Just weeks back, I had a Cocktail Talk from Qiu Xiaolong’s excellent Enigma of China, starring Chief Inspector Chen (be sure to read past Qiu Xiaolong Chen Cocktail Talks), in which we had a quote about classic Chinese poet Wang Xizi and a wine poem games he and other poets played, which is about the most amazing thing! Said poet from many years gone by (and the poets who played the wine poem game described) mostly hung out in the Chinese city (as it’s called today), Shaoxing. Now (and trust me, I’m bringing this all together, somewhat), also a few weeks back, some pals of mine from the wondrous Teacher’s Lounge dropped me off a bottle of what, it turns out, is Shaoxing wine! Also amazing. A fermented rice wine, it’s one of (I’ve read) the most famous of the genre, and one often used for cooking as well as drinking – actually, it’s a key cooking ingredient, due to its herbal-ish, funky-ish, fruit-y taste. But I believe that taste means that it can make a swell cocktail, too, and I think in this drink here, The Orchid Canopy (the name’s a shout out to Wang, too!), proves it. I felt something as personality-rich as Shaoxing wine needed a drinking partner that could stand up to it while mingling, and after some testing, came up with: port! Specifically, Sandeman 10-year-old Tawny port, which is a lush number that’s also fruity, with hint of nutty, too. Those notes, with more emphasis on the “fruity” but stone fruity (equaling a little nuttiness, too), are echoed in our third and last ingredient: Rothman and Winter Apricot liqueur. With these three ingredients, we have a cocktail that’s fit for a gathering of poets. Heck, they might even play a cocktail poem game with it!
Well, we’re the midst of spring (as well as being the midst of some other things, but hey, for a moment, let’s just skip those things, shall we? I mean, take our minds off of them with a nice drink, say), and with that, need to be thinking of refreshing moments, like diving into a mountain stream without socks on, or sucking on a peppermint while drinking ice water in a walk-in fridge, or having white wine cocktails, which in the main tend to be refreshers. Take this one, for example, one that utilizes, hmm, is it my favorite white wine? Well, I don’t like to have favorite boozes (cause the others get jealous, ba-dump-bump), but I will say that Orvieto Classico whites tend to agree with me quite comfortably.
Admittedly, there is a range of sorts within this DOC, but they all do I believe have to use Grechetto and Trebbiano – usually, I again believe, a blend of the two in some sort of proportions, but again, can be a range. They tend to be crisp and light, but with intriguing (as opposed to annoying I suppose) fruit notes, like peach and apple. See: refreshing!
Lovely on their own, I also am not opposed to trying to utilize them in a cocktail or mixed drink (as they say), demonstrated in this here circumstance. For this wine cocktail, I used Roio Orvieto Classico, 2018 version, which is reasonable to pick up, and has those peach and apple notes mentioned above, with a welcoming crispness and dry clean finish. It leans I believe heavier into Trebbiano, and has some Malvasia and Verdello grape action going, along with Grechetto. So, nicey nice! And to play with it, I decided on some pals that go smoothly with the wine’s flavor profile, starting with Purus vodka (made in Italy, so an ideal match, and you can read more about Purus here), moving into Fee Brothers Peach bitters, which is fruity on the bitters scale (ideal here, and a treat as a side note just with soda by the by), and then Rothman and Winter’s Orchard Apricot liqueur, which has a lush fruitiness along with a little sweetness (and ties into the stone fruit stuff). Altogether, you’ll want to be young, run green, all that.
Whiskey (with “e” or not) sometimes – or often – gets short shrift in the summer months, when the temperature is as high as modern hemlines. And I can see the point, a little, as whiskey is deep, dark, strong, and not known as a light-stepper. However! I also feel sad for whiskey, and think that there are many ways to utilize it that get the flavor, and also bring the refresh. Take this drink right here, which is a fruity, friendly, thirst-quencher that you’d be happy to have in the backyard as the sun goes down on an August day – or ever around the pool, if that’s your summertime activity of choice.
It starts with a whiskey that was new to me until recently (when some lovely little bottles showed up at my house – I know, I know, I’m lucky), Tommyrotter Distillery’s Triple Barrel American Whiskey. If you don’t know them already (and really, you should), Tommyrotter is a distillery from up in Buffalo NY, named after the Tommyrotters’ Club of early 20th century artist types, who (as the website told me), “sought adventure, mischief, and inspiration in nature.” I love that! That’s a good story for sure. Which wouldn’t mean as much if the whiskey wasn’t also good, naturally. A blend of three different whiskeys, which is then finished in French oak ex-wine barrels, this tipple is a very amiable and approachable spirit. It has a caramel and vanilla nature, accented by baking spice, apples (dried and fresh), and hints of herbs and other fruit – a little stone fruit here and there. The nose mirrors that taste, while the finish adds a bit more oak. Smooth! And well worth sipping solo.
