Filby Cocktail

Darcy O'Neil :: March 9, 2009 10:07 PM

How do you get a cocktail virgin to cast away their chastity belt and jump into the realm of great cocktails? That's the question this edition of Mixology Monday is trying to answer. There isn't one single answer, but I'm of the opinion that you sometimes need to throw people into the breach. A well made cocktail can be appreciated by those that have little, or no, experience with cocktails. If you go really easy on them, they may just stop at the basic level and never move forward. Take the opportunity, when they are open to suggestion, and give them something challenging. The trick is to make sure the cocktail is good enough to pleased, but not so over-the-top that it offends.

When I was a young child (10 years old or so) I would take my weekly "allowance", from my Dad, and go to the corner store and buy something sweet. Usually, I'd stick with the classics like a Coffee Crisp, Crispy Crunch or Sweet Marie (Canadian thing) chocolate bar, but occasionally I'd get adventurous and pick something new. Once I picked up an Eat-More (another Canadian treat) since it had similar packaging to the Sweet Marie, and with that type of branding, "eat more", how could one resist.

Well, the first clue was when the lady at the counter asked if I was sure I wanted that "one". I said yes, assertively, because I wanted to try something new. Well, my young palate wasn't quite ready for the dark chocolate, chewy toffee and peanuts. It wasn't as sweet as I was hoping, and I remember, after two bites, casting it away. But, that moment of  taste led me on a life long appreciation of the less sweet, more savoury flavours. You see, a few years later, I had a spontaneous craving for an Eat-More, and from then on it's been one of my favourites.

There are some retards on the Internet (ok, many) that don't like my childhood treats. For the most part, many Canadians don't believe that 99% sugar is a selling point, so a lot of our confections are less sweet, slightly salty (Crispy Crunch, Eat-More and Crunchie anyone?) and even with slight bitter elements (Eat-More for sure). But still, I do call an Eat-More "tar and peanuts" and they really are pretty good, if your mind is open.

What the hell is my point? Well, my point is that if you are dealing with a cocktail neophyte, giving that person something memorable, but not overbearing, might leave an impression that could change them. It's kind of like that episode of Star Trek NG, where they capture that Borg thing, and made it their pet / friend, and then sent it back in the hopes that it might make all the Borg things friendly. Yes, I watched Star Trek, but I'm still a Star Wars loyalist, and for all you haters: screw you

Anyway, my point being; just because they are new doesn't mean you need to treat them with "kid gloves". Give them something to talk about, without making them barf.

All good cocktails are balanced, complex and make you think about them. Hence, the Filby Cocktail. This is a cocktail that encompassed all the things that are good in a cocktail. It was created by Peter Brennan, a bartender from England, and won a Paris bartending competition in 1978. The name of 'The Filby' was Peter's way of honouring a great supporter of the United Kingdom Bartenders Guild and of the IBA, Bob Filby, then the Export Director and later Managing Director of Gordons Gin.

Filby Cocktail

1¼ oz Gin (London Dry) 
½ oz Amaretto Liqueur 
½ oz Dry Vermouth
¼ oz Campari

Instructions: Combine all ingredients in a shaker glass with ice and stir until well chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass. Express the oils of a large orange zest, igniting it if you have pyromaniac tendencies. Rub the zest around the rim and plunk it in the drink.


Some may say this is an odd combination, but not really, if you look closely. Some gin's have almond as a flavouring (Sapphire), which would work well with the amaretto. Campari, a pleasantly bitter aperitif / digestif, has a strong orange component, that has been shown to work well with gin, a la Negroni. And of course vermouth is a herbal mixture that works well with both Campari and gin.

The drink is as complex as it looks. The flavours all work very well together, and the orange flavour is present, but almost ethereal in nature. The almond flavour isn't very forward and compliments extremely well, and also provides the sweetness to balance the drink. The Campari gives it the nice subtle, bitter finish. This isn't something that's going to scare away the rookies.

The nice thing about the Filby cocktail is that if you prescribe it to the neophyte correctly, you can convince them that it is a "standard" drink. Just utter the words "oh, it has amaretto in it, you know that sweet almond liqueur", and voila, your cocktail coward has lowered their shields. Now just remove the Amaretto and you are basically a colour change from a Negroni.

The original recipes, for the Filby, is correct on this page. There has been some modification, over time, and I suspect the red hands of the Campari company are at work. Most recipes found on the internet increase the amaretto to ¾ of an ounce and the Campari to ½ an ounce. This seems to have been propagated by Campari, with the intent of increasing the sale of their liqueur. Obviously, using only a ¼ ounce at a time is bad for sales, but making it ½ can move inventory quicker. However, this may have killed the cocktail by making it more bitter, just before the sugar laden '80's rolled in.

Anyway, this is a great drink that really should get more attention. Also, if Peter Brennan is out there, good job sir! (Note: I was informed that Peter Brennan passed away in 2005) Now head on over to LUPEC Boston to see what others are doing to convert the sugar washed masses to great cocktails.

filby cocktail

* In some instances people have called the Filby a Flipper cocktail. I suspect that is wrong based on the recipes I've looked at for the Flipper.

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