On An Evening in Roma – An Introduction to the Classic Cocktails and Flavors of Italy

Gaspare Campari

 On Thursday, January 13, Gina Chersevani and Philip Greene presented a lively 90-minute cocktail seminar on Italian cocktails.  Gina is a local treasure, and runs the bar at the acclaimed PS7’s restaurant in the Chinatown/Gallery Place part of D.C.  The event was held at the historic Washington D.C. restaurant, the Occidental Grill and Seafood, located just steps from the White House, and next door to the Willard Hotel.

 

Guests were greeted with a Bellini cocktail, a simple yet delicious blend of white peach puree and (traditionally) Prosecco, an Italian sparkling wine.  The drink was invented in the 1940s by Giuseppe Cipriani at the famous Harry’s Bar in Venice, Italy.  While enjoying the Bellini, guests learned the history and folklore of Harry’s Bar, its celebrity clientele, and of course the Bellini, itself.

On this evening we used Perfect Puree White Peach Puree, from Perfect Puree of Napa Valley (www.PerfectPuree.com), as well as Piper-Heidsieck Champagne, generously donated by our friends at Remy-Cointreau.  Here’s how:

The Bellini

1 ½ oz Perfect Puree White Peach Puree

4 oz Prosecco (or any dry sparkling/frizzante wine)

Add puree to bar glass.  Slowly pour wine into glass, gently blending with long spoon.  Strain into a chilled flute.  Option:  float ¼ oz peach liqueur

Phil then generally discussed aperitif bitters, comparing and contrasting them with both cocktail bitters and vermouth (and other fortified wines).  He focused on Campari, and made two delicious Campari cocktails, the Americano and the Negroni.  A bitter aperitif, Campari was invented by Gaspare Campari in the 1860s, at the Bass Bar in Turin, Italy, where he was maitre licoriste, or master bartender, at 14. 

It’s a blend of natural ingredients, mostly herbs, spices, bark, fruits and fruit peels.  Campari is a trade secret , only one person knows entire formula.  It’s distinctive carmine hue originally came from dye extracted from the cochineal, a beetle-like insect native to Mexico, Central and South America. 

Phil explained that there are two types of bitters:  Aperitif bitters (Campari, Aperol, Amer Picon, Fernet Branca, Cynar, Averna, etc.), which are typically enjoyed as/part of a beverage, while cocktail bitters (Angostura, Peychaud’s, Fee Brothers, Regan’s, et al.) are used a dash at a time.  An easy way to remember, aperitif bitters = big bottle, larger amounts, whereas cocktail bitters = small bottle, smaller amounts.

Phil then talked about the origins of the Americano, originally called the Milano-Torino, since it was a 1:1 blend of Cinzano Italian vermouth from Milan, and Campari from Turin.  Eventually, owing to its popularity among visiting American tourists, it became the Americano.  While the Vesper is perhaps the most famous of the James Bond cocktails, it was the Americano that is known as the first cocktail ever enjoyed by Bond in one of Ian Fleming’s works:

“James Bond had his first drink of the evening at Fouquet’s. It was not a solid drink. One cannot drink seriously in French cafés. Out of doors on a pavement in the sun is no place for vodka or whisky or gin. A fine a l’eau is fairly serious, but it intoxicates without tasting very good. A quart de champagne or a champagne à l’orange is all right before luncheon, but in the evening one quart leads to another quart and a bottle of indifferent champagne is a bad foundation for the night. Pernod is possible, but it should be drunk in company, and anyway Bond had never liked the stuff because its liquorice taste reminded him of his childhood. No, in cafés you have to drink the least offensive of the musical comedy drinks that go with them, and Bond always had the same thing–an Americano–Bitter Campari, Cinzano, a large slice of lemon peel and soda. For the soda he always specified Perrier, for in his opinion expensive soda water was the cheapest way to improve a poor drink.”

The Americano Cocktail

1 oz Campari

1 oz Martini & Rossi Italian (sweet) Vermouth

Seltzer Water

 Add ingredients to ice-filled highball or rocks glass.  Stir.  Garnish with an orange wedge or lemon twist.

Enter The Count, and Gin:  The Negroni

Perhaps a folktale, the Americano was said to have been transformed into the Negroni by one Count Camilo Negroni, who asked his bartender, Fosco Scarselli, to liven up his Americano with an equal portion of gin.  Thus was born the Negroni.  In describing the Negroni, one of the more famous of the regulars at Harry’s Bar, Orson Welles, noted in 1947 that “The bitters are excellent for your liver, the gin is bad for you. They balance each other.“  Here’s how:

The Negroni

1 oz Plymouth Gin

1 oz Campari

1 oz Martini & Rossi Italian (sweet) vermouth

Place ingredients into an ice-filled shaker.  Stir well.  Strain into chilled cocktail glass or an ice-filled tumbler.  Garnish with an orange twist.

Shown above, Orson Welles, and Giuseppe Cipriani serving Ernest Hemingway

Phil then exited stage left, and Gina Chersevani swept in.  Gina taught the audience the method of making Limoncello, nothing more than an infusion of lemon peels in Vodka, though my mere words don’t do it justice; one has to see Gina in action to appreciate it.  Members of the audience were able to savor a sampling of Gina’s homemade Limoncello. 

Gina then offered the story of the creation of the drink known as “spritz,” how it factored into the story of the liberation of Venice.  Gina offered  a delicious version of spritz using another bitter aperitif, Aperol.

Triestina Spritz

1 oz of Aperol chilled

3 oz of  Vino Blanco (peferably a terrano blanc or pinot grigio); chilled

3 oz of Acqua Frizzante (Sparkling water); chilled

Garnish with crushed kumquat, pineapple, bay leaf and rosemary (all garnishes are seasonal so all fruits and herbs used are in season).  In a wine glass, pour chilled Aperol, white wine, add all garnishes, then top with sparkling water.  Stir and serve

Next, Gina and Phil spoke about Amaro in general, and Averna in particular.  Gina made one final drink, an amazing dessert (almost a milkshake) drink she calls the Latte di Cioccolata di Basil.

Latte di Cioccolata di Basil

1  1/2 oz of Averna Amaro

4 oz of whole milk

1 large scoop of chocolate ice cream

3 basil leaves (no stems)

In a blender, combine Averna Amaro, whole milk, ice cream, and basil, blend until smooth, serve in a collins glass, garnish with basil leaf.

Thanks go out to Jerry LeNoir (www.Mr-Booze.com) and Peter Smith, chef of PS7’s, for their for their invaluable behind the scenes work.  Thanks also go to our host, the Occidental Grill, and the assistance of Lamont Proffit, Lawrence Van Weigel, Aqua, Javier, and the rest of the crew.  And of course, we could not put on events such as this without our sponsors, tonight’s were Skyy Vodka (who provided the vokda for the lovely Limoncello), Campari, Perfect Puree, Plymouth Gin, Martini & Rossi, and Remy-Cointreau, who provided the excellent Piper-Heidsieck Champagne for our Bellinis.

For a  far better description of the event, and especially Gina’s role therein, please see:

 http://imbibehour.blogspot.com/2011/01/evening-in-roma-one-drink-at-time.html

Cheers!

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