The Drink: Vodka’s Best – The Harrington

Cocktail judo.  Transforming Vodka's weakness into a strength.

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By Dappered Drinks Correspondent and Official Bartender Michael Bowers

Now that all you Dappered gentleman have gone out and bought reasonably priced, pot-distilled, potato vodkas per my recommendation a few weeks back, I thought I’d send a recipe out your way…

It’s often said that vodka is the easiest spirit to mix­­—which is true if your only goal is to get drunk.  Apart from vodka martinis—which for most people is less a cocktail than a cold glass of alcohol with some garnish—most vodka cocktails fall into two categories:

  1. vodka + established beverage, or…
  2. anything-tinis

The first category takes an ordinary and perfectly acceptable non-alcoholic beverage (soda, tonic, OJ, lemonade, etc.) and doses it with a slug of booze.  The second takes a slug of booze and adds enough sugar to cover up the taste and then gets served in a fancy glass in order to ride on the coattails of more venerable beverages.  In either case, the vodka serves no function other than intoxication.  And if that’s what you’re up for, then by all means proceed.  Sometimes we eat only for the sustenance and we don’t care what it tastes like.  Sometimes we drink for the alcohol and could care less about the trappings.

Most of the time, though, I do care about the trappings and that makes vodka mixing tricky.  How do you take something bordering on flavorless and make it essential to a cocktail’s flavor?  Enter The Harrington.  Way back in the nineties, before the current surge of interest in classic and well-crafted cocktails, there were only a few bartenders who took bartending as a serious epicurean pursuit.  Paul Harrington was one among their elite ranks and his eponymous drink has remained my favorite vodka cocktail since my first sip.  The Harrington uses vodka’s neutrality to lengthen and soften the intense herbal bite of green Chartreuse while also taming the sweetness and potentially cloying orange flavor of Cointreau.  It’s a really delicious drink and a really clever way to turn vodka’s greatest weakness—its neutrality—into a great strength.

The Harrington
  • 2 oz.  Vodka
  • 1.5 teaspoons Cointreau
  • .75 teaspoons Green Chartreuse

Stir over ice for 45 seconds then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish with a flamed orange peel.

About our Bartender – Michael Bowers is the Head Bartender at the Modern Hotel and Bar in Boise, Idaho.  His patrons know him for the uncanny precision with which he tends his bar.  Michael’s cocktails have been noted by, among others, Food and Wine, Sunset Magazine, and the New York Times.  See more in The Drink archive.