Ever heard of the Milano cocktail? Blame James Bond.
If political parties could mix as well as these two liqueurs from two different cities in Italy, utopia would probably have been achieved by now. Equal parts Cinzano sweet vermouth from Milan and Campari from Turin, the bittersweet cocktail was originally the Milano-Torino (Mi-To for short—apparently, we’re not the first generation to communicate in acronyms, after all).
According to legend, it was invented in Milan at the fashionable Caffee Camparino— owned by Campari founder Gaspare Campari—in the 1860s. And like many bitter liqueurs, it was served before dinner on ice with an orange or lemon wedge. And this is what spawned all those other bright red cocktails we love, according to vermouth expert and bartender Giuseppe Gallo. It’s “the king of aperitivo cocktails,” he said during a Milano-Torino cocktail demo on chef Jamie Oliver’s show.
Speaking of classic Italian liqueur cocktails, such as a Spritz or a Negroni, this is why you’ve probably never heard of the Milano before. Rare is the occasion you’ll see it on a cocktail menu. Now and then, you’ll see a version of the Milano on an Italian bitter-centric cocktail menu, such as Ponte, chef Scott Conant’s new Italian restaurant in Los Angeles.
In the world of elaborate cocktails with a plethora of ingredients, maybe the Mi-To was just too simple and never had a revival like the others. Or James Bond could be the culprit of squashing its modern-day existence.
You see, when Prohibition happened, many U.S. citizens fled. And for those who like to drink, what better place to land than Italy? Apparently, Americans began requesting the trendy Milano-Torino to be topped off with soda water. Was the strange, pucker-inducing elixir too strong for the American palate? Most likely, yes. Thus, the Italians started calling the soda version an “Americano.” That’s Amore, all right.
And the Americano was further cemented in U.S. cocktail history when it became the very first drink James Bond ever ordered in Casino Royale, the first novel of the series.
This passage, from Ian Fleming, illuminates how to drink in a French cafe—that is, if you’re an international spy:
“James Bond had his first drink of the evening at Fouquet’s. It was not a solid drink. One cannot drink seriously in French cafés. Out of doors on a pavement in the sun is no place for vodka or whisky or gin. A fine a l’eau is fairly serious, but it intoxicates without tasting very good. A quart de champagne or a champagne à l’orange is all right before luncheon, but in the evening, one quart leads to another quart, and a bottle of indifferent champagne is a bad foundation for the night. Pernod is possible, but it should be drunk in company, and anyway, Bond had never liked the stuff because its licorice taste reminded him of his childhood. No, in cafés, you have to drink the least offensive of the musical comedy drinks that go with them, and Bond always had the same thing–an Americano–Bitter Campari, Cinzano, a large slice of lemon peel and soda. For the soda, he always specified Perrier, for in his opinion expensive soda water was the cheapest way to improve a poor drink.”
Even if the Milano-Torino or its American kin aren’t the most serious drinks, they are satisfying—even if you have to go catch the bad guy afterward.
Try one out for yourself with this recipe.
Milano Torino Cocktail
- 2 oz. Campari
- 2 oz. Sweet Vermouth
- Orange slice (for garnish)
Preparation: Pour ingredients into an ice-filled glass, stir, and garnish.