It’s Negroni Week–sponsored by Imbibe Magazine and, of course, Campari.

We are excited to see this cocktail grow in popularity in the country and are excited to be a part of the Negroni movement!

But first, a little background into this historic tipple. The Negroni or “King of the Aperitivo” is believed to have originated by Count Camillo Negroni of Florence around 1919-20. It is an “aperitivo” cocktail; that is “an opening” drink that refers to the time when Italians meet after work before heading home for dinner. Aperitif liqueurs and cocktails are said to stimulate or excite the appetite, cleanse the palate, and prep the taste buds prior to the feast.

The Negroni actually evolved from the Americano which came into being around 1860. The Americano (‘amer’ indicating bitter, not American) cocktail was first served in Caffè Casoni, and originally called the “Milano-Torino” because of its two alcoholic ingredients: Campari, the bitter liqueur, is from Milano and Cinzano vermouth from Torino. The legend describes Count Negroni as the coolest guy on the block (noble, wealthy, well-traveled, full of anecdotes and stories, and a great tipper) who befriended the bartender of Caffè Casoni. Mr. Fosco Scarselli mixed the count a stronger tipple by adding a London dry gin to the mix and changing the garnish from a lemon peel to an orange slice.

NOTE: An important life lesson: When in doubt add GIN. The rest is drinking history.

Audrey Saunders, the queen of gin and proprietor of The Pegu Club in NYC, has a Negroni philosophy the Gintender completely agrees with: Because of Campari’s potentially overwhelming bitter palate, this drink screams for a heavy juniper, classic dry gin.

The recipe:

1 oz of a heavy juniper classic dry gin (think Beefeater flavor profile)
1 oz of sweet vermouth (the better quality the vermouth, the better the Negroni)
1 oz of Campari
Stir over ice in a rocks glass and garnish with an orange slice or twist.

An appreciation for bitter in food and drink is said to be the pinnacle of a sophisticated palate. Bitter libations are also wonderfully refreshing and ideal on hot summer days. All this aside, the Negroni may be too bitter for some. In that case we recommend bumping up the gin slightly to 1.25 oz and lowering the Campari to 0.75 oz. Another simple tweak is to split the ounce of Campari with another less bitter liqueur. For example, Aperol (Italian bitter blood orange liqueur) is slightly less bitter.

Try this Gintender tweak at Wisdom this week:

N.B.I. (Nicholas on the Beach in Italy)
1.25 oz of barrel-aged Cardinal Gin from North Carolina
1.0 oz of Dolin Rouge Vermouth
0.75 oz of Campari
0.25 oz of Contratto Fernet Liqueur
Stir over ice in a rocks glass
Optional Garnish: Mint sprig

Tastings Notes:
The barrel-aged gin provides an extra depth to the drink and the gin’s peppermint finish blends extremely well with the mint in the Fernet liqueur.


The Greenest of Gins


By Scott Harris
Founder of Catoctin Creek

Catoctin Creek Watershed Gin is green. If you look at the capsule sealing each bottle of Catoctin Creek Watershed Gin, you’ll notice its green, unlike our Mosby’s Spirit and Roundstone Rye, which have black caps. For us, this color difference has real meaning. Not only is Catoctin Creek Watershed Gin is one of the few organic gins on the market, but it’s also produced in a zero waste process.

To make our gin, we start with whiskey. When we distill our whiskey, we make conservative cuts to ensure we have the smoothest whiskey possible. As a result, we have lots of alcohol that would normally go to waste. At Catoctin Creek, we re-distill the spirit until it has no taste and infuse it with our proprietary mix of botanicals, including juniper, bitter orange peel, cinnamon, coriander and anise seed. Besides using organic rye spirits for our gin’s base, we’re using 100% organic botanicals as well. Without any pesticides, herbicides, nitrogen-based fertilizers being used in the production of our gin, we’re helping to keep our streams and groundwater cleaner, hence the name “Watershed Gin”, referring to our native Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

Because of how well the color suits our gin, we love using Green Chartreuse when we make cocktails. Since Green Chartreuse has a little bit of anise in it as well, it plays well with our gin’s flavor profile. Two classic gin and Chartreuse cocktails, the Bijou and the Last Word, are excellent cocktails for enjoying Catoctin Creek Watershed Gin.


