For June 5 we’re going to talk about bananas and mix the Bananavardier cocktail. We understand that you may not often think of bananas and cocktails at the same time. That’s not a disaster, but a remedy is still called for since it’s the world’s most popular fruit. June 5 itself is the anniversary of bananas being introduced to U.S. consumers at the 1876 Centennial Exposition held in Philadelphia, so it’s a good day to talk about them.
Bananas were first found in Asia and domesticated in Papua New Guinea around 8,000 BCE. From there they made it to the Philippines and then widely across the tropics. It wasn’t a linear process, but one in which bananas were forgotten and reintroduced multiple times over the course of a few thousand years.
Bananas went in all directions, reaching India, Australia, and Africa. European explorers brought them to South America, but there is evidence they may have already arrived with sailors from Southeast Asia. The bottom line is they’ve been popular for thousands of years.
The original bananas contained large, spiky seeds and over time cultivars without seeds became far more popular. Portuguese colonists started banana plantations in the Atlantic Islands, Brazil and western Africa. The most common commercial cultivar, the Cavendish, became dominant around in those plantations around 1836.
Bananas were practically unknown in North America, appearing only in isolated instances at a very high price. As Groucho Marx said, “time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana” and they were new and exciting at the 1876 Centennial Exposition.
The 1876 World Fair was the held in the U.S. to honor the nation’s centennial. Bananas sold there were peeled and sliced, and were expensive at 10 cents each or a bit over $2 in today’s money. But they were a sensation, so bananas have been with us ever since in food and pop culture, from 1921’s top song of Yes, We Have No Bananas to the Famous line in Arrested Development, “there’s always money in the banana stand.”
Drinkers, of course, were on the scene prior to the 1876 event. Bananas had been used as a fermentable raw material for beer and wine for centuries, and the concept of banana brandy emerged by the mid-1800s. Recipes for crème de banana arrived by the early 20th century. At a time when booze was medicine, the pharmacy journal Merck’s Report reported that “a very good spirit has been obtained from bananas unfit for any other purpose in Guatemala.”
This was a problem during the Dark Ages of drinking in the 1980s and the market was flooded by banana liqueur variants full of sugar and artificial flavorings. This, of course, took an already sweet product and turned it into something unbearable.
Fortunately, though, several quality brands of banana liqueur are now widely available, most notably Giffard’s. And the stuff is remarkably usable, utterly suited to a Mr. Potato Head substitution in an drink recipe. The Daiquiri du Bresil, for example, takes the classic Daiquiri recipe and simply substitutes banana liqueur for the simple syrup.
After much discussion by our Editorial Board, we settled on the Bananavardier as Drink of the Day. And if that vaguely reminds you of the Boulevardier cocktail we previously mixed it’s for good reason. The Bananavardier recipe is a simple Mr. Potato Head variation on the Boulevardier.
It seems an important breakthrough occurred simultaneously in several bars. The key moment occurred when someone discovered that banana liqueur and Campari play well together. The bitterness of the red amaro offsets the sweetness of the banana and combined they’re, well, delicious.
This inevitably led to putting the combination into a Boulevardier recipe. First just called a Banana Boulevardier, the name spontaneously morphed into the Bananavardier. Several bartenders created their own recipes so there is no official recipe and there are plenty of variations. The recipe we show below is well balanced, and it doesn’t require any infusions or other fancy techniques.
- Old Fashioned Glass
- 1½ oz Bourbon
- ¾ oz Sweet Vermouth
- ½ oz Campari
- ½ oz Banana liqueur We strongly suggest Giffard's Banane de Bresil, a widely available and high quality liqueur.
- Garnish: Orange twist
- Add all ingredients to your trusty mixing glass.
- Add ice and stir to chill.
- Strain into an Old Fashioned glass over ice, preferably a single, large cube.
- Express orange twist over drink and add to glass.