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How to Make the Gin, Aperol & Cucumber Cocktail

How to Make the Gin, Aperol & Cucumber Cocktail

The first time I read the recipe for an Archangel—gin, Aperol, and bruised cucumber—I thought it was mistranscribed. Whoever wrote that down must have forgotten an ingredient. 

Realizing they weren’t, my next thought was incredulity. You “bruise” the cucumber, do you? Cucumbers, as you already know, are all over the cocktail world. You can muddle them or infuse them or turn them into a syrup, but bruised? What kind of pretentious nonsense is this? It’s like someone telling you the best way to paint a portrait is with the tip of your nose, or the endless stream of social media torsos telling us that we’ve been taking showers wrong this whole time. The average cocktail consumer might be forgiven for being a little skeptical that there’s some new technique to massage flavor out of a cucumber that they absolutely must try.

Perhaps it’s worth considering the Archangel’s pedigree, however. Not only did it come out of Milk & Honey, the extraordinary speakeasy in New York’s Lower East Side, but it was invented by Michael McIlroy and Richard Boccatto, two of the more celebrated bartenders to have worked the bar. Maybe you give the drink the benefit of the doubt, because you’ll be happy you did. The Archangel is one of those cocktails that stops you mid-sentence. Whatever your brain was doing before your first sip of the Archangel, it’s not doing anymore after it hits your lips. It’s thinking about what you just tasted, and how it wants to taste it again.

To me, the Archangel is the quintessential Milk & Honey cocktail. First off, it’s simple: The bartenders at Milk & Honey, led by the legendary Sasha Petraske, had a gift for creating cocktails that were so foundational, you’d swear they were classics from 100 years ago (see: the Gold Rush and the Red Hook and about three dozen others). 

Also, and just as importantly, Milk & Honey cocktails use ingredients that everyone has access to. In the early days, there were distinct and definable East Coast and West Coast cocktail styles: While the West Coast, with their cheap sun and vast farmland, would be making Sazeracs with a tarragon and a peach white-balsamic gastrique, the East Coast was just using the basic backbar stuff. It was like a riddle: We’re all working with the same bottles, how are you going to make it new? 

If the above two principles are true of most Milk & Honey cocktails, what makes the Archangel so singular is that it’s bizarre. Muddled cucumbers (sorry, bruised) in a stirred-style drink? Find me another version of this. But in 2006, McIlroy and Boccatto were working the bar at Milk & Honey and somehow came up with this absolute banger. Even describing it is hard. What is it: a Martini but with Aperol? An Alaska with subbed out Yellow Chartreuse? A soft Negroni with cucumber instead of vermouth? 

It may be difficult to define, but fortunately, it’s easy to drink and easy to like. The experience of the Archangel is to first taste the round orangy sweetness of the Aperol, and then on your palate for the Aperol to begin to fade in intensity as the gin rises to dry it out, their transition seamless, like the colors of a sunset. 

As for the cucumbers—the cucumbers take on a floral role, a green ribbon of broad melon-y notes that weave their way through the entirety of the drink, enhancing and ascending and deepening it without ever stepping on its toes. If you had you just dropped the cucumbers in the drink, it would be too subtle. If you had muddled them, it would be too intense, and you’d get pulp all in the drink. The cucumbers, in an Archangel, must be bruised. It’s a new way to use it that you absolutely must try. Who knew?

Archangel

  • 2.25 oz. gin
  • 0.75 oz. Aperol
  • 2 slices of cucumber

Add all ingredients to a chilled mixing glass. With a muddler or some other blunt instrument, lightly muddle the cucumbers. Bruise them, if you will. You don’t want to turn it into a pulpy mess, but rather, to free up some of their essence to be mixed with the liquid. Then add ice and stir for 15ish seconds (for small ice) or 20 to 25 seconds (for big ice). Strain into a coupe or cocktail glass, using a second fine strainer, if you need to—you want it totally clear and free from floating cucumber bits. Express the oils of a lemon peel over the top of the drink and garnish the cocktail with the peel.

NOTES ON INGREDIENTS

Photo: courtesy Tanqueray

See Also

Gin: Another crazy thing about this drink: It’s good with literally every gin I tried it with, and I tried it with 10 different gins. It’s good across the board. It’s just a good drink.

That said, I obviously had some favorites. Tanqueray stood out as particularly pleasant, prickly with juniper and proof, bracing like a Martini should be and matching the flavors perfectly. Another standout was Hendrick’s, for obvious reasons—they always make such a big deal about how there’s cucumber in the gin, but for me, their rose-petal flavor is much stronger, which just happens to match with cucumbers beautifully. You’ll see Plymouth called for in a lot of recipes, which is indeed delicious, its lower proof and fuller bodied giving the cocktail rounder edges, though it really needed that lemon peel to compensate for its relative lack of intensity. And I have to say, I tried it on a lark, but the sarsaparilla and lavender notes of Aviation Gin was the dark horse here, absolutely wild flavors of wintergreen and root beer that somehow mixed with the Aperol and cucumber outrageously well. It’s too unusual to claim it’s the go-to gin for this, but if you have a bottle, try this out. It’s great.

Aperol: I tried Aperol with a couple of its competitors, and they were indeed delicious, but not as good as Aperol. If there’s some kind of shortage when you read this, the Select Aperitivo was my favorite of the substitutions, but you really should just use Aperol.



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