How Anthony Got His Groove Back
Guest post by Anthony Damelio, Sharon’s husband and family cocktail guru.
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. Sharon and I spent much of the winter and early spring dedicated to important work in our careers. As fulfilling as that was, we hadn’t entertained much at all—which means that I hadn’t had any excuses to create new drinks. Our own cocktail consumption was in a bit of a rut: a good Boulevardier at the end of a long week, a stiff Negroni before dinner. All good, but nothing earth-shattering. I wasn’t feeling motivated to try new things, and there wasn’t much on the horizon to capture my creative attentions.
This past Christmas, our good friends gave us a cocktail book from the storied New York City establishment, Death & Company. This bar is one of the most important cocktail labs in the world, and their book is far and away the best on our shelf. It’s loaded with a wide array of classic and new cocktails; a skillful walk through technique and ingredients; fun stories and background to the bar.
Little by little, I was working through the book, making drinks with the ingredients we had and acquiring a few others to try new recipes. And little by little, my inspiration was starting to come back…just when I needed it most.
In March, Sharon’s grandmother took a turn for the worst. After a long fight with cancer and a steady decline in hospice care, Della Ruth Skipper died in the wee hours of the morning on Wednesday, March 18th. The whole family assembled in Panama City, where Pam rented a condo to host cousins, aunts, and uncles, many of whom hadn’t seen each other in years. Sharon and I volunteered to coordinate the food and drink; so as we packed our clothes and ingredients to cook big, group meals, I also threw together a box of liquor to take down for cocktail making.
Most would describe me as careful and measured, someone who calculates things and plans well. I’m not sure where that person was when I was packing my booze, but when I got to Panama City and opened the box, I immediately started cursing. “I brought this, but not that? Why didn’t I bring better bourbon!?” Needless to say, the scope of cocktail possibilities contained in that box was pretty limited. But, as you may have found with cooking, limitation often gives rise to resourcefulness.
While I was kicking myself for such poor planning, others were ready for some drinks! I started off a couple classics I knew well—and that my supply would allow. But after dinner, folks started requesting more, uh, interesting things. I received two requests for the bartender’s choice. “Shit,” I thought, “what the hell am I going to make!?” Instead of admitting my packing error, I brought out a bunch of bottles and citrus and got to work. Riffing on a basic template in the Death & Co. book, I made a drink I thought would have wide appeal: a backbone of gin and grapefruit juice, some body from sweet vermouth, a little Campari for bitterness, and a touch of St. Germain to bring in floral notes. I added a dash or two of Angostura bitters to round it out and garnished with an orange peel. The proportions were pretty good, so I knew I could keep working to refine the drink. As I tinkered with the next batches, I finally reached something worthy of a recipe—a drink in which all the ingredients harmonized well.
I was proud. Despite my packing blunder, I was able to create a drink that pleased this crowd of people very much in need of the joy and memory that a few good drinks can bring. As the group laughed, talked, told stories, got teary-eyed, and laughed again, I kept their glasses full.
About the name: the day after the cocktail’s creation, the family went for a walk on the beach, and David recounted a story about heroically saving a bird—a red-throated loon—in the parking lot of his church. This little story of resurrection in the midst of death (and the rosy color of the bird) inspired the name for this drink.
- 2 oz Gin
- 1.25 oz Fresh Grapefruit Juice
- .75 Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth
- .5 oz Campari
- .5 oz St. Germain
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- Garnish: orange peel
- Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice, and shake vigorously. Strain and serve in a rocks glass filled with ice; garnish with an orange peel.