This drink is no joke. Though tomorrow is of course April Fool’s Day! And because of which, we will all be fools tomorrow (well, in a manner of speaking since it’s now a part of the Gregorian calendar more-or-less, at least in many parts of the world, and as most – or all – use said calendar currently, well, “we will all be fools tomorrow” makes some sense). So, having a tasty drink that is, by it’s very name, a paradise for all us fools at the ready, well, it seems the smart thing, even for fools. Did you know, as a side note, that no-one is exactly sure where April Fool’s Day started, but that it has been going on for centuries, back to say maybe the 13th, but definitely probably the 14th or 15th? Wowza, that’s a lotta fools. Sadly, the ingredients contained herein weren’t available back then – sadly for those living then, that is. Luckily for you, all four of the below are available now. No foolin’!
I love this drink – love it! And, as it’s the lover’s month, so to speak, felt I should kick things off with a drink I love. And this is it! Funny enough, was thinking about it recently over the past holiday season, when making it for some holiday pals. See, I always couched it in a sorta murder mystery persona (if cocktails have personas, which I believe they do), the drop of crimson blood on the slippers giving Miss Marple the needed clue (or whomever detective you desire, I’m feeling Marple-y) to solve the mystery. But, during this holiday season and discussion, a thought popped into my addled mind – wouldn’t Santa have slippers the color of crimson? Maybe? Maybe! So, that meant this could be a holiday drink, too. Either way, I love it. You will do. No matter what holiday you’re sipping it on.
Here’s a nice kettle of booze. Perhaps (due to its minty-crushed-ice-y-fruit-y nature) this is more of a spring and early summer – or late summer – number? But I was feeling the need for some summer feeling, and so decided to revisit it as a mid-winter splash of sunshine. And really, the whiskey base certainly helps warm those winter blues. Maybe it should just be had on sunny winter days? Or maybe whenever one darn well feels like it! Drinking should be fun and not an ever-involved thought exercise, anyway. The first time I made this, I utilized Tommyrotter Distillery Triple Barrel American whiskey (which had happily shown up via the post), but this time I wanted to try a bourbon, and wanted to go local, and so went with Woodinville Whiskey’s award-winning (and always reliable!) Straight Bourbon. The slight sweetness and memorable spice went decidedly well with the fruit and mint notes (might be hard in winter to find good mint, depending on where you are, but stick with it! To the bold come the spoils and all that) I felt. Really, a lush lovely drink, no matter when drunk.
Our recent Graham Greene Cocktail Talking (don’t miss The Comedians Cocktail Talk and This Gun for Hire Cocktail Talk, plus more Graham Greene’s from the past) continues, this time with The Heart of the Matter, which I recently re-read, and in which they drink a lot of Pink Gins, and sweat a lot, too. It’s a classic in the more serious Greene vein, steeped in immaculate, elegant, prose, alongside delving into the interactions and motivations of the main character, including a deep look in his Catholic beliefs and how they cause in a way part of the action to unfurl. Not for the faint of reading heart, neccessarily. But for those who like gin!
“What about you, darling?” He turned quickly away from her and began to fix two more Pink Gins. There was a tacit understanding between them that ‘liquor helped;’ growing more miserable with every glass one hoped for the moment of relief.
“You don’t really want to know about me.”
“Of course I do, darling. What sort of a day have you had?”
“Ticki, why are you such a coward? Why don’t you tell me it’s all off?”
“You know what I mean – the passage. You’ve been talking and talking since you came in about the Esperanca. There’s a Portuguese ship in once a fortnight. You don’t talk that way every time. I’m not a child, Ticki. Why don’t you say straight out – you can’t go?”
He grinned miserably at his glass, twisting it round and round to let the Angostura cling along the curve.
Our world of drinking options continues to both expand and get smaller, though I realize that sounds fairly impossible. But in a way, it’s true, as our options expand thanks to the availability of more delicious products from around the globe, connecting us to different choices, which in a way has made the globe smaller, as these connections continue. Make any sense? Maybe! A long intro for telling you that I’m happy that we have more port available in the U.S.? Definitely! I’ve always had a fondness for port, probably due to reading so much Anthony Trollope and wishing we had an after-dinner port ritual like the English did once (though glad we’ve dropped other things from that time), but more-so because port’s yummy. I don’t claim to have a deep port knowledge however, which is why you can’t shame me too deeply for not knowing much about Kopke ports – it is, as I recently found out, the oldest port wine house in the world! Founded in the Douro region way way back in 1638 (!), you can imagine how otherworldly their stock of port stocks must be. They make Tawny and White ports, using a single harvest, and aging for as long as possible, which equals the fact that they release wines not only very delicious, but very singular, and very old.
And (don’t hate me for it), I was recently lucky enough to receive some Kopke ports for sampling. They were, to put in bluntly, amazing! As mentioned above, not a port expert, but I can say that sipping these exquisite ports was a treat I’d wish all my friends to experience. Kopke’s lush, layered ports are things to savor. Naturally, when dealing when rare artifacts like these, you’d want to mostly sip them solo, letting every drop spend time alone on the tongue. But, you know, me being me, I had to try one of these ports in a cocktail with others. Great ingredients make great cocktails, after all! I ended up using the Kopke Tawny Port 2012. Tasty but not as dear (we are mixing with it) as some others, it boasts rich flavors, deep fruit notes (plum, fig, a little cherry, whispers of roast orange), with hints of oaky nuttiness and vanilla, and a full body that’s a pleasure to savor. A base to have shine in a cocktail, accenting it with only small amounts of a few other ingredients. For those others, I wanted to play off some of the notes in the port. I started with Sidetrack Nocino (made right here in WA state, and a fine example of the nocino form), whose own rich nuttiness played perfectly, and then wanted more fruit notes. After trying this and that, ended with Clement Creole Shrubb, made on a base of white and aged rhums, bitter orange peels, and spices, whose layered flavors blended in nicely. But even with those fine liquid friends, the drink needed some undertones, still, and so our final ingredient: Scrappy’s Orange bitters, which delivers deep herbally-citrus tones. Altogether, a swell cocktail memorable in taste, and one I think does justice to the legendary Kopke name. Or I hope it does!