1 ½ oz Catoctin Creek Watershed Gin
¾ oz Green Chartreuse
¾ oz sweet vermouth
2 dashes of orange bitters

Stir ingredients with ice and strain into a coupe.

Last Word

¾ oz Catoctin Creek Watershed Gin
¾ oz Green Chartreuse
¾ oz Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
¾ oz lime juice

Shake ingredients until frost forms and strain into a coupe. Garnish with a brandied cherry.

If you typically drink martinis, I would wager these cocktails aren’t your stead. May we recommend our take on the original Bond cocktail: The Ghost of Vesper Lynd.

Using our Mosby’s Spirit in place of vodka in the conventional Vesper Martini recipe, you get a cocktail with a silky texture and a boozy punch, just like 007.

The Ghost of Vesper Lynd

2 oz Catoctin Creek Watershed Gin
½ oz Catoctin Creek Mosby’s Spirit
¼ oz Cocchi Americano

Stir ingredients with ice in a mixing glass and strain into a coupe. Garnish with lemon peel.

Try these and other gin cocktails with Scott Harris, co-owner of Catoctin Creek Distilling Co. when he visits the Gin Club on March 6.

Register for the March 6 Catoctin Creek tasting.

The Reverse Martini


It is no secret I have a healthy obsession with gin. It is the canvas I like to build most of my drinks on. But right after my obsession with gin is my obsession with aperitif wines/vermouth. In my humble opinion it is the least understood and most underutilized cocktail ingredient in our current cocktail rebirth. It is one of two ingredients in a Martini and one of three ingredients in a Manhattan, yet the majority of Americans and even many professional cocktail makers know very little about it and do not place importance on it.

There are three main reasons why Americans shy away from Vermouth. One, the famous haters such as Winston Churchill who declared that the way to make a martini correctly is extremely chilled gin and then bowing in the direction of France. Secondly, it is trendy to order a martini “dry”, although in my seven years experience behind the bar it is scary how many customers order a martini that way but do not really understand what they are asking…but it sounds correct! And finally, most do not realize that vermouth has a shelf life. And if you have ever had wine that has been opened for days/weeks that has oxidized it is horrible. The same thing happens to Vermouth (although it takes longer to turn). But if your first experience with the stuff is oxidized Vermouth, anyone sane drinker would want to keep it as far away from their lips as possible.

If you want to learn the magic of vermouth I suggest you sign up for a class with me, but in the mean time you can come in to Wisdom or Church & State and order a REVERSE MARTINI.

What is a reverse martini? Besides being the favored drink of Julia Child, it is a simple reverse in the ratio of gin and vermouth. It puts the vermouth/aperitif wine on stage and uses the gin for some body and a botanical subtle kick. Much lighter in proof than a standard Martini and yet much stronger than a glass of wine or beer. It may be the perfect drink for the individual who loves the elegance and flavor profile of a classic cocktail but whose tolerance level is not ready for the heat!

One combination that I recently came up with is the BLUE ROSE. The Cocchi Rosé is a new aperitif wine from Cocchi that has incredible depth and a nice layer of bitterness from the chinchona (ken-KEE-nah) bark that is added. BTW the “Americano” does not refer to American but to “Amer” or bitter.


2.25 oz of Cocchi Americano Rosé Aperitif Wine

0.75 oz of BlueCoat Gin

dash of Orange bitters

I recommend stirring over the rocks than straining into a coup glass.

Optional Garnish: Orange Peel

Oh My Tonic!


**Tammy Taylor Manager and head bartender at Church & State in Washington, D.C.**

By Tammy Taylor

I have a confession to make. I am obsessed with liquor, and it’s not just a small obsession. It’s huge and not just with drinking it. Though, I do not deny that’s part of it. I’m obsessed with what I can do to make it different, well, better. So when presented with a recipe to make my own tonic at Church&State, I jumped on it.

