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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.

Friday Musings: and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

Friday Musings: and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

Lately whenever someone asks me what I do, I find that I suffer from a bit of an identity crisis. I know that I write a blog about cocktails, I take pretty good photos, and I can make a decent drink… but what exactly should I called myself? A few weeks ago a man asked me if I was a writer and I mentioned the blog. His response was to tell me that didn’t count. Ok then, scratch that one off the list. I take pictures of drinks, but I’m not exactly a photographer, and cocktail enthusiast sounds like something you’d put on a dating website. So what’s left then? Well, there’s home bartender, the term I like the best, and amateur bartender which is probably the most accurate, but it never sounds very positive to me. I decided to look up the word amateur. The first meaning is “a person who engages in a study, sport, or other activity for pleasure rather than for financial benefits.” Well now that is certainly true at the moment! The second definition is “a person inexperienced or unskilled in a particular activity. See antonym: professional.” Ouch, that one actually hurts.

Since I spend a fair amount of time at the vegan bar and restaurant Charlie was a sinner. in Philadelphia, I certainly don’t need to look in the dictionary to know what a professional bartender looks like. As far as I’m concerned, the bartenders at Charlie are among the best in the city (as I’ve mentioned many times). I could sit for hours watching them work and watching their interaction with customers, particularly the ones who have no idea what they’d like to drink. A few simple questions later and that uncertain person has a cocktail in front of them that they’ll most likely end up loving. This past Saturday night I asked Michelle Martinez if she’d come up with a cocktail for me that I could write a Friday Musings post about. I had no real requirements other than that it be a Christmasy drink. I knew that Michelle would come up with something amazing and I was definitely not disappointed!

Michelle said she wanted to create a cocktail with a smoky/sweet taste that would be appealing to a wide range of people, something that can be a real challenge since not everyone likes smokiness in a drink. I happen to love it so I was excited to hear her describe the Scotch whisky and pear combination she’d come up with. The smoke in this cocktail comes from infusing the glass with actual burnt rosemary right before the drink is poured in. In addition to the Scotch and pear, there’s some orange liqueur that adds a bit more sweetness, lemon to keep that sweetness in check and brighten things up, orgeat that creates beautiful texture, and angostura bitters to balance everything out. The nutmeg and rosemary sprig give the drink a wintertime feel, so this is not exclusively a holiday drink. As soon as I took my first sip I thought of the third meaning of the word amateur which is “a person who admires something intensely, a devotee, a fan.” And so I know then how to describe what I do: I am a cocktail blogger (and yes I do consider that writing), I am a home bartender, and I am an amateur, especially in the sense that I have boundless admiration for professional bartenders like Michelle whose creativity never ceases to amaze me.

A Partridge in a Pear Tree   Michelle Martinez from Charlie was a sinner, Philadelphia, PA.

1½ oz Johnny Walker Red Scotch whisky
½ oz orange liqueur
1 oz pear purée
½ oz orgeat
½ oz lemon juice
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Shake all ingredients together with ice in a shaker tin. Strain into a cocktail glass that has been smoked with rosemary. Grate nutmeg on top and garnish with a rosemary sprig. Enjoy!

Have a great weekend everyone! See you all on Monday!

Winter Sunset: A December late afternoon in a glass.

Winter Sunset: A December late afternoon in a glass.

The house that I grew up in faced west so that when the sun was setting the light would stream in through the front windows. That light would look different depending on the time of the year; a hot, fiery orange in the summer with a dark blue sky on top, and a colder, almost icy orange in winter that gave way to a steely blue-gray sky up above. I often thought that if someone teleported me to a different year and plopped me down on that living room couch (where I liked to take naps while my mom cooked dinner) I’d know just what month it was depending on how the room was filled with light. I wouldn’t even have to cheat and look at the trees across the street to see if they had their leaves or not. I’d just know.

As I was brainstorming for today’s cocktail, the third and final drink for Gorshin Trading Post this Friday night, I didn’t have a name in mind. I knew the first 2 ingredients that I wanted to use: definitely Bluecoat Gin because it’s gorgeous in both aroma and taste AND it’s distilled locally, and definitely Giffard Crème de Pamplemousse Rosé for it’s beautiful color and ethereal pink grapefruit flavor. From there I brought in Dolin Blanc, a slightly sweet vermouth. Now I was flirting with a Negroni of sorts, so I added just a small amount of Aperol to bring up the bitter side of the drink, and I made a rosemary vanilla simple syrup for balance, sweetness, and to complement the flavor of grapefruit. It took a bit of playing with the measurements, but once I had it right I was happy with the result. The juniper and coriander in the Bluecoat worked beautifully with the Pamplemousse and the rosemary vanilla syrup, and the aperol added just the right amount of bitterness, as well as a hint of deeper color. The Dolin Blanc has both citrus and herbal elements, so it created a bridge between all the other ingredients.

