The Old Pal cocktail is a three ingredient cocktail that’s sleek and sippable, balancing bitter and sweet with fiery whiskey.
Here’s a crisp, punchy three-ingredient red drink that’s sleek and sippable: the Old Pal cocktail! It’s complex and spirit-forward, a unique whiskey cocktail if you love dry cocktails like a Negroni or a Manhattan. The Old Pal pairs bitter Campari with dry vermouth and fiery rye whiskey into a drink that’s dry, bitter and spicy all at once. Here’s how to make it!
What’s an Old Pal cocktail?
Some might say the Old Pal is a variation on a Negroni, but it’s actually closest to the Boulevardier. Both are classic cocktails invented in the 1920s, and included on the list of International Bartender Association’s IBA official cocktails. The Negroni is equal parts gin, sweet red vermouth and Campari, and the Boulevardier is equal parts whiskey, sweet red vermouth and Campari.
The Old Pal takes the Boulevardier and swaps sweet vermouth for dry vermouth. That also makes it a Negroni with whiskey instead of gin and dry vermouth instead of sweet. (Got that?) It was invented in the 1920’s by a famous bartender (Harry MacElhone of Harry’s Bar in Paris) for his “old pal”, a journalist friend. Here’s what’s in the Old Pal cocktail:
- Rye or bourbon whiskey*
- Dry vermouth
*It’s most traditional with rye whiskey, but it’s also great with the sweetness of bourbon whiskey.
How to make an Old Pal cocktail (basic steps)
The Old Pal cocktail is a three-ingredient drink that’s so easy to make! You don’t even need a cocktail shaker. It’s a classic stirred cocktail which you can stir together in a cocktail mixing glass, or any glass you have on hand. Here are the basic steps to make it (or go to the recipe below):
- Mix. Place all ingredients in a mixing glass with 1 handful of ice and stir for 30 seconds. This chills the cocktail and dilutes it less than shaking in a cocktail shaker would.
- Strain and serve. Strain into a cocktail glass filled with ice.
Dry vermouth vs sweet vermouth
Vermouth is a fortified wine, meaning liquor has been added to stabilize it. It lasts about 3 months in the refrigerator, so make sure to store it chilled. There are two main types of vermouth: sweet and dry. What’s the difference:
- Sweet vermouth is usually red. The flavor is subtly sweet and spicy, with a hit of bitter on the back end. Sweet vermouth is used in many classic cocktails: most famously the Manhattan, Negroni and the Americano.
- Dry vermouth is usually white. The flavor is crisp and clear, dry with a light tang. Dry white vermouth is used in martinis, like the Classic Martini, Dirty Martini and Cucumber Martini. Here are all our favorite Vermouth Cocktails to use up a bottle!
More about Campari
While the jewel-toned red color looks like it could be sweet, Campari is an Italian bitter. It’s what makes a Negroni a Negroni, and is used in lots of other cocktails (see below). It’s infused with different herbs and fruits, so it has a complex flavor: bitter, fruity and spicy all at once! The flavor is very distinctive: you either love it or you hate it! Grab a bottle for this Old Pal, and you can make a whole host of cocktails…
More related cocktails to the Old Pal
- Negroni and Boulevardier As we discussed, these three pals are cousin drinks. First cousins, for sure!
- Americano Cocktail This bubbly version of a negroni stars sweet vermouth, Campari and soda water.
- Mezcal Negroni Substitute mezcal for the gin in a Negroni and you’ve got a smoky version of the classic.
- Negroni Sbagliato This bubbly version of the Negroni swaps out the gin for champagne. Delightful!
- White Negroni: The bright yellow color and light floral flavor come from Lillet Blanc and Suze.
When to serve an Old Pal cocktail
The Old Pal cocktail is a sophisticated and complex classic cocktail, great for sipping! Try it as a:
- Happy hour drink
- Dinner party drink
- Late night drinks drink
- Guys or girls night drink
- Cocktail hour drink
The Old Pal cocktail is a three ingredient cocktail that’s sleek and sippable, balancing bitter, sweet, and dry with fiery whiskey.
- 1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) bourbon or rye whiskey
- 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) dry vermouth
- 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) Campari
- For the garnish: lemon peel
- Combine the whiskey, vermouth, and Campari in a cocktail mixing glass (or any other type of glass). Fill the mixing glass with 1 handful ice and stir continuously for 30 seconds.
- Strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon peel.
- Category: Drinks
- Method: Stirred
- Cuisine: Cocktails
Keywords: Old Pal Cocktail
About the Authors
Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.
Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.