“…soft as a mane of needles…”
The Mars Volta
Miranda That Ghost Just Isn’t Holy Anymore — B. Pour Another Icepick
At URBN, we take a measure of pride at being one of the only places in North Park to get a proper drink. Regardless of their individual background knowledge or off-menu skills, everyone behind our bar can make a great Old Fashioned, Manhattan, Negroni, etc. No one could legitimately call us a cocktail bar, and yet we’re a bar that can make great cocktails.
This is a tool in our belt that I refuse to give up. I don’t care one fucking bit that the nuance and balance of our drinks are wasted on 99% of our clientele. We don’t maintain quality just for them; it’s for us too. Or, at least, for me. Tending bar is not an inherently cerebral activity, and craft cocktails, for me, are what forestall the fungal ennui that grows on everything that doesn’t progress.
In that spirit, we left one spot on the winter cocktail menu for an drinker’s drink, something whiskey and potent. That drink is the Mane of Needles. Of the 10 or so cocktails on the new menu, this is the one I really like, the one for the enthusiastic minority of our customers that share my taste. It’s the only one I’d happily make for Scott Holliday or Misty Kalkofan or Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli or any of the other Boston greats who introduced me to this world. Borrowing inspiration from the Violet Hour’s wonderful Autumn Negroni, I combined my initial goal of marrying Fernet Branca and Benedictine with the layered-bitter thing that they did so well, and thus:
Mane of Needles
2oz Bulleit Rye
0.75oz Carpano Antica
0.25oz Fernet Branca
1 dash Angostura Orange bitters
Stir ingredients in a mixing glass for 30 seconds; strain into a chilled cocktail glass; garnish with orange peel.
There’s something soft and accessible about Bulleit Rye, but at 90 proof it’s study enough to provide the infrastructure for this drink. I think of Carpano in this case as an emulsifier, with Campari’s robust bitterness playing against the sweet; the Bénédictine and Fernet, though just at a quarter-ounce each, are co-dependent enablers that play off each other to add spice and flourish. But it’s devil Fernet, with its peppermint oil and menthol, gives the Mane of Needles its name. The drink is, on the whole, soft and smooth with gentle bitterness and enough liqueur to make it silky, and yet while drinking it, the Fernet jumps up to offer little bridled pinpricks along the way.
This was also, of all the cocktails, the easiest to name. The experience of drinking it immediately reminded me of the Mars Volta lyric. It’s like petting a porcupine. But a delicious one.
Note: at URBN, we slightly modify the proportions to make it (1) easier to construct in a hurry, (2) less expensive for the consumer, and (3) not so much damn booze. The Mane of Needles (Album Version) is 1.5oz of Bulleit Rye, and 1.25oz of a 3:2:1:1 Carpano / Campari /Fernet / Bénédictine batch that we pre-make, with a dash of Angostura Orange bitters. This has the added effect of slightly increasing the ratio of rye to liqueur, which in the end makes the whole thing taste a little better anyway.
Trivia!: “Soft as a mane of needles” is six words, which is the maximum amount of consecutive words you can quote from the Mars Volta — from any part of any of their songs — before you start getting strange looks. The full stanza, by way of proof:
“Punctuated by her decrepit prowl she, washed down the hatching gizzard.
Soft as a mane of needles, his orifice icicles hemorrhaged by combing her torso to a pile.”