When I started photographing the drink, I realized that I was capturing the blue color of the bottle of Bluecoat and the orange of the Pamplemousse as they reflected together in the cocktail glass. The realization hit me right away: I felt like I was back in my parents’ house, looking at that certain combination of winter light, smelling my mom’s cooking, feeling very much at home. It was amazing. I originally wanted a grapefruit garnish here, but I chose hibiscus salt instead. It appears black when it first hits the drink (bare tree branches against the sky, if you will) and then it dissolves into pink streaks… very much like when the sun sets on a cold December day just before Christmas.

Winter Sunset

1½ oz Bluecoat gin
¾ oz Giffard Pamplemousse Rosé
¾ oz Dolin Blanc vemouth
¼ oz Aperol
¼ oz rosemary vanilla simple syrup*
Hibiscus salt for garnishing

Combine all the ingredients except the hibiscus salt in a mixing glass and fill 2/3 full with ice. Stir using a long-handled bar spoon until very cold (about 45 seconds). Strain using a julep strainer and pour into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with the hibiscus salt and enjoy!

*To make the simple syrup, dissolve 1 cup sugar in 1 cup boiling water until it is clear. Pour into a mason jar and add 1 vanilla bean split down the middle and one rosemary sprig. Seal the jar and let the ingredients steep. When it cools remove the vanilla bean and the rosemary. Store in the fridge. It’ll keep for about 3 weeks.

Scrooge and Marley: Rye partners with ROOT in this holiday cocktail!

Scrooge and Marley: Rye partners with ROOT in this holiday cocktail!

This past Friday night I had the great privilege of serving drinks at Gorshin Trading Post right here in Haddonfield. I can’t express what an honor it is for me, as a home bartender, to actually get to share my cocktails with the public! If you are not local to this area, Haddonfield is one of those quintessential small towns with a beautifully decorated main street that has candlelight shopping on Fridays during the holiday season, complete with carolers, visits from Santa, and horse and carriage rides. I’m always thankful that we live here, but it begins to feel particularly magical at Christmas time. Gorshin Trading Post itself is an equally magical place with its warm and welcoming atmosphere, its inventory of top quality products, and its amazing selection of cocktail essentials. You can read my full feature on Gorshin on my Thursday Barlogue from 9/22. There is a beautiful Victorian back bar in the front of the store where I pour my drinks, particularly fitting since the building was once a colonial watering hole called Gibbs Tavern back in 1777.

Of the 3 drinks that I served on Friday night, the Holiday Spiced Old-fashioned seemed to be the most popular. I knew I needed a similar cocktail this week and I wanted it to be made with rye instead of bourbon. Starting then with rye as my base spirit, which already has a certain spiciness to it, I considered options for what would bump that spice flavor up even more to give the drink a holiday feel. I decided on ROOT liqueur, one of 4 colonial spirits from Art in the Age and Tamworth Distilling. The inspiration for ROOT was an herbal recipe taught to colonial settlers by Native Americans, made with various Pennsylvania roots and herbs like sassafras, sarsaparilla, and birch bark. It definitely added the extra spice that I was looking for. From there I needed something sweet. Since I wanted more depth than just a regular simple syrup, I went with a burnt sugar syrup which brought a caramel-like flavor to the drink. I finished up with 2 dashes of Jack Rudy aromatic bitters, available for purchase right at Gorshin, and I garnished it with an orange peel that I first expressed over the drink. The end result was similar to last weeks bourbon-based Old-fashioned, but definitely darker and deeper. I can’t wait to see how everyone reacts! I thought the ROOT liqueur seemed like the perfect partner for the rye whiskey, and something about the idea of a partnership made me think of A Christmas Carol, and so I named the cocktail Scrooge and Marley.

Scrooge and Marley

2 oz Old Overholt rye whiskey
¾ oz ROOT liqueur
¼ oz burnt sugar syrup*
2 dashes Jack Rudy aromatic bitters
Orange peel for garnishing

Combine all the ingredients except the orange peel in a mixing glass and fill 2/3 full with ice. Stir using a long-handled bar spoon until very cold (about 45 seconds). Strain using a julep strainer and pour into an old-fashioned glass over 1 large cube. Express the orange peel over the drink. Garnish and 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.