Rojo Bianco

A while back, I got a sample of Don Julio Reposado Tequila. I poke around in several directions to find a recipe to mix it into, and found this drink, from the 2008 Food and Wine Cocktails.

This drink is a Philip Ward joint, from Death & Co. in New York City.

Rojo Bianco

  • Ice
  • 2 oz. reposado tequila
  • 1/4 oz. bianco vermouth
  • 1/4 oz. Campari
  • 1/4 oz. maraschino liqueur
  • dash of Angostura bitters

Technique: Stir all ingredients over ice, and strain into a chilled coupe. No garnish.

Man, this is an odd drink. Tequila and Campari. Bianco vermouth and maraschino. I have a perhaps surprising analogy to describe this drink, so bear with me.

Nearly forty years ago, Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash recorded a bunch of duets together, but none of them really worked out. (What a wasted opportunity, guys. How could you have screwed this up? Oh yeah, drugs.) The one song that even partly succeeded, “Girl From the North Country,” appeared on Dylan’s album Nashville Skyline.

The Rojo Bianco reminds me of that song. The lead ingredients, tequila and Campari, never really harmonize. They don’t clash, but they don’t come together either. You listen to the song and think about their voices, twirling around each other, but never melding. At the same time you think about the mains, you forget about the backing band. You know it’s there, but you pay attention to Dylan and Cash and forget anything else. The bianco and maraschino definitely sweeten the drink and balance the Campari’s bitterness, but aside from softening the Campari, they fade behind the dueling vocals. I don’t know whether it matters to use bianco vermouth instead of regular French vermouth.

And yet, I love “Girl From the North Country.” I hear the other tracks these guys recorded in those sessions, and I hate them for squandering the moment. But “Girl…” is a good song, despite how broken it is. And the Rojo Bianco is a good cocktail, even though the ingredients never harmonize.

Edited to add: Joaquin Simo, Phil’s colleague at Death & Co., left a comment below that F&W misprinted Phil’s recipe. I haven’t tested the proper version yet, but here it is:

Rojo Bianco–Phil Ward

  • 2 oz. El Tesoro Reposado tequila
  • 3/4 oz. M & R bianco vermouth
  • 1/4 oz. Campari
  • 1/4 oz. Luxardo maraschino liqueur
  • dash of Angostura bitters

Technique: Stir all ingredients over ice, and strain into a chilled coupe. No garnish.

5 thoughts on “Rojo Bianco

  1. from what you write about it and in my own judgment, i would suggest either toning down the amount of Campari to a half or even quarter teaspoon since it is so bitter. better yet, simply replace the Campari with the much milder Aperol! or instead, try my “Mergers & Acquisitions”:

    1 3/4 oz reposado tequila
    3/4 oz Benedictine
    1/2 oz Aperol
    1/2 oz lime juice

    mix, shake w/ ice and strain into cocktail glass… and smile. this is kinda like a margarita but much more complex and interesting IMHO.

  2. Yeah, Aperol makes sense for this drink, certainly. I don’t mean to give the impression that I dislike this version; I like it. It’s just that it’s not the most harmonious mixture around.

  3. well, believe it or not, i accidentally made my “Mergers & Acquisitions” with Campari the other day while training my staff (i was distracted and took the wrong bottle from the shelf) and found it was way too bitter and not pleasant.

    BTW if you like Aperol, i have to recommend my latest fave creation:

    Cinderella’s Slipper

    2 oz No. 209 Gin
    3/4 oz Aperol
    juice of 1/2 Meyer lemon
    juice of 1/2 lime
    3 coins of fresh cucumber
    1/2 oz cane syrup (i used Depaz, but any simple syrup or gomme should do)

    mix, shake hard with ice and double strain into cocktail glass.

    btw, nothing wrong with not liking a so-called expert’s concoction. they are just people too and don’t always hit the ball out of the park. then again, people’s tastes differ greatly. some things work for some people, and others, well… by no fault of theirs, it just isn’t their cup of tea so to speak.

    enjoy what you can while you can i say.

  4. I’m a coworker of Phil’s at Death & Co and am saddened to report the recipe published in the F&W book was inaccurate. The correct proportions are

    Rojo Bianco- Phil Ward

    2 oz. El Tesoro Reposado tequila
    3/4 oz. M & R bianco vermouth
    1/4 oz. Campari
    1/4 oz. Luxardo maraschino liqueur
    dash of Angostura bitters

    Stir all ingredients over ice, and strain into a chilled coupe. No garnish.

    Made in this manner, you should find an elegant drink in which the vermouth emphasizes the herbaceous qualities of tequila, with the modifiers adding depth and balance. I still make this drink regularly at the bar (despite not having been on our menu for a year) and hope you enjoy the proper version at home. Cheers!

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