Friday, December 13, 2013

Cocktail of the Week: The Diplomat

Following the Journalist with the Diplomat means I’ve accidentally stumbled into a theme: Cocktails Named After Professions My Mother Wishes I’d Gone Into.

There’s another logic to this week’s selection. We’re in the thick of the holidays. During this season of celebration, there may rise occasions when you want to keep the party going without paying the price the next day.

In a bar, never settle for club soda and lime unless that’s what you crave. Experience has taught me that bartenders relish the opportunity to prepare non-alcoholic drinks using the juices, spices and mixers at their disposal. Many cocktail establishments even highlight such selections on their menus, and they’re often among the tastier offerings.

Or perhaps you simply prefer to dial down your consumption without sacrificing complexity. I found myself in such a situation on a recent evening at Seattle’s superb Rob Roy. I’d had a cocktail, didn’t care for another of similar strength, yet was in no hurry to leave. I explained my dilemma to Greg, working behind the bar.

He understood. “You want to pump the brakes,” he said. “I have just the thing.” He fixed me a Diplomat, a drink I’d always meant to try in part because I always have the ingredients.

The Diplomat first appears in the 1922 book Cocktails: How to Mix Them. The author is Robert Vermiere, credited as “‘Robert’ of the American Bar, Casino Municipal, Nice and late of the Embassy Club, London.” His bona fides state that he is “well known as an expert, first at the Royal Automobile Club.” Along with the recipe, ‘Robert’ presents without comment the tidbit that “this drink is very well known in the French Diplomatic Service.” So well known, in fact, that he lists it as the Diplomate. Maybe no comment is required: you don’t want to serve too much of the hard stuff to someone in possession of state secrets.

Robert’s formula calls for twice as much dry vermouth as sweet as well as both cherry and lemon peel garnishes. The modern variation opts for equal parts, omits the lemon peel, and adds bitters (ideally Angostura, but orange works as well). I put my own spin on the drink by using Punt e Mes, the additional bitterness of that sweet vermouth necessitating an extra dash or two of maraschino to compensate.

When David Embury enumerated the functions of a cocktail in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks he led off the list with, “It must whet the appetite, not dull it.” The Diplomat’s long, dry finish makes it the embodiment of Embury’s ideal and a classic aperitif. At the very least, it’s a wonderful way to slow the tempo of a pleasant evening during the most wonderful time of the year.

The Diplomat

1 ½ oz. dry vermouth
1 ½ oz. sweet vermouth (try Punt e Mes)
2 dashes maraschino liqueur
1 dash Angostura 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