The history of cocktails is replete with colourful provenance stories, many or even most of them probably apocryphal. Others are pretty simple – an entitled one-percenter walks into a bar in 1919, says “Screw the soda, you peasants, I want gin with my Campari and vermouth”, or words to that effect, and the Negroni is born. Still others hardly bear repeating – “yeah, um, so I had these three bottles at the back of the bar, and…” etc. But the provenance story I want to tell today is neither apocryphal nor soporific.
One wintry evening, Alistair and I were sitting in Eau de Vie, drinking a Smoky Rob Roy apiece, when he did me the signal honour of asking me to invent a cocktail for the exclusive consumption of 100-plus guests at his wedding reception. An idea, primarily in the form of a name, came to me straight away…
Alistair had proposed to his wife, Pia, in a chapel in Rome (yes gents, I know, a very high bar, don’t even bother) that houses works by her favourite artist, the late-Italian Renaissance painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. Caravaggio was a master artist, with an ability to use contrast that significantly influenced later painting styles. Baroque masters Rembrandt and Rubens, in particular, owe -
*clears throat apologetically*
Sorry about that. Back to the cocktail…
Thrilled as I was to be asked to take on such a worthy task, armed with naught but a name the pressure was on. Obviously all the main ingredients needed to be of Italian origin, or at least extraction or influence, but given the plethora of spirits, digestifs, aperitifs, and obscure liqueurs to which the Italians can lay claim, it was looking like a particularly broad canvas, tenuous pun intended.
I hit the web, and bottleshops, searching for inspiration. In the end, however, I found my muse in the fruit and vegetable shop – seasonal blood oranges. From there it was a quick jump to Solerno blood orange liqueur, Strega herbal liqueur for complexity, and orange bitters bringing up the rear. For the wedding, I had to aim at the middle, so prosecco added some volume but, after a number of post-nuptial revisitations, this is how the Caravaggio has ended up:
- 2oz fresh blood orange juice
- 1½oz Solerno blood orange liqueur
- 1tspn Strega liqueur
- 1 dash orange bitters
To make your own, fill a shaker with ice, and add all ingredients. Shake, strain into a chilled coupette, and garnish with a half slice or some peel of blood orange. Done.
So that’s the Caravaggio. It’s lighter in alcohol than some, but perfect for a late winter or spring citrus hit, and a great “gateway” cocktail for late starters. Packaged juice can be used, but the taste is always different, and not in a good way. It’s hard (read: impossible) to find fresh blood oranges out of season, so I buy up, squeeze and freeze to ensure I can make this any time.