Waking the Dead With a Spicy Cocktail at Leña
La Recoleta at Leña.
Some of Argentina’s most distinguished bones lay buried in La Recoleta cemetery: A slew of the country’s past presidents, famous filmmakers, Nobel Prize winners and poets all rest in this plot of land located just outside Buenos Aires. Former Argentine first lady Eva Peron is among them too, in a place that, in 2011, CNN named one of the ten most beautiful cemeteries in the world. The peacefulness of this cemetery intrigued Jen Mattioni, who was in the process of looking for a name for her newest winter cocktail now on the menu at Leña.
“It’s very beautiful, super peaceful, very old-world,” Mattioni says of the cemetery. Giving the cocktail the same name as La Recolata “evokes the quietness, the eerieness and the danger,” she adds. And that’s exactly what she had in mind when she created the recipe. The name fit the idea behind the drink: something calming and soothing, yet still a thing of beauty. Mattioni combined whiskey, Campari, Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, Ancho Reyes chile liqueur, Fernet Branca and a spiced pear liqueur to make La Recoleta.
Yet the cocktail, named after a resting place for the dead, has itself only just been born. It debuted on Leña’s cocktail menu on Friday, after undergoing a four-week aging process in a small oak barrel. “I tried it every week to see where it was,” Mattioni says. “After four weeks, I decided that it had smoothness and complexity, while still retaining the original flavors that I wanted.” The cocktail is already one of the top sellers in the restaurant, she says.
Jen Mattioni, making La Recoleta, at Leña.
Mattioni loves whiskey. “I really wanted to put a whiskey drink on the menu,” she says. For that, she turned to James Oliver American Whiskey, produced by Indio Spirits distillery in Portland, Oregon. “It’s a little bit smoother, a little bit more mellow than bourbon,” she explains.
Originally, Mattioni wanted to put a version of a Boulevardier on the menu. She likes to twist that traditional recipe of bourbon, Campari and sweet vermouth, by using Fernet Branca in place of the vermouth. So, she had her bourbon and Fernet. “I started to think of what other fun stuff is out there,” she recalls.
“I tried to kind of bridge that European-Latin gap,” Mattioni explains, “and just make a drink that could speak to people and what they’re drawn to.” She opted for Campari, and sweet vermouth, both from Italy, but added a newer spirit called Ancho Reyes, a liqueur based on a spirit from the Puebla region in southwestern Mexico. Ancho chile peppers from that area of the country are harvested, dried in the sun, then immersed in neutral cane spirit for six months. Dried anchos aren’t has hot as jalapenos, but they are very smoky and spicy.
The chile flavor blends well with a spiced pear liqueur made by St. George Spirits distillery, just outside of San Francisco. “I love everything St. George does,” Mattioni says. “The spiced pear liqueur is great for the wintertime with all this snow. I wanted something that was super warming and drinkable.”
The pear liqueur adds notes of baked pears and cinnamon. The pear and chile liqueurs are both spicy and a little sweet, but have different flavors. “I think they contrast and really balance out the cocktail,” Mattioni says.
Mattioni recommends pairing La Recoleta with Leña’s pork chop ($17), which is brined with brown sugar and apple cider vinegar and served with grilled tomatoes and chimichurri. The dish “has a salty, sweet spice that I think would play really well with the sweetness and the spiciness in the drink,” she says.
Mattioni designed the recipe to appeal to a cross-section of drinkers. “I wanted something that cocktail drinkers are definitely going to gravitate towards,” she says. “A lot of people go out and want to have just one really good cocktail and that’s it.”
La Recoleta is selling well, despite being only on the menu for a few days. If that keeps up, the cocktail named after a cemetery might have a long way to go before it dies.
“This is a hefty cocktail,” Mattioni says, “and if you have too many, you could wake up feeling a little dead the next day.”
1 ounce barrel-aged bourbon whiskey
1 ounce St. George Distillery spiced pear liqueur
.75 ounce Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
.25 ounce Fernet Branca
.25 ounce Campari
.25 ounce Ancho Reyes
Pour all ingredients into a mixing glass over ice, and stir. Strain into a double-Old Fashioned glass over fresh ice and garnish with an orange peel.