Today we’re making a forgotten classic from the golden age of cocktails. It’s made with rye and it’s from New York, but it’s not a Manhattan. No, it’s the Brooklyn!
The Brooklyn was probably invented around the beginning of the 20th century. The first mention is from 1908 in J.A. Grohusko 1908 bartender’s handbook, Jack’s Manual. The Brooklyn is part of the great family of cocktails that came about with the arrival of vermouth on America’s shores, including the Rob Roy, the Harvard, Palmetto and, of course, the Manhattan.
But whereas the Manhattan is made from ingredients that most cocktail enthusiasts will have in their cabinets, whiskey, vermouth and bitters, the Brooklyn requires more specialist kit. The secret ingredient is Amer Picon, a bitter French drink made with gentian, quinine and oranges.
The secret ingredient
Amer Picon has an even longer history than the Brooklyn. It was invented in 1837 but in the 1970s the alcohol was reduced from 39% ABV to 21% ABV. Purists will say you can’t make a proper Brooklyn with Amer Picon as it is now. Furthermore, Amer Picon, though widely available on the continent, isn’t easy to find in Britain and isn’t imported at all into the US. Some American bartenders stock up when they are in France and smuggle bottles back into the country, which gives the Brooklyn an illicit Prohibition feel.
Other resourceful bartenders have created myriad takes on the Brooklyn to make up for the lack of this crucial ingredient. They are named after different neighbourhoods of Brooklyn like Red Hook or Williamsburg, and use ingredients like Punt e Mes or Cynar in place of the missing French liqueur.
Now, though, it is possible to make a proper Brooklyn in Britain thanks to the Bloomsbury Distillery in London with its Bloomsbury Amer – a take on the pre-1970s Amer Picon and weighing in at a hefty 42% ABV.
The other ingredients in a Brooklyn are more straightforward: dry vermouth (both Dolin or Noilly Prat work well here), and then maraschino liqueur (Luxardo is the classic brand). It’s the interplay between the two bittersweet fruits, cherry and orange that makes the Brooklyn so special.
An English rye in New York
The final component is whiskey, ideally rye. A few years ago I would have said that it has to be American, but you can now buy some superb rye whiskeys from England, Ireland and Scotland. The spiciness of rye complements the bitterness of the fruit liqueurs with the vermouth playing a supporting role. I’m using the utterly superb Oxford Rye, the second batch of which arrived recently at Master of Malt.
So I’m making a decidedly English take on one of America’s great cocktails. It tastes like a more complex, bitter version of the Manhattan. In fact, the Brooklyn reminds me of a Boulevardier crossed with a Manhattan. It’s normally served straight, up but there’s no reason why you couldn’t pour this one over ice.
How to make a Brooklyn
Stir all the ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry – from Luxardo naturally.
* There is still a gap in the market for a Staten Island cocktail. Come on, New York bartenders! What are you waiting for?