Proposed by: David
Reviewed by: Jonathan
Can’t help thinking about my brother when I propose these cocktails—I worry they’re too elaborate or require too many new and strange ingredients or are simply too fussy. To be honest, my contributions have been on the baroque end of the cocktail scale.
And a little capricious. This week’s drink, the Cinquecento, came to me because a.) I was looking for a vodka drink with bitters (because those seem rather rare), b.) I like saying its name—Cheenko-chennnto— and c.) it evoked the quirky sophistication of the Fiat 500Ls now proliferating in Chicago. It also reminded me of a commercial my sister-in-law posted on facebook where a couple buying the car discovers, to their surprise, that it comes with an authentic Italian family in the back seat. A montage follows. The couple becomes Italian. I’d like to become Italian.
This cocktail isn’t that elaborate in preparation, but it requires three varieties of alcohol:
- 1.5 oz Vodka
- .5 oz Bénédictine
- .5 oz Campari
- .75 oz Fresh grapefruit juice
- 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Garnish: Grapefruit twist
Add all the ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake, and double strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with a grapefruit twist.
The provenance of this recipe is elaborate. One of Gaz Regan’s top 101 new cocktails of 2011, it originates with Fredo Ceraso, who entered it (as the winning selection) in an “Anyone Can Be a Mixologist” contest at Louis 649 Bar in Manhattan. In Mr. Ceraso’s description he says, “This cocktail is called the Cinquecento (500 in Italian) to honor the two modifying spirits: DOM Bénédictine (celebrating its 500th anniversary) and Campari (which hails from Torino, home of the iconic Fiat Cinquecento).”
I’m learning, however, that cocktails offer a palette of colors and tastes (and even textures) that transcend the accident of their birth. This cocktail, a lovely persimmon hue, is more substantial than light. Mr. Ceraso also mentions in his write-up that grapefruit juice naturally complements Campari, and I’d agree. I’d actually never tried Campari before, but it possesses a similar sweet bitterness prominent in this cocktail. My wife, who’s made it her mission to pair these drinks with sensible snacks, supplied some salty and sharp cheddar on rye crackers. That combination seemed perfect to me, as the bitterness of this drink (at least in my version) might otherwise be too persistent. It was pretty persistent anyway.
Here’s Jonathan’s Review:
Wow! Looking at David’s proposed drink and reading the ingredients, there were a lot of directions I thought I might be going with this review. Never thought I’d end up where I am though.
The review begins with a confession. We were tailgating before a college football game that began at 12:30 so this drink was going to be enjoyed at breakfast rather than as the aperitif that it is intended to be. The addition of grapefruit juice gave me some comfort that it might work, although that thought was countered by the fact the drink is almost all liquor/liqueur.
Some more quick background is that although I can be negative, I rarely put it in writing or take action. Angie’s List calls us to solicit reviews because we don’t provide them. Bad service at a restaurant? Your tip just went from 20% to 15% mister. Really lousy service? Okay, I’m going to show you with only 10%.
You might guess by now that I really disliked this drink. I made a couple and ended up passing them around to almost everyone at the tailgate and it wasn’t just me. The comments ranged from “tastes like something mixed up at a high school party” to “I think I’ll have something else now.” Even with the help, I couldn’t finish mine, as the combination of all the bitters made me feel like I needed to shave my tongue. To be fair, I will try it again with a juice that is sweeter than grapefruit and as an aperitif to see if anything changes. Sure hope so.
Jonathan’s take: This was a bad “wow.” Tasting overly like pure alcohol and very bitter, it’s not my drink.
David’s take: The distinctive honeyed, spicy, and bitter taste of this cocktail grew on me… but, then again, maybe that’s the alcohol talking.
Next Week (Proposed by Jonathan):
The best part of this week’s drink was the color of the Campari. It made me think of Cosmopolitans, which is one of my wife’s favorite drinks. I was already leaning towards Gin as the base liquor, and I wanted to begin to use some of the ingredients we have been accumulating as part of this endeavor, so I am proposing a Campari Cosmopolitan. There are a couple of options for the recipe, and I will include both for some experimentation.