Examining another branch on the sour cocktail family tree, host Tim McKirdy is joined this week by returning guest Jeffrey Morgenthaler of Portland, Ore.’s Pacific Standard to talk about Jeffrey’s self-proclaimed “World’s Best Amaretto Sour.” The two discuss the evolution of sour mix, the art of beating an egg white, and the current resurgence of liqueurs in the cocktail bar space after many years of their shying away from the limelight. Tune in for more.
Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s Amaretto Sour Recipe
- 1 teaspoon of 2-1 simple syrup
- ½ ounce lightly beaten egg white
- 1 ounce of freshly squeezed, strained lemon juice
- ¾ ounce of cask-strength bourbon
- 1 ½ ounces of Disarrono Amaretto
- Lemon peel
- 1 Brandied Amarena cherry
- Lightly beat an egg white with an immersion blender until smooth.
- Add all ingredients to a shaker with several large ice cubes.
- Shake vigorously.
- Strain mixture into a 10-ounce Old Fashioned glass.
- Top with ice.
- Garnish with a lemon twist and a brandied Amarena cherry on a toothpick, tucked into the lemon peel.
Check Out the Conversation Here
Tim McKirdy: He’s one of America’s top three most famous Jeffreys, but I can assure you the only crime this man has committed is against our palates here in America. Mr. Morgenthaler, welcome back to Cocktail College.
Jeffrey Morgenthaler: Oh, please enumerate the crimes against the palates that I’ve committed.
T: Well, we covered it in a previous episode, which I think folks should definitely check out — The Barrel-Aged Negroni, number one.
J: Is that a crime?
T: No, it’s not.
J: I think a crime against your liver maybe.
T: I think what it was with that one is that, as we got into that one, it inspired maybe a lot of bad versions.
J: That will happen.
T: It will, the finest form of flattery.
J: It’ll happen, yes.
T: I’ll say this, maybe people think that about the Amaretto Sour.
J: How many terrible Penicillins are out there, do you think?
J: How many terrible Penicillins are out there, do you think — the ones that jumped the shark? I feel like anytime there’s a classic cocktail, it’s going to inspire a bunch of bad ones.
T: Yes. That’s the way it goes, but you know what? I would argue, today, it’s the opposite.
J: Ah, there we go, a good segue.
T: We’re looking at a cocktail — yes, that’s maybe historically bad, but turned good. I’m going to start with a question here for you — one you might not be expecting. What does the date February 9th mean to you?
J: February 9th. Oh boy, nothing? This February 9th, I have oral surgery. Is that what you’re looking for?
T: Specifically here, speaking about February 9th, 2012, 10 years ago in a fortnight from now — this was the day that a young Jeffrey Morgenthaler, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, proclaimed to the world, “I make the world’s best Amaretto Sour.” That was your post.
J: It was 13 years ago in case you forgot that the year is 2023, and not 2022.
T: Jesus, we started well then, haven’t we? Oh, God.
J: You’re still writing 2022 when you write a check at the grocery store, or?
T: That old chestnut, it works for a couple of days.
J: Yes. February 9th, 2012, “I make the best Amaretto Sour.” You know what? 11 years later, I still do.
T: That’s why we have you on the show here to talk about this drink. We were going to cover that — just a little glimpse behind the scenes here for the listeners, if that even works. We were going to cover this one first, but then we got into the Negroni, and I think we did a great job of that. I’m excited to talk about this one today because-
J: Yes, me too.
T: Would you say that this is the drink that you have become, perhaps, most associated with in your career? It surely helps when you make bold statements like that on the internet.
J: Right? Yes, it depends on who you are and what time of year it is. We just got done with the holiday season, and there are people that come down to the bar and they’re like, “Eggnog! You’re the eggnog guy. Do you do anything else besides eggnog?” I’m like, “Yes, I’ve done a thing or two.” “We just know you for the eggnog.” It’s depending on the crowd you run in, but the Amaretto Sour is certainly near the top of the list.
T: I think it’s perfect for this show and everything we do here too, just because it is looking at something that’s accepted, known, but looking at how you can really turn it on its head or just take it to the next level.
J: For sure.
T: Before we do that, though — before we look at the influence and the tweaks you’ve made to this drink, can you start by telling us some of the history here — where it originates and perhaps what drinking culture looked like at that time when the Amaretto Sour first burst onto the scene?
The History of the Amaretto Sour
J: The best I can tell, the Amaretto Sour was always a drink with a commercial sour mix: the garbage-y stuff in the plastic bottle you get from the grocery store or the bar supply place that drops it off by the gallon. I remember at my first cocktail job — my first job where I was able to mix cocktails, we got our sour mix in a gallon. It was a concentrate, and then we poured it into a storm pourer and we cut it with water, and then that was our sour mix. But I digress. As far as I could tell, the original recipe really was just Amaretto and sour mix from the ’70s.
T: Yes, the ’70s — we’re going to get into Amaretto as a category in a bit, but it ties as well to the importing of Amaretto Disaronno.
J: Yes, delicious. I did see a thing on Wikipedia that said that Disaronno first published a recipe on their bottle for an Amaretto Sour. There was Amaretto and straight lemon juice. Liquor companies want to think that they invent cocktails that become popular, but I don’t think that’s how it necessarily works. I would imagine if I had to — just because I know how bartenders work — that somebody put Amaretto in sour mix at a bar or a club, and it became very popular. It spread very quickly because sours and sour mix were popular at the time — the Midori Sours and your Whiskey Sours. You used a sour mix for your Tom Collins, and all that stuff. I would imagine that Disaronno saw that happening, saw the rise in sales, and saw that happening — probably not on menus, there weren’t really cocktail menus per se back then. They just had their people out in the streets, and saw that bartenders were making Amaretto Sours with sour mix, and decided to put it on the neck of their bottle with fresh lemon juice because fresh lemon juice is classier. I would imagine that that’s how it went. But pre-internet, it’s hard to trace the precise origin of stuff like that — particularly, cocktails back then. It wasn’t like — we’ll talk about it in a minute, but my recipe, like you say, I put on the internet with a bold claim that I make the best Amaretto Sour in the world, and you can pinpoint that as the genesis of this new Ameretto Sour recipe, but it wasn’t like that in the ’60s. There wasn’t, like, a moment. Everything was really organic and we didn’t have a paper trail on everything.
