However, if you have a backyard smoker and a crew coming over to eat mounds of fatty meats, then this cocktail is the perfect pairing. The key though, is that you need a peaty whisky with flavor notes that lean more into fatty smoked meats and backyard firepits with marshmallows than Band-Aids, oyster pearls, or ashtrays. Not all peated whiskies are created equal.
For that application, you need a little Lagavulin. And while the purists will think it’s blasphemy to make cocktails with Lagavulin 16, trust me, it’s what you want to do here. Say it with me, “the better the spirit you use in your cocktail, the better the cocktail will be.” Use shitty wine in your ragu, your ragu will taste like that shitty wine. The same goes with whisk(e)y or rum or vodka in a cocktail.
Okay, rant over. This cocktail really is a modern twist on a centuries-old classic that just works. So, let’s cut to the chase and stir one up!
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- 1.5 oz. Lagavulin 16
- 1.5 oz. Campari
- 1.5 oz. Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth
- Lemon peel
As mentioned above, I’m using Lagavulin 16. You should be able to find it in any decent liquor store. While you can use other peated whiskies, you really need that backyard smoker fattiness to make this a summertime winner. Laga has that in spades. A brinier peaty like Talisker doesn’t quite hit the same note (though their Distillers Edition isn’t far off). That said, if you’re pairing this with a seafood tower, then Talisker would be the play for this drink.
But a peat monster that tastes like licking burnt Band-Aids in a cold Weber (cough, cough, Laphroaig, cough, cough) is a little too overpowering for the Campari and vermouth. On the other end of the spectrum, a super low peaty like Bowmore, Bunnahabbin, or Dalwhinnie kind of gets lost in the mix, especially any of the peatiness since those whiskies are so mildly peated in the first place.
What You’ll Need:
- Cocktail mixing glass/jug
- Cocktail strainer
- Rocks glass
- Paring knife
- Add the whisky, Campari, and vermouth to a mixing jug. Add a large handful of ice. Stir until the glass jug is ice cold to touch, about 30 to 45 seconds.
- Strain the cocktail into the glass over new ice.
- Slice a thin layer of lemon peel off the lemon and express the oils over the cocktail (hold the peel toward the glass and bend across its axis with your thumbs).
- Drop the lemon peel into the glass and serve.
As you can see from my images, you don’t need any fancy cocktail equipment to make a cocktail. I used an IKEA pint glass and straw for mixing and a rubber spatula to strain the drink into the waiting glass. All of my cocktail equipment is somewhere heading towards a container ship on the North Atlantic coast. So I improvised. And you can too. Hell, I’m even making block ice in old Tupperware containers and breaking it up with a hammer like an early-aughts bar hipster in suspenders (insider tip, block ice is actually way better for cooling and keeping drinks cold, so…).
Anyway, this is pretty delicious. The fatty aspects of the Lagavulin meld beautifully with the bitterness of the Campari and the sweetness of the vermouth. It’s kind of like that hint of espresso you get when you use coffee grounds as a rub on a fatty piece of meat before you put it in a smoker. The peatiness gets very sweet on the nose along with the woody botanicals leaning into an almost rock candy sweetness that’s just been kissed with firepit smoke. It’s not quite a singed marshmallow but it’s not far away from that either.
The overall feel of the drink is bold — this is still a Negroni after all. You get those hefty bitter and woody botanicals and roots next to soft and slightly fruity vermouth with a twinge of fatty peated malt all brightened by that spritz of lemon oil. It’s a beautiful drink and the perfect pairing for backyard smoke-out.