When we speak of Italian cuisine, the words 'tradition,' 'history' and 'culture' come to mind, where recipes can take the form of stories passed down from one generation to the next. Reviving and perfecting these oft-forgotten classic cocktail recipes that feature only the best local and seasonal ingredients is the cornerstone philosophy at Les Rouges in Genoa, the coastal capital of Liguria.
A sprawling port city that was once Italy's most vital trade center during the 12th and 13th centuries, Genoa remains, to this day, an anchor of the country's economy. From its rolling hills to the city's labyrinth of narrow alleyways or caruggi, Genoa's true beauty lies in its hidden splendor, as Renaissance palazzi and other historical treasures reveal themselves to the patient wanderer. Housed within the 16th century Palazzo Gio Vincenzo Imperiale is Les Rouges, a gem of a bar that has become a destination spot for travelers who come from all over the world to sip their cocktails beneath the magnificent fresco ceiling of this palatial setting.
Genoa, for all its grit and bespoke charm, breeds a certain type of Genoese and a uniquely Italian brand of campanilisimo, which translates as the ardent devotion that one has to his own city and its local customs and traditions. I spoke with Les Rouges bartender Matteo Rebuffo during his residency in London at The Dorchester Hotel's China Tang, where he has been furthering his tricks of the trade before returning home to Genoa this fall.
Gin - Lemon - Sencha Tea - Rhubarb - Ginger
Beefeater 24 Gin + Rabarbaro Zucca (Rhubarb Pumpkin)
Matteo presented "Beef & Pumpkin" at the Italian finals of the Beefeater MIXLDN Bartender Competition for 2014. The name is a play on words in an affectionate nod to Ettore Zucca, maker of the traditional Italian amaro, Rabarbaro Zucca. Inspired by Japanese sencha tea as one of the 12 botanical ingredients used in the distillation process of Beefeater 24 Dry Gin, Matteo created his own sencha syrup to pair with the juice of freshly squeezed lemons and the bittersweet Rabarbaro Zucca, which he then tops up with the J. Gasco brand of ginger beer.
Rabarbaro Zucca is made from an infusion of rhubarb, its primary ingredient, with hints of cardamom, citrus zest and vanilla to achieve its sweet, slightly smokey, earthy balance. This inherently complex base is a lovely complement to the high floral notes of Beefeater 24, which are derived from Angelica root and seed, coriander seed, liquorice root, almond, orris root, lemon peel, Seville orange peel, grapefruit peel, Chinese green tea and Japanese sencha tea.
"Beef & Pumpkin" Cocktail Recipe
- 50ml Beefeater 24 Dry Gin
- 15ml Rabarbaro Zucca
- 20ml Sencha Tea Syrup
- Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice
- J. Gasco Italian Ginger Beer
Sencha Tea Syrup
- 50g Sencha Tea Leaves
- 500g Granulated Sugar
- 500ml Hot Water (80ºC/176ºF)
To prepare sencha tea syrup, begin by pouring boiling water into your tea pot to warm the vessel, and then discard the water. Add the tea leaves, granulated sugar and 80ºC hot water and steep for proper infusion. After ten minutes, strain the sencha to prevent over-extraction. This recipe makes extra syrup, which can be stored for future use.
Using a cocktail shaker, combine Beefeater 24 Dry Gin, Rabarbaro Zucca and sencha tea syrup with a squeeze of lemon. Strain this mixture over ice into a highball glass and top up with J. Gasco ginger beer.