What Are Reverse Cocktails?

When it comes to long sessions, these low-ABV sippers have it made

Long summer days means one thing for seasoned drinkers: lower ABVs. To ensure we're still sampling some of the best spirits under the sun without getting too liquored up, it's all about the reverse cocktail—classics that carry the same ingredients we know and love (and are likely to have in stock and at the ready), just measured in inverse proportions.

It's what Max Green, head bartender at NYC's Amor y Amargo, relies on in summer. "When the sun is beating down on you, alcohol can take more of a toll on hydration," he says. "Drinks that pack a little more juice or dilution can provide more hydration in higher temps—and that's what we want."

Take, for example, the reverse Manhattan—a rendition of the tried-and-true tipple that calls for two ounces of vermouth, one ounce of rye and four dashes of Angostura bitters. "The Manhattan is one of our oldest classics, and we have a deep understanding of it, which makes flipping the ratios easy," Green says. "The spice level you find in a traditional Manhattan is going to drop with this version, and instead you can expect some botanical and vegetal notes from the vermouth."

According to Green, vermouth is everything when it comes to balance. "It's important to go with vermouths that have bitter notes and that are a bit denser, like Carpano Antica," he says. "The bitters will reduce the perception of sweetness on our palate, resulting in drinks that are brighter, fruit forward and floral." 

From a dialed-back daiquiri to an afternoon-worthy Americano spin-off, here are four reverse riffs Green suggests trying before the sun sets on summer.

① "Limeade" Daiquiri

Combine one ounce of white rum, a half ounce of rich simple syrup, one and a half ounces of lime juice, and plenty of ice. Shake vigorously to chill, dilute and aerate. Double-strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

② Reverse Martini

Pour two ounces of Dolin dry vermouth, one ounce of Plymouth Gin and two dashes of orange bitters into a mixing glass. Stir with ice and strain into a coupe. Twist a lemon over the drink before dropping it in as garnish.

③ Reverse Manhattan

Combine two ounces of Carpano Antica, one ounce of Rittenhouse Rye and four dashes of Angostura bitters in a mixing glass, and stir with plenty of ice. Strain into a rocks glass, fill with fresh ice and garnish with a cherry. Pro tip: If you can't bear to do a full-on reversal, a Manhattan on the rocks will dilute the cocktail so it's ripe for day drinking.

④ The Buck Wild

Combine a quarter ounce of Fernet-Branca, a half ounce of Maurin Quina, a half ounce of Carpano Antica, one ounce of Carpano Bianco and two dashes of 18.21 tart cherry and saffron bitters in a highball glass. Top with soda and an orange twist. A note from Green: "This Americano variation reminds me of bitter cherry soda—it's definitely a patio pounder."

Nicole Schnitzler is a Chicago-based freelance writer who covers travel, food, and drink. Follow her on Twitter at @write_to_eat.