Imbibing California’s History: The Congroni

I would like to start the third installment of Imbibing California’s History with a quote from one of the greatest movies ever made…

Hammond: Condors. Condors are on the verge of extinction…
Malcolm: [shaking his head] No…
Hammond: If I was to create a flock of condors on this island, you wouldn’t have anything to say.
Malcolm: No, hold on. This isn’t some species that was obliterated by deforestation or the building of a dam. Dinosaurs had their shot and nature selected them for extinction.

Yep. You are about to learn about California Condors

And then get drunk.

But first… a few fun facts…

California Condors (Gymnogyps califorianus) are big birds. I would even go so far as to say they’re very big birds. With a wingspan of up to 10 feet and weighing in at up to 30 pounds, these things are gargantuan, flying hulks. They’re pretty similar to the Andean Condors but way cooler.

These guys do eat meat, but they don’t kill. They eat carrion… animals that are already dead. They prefer to go for bigger animals such as cattle, horses, deer, etc. but will settle for smaller, cuter dead things such as chipmunks, squirrels, and rabbits.

Their preferred habitats (besides the zoo… which they totally love) are oak savannas, rocky shrubland, and coniferous forests. Condors reach sexual maturity at the age of six and are totally romantic because they stay with their mate for life! Awww! When they have a baby, they only have one at a time and will only reproduce every other year.

Angry California Condor

Stop being jerks… you’re pissing off the condors! Photo by Pacific Southwest Region

Why do you think that guy is so peeved? Could it be because humans almost wiped them off the face of the Earth? Yeah. I think that might be why.

The History…

Back before European settlers showed up, there were California Condors all up and down the western coast of North America. From Mexico to Canada, they were flying around and doing great.

But then we showed up. Sure, there were hundreds of thousands of indigenous peoples living in harmony with the condors before the Europeans barged in, but apparently we weren’t capable of maintaining a dignified and respectful relationship with these majestic creatures.

The condor population quickly shrank over the years due to poaching, lead poisoning, and loss of habitat. For a long time, cattle ranchers thought the condors were killing their livestock, so they made it a habit to shoot them whenever they saw them near their land. Condors don’t kill, bozos! They’re like giant, terrifying, flying hippies. They were actually just feeding on the already dead corpses of the livestock. Also… the gold rush was pretty rough on the condors because the 49ers were a bunch of rude jerks.

The population declined and declined and nothing was done about it for a very a long time.

By the 1980′s, the world contained only 22 living California Condors.

California Condor in a Zoo

Regal… refined… awesome. Photo by Stacy Spensley

Seriously. Twenty Two. That was it. In the entire world!

Finally… we decided to take charge of this terrible situation and save the condors!

The California Condor Recovery Plan was put in place in the 1980′s. By 1987, every single California Condor in the world (all 22 of them) was in captivity. This sounds sad, but it needed to be done.

Both the San Diego Wild Animal Park and the Los Angeles Zoo (you know… the one inside Griffith Park…) held the birds and helped with getting them to mate. As I mentioned above, the breeding process takes time since condors will only have one kid at a time. This problem was partially solved by taking eggs from nests before they hatched and raising them with a creepy condor puppet. This allowed the mating couple to reproduce again. Again… seems mean, but it’s for a good cause.

GUESS WHAT!

The California Condor Recovery Plan is working!

As of May 2012, there were 405 living California Condors in the world. Of those 405, 179 were still in captivity. The program is expensive, but it is working and it has gotten amazing results.

The released condors have been placed in coastal and central California as well as southern Utah, northern Arizona, and Baja California. They’re even laying eggs in the wild again! Yay!

In 2008, California signed the Ridley-Tree Condor Preservation Act into law. This act forbids the use of lead bullets by hunters when hunting deer, bear, wild pig, elk, pronghorn antelope, coyotes, ground squirrels, and other non-game wildlife in any designated California Condor range.

I’m glad we’re doing our part to make up for our terrible past.

Progress is good.

The Cocktail…

When I was trying to figure out what base to use for a California Condor inspired cocktail, Campari was the first thing that came to mind. I guess I wanted something bold. I see these condors as being very strong and powerful creatures. I needed a spirit that was the same. Campari doesn’t have a high alcohol content, but the flavor is like a delicious punch in the face.

In addition to something bold, I wanted something fresh. Obvious first pick: raspberries. You don’t get much fresher than muddled raspberries! Mmm!

I like my historical cocktails to look good and have a little symbolism, if possible. The red of the Campari would be a reference to the carrion on which the condors feed. Yes… very appetizing… I know. I also wanted a little black in there to represent the very cool black feathers of the condor. Unfortunately, black is not a very common color in liquors or even liqueurs.

Eventually, I stumbled upon Blavod. It’s vodka that has been dyed black with natural colors. Not a big vodka fan, but I figured I could put a float of the stuff on top for a pretty rad effect.

First, I tried a Campari and Soda variation. It was good and it looked pretty, but it was light and airy. I was looking for something a bit more solid with some bite.

I was trying to stay away from the Negroni, as it’s the obvious first choice when it comes to Campari cocktails, but in the end, Negronis are damn good and the condors deserve the best!

May I present to you… THE CONGRONI!

California Condor Cocktail The Congroni

Sweet. Fresh. Bitter. Strong.

The Congroni is basically a Negroni with some raspberries and black vodka.

Now. Before I get to the recipe, let me introduce you to Connor!

Baby Bird Connor

Oh hai, Connor! Aren’t you just the cutest little thing???

Obviously… Connor is not a California Condor. I probably would have been arrested for touching him if he was. No… Connor was just a little baby bird that I rescued from my dog.

I rescued the little guy right before I was about to mix up the Congroni. Divine providence! I took this as a sign that I needed to incorporate him into this blog post somehow. It just makes sense!

No.

It really doesn’t.

Whatever.

Lack of sense hasn’t stopped me before and I’m sure as hell not gonna let it stop me again!

I found an old, little nest that had fallen in the yard and put Connor in it. I then went inside and made the drink. I took it out, placed it in the nest next to Connor, and took a picture.

Connor and the Congroni

Taking a little booze nap with the Congroni…

You may not love this picture, but I do. Connor is my spirit animal.

After I was done taking a billion pictures, I placed little Connor back near where I found him but in a more secure location. That’s what the internet said to do, so I did it. The next day he was gone. Maybe the neighborhood coyote got to him or maybe his mom found him and took him home… I don’t know. I’m going to assume it’s the latter. Happy ending! Maybe!

Oh yeah… here’s the recipe!

The Congroni

3/4 oz Campari
3/4 oz Gin (whatever brand ya like)
3/4 oz Sweet Vermouth (again… whatever brand ya like)
3 dashes Regan’s Orange Bitters No. 6
1 float Blavod Black Vodka
3 whole Fresh Raspberries

Toss the raspberries in a shaker and muddle. Add in everything besides the vodka. Add ice and shake. Strain over ice. Add a float of Blavod. Garnish with the recently plucked black feather of a California Condor*.

I know this was long and silly and kinda stupid, but I hope you learned something about condors and are totally in love with little Connor.

*don’t you dare do this!


This is just one post in our Imbibing California’s History series. Read the rest!

About Adam Willis

I'm just a guy who really likes California. I live in Arizona for now, but will be moving over there as soon as possible. Also. I love you. Smile!

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2 Responses to Imbibing California’s History: The Congroni

  1. Nicole Mojan Pirshafiey August 14, 2013 at 4:19 pm #

    This is my favorite post in the history of ornithological history + cocktail recipe posts. You should win an award.

    • Adam Willis August 15, 2013 at 8:25 am #

      This comment is the only award I need!

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