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The Red Hook Cocktail

Red Hook Cocktail (detail), photo © 2012 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.

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…

3 Responses to “The Red Hook Cocktail”

  1. Rhett

    Yes, the Red Hook is actually a Brooklyn variation. Intentionally named after a Brooklyn neighborhood, as all those variations are, it was one of the more successful attempts at dealing with a lack of available Amer Picon (one of the ingredients of the Brooklyn). Picon is an orange bitter liqueur, so using Punt e Mes as a substitute makes some sense.

    A Brooklyn and a Manhattan side by side are quite different drinks, not just in their use of dry vs. sweet vermouth, respectively, but also in the Brooklyn’s addition of two liqueurs (the aforementioned Picon and maraschino). It also has a very influential ratio structure (as does the Red Hook) in creating new cocktails.

    As for the ratio, I find more than 1/4oz of maraschino makes for a MUCH too sweet and unbalanced a drink. The original recipe does call for “1/4-1/2 to taste,” and the 1/2 not only gives too much sweetness and mouthfeel but also overpowers the subtleties of the rye. The 2oz spirit, 1/2oz vermouth, 1/4oz liqueur structure is the one that is used again and again in bartending because of its consistent balance.

    I think the “drink it quickly – that maraschino is really cloying when it warms up” is a great indication that you didn’t balance your drink properly. Drinks do get sweeter as they get warmer, but should never be cloying.

    And as a final note, I’m not sure where you found the lemon oil garnish listed, as the original Milk & Honey drink had no garnish at all (I know you say “optional”). Personally, I think it’s perfect just the way it is. The maraschino is aromatic enough, and there’s no need to dry it out with a little oil if you stick with the 1/4oz.

    Cheers!

    ~Rhett

    Reply
    • Doug Ford

      Hi, Rhett, thanks for adding these observations. You sound like a guy who is as interested in ratios as I am.

      I hadn’t heard that part about the motivation behind the design of the Red Hook, to accommodate the Brooklyn’s need for the virtually non-existent Amer Picon. Seems obvious, now that you mention it.

      As for the maraschino—I agree, we’re sort of pushing our luck at the half ounce end of the range, but it shows up in some recipes, and it seems to work if the drink is really, really cold, as you observed. Since I tend to mix them small and drink them cold, it’s not a problem, but I will say that I usually don’t really use a proper half ounce, maybe more like a heavy quarter ounce. If I were writing this article today, I’d probably list the maraschino at a quarter to a third of an ounce, and lean more to the lighter end.

      That expressed lemon twist is something I just sort of stumbled onto. I probably did it by mistake one day, and found that I liked it. Your speculation that it works well with the heavy dose of maraschino probably hits it on the head. I agree that the original Red Hook was apparently an ungarnished drink, and I will change the text to emphasize that aspect.

      Thanks for your insights!

      Reply

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