Flying overseas, finding that small, crowded bar a friend recommended and then ordering, in sheepish tourists’ tongue, the “signature drink?” Not going to happen any time soon. But sipping cocktails beloved by locals around the globe without leaving your own home is still a scenario anyone can reenact this summer, fall, or anytime the wanderlust kicks in. Perhaps now, while the world navigates reopening phases of bars and restaurants come back to life, it is the time to learn just why an Italian drink is called the Americano, what’s in a Pisco Sour (and which South American country is responsible), and why a late night of basement karaoke isn’t complete without a Japanese Highball.
When that bar or border finally reopens, these five world-class drinks will be waiting.
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Composed of Campari, sweet vermouth, and, for a sparkly touch, club soda or an equivalent, the Americano is a popular Italian cocktail. According to Hope Ewing, the author of “Movers & Shakers: Women Making Waves in Spirits, Beer, and Wine,” the cocktail’s name might have something to do with our nation’s sweet tooth: “The Americano was originally known as the Milano-Torino, a regional spritz in Italy using Campari from Milan and sweet vermouth from Turin,” she says. “The apocryphal story is that the name Americano comes from the American tourists that liked the bright red color and couldn’t handle the Campari’s bite without the sweetness of the vermouth, but more likely it is named for the class of aperitivi called Americano, meaning roughly ‘a little bitter.’”
Vervet, a new craft canned cocktails brand co-founded by Ewing, offers the Angelicano, a Los Angeles-inspired twist on the Italian classic. It’s a fizzy aperitivo perfect for warm summer nights, with vermouth based on Californian white wine, anise, and hibiscus.
Israel: Grapefruit Arak
When the days become hot and humid, Israelis, who aren’t big spirits drinkers, switch from beer to arak eshkoliot (grapefruit arak, in Hebrew). Firmly placed within the Mediterranean affinity for anise-flavored spirits, the arak itself originated in either Lebanon or Iraq and has been popular in the Levant for generations. A distilled substance of murky white hue, it’s made of grapes and aniseed and is believed by devotees to aid digestion, cool the veins on a hot summer day, and even increase libido (depending on whom you ask). It’s a popular summer drink in Israel, Lebanon, and beyond; to play up the spirit’s distinct taste, Tel Avivian bartenders like to mix it with grapefruit juice, and add plenty of ice.
Follow this recipe, published in the new “TLV: Tel Aviv Recipes and Stories from Israel” by Jigal Crant: Mix 600 milliliters (20 ounces) pink grapefruit juice and 200 milliliters (about 6.5 to 7 ounces) arak, juice of one lime and 25 milliliters (about 1 ounce) grenadine. Crush ice in cocktail glasses and pour. Garnish with a mint sprig (serves 4). Arak can be purchased online.
Japan: Japanese Highball
While the Highball glass itself needs no introduction, the Japanese Highball, a cocktail of simplicity and sophistication, is a summer drink of choice for those in the know. “The Highball became popular in Japan in the 1920s, shortly after the Japanese began making whisky,” says Lindsay Young, beverage director at the new San Francisco Japanese restaurant Gozu. “Because the strength of whisky can be overpowering with a meal, adding soda water to it was a way to soften the flavors, allowing it to drink well with food.” As you might expect, the Japanese Highball is minimal and pristine. But, “there is a fine art to its execution,” notes Young. “With careful attention paid to preparation, from the chiseled ice and frosted glass to whisky-to-soda ratio, the result is a delicate balance of flavor and texture backed by an elegant presentation.”
At Gozu, the clean character of the drink balances the smoky flavors of the grilled meats and vegetables. To complement your next homemade feast, Young suggests adding 1 ½ ounces Mars Iwai 45 proof Blended Japanese Whisky to a chilled glass topped with ice and topping off with roughly 4.5 ounces of Fever Tree soda water in an approximately 1-to-3 ratio.
Peru and Chile: Pisco Sour
Featuring whipped egg white, this sour cocktail is creamy, tart, and indulgent. It mixes Pisco, a regional Latin-American brandy, and lime juice. “The Pisco Sour is absolutely one of my favorite drinks of all time,” Ewing says. “The provenance is hotly contested, but the prevailing popular mythology is that the drink as we know it today was created in the Morris Bar in Lima, Peru, in the 1920s. While Victor Morris, the bar’s American proprietor, is widely acknowledged as the creator, it was one of his Peruvian bartenders named Mario Bruiget who is more often now credited with the final recipe.” According to Ewing, the cocktail was a Gold Rush-era sensation in San Francisco, with its popularity quelled by Prohibition.
England: Pimm’s Cup
Synonymous with the English summer, the Cup is a festival of flavors: herby ginger ale, fruity notes and Pimms No. 1, a ginger-flavored liqueur. “The official story goes that James Pimm was a 19th-century restaurateur in London who created Pimm’s No. 1 as a digestive aid, to go with shellfish at his London oyster bar,” Ewing says. With its plethora of fruits and herbs, she says, the Cup “is also reminiscent of a popular 19th-century class of drinks called cobblers, which consisted of muddled fruits and herbs, lots of ice, and frequently another low-proof base spirit, sherry.” In the 1970s, the drink had found a welcome ally in the Wimbledon tennis tournament, thanks to its easygoing appeal and polished appearance.
Pimm’s can be purchased online. Mix with ginger ale to your liking. Garnish with cucumbers, orange slices, mint leaves, and other artfully sliced veggies and fruits.