Many of my good friends refer to the spirit driven cocktails I often order as “brown drinks.” Whether intensely smoky from mezcal or bitter from amaro or elegantly strong from bourbon, these drinks tend to not branch too far from the central spirit à la martinis and manhattans.
Then there are the apertif drinks that are far less stiff, yet still let you know what spirit should be the focus. Negronis are a perfect example of blending Campari with gin, where despite having the same amount of each with the one to one to one ratio of a traditional negroni, the juniper notes of the gin shine through and contrast directly with the herbal twang of Campari.
The excellent, hyper-seasonal restaurant AQ in San Francisco, changes its atmosphere and menu entirely every season. When the leaves change, the servers’ uniforms change too. With the Summer Solstice just passing by last week, in came the new food and cocktail menu, complete with all your summer favorites from peach and watermelon to summer squash and corn. One of the new cocktails is quite possibly the most beautiful cocktail yet I’ve tasted so far this year. Then again, I couldn’t have sampled the “Fool’s Wager” in March.
“Fool’s Wager” is a riff on the negroni, where the only usual negroni ingredient involved is Beefeater Gin. The gin receives a smoky sidekick from Ardberg 10 Year Scotch. The Campari and sweet vermouth make way for punt e mes and gran classico, adding a touch of cinnamon and an alluring caramel note in place of the brash sage fields Campari provides. A summer bent completes the twist with the addition of peach bitters, adding a delightful fruity edge and of course, a major indication of what season we’re in.
You’d never think you’re having a negroni here. It’s the spirit of balance and refreshing, yet jolting that the negroni thrives at and so too does the “Fool’s Wager.” The drink is indeed one of those “brown drinks” without being potently spirit driven. In fact, it’s more in line with the apertif category in terms of being a smooth, slick sipper. This is a far superior summer drink to box wine sangria and lawnmower beer. Hurry, there are just under three months left to enjoy this. Don’t be the fool who misses out.