Friday, July 19, 2013

Cocktail of the Week: The Left Hand

The thing about hobbies is people generally know what to get you when gift-giving occasions roll around. A friend was kind enough to pick up an assortment of Bitter Truth bitters to mark an event. The Xocolatl Mole variety, inspired by the chocolate sauces of Mexico, was included in the order by mistake. A bit of lagniappe, to mix two completely different languages and cultures. I added them to my bitters shelf – yes, I have one – and there they stayed, because I didn’t know what to do with them.

Paging through Jim Meehan’s The PDT Cocktail Book, I came across a drink called the Left Hand. I blew the dust off the bottle, made the drink, and it instantly joined the ranks of Chez K favorites.

The Left Hand was created by Sam Ross, a New York bartender with a track record featuring one esteemed watering hole after another: Little Branch, The Pegu Club, Milk & Honey, and the current occupant of the original M&H spot, Attaboy. The drink is frequently described as the blessed union of the Negroni and the Manhattan, although I prefer to think of it as a twistless twist on the Boulevardier. Meehan’s book claims the drink is named after Al Pacino’s character in Donnie Brasco, although a chicken-and-egg bit of inspiration must surely be the Right Hand, devised by Ross’s M&H colleague Michael McIlroy around the same time and essentially the identical cocktail made with aged rum.

Meehan’s recipe specifies the robust Carpano Antica sweet vermouth. I started by using my default choice, Dolin, and was not disappointed. Inspiration struck and I shifted to Cocchi Vermouth di Torino. Its notes of cocoa are heightened by the chocolate bitters, giving the drink an extraordinary texture. I’ve yet to make the Right Hand, but I know what the Left Hand is doing and it’s something special.

The Left Hand

Sam Ross, New York, 2007

1 ½ oz. bourbon
¾ oz. Cocchi Vermouth di Torino (or other sweet vermouth)
¾ oz. Campari
2 dashes Bitter Truth Xocolatl Mole bitters (or other chocolate bitters)

Stir. Strain. Garnish with a cherry.

Want more Cocktail of the Week? The first fifty-two essays are available in the Kindle bestseller DOWN THE HATCH: ONE MAN’S ONE YEAR ODYSSEY THROUGH CLASSIC COCKTAIL RECIPES AND LORE. Buy it now at