Browsed by
Month: December 2016

Friday Musings: The Winter Solstice

Friday Musings: The Winter Solstice

 

Technically speaking the Winter Solstice is the day with the longest period of darkness and the shortest period of light, marking the beginning of the winter season for those of us who live in the Northern hemisphere. The good news is that everything gets better from here. What the Winter Solstice really celebrates is that despite the change in seasons, the days will actually start getting longer again. So in a sense we are turning from darkness back into light. In addition to the literal meaning, there is also a very symbolic interpretation of the Solstice as well. The long hours of darkness leading up to December 21st cause us to become reflective; our thoughts turn inward and our instincts become more intuitive. When the Solstice occurs (and it really only lasts for a moment) it allows us to consider that there may be things in our lives that we are ready to release. Are we holding on to a relationship or situation that no longer serves us, or leaves us feeling depleted and empty? The Solstice is the perfect time to let whatever it is go, and begin seeking people and experiences of substance that will ultimately bring us a sense of fulfillment rather than emptiness.

So how in the world could I come up with a cocktail that would measure up to all of this? My initial thought was that it needed to have an unusual combination of ingredients in it, and I knew just which bottle to reach for first. In addition to the amazing St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram that I told you about yesterday, I also got a bottle of something equally special called Rujero Singani from Bolivia. The Singani is made from Muscat of Alexandria grapes that are grown in the Andes mountains at high elevations. At this altitude, the physical composition of the grapes actually changes and they become incredibly floral and aromatic. This would be my base spirit and from here I’d do a riff on a Negroni. That meant that I needed a bitter element next, but I had to be careful not to overpower the Singani. I chose Suze because of its bright yellow coloring (fitting for the Solstice idea, I thought) and because its flavor is delicate enough to truly complement the Singani, rather than overwhelm it. The third component in a Negroni is sweet vermouth, and I decided immediately on Dolin Blanc, with its honey sweetness and hint of herbal bitterness. I tasted the cocktail at this point and something was still missing. I tried adding a number of the DRAM Apothecary bitters before landing on the Palo Santo. I was secretly hoping that this would be the one that would work because Palo Santo is a sacred or holy wood that is supposed to contain mystical properties that lead to enlightenment. Perfect, right? Finally I went with a bay leaf as my garnish because it symbolizes wisdom, especially that which comes from following your intuition. With the addition of the bitters and the bay leaf, all of the elements of this cocktail came together just as I hoped they would. The end result was truly magical.

A Winter Solstice

1 oz Rujero Singani
1 oz Suze Saveur d’Autrefois
1 oz Dolin Blanc
1 dash DRAM Palo Santo bitters

Add all the ingredients to a mixing glass and fill 2/3 full with ice. Stir with a long-handled bar spoon 30-45 seconds or until very cold. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass using a Julep strainer. Garnish with the bay leaf. Sip. Contemplate. Re-evaluate. Enjoy!

I wish you all peace and joy this holiday season. Thank you so much for reading. Merry Christmas!

A Roundup of Christmas Cocktails

A Roundup of Christmas Cocktails

It’s hard to believe that Christmas is just a few days away. It seems like yesterday that I was posting about cocktails for Thanksgiving! I thought I’d do the same kind of recap for you of some of my favorite drinks for the upcoming holiday week. There are a total of 8 all together, with 3 of them being brand new. Once again I’ll rank them from easiest to most difficult, beginning with the before dinner drinks. Just click on the cocktail’s name to be taken to the post that contains the actual recipe.

This Champagne Elderflower Cocktail from thekitchn.com is a perfect low alcohol before dinner drink that’s easy to make in large quantities. The Verdi Prosecco is very inexpensive but it works well in this cocktail and its lower price helps to offset the cost of the St. Germain. You can use the strawberries or you can use more of a holiday fruit like cranberries, pomegranate arils, or red currants (pictured above). If you don’t have champagne glasses you can also use a wine glass or a cocktail coupe. Be sure to keep this drink as cold as possible. The sweetness of the St. Germain can quickly become overwhelming as it warms up!

