Of all the disrespected, maligned cocktails I have discussed over the years, there is one that is so poorly regarded most people won’t even give it a second thought. Even one of my bartending heroes, Gary Regan, in his brilliant, 2003 masterpiece The Joy of Mixology, said about the drink, “I honestly can’t imagine a drink more boring than this.” That drink is the White Wine Spritzer.
For years I held the same belief, because that’s how your average bartender works; we’re told something, whether it be true or false, and we not only believe it, we pass it down to the next generation of bartenders who believe it and pass it down again. Which is why it’s always important to remember to keep an open mind about this stuff, because every once in a while you discover something to be so antithetical to your current beliefs that it shakes you to the core.
A few years ago, I was perusing my tattered 1971 edition of the Playboy Host and Bar Book, written by the illustrious Thomas Mario, who held the position of food and drink editor at the magazine for nearly 30 years. In this book, which many are quick to dismiss, you’ll find the usual suspects of ‘70s party culture: Tequila Sunrises and Prairie Oysters, as one might expect. But tucked between these faded beauties are some of the best versions of classic cocktails you’ll find in any reference guide.
And while I browsed Mario’s indispensable tome, I came across a recipe that took me for a loop: a White Wine “Cooler” that looked both structurally compelling and surprisingly authentic in its ingredient list. Could this be the White Wine Spritzer/Cooler that gave birth to a generation of watered down, insipid White Wine Spritzers of which Gary Regan yawned?
Trying the recipe revealed a complex, well-balanced, mature cocktail worthy of the most elegant of occasions. And so I placed it on the menu for the 2013 Playmate of the Year party as a sort of homage to the golden age of Playboy. It was such a hit with our guests that I’ve been making it every summer since, as a refreshing, low-alcohol sipper to be enjoyed in the sunnier months.
Give it a try, you might discover something far from boring.
WHITE WINE COOLER
Adapted from a recipe by Thomas Mario
• 6 oz. chilled dry white wine
• ½ oz. brandy
• 2 dashes orange bitters
• 1 tsp. kümmel (a liqueur made with caraway)
• 2 tsp. 2:1 simple syrup
• ½ oz. lemon juice
• Iced club soda
• Cucumber peel
Put wine, brandy, bitters, kümmel, simple syrup, and lemon juice into a tall 14 oz. glass and stir. Add a splash of club soda and ice to fill glass. Stir. Add cucumber peel.
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Jeffrey Morgenthaler is the bar manager at Pépé le Moko and Clyde Common, the acclaimed gastropub at the Ace Hotel in Portland, Oregon. He is also author of The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique.