In 2018, Melissa Watson, a Negroni enthusiast who goes by @negroniqueen on Instagram, acquired a 40-ounce decanter with “Negroni” etched onto its side. At the time, she had an assortment of gins, bitters and vermouths that were down to their final few ounces. Feeling experimental, she added equal parts PiùCinque and Four Pillars gin, Campari and Martini Riserva Bitter, and Bordiga1888 Rosso and Martini Gran Lusso vermouth to her new bottle. Watson, who works at a cocktail supply shop in San Francisco, continued to add to the bottle over the course of several months, becoming less exact with the formula along the way. The result, she soon discovered, tasted more complex than any Negroni she’d had in recent memory.
“I kept it going for a while, but it was all too easy to finish [drinking] it, or at least almost finish it, and then it seemed sort of like cheating,” says Watson, explaining how she had come to enjoy the “bottomless” quality of the ad hoc Negroni—finishing it would necessitate starting a new batch from scratch, losing some of the layered complexity that had evolved in the bottle. She also found she had to keep the additions truly classic; the one time she experimented with the unorthodox addition of cherry bitters, it threw off the entire blend until several iterations later.
Whether she knew it or not, Watson had created one of the earliest examples of an infinity cocktail. A spin-off of the popular infinity bottle, a slapdash blend of numerous whiskeys thrown together at the discretion of the home enthusiast, the infinity cocktail similarly marries multiple spirits, alongside multiple modifiers and even multiple sweeteners. The result is a three-ingredient cocktail—gin, vermouth and Campari, in the case of the Negroni—that might now consist of more than 60 ingredients—20 gins, 20 vermouths, 20 red bitters. Since first writing about the infinity bottle phenomenon for PUNCH in January 2017, the concept has received a burst of media attention and garnered many new devotees. It was only a matter of time, really, before certain industrious amateur blenders would up the ante and move onto blending not just one spirit, but entire cocktails.
In fact, for several years I’ve kept an infinity Martini in my freezer. Like Watson’s Negroni, its origin arose mostly out of necessity—I had a constant fear of my dry vermouth oxidizing after being opened. Whenever I’d get low on bottles of Dolin or Carpano, I’d dump the excess into a repurposed bottle of Plymouth Gin, then add an equal glug of some newly acquired gin from my shelves. More a way to preserve vermouth than create a considered cocktail, the infinity Martini has proven surprisingly complex and, despite the countless botanicals duking it out in the bottle, always balanced.
Some infinity cocktail creators, however, are more intentional with their Frankenstein’s monsters. Fred (who preferred to not give his last name), a New York City–based cocktail enthusiast, has been developing his infinity Old-Fashioned since this past spring. Initially, he methodically prepared several 2-ounce Old-Fashioneds, combining them all in a 1.5-liter glass bottle. For each recipe, he varied the whiskey base (using bourbon, rye and Scotch), the bitters (Angostura and orange), and the sweetener (simple, maple syrup, honey, grenadine). Eventually, he even began adding rums and mezcals.
“If I ever feel the taste is straying entirely too far from the classic Old-Fashioned, I do a big batch of maybe three or four standard bourbon or rye Old-Fashioneds and let it sit before trying something new,” he explains. The addition of Ron Zacapa 23, a sweet-drinking rum, for example, had necessitated one of these course corrections.
It’s not surprising that the majority of infinity cocktails are modeled after the pared-down formulas of classic, stirred three-ingredient cocktails like the Old-Fashioned, Negroni or Manhattan. Apart from the practical limitations of creating a shelf-stable Daiquiri or Margarita, interesting things just happen when modifiers like vermouth and amaro age—bitterness fades, sugars crystallize and, yes, even a little oxidation sets in.
The concept might seem like just another trivial trend, but in blending together different cocktails, one-of-a-kind flavors emerge from the interactions between minute quantities of a particular spirit and modifier that remain in the bottle alongside countless other fractions of ingredients. The result is often a drink more nuanced than any à la minute Negroni or Martini ever could be. As Jacob Grier, a booze writer and Portland-based bartender who has over 60 ingredients in his now two-year-old Infinite Negroni, tweeted recently: “Like cellaring beer or making your holiday eggnog months in advance, making infinity cocktail bottles is the kind of low-effort thing that pays off if you plan ahead.”
Unlike the infinity bottle, which has successfully crossed over to the professional sphere in the form of “house blends” served at a number of bars, the infinity cocktail has yet to make the leap from home bartender pastime to industry phenomenon. The closest example is perhaps the Bon Vivant’s solera Negroni. In 2013, the acclaimed Edinburgh bar partnered with Campari to create a solera system in which three barrels, each containing an equal mix of gin, sweet vermouth and Campari, were filtered down to another three barrels, eventually reaching a tap where the drink was dispensed. Over time, fresh ingredients were added to the top to keep the cycle in motion. A similar solera system was sponsored by Zacapa Rum in 2014 and served at Clumsies in Athens, Greece, Whistling Shop in London, and Zuma restaurants throughout the world.
Despite the best efforts of the international beverage conglomerates, the idea never took off. I suspect that the attempt to introduce a phenomenon centered around ease—of disposing of low-fill bottles, in preserving ingredients, in fixing yourself a nightcap and, most importantly, in creating nonreplicable complexity—is better suited to the home bar than the cocktail bar. Indeed, as far as ease goes, few drinks compare to the infinity cocktail. As Fred explains: “Whenever I pour a drink of it, I just put a big ol’ ice cube in [my glass], measure out 2 ounces, and serve.”