But also, due to the approachability, dandy for mixing. Here, I brought in two fruit accents, both because I thought they’d match the whiskey well, and cause it seemed summer-y. To me, at least! First up, Rothman & Winter Orchard apricot liqueur. A brandy-based liqueur, it boasts a rich, lush, tasty that doesn’t get overwhelmed by cloying sweetness like some. Peach bitters from everyone friends at Fee Brothers rounds things out with its peach-forward-ness. Finally, some club soda (it is hot out, after all), a bunch of crushed ice I crushed myself (good exercise), and a sprig of mint from the garden. I’ve never really thought of mint, apricot, and peaches, but it’s a delight – when the whiskey is in place to make sure everyone plays nice.
Okay, there has to be a drink named this, right? It’s just too good not to have been utilized by some creative bartender (of which there are millions, lucky us), and so whomever has done so, my apologies. And if really there isn’t, than, wheee! Anyway, as you might expect from this name I’ve been mulling over, this is a rye drink, and one that hews close-ish to a rye Manhattan, which I think is a good place to start.
Another good place to start is the rye I’m using here, Clyde May’s rye. Clyde May’s is made by the Conecuh Distillery and is named after Alabama’s most famous bootlegger/moonshiner from days of yore (meaning, days when we had moonshiners, and not liquor stores one could trot into, or fire up online). I had their bourbon in a Mint Julep not too long ago, and you can go read about it. But now, it’s rye time, cause, as the drink name tells us, Rye Not?
The Clyde May’s rye is aged a minimum of three years and rolls off the tongue at 47% ABV. On the nose, it delivers some spice, caramel, and flowery notes, which unfold when sipping into a little stone fruit (apricots, I say!), and more spice and rye goodness, and a hint of pepper and sweetness trailing. A nice sipper, but also nice in cocktails like this one, where I – after due consideration – follow up on those apricot notes I parsed out above, by mixing it with a little (don’t want to overwhelm) apricot liqueur, as well as a little peach bitters, and to bring us all home, some Punt e’ Mes vermouth. All together, a swell drink for right about now, where there’s chill still in the air, but perhaps a dream of spring coming closer every day.
Here’s a haunting favorite I hadn’t made recently – which was foolish of me, because it’s a Halloween hit that’s good year round. But, especially due to the headless nature of the eerie moniker, it’s a chillingly good choice this time of year. Luckily, it’s not scary to make, and the taste isn’t scary at all, and your spooky party pals will love it. Heck, they might even say it’s boo-tiful. Hahaha!
It’s hard being the conquered. Stinks, even. Whether you’re Gaius Flaminius at the battle of Lago Trasimeno, or at the less-happy end after a re-org in a big company, or destroyed by a hated rival during the NFL playoffs on national TV, being in that position doesn’t tend to lead to happy days. However! The nights at least can be better when you drink the below, instead of feeling the literal whips. Maybe not much better, but a little better.
Halloween, friends and neighbors (especially those neighbors who currently—it’s October as I write—have tombstones or spiders in the yard, all kinds of pumpkins around, maybe a skeleton or two, and more spooky stuff), is almost here. Which means I’m un-burying my favorite eerie fall cocktail, the Sleepy Hollow. I’ve written about it before hither and yon, but always like to bring it up this time of year, cause it’s delicious and matches the holiday so well. Just don’t lose your head over it!
They said it couldn’t be done! They said that dark rum, Fernet-Branca, apricot liqueur, and lime couldn’t be mixed together! They said that Ginger Bliss and the Violet Fizz couldn’t contain a drink that contains said ingredients, and they said it couldn’t be delicious, herbal, and tangy all at once! They said that a drink named after a whip and a world-beater (or, conqueror) couldn’t be made, that the good people of this here earth I stand on wouldn’t sip it up like the nectar of the gods! They said that it wouldn’t be an ideal mixture for Fall’s cold days, and that it wouldn’t slide the chill right off like a loose negligee! They said, they said, they said. Who is they (you might say)? Well, I’m not 100% sure. But they’re bad people. Unlike you and I. Both of whom (I sure hope) love this drink.
1 -1/2 ounces dark rum
1 ounce Fernet-Branca
1/2 ounce apricot liqueur
1/4 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
Lime twist, for garnish
1. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway full with ice cubes. Add the rum, Fernet-Branca, apricot liqueur, and lime juice. Shake in a whip-cracking motion.
2. Strain into a cocktail glass, and garnish with the lime whip. Oh, I mean twist.
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