Little did Arrigo Cipriani, who named a modest sparkling drink after a 15th-century painter in the 1930s, know that his concoction would have an international following nearly a century later. But that’s what happens when you make cocktail magic.
Cipriani’s “bellini,” a delicious blend of peach puree and sparkling wine, spread from Italy across war-torn Europe and is now a mainstay of sophisticated cocktail lists everywhere. I recently knocked one back at Venice Ristorante in Ahwatukee Foothills and savored its simplicity and surprising refreshment. I was immediately inspired to research the origins of some of our favorite drinks and found a few interesting stories.
Turns out bars and lounges everywhere are littered with anecdotes. It’s been loosely documented that Texas socialite Margarita Sames whipped together her first namesake cocktail with Jose Cuervo tequila, lime and triple sec in the 1940s while visiting Acapulco. She probably didn’t realize at the time that she was making history and that the humble margarita would become the most requested cocktail in America. The potent combination of sweet, sour and salty coolness is just too much to resist. And the cocktail world hasn’t been the same since.
Same goes for Her Majesty’s 007 agent. Up until the Ian Fleming movies featuring James Bond, just about every martini you ordered featured gin, shaken or stirred, and didn’t include a drop of vodka. In fact you had to request a “vodka martini” to ensure the substitution. But Bond’s panache shifted the paradigm, and the story becomes one of cocktail lore. Finlandia brand vodka is the variety currently associated with the James Bond movies.
I recently revisited another old friend, the classically rich Manhattan, at Kincaid’s Fish House in Phoenix. But the original recipe came nearly 150 years ago at the Manhattan Club in New York. The classic recipe includes rye whiskey, but the more modern adaptation incorporates slightly sweeter and smoother bourbon. To make, pour four parts (or ounces) rye or bourbon whiskey to one part sweet vermouth over ice in an old-fashioned glass. Add a dash of angostura bitters, stir and garnish with two maraschino cherries. The drink proves delicious, mellow and potent after a long day.
Many popular Polynesian drinks like the mai tai trace themselves to the original Trader Vic’s in Los Angeles. But one favorite tropical concoction clearly has Caribbean roots: the piña colada. Few drinks evoke island spirit as much as this creamy-rich whipped cocktail, which was created in the 1950s at the Caribe Hilton in Puerto Rico. There are a few variations of the recipe, but I like to use two parts light (silver) rum to one part dark rum such as Myers brand. Add four parts pineapple juice and three parts cream of coconut to the rums and whip in a blender with a cup of crushed ice and serve in a hurricane glass. Garnish with a wedge of pineapple.
Other legendary cocktails with interesting pasts include Sazerac, which includes the controversial elixir absinthe; the national drink of Brazil, the caipirinha; and the World War I-era Sidecar. Go ahead and mix a few ingredients in your kitchen this weekend and perhaps you, too, could make cocktail history.
MARK YOUR CALENDAR
What started as a marketing gimmick by French wine merchants decades ago has turned into one of our most anticipated wine holidays: Beaujolais Nouveau Day. Yes, the third Thursday of November marks the release of the eminently drinkable gamay-based wine from Burgundy. It’s usually worth snapping up a case for the holidays since Beaujolais Nouveau is affordable (around $10), delicious and great with food. Cost Plus, AJ’s Fine Foods and some grocery stores like Bashas’ and Albertsons will carry the wines. Drouhin and George Duboeuf are two names to look for.