Posted by: Matt Browner Hamlin | December 18, 2008

“Fakie” Alexander

In my write-up yesterday of Bar Pilar’s Tuesday Cocktail Session, I wrote this about the closing taste:

The closing taste was the “fakie” Alexander. It was smooth, light, and sweet – pretty much what you’d expect from a twist on a brandy alexander. Unfortunately my handwriting is a bit unclear as to what Adam used to substitute for the creme de cacao. Oh well. It was good. Trust me.

Last night Adam emailed me this note on the “fakie”:

As far as the “fakie,” I’m really into Brandy Alexanders and I’ve really been exploring the idea of the “negative space” cocktail (a cocktail in which you replace a major ingredient with it’s opposite in order to imply the missing note). In this case, I replaced the cacao with chinato (the Italian’s favorite pairing for chocolate). Hope it worked for you.

I wasn’t really familiar with chinato, but I can say confidently that the use of negative space in the cocktail really worked for me, even while not knowing the common connection between chinato and chocolate. This goes a long way in showing how well chinato and chocolate would work together, as the cocktail retained a close connection to the Brandy Alexander. I’m not really familiar with chinato, so I did a bit of poking around online and found this piece by Jason Wilson in the Washington Post.

In the 1920s, Giulio Cocchi opened a chain of Barolo Chinato bars in cities including Turin and Milan and as far away as Caracas, Venezuela. (The Turin location still exists.) But by the 1960s and 1970s, Barolo Chinato had gone out of fashion, swept away by the popular tide of amari, mass-market vermouths and aperitivi such as Punt e Mes that began to flood the Italian market. Cocchi persisted, selling its spumante, and eventually was bought by the Bava family in 1977. But its Barolo Chinato languished for decades.

That is, until the all-important chocolate-Chinato connection came to light. Bava is president of something he referred to as the “Italian Chocolate Association.” Several years ago, he says, the association’s members began searching for the best after-dinner drink to pair with fine chocolate, another Piemonte specialty. After supposedly rigorous testing, Bava says, “We learned that Barolo Chinato was the absolute best match for chocolate.” Regardless of how subjective that research must have been, it seems to have been a eureka moment in the history of food and drink pairings because, believe me, it is true. “Now,” Bava says, “if you ask anyone in Italy, ‘What do you pair with chocolate?’ They will say, ‘Barolo Chinato.’ ”

Bava says the chocolate-pairing concept has saved Barolo Chinato from extinction and spurred other producers to put their versions on the market. “I’m proud of this. It’s probably the only idea in this life that I will leave behind,” he says, with a wink.

I’m going to have to talk to Adam more about the concept of negative space cocktails. I’d like to find places where I could experiment with concept amongst ingredients that I’m more familiar with to start out. Should the initial pairing always be between food and spirits? Or would regularly paired spirits be a jumping off point as well? The possibilities here seem pretty daunting.

It’s worth reprinting the end of Wilson’s WaPo article on chinato. You’ll never guess who was featured in it…

Of course, in the United States, where after-dinner drinks are still a puzzle to most people, we judge the viability of spirits by their application in cocktails.

Enter Adam Bernbach of Bar Pilar, who has been serving terrific Chinato-based cocktails for some time. “I love the stuff. I’m addicted to it,” Bernbach says. “Its supporters at the bar have become pretty vocal about it.” He uses Marcarini brand Barolo Chinato, which is available in the District through Bacchus distributors. (If your liquor store doesn’t carry it, have them order it.)

Bernbach showcases Barolo Chinato in his Darkside cocktail, which he first started serving at his Tuesday night cocktail sessions. The Darkside, to me, is an instant classic. The Chinato plays exceptionally well with Plymouth gin’s juniper and secondary notes of citrus and cardamom and with the floral, gentian-based Peychaud bitters. It’s perhaps the finest new-school cocktail served in Washington, a perfect match for one of the finest spirits in the world.

Looks like Wilson will have to come back around Bar Pilar for the “fakie” Alexander.



  1. […] be right up my alley. As a reminder, I wrote about negative space cocktails following having the Fakie Alexander by Adam Bernbach at Bar Pilar. Here’s what Adam wrote me about negative space options: As far […]

  2. […] be a negative space Sazerac. I wrote: I wrote about negative space cocktails following having the Fakie Alexander by Adam Bernbach at Bar Pilar. Here’s what Adam wrote me about negative space options: As far as […]

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