In Praise of the Bartender's Handshake
It’s the unspoken ritual of many a hospitality industry vet: the bartender’s handshake, that revered go-to drink from one barkeep to another. It’s equal parts secret password, insider’s wink, and sign of solidarity. But, depending on who you ask and where you’re drinking, that handshake can mean many different things: a shot of Fernet, a miniature daiquiri, or a slug of bitters straight from the bottle, to name a few. We asked you to share the go-to shots and cocktails that define the bartender’s handshake in your city — below, a few of the gold standards.
Practically synonymous with the term, Fernet is the handshake of choice for many a bartender — and some non-industry laypeople might say that the taste is not for the faint of heart, but then again, neither is the bartending industry. Though it's been around for nearly two centuries (and chugged along through Prohibition quite well thanks to its purported medicinal qualities), Fernet really started gaining traction as an industry favorite in San Francisco in the early aughts. Chilled pinpoints the zeitgeist to the city's predominantly Italian North Beach neighborhood, where bartenders familiar with Italian aperitifs and digestifs began sharing the goods with friends and fellow hospitality vets. The rest, as they say, is history, as a shot of the once-obscure drink is now practically synonymous with post-shift relaxing.
Punch traces the history of the miniature daiquiri back to New York in 2010, when Giuseppe Gonzalez (Suffolk Arms) and Karin Stanley (Dutch Kills) first developed the initial iteration together. Since then, Kara Newman writes, the mini daiq proliferated to Austin and San Antonio before finally, officially entering the lexicon in 2014 via the New York Times.
You’d think this equal-parts Italian hybrid of minty, herbaceous Fernet-Branca and bitter Campari would be overkill, but somehow, the dynamic duo works in perfect harmony to draw out each other’s more palate-friendly qualities.
Good old Jeppson’s Malört still has a spot on just about every backbar in Chicago, where it’s revered (in a love-to-hate-it sort of way) as a part of Chicago history and as a test of one’s mettle. But, in recent years, this bracing wormwood liqueur category has taken on a life of its own, as craft producers like FEW and Letherbee create their own small-batch versions of the bäsk liqueur. Still, Jeppson’s remains the time-tested classic for a particularly hardy breed of bartender. For best results, pair with a can of Old Style.
Bäsk (Swedish for "bitter") is a Swedish style spiced liquor flavored with wormwood ("malört" in Swedish). Bäsk is said to be good for digestion, and therefore is traditionally associated with fatty foods. @jeppsonsmalort named after Carl Jeppson, the Swedish immigrant who first popularized and sold the liquor in Chicago. For 70 years, the Carl Jeppson Company produced Chicago’s most reviled shot. Then in 2012 everything changed. Chicago’s own @letherbee (who makes a popular gin) cooked up a version: Letherbee Bësk. Hard on it’s heels came Anguish and Regret Malört from @fewspirits in Evanston. Try all three in this bitter Chicagoland-area staple flight...if you're brave enough. ------------------------- #boom #party #sovereign #plainfield #supportlocal #farmtofork #craftbeer #craftspirits #malort
Shots of Ango
Disclaimer: due to the official classification of Angostura Bitters by the FDA, technically you're not really supposed to throw it back like a shot of vodka. So, we can’t officially endorse doing it. But some bartenders have definitely taken a liking to not only working it into recipes as a base spirit (see Giuseppe Gonzalez's Trinidad Sour, which uses a full ounce of the stuff) — they also enjoy sipping or shooting it straight.
In recent years, the pickleback has trickled all the way down into the realm of college kids and sports bars. But before 20-somethings were following slugs of Jack with pickle brine, bartenders were leading the charge: Difford’s Guide points the origin of the pickleback to New York’s Bushwick Country Club, circa 2006. Since then, the pickleback has evolved through a number of iterations, from Rob Roy in Seattle’s aquavit version to Charles Joly’s specialty serve at the Aviary, with seaweed-infused Yamazaki 12 alongside a housemade spiced brine.
In addition to these go-to’s, here are a few that you suggested:
“Half Cynar, half bourbon.” - Eat Bistro
“I'm a Cynar handshaker!” - Carey Burres
“These parts we do an Antíc Ferari: Antica/Fernet/Campari.” - Richard Swan
“Fernet it is. Occasional Chartreuse or Montenegro is also in order.” - High Water London
“Shots of Angostura Bitters is the handshake in Malaysia.” - Rick Joore
“Zucca Rabarbaro.” - Wouter Bosch
“Mezcal and Ramazzotti!” - @bsoll717
“Jack. Goddamn. Daniels.” - @beards_and_bars
“Equal parts fernet and Vida Mezcal. Yum!” - Nicole Yetman
“Fernet and Green Chartreuse 50/50.” - Andrew Larson
“Grandma.” - Greg Sherman
“Hawai'i Bartender Handshake: 50/50 Fernet Branca and Campari over ice in rocks glass, topped with Coke and drinking Mind Eraser style! Cheers!” - Arielle