Happy Endings

These postprandial cocktails will guarantee that your guests leave smiling

OKAY, SO DINNER IS DONE. The dessert dishes are cleared, that little tiff between the Fleckners has been smoothed over, you’ve headed Steven off before he could get into the story of his knee surgery (again). What now? You could break out the Cognac or the old Scotch. It’s getting kinda late, though, and you know what happens when you do that. Still, it’s a special occasion—Jenn’s birthday—and you don’t want to just kick everybody out the door. It’s time for a little mixological magic.

The after-dinner cocktail is an odd sort of bird: It’s cold at a time in the meal when drinks are usually served hot, it’s complex when things are usually simple, and it can get away with using ingredients that are otherwise relegated to the world of smutty-named college shooters while still keeping its self-respect. By way of example, here are six formulae to nibble on—one enduring favorite, three forgotten classics, and two that, well, I made up.

Photo by Eric Moore

 

THE STINGER

The classico di tutti classici when it comes to after-dinner tippling, the Stinger’s origins are as aristocratic as its main ingredient—or at least what passes for aristocratic on these shores. It was reputedly invented by Reginald Vanderbilt, of the Vanderbilt Vanderbilts, who used to get behind the bar and shake ’em up himself. Whatever the truth of that, in the 1910s, when this simple and devastatingly effective mixture of old Cognac and crème de menthe first came to notice, it always seemed to be in the company of a gent in tails or a beautiful girl in an expensive dress. (Note: Unlike most drinks made without fruit juice, cream, or egg, the Stinger is traditionally shaken, not stirred.)

Shake well with cracked ice:

2 1⁄4 ounces VSOP or XO Cognac
3⁄4 ounce white crème de menthe

Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Then smile.

Photo by Eric Moore

CABEZA DE VACA

The Caribbean isn’t anyone’s idea of dairy country. There’s not a lot of range for cows, and milk spoils with impressive rapidity. The locals get around it by relying on sweetened condensed milk, that thick, gloppy off-white stuff that comes in a can—and happens to make a terrific cocktail. Here’s a quick demonstration.

Shake well with cracked ice:
1 1⁄2 ounces aged Dominican or other rum from the Spanish Caribbean
1/2 ounce white creme de cacao
1 ounce sweetened condensed milk

Strain into chilled cocktail glass and grate nutmeg on top.

Photo by Eric Moore

THE CARUSO

Enrico Caruso wasn’t just a hell of a singer, he was also a fun, larger-than-life character who enjoyed his enormous celebrity. In other words, a rock star. When he was in New York, he stayed at the Knickerbocker Hotel, whose bar was the favorite resort of society’s sports and swells (its nickname was “The Broadway Country Club”). He fit right in. This is the drink they made for him there. It’s strong and sweet, but not in any way syrupy. Bravo.

Stir well with cracked ice:

1 1⁄4 ounce gin
1 ounce dry vermouth
3⁄4 ounce green crème de menthe

Strain into chilled cocktail glass and twist a swatch of
thin-cut lemon peel over the top.

THE CLEOPATRA

We owe this rich and delightful cocktail to the genius of Constantino Ribalaigua, proprietor and head bartender of Havana’s legendary Floridita during the Golden Age of Cuban nightlife, which stretched from the end of World War I to the coming of Castro. I don’t know why he named it the Cleopatra. In any case, it’s asp-free.

Shake well with cracked ice:

3⁄4 ounce Cognac
3⁄4 ounce ruby port
1⁄2 ounce Cointreau
1⁄2 ounce pineapple juice

Strain into chilled cocktail glass and garnish with small wedge of fresh pineapple.

THE GYPSY QUEEN

Seems to be something of a theme here, what with “Gypsy” being derived from “Egyptian.” And in fact, this drink was invented at roughly the same time as the Cleopatra, although 1,300 miles away: It’s a product of the Russian Tea Room in New York. (Note: This is a good template for roll-your-own after-dinner drinks—two parts vodka for lightness, one part of any liqueur for flavor, and a dash of bitters to tie everything together.)

Stir well with cracked ice:

2 ounces vodka
1 ounce Benedictine
1 dash Angostura bitters

Strain into chilled cocktail glass and twist swatch of thin-cut lemon peel over the top.

Photo by Eric Moore

THE SANTA MARIA

Like Columbus’ flagship, this simple adaptation of the non-alcoholic Italian classic, caffè shakerato—“shakered coffee”—acts as a bridge between the Old World (the espresso and the cream) and the New (the rum and the sugar).

Shake hard with cracked ice:

1 1⁄2 ounces dark, full-bodied rum, such as Gosling’s or Myers’s
2 ounces espresso (cold)
1⁄2 ounce rich simple syrup (see recipe below)
1⁄2 ounce half and half

Strain into chilled Champagne flute.

To make rich simple syrup, heat 2 cups demerara sugar or turbinado sugar (such as Sugar in the Raw) in 1 cup water over a low flame, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Let cool, bottle, and refrigerate.

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