So many flavors, so little time. I finally got around to trying the Red Hook Cocktail after Imbibe included it in its cover article on “The 25 Most Influential Cocktails of the Past Century” (Paul Clark, May/June 2010). Whether the Red Hook really has earned a place on that list in the six years since its invention* I really can’t say. I can say that it had an instant and favorable influence on me; at least for now, it has supplanted the Manhattan in my personal cocktail rotation.

The Red Hook is a Manhattan variant that steps back from the round sweetness of Italian vermouth, and presents a more layered flavor by substituting the slightly bitter Punt e Mes and balancing it with a healthy dollop of Maraschino liqueur.

The Red Hook Cocktail, photo © 2010 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.
The Red Hook Cocktail

The result is fun and delicious, and destined to join the classics, I suspect. As for “influential,” I guess that’s half the fun of Imbibe’s list—it works sort of like a menu for you and your friends while you puzzle out the likely meaning of “influence.”

In the case of the Red Hook, the extent of its influence seems strictly local, more of a competition starter among Brooklyn’s neighborhood bars to play “tweak the Manhattan” (or in some cases, “tweak the Brooklyn”), as each section of that borough now seems to have a cocktail named after itself, all playing off the Manhattan and Brooklyn patterns.

As for the drink itself, the Red Hook variation brings a delightful richness to the Manhattan genre. The nose is whiskey and lemon oil, and the initial taste is all about rye whiskey, so use your favorite. The slight bitterness of the Punt e Mes follows, and then the sweetness of the maraschino comes through in the aftertaste. Influential or not, the Red Hook is a delight, and deserves its fame.

The Red Hook Cocktail

  • 2 oz Rye Whiskey (Rittenhouse 100 or Wild Turkey 101)
  • ½ oz Punt e Mes
  • ¼–½ oz Maraschino Liqueur (Luxardo)

Stir over ice until very, very cold; strain into a chilled cocktail glass. The original Red Hook is ungarnished; if you use more than a quarter ounce of Maraschino, you may want to (optionally) express and garnish with lemon.

Don’t be tempted to substitute sweet vermouth for the Punt e Mes. No. Absolutely not. The Punt e Mes has a pungent edge that provides a welcome complexity and required bitterness; vermouth is just sickly sweet here. (Yes, that’s the voice of experience talking…)

Meanwhile, in the Silly Hubris department:

Was it just my last entry where I declared that no cocktails could properly survive more than a quarter ounce of maraschino and still be properly balanced? The Red Hook proves me wrong. It was a delicious revelation the first time I mixed one with a half ounce of Luxardo—who knew that could work so nicely? But drink it quickly—that much maraschino can be cloying once it warms up. If you’re going to nurse it along, drop back to a quarter or third of an ounce. It’s a good drink either way.

  • Robert Simonson at Make it simple but significant says the Red Hook was invented in 2004 by Vincenzo Errico of Milk & Honey. Simonson says the drink is really a variant of the Brooklyn; could be, but it looks like a Manhattan to me. On the other hand, I guess you could argue that so does the Brooklyn…