T: Yes, and you mentioned there Midori. You’ve got to look at that period of the ’70s. I wasn’t around, but by most accounts, it seems that this is somewhat of a golden era for liqueurs and things that are sweet. You mentioned the Midori Sour. It stands to reason that bartenders would be looking around and go, “Okay, what other products of this ilk do we have to substitute into this very recognized formula that’s easy for us? We’re just buying sour mix,” right?
J: Absolutely. Yes, especially when you look at my parents, the baby boomer generation of cocktail drinking — they’re still drinking that way. They still like a little Baileys and coffee after dinner, or one of the many — like a BFK or a B-52 as a dessert drink for after dinner. Yes, liqueurs were huge back then. I think they’re becoming huge again, I hope. I like liqueurs. I don’t know about you, but I love a liqueur, obviously.
T: Yes, same here. Actually, it’s funny. In December last year, I just did a massive tasting of liqueurs for our annual and ongoing roundup that we have on VinePair, and I think something about that that’s very exciting is a new wave of liqueurs. You can talk about Mr Black, and I think the popularity of that even predates this Espresso Martini resurgence. Chinola is vying to be the new — I don’t know whether it’s St-Germain or Mr Black itself, but quality-driven brands are bringing it into the modern era, the liqueurs. It’s exciting.
J: Yes. Very much so. I’m ready for it.
T: Same here, but I’m very curious to hear what inspired you when you revisited this recipe and when that would have been. But also, what was it about the Amaretto Sour that you were like “You know what, we can make a good version of this.” I think now, there’s a certain movement among some bars to take drinks that are clichéd or old fashioned, and apply new techniques to them. We’ve gone over the Sex on the Beach recently on this podcast. We’ve done the Long Island Iced Tea in the past, so I could see why someone might revisit the Amaretto Sour now. But when you were doing it, what was the thinking there? Was that quite radical?
J: Yes, you have to understand what the climate was like back then, and my recipe really goes back to 2010. I didn’t put it on my website until, as you know, 2012, but you have to understand what the climate was like. It was very much grounded in — especially here in Portland and, I think, New York and London and San Francisco — this idea that some drinks were good and some drinks were bad. We saw these articles in newspapers and magazines from bartenders that were saying things like, “If you come into my Speakeasy and you try to order a Long Island Iced Tea, I’ll ask you to leave.” There’s no room for drinks like the Amaretto Sour, the Midori Sour. Even David Wondrich was guilty of this. The general consensus was that we’ve moved past all of these drinks. Now, it’s only acceptable to drink Martinis and Manhattans and maybe a Tom Collins with fresh juice only, and that’s it. They had to be spirit-driven. They had to be from the classic cocktail canon. That was it. If you were a consumer and you liked, let’s say, an Amaretto Sour, you were a bad drinker. You didn’t know what you were doing. There’s no place for you. I started before most of these people. I’ve been tending bars since 1996, which means I’ve been drinking since I turned 21 in 1992. I started my time in bars in ’93 and ’94, whatever. Amaretto Sour was very much a drink at the time. I remember having my first one on one of my birthdays. I think it was pretty late, maybe 24. Somebody bought me an Amaretto Sour and I liked it. It was good. I liked the almond flavor, I liked the sourness. I like the combination of sweet and sour and almondy, and citrusy and bright, but dark. It’s a good flavor. Fast forward to the 2010 era when bartenders are saying, “These drinks are bad.” That never landed with me. I was like, “These drinks are delicious.” I make great drinks, but I love all drinks. I love all these old drinks that I used to drink. It just really bothered me. One night I was talking to a friend who was also a guy who didn’t subscribe to that. We were talking about the Amaretto Sour and I was just like, “It’s good. What if you could make it with fresh juice? What if you could make it with egg white?” I tried messing around with it at home and at the bar. The problem with Amaretto is it’s weak. It’s not very strong and it’s super sweet. Those two things fight each other in that, if you just take Amaretto and straight lemon juice and mix them together, you’ll never get it to balance because by the time you add enough fresh lemon juice to balance the sweetness of Amaretto, it doesn’t taste like anything anymore. You know what I mean?
J: Like, you’ve used so much lemon juice. You’ve used 1 ½ ounces of lemon juice to your 2 ounces, or whatever, of Amaretto — can’t say Amaretto without putting the word “sour” after it. I apologize. You’ve used so much lemon juice that now it doesn’t taste like anything. It just tastes like a lemon juice cocktail. One, I just had this idea. I worked in a bar that had a pretty aggressive bourbon program, and I was like, “What if you could just make Amaretto stronger? How would you do that?” You could add a little Everclear into the bottle, I guess, but that’s gross and dumb. I think that whiskey and Amaretto — everybody thinks whiskey and Amaretto go well together. That’s been a thing forever, like the Godfather and stuff like that. I threw in a little Booker’s which is 128-proof bourbon. It was like, that was the secret. That was the key to unlocking that problem, and the rest is history there.
