My love for spirits and cocktails was influenced by my father’s father. My grandfather served as a copy/graphics man for a collection of grocery stores in the Bay Area. The sort of guy that would have worked with Peggy Olsen from “Mad Men”. He loved sports and drinking bourbon during cribbage matches. As a small boy, I would visit my grandparent’s house when they relocated to Bakersfield CA in the 80s. The house had a “wet bar” and my grandfather and I would sit at the big dining room table and play cribbage. He would ask me to make him his drink – bourbon and soda – and I would pour myself a straight soda and we would sit for hours studying cards and pegging boards. My grandfather was a man of few words but I remember him teaching me the game and the smell of bourbon on his breath.
In the wet bar, my grandmother had a small but significant collection of cocktail books. On occasion, I would play “bartender” and pretend to make drinks for an imaginary cocktail parties I had seen in old black-and-white movies by perusing the cocktail books. Cocktail names including “The Godfather”, “The Manhattan” and “The Martini” were odd and curious items of which I studied. One drink that stood out for me was “The Stinger”. It reminded me of a villainous character that I would catch on an episode of “Thundercats” or “Voltron” with its unrecognizable ingredients of Cognac and Creme de Menthe.
Fast forward twenty-five years later, I still love a good “Stinger”. The main problem is finding a decent Creme de Menthe. More on that subject in a future post. During my San Francisco days, I discovered one of my true loves – Fernet Branca.
Oh Fernet – the dances we have had over the past 12 years.
One of my favorite Fernet stories involves Zach Galifianakis – star of “The Hangover” and “Between Two Ferns“. I met Zach during my tenure as General Manager of Cobb’s Comedy Club in San Francisco in 2005. Zach’s only claim to fame at that time was as co-star of “Tru Calling” and host of “Late World with Zach” and he was headlining a weekend at Cobb’s. During his first night at Cobb’s, I introduced Zach to Fernet. His reaction to his first sip was memorable in a pure Zach fashion. During the second show that night, Zach asked for me to bring him a glass of Fernet to the stage. I handed him a glass via the backstage entrance. He returned to the center of the stage and proclaimed, “My new buddy Max just turned me on to this new drink called Fernet. It tastes like a used band-aid but I love it.” He took the shot and exclaimed “FUCK!”
For my cocktail, I decided to keep things alive and kicking with using Fernet’s lesser know brother – Fernet Branca Menta. The Menta has the same punch as its older brother but a sweeter side with a mint kick to round out the entire experience. For the Cognac portion of the drink, I used the Rhum Clement V.S.O.P – a lovely Rhum Agricole from Martinique with time spent in toasted French Oak barrels. By tradition, you are only required to shake a drink if it contains citrus. The Stinger breaks the rules with advising a hard shake that I highly endorse. It creates a frothy head on the drink and just makes things all the more magical for the tippler. The name of the drink is one of my favorite songs by The Smiths. One sip of the cocktail and it will all make sense to you.
Sweet and Tender Hooligan
2 oz Rhum Clement VSOP
1 oz Fernet Branca Menta
Add all ingredients to cocktail tin and shake to holy hell. Double strain into coupe glass and garnish with one mint leaf.