We’ll be mixing up the Poison Arrow cocktail on April 18 in honor of Lucrezia Borgia’s birthday. Whether she was a femme fatale or merely a pawn in power games is open to debate. It was pretty much a given that if you were a Borgia you would be living in a 15th or 16th century soap opera. So the famous beauty gained notoriety for the power struggles, political intrigue and suspicious deaths that swirled around her and her family.
Poisoning has been used as a political weapon since antiquity but was at its height at the time of the Borgias. They specialized in disposing of cardinals, bishops and nobles, and Lucrezia gained that reputation. Was it true? We don’t know, but it’s enough to make the Poison Arrow cocktail our Drink of the Day for her birthday.
The Borgia family, descendants of nobility in Spain, established roots in Italy and became prominent in political affairs. Alfonse de Borgia established the family’s influence and became Pope Calixtus III. His nephew, Rodrigo Borgia became a cardinal of the Roman Catholic church and later Pope Alexander VI. As cardinal and pope Rodrigo fathered a number of children by his mistress, Vannoza Catanei.
One of those children, born in 1480, was Lucrezia Borgia. Her father ensured she was heavily educated and fluent in multiple languages. That, of course, was to prepare her for advantageous marriage to any European monarch or prince.
And then the marriages started. First up was a matrimonial arrangement with the Lord of Val D’Ayora in the kingdom of Valencia. But that marriage was annulled less than 2 months later, when her father, then pope, wanted to be aligned with powerful Italian princes. A marriage was arranged with Giovanni Sforza, a member of the House of Sforza, but before long he no longer needed the Sforzas.
That marriage ended with a whole lot of backstabbing and intrigue, and she went on to marry Alfonso d’Aragon, the Prince of Salerno. That didn’t last long as he was dead two years later.
Sometimes the third time is the charm. Her last marriage to Alfonso d’Este, the Duke of Ferrara, lasted long enough for her to have eight children. She was deemed respectable and survived the fall of the Borgia’s following her father’s death.
Then again, living as part of nobility struggling for power did lead to some reputational questions. The Borgia name was synonymous with cruelty, corruption and intrigue, and Lucrezia was not spared. She gained the reputation of using cantarella, a version of arsenic.
Poison Arrow Cocktail
Modern historians don’t generally believe Lucrezia used poisons to kill. But we like to rely on the adage that when legend becomes fact print the legend. It’s always more entertaining, especially when it involves what may be Italy’s preeminent crime family. That’s enough to make the Poison Arrow cocktail Drink of the Day.
The Poison Arrow comes to us from Chea Beckley, the Beverage Director of Proof on Main in Louisville, KY. Being a three-part cocktail utilizing a base spirit and two modifiers we’re going to put it in the camp of Negroni variations. It’s quite similar to a Boulevardier, adding some bitters and substituting Bigallet China China for the Boulevardier’s sweet vermouth.
Bigallet China China, as you’ll recall, is a spirit we’ve used in drinks like the Hoskins, the Brooklyn and the Bulletproof Monk cocktails. It’s reminiscent of the classic ingredient Amer Picon that’s not longer available. It’s reminiscent of other amaros, but leans strongly toward orange flavors due to its copious use of sweet and bitter orange peels.
Poison Arrow Cocktail
- Old Fashioned Glass
- 1½ oz Bourbon
- ¾ oz Bigallet China China Torani Amer will work if you're out of Bigallet.
- ½ oz Campari
- 2 dash Orange bitters
- 1 dash Angostura bitters
- Garnish: Orange twist
- Add all ingredients to your trusty mixing glass.
- Add ice and stir to chill.
- Strain into Old Fashioned glass, preferably over a single, large cube.
- Express orange twist over drink and add to glass.
- Rinse and repeat.