T: I think it’s a fantastic reminder as well of how unique it was what you did here. There is this thinking of — it seems very common now to be like, “Oh, I can become” — I’m not saying that this is what you were doing. If I were a young bartender these days, I could look at the connection of the Amaretto Sour to yourself and the work that you did with this cocktail. I could say, “All right, there’s got to be another terrible drink out there that most people know, that we can tweak slightly and it can become a great version.” Actually, there’s probably not that many candidates, and you happened to cross a great one here with the Amaretto Sour. Do you know what I mean?
J: Yes, touché.
T: You set up this model.
J: You see it every day. You see these bartenders trying to make a name for themselves. They’re like, “I reinvented the Long Island, and I clarified it, and I put Sotol in it.” It’s just like, “Oh, okay. I don’t know if that was the problem, that it wasn’t clear enough, or it didn’t have enough obscure agave spirit in it, or whatever the thing is that you’re doing to it.”
T: There’s a temptation to go too far or to try a little bit too hard. You can’t force it. Again, I think that’s what the brilliant part is about your version of this drink. Also, yes. You didn’t have that intention to be like, “OK, this is the thing. I’m going to become known for this.” It was just like, “Actually no, this is better than people realize,” and it’s not just for the sake of being contrarian. I think when you bring all those variables together, it seems like a model that you could apply to so many drinks, but actually, maybe not as many as you think.
J: We were also trying to do something very different with our bar, Clyde Common, at the time, which was to not be just the place that was known for snooty mixology cocktails, but a place that made really good drinks. The message with the Amaretto Sour was, “There are no bad drinks. There are only bad bartenders.” You can order — we put it on the menu. It was just a signal to all of our guests that like, “Yes, you can order that here. We know how to make it and we know how to make it really well. I’m sure they’ll kick you out of whatever bar down the street, but we won’t. We’ll just make you a really delicious one.” I think that was catching a sea change at the time, which is a good thing for bars.
T: Hearing you talk about that era reminds me of a story I wrote years ago about vodka and how it lost its cool and appeal, and what happened there. I remember interviewing Derek Brown for that, and he was talking about that exact period that you mentioned earlier where bars would go out of their way to not stock vodka. I think the fact that now I can go to any very good cocktail bar in New York, or any city, and ask for a Vodka Martini, 99.9 percent of them are not going to turn me around and say, “We don’t have vodka here,” or “Actually, you should drink that with gin.” I think that speaks to the progress we’ve made as cocktail culture.
J: Totally. Joaquín Simó had the best quote ever about vodka, and that was, “If you don’t drink vodka, I guess you’re probably just not eating enough caviar,” which is such a great way of turning it on its head. I love it so much.
T: I bet that man eats caviar for breakfast as well.
J: I’ve eaten caviar with him within the past month.
The Ingredients Used in Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s Amaretto Sour
T: Makes so much sense there. Fantastic. That’s the background of your own relationship with the drink, how you came to approach it again, and the history of it before Disaronno. Let’s briefly talk about your intended profile of this drink here because — that Amaretto flavor. I’m very sensitive to it — the marzipan, fake almond flavor. But surely there’s got to be a right balance there because you have to know that this is an Amaretto cocktail. Like you said, otherwise it can become a lemon juice cocktail. Where is the sweet spot for this drink?
J: The sweet spot for this drink is really that — people talk about balance, and it’s always about a balance of sweet and sour. There are so many other balances to talk about. Strength is, I think, one of the most important types of balance in a cocktail. For me, that sweet spot is where you get the sweet and the sour, of course, but also you get the balance between strength and Amaretto flavor. We’re not trying to cover up the Amaretto. We’re trying to celebrate the Amaretto in the Amaretto Sour, so hitting it with just that right amount of strength is really the sweet spot for me.
T: It’s a really fascinating concept and one we covered in a completely different, although maybe not that different, type of drink. Recently, in the Blue Hawaii, looking at vodka there, boosting that. I do love this idea of adding strength while still trying to maintain the star ingredients profile. Let’s dive into Amaretto though, because I don’t know how many episodes we’re going to cover. This is certainly the first, perhaps the last, who knows? Maybe — like you said, the Godfather there — but first of all, what does it mean, “Amaretto?” What’s the background of this liqueur?
J: Well, despite the fact that I do make a great Amaretto Sour, I’m not much of an Amaretto historian. I can tell you it’s probably related to the word “amaro.”
T: I believe it means “little amaro.”
J: “Little bitter.” Yes, little amaro.
T: Not as bitter, right?
J: Not as bitter, yes. It was originally made with apricot kernels, so apricots and almonds are, I believe, both in the drupe family. Again, I could be wrong. If you have any comments or complaints, please direct them to Tim@VinePair.
T: That’s literally it.
J: It’s firstname.lastname@example.org.
T: No, it’s just Tim.
J: I’ve actually tried to make it where you take a bunch of apricots and you crack open that weird shell on the outside that looks like it’s the seed, but actually contains the seed. You crack that open, and then you get this little thing that’s the size of a sunflower seed, just about. That’s the kernel, and you soak a ton of them in brandy and hit them with sugar. It’s essentially how you make Amaretto.
T: Apricots or almonds here?
T: Apricots? Wow.
J: Apricot pits, yes. That’s where Amaretto originally came from is apricot pits-
T: Wow. Okay.
J: -which is crazy because it’s so much work. It’s so intense.
T: It’s wild. Yes, and especially when amaro itself exists beforehand. It’s a great product, but probably more fascinating in a way is that — I might be wrong here, but I’ve looked at your preferences and your writings on this drink, and you don’t go for Disaronno. Is that correct?
J: I do, yes. We do Disaronno at the bar. I love Amaretto, and I love them all. I love Lazzaroni a lot, which is, I hear, made from — you know those cookies that you get at Christmas, those little amaretti cookies?
