‘A bicyclette, that’s what we’ll drink,’ I said with unreserved confidence.
‘A what?’ asked my brother.
‘A bicyclette,’ I repeated with similar bravado.
Memory can be a strange thing. I’d called to mind a simple cocktail from Fergus Henderson’s ‘Nose to Tail Eating’. It had Fernet Branca, an Italian bitter of some alcoholic fortitude, as its main constituent.
Sitting in the courtyard of an Umbrian farmhouse and gazing out over the patchwork hills, it seemed the perfect opportunity to try this potent little number.
‘Are you sure that’s the right recipe?’ said my brother as he watched me splash equal parts of medicinally coloured Fernet Branca and lurid Campari over ice.
‘Yup, positive,’ I replied.
Although I didn’t have the book with me, I was sure this was how to make a bicyclette.
The drink is so-called because after two or three you are unable to ride home in a straight line on your bicycle. When the mixer weighs in at a hefty 20% alcohol you know you are dicing with forces more powerful than your average aperitivo. This was no regular stomach-readier.
The first sip offered surprise: a distinct alcoholic bitterness. But a cooling sweetness swiftly followed by the Campari. It was dangerously drinkable and over the following week it led to a number of dinners being eaten considerably later than planned.
When we returned home I consulted the book to check I’d got the recipe right.
I hadn’t. What I had done was combine the only two drink recipes in Henderson’s two books: Campari and white wine (the famed bicyclette) and Fernet Branca and Crème de Menthe (a Dr Henderson)
What could have emerged was a terrifying hybrid monster. Thankfully it didn’t and the slightly skewed memory served only to create something new, something tasty, something to ready yourself for a night of gastronomic indulgence.
I shall name it a Centaur – it approaches like a gentleman but has the kick of a stallion.
Centaur – an aperitif for the brave
One part Fernet Branca
One Part Campari
Sugar syrup, to taste
Lemon juice, to taste
Pour the booze over ice, stir. Have a little sip. If the taste make you pull a face like a baby eating marmite, it’s probably a little bitter. Add sugar syrup and lemon juice until you reach a pleasant combination.
Two of these will give you the appetite of a king but render you unable to cook at your best. Take precautions.