It is another bartenders handshake. So if you haven’t embraced the bitter, this one is not for you. Hell, it has got Campari, so it may not be for me, but that is not going to stop us from making it. I’ll probably ramble on a bit about having to take the bitter with the sweet, maybe compare some films, who knows? I certainly don’t. Doesn’t really matter though, this is the drink we are making, these are the words I am writing and while I hope that you enjoy both, it is really out of my hands at this point. So won’t you join me now as we stand and make The Last Man Standing.
This is another drink from Last Call, by Brad Thomas Parsons, where he explores closing rituals and asks bartenders from around the country what they would have for their last drink. It is a great read and I recommend it highly. I am intrigued by how folks approach their answers, some opting for a decadent and complicated drink, some going for one last simple concoction and some saying a beer or a sweet tea would be just the thing to drink as the final curtain falls. I am not surprised at how often that last drink has a serious bitter component as working with alcohol in and out everyday seems to help foster an appreciation for the bitter side of the palate.
This particular drink comes from the mind of Benjamin Hash at Lancaster, Pennsylvania’s Horse Inn, a famous bar and restaurant operating since 1920. It is basically a shot that grew into a full-fledged cocktail. It is all alcohol, so it packs a punch and the combination of Campari and Fernet give it an unmistakable herbal bitterness that begs for an informed palate. Doing research I discovered that this Fernet-Campari combo is often referred to as “Ferrari”. Not sure if that is helpful info or not, but I read it, so I am passing it along. Let’s make one and see if it gets our engines revving.
Grab your mixing pitcher and toss in 3/4 of an ounce each of Campari, Fernet-Branca, Rye Whiskey, I went with Crater Lake; and Gin, I chose Corsair. Add a couple of big ice cubes 2-3 dashes of orange bitters, crank up Sturgill Simpson’s “Last Man Standing“ and stir to chill. It’s not the best song on that album, but once again I find myself cornered by a theme. Grab that big strainer and pour into something pretty and delicate, to counterbalance the in your face nature of the drink and music.
Keep that SOUND & FURY album playing, but hit forward once to cue up, or is it queue up, “Mercury in Retrograde“. Ponder the color of this one, the aroma, I mean really give it a good look. It is beautiful. As that first chorus kicks in take a gentle pull on this one and feel it fill your mouth. This thing has got some serious depth. I love the first sip. As you swallow that Campari comes charging through, but it is tempered with the menthol side of the Fernet, so maybe its gonna be ok. Nope, Campari won and is now prancing around my mouth like a little dude who just jumped out of his sports car in a leather jumpsuit screaming “Look at me! You can’t even handle all of this!” You know the kind of guy. The one where the rest of us roll our eyes and think, “Yeah, we could teach him a lesson, but why? He’s just not worth the trouble.” This is the point where my bartender buddies chime in, “He’s really not that bad…once you get to know him.” Maybe they are right, but for me, Campari remains an asshole who keeps ruining the aftertaste of my drinks. To be fair, taking another sip, erases its effects, so the drink is good again, until the aftertaste kicks in. So I have to rinse and repeat, ad infinitum, no, that’s not right, ad til emptium. So rather than sipping and stopping to reflect, I find myself taking a sip, and needing another before I even set the glass down. This is not problematic, except that this is all alcohol and there is not enough of it to stave off the inevitable Campari tongue kick for very long. The good news is you drink it before it gets too warm. Maybe I should have gone back to the beginning of the album and cued, or is it queued? That’s gonna bug me, they both make sense. Anyway, maybe I should have played “Remember to Breathe“ instead. Doesn’t matter, make a few drinks and listen to the whole album. If you are feeling up to it you can watch the anime companion film. Not my thing, but the music is solid and if you watch it, you can see Nashville destroyed in a nuclear holocaust as Metro PD sweeps the streets, so that’s fun.
I am really torn by this drink. I like it, but I hate the after bite. It is crazy complex and demands your attention, this is not a casual sipper. I think I may remake it using Cynar, or some of that cacao-infused Campari I made for the Psycho Killer, just anything to take the edge off. Maybe that is the point though. Learning to push through and appreciate that bitter flavor for what it is. Contrast is everything and even though it is a cliche you do need the bitter to help you appreciate the sweet and vice versa. Cocktails are all about balance and so is life. Maybe that is why Campari bugs me, it feels like it throws off the balance. Leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth. Life does that often enough. Think back to the failed relationships in your life, some of them leave a bad taste, but isn’t that usually related to how good it was before? Bitter and sweet, yin and yang, the pair of opposites which define each other. This whole concept is summed up by Jason Lee in the bizarre, but strangely compelling “Vanilla Sky”, when he says “You will never know the exquisite pain of the guy who goes home alone. Cause without the bitter, baby, the sweet ain’t as sweet.” Which I find supremely funny because it practically echoes lines he had years earlier in Kevin Smith’s “Chasing Amy” which is one of my favorite films. For all of its beauty, the inevitable scenes of Tom Cruise running and that cool Paul McCartney soundtrack, Vanilla Sky is just remake of the Spanish film “Abre Los Ojos” which is also definitely worth a viewing. Speaking of running, have you noticed that? Tom Cruise seems to have a scene of him running in every film he is in. Don’t get me wrong, he is a great runner, perhaps the best working in film today, but how hard are they working to wedge that in to every screenplay? Are there guys out there today, furiously rewriting scenes to give Tom a chance to emote while hoofing it, another opportunity for him to showcase his ability to process complex emotion through kinetic action. Maybe you don’t think about these things, maybe you are happier than I am, maybe you sleep better at night, I don’t know. I wish I could run like that. Get some bad news? Go for a run and turn those tears into pure speed. Win a dogfight with Jester? Go for a jog and experience the joy of victory as the California sun plays along your supple muscles, which are naturally straining to propel you through space and time. That’s not my thing, though. Oh well, you cannot win them all, I am speaking specifically of foot races with Tom Cruise here.
So, there you go, a bunch of words about bitter stuff and contrast and Sturgill Simpson singing while Tom Cruise sprints. Like I have said, many times before, I never know where we are going when we hop in the words truck, but I appreciate y’all for going along for the ride. Maybe tomorrow I can keep from rambling and give you a tight 3 minutes, maybe. After all, tomorrow is another day. Till then, stay safe, stay hydrated and stay sane, my friends.