J: They’re wrapped in paper by Lazzaroni. They say that their Amaretto is made by soaking those cookies in brandy.
T: Oh, nice.
J: I don’t know if that’s true or not, but holy cow. How great would that be if it were true?
T: It sounds phenomenal.
J: Yes. I love Luxardo Amaretto as well. I love them all.
T: Yes. I think it might strike some people as surprising that this is a category, and not a category of one as we’ve maybe come to — like Baileys and Irish cream liqueurs, or whatnot like that. This actually can exist as a whole thing.
J: There’s a ton of them, and now that Amaretto Sours are so popular again, there are new Amarettos popping up.
T: I’m sure there’s someone in America doing it as well, being like, “You know what? American Amaro, it’s a thing now already.” It’s maybe even becoming slightly saturated, given the demand for it.
J: Yes, you’re not wrong.
T: I do remember my own first experience with, specifically, Disaronno. There’s very few, I think, drinks or brands that stand out, but if you’ll allow me to share this personal anecdote here. I believe I was 19 years old, headed on an overnight ferry from Hull to Amsterdam with a couple of friends. The main draw of this ferry, as I can recall, is that it had a casino. We were like, “This is fantastic. We’re not going to sleep. We’re going to be up all night at the casino.” It ended up being a couple of slot machines, and one guy bought a whole bottle of Amaretto. There were six of us sharing a room in this ferry. The guy drank the whole bottle on his own, and it didn’t end well. It’s put me off for a while.
J: Sure. I remember those days. I can imagine six people in a room sharing a bottle of Amaretto, and everybody trying it for the first time and going like, “This is really smooth.”
T: Exactly. Imagine at 19 you’re just like, “This is great. It doesn’t even taste like booze.”
J: Yes, exactly. That was the mark of quality back then, when you couldn’t taste the booze.
T: It’s just so sweet, and you wondered, whoever it was in the group, how they first came across it? I’m guessing it was their parents’ liquor cabinet, but — my God, yes.
J: 100 percent.
T: All of which is to say that this is a category. Amaretto, as a style, is, yes, less bitter and more sweet than standard Amaro. What ABV are we talking? Less than 40 percent for sure — less than 80 proof, hence why we’re going to move on to the next one which is whiskey. Off the top of your head?
J: Oh, I think it’s 25. It’s been a while since I looked at that spreadsheet.
T: That sounds about right though, so 25. Again, as you mentioned before, you look at that and you say, “Actually, what this cocktail needs is not more sour, but maybe more booze,” and so you turn to-
J: More booze?
T: -cask strength, specifically?
J: Cask-strength bourbon, yes. The stronger, the better, which is a bummer because cask-strength bourbon is so much harder to come by now than it was then. If it’s any indication how long ago it was, the cask-strength bourbon that I made it with back then was Booker’s.
J: Booker’s was readily available and pretty inexpensive. It was like $60 a bottle, but we were only using ¾ ounce at the bar, so the drink itself was maybe $12.
T: You could get that readily. You weren’t worried about-
J: You could get it. You go to the liquor store and just buy a bottle of Booker’s. Now you have to get on some sort of waiting list.
T: It’s wild. I was sleuthing the internet, looking at other people’s recipes. Most of it is just people adapting your own recipe. I saw someone else using Colonel E.H. Taylor. I’m like, “Times have changed a lot,” because again, no one’s putting the Colonel in cocktails these days.
J: No. Shoot, I don’t even think that was a product back then, Colonel E.H. Taylor. There was Old Taylor, but I don’t think Colonel E.H. Taylor existed.
T: It’s really wild just how the bourbon market has changed. You went cask-strength, and not even just 100 proof, one tenth. You went cask-strength, and you just thought, “You know what? We’re going to use” — I would imagine that allows you to use less to not overpower the flavor, but maintain maximum strength. Is that the thinking?
J: Yes, exactly. We’re using an ounce of lemon juice in this recipe to balance it, so you need a ton of alcohol because you’re not just overcoming the low ABV of the Amaretto, but you’re also overcoming the low ABV of the lemon juice and the egg white. You really got to hit it with a big, big, big punch.
T: Phenomenal. Also, just anecdotally speaking, Booker’s, the whole Beam line of whiskies, or there’s a certain line of them — I’d say Knob Creek, too. I love there’s a lot of chocolate there, there’s peanuts, there’s caramel. These are the things that I imagine I would like to be eating alongside this drink, or an Amaretto dessert.
J: It’s funny. You’re the only other person that I’ve heard refer to the peanut characteristic of the Beam distillate. I think that that’s such a — I’ve always said the exact same thing like, “You really get just big chocolatey peanut butter — I mean it in the kindest way.
T: It’s a glass of boozy Snickers.
J: I love peanuts and I love peanut butter.
T: It really is. It’s like drinking a boozy Snickers here, for me.
J: Yes, it’s so good. It is a boozy Snickers bar. Yes, you’re right.
T: If you want the ultimate one — you’re going to have to search for this one, but I think it was called Granny’s Batch. I think it was the first one of 2020 — I might be making that up — from Booker’s. I remember that one specifically. I’m like, “Oh, my God. This stuff’s phenomenal. I love it.”
J: Yes, I love it so much.
T: What would happen if we strayed into the territory of rye? When I mention rye, I mean these 95 percent ryes rather than maybe a Kentucky style that’s just 51 percent, and could pass as a bourbon itself. Any temptation to do that, or does that maybe savory spiciness — is that at odds with the rest of the ingredients?
J: Maybe. I’ve never actually really tried that. I can’t imagine it. I don’t think you’re going to improve on really delicious cask-strength bourbon in this recipe. I’m sure it’s going to be interesting, but I don’t know if rye’s really the right call for this.
