October 5, 2018

What I’m Drinking: On the Road to Montefalco

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.

road-to-montefalco
On the Road to Montefalco

Cracked ice
2 ounces Tenuta Alzatura Montefalco Rosso
1 ounce Aperol
1/2 ounce Marolo Grappa di Amarone
2 dashes Fee Brothers Orange bitters

1. Fill a cocktail shaker or mixing glass halfway full with cracked ice. Add everything. Stir well.

2. Strain into a cocktail glass. Bella, bella.

September 14, 2018

What I’m Drinking: Pup In a Blanket

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.

pup-in-a-blanket
Pup In A Blanket

Cracked Ice
2 ounces Chambers Bay Straight Bourbon (Batch #3)
3/4 ounces Sidetrack Nocino
1/4 ounce Meletti Anisette
2 dashes Raft Cardamom bitters

1. Fill a cocktail shaker or mixing glass halfway full with cracked ice. Add everything. Stir well.

2. Strain into a cocktail glass. Cuddle with the dog of your choice (without spilling your drink, naturally).

August 3, 2018

What I’m Drinking: The Americano

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!

americanoThe Americano (using the recipe from Ginger Bliss and the Violet Fizz)

Ice cubes
2 ounces Campari
2 ounces sweet vermouth
Chilled club soda
Orange slice, for garnish

1. Fill a highball glass three-quarters full with ice cubes. Add the Campari and vermouth. Stir gently.

2. Add club soda to the glass until the glass is almost full. Garnish with an orange slice.

June 29, 2018

What I’m Drinking: What I’m Drinking: The Sicilian Sling

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 Fizz that “the result will break any hold a dusty, hot summer’s day has on you.”

sicilian-slingThe Sicilian Sling

Ice cubes
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.

June 8, 2018

What I’m Drinking: The Mint Meridian

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.

mint-meridian
The Mint Meridian

Ice cubes
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.

April 24, 2018

Cocktail Talk: The Day of the Owl

Image result for Leonardo Sciascia, The Day of the OwlAn intriguing read by an author I don’t know, an Italian author, this book’s title was too good to pass up, plus the fact that it takes place in Sicily (where the author, Leonardo Sciascia is from), and that it says on the back “in the very first rank of Italian writers,” and so, well, I had to give it a good look. It falls into the crime genre, which combined with everything else also brought me in. It’s well worth reading, too, though if you only read very straightforward crime novels, it might take you down a slightly different path – which isn’t a bad thing, me thinks. Don’t get me wrong, there is crime, a worthy police Captain, serious pacing, and the Mafia. But there’s also a lovely beauty to the prose that feels different, a way of capturing and condemning the social scene in this place and time, and a more literary lean, if any of that makes sense. Check it out if you can find it for all of the above, and for the below quote (which I think is slightly off-translation actually, but still perhaps the only Averna quote in a crime book that I’ve seen):

Pizzuco, who had invited him to a bitter vermouth at the Cafe Gulino, as so often in the past, was astounded at Parrinieddu’s refusal and abrupt flight; though not particularly bright, he wondered about it for the rest of the day. Parrinieddu, for his part, was so rattled that he spent the day attributing sinister meanings to that offer of a bitter vermouth, bitter betrayal, bitter death, over-looking the well-known fact that Pizzuco suffered from what the doctors call cirrhosis due to his fondness for Averna’s bitter vermouth – a beverage which made him proclaim his faith as a Separatist and ex-soldier of the Volunteer Army for Sicilian Independence.

–Leonardo Sciascia, The Day of the Owl

February 16, 2018

What I’m Drinking: Walking Majestically

I’ve had a few cocktails on the Spiked Punch already featuring awesome Ardbeg Scotches – heck, if you haven’t seen them, you should check them out. Recently (I guess I was born under a lucky star!) I received one of their newest numbers in the mail, the mysteriously named Ardbeg An Oa.

Named after the Mull of Oa, a very dramatic point on the cliffy pinnacle of Oa on Islay – where Ardbeg is as well – An Oa is a little dramatic, too, in that it’s spent time in the new Ardbeg Gathering Vat which boasts whiskies from multiple casks – sherry, virgin charred oak, ex-bourbon – all hanging out. There has to be some drama, right? Of the best kind, as is obvious in the end result here, a Scotch that’s an approachable sipper with a fair amount of smoky and peatiness, but also sweetness on the nose and taste, as well as citrus and spice in the former, and black tea, chocolate, citrus, and a savoryness in the latter. Overall, a great Scotch, solo or over ice.

