Did Jackie O’s Secret Service Guy Create This Summer’s Best Cocktail in 1962?
Never mind the Aperol Spritz, here's the Clint
Since it’s not even officially summer and we’ve already hit peak Aperol Spritz backlash, maybe it’s time to start looking for a cocktail you can drink without starting a conversation over whether what you’re enjoying is “canceled” or not.
If you are one of those people who lets the news tell you whether something is over or not and want a refreshing-but-bitter go to drink this summer, we’d like to introduce you to the Clint, possibly your new drink for aperitivo hour — or not.
According to David Netto at Town & Country, the drink, “has a shot at becoming the big summer drink of 2019, in the footsteps of the now ubiquitous Aperol Spritz.” It sounds crazy, but maybe, just maybe, Netto is on to something.
The cocktail’s origin story, as Netto tells it, has a Camelot twist. Clint Hill, the Secret Service agent tasked with keeping first lady Jacqueline Kennedy safe, accompanied Jackie O on a trip to the Amalfi Coast in 1962. It was while on “the only boat in the world with wine-red sails,” owned by Fiat scion (and then-future president of the company) Gianni Agnelli, that Hill tried a Negroni for the first time.
Since gin isn’t really for everybody, the agent decided to try and modify the cocktail and, “fifty-seven and a few adjustments later,” Netto writes, he arrived at his perfect version: the Clint. Two shots of Campari, one shot of vodka, a slice of orange and some soda water in a tall glass with ice.
I am, if anything, a huge Negroni fan. I also felt like the New York Times article questioning the validity of the Aperol Spritz — a cocktail that seems to get the “drink of the summer” tag applied to it every year — was sort of a grab for traffic with its Twitter debate-ready headline, “The Aperol Spritz Is Not a Good Drink.” The logic behind the piece was solid enough, that the prosecco used in the drink is usually low-quality and that the cocktail, as writer Rebekah Peppler points out, can sometimes taste like “a Capri Sun after soccer practice on a hot day.”
I’m not here to defend the drink. I like a nice Aperol Spritz just fine, the same way I do a French 75 or any other drink with a little effervescence. If somebody hands me one before a meal or at the start of a party, I’ll happily say yes. But it did have me thinking whether there is room for a new hot drink for hot days, and if something as simple as the Clint (what a terrible but also awesome name), with its Camelot backstory, could be that drink.
It might sound silly, but what we drink is based so much on story: the stories of the people who started distilling the whiskey, the rum producer’s family lineage and even the personal stories we associate with certain wines, beers, spirits and cocktails. If Bacardi can sell us on the brand’s association with the Cuba Libre, Campari could probably do the same on a drink connected to the most storied White House family ever. That plus the drink sounds refreshing and basic enough, and is also a nice change for somebody who might not want the taste of juniper lingering in the mouth.
But could it really be in the running for drink of the summer? Vodka has sort of been overlooked in recent years as gin, rum and mezcal all started popping up on more summer cocktail menus; could the Clint change that?
A nicer description than mine, I’ll admit. I said the Clint sounds like a Negroni without a soul when I first read about it.
“There are proper Negroni variations,” Parson points out. “Many argue it must have Campari to even be eligible, but whether you swap out another red bitter or try any of the many sweet vermouths, swapping the base spirit is common (whiskey in a Boulevardier, mezcal in a Mezcal Negroni — that’s a bit more contemporary).”
It might sound silly, but what we drink is based so much on story.
Still, when I ended up at my local bar and tried ordering a Clint, the bartender, of course, asked me how to make it. As far as I can tell, there’s no mention of Hill’s drink in any cocktail books. When I told him the specifications, he eyeballed me and asked if I meant I wanted gin and not the Stoli I asked for. I told him no, I definitely wanted vodka.
“That’s…” he paused. “Weird.”
Interesting. I asked why
He thought for a second, and then told me, “People don’t really order vodka that much these days. Never with Campari. I’ve never heard that.”
I asked if people order Aperol Spritzes in the bar that was pretty much all people drinking cans of Mikkeller pilsner, Manhattans or the ubiquitous glasses of inexpensive Chardonnay ordered as simply “white wine.”
“Over the last two years, once May 1 hits, yeah. People order the hell out of those things.”
I could tell the guy had work to do, so I asked him one more question as I ordered my second Clint.
“Do you think this drink could catch on?”
“Anything is possible,” he said as he poured my second drink.
Maybe not the strongest endorsement for the Clint, but I’ll be honest and admit that I’m not the biggest vodka fan. I am pretty sure that my Eastern European-born grandparents rubbed it on my gums to put me to sleep when I was a baby, and I’ve just hated the stuff ever since. But I’d be lying if I didn’t cop to finding the cocktail easy to enjoy. I’m not really searching for a replacement for the Aperol Spritz since I find them to be … nice (for lack of a better word), but maybe the Clint could find its footing in the U.S.
“Campari is being pushed hard,” resident InsideHook drink expert Kirk Miller says. “It also helps that it makes vodka acceptable.”
That is sort of the key. Vodka is the spirit so many of us leave behind when we start realizing there’s really good rum and whiskey, tequila and other spirits. Vodka almost always tastes like something you can put in your lawnmower to make it run.
Even though Miller admits his version of a perfect July or August cocktail is a whiskey on the rocks, he also believes there is definitely room for more than one defining cocktail of summertime.
“Summer cocktails can be made from anything,” he says. “They tend to be lighter, a lot of them have either bitter or wine components, and they’re (to use a beer term) sessionable.”
So go ahead and keep on ordering Aperol Spritzes if you want. Order a Beam on the rocks or maybe, if you’re looking for something easy with a cool story, give the Clint a try.