T: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And, if it’s already fixed-
J: Yes. It’s already fixed. I’ve seen people trying to fix my fixed recipe. “I fixed the Amaretto Sour,’ and I’m like, “Okay.” “I used rye whiskey.” I have seen people with rye whiskey in their recipes saying they fixed it. I’m like, “Okay. That’s cool.”
T: No. I guess, maybe that pops to my mind too, because I believe, if I’m not misremembering, H. Joseph Ehrmann over there at Elixir in San Francisco — He favors rye for his Whiskey Sour, which is a cousin of this cocktail, but I don’t know. Just the Snickers and Amaretto-
J: Rye’s great. I love rye, but I just love a big, round, almost flabby bourbon, you know?
J: It’s just the perfect spirit to me — one of the perfect spirits.
T: Actually, I’ll throw one option in the mix here for you because we talked about peanut just there and some of the Beam distillates. Cherry, for me, is Michter’s. That’s the calling card there. If you’ve got a bottle of 10-year-old rye lying around, as I do, it’s for cocktails and stuff like that.
J: Yes, as one does.
T: I would imagine, maybe, that works because cherry — I start, in my mind — well, when people are making “natural flavors of cherry,” they’re actually just using almond essence there for some reason, right?
T: Maybe there are some friends there. But again, if you want to talk about Booker’s getting hard to get a hold off, well Michter’s is just-
J: Yes. Michter’s hasn’t been super easy for us, here in Oregon, to find any of them.
T: No. They’ve gone off the Richter right there — off the Michter you might want to say.
T: That’s just natural. That’s just the thing you get on the Cocktail College podcast — things like that. I can’t believe this is still free, Jeffery. I can’t believe it’s still free.
J: Brilliant, and you get paid for this.
T: Phenomenal. Bourbon, Amaretto, we’re down. You’re saying the Amaretto category is open for exploration. Bourbon, you’re going to cask-strength.
T: Lemon juice. What original insights-
J: Yes. What brand of lemon juice do I use? Is that what you’re about to ask me? Which brand?
T: I was going to say what original-
J: There are so many great ones, right?
T: Oh. How do you feel about the rebranding of Jif To Cif, or is it vice versa?
J: Jif To Cif?
T: I think that might be a completely British reference that’s lost on every — we’ll scratch that one.
J: Oh yes, I don’t even get that one.
T: You don’t get that lemon juice here in the States that’s packaged in a plastic lemon that you keep in your fridge?
J: Oh yes. Here it’s called Realemon.
T: Ah, well, let me guess. They’re going double E instead of E-A.
J: No, but the trick is there’s only one L. It’s one word. It’s Realemon. I’m sure you get around it that way. I haven’t bought one of those as a joke in a long time. Maybe I should do that.
T: Yes. Phenomenal concept. It looks like a lemon in the fridge, but you quickly grow up and soon learn that these things aren’t good. No, lemon juice is an ingredient that we’ve covered so often. Is there anything that may be an original, or off, piece that you want to add about fresh lemon juice that you might-
J: Not at all. And honestly, I’m personally really suspect of anyone that’s doing anything original to fresh lemon juice. You should squeeze it, you should strain it, and you should call it a day. At that point, there’s much else to say about lemon juice.
T: You’re in the straining camp.
J: I’m in the straining camp, yes. If you’re doing it right, you’re going to strain it out eventually anyway, so I think it’s more important to strain it before you measure than after you make the drink. If you’re going for accuracy, you want that exact one ounce, and not one ounce minus whatever pulp was in there.
T: Good point. Very good point there.
J: The seeds and whatever.
T: Yes, sweetening agent? Simple syrup? Or any other thinking here?
J: Two-to-one simple syrup — just plain old white sugar, two-to-one simple syrup. It’s perfect, measured by weight.
T: Has rich-simple overtaken simple as the — I feel like it’s-
J: I don’t know what other people are using. I’ve been using rich simple for a decade and a half in my bars so I don’t know what people are using — if people are using one-to-one out there, but we’ve been using two-to-one forever.
T: It’s slightly less simple because it requires you to do a little bit of math, which is going two-to-one, but otherwise-
J: Yes. If you need a recipe for that, I’m sure there’s one on my website.
T: I believe the date was March 13th and Jeffrey Morgenthaler declared “I make the best simple syrup in the world.”
J: I make the best simple syrup.
T: I think I also came across your entry in “The Oxford Companion” for that one, but that’s a spotter for another day.
J: Yes, that’s possible.
T: One thing I was impressed about when I was going over this post is you’re still getting back to the people, responding to comments. People are asking you all this stuff and you’re there in the comments section, getting back. Some people might think that maybe you’re above that these days. You’re bigger than that. But no, you’re there.
J: Maybe, I don’t know. Do you know something I don’t know? I don’t feel bigger than that.
T: Man of the people, just out there responding to the comments. No, genuinely I’m like, “That’s nice to see.”
J: I still participate in the website all the time. I haven’t posted as much as I would like to because the bar opened about seven months ago, and it’s been so damn busy that I just haven’t had time to do a ton of posting. I’m starting to come out of the woods, see the light a little bit, and put up new content. Particularly, I’ve been recording some videos and putting those up there, so it’s fun.
T: Very nice.
J: I love it. I always get in there and respond to questions because it’s important.
T: Fantastic. One comment, I — sorry here that I didn’t note down the person’s name, I should. I want to give them full credit. Did they ask you — that relates to our next ingredient, which is egg white. Someone mentioned that — I believe, maybe, in the video, you were pouring it from a squeezy bottle. Their question was, “How long can you keep that in the bottle before it maybe starts to take on a smell?” If you’ve had egg white in anything, then you put it in a dishwasher — my god, the thing is humming.
