Summer is upon the Phoenix area once again. Sure, the official start of summer is a couple of months away, but hearing people start every conversation with "Damn, it's hot!" is our equivalent of the first robin of spring. It means different things to different people. For me, it means it's time to find an "official drink of summer." You know, the one you reach for as a certain antidote to blazing heat.
In past years I've enjoyed the very vintage Pegu Club Cocktail (who better to combat heat exhaustion than a British officer in the Burmese jungle?), and the Lei Lani Volcano, an umbrella drink served at Walt Disney World in the 1970s. This year, I've found myself in the mood for something with a bitter edge. Maybe it's just being overdue for vacation, but after feeling wiped out from an arduous day in the heat, a little bitter reminds my brain that I am, in fact, still alive. The choice way to get this bitter is in one of the oldest cocktails, the Americano.
The Americano goes all the way back to Milan in the 1860s, when Gaspare Campari mixed his bitter aperitif liqueur with Cinzano vermouth from Turin (Torino to the Italians), topped it with a splash of sparkling water, and dubbed it the Milano-Torino for the two cities. Around the turn of the century, American tourists took a liking to the drink, and the name of the drink shifted to Americano. It's also been ordered a few times by James Bond, most often when the character is at a small cafe where the likelihood of getting a decent Martini is slim.
Campari is a definite acquired taste thanks to astringent bitterness with only a hint of sweet. Even Italians who can't get enough of the stuff will tell you it typically takes about three tries to develop an affinity for it. So if you don't like it at first, don't be surprised, swig it down with a grimace, and try again some other night. You can mitigate the bitterness with extra vermouth and soda; I usually make it one part Campari to two parts vermouth with plenty of soda in a tall glass for Campari virgins. James Bond preferred to class his up with Perrier; I can't tell the difference. Beyond that, just keep your vermouth in the fridge like I've been telling you, and you're set to go.
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All that's left is to clink glasses. While "Salute!" (saw-LOO-tay, "To your health") is the traditional Italian toast, a drink this casual calls for the other Italian toast, onomatopoeia for glasses clinking. So, Cin-cin!
Americano 1½ ounces Campari 1½ ounces Italian sweet vermouth (Cinzano if you want to be an Americano purist) Splash of soda water
Combine everything with ice cubes in an Old-Fashioned glass. Stir gently to combine. Garnish with an orange slice.