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BOOZE BLOG REBELLION: The Old Pal, your favorite Negroni-type sipper

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It takes time, but this drink will warm your soul.

2015 Pioneer Works 2nd Annual Village Fete Presented By BOMBAY SAPPHIRE GIN Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for BOMBAY SAPPHIRE GIN

Say you’re sitting under shitty disco lights at your local dive and you get the wild hair to ask your favorite bartender to make you something novel. She, Sarah might be her name, suggests an Old Pal and won’t answer any of your questions about what’s in it. Fine. Let’s go.

Sarah then sets about a five-minute process involving numerous infusions and concoctions resulting in a witch’s brew that tastes dangerously amazing. Sarah knows this, because Sarah can kill you from behind the bar, as she should. After all, she’s slaved under and over this place — rickety as it is — to make it the absolute best joint in Charleston. Y’all want a Dirty Ashtray? She’ll throw a Dirty Ashtray in your face. That, by the way, is a Tecate can with a shot of tequila on top of it, followed by a splash of lime juice, hot sauce, and pepper. It’s amazing.

Sarah built me up an Old Pal, and I’m not normally one for cherry. But this thing has a full-on brandied cherry in the bottom of it and there’s no way I’m not coming back. Let’s get the recipe out of the way, then talk about drinkability and finish.

1.5-2 oz rye whiskey (Rittenhouse is nice)
1 oz dry vermouth (Dolin is nice)
1 oz Campari
Stir in mixing glass with ice and a few dashes of aromatic bitters
Strain into a chilled coupe glass
Garnish with expressed orange peel and a brandied cherry

That seems a simple recipe, sure, but it ain’t. First, let’s talk “coupe glasses.” Sarah thinks it important to do this drink with a coupe because it’s shallow enough to open up the aromatics and flavors of everything contained within this drink, of which there are many. You put your face into this thing and you come up begging for oxygen. You do your initial sip off the top of it and you want to fall into the earth. It’s sweet, it’s somehow herbal in a way, and then the rye whiskey hits you and you’re reminded you’re drinking rye whiskey out of a goddamn coupe. Oh yeah, there’s a cherry down there somewhere, and you probably can’t stand up straight enough to eat it.

Something about this drink makes me hate it, though. There’s this weird finishing aftertaste that smells and feels like nails. Maybe it’s the alloy of rye whiskey and bitters and a cherry. Maybe it’s my own personal and genetic palate. I can’t do cilantro in high doses, for instance. There’s an odd feel here that somehow sits warmly comforting, like the holidays, but it also punches you in the throat. The Old Pal is a good goddamn drink, and it takes effort to make it, and it takes effort to drink it.

Sarah makes the best one I’ve ever had, which is to say that she’s made the only one I’ve ever had, but I don’t see many topping this one. Because how do you cover rye whiskey and vermouth with the appropriate amount of Campari and garnish to force it down your gullet without argument? Let Sarah do it for you.