Champagne Elderflower Cocktail

Serves 8

1 (750-ml) bottle Verdi Prosecco, well-chilled
1 cup of St. Germain, chilled
12-oz of a good club soda, chilled
1 cup sliced strawberries

In a large pitcher, combine all of the ingredients and stir. Add ice and stir to chill, but strain into a new pitcher, leaving the ice behind. Pour into glasses and scoop a few strawberries into each glass. Keep any unused portion very cold until serving.

Some notes:
The recipe can be made without the club soda, but cut the St. Germain by 1/4 cup.
To make just one cocktail, combine 1 ounce of chilled St. Germain and 3 ounces of chilled Prosecco in a mixing glass with ice. Stir until very cold. Add a few sliced strawberries or any other fruit.

This Aperol Spritz from aperol.com is just as easy to make as the Champagne Elderflower Cocktail, especially in large quantities. What’s really nice about this drink is that you can substitute any of the other apertivos like Campari, Cynar, or Cappeletti for the Aperol and just keep all the proportions the same. This one gets served over ice so it’s a bit easier to keep cold. It’s also very low in alcohol which makes it light and refreshing.

Aperol Spritz

Serves 8

1 bottle of Verdi Prosecco, chilled
2 cups Aperol, chilled
1 cup good quality club soda, chilled
Lemon strips or peels for garnishing

Combine the first 3 ingredients in a pitcher and stir well. Pour into wine or champagne glasses over ice and garnish with a lemon strip or lemon peel.

To make one drink, use 3 oz of Prosecco, 2 oz of Aperol, and 1 oz of club soda.

I’ve included the Old Time Holiday Shrub on the list because it’s very different and because it was such a hit when I poured it at Gorshin Trading Post 2 Fridays ago. This cocktail is made with a McClary Bros. shrub (available at Gorshin), which is basically like a fruit vinegar that gives the drink a surprisingly refreshing taste. If you can’t find the McClary Bros. there are many other shrubs available. Feel free to substitute.

What I love so much about the Pomegranate Elderflower Martini is the fact that it’s not overly sweet. So many martinis that include Pomegranate as an ingredient end up being a sugary nightmare. This one is definitely an exception to that rule, especially if you use an unsweetened Pomegranate juice like Knudsen or Lakewood. You’ll want to serve this drink very cold either before or after dinner. I prefer martinis in smaller glasses; otherwise they warm up too quickly!

The Confident Man from Joe Campanale and tastingtable.com is one of my all-time favorite holiday cocktails. We served it last year on Christmas and it was quite the night! It’s a perfect blend of vodka, St. Germain, Aperol, and grapefruit juice that will work just as well as either a before or after dinner drink. It’s name comes from its gorgeous pink color because only a confident man would be seen drinking a pink cocktail. These go down very easily so plan to make lots and expect overnight guests!

I’m including The Ghost of Christmas Present in this list because it’s a riff on a bourbon smash that will appeal to dark spirit drinkers as well as those who are open to giving bourbon a try. The combination of the Cherry Heering, the pomegranate juice, and the blood orange juice make this a very fruit forward drink that will work either before or after dinner. This cocktail will also give you the opportunity to try making a burnt sugar simple syrup, which can add such depth to drinks that contain spirits like bourbon and rye. If you don’t have the DRAM wild mountain sage bitters or a place close by where you can buy them, you can definitely substitute aromatic bitters.

Scrooge and Marley was another very popular cocktail that I served at Gorshin Trading Post this past Friday night. It’s made with Old Overholt rye which is fairly spicy, and Art in the Age ROOT liqueur, a super fun spirit to have on hand for sipping and for cocktails. This drink also uses burnt sugar syrup, once again because of its affinity for the darker spirits, and aromatic bitters. I would recommend this as an after dinner drink, but many rye drinkers would disagree with me on that!