J: Oh my God, yes. Oh yes.
T: Any tips there for us?
J: Longevity for that. I think the health department says a few days. I wouldn’t push it past three days, probably. That’s about it. Eggs are pretty resilient. They don’t just easily go bad like a lot of things do.
T: No, 100 percent. I think we might have discussed this before, but just this idea of keeping them in the fridge here in the U.S. — we do something completely different in the U.K., the same with butter. One thing, when you’re putting those egg whites in the bottle, a fresh egg white maintains its structure, right?
T: If you have 10 egg whites, say for example, that you’ve cracked perfectly into a shaker tin, and you try to measure a very accurate 15 milliliters, it’s simply not going to work because it maintains its structure, so you’re going to get a whole egg white in there.
J: Yes. It’s just a big thing of snot coming out of that squeeze bottle, and it gloops into the jigger. You got to lightly beat them.
T: Do you need to break it down?
J: What we do at the bar — and this might be overkill for the home user, but what we do at the bar is we make a batch of fresh egg whites every single day because we go through a ton of them. We crack them into a shallow container, and then we take an immersion blender and we run it on low just to break up all of those protein strands that are keeping the egg white intact and together. We’re not whipping them. We don’t want to create a foam. We just want to really gently break all of those up so that you can put them in a squeeze bottle and measure accurately that 15 milliliters, or ½ ounce here in the U.S., without the river of snot.
T: Yes. That works perfect. I really appreciate that because it’s something I’ve thought about. On the other hand, you can say, “Well, use one fresh egg white because that’s the way it’s going to come out.” Then, on the other hand, how big is an egg white? How fresh is it? All this stuff — so you want to be more accurate, but an immersion blender — that’s the trick there.
J: Really gently. The great thing about breaking up your egg whites like that, pre-shake, is that you don’t have to do any of these goofy shaker techniques where you do this dry shake or you put the spring from the strainer in there and shake that for a while, or you don’t have to use one of these weird plastic cubes or anything. You don’t have to do anything. If you have a good shake, you can take that very lightly-beaten egg white, put it into a cocktail, shake it like a normal human being, and have it come out looking great and tasting great.
T: What is it about eggs that makes people constantly overthink things? I’m thinking another great example of this is poaching an egg. You hear all these magic tricks, vinegar-
J: Oh, yes. Vinegar, or you got to-
T: When I used to work on brunch in restaurants, some of the things I would see guys do — These eggs were practically cured because they were being boiled in 50 percent vinegar solution — people stirring the water. I don’t know, man. It’s very simple. Fresh eggs, that’s it.
J: Very simple, and just one little mention on technique. The point of having egg white in a sour is to provide it with a rich, silky mouthfeel. The point is not to get a 3-inch egg white head on top of the drink. It looks cool in photographs. It doesn’t taste great. It tastes like aluminum. It’s got that real egg white-y, c*mmy flavor and smell. I think you’re missing the point when you’re really trying to apply 10 different scientific techniques to your egg whites, to try to get this monster beer-foam head on it.
T: Yes, like the Ramos Gin Fizz. You want something almost more like a milkshake with a nice little frothy head rather than this thing that towers above it, right?
J: Towers above it. When you do that, that’s just all egg white. And basically, butter gets on top of the drink.
How to Make Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s Amaretto Sour
T: How about you talk us through that preparation now, along with measurements, as if you’re making this drink for us right here today?
J: It’s super easy. I start with 1 ½ ounces, which is 45 milliliters, of Amaretto — the Amaretto of your choice. Like I said, we use Disaronno at the bar, but the other two that I mentioned, Lazzaroni and-
J: -Luxardo are both fantastic as well. I feel Disaronno is the original. That’s why we use that. It’s like the OG. Anyway, so 45 milliliters of that. We then do ¾ ounce of cask-strength bourbon — the stronger the better — that’s 22.5 milliliters, for those of you not in the U.S. Do a full ounce of freshly squeezed, strained lemon juice, which is 30 milliliters. For the egg white, as we noted, very lightly beaten. You’re not squeezing out a bunch of foam into the jigger, just a nice silky-smooth egg white. That’s ½ ounce, 15 milliliters. I do a teaspoon of two-to-one simple syrup just to bump up the richness. A teaspoon is 5 milliliters. It’s just to bump up the richness and bring a little bit of that sweetness back. I’ve tried it without. I’ve seen people say that they leave it out because they think the drink is too sweet. It doesn’t really register as sweetness as much as it does body and mouthfeel. I think that teaspoon of two-to-one simple syrup is really crucial. Then, the best ice cubes — the coldest, largest ice cubes you can get — shake the heck out of it, strain it into — I do an old-fashioned glass — a 10-ounce old-fashioned glass. Strain it in there, top with ice. My preferred garnish is a big, beautiful lemon twist, preferably done with a cheese slicer as per my website. We like to use a brandied cherry because I like that classic Amaretto Sour presentation, which is the flag — a lemon wedge and a Maraschino cherry. We do a big, beautiful lemon twist, squeeze that over the top into the foam, nestle it in there, and then put a brandied Amarena cherry on a toothpick and tuck that into the peel.
J: That’s it. Yes, that’s it.
T: Fantastic. It’s a stunning-looking drink in my head here, and the photos that you see out there — maybe if you are going Luxardo, you can go for their cherries as well if that’s the Amaretto brand you’re choosing. Yes, that technique as well. By the way, someone else brought it up on this podcast before. I forget exactly who it was. You and the old cheese slicer for the lemon twist — I came across that video, I want to say, in December of 2021, and-
J: I think that’s maybe when I posted-
T: -I was all over this.
