“Jesus!” I said. “Red Hook!”
“Sure,” he says. “Dat’s where it was, all right.”
“Well, you keep outa deh,” I says. “You stay away from deh.”
“Why?” he says. “What’s wrong wit it?”
“Oh,” I says, “it’s a good place to stay away from, dat’s all. It’s a good place to keep out of.”
“Why?” he says. “Why is it?”
Jesus! Whatcha gonna do wit a guy as dumb as that! I saw it wasn’t no use to try to tell him nuttin’, he wouldn’t know what I was talkin’ about, so I just says to him, “Oh, nuttin’. Yuh might get lost down deh, dat’s all.”
“Lost?” he says. “No, I wouldn’t get lost. I got a map,” he says.
A map! Red Hook! Jesus!
– Thomas Wolfe, “Only the Dead Know Brooklyn,” The New Yorker, June 15, 1935.
We’ve made it. Installment 7 of 7 of the “Drinks We Drank at Drink” feature. Terminus. Those with keen detective skills may note that the math isn’t adding up: in Installment #1 (Greenpoint), I indicated that five debaucherlor partygoers, myself included, popped into Drink for a couple cocktails each. Let’s see here… two drinks each, five people… carry the one… wait a tick – that’s ten drinks. Not seven! So what gives? Well, two of my compatriots had Sazeracs and another had an Old-Fashioned – both drinks which I’ve covered in previous posts. I know this inconsistency would have kept you all up at night, so – you’re welcome.
A Red Hook was whipped up for my Joaquin Phoenix look-alike friend that I mentioned in Installment #5 (Bohemian). From what he can recall (memories of any bachelor party weekend tend to get lost in the fog of time) he requested something that contained whiskey and would give him the funny feeling he used to get when he climbed the rope in gym class.
The Red Hook is very similar to the aforementioned Greenpoint. Actually, I’ve got that backwards: the Greenpoint is a variation of the Red Hook – the Red Hook predates the Greenpoint by some 7 years. If we’re to trace the Red Hook’s family tree from the roots up, we find that it is a descendant of the Brooklyn, which itself is based off of a Manhattan.
Vincenzo Errico – or Enzo to his friends – concocted this modern Brooklyn variant at Milk & Honey back in 2004. As previously indicated, the Red Hook is named after a neighborhood in south Brooklyn – a once poor industrial zone that’s now being rapidly gentrified. In 1990 LIFE magazine named Red Hook as one of the “worst” neighborhoods in the United States and as “the crack capital of America.” But now they have an IKEA. A really big one. I’ll let you decide if that’s a step in the right direction or not. Maybe IKEA can build modular low income housing for the people that are being driven further afield. Perhaps IKEA can call them “KÖRD Houses”.
Compared to the Brooklyn cocktail, the Red Hook uses Punt e Mes in place of vermouth and Amer Picon. Many have suggested that the flavour of Punt e Mes lies somewhere between Carpano Antica and Campari so it stands to reason that it could do the job of both the vermouth and the amaro. Now that I think of it, this drink is doing what the Conservative Party of Canada is doing across several government departments, agencies and social programs: making one do the jobs of many. But where these government cuts and systematic underfunding have rendered the affected programs ineffectual, this cocktail is an astounding success.
Measure the ingredients into a mixing glass, then add enough ice to fill the glass at least 2/3rds full. Stir until chilled (about 25 seconds or so) and strain into a chilled cocktail glass of your pleasing. Garnish with brandied cherry if desired; however, be sure that the cherry isn’t excessively coated with Marasca syrup or else your cocktail may tip over to the “cloyingly sweet” side of the spectrum. I myself abstain from garnishing Red Hooks.
Punt e Mes is a little more bitter and interesting than your average vermouth and may in fact be my favorite of the genre. “Punt e Mes” translates to “point and a half” in the Piedmontese dialect (it would be “Punto e Mezzo” in straight up Italian), in reference to a sudden raise in the stock market in 1870 that resulted in the Carpano Distilleries making a killing. I imagine it was all hookers and blow at the distillery that day. Huh, I wonder if “Puttane e Neve” was ever put forward as a possible name for this commemorative vermouth? Probably not.
Back to the cocktail. Is it good? Well, yes – very. The bitterness of the Punt e Mes is nicely balanced by the Maraschino. Both of these ingredients possess fantastic complexity and together, the pairing is phenomenal. All components in this drink show off their finer points, without one dominating the others. If forced to pick a favorite between this and the Greenpoint, I’d be hard pressed. Back-to-back tastings need to be conducted.
Unsurprisingly, I’m not the only one that has been won over by this cocktail. Signor Errico’s concoction caused a big enough stir within the bartender community that several countered with their own riffs. I’ve mentioned the Greenpoint, but there’s also the Bensonhurst (Chad Solomon, Milk & Honey), Cobble Hill (Sam Ross, Milk & Honey), Carroll Gardens (Joaquin Simo, Death & Co.), and the Bushwick (Phil Ward, Death & Co.) – I encourage you to give them all a whirl.
Imbibe Magazine even included the Red Hook in its May/June 2010 feature article entitled, “The 25 Most Influential Cocktails of the Past Century”. Wowza. Before long, I bet the Red Hook neighborhood will find itself on lists of the “Top Most Desirable Places to Live in New York” if it hasn’t already. The times, they are a-changin’.
Speaking of change, it’s time to move on from this feature. It’s Kentucky Cinco de Derby Mayo time.