Except for occasional forays into the rumtacular world of tiki drinks, I’m ordinarily pretty skeptical about cocktails that have more than three or four ingredients. This is for a couple of reasons: As ingredients are added, there’s typically a point of diminishing returns, where the delicately flavored components are completely lost in the mix, and the more vibrant flavors start to clash or become muddied. Also — and this may just be a result of my diminishing brainpower as I creak my way into middle age — but if there are more than a few ingredients, I start to forget things while assembling the drink.
There are, however, exceptions to this rule, and here’s one I’m becoming quite fond of. Posted over at eGullet a couple of weeks ago, this drink was assembled by Phil Ward at Death & Co in response to a drink request from Avery Glasser, the mastermind behind Bittermens Bitters. Recognizing the horrific resemblance of this long list of complex-flavored ingredients to the gruesome spectacle of a car wreck, Phil dubbed this drink the Airbag.
What makes the Airbag so intriguing is its use of Batavia arrack as a featured ingredient. Arrack has a singular aroma and flavor that is at once ghostly and caustic, entrancing and offensive — there’s an alluring smokiness that encourages you to take a sip, and a sharp, serrated edge to the flavor that makes you feel like you just swallowed a knife fight.
But remembering that old Untouchables lesson — if they bring a knife, we bring a gun — Phil matches the arrack’s fire, throwing equally alpha-dog ingredients such as mezcal, Benedictine and allspice dram into the glass, creating a mix that — mediated by tequila and Carpano Antica formula vermouth (as if THOSE are restrained ingredients) — all balances out into a deep, smoky cocktail with layers of rich flavor that somehow, unpredictably, all work together. I don’t know if it’s because these ingredients complement each other in some bizarre alchemical way or if it’s because they’re locked in an eternal deathgrip like pitbulls clenched onto each others throats, but in this drink, the stalemate works.
Airbag, created by Phil Ward, Death & Co. and snagged from eGullet
- 1 ounce El Tosoro Reposado tequila (note: I used Don Julio, as it’s what I had lying around)
- 1/2 ounce Batavia Arrack (van Oosten — as if there are other brands on the market to choose from)
- 1/2 ounce Los Amantes Joven Mezcal (note: I used Los Danzantes — once more with the lying around thing)
- 3/4 ounce Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
- 1/4 ounce St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram (if you’ve got homemade pimento dram, go for it)
- 1/4 ounce Benedictine
- 1-2 dashes Bittermens Xocolatl Mole bitters*
Stir well with cracked ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lit cherry bomb.
* Don’t have the Bittermens? In the short term, I’d suggest an aromatic bitters, but considering that Avery recently received TTB approval to produce the mole bitters, I’d suggest subscribing to Bittermens RSS feed and keeping your credit card ready for when they become available.
Lordy, that’s tasty. Scary as hell to contemplate while you’re pulling bottles out of the liquor cabinet, but very much worth the effort. If you give this a shot, chime in below and let us know what you think.