Drinks pro Tom Richter, the creator and owner of Tomr’s Tonic and the luxury spirits portfolio consultant at Spirit of Gallo, created the Haitian Divorce in 2012 while he was the head bartender at the now-shuttered sherry-centric bar The Beagle in New York City.
It’s essentially an Old Fashioned riff and is perhaps the best-known member of a series of matrimonially themed drinks that came out of the bar (including the Shotgun Wedding and Remember the Alimony). Beagle co-owner and beverage director Dan Greenbaum created a drink with a split base of bourbon and calvados that employed pedro ximenez sherry as a sweetener, which he dubbed the Second Marriage. (“The first marriage, in brown liquors, is rye and cognac in a Sazerac,” explains Richter.)
Richter took Greenbaum’s drink and tweaked it, experimenting with different bases until he came up with a combination of rum and mezcal, which together evoke the flavor of Scotch whisky. “The mezcal made it smoky, and the aged Haitian rum was hard to distinguish,” he says. “If people don’t know what’s in it, they think it’s a smoky whisky, but it’s a little more complex than that.”
Haitian r(h)ums, he explains, are agricoles that are aged. “It has a lot of earthiness, and then the age softens that out,” says Richter. “So it doesn’t taste like just any rum that’s out there.” The mezcal adds the smoky note. At a number of bars that serve the drink regularly, including Dear Irving (where Richter was the head bartender during the bar’s first three years) or Attaboy (where he has also worked), “When people want a scotch Old Fashioned, they’ll give them this,” he says. “When they want a rum Old Fashioned, they’ll also give them this.”
If you spot a Sasha Petraske influence in this cocktail, you’re not wrong. In addition to working at both Attaboy and the seminal cocktail bar Milk & Honey, Richter also worked alongside Petraske to open the (now-shuttered) John Dory Oyster Bar and cites him as a significant influence. “He was the godfather of all of what we’re doing,” he says.
The cocktail calls for both an orange twist and a lime twist. The choice is not merely for visual flair; it was the result of extensive experimentation. When Richter was creating the drink, he reports, he couldn’t figure out what type of twist to use. “Orange killed the mezcal flavor,” he says. “Lemon killed the rum flavor. Lime kind of bumped up the mezcal just enough.” And thus, the winning combination was born.
As for the drink’s name? Richter was a fan of the band Steely Dan, which has a song called the Haitian Divorce; between the collection of matrimonial-themed drinks, the Haitian rum employed in the drink, and the song title, it all came together.
1 1/2 ounces Barbancourt 8 rum
3/4 ounce mezcal espadín
1/2 ounce pedro ximenez sherry (preferably Lustau)
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Garnish: orange twist
Garnish: lime twist
Add all ingredients into a mixing glass with ice and stir until well-chilled.
Strain into a rocks glass over one large ice cube.
Express the oils from an orange twist and a lime twist over the drink, then drop both twists into the glass.