Behind Bars

Cocktail in Profile: The Foreign National Cocktail

Extra-tart orange juice gives a culinary twist to Foreign National's namesake.

By Stefan Milne August 30, 2016

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Photo via Foreign National's Twitter. 

Like a retired set from a David Lynch movie, Foreign National’s disco den decor conjures images of baroquely absurd beverages—lurid neon things with lipstick-smudged cigarette butts stubbed out in their puddling ice. But manager Adam Fortuna’s aim is to create a cocktail list more subtle and restrained than the room's coked-out ‘70s opulence: “simple elegant drinks with a fun little culinary twist.” Thus the four-ingredient Foreign National Cocktail—a namesake drink that will forever rule over the cocktail list here: “It will never leave the menu. Never.”

He mixes pisco, “essentially an unaged brandy,” with amaro Montenegro, honey, and—for that “fun little culinary twist”—Valencia orange juice zinged with citric and malic acid so that it reaches the acidity of lime juice. 

Eric Johnson, chef/owner of Foreign National and neighboring Stateside, came up with the pucker-inducing mixer when Foreign National was still in the planning stages. He brought it to Fortuna, who was tending bar at Stateside: “He was like what can we do with this for next door?”

Fortuna had been wanting to do a play on a Pisco sour or a Pisco punch, and he’d also been wanting to do an intensely floral cocktail that wasn’t “perfumey or soapy. I know people who were using lavender bitters for the longest time and to me it’s the most offensively foul thing if it’s overused.”

So when Johnson brought him the sour orange juice, he picked Machu Pisco—“it’s softer in style and very floral”—some bergamot and neroli essential oils, and the other components, and made a tester almost serendipitously correct. “It was a first try cocktail. We’ve never adjusted the proportions, we’ve never changed the recipe. Every other drink we’ve made 3000 times before we got it right.”

They ran through some names, but decided that ambitious cocktail bars have a signature, and this drink spoke both to the bar’s aims and what people want to drink: “We want to be really approachable. We have Miller Highlife. We have Jager. But we want to take the cocktail scene to a level I think only Canon is doing, using interesting ingredients, utilizing Chef. I feel like the most common call for a drink is like, I want something refreshing and sour but not too sweet, and, at least in my case, I want to drink like 20 of these every time I make it.”

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