My final cocktail, Silent Night,  is a new one that I plan to serve at Gorshin Trading Post this Friday. It’s centered around the wildly spicy spirit called St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram that I’ve been wanting to try for the last year. My friend Mathias Bable, bartender at Charlie was a sinner. picked it up for me last week at Astor Wines in NYC. The base spirit in this cocktail is bourbon because I thought the spice of a rye would be a bit too much with the St. Elizabeth. From there I added in Dave’s coffee syrup and chocolate and orange bitters. The result is a super smooth dark cocktail that reminded me of a drink I had a long time ago on Christmas Eve at my parent’s house. I was standing outside on their front porch because it was snowing, and I was struck by how incredibly quiet the world seemed at that moment.

Silent Night

2 oz Buffalo Trace bourbon
¼ oz St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram
¼ oz Dave’s Coffee Syrup (available at Gorshin)
1 dash Jack Rudy chocolate bitters (available at Gorshin)
1 dash Fee Brothers orange bitters
Orange peel for garnishing

Add all the ingredients to a mixing glass filled ⅔ full with ice. Stir with a long-handled bar spoon until cold (about 30-45 seconds). Using a julep strainer, strain into an old-fashioned glass over ice, preferably one large cube if you have it. Express the orange peel over the drink, give it a twist, and drop it in. Enjoy!

If you can’t find the St. Elizabeth you can substitute ½ oz of Amaro Ramazzotti (easy to find), and 1 dash of Jack Rudy aromatic bitters for the orange bitters.

I hope this helps to give you a jump start on your Christmas week cocktails. Remember to batch your drinks if you want to make enough for a crowd. One caveat on that: since my Cocktails for a Crowd post, I have learned from Death & Co. to reduce my citrus and bitters in a batched cocktail by ¼. So if a batched cocktail calls for 1 cup of lime juice, you should reduce that down to ¾ cup.

See you all on Friday!

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come

Of the 3 spirits that visit Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas Eve, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come was always the one that I feared the most as a child. Tall and imposing, wearing a cloak that is as black as the night around him, his slow walk across the snow towards Scrooge always struck terror in my heart. I’m sure I’m not the only one who felt that way. Since then I’ve often wondered why Charles Dickens made the ghost that would show Scrooge his future so very formidable. If you think about it for a moment we probably all wouldn’t mind a visit from this ghost if he was a bit more pleasant looking and nicely tempered. Who doesn’t want a glimpse into their future? Isn’t it true that many of us visit psychics, read tarot cards, consult numerologists, and follow our horoscopes in the hope that we might gain some insight? Of course it is, although if I were sitting in the waiting room waiting for a psychic and this is who walked through the door, I’d run as fast as my feet would carry me! Maybe Dickens made this particular spirit so frightening because what’s ahead of Scrooge is so grim. He needed to feel that intense fear before he would really be willing to change the course of his life. Or maybe it’s Dickens’ admonition to his readers to be sure we’re living a life that we’d want to be remembered by. Everyone wants to be well-loved, but we can only get there if we keep our hearts open and we love well in return.

Creating a cocktail that captured the essence of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come was truly a fun challenge. My middle son (who was the mastermind behind the idea of this little cocktail series this week) was the first person to come up with the thought of going with a flavor profile that suggested coldness and austerity. I started out with Bluecoat gin as my base and paired it with Krogstad aquavit, a dry Scandinavian caraway-based spirit that has a natural affinity towards gin. Krogstad is meant to be served super cold; in fact, right from the freezer is considered ideal. I liked the combination of the two spirits together but it was very dry, so I added in simple syrup for some sweetness, and lemon to pull out the citrus flavor of the Bluecoat and to balance out the sugar. I needed a bitter element next, but rather than go with some sort of bottled bitters, I chose to use a muddled vegetable instead because it seemed like the better fit. Watercress was the perfect choice. The ginger was my final addition and it had the effect of binding the drink together because it works so well with each of the other components. To turn the drink black I emptied one capsule of activated charcoal in with the other ingredients right before shaking. I went with a sugared rim for my garnish. You tell me what you see there. Is it just snow and ice? Maybe. Or is it the outstretched hand of the ghost beckoning you to follow? You decide.

