In his book 3 Ingredient Cocktails, Robert Simonson briefly delves into the backstory behind his excellent Fair Harvard cocktail. To avoid tragedy in an all-white gallery, he spun up a crisp, clear riff on the classic he originally had in mind: the Harvard, which coyly honored the ivy school affiliation of the lecturer being celebrated. While the traditional Harvard has brandy and sweet vermouth, the “fair” version is a mix of pisco, bianco vermouth & orange bitters. The combination yields a drink that’s light—but with a classic feel—not unlike a Martini or Alaska. This recipe is a true “twist”, as it takes something very familiar, then turns it on its nose.
The Fair Harvard is a great opportunity to experience pisco, which can often be hard to work with but really sparkles here. The nose is full of fruity grape as well as nutty notes from the combination of pisco and vermouth. The sip delivers more pisco followed by a smooth, watery wash on the front of the tongue similar to what you would get from a martini. The finish is dry and mellow, though this might depend on how strictly you follow the original recipe. If you use the requested bianco vermouth, which is a touch sweeter than dry vermouth, the result will be smoother than if you use the more common dry vermouth. You can use dry vermouth and it’s ok— but it delivers a quality more like its classic relatives. Choose your pisco with care, as many are fairly acidic and difficult to mix with—we use Capurro Quebranta Pisco, which contained floral qualities that worked well here.