Some drinks just really get you – or, get me, as I’m typing, but I don’t think I’m the only one this happens to, so went with the “you” to encompass the world of people (like you) who like drinks. Does that make sense? If not, well, I understand. I also understand that this drink gets me, due to have just two ingredients, which line up with the two places I’ve lived in the last, oh, 23 years, Washington state and Italy. I’m cheating a tiny bit on the last one, cause the Italian ingredient is the legendary Meletti anisette (an all-time favorite of mine), which is made in the Le Marche region, where I didn’t actually live (I was in north Umbria pals), but I’ve been there, and I love this anisette, so let’s go with it. The other ingredient is made right here in W-A, and right outside of Seattle – it’s (spoiler alert) Woodinville Whiskey Co.’s swell bourbon. So, that’s why this drink gets me, cause of that combo. It also gets me cause of the wonderful taste. Now, what drinks get you? And does everything finally make sense (here’s hoping!)?
A cosmopolitan affair, I found the Portofino in an Italian drink collection called Cocktails Classici & Esptoco (Demetra, 2002) which I picked up in a bella Florence (Italy, that is) bookstore. It’s an intriguing combo with English liqueur Pimm’s – specifically Pimm’s No. 1 Cup, which is “made to James Pimm’s original recipe from 1823, a closely guarded secret known only to 6 people,” a recipe of gin, herbs, and a touch of fruitiness. It’s the main Pimm’s variety today (at one time there were six, made on bases of gin, Scotch, brandy, rum, rye, and vodka) though you can find Pimm’s Winter Cup, based on brandy, spices, and orange peel, if you look. The second main ingredient is Italian favorite Aperol (the light, orange, and barely bitter dream that’s taking everywhere you can imagine by orange-y storm). Portofino, the city this is named after, is located on the Italian Riviera in the Genoa province and according to reports (that go all the way back to Pliny the Elder, and why would he lie?), the town was settled by the Romans and named Portus Delphini, which means Port of the Dolphin, due to the dolphins that frolicked in the gulf around it. Amazing, am I right?
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!
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