In cooking and baking, I refer to certain dishes as "bridge recipes." You know the ones: food that gives you a peek into the new season without fully committing to the produce or the feeling of the days ahead. Right now, an asparagus tart would be considered a bridge recipe for brunch. If you're in California (sigh), strawberry shortcakes are your early peek into spring. But there are bridge cocktails, too — drinks that give you a glimpse into longer, warmer days even though we're not quite there yet. This is one such drink.
I originally started experimenting with a variety of bitter liquors when reading A.J. Rathbun's brilliant cocktail book, Ginger Bliss and the Violet Fizz. Rathbun has a cocktail recipe for the "Triple Bitter" in which he experiments with Campari, Cynar, Fernet and lemon juice. He proclaims that "if you can't take off for Italy right now...then I suggest pouring this drink." And indeed, it conjured up images of sunny Italian patios and pre-dinner cocktails lasting well past dusk.
My version of the cocktail adds Aperol and Carpano Antica, a full bodied and slightly sweet red vermouth. I like both because they balance each other beautifully: Aperol brings the bitter citrus and rhubarb flavors while Carpano Antica balances them with darker herbal notes. The cocktail makes for a nice early evening apertif, and is a great one to mix up to introduce friends to different bitter liquors. If you're relatively limited to Campari, do yourself a favor and try to branch out with Aperol this season.
So such begins another case of an inspired recipe we make often at home that's a riff from another recipe — evidence that truly great creations (whether in writing, art, food or cocktails) live on in some regard. It is, at the very least, true in our house as I hope it will be in yours.
Four Bitters Cocktail
1/2 ounce Campari 1/2 ounce Aperol 1/4 ounce Carpano Antica (or other sweet red vermouth) 1/4 ounce Fernet Branca 1 ounce orange juice 1/2 ounce simple syrup Cocktail ice
Fill a cocktail shaker 1/4 of the way full with ice cubes. Add all ingredients and shake well.
Strain into your favorite cocktail glass and serve immediately.