Originally, tonic was used for medicinal purposes to ward off against malaria in South America and Africa. The “tonic” was made by soaking the bark from the South American cinchona (kenKEEnah) tree to extract quinine, a natural prophylactic against malaria, and then drinking it as a tea. The quinine tonic was so bitter that eventually the British added lime and gin to tame the bitterness of the drink…so the tonic came first and the gin was the mixer! Thus the beloved “gin and tonic” was born.

But the tonic we drink today is a far cry from what the British drank back then. The first commercial tonic was produced in Britain in the 1850s by adding soda water and sugar. In 1953, Schweppes Beverage Co. brought to the American market. The quinine in the American tonic is produced by a chemical extraction; not by soaking tree bark. It also contains a lot less quinine because the U.S Food and Drug Administration limits the amount of quinine to 83 parts per million. This dilution, along with the high fructose corn syrup that is added, makes it a lot less bitter. It can be argued that American tonic produced for bars on the rail is so far removed from the original formula that it shouldn’t even be called tonic water.

How awesome was it to find out that it was not only better, but easy to make. I found the cinchona bark online without much trouble so I bought it and began experimenting. The earthiness you get is amazing and I, a non-bitter drinker, don’t even mind how bitter and sour it tastes. I haven’t had a gin yet that hasn’t been complimented by my new obsession. I have since modified the recipe and created the “tonic of the month” for our bars. So far, I’ve steeped in lavender, rose hip and the current tonic is hibiscus.

Here is a basic tonic recipe from Imbibe Magazine that you can try at home. If you’re not feeling that adventurous, come to Wisdom or Church&State to give my fresh tonic of the month a try.

4 cups water
3 cups pure cane sugar
3 Tbsp. quinine (powdered cinchona bark)
6 Tbsp. powdered citric acid
3 limes, zested and juiced
3 stalks lemongrass, roughly chopped

In a medium saucepan, bring the sugar and water to a boil until the sugar dissolves, then turn the heat down to low. Add the quinine, citric acid, lemongrass, lime zest and lime juice. Stir well and simmer for about 25 minutes, until the powders are dissolved and the syrup is thin and runny. Remove from heat and let cool. Strain out the large chunks through a colander, then filter through cheesecloth or coffee filters to refine. This step can take a while—and many filters—as the bark is a very fine powder, so be patient.

*Gintender’s drunken wisdom*

If you are a fan of gin and tonics and you are sipping a super premium gin opt for a better tonic. It makes a dramatic difference! Schweppes is a solid choice as are artesian products such as Fevertree or Q tonic out of Brooklyn. If you are in a bar and have no options other then harsh rail tonic, consider choosing a heavier juniper London dry style gin versus a “New Western style” softer juniper spirit, that will be able to stand up to the tonic.

Fernet Branca: Not for the faint of heart…or stomach

Photo by Flickr user brad.coy

It’s often referred to as the “liqueur of Hades”.  To say it’s an “acquired taste” is a vast understatement. even dubbed it “the trendy drink that makes you gag.”

So, what the hell is it and why would anyone want to drink it?

Already quite popular in Italy and parts of Europe, Fernet Branca continues to grow in popularity in the US (mainly in San Francisco).  It’s even the national drink of Argentina.

As you might have guessed, Fernet isn’t for everyone.  Its over 40 different kinds of herbs and spices offends many palates with extreme bitterness.  But those who can stomach it, swear by it.

At the Gintender, we’re excited because it is an American bitter liqueur…and bitter liqueurs are excellent when trying to find balance in a cocktail that has sweet notes. It provides yet another tool to create a spectrum of All-American cocktails are Church & State.

The Fernet recipe, of course, depends on the distillers recipe, but some of the more common ingredients include:  myrrhrhubarb,chamomilecardamomaloe, and especially saffron,[1] with a base of grape distilled spirits, and coloured with caramel colouring. Its smell and taste is often described as “black licorice-flavored Listerine”.

Sound appetizing?  Because Fernet, for those who can take it, is most commonly used as a digestif.

However, there does seem to be an American Fernet trend beginning to emerge. As aforementioned, San Franciscans are quite taken with the drink. But instead of enjoying a room temperature  glass after dinner, they prefer a nice shooter with a ginger ale chaser.

As this article suggest, Fernet Branca is even becoming a more popular choice for a round of shots than Jameson for many bartenders.

