Affinity: a liking for or an attraction to something.
I discovered this long-lost cocktail one cold October day, thanks to my friend and barman Maxwell Britten during his tenure manning Freeman’s backroom bar in New York City. The leaves were swirling on this windy, chilly afternoon, and I was downtown. I sauntered down the namesake alley into Freeman's and spotted Maxwell behind the stick of the U-shaped back bar. Needing a proper cocktail that could warm me up, I requested a true autumn cocktail -- bartender's choice. Faster than a falling leaf, Britten served me up an amber-hued libation that he promised would hit the spot. It was love at first sip; and now one of my standard fall cocktails.
The Affinity is not a new-fangled cocktail but rather a storied piece of highland treasure buried in plain sight. One does not even have to browse past the A’s recipe section of Harry Craddock’s The Savoy Cocktail Book (1930) to find it. The legendary barman’s recipe used at London’s Savoy Hotel American Bar uses equal parts Scotch whisky, Italian (sweet) vermouth, and French (dry) vermouth plus the addition of Angostura bitters. The specifications are below:
The Affinity (1930)
Adapted from Harry Craddock’s recipe
1/3 parts of Scotch whisky
1/3 parts of French vermouth
1/3 parts Italian vermouth
2 dashes of Angostura bitters
Tools: Mixing glass, julep strainer, bar spoon, jigger, cocktail glass, paring knife
Method: Stir well and strain into a cocktail glass. Squeeze lemon peel on top.
There is no doubt that the recipe memorialized by Harry Craddock stands on its own. Try it out -- it is very good. However, the Affinity recipe I tasted on that crisp fall day at Freeman’s was not simply good, it was sublime. The difference is the proportions which mimic a perfect Manhattan. Britten upped the Scotch ante and used quality vermouths. He substitutes orange bitters for the Angostura, which let’s the herbal delicacies of the artisanal vermouths shine through but not overwhelm the palette. A lemon peel with expressed citrus oils invites the nose and gets the taste buds flowing.
In 2008, Black Grouse Blended Scotch whisky (40% ABV) was released by the Erdington Group, producers of the iconic The Famous Grouse brand. The Famous Grouse is a blended Scotch whisky using several famous single malts, including The Macallan and Highland Park; the Black Grouse is a blend of Famous Grouse Scotch plus additional Islay peated single malts. The final product is full-bodied, smoky and fruity, with spice and hints of cocoa. Black Grouse, like it’s Famous cousin, is perfect for mixing in cocktails and stands its ground in The Affinity. If you are using the original specs with sweet vermouth, then you may need a single malt to keep The Affinity a viable whisky cocktail. However, in the modern adaptation, a Scotch blend with serious backbone like Black Grouse is the way to go.
Noilly Prat Original Dry Vermouth (18% ABV) has been a bartender favorite “French” or dry vermouth since the mid-19th century. The formula’s pronounced herbal flavor was dialed down for the American consumer in the twentieth century and remained more of an extra dry vermouth more suited for a rinse of a martini glass until recently. In 2009, Noilly Prat changed their bottle design and started exporting their original style formula to the United States. The advent of craft bartending changed vermouth’s perceptions and importance. Once again we can savor the original Noilly Prat with its straw color and unique herbal flavors.
Dolin Rouge (16% ABV) is a sweet vermouth produced by Maison Dolin et Cie. The venerable French distiller produces a series of premium brand vermouths from the alpine Chambéry region. Vermouth de Chambéry holds the appellation d’origine controlée (a.o.c) certification due to the unique characteristics of the soil of the area. Dolin Rouge is sweet vermouth infused with over 50 plants and herbs that includes rose petals. I chose Dolin Rouge for this adaptation of the Affinity due to its subtle nature. Robust Torinese-style vermouths could tip the taste from whisky-prominent to vermouth-forward.
Maxwell Britten, now head barkeep at the award winning Maison Premiere in Brooklyn, uses a house orange bitters recipe that can be made in advance. His recipe calls for equal parts Regan’s No. 5 and Fee Brothers West Indian orange bitters.
Adapted from Maxwell Britten’s recipe
2 oz of Black Grouse Blended Scotch Whisky
0.5 oz of Dolin Sweet Vermouth
0.5 oz of Noilly Pratt Original Dry Vermouth
3 dashes of house orange bitters (half Regan’s/half Fee Bros)
Tools: Mixing glass, julep strainer, bar spoon, jigger, cocktail glass, citrus peeler
Method: Combine ingredients in mixing glass and add several lumps of ice. Stir until well chilled and strain into a cocktail glass. Express lemon peel over the finished product. We added a star anise as a seasonal garnish. Looks cool too.
Final Note: If you are try to bottle or barrel-age cocktails, the Affinity is an excellent candidate for your consideration. My bottle-aged Affinity will be ready by end of November and I will savor it as Autumn gives way to Winter.
*Got a cocktail question? Reach Fredo on twitter @loungerati, email me at fredo(at)loungerati(dot)com, or simply drop me a comment below!
**Fredo Ceraso is the editor-at-large of the lounge lifestyle blog Loungerati.com. Fredo is a member of the USBG New York chapter and rolls drinks at many Lounge, Swing, Jazz Age, & Burlesque events in New York City.