Thank you, Al Capone. Fortunately for me, one of your worst decisions has resulted in one of the best ones I've made in recent months: ordering the Weeping Cherry from -- wait for it, wait for it … -- Bad Decisions in Fells Point.
Turns out good ol' Scarface came to Baltimore in 1939 with a nasty case of syphilis. Treated at Union Memorial, the infamous gangster was so thankful that he donated two Japanese Weeping Cherry trees to the hospital.
But this isn't just a cocktail about chasing tail. In between acquiring STDs and being all gangster, Big Al enjoyed the fruits of his Prohibition labors with a glass of bootlegged Templeton Rye. Templeton was a speakeasy favorite in Chicago, Omaha, and Kansas City during the Volstead years.
Today, the brand is sold legally — and still based on the Prohibition-era mash originally distilled by Iowa farmers. What Capone loved about it then is what Bad Decisions bartender Amie Ward loves about it now. "It's good enough to sip by itself," she said. And what makes it so extraordinary to use in cocktails, according to owner John Reusing, is in the quality. "In order for whiskey to be called rye, the mash bill only needs to be 51 percent rye. Templeton is 90 percent," he said.
Both Capone stories inspired Ward to create the Weeping Cherry, a sweetened spin on the Manhattan. It's a stiff drink, but, she said, "not too boozy that a whiskey novice won't enjoy it." The cocktail plays off its classic predecessor by replacing dry vermouth with Ferreira white port, a dessert wine with a comparably dry finish. Ward's replacement of the sweet vermouth is even more creative: she uses Dancing Pines Cherry Tart liqueur, a delicious little concoction that reminds me of drunken cherry pie filling.
A final dash of orange bitters ties the drink down to its Manhattan roots. But you can't forget the maraschino cherry — normally a garnish that functions mainly for aesthetics — that uniquely rounds out the drink. Ward rolls the fruit in malic acid ( "I'm making a cherry Warhead basically," she said) then splits it over the edge of the martini glass. I recommend you flick the soured cherry into your drink before imbibing — it amplifies the smooth flavor of the Templeton and contrasts the sweetness of the Dancing Pines.
The Weeping Cherry is a seasonally spirited cocktail: rich, warm, and punchy. It's also a drink with balls. I mean, you've got to have them in order make syphilis seem appetizing, right? Only in Baltimore. Only at Bad Decisions.
How to Make the Weeping Cherry
1 1/4 ounces Templeton Rye
1 1/4 ounces Dancing Pines Cherry Tart liqueur
1 ounce Ferreira white port
Dash orange citrate bitters
Served up and garnished with a maraschino cherry rolled in malic acid
Where To Get the Weeping Cherry
1928 Fleet St., Fells Point