But also one I had to try in cocktails (‘natch)! But what to pair it with? I wanted an end result that had some umph and retained the Scotch’s personality, but also with a few other notes and notices. After trying a little of this, and a little of that, went with just two more pals from hither and thither. Starting with Cynar, the legendary Italian artichoke liqueur, which is now much more available and renowned (as it should be) than the first time I had it, thanks to the herbal and slightly sweet taste that goes well before and after dinner and in cocktails. The third ingredient is lesser known, Sásta, a tea-based liqueur from Four Leaf Spirits, based right outside of Seattle. Might not be the easiest to get right now if you’re not in WA, but hey, come visit! Sásta is well worth the trip, with a citrus, mint, chamomile, and rooibos tea combo built over a cane spirit base and local honey. This liqueur isn’t that sweet, carries a bit of a kick, and has layers of orange, spice, and herbal moments.

The above trio delivers a cocktail with lots of umph, smokiness, and a ridiculous amount of flavors. Not one to throw back, but one to let linger on the tongue some, where those flavors can come on out to be noticed.

walking-majestically
Walking Majestically

Cracked ice
2 ounces Ardbeg An Oa
3/4 ounces Cynar
1/2 ounce Four Leaf Spirits Sásta tea liqueur
Orange twist, for garnish

1. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway full with cracked ice. Add everything but the twist. Stir well.

2. Strain into a cocktail glass, and garnish with the orange twist (notice there is no twist in the photo – well, I tried this without, and with, and the with was better, but I forgot to photo it).

January 5, 2018

What I’m Drinking: In The Treetops with Delamain L’Aigle XO Cognac

It’s a smidge odd to say about one of the world’s revered sippers, but Cognac (especially in the states, I suppose) gets a little short shrift. Especially when it comes to cocktails. But consider this, friends – Cognac was a key player in the early days of cocktailing, and used as the base spirit in many classic drinks (the Sazerac, for one, but also a bunch of others), including ones that shifted for one reason or another to a different base. Both the shifts and the lack of Cognac-ing in modern cocktails is a shame, because the layers of flavors that unfold in good Cognacs when paired with the right pals make memorable drinks.

Let’s take this one, In The Treetops, for example! I was lucky enough (don’t curse me for it, especially not this early in the year) to receive a bottle of L’Aigle de Delamain XO Grande Champagne Cognac recently. The Eagle (L’Aigle equals The Eagle) is a delicious Cognac, aged in Limousin oak casks near the Charente River, and one that can be – and maybe should be! – savored solo, thanks to its bold-yet-graceful and complex-yet-approachable nature. It delivers floral and citrus essences on the nose, with a few nutty notes, too, and even more lush orange and fruit with a little chocolate and nuttiness in the unfolding flavor. It’s really as good as you’d expect from Delamain, who, if you don’t know, have been making renowned Cognacs since, oh, the 1600s. Or thereabouts!

When deciding to mix a cocktail with a Cognac this swell, I think keeping it fairly simple, letting the Cognac shine, adding only a few others players, is the way to go. I first thought I’d go with a drink from another lesser-known classic, Crosby Gaige’s Cocktail Guide and Ladies Companion (from the early 1940s), a drink called Rock a Bye Baby. And, admittedly, which you might guess from the title of this cocktail (if you know your nursery rhymes), I didn’t stray far from the original. I kept the same ingredients, Cognac (well, Crosby used brandy), sweet vermouth (I used Martini Gran Lusso Italian vermouth, 150th anniversary edition, made from Barbera and oak-aged Moscato, and with lovely fruit tones and a smidge of sweetness), and Bénédictine. But Crosby (who will forgive me I’m sure), had equal parts Cognac and sweet vermouth, and less Bénédictine. I wanted to let Delamain’s L’Aigle fly higher, so boosted the Cognac, drifted down the sweet vermouth, and upper the Bénédictine some to herbal-ize the edges more. The end result is a layered, sophisticated-in-the-best-way, cocktail, one that is a special treat, sure, but don’t you deserve to be treated? I think you do.

from-the-treetops
In The Treetops

Cracked ice
2 ounces L’Aigle de Delamain XO Grande Champagne Cognac
1 ounce Martini & Rossi Gran Lusso Italian vermouth
1/2 ounce Bénédictine

1. Fill a cocktail shaker or mixing glass halfway full with cracked ice. Add everything. Stir well.

2. Strain into a cocktail glass. Enjoy life’s momentary luxuries.

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