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come

1½ oz Bluecoat gin
½ oz Krogstad Aquavit
¾ oz fresh lemon juice
½ oz simple syrup
The contents of 1 activated charcoal capsule
Ginger slices and watercress for muddling
Decorative sugar for garnishing

Rub some simple syrup around the outside of a cocktail glass and then roll the sides of the glass in the decorative sugar. Muddle the watercress and ginger slices with the simple syrup in the bottom of a shaker tin. Add the remaining ingredients along with ice and shake vigorously for 20 seconds or until very, very cold. Double strain using a Hawthorne strainer and a mesh strainer into the cocktail glass. Enjoy!

Stop back tomorrow for a roundup of Christmas cocktails, 3 of which I’ll be pouring this Friday night during candlelight shopping at Gorshin Trading Post right here in downtown Haddonfield.

The Ghost of Christmas Present

The Ghost of Christmas Present

The second spirit to visit Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas Eve is The Ghost of Christmas Present, whose purpose is to give Scrooge a wake-up call by showing him what people really think of him. I find the idea of this spirit to be the most tantalizing of the three, because he represents something that will never be within our grasp. We can never really be sure what other people are honestly thinking or saying about us in private moments, but if we had the chance to know I wonder how many of us would actually take it. There are those people who truly don’t care about other people’s opinions of them, so having the opportunity to know what they were would probably not be very appealing. And then there are others, like me, who care very much, although I’m not sure I’d want to be flown around to other people’s houses to listen in on what they were saying about me. Then again, it is tempting. At least I’d know for sure what people thought, and maybe I’d learn a thing or two that I could work on changing, after I’d stayed in bed for a week with the covers over my head. I think the bottom line is that this is something that we can never know for sure, so we have to move through life doing the best we can to be as kind and compassionate as we can be towards other people. What Maya Angelou said is very true: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Now let’s get back to Charles Dickens! The Ghost of Christmas Past is described as being unusually large, almost a giant, who wears a dark green cloak and arrives with an abundant feast. In terms of a cocktail to represent this spirit, I needed something than was bold in taste and appearance, with lots of fruit-forward flavor. I decide to do a riff on a bourbon smash. I started off with Bluebird Distilling’s Four Grain bourbon because it has that smooth, sweet taste that I knew would really anchor the drink. For my secondary spirit I went with Cherry Heering, a liqueur that intensified the sweetness of the bourbon, and brought in the first of the fruit flavors that I wanted to use. From there I added freshly squeezed blood orange juice, and pomegranate juice, for both their flavor and their color. Once I had my juices in, I needed some sweetness, and so I decided on burnt sugar simple syrup because I love the way its deeper, more caramel-like flavor works with a dark spirit like bourbon. For bitters to offset the sweetness, I chose DRAM Apothecary’s wild mountain sage because it added an herbal quality to the cocktail, which made me think of the holly and mistletoe that are part of this spirit’s feast. Finally I tried to come up with a garnish that represented Christmas Past’s green cloak, as well as those two creepy little children he hides underneath called Ignorance and Want. A bay leaf and two cranberries gave me exactly what I was looking for. I also added a blood orange slice to the cocktail itself just to step up that sense of fresh abundance.

The Ghost of Christmas Present

1½ oz Bluebird Distilling Four Grain Bourbon
½ oz Cherry Heering
¾ oz blood orange juice
¾ oz pomegranate juice
¼ oz burnt sugar syrup*
2 dashes DRAM Apothecary Wild Mountain Sage bitters
1 bay leaf and 2 cranberries for garnishing

Add the ingredients to the bottom half of a cocktail shaker. Add your ice (1 large, 2 small if you have them) and shake for 20 seconds or until very cold. Double strain into a chilled goblet. Top with 1 – 2 oz of a good quality club soda. Thread the cranberries onto a cocktail pick and rest on the edge of the glass. Rest the bay leaf at an angle to the cranberries, partially covering them. Enjoy!

