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Appetizer à l’Italienne

Appetizer al'Italienne

How a vintage cocktail was updated with its historic allure still intact.

It could be argued that the difference between a forgotten cocktail and a beloved classic is simply the size of the audience. The Appetizer à l’Italienne appeared in William Schmidt’s The Flowing Bowl in 1892, then largely disappeared. (A similar recipe, for the absinthe-free Bonsoni Cocktail, appeared in Hugo Ensslin’s Recipes for Mixed Drinks in 1917.) With its aggressive match of sweet vermouth and Fernet-Branca accented with absinthe, the cocktail’s character is rooted in the late 19th century, and out of place in the 20th.

But the cocktail renaissance brought both a taste for bold, bitter combinations, and an interest in historical spelunking. Boston bartender Frederic Yarm recalls being served the Appetizer à l’Italienne in 2009 at the cocktail bar Drink, years before he joined the team (he left the bar in November, and it has since closed). Yarm says the recipe’s simple formula fills a certain historical niche. “It’s a recipe I wouldn’t want to modify, since it is what it is and a showing of what some bartenders were doing 130 years ago,” Yarm says.

To balance the brawn of fernet and absinthe, Yarm says it’s important to use a richer style of vermouth, such as Carpano Antica Formula or a Vermouth di Torino. And don’t skip the simple syrup: “The sugar’s important here to convert fernet from a digestif to an aperitif, as suggested by the drink’s name,” Yarm says. “The drier version pushes the digestive system to wrap up eating.”


  • Tools:barspoon, mixing glass
  • Glass:coupette or Nick and Nora
  • Garnish:lemon and orange twists


Stir all of the ingredients with ice, then strain into a chilled glass. Express the twists over the finished cocktail, and use as a garnish.

Tip Schmidt didn’t specify a garnish for the drink in his 1892 book, but Yarm says a lemon twist “would smooth out the fernet’s aggression, and an orange twist to sweeten things would be nice, too.

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