Friday Cocktails: The Al Capone

Al Capone
Al Capone
A direct descendant of the Negroni, the Al Capone (a creation of Brooklyn bartender John Bush) blends Campari, whiskey, and vermouth to create the perfect summer whiskey drink. The result is heavy on the whiskey (Bush prefers a fiery rye like Willett), with half as much vermouth (like dark, spicy Carpano Antica).Todd Coleman

There's something ineffably summery about a Negroni. The strong herbal dryness of Campari and vermouth, the light medicinal tang of gin — it's a case of the whole being quite a bit greater than the sum of its parts. But for someone like me who's always seeking a drink that makes good use of brown spirits, in warm-weather months a Negroni often winds up being just a pleasant placeholder between me and my next julep or vieux carré.

But one night not too long ago at Talde, chef Dale Talde's wonderful and idiosyncratic Asian-American restaurant, after working through much of the cocktail list with a group of friends and chatting with master bartender John Bush about our taste in booze, he brought over something off-menu: the Al Capone. With the smooth bitterness of a Negroni and a hint of warmth and depth from a fiery rye, it was a simple drink that hit all my pleasure points. Bush's too: he developed the drink (which is on the list at his nearby spot Thistle Hill Tavern) because he wanted a perfect summer whiskey drink.

The Al Capone takes direct inspiration from the Negroni — Campari, bitters, and a spirit — but to keep the subtlety of the rye from being overwhelmed, Bush strayed quite a bit from the classic 1:1:1 ratio, towards something more reminiscent of a Manhattan. The result is heavy on the whiskey (Bush prefers a fiery rye like Willett; I'm with him on that), with half as much vermouth (like the dark, spicy Carpano Antica). The Campari serves as bitters here: just a splash suffuses the drink with its sharp, vegetal bite. Over a single large ice cube it's a perfectly bracing porch drink; at night, when the weather's just a bit cooler, it's at its very best served up, with an orange twist.