Many bartenders have invented drinks called the Brooklyn Cocktail. The only version with any staying power, the Brooklyn we most often encounter today, is derived from a formula first published by Jacob Grohusko in his 1908 JACK’S MANUAL.

But we don’t encounter it very often, and therein lies a tale.

One obstacle to its popularity is that its hallmark ingredient is unavailable. The Brooklyn, like the Creole, calls for Amer Picon as its bittering component, and Amer Picon—at least in its original formulation—isn’t available anymore. The best you can do is to emulate its flavors to get the gist of the original cocktail.

And I’m okay with emulated ingredients. The idea that you can’t make a serviceable Brooklyn without Amer Picon seems pedantic at best. In fact, the absence of original Amer Picon isn’t really too much of a loss, since, with thoughtful substitution, we can still make a cocktail with the same flavor notes as the original, one that respects the intent of the drink’s inventor. And it’s pretty easy to substitute for the earthy, bitter, orange flavors of Amer Picon.

The real problem with the Brooklyn Cocktail

Grohusko’s 1908 formula called for equal parts rye whiskey and Italian vermouth, with a dash each of Maraschino and Amer Picon. It’s a very good drink, very Manhattanesque, though a bit on the sweet side with such a heavy proportion of sweet vermouth. Such were the tastes of the times.

But something curious and unfortunate happened almost immediately, and as sometimes happens with bad ideas, it stuck.

Bartender and cocktail formula publisher Jacques Straub seems the likely villain in this tale. Only six years after the Grohusko’s first publication, Straub picked up his Brooklyn recipe for his 1914 Drinks manual, and inexplicably changed the Italian vermouth to French vermouth. The 1908 edition of Grohusko’s book had called for Ballor Vermouth, and it’s possible that Straub was unfamiliar with the brand, and assumed it was a dry vermouth. Or it’s possible that it’s just a typo. Or maybe Straub actually liked the Brooklyn made with dry vermouth. Whatever the reason, it’s this French, or dry, vermouth version that’s been bandied about ever since, all but immortalized by its inclusion in Harry Craddock’s ubiquitous Savoy Cocktail Book.

Sweet vermouth and rye whiskey are very good partners; dry vermouth and rye, on the other hand, are not close friends at all. That’s part of the reason the Manhattan is a great drink, and the Brooklyn as we see it served today is just a forgettable also-ran.

A Brooklyn made with dry vermouth seems thin and out of balance, with nothing to properly tie together the grassy and herbal traits of the vermouth with the wood and grain of the whiskey. It’s a silly drink.

It’s time to lay such silliness to rest.

Repairs in Brooklyn

Grohusko’s original (it’s not clear that he invented the formula, but he was the first to publish it), with its rounder, sweeter Italian vermouth component, relies on the same flavor combinations as the classic Manhattan—rye whiskey, Italian vermouth, bitters, and notes of cherry as a highlight.

Brooklyn Cocktail (original)
J A Grohusko, Jack’s Manual, 1908

  • 1 dash Amer. Picon bitters
  • 1 dash Maraschino
  • 50% rye whiskey
  • 50% Ballor Vermouth

Fill glass with ice. Stir and strain. Serve.

(I like Jacob’s admonition at the end: “Serve.” That cracks me up.)

Modern tastes suggest a higher proportion of whiskey to vermouth, cutting back the sweetness and bringing the whiskey to the fore. Along with a substitution for the Amer Picon, we arrive at an excellent 21st century Brooklyn:

The Brooklyn Cocktail, photo © 2018 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.
The Brooklyn Cocktail
The Brooklyn Cocktail
Based on Grohusko (above)

  • 2½ oz (75 ml) rye whiskey (Rittenhouse)
  • ¾ oz (22 ml) Italian vermouth (Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, M&R Rosso)
  • ¼ oz (7.5 ml) Maraschino liqueur (Leopold Bros.)
  • ¼ oz (7.5 ml) Ramazzotti
  • 2–3 dashes orange bitters

Stir with ice until very cold. Strain into a chilled cocktail stem. Originally served without garnish, but a cherry is an appropriate decoration.

The whiskey and vermouth work well in a 3:1 proportion. I lean toward higher proof ryes like Rittenhouse, but softer whiskies also work in the Brooklyn. If you have a favorite rye for your Manhattans, it will work well here, too.

Leopold Maraschino label (detail), photo © 2018 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.Leopold Bros. maraschino has a bright, clean, fresh fruit flavor that I’ve never encountered in other maraschinos, without being overly sweet. It is well worth adding to your bar if you can find it, and it makes a delightful contribution to the Brooklyn.

A simple substitution of Ramazzotti and orange bitters, the same combination we used in the last post on the Creole, suggests the flavors of the unobtainable Amer Picon.

(Some writers say that Bigallet China-China Amer is a good substitute for the Amer. I can’t attest to it, since it doesn’t seem to be available in Minneapolis, but if you have access to it, it may be worth trying.)

Tasting the Repaired Brooklyn

The Brooklyn’s nose is sweet, with the cherry and maraschino coming to the fore. The initial taste is much like a heavily bittered Manhattan, rye-forward, with the earthiness and bitter notes of the Ramazzotti asserting themselves. The aftertaste is long and sweet, a balanced blend of the rye, the amaro, and the cherry.

There is a very similar, modern riff on this original Brooklyn flavor combination called the Red Hook. It’s been around since 2010—about a hundred or so years younger than the original inspiration—and I recommend it as an alternative if this flavor mix appeals to you.

But there’s more to the Brooklyn’s flavor profile than we encounter at first glance. There’s the question of what kind of whiskey Brooklyn bars might have been serving in the early years of the 20th century. It’s possible that the 1908 Brooklyn was even more different than the version I’ve listed here, and that’s something we’ll look at next time.

Until then, I’m glad, at last, to have a version of the Brooklyn that’s worth drinking.