Todd Leopold, master distiller from Leopolds Bros, describes the distillation process for Leopold’s version of Fernet:

Our Fernet is the most bitter type of Amaro (Italian word for bitter) that is prepared by steeping various botanicals, with a large proportion of bitter roots, in spirit.

Our Fernet, so far as we are aware, is the first of its kind produced in America since well before Prohibition.

We start by placing a flight of bitter roots and herbs, including Bitter Aloe, Gentian Root, Sarsaparilla Root, and Ginger Root, into cheesecloth for steeping. We then add the more aromatic portion of flowers, including Rose Petals, Elderflower, Chamomile, and Honeysuckle, which lends depth and an oily finish. To this we augment the Fernet with several varieties of mint, including a uniquely American touch: Spearmint, to lend our Fernet a bracing, cooling finish.

The question here is, is it right for you?

If it is, it’s rumored to be blissful.

If it’s not…well…Bleh!

Ingredient of the Month: Tequila

Photo by esgarijc

A field of tequila (blue agave)--Photo by flickr user jay8085

In honor of Cinco de Mayo, this month’s ingredient is Tequila!

The GINtender’s favorite tequila definition: “Tequila is the secret weapon invented by Mexicans to reduce productivity in other economies.” — Richard Neill

Tequila is made by distilling the fermented juice of the blue agave plant.  The most important thing to take away from the Gintender (regarding tequila) is: Make sure the bottle says “100% puro Agave”…anything else is “gringo juice” and is primarily schwill made for exporting only.


Blanco (“white”) or plata (“silver”): white spirit, un-aged and bottled or stored immediately after distillation, or aged less than two months in stainless steel or neutral oak barrels

Joven/plata/silver-“young”…not aged in oak.

Reposado– ‘rested tequila’-aged in oak for 60 days to one year

Anejo-Golden colored tequila, aged in oak for one year or longer

Tequila is of course most popular in margarita or shooter form, but quality tequila was meant to be sipped (cheap tequila was meant to be drunk by college gringos).  It usually runs between 75-80 proof, but has been known to be distilled up to 110 proof.  Most quality sipping tequilas measure out around 80.

If your tequila has a worm in it, it is not tequila.  And by the way… the worm isn’t a worm.  It’s a butterfly larvae and the spirit is called mescal–which can be made from a wide variety if strains of agave (not specifically blue).  The “worm” started as a marketing gimmick to prove the quality/strength of the spirit with the insect staying intact.

Typically, tequila is thought of as only mixable with citrus, but this month we want to bring you some excellent cocktails that do more than just use citrus.

**Cinco de Mayo Special: Wisdom, the Gintender’s original bar, will be concocting specialty tequila cocktails this Thursday for Cinco de Mayo!  Try unique, premium tequilas with interesting mixtures including coffee, jalapeno, hibiscus, tropical as well as Wisdom’s house-infused habanero tequila! **

The Source of Domaine de Canton

Several months ago, the GINtender featured Domaine de Canton as the ingredient of the month.

It is an amazing new product that is standard in almost any new cocktail bar.  A beautiful unique product that is fun and exciting to mix…it is a crucial ingredient in the Eminent Domaine at Wisdom and one that is difficult to get bored of…let alone the packaging!  We highly recommend it to both the expert and novice cocktail aficionado.

In the video below, the creators of Domaine de Canton explore the ginger source that give the liqueur its unique flavor.

Ingredient of the Month: Qi Black Tea Liqueur

Pronounced “chee”, Qi Black tea is an ingredient we immediately latched onto due to its uniqueness. It is made in small batches in California. It has the alcohol proof of a typical vodka, the smokiness of a scotch and it is defined as a liqueur. The smokiness is particularly striking and is obtained from infusing smoked Lapsong Souchong tea leaves…and it is not for the meek. This is a great example of a product carving out its own unique territory…not simply jumping on the bandwagon with what is popular at the moment. The Gintender used Qi Black in the 2009 Artini competition and we won first place. It is fun but challenging to mix. The website offers a number of excellent recipes by mixologists across the country.

However, we’ve got a few of our own orignials up our sleeves this month, so be sure to give them a try.

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