We, spooky friends, are very very very close to Halloween (a few paltry days)! While it falls on a Monday this year (which nearly seems unfair, though I feel that you can make any day of the week eerily jolly), it doesn’t mean that it’s not your scary duty to unleash a Warlock cocktail and while enjoying the delicious sips, transform into a zombie magician. Which is what everyone wants on Halloween. Spooky good! So whip up this brandy, Strega, limoncello, orange juice, and Peychaud’s bitters treat, my favoritest Halloween special, utilizing the handy, helpful, horrific video below!
Here’s a hit for all the fall lovers in the house, those who like nothing better than sweater weather, who dream of hay-rack rides, fresh apples, and crisp days and nights. Why, you ask? Well, because it features an applicious produce: cider! Or, here, cidre, specifically Louis Raison’s Rouge Delice cidre, made from bittersweet and Rouge Delice apples in France, by the Raison family (who’ve been making it since 1923). You could sub in another cider, or cidre, from France or here (here for me being WA), or other spots, but if you do, get one that has a hint of sweetness, but isn’t overly sweet (yucky). This one here has a swell floral, apple, essence which goes so well (surprisingly well? You be the judge!) with the smoky, rich, vegetal-ness of mezcal, specifically Montelobos Mezcal Jovan. Especially when it’s spiced up a bit (it is getting colder, and a little heat is always nice when that happens) via dandy and delicious ancho chile liqueur Ancho Reyes. Add a dash of The Bitter Housewife Aromatic bitters (bitters make life better pals, and this one delivers a cherry, ginger, spice, bitterness) and a smooch of lime and bam, you’re set for fall frolicking.
The world of spirits, liqueurs, and the cocktails one makes with them has undergone a wonderful internationalizing over the last, oh, 15 years (that number is not scientific, but more a musing digit that might approximate an impossible-to-actually-measure figure). By that I mean, so many products from around the globe once only consumed in their particular region or country are now being accessed by thankful drinkers in other spots. Make some sense? And this internationalizing is still rolling out, with more products showing in more spots. Again – thankful drinkers, including me! One type of produce that we’re finally seeing more of in WA (where I’m at) and the US in general is Shochu, the distilled tipple popular in Japan and made from a number of things: rice, sweet potatoes, buckwheat, and more. I’ll fully and readily admit I’m not a Shochu expert, but what I’ve had, I’ve enjoyed for its earthy, rich flavors (varying depending on the base product distilled) and friendly drinkability.
So, I was very excited recently to receive some Shochu in the mail (don’t be upset with me! I know I’m lucky), from Honkaku Spirits, which is one of the companies helping to spread the word and accessibility of Shochu, along with other Japanese spirits. They’ve been around since 2020, and are focused, amazingly enough, on working with family-run distilleries, which is awesome! One of their newly released imbibables is Jikuya White Sweet Potato Shochu, which is what I’m sipping today. Crafted at the Jikuya distillery (around since 1910! And specializing in sweet potato Shochu “completely sourced and produced in Kagoshima, among other specifications”!) by fourth generation Master Brewer-Distiller, Ms. Maiko Jikuya at the base of Mount Shibi, this Shochu clocks in at 25% ABV, and delivers a lovely flavor. Starting with a light-on-its-feet herbally, flowery (not heavy perfume flowers, but wildflowers) essence, it flows into notes of red berries and hints, just hints, of tea. Neat! Very approachable, very drinkable. And, delicious over ice, solo or with sparkling water (sidenote: there is also a Jikuya Black Sweet Potato Shochu, which is earthier, and well worth trying, too).
Shochu is often served neat, with ice, or with soda water (as well as with warm or room temp water), sometime with fruit juice added to the latter. It’s not as often utilized in cocktails. Not to say it isn’t! Just, from what I’ve seen, not as often. But while I enjoyed/enjoy it solo, I had to test it out with a few other ingredients, cocktail-style, because, well, that’s what I do! And after a little finagling, I came up with a combo that I think lets the Jikuya White Sweet Potato Shochu shine, but also lets it play nicely with others. This Shochu has such a delicate but memorable (hah! That’s a funny combo, but it works for me) nature, I wanted the cocktail to match, so it took a bit to find the right pairings. I landed on maraschino liqueur (I went with Luxardo Maraschino), whose somewhat lighter nuttiness was a swell fit, Dolin Blanc vermouth, due to the floral notes and bit of cuddle it always brings, and Scrappy’s singular Cardamon bitters, whose light spices and more florally goodness shone with the others. This foursome together sings a (if I can say this while being humble) liquid delight! It manages to be both layered in flavor, spice, floral, fruit, and maintain that delicate, brightness from the Shochu. You may want to have another the minute you finish the first. As you do, give a toast to the whole world, which – for thankful drinkers – has become a smaller place.
The Man Behind the Evening's PlansA.J. Rathbun is a freelance food and entertainment writer, poet and author, a frequent guest on the Everyday Food program (Martha Stewart Living/Sirius satellite radio), and is a contributor to culinary & entertainment magazines such as Every Day with Rachael Ray, The Food Network Magazine, Real Simple, Wine Enthusiast, and many others. Of course, there's so much more to it than that...Read More