J: Yes. You know what’s crazy? We’ve, of course, adopted it for the bar. We don’t have white peelers at the bar. We just have the cheese slicer and normally, when I open a new bar, we have an entirely new staff. It’s like, bartenders are going down. There’s one in the emergency room every couple of weeks, people are losing fingertips, there’s blood every — it’s just a war scene.
J: It’s like the beginning of “Saving Private Ryan.” People are just going down.
T: My God.
J: We’ve been open for seven months now. We haven’t had a single fingertip injury from the cheese slicer — not a single one — and we are busy as hell. We’re high volume, and so we haven’t lost a single fingertip to the cheese slicer. It really is a miracle cure for — I’ve been in the emergency room. I’m sure you have, I think. All of us who’ve been doing it for a long time have lost a finger or two.
T: A great tip there. What is it? You just wake up once every couple of months and you’re like, “I’m going to change this as well.” Barrel-aging Negronis, you’re revisiting the Amaretto Sour, you’re changing the way we peel lemons. What’s next? Can you give us an exclusive here on Cocktail College? What’s next?
J: Hey, stay tuned to JeffreyMorgenthaler.com for more finger-saving tips.
T: Fantastic. Well, that’s everything unless you have any final thoughts on the Amaretto Sour before we move into the next section of the show.
J: Final thoughts? It’s a delicious cocktail. Everybody should try one.
Getting to Know Jeffrey Morgenthaler
T: Yes, go ahead. Make it. Enjoy it. We have a new set of questions for you — new for yourself. We’ve had it a couple of times here, but you’re in the minority here of returned guests.
J: Who else has been a returned guest, by the way?
T: Toby Cecchini, unfortunately. We had Brian Miller back as well — a handful of people back.
J: That’s great.
T: No, yes. It’s been great to have you back on, today. Also, yes. Like I said, to introduce these new questions here. We’ll start with question number one-
T: -or number six, depending on which way you look at it. Which spirits category are you currently most excited about right now?
J: Oh, boy. I don’t drink a ton, but since it’s winter here, I’ve been ending a night or two a week with a tiny, little bit of Scotch whiskey, which I haven’t had in a long time. Boy, oh boy. I forgot. I was like, “I really like this.” My long time, like number one, very favorite spirits category is Scotch Whiskey. I don’t get to talk about it much because I’m always brought in to talk about cocktails. There just aren’t a ton of Scotch cocktails to talk about.
T: So true.
J: Usually, it’s me talking about gin or bourbon, or something like that. Just on its own, there’s just nothing like Scotch Whiskey. It is one of humankind’s finest achievements.
T: Where do you lean toward in terms of profile or style? Are you a Highland guy? Islay whisky?
J: Oh, man, I’m just such a loser. I like super rare, super strong, Ila smokey. I turned up a bottle that I’d forgotten about, which is a, probably, 10-year-old bottle of Scotch Malt Whisky Society — 19-year-old Ila ex-bourbon-filled, distilled in 1996 — just absolutely incredible. It’s called Fireman’s Gloves on a Mermaid. It’s just absolutely incredible, and I’ve been having just the tiniest little sip when I come home from work, sometimes on Fridays.
T: Very, very nice. Yes, some of those — yes, keep it rare. Keep it exclusive.
T: Can’t always be the man of the people.
J: No doubt, yes.
T: One I had recently, I think, was a Blackadder Red Snake peated, cask-strength, 60 percent ABV, I seem to recall. You don’t get cask-strength a lot in Scotch.
J: I haven’t had that one yet. No, not enough.
T: But phenomenal. All right then, question number two. What was the last drink or cocktail that you had that truly wowed you?
J: Oh man. Back along the same lines, that was probably like the — I had some Lagavulin Distillers Edition from 2012 that was just absolutely incredible. Other than that — back to the Negroni episode — over the holidays, we escaped to the coast for Christmas. I brought some mini bottles and made a, I believe, mid-1970s vintage Negroni with vintage Beefeater, vintage Campari, and then a little fresh Vermouth. I don’t trust those mini bottles of — I just don’t trust old, old, old bottles of Vermouth. Too much can go wrong, so I brought some fresh Vermouth and made us a couple of Negronis the way that they would’ve tasted, probably, in the 1970s.
They were fantastic.
J: It was really stormy out. We’re watching the ocean. We’re drinking Negronis. It was stunning.
T: Phenomenal, sounds great. Question number three. What’s one book you think every alcohol, or cocktail, enthusiast should own a copy of? It doesn’t have to be a recipe book here.
J: You mentioned Toby Cecchini. His book “Cosmopolitan” was such a formative book for me when I was — not really coming up, but I was probably 10 years into my career at that point, when somebody turned me onto it. I think it had been, maybe, out of print for a while at that point, but that is such a stunning, beautiful portrayal of what it means to be a bartender that I’m surprised that more people — more bartenders — haven’t read it.
T: 100 percent agree. It’s a really great book. Toby’s voice comes through in it a lot. You can tell the guy-
J: It really is. I never got to go to Passerby, which was his bar, but last month I went — While I was with Joaquín, we visited Phil Ward at Toby’s Long Island Bar, and the “No dancing” sign is prominently displayed on the back wall, which I had to take a picture of.
T: Nice. What did Phil whip up for you? I’m sure he pulled something out.
J: He whipped up a bunch of snark and sass for me, that’s for sure. I hadn’t seen the guy in years and years and years and years. I walk in, and he just looks in. He goes, “Oh God, this guy.” “Good to see you, Phil.”
T: That is usually the reaction — it’s been confirmed by the man, on at least half a dozen occasions, that he’s never appearing on this podcast, so feel free to chat as much sh*t about him as you want.
