Today I’m starting a new Wednesday series that will focus on some of my favorite minor characters from Shakespeare’s plays. First up, the apothecary from Romeo and Juliet. Why do I find this emaciated man with the bushy-eyebrows and tattered clothing to be so fascinating? For starters, he is absolutely crucial to the way in which the play tragically ends, so much so that many Shakespeare scholars consider him to be more of a plot action device than a real character. If you’re struggling to remember him, the apothecary is the pharmacist that Romeo visits in Mantua to procure the poison he will use to end his life. He has just learned the news of Juliet’s demise (even though she is not really dead) and he sinks into despair and desperation. He desires nothing more than to be with his beloved Juliet for all eternity, and the apothecary represents his only means of fulfilling that wish. I do happen to see him as a character and not just a device that moves the plot forward. And I think he is tragically desperate, much like Romeo, the difference being that the latter will do anything for love, and the former will do anything for money. Who among us has not felt both those inclinations (even if only for a moment) at some point in our lives? There is a symbiotic relationship between these two men. If the apothecary had not been rendered so completely desperate by poverty, then he would never agree to sell the illegal poison to Romeo that would cause his death. And if Romeo had not been equally devastated by love, then he would never have made such a desperate request of such a wretched and miserable man. Their actions cause us to ponder just how far we’d go to satisfy the emptiness or hunger we feel when we think that we’ve lost everything.
For today’s cocktail, I knew that I wanted to begin with something measured in equal parts. I toyed with the idea of doing a riff on a Last Word, but decided on a Negroni instead. I swapped out the regular gin for Bluecoat’s Barrel Finished, because such serious matters require a weighty gin that has spent time in a barrel pondering its own existence. From there I reached for my bottle of Suze to stand in for the Campari, both because of its wonderful bitterness and because I love how well it pairs with the Bluecoat. Finally, I decided on Amaro Montenegro as a substitute for the Negroni’s traditional vermouth because I was compelled to use something Italian in origin, and because I knew it would have enough sweetness to perfectly balance the other two ingredients. But I couldn’t stop there, could I? Picture an apothecary in a dusty old shop measuring out a tiny bit of this and a tiny bit of that until his potion was just right. There was no better way to perfectly bring this essence to the drink other than to use DRAM Apothecary bitters. I mean even the name is right. What I tried to do was to pair each of the drink’s spirits with a bitter that echoed its flavor. I went with Wild Mountain Sage to mirror the botanicals in the gin, Palo Santo to parallel the exotic sharpness of the Suze, and Black to capture the warm and comforting spice of the Montenegro. I was rather pleased with the way in which each of the bitters enhanced the cocktail’s flavor profile, while adding even more depth to a drink that already had quite a bit of complexity. Cheers to Romeo and his apothecary. May we never descend to the dark place that consumed them both.
Add all the ingredients to a mixing glass with ice and stir until cold, at least a minute and a half or so. Strain into an old-fashioned glass over one large cube. No garnish. Enjoy!