Here’s something that’ll be no surprise to you, pal (as you’ve read this blog for years and years, and know me so well, and all that): I’m not opposed to a good dessert drink. Actually, I’m a dessert drink proponent, and feel that in our modern must-be-brown-and-bitter (I like brown and bitter, too, by the by) culture, sometimes people frown at slightly creamier and sweeter sippers – but not me! Anyway, the king of the dessert drinks, and an overall classic since 1916, is the Alexander, and I’m a big fan of its perfectly-balanced balance. I’ll have one fairly regularly (like, every six months or some such), but recently I was craving one and realized – GASP! – I was out of crème de cacao! What’s a boy to do? Well, I’m not one to sit around and not have a drink at all just being due to one missing ingredient. Instead of making sorrows, I make solutions! And really bad sayings, hahaha. In this case, my solution was subbing in another component that has the crème de cacao’s sweetness and flavor to the drink – though a different flavor as instead of chocolate, see, I went nutty, with Dumante Verdenoce pistachio liqueur. Really! Made with care in Italy using Sicilian pistachios, it’s a lush sipper and goes perfectly with gin and cream here. Perfectly I say! The combo retains the original’s smooth velvety-ness, with the gin accents and now some nutty nuttiness. Lovely! Especially when topped with a shake of cinnamon sugar, which I did!
The holiday season can be lots of happiness. It can also be lots of hectic-ness. And lots of jolly. And lots of a word that starts with “j” but means “nutty” (why can’t I think of such a word? can you?), as sometimes they get that way. Luckily, it’s more of the former in those two sentences, and less of the latter, but as the latter can creep in, and as at least as I write we’re in the thick of holi-things, I’m going to not even come up with a snazzy name for the drink I’m having (or a classic name, for those classically-named things), but just going to keep it straight: Cynar 70 Highball. Which is okay, really (even for a naming snob like me), cause it gets to the point. The Cynar 70 point.
Cynar, if you don’t, is an amaro, really (those Italian digestifs the kids are in to), made from artichokes and 13 herbs and spices starting in 1952, though it really took off in the 60s, thanks to some commercials starring Ernesto Calindri, an Italian movie and television star and a perfect Italian gentleman, who in said commercials usually in the middle of some chaos (an energetic family, a busy street) sipping Cynar, or Cynar and soda, without a care in the world. Cynar shades a little on the sweeter side, and was an only child until recently when Cynar 70 was released – to the happiness of the world! It’s, as the name gives away, 70 proof, so about double the umph of the original with a slightly more bitter-y and earthy nature, while still bringing the herbal goodness and just a hint of sweet. It is dreamy in cocktails, and by itself. Even in those simple cocktails you might want when the holidays get bustle-y, and you want to not have a care in the world.
Cynar 70 Highball
2 ounces Cynar 70
4 ounces club soda
Orange twist, for garnish
1. Fill a highball or comparable glass three-quarters up with ice cubes. Add the Cynar 70, and then the soda.
I recently received a bottle of Redwood Empire whiskey, made by Graton Distillery, in the mail (don’t be mad), and made this very scrumptious cocktail right here. As you might expect, Redwood Empire is made up in Northern California, near the trees of its name. What you might not expect, or know, is that it’s a blend of whiskeys, intriguingly enough. A blend of house-distilled rye (60%), and four, five, and eleven-year-old bourbons (40%), all aged in charred American Oak, and with some of the rye aged in port and wine barrels, too. Wowsa, that’s almost hard to keep track of, but how creative. It’s like an artist’s collage. But you wouldn’t want to drink that, hahaha!
The nose has a nice vanilla-y sweetness along with spices like cloves, cinnamon, and a little citrus. The taste unfolds a little bourbon sweetness, but also rye spiciness and a bit of pepper, with nice vanilla and caramel swirling throughout. A fine, and intriguing (as mentioned!) blend that rises up to become its own animal. Sip it, and see.
And then make this drink! I couldn’t – of course – not try it in cocktails, and after some thought and playing around, made a strategic choice to keep the number of ingredients small, just two accents to highlight the whiskey. First, I made my own intriguing choice, Seattle Distilling Company’s fantastic coffee liqueur. I just thought its richness and brown-sugar-y sweetness would play well with the whiskey’s personality. And I was right! But I felt we needed some strong herbal undertoning, though, and so brought in a new favorite I feel I’ll be sipping lots: Cynar 70. About twice the proof of regular Cynar (if you don’t know, a popular Italian amaro made from artichokes), it delivers a combo of cocoa, bitter botanicals, and deep herbal-ness, with a touch of sweetness. Everything together: yummy! Strong and yummy, and would wake you up nicely on a cold morning. But it goes smoothly at night, too.
Okay, yes, you caught me. I’m having a Golden Frog, and Italian-ing it in name. I’m apologize, but I just returned from Italy (or maybe I’m on my way back still, sometimes when traveling and taking time away it’s nearly dreamlike, and time does strange things to you, especially in Umbria I believe, when you’re on a hillside and the sun in bright and the air is crisp and you have a drink of vodka, Galliano, Strega, and lemon juice, and everything is so gold, gold, gold), and am craving a little more Italian vacation in my day, and so here I am with a La Rana d’Oro and you’re hassling me about the name? You probably won’t get one, then.
