Around the time of Kentucky Derby 2.0 (the actual running of the horses in September), my husband, Les, challenged me to create a Halloween cocktail and call it Rosemary’s Baby, after the 1968 Roman Polanski film that is, frankly, the most terrifying psychological thriller I’ve ever seen. Les’s suggestion was inspired by the rosemary old-fashioned I’d made for the Derby, and this weirdly addictive mezcal-based cocktail, infused and decorated with rosemary, is my response.
Mezcal (which I incorrectly assumed was just cheap tequila) is produced from agave hearts that have been roasted and fermented underground in clay ovens. Most mezcal is produced in Oaxaca, in the far southern region of Mexico and some brands are quite sophisticated (and pricey). By local tradition, mezcal would be consumed straight and savored for its unique smoky funk and flavor. But in the U.S., it has seen resurgence in craft cocktails, especially as a substitute for other more “common” spirits, replacing bourbon in old fashioned drinks and gin in negronis.
My spooky libation is a version of the latter, and it is not for the faint of heart. A classic negroni is already an “acquired” taste, with the standard equal parts gin, Campari and sweet vermouth. Here, I’ve subbed in mezcal for the gin to replicate the fiery, smoky depths of hell that poor Rosemary must have gone through when her selfish husband sacrificed his soul—and her womb—to the devil. Worst husband ever.
Predictably, the mezcal is smoking up the glass, big time, and the Campari is lending its usual herbal bitterness. Sweet vermouth is keeping it in the Negroni family, and spicy chile syrup surprises you with just enough heat. With a habanero sugar rim, this drink (like that poor little demon baby) is trying to be sweet, but can’t quite linger there because of the intensity of what lurks underneath.
Remember the chilling scene at the end of the movie where Mia Farrow’s character is assured by the creepy devil-worshipping neighbors that her newborn son “has his father’s eyes?” I’m betting he had smoke in them.
1 oz. mezcal
1 oz. sweet (red) vermouth
1 oz. Campari
a few rosemary leaves for muddling
1 Tbsp. three chiles syrup (available online, but I found it in the mixers section at Total Wine)
Garnish with habanero sugar rim* and smoked rosemary sprig
To rim the glass, wet the outer edge of the rim with a lime slice, then roll the outside of the glass into habanero sugar sprinkled on a paper towel. Do this a few minutes ahead to allow time for the sugar rim to harden and set. This embellishment brought quite a bit of additional heat to the drink. If you prefer, skip it or substitute a fine sea salt rim as a tribute to Rosemary’s salty tears.
In a cocktail shaker or mixing glass, muddle the rosemary leaves with a small amount of the campari. Add remaining campari, mezcal, vermouth and simple syrup. Add ice and shake or stir vigorously until the outside of the container is frosty. Strain over a large ice cube into the prepared sugar-rimmed glass. Scorch the rosemary sprig until leaves begin to burn, then drop the sprig into the glass. The smoke will linger as the flame dies away.