Last January I had dinner with friends at a restaurant here in NJ that serves super-sized martinis. I’m not a fan of the big gulp martini because it leaves you with 2 options and neither of them are good. The first is that you sip your cocktail at the normal rate and end up drinking something that becomes very warm. YUCK is the most elegant prose I have regarding that choice. Your second option involves you downing the drink as quickly as you can in order to enjoy it at the right temperature. That can be extremely dangerous. On that night last January, I made the unfortunate decision to go with choice #2 and my recollection of that part of the evening ends shortly after I finished my martini. The last thing I remember is the appetizers being brought to the table. I’m off the grid, so to speak, for the entire dinner during which I eat my entrée, drink some wine (from a bottle that I apparently ordered), get up and have a conversation with a friend that stops by to say hello, and remove one of my shoes. When my memory returns I’m sitting at the bar with an after dinner drink in front of me (as if could possibly have needed more), and I’m in the middle of a very animated discussion about lipstick, of all things. At least I have both my shoes back on at this point.
I woke up the next morning in a full panic. What had I said? What had I done? How had I acted? We’ve all had instances back in college when there were blackout moments, but this felt crazy and impossible to me after just one martini, albeit a super-sized one. I began thinking that what happened to me had to be an early symptom of something awful. Dementia. Alzheimer’s. A brain tumor. Determined to find answers, I began to do research. It turns out that there is a very scientific reason why a blackout occurs, and it involves a specific region of the brain called the hippocampus, which is responsible for converting short term memories into long term memories. The hippocampus is one of the first areas to be compromised by alcohol consumption, long before the speech and motor centers become impaired. That’s why an individual can appear to be acting normally, yet have no recollection of anything the next day. As for recovering any of the memories that occurred during the blackout, it will never happen because they simply no longer exist. There are several factors that contribute to the likelihood that a blackout will occur. The first is how quickly alcohol is consumed, so it’s really important to pace yourself, especially with high proof drinks like martinis. The second is how little or how much food and water a person has had that day, so be sure to eat before and while you’re drinking and try to stay hydrated. That’s super important. Finally, women are more predisposed to blackouts than men, so all of these precautions are especially important if you happen to be a girl.
It seems a bit ironic to craft a cocktail that’s named after a memory loss episode caused by drinking too much alcohol, but I can never pass up the opportunity to make a new drink! In coming up with the ingredients for The Blackout, I wanted to start with things that are obviously deep and dark in both flavor and color. That led me right to rye whiskey and aged rum as my combination of base spirits, and blackberries, black tea syrup, and black bitters as the additional elements that complement them. I wanted an herbal component in this cocktail too, and I wanted it to be something interesting and different. I recently picked up a bottle of Génépy des Alpes, whose delicate floral flavor falls somewhere in between Green and Yellow Chartreuse. It’s made from an herb that is a direct cousin to wormwood, the trouble-causing element in Absinthe. I decided to use both liqueurs in this drink because blackouts certainly cause their fair share of trouble! The last ingredient I added was rosemary, muddled directly into the drink, infused into the black tea syrup, and as a garnish. Why? Because rosemary is for remembrance. I couldn’t wait to write that!
I wish you all a festive and blackout-free New Year’s Eve. Have fun but be safe. See you in 2017!
1½ oz Old Overholt rye whiskey
1 oz Appleton Estate 12-year-old rum
½ oz Génépy des Alpes
¼ oz Pernod Absinthe to rinse the glass
1/2 oz black tea and rosemary honey syrup*
2 dashes DRAM Apothecary black bitters
6 blackberries for muddling
2 rosemary sprigs, 1 for muddling, 1 for garnishing
Pour the absinthe into an old-fashioned glass, swirl to coat the sides, and then discard the absinthe. Muddle the blackberries and 1 rosemary sprig in the bottom half of a shaker tin with the honey syrup. Strain into a mixing glass using a fine strainer. Press on the solids. Add the remaining ingredients, except for the garnishes, into the mixing glass. Fill the glass ⅔ full with ice. Stir with a long-handled bar spoon for 30-45 seconds or until very cold. Strain with a julep strainer and pour into the absinthe-rinsed glass over 1 large cube. Garnish with the other rosemary sprig. Enjoy!
*For the honey syrup, steep 2 tea bags in hot water in a measuring cup for 5 minutes with a sprig of rosemary. Remove the tea bags and add an equal amount of honey (or agave if you’re vegan). Store in a Mason jar in the fridge for 2-3 weeks.