*Heat 2 cups brown sugar over low heat until melted; don’t stir it too much, but be careful not to let it really burn. Remove from heat and slowly add 1 cup hot water (it will splatter some but will calm down as the water goes in). Stir together well. Return the pan to the heat and continue cooking another 5 minutes over low heat. Syrup will be thin when hot and thickens as it cools. You can make less than this. just keep the ratio at 2:1.

The Ghost of Christmas Past

The Ghost of Christmas Past

We all know the story of Ebenezer Scrooge. He’s a mean and miserly man who has no time or care for Christmas, but is visited by 3 spirits who ultimately change his mind about the holiday and his life in general. It’s actually 4 spirits, if you count the ghost of his late business partner, Jacob Marley. Can you imagine something like this actually happening? You go to bed on Christmas Eve feeling not so into the spirit of the season, and suddenly a whole spectral crowd shows up to set you straight, beginning with the first ghost dragging up chains from somewhere deep in your basement. Talk about having a bad night! I often wondered as I read the story as a child, and then later as an adult, if I were to be visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past what would it show me? Out of all the moments in my past, what would I need to see in order to realize what events or decisions have brought me to this current point in my life, to this current version of myself? Some mistakes are minor, like those 2 am cheesesteaks in the city with our close friends last spring. What were we thinking?? Others, however, are far more serious and can’t be undone. I have to ask myself if there were times when I could have been kinder, instances when I should have been more honest, or things that I chose for all the wrong reasons. Of course there were. More than I can count, as a matter of fact. I think it would be truly terrifying to have to confront those moments again, to see the impact that they had not just on me and my life, but on the other people that were affected by my actions or by the decisions I made. It makes me consider old Ebenezer in a brand new light.

The Ghost of Christmas Past is described by Dickens as being an ethereal creature, wearing a luminous white tunic, with a golden light at the top of its head, and speaking in a soft and gentle voice. When I decided that I wanted to create a cocktail inspired by this ghostly visitor, I knew that I wanted its flavors to stay on the mild side so I started with Stateside vodka as my base spirit. It’s clean and pure and I knew it would add no harshness to the drink whatsoever. From there I added two additional liqueurs that work well together: the first is Velvet Falernum which tastes and smells like candy spice drops, and the second is Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur which tastes exactly like sweet and spicy ginger. The Falernum typically pairs well with lime, and the Domaine de Canton with lemon, so I had a choice to make. I chose the lemon, again with the idea that everything about the Ghost of Christmas Past is mild and unassuming. I felt like the lime would have had too much of a bite. Finally, I finished up with the Citrus Medica bitters from DRAM Apothecary. Their citrus and spice component heightened the flavors I’d already introduced into the drink, and their bitterness helped to bring balance. I also like the idea that the past contains moments that are sweet, and bright, and bitter, hopefully in balanced proportions for most of us. For the golden garnish I decided on a kiwi berry. I’ve bought these at Whole Foods and MOMS Organic Market before and I knew it would give the cocktail the simple finish I was looking for, with the added bonus of its taste echoing the drink’s sweet/tangy/bitter flavor profile.

The Ghost of Christmas Past

1 1/2 oz Stateside vodka
1/2 oz Velvet Falernum
1/4 oz Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur
3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
2 dashes DRAM Apothecary Citrus Medica bitters
Kiwi berry for garnishing

Add the ingredients to the bottom half of a cocktail shaker. Add your ice (1 large, 2 small if you have them) and shake for 20 seconds or until very cold. Double strain into a chilled cocktail coupe or a goblet. Thread the kiwi berry onto a cocktail pick and rest on the edge of the glass. Think about your past but still enjoy!

Stop back tomorrow… I think you know where I’m going next.