Drink of the Day: the Liberal Cocktail


Writing about the drinks that are alleged by modern drinkers and tenders to be the Negroni Cocktail – being the Camparinete Cocktail and the Campari Mixte Cocktail — inspired me to consider how inspired their creation actually was.

I have no doubt that if George Kappeler had been asked by a customer in 1895 to make the Dundorado Cocktail so that it featured the cinchona grand bitters more prominently, he would have worked from basic, traditional assumptions. He would have considered that at more than two dashes out of the full-sized liquor bottle (~1 tsp., each) that calisaya bitters came in, they should probably just be jiggered — that is, made part of the 2 fluid-ounce jigger that was considered the basic portion of liquor per drink, mixed or not. Two proportions that would have sprung to his mind without any inspiration necessary. They would have been either to proportion the three alcoholic ingredients into either 1/3 jigger each, or for leaving half the jigger for the gin (as in the Dundorado Cocktail) and splitting the other half of the jigger between the vermouth wine and the cinchona bitters.

That he was using cinchona bitters featuring Cinchona calisaya instead of the Cinchona officinalis found in Campari Bitter is worth noting. But it does not make as much difference as some might assume. What is different is that Campari Bitter contains more sugar than the calisaya bitter currently available.

At any rate, the two proportions that would have first come to his mind as part of American Mixology 101, so to speak, would have essentially created either of the 1929 drinks, the Campari Mixte and the Camparinete Cocktail.

So, was the idea of making grand bitters part of the jigger the only innovative concept involved in creating the Boulevardier/Campari Mixte/Camparinete-class cocktails that George Kappeler and American bar-tenders of his day lacked?

Even that was no great inspiration in 1927 or 1929. George Kappeler published the oldest-known recipe for the Liberal Cocktail in 1895. And that drink is a true cocktail with grand bitters right there inside the jigger.

Liberal Cocktail

Picon bitters (that’s what amer means) aren’t available everywhere, so Paolucci CioCiaro bitters (that’s what amaro means) can be used as a substitute.

Picon Bitters & substitute

The Liberal Cocktail has actually been one of my ‘go to’ drinks since about 2009. I like it with a little more of the jigger given to the rye whiskey than to the bitters, but it’s good either way. Just don’t put in any sugar or simple syrup that you might expect should go into a Whiskey Cocktail along with the bitters and whiskey. Like most grand bitters, both Picon bitters and CioCiaro bitters are plenty sweet by themselves.

The Liberal Cocktail was, itself, no product of grand inspiration. Once cocktails with petite bitters are popular, grand bitters will be used, too — and someone is going to try making them part of the 2 fluid-ounce jigger.

Once the Liberal Cocktail existed and was at all well-received (it is delicious), it was just a matter of time before someone further fancified the family by addition of vermouth wine as a modifier.

Let’s stop building up cult-of-personality around these drinks and just enjoy them for what they are: the predictable products of mixological culture.

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