Maybe I’m missing summer, maybe I’m a bore (get it? sure you do!), maybe I’m feeling tropical amidst the descending days of winter, or maybe I’m heading to San Leo tomorrow – whichever the I’m I am, I decided I needed one of these today. It features an Italian tamarind syrup (any good molasses-y textured tamarind syrup will do, and if you can’t find one, him, try a pomegranate syrup and call this a Sleeping Cinghiale’s Bikini) and other jolly pals.
1-1/2 ounces dark rum
3/4 ounce pineapple juice
1/2 ounce freshly squeeze lime juice
1/2 Carlo Erba Tamarindo syrup
Lime slice, for garnish
Pineapple slice, for garnish
1. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway full with ice cubes. Add the rum, juices, and tamarind. Shake really well.
2. Strain through a fine strainer into a cocktail glass, or whatever good glass is nearby. Garnish with the lime slice and pineapple slice.
If you’ve forgotten (though how could you, marketing being the horror that it is), tomorrow is Halloween! I’m guessing you have your costume set, but what about your drink? If not, then remember the Warlock! It has brandy, Strega, limoncello, orange juice, and Peychaud’s bitters. It will, when consumed, turn you into a zombie magician as the below video shows. But hey, it’s Halloween, that’s what you want!
Usually, I try not to have favorites in booze categories. Meaning, I wouldn’t say I have a favorite gin (I like too many, too well), or amaro, or vermouth. Or white wine. However, I might say I have a favorite red wine (other red wines, please turn away now). Or, at least a favorite red wine grape, that being Sagrantino. Growing only around Montefalco, in Umbria (lovely town, by the way, the Falcon’s Mount, also referred to the balcony of Umbria, and worth a visit – great churches, great museum, a few mummies, and more, and the wine, naturally), real Sagrantino di Montefalco uses 100 percent Sagrantino grapes, is aged 37 months at the shortest, and has a deep, rich, color (dark purple) and taste of dark stone fruits. Memorable stuff!
But here’s something I recently found out (thanks to a bottle coming my way). There’s also a Montefalco Rosso wine. It’s a bit like Sagrantino’s more playful younger sibling. Aged just 18 months and blended with 60-80% Sangiovese. The specific bottle I tasted was Tenuta Alzatura Montefalco Rosso, which is 70% Sangiovese, 15% Sangrantino, and 15% Merlot. It’s a beautiful wine, with a light ruby coloring, and also a lighter nature than Sagrantino, probably more approachable for a larger percentage of people, with a fruity nature (red fruit, juicy ones), and hints of spice on the nose and taste, but with a softer finish than its sibling. A nice red wine for a late-summer or fall day. And also, a nice one for making into a wine cocktail.
Of course, as you know, I have a hard time not experimenting with any ingredient I have at hand, and while a glass of this Montefalco Rosso by itself is dreamy, it plays well with others, too. Here, I brought in some Italian favorites, starting with light, slightly citrus, aperitif, Aperol. To match up with that and to balance some of the wine’s fruits, a few dashes of Fee Brothers Orange bitters added to the party – not Italian, but we do have another Italian fav, too. See, I wanted some strong undercurrents, too (sometimes in fall there’s a chill in the air), and wanted to stay Italian-style, and so brought in an underutilized cocktail ingredient: grappa. Specifically: Marolo Grappa di Amarone, which is aged in oak, and which has cherry notes, along with an adaptable nuttiness, that go with the wine perfectly. Altogether, this is a cocktail that’ll have you fantasizing of Italy – and savoring every sip.
While we aren’t really into fall (theoretically, the season starts the 22nd), it still feels like we’re oozing into the time of year when bourbon is in the air. Here, in this drink, it’s the sea air, in a way, as the base we’re working with is a new release from Chambers Bay, a distillery here in Washington which ages their whiskey on a floating boathouse (on the Puget Sound, which eventually connects with the sea). The specific whiskey is Chambers Bay’s Straight Bourbon (I received some in the mail, lucky me), Batch #3, which was bottled in late July after being aged in oak barrels a minimum of 3-1/2 years. Due the boathouse movement, however, the aging process actually feels (tastes?) as if it was aged longer. They also make the bourbon with grains (corn, white wheat, barley) from Grant County, WA, and use a wild yeast from local orchards. What’s it all mean beyond the swell local-ness? A bourbon with lots of depth, and a flavor that’ll make you skip with happiness: caramel, and a little fig, nuttiness, oak, and other spices – plus a small hint of salt and sea air.
All of which equals a nice whiskey to sip, but also a nice one to mix with, especially with other spice treats. Here, I started the mingling with an award-winner: Raft Cardamom bitters (which was named 2018 Product of the Year by the Specialty Food Association), a great savory and spice bitters that’s going to add some depth and add to the pack of flavors we’re bringing together. One note: these bitters are also under the Bitter Housewife brand, but don’t get confused, it’s a sibling of Raft. It’s made in Portland, OR, by Genevieve Brazelton, Founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Portland, Oregon’s Improper Goods, the overall brand Raft and the Bitter Housewife live under, along with a great group of syrups, bitters and cocktail kits made with care. Yummy stuff.
But the bourbon and bitters aren’t’ the only yummy stuffs here. I wanted to keep building on the spice notes, and bring in some complimentary pals, too. Enter, one Italian-influenced local favorite, Sidetrack Distillery’s memorable and delicious green-walnut-based Nocino, and one favorite actually from Italy: the divine Meletti Anisette. These two have been parts of many drinks I’ve made due to their fantastic flavors – as well as being favorites when sipped solo. All together, this is a layered, memorable, fall drink that you’re sure to want to make for all your friends.
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