Eeyore’s Requiem is a Negroni riff in the way fishtailing is a driving riff. When the Toby Maloney recipe was first published in Kirk Estopinal and Maksym Pazuniak’s Rogue Cocktails in 2009, it called for Campari, Fernet-Branca, Cynar and 15 drops of orange bitters. At a time when bitters and amari had not yet become the indispensable bartenders’ tools they are today, Eeyore’s Requiem was a drink that opened up space for others to follow. It underscored that multiple different bitter ingredients don’t necessarily overemphasize the bitter dimension of a drink; in fact, there can be beautiful interplay between them and their diverse profiles.
I was a newish drinks writer when Rogue Cocktails came out. (It was retitled and re-released in 2011 as Beta Cocktails, allegedly after the authors received a cease-and-desist letter from Rogue brewery.) The book was full of drinks—some by the authors, many contributed by industry friends—that, in one way or another, bucked convention. Stir a sour, instructed Estopinal and Pazuniak. Yank the restrictor out of your Peychaud’s bottle and pour it freely. Ice, shmice! Heard of mezcal, Cynar? They’re your new best buds. Like many people connected to the nascent community of so-called “craft cocktail enthusiasts,” I felt the style championed in Rogue and Beta Cocktails spoke right to me and my palate. I liked that you couldn’t really predict what was coming when you tried one for the first time. The subtext throughout the books was: Bottles right under your nose have untapped potential, and breaking rules, when you appreciate their purpose, can lead to breakthroughs.
Prevailing cocktail wisdom (some might call it cliché at this point) tells us that bitters should be used in a drink the same way salt might be used in cooking: in moderation, as a seasoning that perks up other dominant flavors. Moreover, amari tend to have big—and therefore maybe not compatible—personalities. But Eeyore’s Requiem defiantly proved that bitters love company. Maloney’s intent, he says, was to “make the drink as bitter, and at the same time as complexly bitter—not just like, you know, three ounces of fucking Malört—where the structure of it still holds. It is super bitter. But, it’s also interesting.”
Fifteen years later, this lesson seems to have been dyed into the fabric of bartending. At Fools & Horses in Portland, Oregon, the Hateful 8 is a thrown drink created by Benjamin Purvis and Collin Nicholas, composed of an anthology of eight Italian bitter liqueurs and nothing else. Purvis says that in his recent travels, he observed many cocktail bar proprietors quietly sharing with guests “their secret little amaro blend that they like,” in the form of a composed mixed drink or a 50/50 shot. The Hateful 8 is Fools & Horses’ return of that unspoken volley, and a demonstration of contemporary bargoers’ appetite for bitterness in their cocktails—a result that I think traces back to adventurous, future-forward drinks like Eeyore’s Requiem.
When I ask Purvis—who trained under Nicholas and credits him for imparting the fundamentals of his practice—if he was aware of Eeyore’s Requiem, he says, “It rings a bell... I feel like I’ve come across it. We always try to incorporate amari, even in a sour. Just a quarter-ounce will give a lot of dimension to a cocktail.”
The Rogue ethos of embracing bitterness had another dimension: so-called nonpotable bitters, like Angostura and Peychaud’s, shouldn’t be pigeonholed as such. Consider A Moment of Silence. For this rye-based drink, Pazuniak defied the traditional mode of using bitters (i.e., in teensy dashes) by including a half-ounce pour of Angostura. The drink also calls for apricot liqueur, Amaro Averna and a rinse of Campari. Along with other drinks from the books, such as the Gunshop Fizz (fueled by two ounces of Peychaud’s), A Moment of Silence illuminated a secret hiding in plain sight: bitters, in larger-than-usual quantities, can introduce fruit and spice and aromatic high notes to a cocktail while also playing the bitter bass notes.
Zac Overman’s Angostura Colada shows just how much that idea had legs. This colada is built on one and half ounces of Angostura and a half-ounce of high-proof rum. Sounds ill-conceived, but the drink works because aromatic bitters like Angostura can offset sweetness with their bone-dry finish while making tropical flavors, like coconut and pineapple, work harder.
Estopinal and Pazuniak were bartending together at New Orleans’ Cure—experimenting with recreating “weirdo drinks that didn’t make sense on paper or sounded gross,” Estopinal says—when the impetus for the Rogue Cocktails book arose. One such drink was the largely forgotten Angostura Fizz, documented in the midcentury travelogues of Charles H. Baker, which called for a renegade full-ounce pour of Ango. “In those discoveries, we made a simple egg white sour with Angostura”—what, in Rogue, became the Angostura Sour—“and found out that was really cool.”
