Take a page out of Ernest Hemingway’s book and streamline your cocktails. Two ingredients are all you need for an interesting tipple.
For all the attention given to his namesake daiquiri, Ernest Hemingway was more of a two-ingredient drink man.
Check his novels and short stories — his heroes and dames are always reaching for a highball or some two-ingredient tipple during times of distress and during, well, anytime really.
• “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” (a Gimlet — gin and Rose’s lime juice)
• “To Have and Have Not” (rum and coke)
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• “The Sun Also Rises” (brandy and soda)
• “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” (whiskey and soda)
• “The Denunciation” (gin and tonic)
• “In the Last Good Country” (whiskey and ginger ale)
Papa Hemingway even concocted several cocktails of his own, one of his most famous being Champagne and absinthe, called “Death in the Afternoon.”
(What? You don’t read Hemingway for cocktail references?)
If he were alive today, I like to think Hemingway would shun the modern, six-ingredient concoctions for simpler libations. My point, people, is we need to return to a more minimalist time when it comes to cocktails.
It has gotten out of hand, all these overworked drinks with homemade artisanal bitters. I thought having the highest booze tax in the country would rein local bartenders in. It has not.
If two-ingredient drinks sound like an overcorrection, so be it.
Union Saloon in Wallingford runs a brilliant menu of two-ingredient cocktails from a Salty Dog (vodka and grapefruit) to tequila and Squirt soda, $6 each.
This two-ingredient revelation came while I was in Paris recently. I was reading my dog-eared Hemingway compilation while sipping rounds of cognac and Fever Tree ginger ale. It’s the better version of a Moscow Mule, popular in parts of southern France.
In fact, many signature drinks, some even crowned official national cocktails, use just two ingredients: Fernet and Coke (Argentina), tequila and grapefruit soda (Mexico) and Campari and soda (Italy), to rattle off a few.
For inspiration, I give you Hemingway again.
Philip Greene wrote “To Have and Have Another,” a brilliant, historical account of Hemingway and his cocktail references.
The Hemingway Daiquiri and mojito are assumed to be the legendary author’s favorite cocktails, but whiskey and soda may have been his drink of choice. Hemingway refers to whiskey and soda in 12 published works, more than any other cocktail, Greene found.
Hemingway also loved Gordon gin with Noilly Prat vermouth, and by Greene’s calculation, the martini gets mentioned in five novels, one short story and often in his letters.
Greene also uncovered more than a dozen two-ingredient drinks that Hemingway liked, invented or made references to in his stories and letters, including gin and coconut water, cognac and Benedictine, Campari and gin, London dry gin with angostura bitters (4 to 5 dashes), vermouth and seltzer, scotch and lime juice, cognac and vermouth, whiskey and lemonade.
Two-ingredient drinks befit a man who writes with such brevity. In his honor, I asked local bartenders for their favorite two-ingredient recipes.
Backpacking Europe, from Jimmy Rolfe of The Nook
This is one of the best two-ingredient drinks I’ve seen on a menu this year, an herbaceous, full-bodied cocktail with the complexity of a five-ingredient drink.
1 ounce Green Chartreuse
1 ounce Cynar 33 Proof
Stir with ice in a mixing vessel and strain into a small coupe glass.
Pisco-Sweet Vermouth, from Jay Kuehner of The Cloud Room
One of the city’s most creative and respected bartenders, Kuehner always turns to South America for inspiration.
2 parts Pisco*
1 part sweet vermouth (preferably Mancino and Yzaguirre)
Stir with ice in a mixing glass until chill and strain into chilled cocktail glass.
*Kuehner uses Acholado or Quebranta, though other pisco would work.
Calvados and Tonic, from Bryn Lumsden of Damn the Weather
This simple but elegant cocktail has been on the menu at this acclaimed Pioneer Square bar since opening day.
1 ½ ounces Calvados
3 ounces of tonic*
Build in tonic glass, add ice.
*At Damn the Weather, ¾ ounce Bradley’s Kina tonic syrup and 3 ounces of mineral water are used for tonic.
Bitter-mint, from Casey Robison of Barrio
This minty quaff is ideal as a digestif or a nightcap, sort of like a modern-day Stinger (another great two-ingredient drink, by the way).
One part Fernet-Branca
One part Menthe-Pastille mint liqueur
Stir over ice and serve neat or with a large ice cube. (Preferably pre-batch and store in the freezer.)
Bartender’s Jäger, from Ryan Minch of Rhein Haus
A fun drink for the service-industry set, and yes, it does tastes a bit like Jägermeister.
One-shot bottle Underberg
¾ ounce Punt e Mes vermouth
Pour ingredients in glass. Serve on the rocks or neat.
Absinthe-and-Root Beer highball, from Jana Howard of Vito’s
A simple, spicy drink with a mouthful of botanicals. A dry root beer works well, but any will do.
¾ ounce absinthe
5 ounce root beer
Add absinthe to glass with ice. Top with root beer.
Cafe Fuego, from Brandon Paul Weaver of Liberty
The components shouldn’t work together this well but do. The secret is a big, boozy spirit like Rum Fire that can stand up to the coffee liqueur. It’s like a delicious, spiked cold brew.
One part overproof Jamaica rum
One part Kahlúa
This drink works best ice cold. Pour both ingredients in a shaker with ice. Give it a long, hard shake, then strain over a glass.
Stage Left, from Jesse Cyr of Rob Roy
Along the same lines as a Rusty Nail, another two-ingredient classic, this drink mingles two grape-based ingredients.
2 ounces VSOP Armagnac *
¾ ounce Amaro Nonino
Pour both in a glass with a large ice cube and stir. Can also be served neat.
*VS Armagnac also works
Green Chartreuse-Root Beer, from Jamie Boudreau of Canon
It’s served as a boilermaker on the menu at Canon but also works as a highball.
1 ounce of green chartreuse
Add green chartreuse to Collins glass with ice. Top with root beer.