Flying Fish Brewing Company in Somerdale, NJ has a beer series based on the exits along the New Jersey Turnpike. As I was considering options for this week’s cocktail, I came upon their offering for Exit Three, which just so happened to be the exit closest to my house while growing up. Now I will readily admit to having a fascination with the Jersey Turnpike as a child. It’s okay if you’re thinking that’s a bit strange; I think it is too. I’m fairly certain that it comes from my love for maps, especially the old-fashioned fold-up kind that showed all the roads, and the very same ones we no longer seem to need anymore because we all rely on GPS systems now. Back in the sixties and early seventies, if you saw a brand new road map laying on the kitchen table, you knew you going somewhere. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it right away, so I could open it up, study it, and then fold it back properly because that’s what Virgo children do. I loved the hierarchy of the roads, and how the more important ones were rendered in heftier lines and bolder colors. The turnpike was definitely one of the bigger ones on the New Jersey map, and I loved looking at all the places it could take me. Needless to say, this Flying Fish series really works for me.
It’s funny because as much as I loved road maps and the Jersey Turnpike, I loved blueberries even more, but at least I’m certain about the origin of that particular fascination. Every summer, when blueberry season was in full swing, my mother would make something that she called a Blueberry Buckle. As an Italian-American, you know from very early on that you have many cousins, and that they are usually identified by geographical location. For example, we had the Philly cousins, the Egg Harbor cousins, and the Ohio cousins. I’m not sure I ever laid eyes on an Ohio cousin, but I knew they were out there, across the state of Pennsylvania via the PA Turnpike. The Ohio cousins were famous for their recipes and we had many of them. Once again, if you’re an Italian-American, you know how rare a thing an actual recipe can be. Most of our grandmothers cooked according to the little-bit-of-this, little-bit-of-that school of cooking, so when an actual handwritten recipe would arrive in the mail with an Ohio postmark on the envelope, it was a pretty big deal. The recipe for the Blueberry Buckle came from the Ohio cousins and it was the most amazing blend of butter, brown sugar, lemon, and blueberries ever. It was not cake-like the way a lot of Blueberry Buckles can be, but much flatter and denser. I knew summer was in full swing when my mom took the first one out of the oven. Unfortunately, she lost the recipe for it along the way and we were never able to duplicate it or find anything similar. If any of you have any idea of the kind of Blueberry Buckle I’m talking about and can get me a recipe (maybe you had Ohio cousins too) then I would forever be in your debt.
You can imagine the abundance of joy I experienced when I found a beer that was brewed with blueberries and named after Exit Three on the turnpike. It was almost too much for me. The beer itself is a fantastic honey ale fashioned after an ancient recipe from the 12th century, made with very little hops and a Belgian-style yeast. This results in a sweet and citrusy beer that’s not bitter, and that has a nice malty flavor and a hefty ABV of 15%. The maltiness gave me the idea of making a riff on a Penicillin, a Scotch-based cocktail that just happens to be one of my favorites, especially as my last of the night if I’m out. The Penicillin is also made with lemon and that brought me back to the Blueberry Buckle, which was an added bonus! I kept all the proportions of the traditional cocktail just as it was created by Sam Ross of Milk & Honey fame in New York, but added 2 ounces of the Blueberry Braggot beer and some blueberries for muddling. The Blue Rush remained true to the original, but with a slight tang, a different kind of maltiness, and an unmistakeable blueberry flavor. It was also a bit lighter, and dangerously drinkable, unlike the Penicillin, which tends to be the kind of cocktail that can (and should) take a while to drink. I had it all there in one glass: the Turnpike, blueberries, and my favorite cocktail… Now if only I had a piece of that Blueberry Buckle. Cheers everyone. Happy Wednesday!
Add all the ingredients to a shaker tin with ice except for the Laphroaig. Throw in a handle of blueberries and muddle gently. Shake vigorously until very cold. Double strain into an old-fashioned glass over one large cube. Float the Laphroaig on top by pouring it gently over the back of a bar spoon. Enjoy!