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 Americano is a summertime favorite around my back porch, and should be one around yours, too. It’s been consumed as a warm-weather aperitivo for well over a hundred years, tracing its history back to at least 1860, and is a snap to make (you don’t want to be sweating drink-construction too much when the heat is on). Also, if you’ve been dreaming of a vacation, but just haven’t been able to take one yet, this can help transport you to Italy, in your mind, at least. Which is better than nothing!
This should be your go-to this summer (or one of them, at least), as it’ll transport you all over Europe without you having to leave the yard, while at the same time serving as a cool cooler, just as you want when the temps are tempting the higher digits. It was created by an old pal and bartending legend, Jeremy Sidener (who owns the Eighth Street Taproom in Lawrence, KS), who was genius enough to bring together the herbally Italian amaro Averna (which is about in the middle of the bitter scale when looking over the amaro family) and French herb-y Bénédictine, along with cherry brandy, lemon juice, and soda. I myself said in Ginger Bliss and the Violet Fizzthat “the result will break any hold a dusty, hot summer’s day has on you.”
The Sicilian Sling
1-1/2 ounces Averna
1/2 ounce cherry brandy
1/2 ounce Bénédictine
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
Chilled club soda
1 or 2 fresh basil leaves, for garnish
1. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway full with ice cubes. Add the Averna, cherry brandy, Bénédictine, and lemon juice. Shake well.
2. Fill a highball glass three-quarters full with ice cubes. Strain the mixture into the glass. Top with chilled club soda, filling it almost to the top. Gently smack the basil leaf or leaves and let them rest on the drink’s top.
Recently, I was on a trip – the actual physical kind, mind you – that took me away from my home bar and home region, and led me, let’s just say, to a different state, and while there I was really craving Brancamenta, and couldn’t find any anywhere. Anywhere! What kind of place or region or locale or spot doesn’t have this Fernet Branca sibling, which adds Piedmontese peppermint oil and a little sweetness to the legendary bitter-and-herb digestif?
Well, I was missing the minty mint-ness indeed by the time I got back, especially as we’re heading into summer and Brancamenta is a summertime hit of special proportions, especially with soda, and even moreso when mingled with dark rum (another summer fav) and a few other choice choices in the below drink. Try it and see! And if you have to travel anywhere that might not have Brancamenta, even just maybe might not have it, take your bottle with you. You don’t want to run into the situation I did, believe me you.
The Mint Meridian
2 ounces dark rum
3/4 ounces Brancamenta
1/4 freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
Chilled club soda
Mint sprig, for garnish
1. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway up with ice cubes. Add the rum, Brancamenta, lemon juice, and bitters. Shake well.
2. Fill a highball or closely comparable glass up with ice cubes. Strain the mix from Step 1 into the glass through a fine strainer.
3. Top with 3 ounces club soda. Stir. Garnish with the mint spring. Enjoy your afternoon.
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