident Mike “The Situation”, the Brooklyn took a back-seat to the more simply (or perhaps not-so-simply) made Manhattan. But give the Brooklyn a try, and while Last Exit in Brooklyn was once described by Time Magazine as “a stomach-turning homosexual excursion,” you can certainly enjoy a Brooklyn Cocktail without fear of running afoul of a British obscenity prosecution.