Recipes from the book taught us that the versatility of bitter ingredients swung both ways. Not only could they play well together, but some were complex enough to stand alone, as cocktails in their own right. The stirred Campari “Martini” was one of the first cocktails I’d seen that not only foregrounded Campari in all its bittersweet breadth, but also used salt as a flavor enhancer.
Attributed to Pazuniak, the Campari “Martini” is more or less a glassful of chilled, diluted Campari with a pinch of salt. (In his recipe, Pazuniak noted that a dash of saline will integrate even better.) The austerity of the build is intentional, allowing the drinker to zero in on all the nuances of opened-up Campari, which hadn’t really taken off in the United States when this drink debuted. It not-so-subtly asks for our trust that, yes, this may seem odd, but you’re going to like it.
The States’ utter coziness with the Italian aperitif today is testimony that the Campari “Martini,” as a gesture and invitation, was accepted. Bartenders have continued to develop drinks along the lines of the Campari “Martini,” where the liqueur is in a starring role. At the celebrated New York cocktail bar Dante, you can enjoy Naren Young’s Campari Shakerato, a drink that is close in spec to Pazuniak’s “Martini” (in addition to saline, there’s orange flower water) but gets a vigorous, fluff-ifying shake rather than a stir.
“Me and Maks basically went down a bunch of rabbit holes with Harold McGee’s book On Food and Cooking,” Estopinal recalls. “Reading that book, [we discovered] salt blocks the bitter flavors in a cocktail.”
“You see a lot more cocktails now with Campari as a base spirit. I think that’s kind of unquestioned. I think it’s fairly normal,” Pazuniak says. “And that was not necessarily true in 2010, 2011.” He adds, “What I hope is that those books opened up bartenders to the possibility of using nontraditional base spirits, and amaro as a base spirit.”
The Improved Scotch Sling, also by Pazuniak, was part of a small set of Rogue recipes that called for citrus and stirring—a pairing of ingredient and technique that bartenders are taught is incompatible. (The Art of Choke is another Rogue drink in this camp.) The Improved Scotch Sling is composed of Islay Scotch, sweet vermouth, lemon, honey syrup, maraschino and bitters. It has Penicillin vibes, but also is Martinez-like. Again, you don’t know what’s coming, and that’s exciting.
Bartender Al Sotack’s South Bronx is a newer cocktail that also calls for stirring with citrus—in this case orange juice (and pineapple, a tart fruit that functions a lot like citrus in a cocktail). The spirit component is a blend of Old Tom gins, combined with a blend of blanc and sweet vermouths. The drink has the body and punch of a stirred drink, but the flavor profile of a shaken sour. The subversion of expectations feels right in line with the Rogue ethos.
Speaking of expectations, today’s drinker tends to expect a cocktail will be served either cold or hot, but not in between. Not so with the Heart of Glass, a Rogue cocktail created by Troy Sidle. It is one of a few callbacks in the book series to an ages-old and (at the time) largely ignored category of mixed drink known as scaffa.
Originating when ice was precious and rare, scaffa are like proto-cocktails, mixed and served at room temperature. Typically, they are blends of spirit, liqueur and bitters (no juices or syrups or other perishable stuff), and they don’t call for any ice-driven chilling or dilution. Sidle’s Heart of Glass—a combination of nice bourbon, Cynar and Carpano Antica sweet vermouth—drinks like a Boulevardier. Because it is served essentially neat, it begs for your finest booze. (The best test of a high quality liquor is whether you can enjoy it unaltered, at room temp.) Think of it as a consummate sipper, slowing you down while warming you up.
To witness the renewed attention on scaffa stirred up by drinks like the Heart of Glass, you can pull up to Sother Teague’s bar at Amor y Amargo in New York. The move is to order Teague’s personal favorite, Just the Paperwork. Of the name, he says, “I used to make it for myself after my shifts, when I was doing the closing paperwork after I’d cleaned down the bar and burned the ice.” The drink features a Cognac base, offset by Amaro Nonino and Cocchi Americano. (You can find a few other room-temp cocktail recipes in Teague’s book, I’m Just Here for the Drinks.) “I believe most all-spirit cocktails can be served as scaffa,” Teague adds. “Some require a little water to be added, and some don’t.”
Survey today’s cocktail frontier—the creative space where original drinks are emerging—and you’ll find a new generation of bartenders continuing to travel the pathways cleared by Rogue/Beta Cocktails, even if many may be unaware of why the ground they stand on is there. That these books, small as they were in circulation and size, still hold sway in the realm of cocktails years later speaks to the creativity of the drinks they documented. The ideas have found their way into the currency of bartending in ways that feel both profound yet invisible. I look forward to checking back in again, years from now.