The Brooklyn Cocktail: A Personal History

The Brooklyn was first mentioned in print in an obscure tome, J.A. Grohusko's Jack's Manual (1908). Though it was lost to history for over fifty years, its popularity has skyrocketed in recent years. It is yet another cocktail that has become a darling of the cocktail resurgence, embraced by craft bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts alike. But what an unlikely star. The combination of rye and dry vermouth is a hard sell for many, and even procuring a bottle of Amer Picon, or a suitable replacement, remains a challenge. Perhaps these details play a part in its popularity. Many formerly lost cocktails have resurfaced and are loved in part because of their polarizing flavors or hard to acquire ingredients. Regardless of the cultural weight of these details today, these two factors could have been what propelled such cocktails into obscurity in the first place. Despite all of this, the Brooklyn is my favorite cocktail.

I first came across the Brooklyn in the July/August 2007 issue of Imbibe magazine. The main article was centered on lost ingredients that were making a comeback in the bar world. Several do-it-yourself recipes were also included for the more ambitious. While allspice dram and creme de violette were mentioned alongside several others, it was the Amer Picon that drew me in. Looking back I am surprised that it wasn't the allspice dram that tempted my novice palate. At that point, I had never even tasted an amaro. But while the catalyst remains hidden, the Amer Replica, also known more commonly today as Amer Boudreau, was the first major cocktail ingredient I crafted at home, and with it came my introduction to the Brooklyn.

The hardest part about making homemade ingredients lies in replicating flavors that are sometimes slightly and sometimes completely out of reach. The Amer Picon used in that 1908 Brooklyn is not the same as the one available today. Sadly, the recipe was altered sometime in the 1940s and the resulting product is supposedly a shadow of its former self. Sure there are bottles of the old stuff out there--some hoarded, some just waiting to be found in the back of liquor stores in random corners of the world. But for most people, the original Amer Picon is unattainable. The current Amer Picon has not been imported into the United States for decades. In 2007, the closest substitute on the market, Torani Amer, was not available in Washington.

Of course I still remember my first Brooklyn. While I waited for the orange tincture to steep--the first step in making Amer Boudreau--I decided I needed more firsthand knowledge about this mysterious cocktail. Whenever I wanted to know more about an obscure classic cocktail, I would find myself at the Zig Zag sitting on a bar stool in front of Murray. He seemed to always know not only the recipe, but also some other tidbit of information that would propel me to uncover another drink. When I ordered a Brooklyn, he leaned in across the bar and asked me how old I was. I will admit I was surprised. But then he smiled and told me that only eighty-year-old men ordered that drink. While I am not sure how he solved the Amer Picon problem I do remember loving the resulting cocktail. And I have been drinking them ever since.


2 ounces rye
3/4 ounce dry vermouth
1/4 ounce Amer Picon
1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur

In an ice-filled mixing glass, stir ingredients and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Optional: garnish with a lemon twist.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Maraska maraschino liqueur, Bulleit rye, and Vya's Whisper Dry vermouth.

Over the years, I have had many Brooklyn variations. Because of the nature of lost ingredients, it seems that everyone has a different solution to accommodate the absent Picon. (Don't even get me started on all of the recipes with different proportions!) I have seen amari blended--usually Rammazotti and Averna. Sometimes a bartender will use Amaro Ciociaro, which is widely recognized as a workable substitute. I have even had a Brooklyn with the current Amer Picon, which I returned from Paris with. And of course, I still have some of that homemade Amer Picon from all those years ago.

On a recent visit to San Francisco, I decided to order a Brooklyn at the Comstock Saloon. As soon as I tasted it, I knew that it was not the cocktail I had come to know and love. Though it did resemble most Brooklyns I had experienced, something was noticeably different. Almost immediately I knew it was the Amer component--after all, rye, dry vermouth and maraschino only differ so much among the various brands.What I didn't know was how lucky I was to have ordered that specific drink at that specific location. Finding a bar that was attempting to replicate the original Amer Picon was a wonderful surprise. With access to a bottle of the original Amer Picon, they decided that the combination of amontillado sherry, Bonal quinquina, and orange bitters best matched those long-sought after flavors. I can certainly understand the Bonal and bitters. Torani Amer, Ciociaro, and Ramazzotti (the base of Amer Boudreau) all have a strong orange flavor. It was the sherry that gave me pause. Jeff Hollinger explained to me that the savory, nuttiness of the sherry was the answer to the flavors of oxidation that they detected in the original. This was a curious detail about Amer Picon that I had never heard before. And while the resulting cocktail was tasty, the entire experience was still curious.

Brooklyn (as inspired by Comstock Saloon version)

2 ounces rye
3/4 ounce dry vermouth
1/2 ounce Amer mixture*
1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur

Combine ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  

Notes on Ingredients: I used Bulleit rye, Whisper Dry vermouth and Maraska maraschino. 

Amer mixture (as inspired by Comstock Saloon version)
3 ounces Bonal
1.5 ounces dry amontillado sherry
3 dashes Angostura orange bitters

Note on Amer mixture: At the time, I failed to ask for the proportions used at Comstock and sought to replicate the flavor from memory. I hope that I was close, but I had the Brooklyn at the beginning of a long day.


  1. Have you ever tried the Amer Picon recipe from here? and before you do, make sure you read through the comments, long, but important notes on making the Amer. https://spiritsandcocktails.wordpress.com/2007/09/09/amer-picon/

  2. Hi, Eric! I definitely have made the Amer Picon recipe from Jamie Boudreau's blog. I think that it is great! In fact, until the Bigallet China-china came onto the market, it was the only Amer substitute that I used with regularity. Most of the posts on this blog that utilize Amer Picon were in fact made with the Amer Boudreau. And yes, reading through the notes in the comments section is a must if you want to make the recipe correctly. Thanks for posting!