J: Oh, I know. I don’t even know if he has a smartphone.
T: Oh, wonderful. Well, it’s a favorite on this show and among many friends and people in the industry — Long Island Bar, check it out. Check out Toby’s book. A little thought experiment for you, too — I like to think of Eric Alperin’s book, “Unvarnished.” I’m not saying that he copied — I’m not making any accusations here, but what I’m saying is that if you read Toby’s and then Eric’s book, it really shows us how much cocktail culture, and also the world, has evolved. I’m sure there’s certain anecdotes in Toby’s book that he probably wouldn’t want to publish today. I think it’s brilliant that they’re in there because it shows you how much culture has changed. Read them side by side. It’s wonderful.
J: For sure. I don’t remember if I said it in my blurb for the back of Eric’s book, or if I’d just said it over text to him, but it really is the modern version of “Cosmopolitan,” which is a high compliment.
T: 100 percent. All right then, question number four. If you could appear in one movie scene, where alcohol plays a prominent role, which one would it be, and who would you like to play?
J: Oh boy. Bar scenes, man. It’s funny because there are so many that make the bartenders look like — the bartender’s job looks goofy. There’s “Cocktail” — I love the movie “Cocktail,” but which scene from that movie do you really — I will say that his first night behind the bar, where he’s getting hit in the head with the cash register and sh*t, really is like so many nights behind the bar for me, just verbatim. It’s like some sort of scene where the bartender gets killed. I don’t want to be in that. I would have to say that scene in “Good Will Hunting” where Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are in the bar. Ben Affleck’s trying to pick up Minnie Driver and her friend. He’s like, “Don’t I know you? I know you from history class,” or he’s pretending that he gets a call. And then the guy comes up — the preppy guy — and he’s trying to humiliate him. Will Hunting comes up, and just schools him in Colonial American economics. I love the line. It’s something like, “Do you have an original thought of your own, or do you have any thoughts of your own on that matter?” — something like that. Whenever I hear people regurgitating, especially arcane cocktail knowledge, or whatever, I always just want to like, “Do you have any thoughts of your own on that matter?” I love that scene. You got to look. Casey coming in with the line, “Ah my boy’s wicked smile.”
J: It’s such a good scene.
T: So good. I think that may have also been the apples. “How’d you like them apples?”
J: Exactly. It’s just such a great — it’s such a beautiful movie.
T: It’s a great one. Sorry to say that it’s the wrong answer.
J: Oh, okay.
T: It’s actually not the wrong answer, of course. It’s the correct answer, but one I was hoping you might have brought up, or would’ve been — here’s another one to consider for today’s show. Rick Dalton, otherwise known as Leonardo DiCaprio, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” Drinking eight-
J: You know, I haven’t seen it yet.
T: Okay. The guy drinks eight Whiskey Sours the night before he’s supposed to record an important scene in a movie. That’s probably the reason it didn’t come up. You haven’t seen that one, but the Whiskey Sour, the Amara, and stuff. Good one too. I like Good Will Hunting. It’s a classic.
J: Yes, that’s a good bar scene. Yes, I would just like to play the bartender in the background, just watching that whole thing go down.
T: That’s a very good point for this specific question. It’s not something you ever consider when you’re watching that scene because you’re so caught up in what’s happening there. Yes, just imagine being that bartender, watching it go down.
J: Giving the bar a wipe, as bartenders always do. That’s all they have the time for in a movie, is just wiping down the bar top.
T: Just wiping it down with a rag.
J: Always wiping. Yes, just always wiping. ABW. Always be wiping.
T: Oh, brilliant. Time to lean, time to clean. Ah, maybe we should do that. Introduce, at one point, top movie tropes for bartenders. That’s definitely got to be up there. It’s number one.
J: Oh God, yes. No kidding, the wiping. I got a bar full of people, but I’m just going to stand here and wipe this same spot.
T: I’m just going to keep this thing on my shoulder right next to my ears and my hair. It’s fine.
J: This shoulder, yes. Let’s get that bar rag touching my clothing, please.
T: God. Phenomenal. All right then, the final question of today’s show. Which modern classic cocktail do you think is deserving more recognition than it gets?
J: Do I just say the Amaretto Sour? I don’t know.
T: I’d say your version is a modern classic, yes.
J: I don’t know, modern classic. Yes, I’ll have to think about that and get back to you on my third time on the show. You know what I’m saying?
T: Yes. We’ll do it. We’ll be back. We’re just waiting for that next innovation. I’m already subscribed to Jeffreymorgenthaler.com. I’m in there. I’m in the comments section.
J: I’ll get right on that for you. I’ll do my best to change the bar industry in the next couple of months.
T: With that, we have reached our contractually obliged number of mentions of the website today, so I feel like we’re at a place to-
J: Do you have a website you’d like to plug?
T: VinePair.com, as always. Instagram, @timmckirdy, you can find me there doing nothing. That’s it.
T: All right then, Mr. Morgenthal, it’s been a blast as always. Appreciate you coming back.
J: Always. Oh, thanks so much, Tim.
T: Until next time.
J: All right, cheers, my man.
Okay, that was a lot of info, but here’s the good news. Every single episode of VinePair’s Cocktail College is also published on VinePair.com as a transcript. So you can check it out there all over again.
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Now, for the credits. “Cocktail College” is recorded and produced in New York City by myself and Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director and all-around podcast guru. Of course, I want to give a huge shout-out to everyone on the VinePair team. Too many awesome people to mention. They know who they are. I want to give some credit here to Danielle Grinberg, art director at VinePair, for designing the awesome show logo. And listen to that music. That’s a Darbi Cicci original. Finally, thank you, listener, for making it this far and for giving this whole thing a purpose. Until next time.