Friday, April 27, 2012

Cocktail of the Week: The Jasmine Variation

To begin, let me clarify that this is not about an episode of The Big Bang Theory or a lost novel by Robert Ludlum. This is about me monkeying with a cocktail invented by someone who actually knows what he’s doing.

The Italian aperitif Aperol has been around for almost a century, but it’s only made a splash in the United States in the last five years or so. It’s often branded – and occasionally dismissed – as Campari light, only fitting considering that it’s now produced by the Campari company. I prefer to think of Aperol as the ideal introduction to bitters. Both beverages look somewhat alike, dwelling as they do in the redder stretch of the spectrum, but there the similarities end. Aperol is lighter, sweeter, and smoother. It possesses a more floral scent and flavor, with prominent notes of orange. More importantly, it has only half of Campari’s alcohol content. While it doesn’t match Campari in the bitterness department – Campari’s taste can never be completely tamed, which is why I love it in cocktails like the Negroni (gin) and the Old Pal (rye) – Aperol is no slouch. It may be a step down from Campari, but it’s definitely a step up from the norm.

My intro to Aperol was, well, the Intro to Aperol, a drink fashioned by Audrey Saunders of the Pegu Club in New York to spotlight the aperitif’s unique charms. A few months ago I had it in a brunch cocktail alongside the Brazilian sugarcane spirit cacha├ža and an assortment of fruit juices. Aperol’s most prominent use, though, is the simplest. Mix it with Prosecco and a splash of soda water and you have the Aperol Spritz, a summertime staple on the streets of Venice.

I’ve gone to the trouble of explaining how Aperol isn’t Campari’s sensitive little brother. So when it came time to experiment, what did I do? Substitute it in one of Rosemarie’s favorite Campari drinks. To, if I do say so myself, excellent effect.

The Jasmine, created by bartender Paul Harrington in the mid-1990s, has quickly become a popular member of the cocktail canon. In the standard recipe, the drink yields a phantom hint of grapefruit, abetted by that Campari astringency that I find so appealing. Switch in Aperol’s more subtle taste and you alter the cocktail’s complexion, getting a softer flavor that maintains a pleasing citrusy fullness. Fans of the original may want to try this alternative as a change of pace. Newcomers to bitters might prefer to start here, then work up to the heavy lifting of Campari.

The Jasmine Variation

1 ½ oz. gin
1 oz. Cointreau
¾ oz. Aperol (Campari in the original)
½ oz. lemon juice

Shake. Strain. Garnish with a lemon twist.