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Evolution of a Cocktail: La Dolce Vita—A Gin, Sweet Vermouth, Ginger Liqueur, & Chartreuse Cocktail

April 3, 2016




First, there was a drink called the "Milano-Torino" in the 1860s, served at Gaspar Campari's bar, Caffè Campari. It was composed of equal parts Campari and Sweet Vermouth over ice (from the ice house by way of the Alps), with a splash of club soda, and an orange slice as a garnish.



By the turn of the century, the "Milano-Torino" was a favorite among the many American tourists visiting the continent. In fact, the drink became so popular that it was renamed the "Americano" in honor of these Americans (and their money), and garnished with a slice of lemon (to distinguish it from the "Milano-Torino").



Bijou (see BLOG entry for April 1, 2016: Retro Cocktail for April: Bijou)


Around the same time, Harry Johnson's New & Improved Bartender Manual came out, with a drink in it called the "Bijou"*—equal parts Gin, Sweet Vermouth, and Green Chartreuse. (The version I love has ¾ part Chartreuse and ¼ part Campari, which recalls the "Negroni").

*The original recipe is said to date back to 1890.


The story goes that in Florence, Italy in 1919, at Caffè Casoni, Count Negroni asked the bartender to beef up his favorite drink, the "Americano", by substituting one part Gin for the splash of club soda. And thus, the "Negroni" was bornequal parts Campari, Sweet Vermouth, and Gin, with an orange twist (to distinguish it from the "Americano").



Old Pal

Three years later, a drink called the "Old Pal" appears in Harry MacElhone's ABC of Mixing Cocktails. Like the "Negroni", it has just three ingredients, all of equal measure, and like the "Negroni", Campari is the first. But instead of Sweet Vermouth, it has Dry French Vermouth, and instead of Gin, it has Rye Whiskey, with a lemon twist as a garnish.


Five years later, in 1927, the "Old Pal" had fallen out of favor, because when MacElhone published his next book, Barflies & Cocktails, the "Old Pal" was now called the “Boulevardier." Bourbon* was substituted for the Rye, Sweet Vermouth for the Dry Vermouth (like the "Negroni"), with Campari as the final ingredient (also like the "Negroni"), garnished with an orange peel or a Maraschino cherry.

*some recipes call for 1½ parts Bourbon.



La Dolce Vita

Which brings us to the year 2016. With all of the above drinks in mind, and 150 years of mixological history at hand, I wanted a drink like all of the above but different. A drink that pays homage to these wonderful cocktails, yet stands on its own as something unique. Thus, "La Dolce Vita" was born. It reminds me of them all, but with a flavor and spiciness all its own (thanks to the ginger liqueur, the hint of Chartreuse, and of course, Vya sweet vermouth).


1 part Bulldog Gin
1 part Vya Sweet Vermouth*
¾ part Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur
¼ part Yellow Chartreuse

Stir over ice, then strain into a rocks glass.
Garnish with a long lemon peel.



*I just made a "La Dolce Vita" with Dolin Vermouth de Chambéry Rouge instead of Vya, and it was like a completely different drink. And not in a good way. While I love the subtlety of Dolin vermouth, both sweet and extra dry in many cocktails, in this drink it came up as rather weak and insipid. It illustrates again how the slightest thing, in this case a different brand of vermouth, can completely change the complexion of a cocktail, and in some instances, make it even undrinkable.


                                                                       "La Dolce Vita"

                                                      Made from baby Vietnamese ginger!


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