I love the song Mood Indigo, especially when Ella Fitzgerald sings the Duke Ellington tune with Duke playing. It’s moody, though, in melancholy sense, which for me makes it not a perfect brunch accompaniment (brunch being more of a sunshine-y affair). You know what it a good brunch accompaniment? This drink, Mood Lavender, named with a nod to the aforementioned song. And yes, that was the most random connecting of two ideas a drinks blog has ever had, but I couldn’t resist! I also couldn’t resist using the newish Unicorn vodka (a bottle of which recently showed up in the mail – don’t be mad at my luck, friend) to make a drink that had a color in the name.
Why, you might ask? Well, I’m here to tell you why! It’s because Unicorn vodka is infused with butterfly pea flowers, naturally. What does that do? First, it makes the vodka a deep cobalt-y color. Second, it means the vodka changes color when mixed into a drink with certain other ingredients. Like magic! Drink magic. It’s also infused with a touch of tangerine and rose hips (and based on corn if memory serves). None of the botanicals are so prevalent to take it into flavored vodka realm (a realm which can be dangerous), but do add an echo of the botanical to the taste and aroma. It’s a smooth sipper, too, a vodka you wouldn’t be sad to have solo, perhaps with a cube of ice or two.
But how (I can hear you from here), how does the magic work? The bottle itself says on the back that if you add a squeezed lime wedge or some soda it changes to purple, and two lime wedges or more soda changes it to pink, and that is true and a simple way to test your own sorcerous powers. Other ingredients can have the same effect, however, opening up the options. When working up my own Unicorn vodka cocktail idea, I found lemon a nice match (which also adds that acidic citrus umph to assist in the color changing) with the vodka, so started there. More pals to bring to our cocktail party did prove challenging, in a fun way. See, there’s a flavor component, as always, to think about, but here also a color one. I know color and the visuals are important no matter what, but felt here, even moreso. I wanted to keep the vodka’s color front and center, see.
Which led to some testing, but eventually I went with four more ingredients. First, I felt a true (meaning, not with extra sugar and stupid stuff added, just the pure distilled fruit) fruit brandy would be nice. And another Washington distillery, Oomrang, makes a delicious Donut Peach eau de vie, one that has that layered donut (or Saturn) peach flavor and a dry sweetness. It’s a beauty of a brandy, and a gold-medal winner, and went wonderfully. Two base spirits can give a lot of umph, so rounded out the edges with simple syrup. Good, so far, but needed another layer, and decided, rightly, to follow along the peach road, with a good dash of Fee Brothers fragrant Peach Bitters. A pretty yummy drink right there, but as I was serving it at brunch, decided to lighten it up a touch with club soda. I though long about going with brunch favorite Champagne, but felt the drink had enough punch and enough sweetness, so: soda!
And, if I can say so humbly, it’s a joy of a drink, light, layered, nice on the nose and tongue. And so so pretty! The lemon juice and perhaps the soda took Unicorn’s cobalt hue down a few notches on the dark scale (perhaps the brandy and bitters and simple pitched in as well), but as all but the lemon were clear in color, it kept a radiance that I quite liked. You might, too!
1. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway full with ice cubes. Add the vodka, brandy, lemon juice, bitters, and simple. Shake.
2. Strain through a fine strainer into a thin stemmed flute-ish glass, or another glass if you so desire.
3. Top with the soda. Stir briefly, gently. Add an ice cube if you think your soda isn’t chilled enough. Or if you want to. It’s all about the cool, and that means keeping your cool, too. Garnish with a duo of butterfly pea flowers.
Note: I had butterfly pea flowers around (they also came in the mail), and they made such a pretty little garnish I couldn’t resist using them for such. If you don’t have them, don’t fret. You could also go with a lemon twist. It would add a touch more lemon, but that wouldn’t be bad, I don’t think.
While summer doesn’t officially start until, what, a month or thereabout from now, I’m always in my (very old) brain beginning to think “summer” in force on Memorial Day weekend, which is to say, right now! Summer only has a short “lease” (to bring us all together to the all together of this drink’s name), so I like to stretch it out longer than the calendar specifics. I’d say you can disagree, but, really, I doubt many would as it’s a fairly innocuous or unmemorable thought. This drink, however, is very memorable (if I may be so bold and not blush, as I created it), thanks to a double shot of rum – both white rum and the fancy Stiggins’ Fancy Pineapple rum, which is a delight to nature – a splash of herbally-but-approachably-awesome Montenegro amaro (most popular amaro in Italy by-the-way), pineapple juice (the juice epitome of summer), Scrappy’s Lime bitters (which if it would have been around during the first tiki wave, that wave would have never stopped), soda (for cooling and bubbly purposes), and fresh mint. It’s a treat all summer long, no matter how many days you want to celebrate the season.
This drink is no joke. Though tomorrow is of course April Fool’s Day! And because of which, we will all be fools tomorrow (well, in a manner of speaking since it’s now a part of the Gregorian calendar more-or-less, at least in many parts of the world, and as most – or all – use said calendar currently, well, “we will all be fools tomorrow” makes some sense). So, having a tasty drink that is, by it’s very name, a paradise for all us fools at the ready, well, it seems the smart thing, even for fools. Did you know, as a side note, that no-one is exactly sure where April Fool’s Day started, but that it has been going on for centuries, back to say maybe the 13th, but definitely probably the 14th or 15th? Wowza, that’s a lotta fools. Sadly, the ingredients contained herein weren’t available back then – sadly for those living then, that is. Luckily for you, all four of the below are available now. No foolin’!
Our world of drinking options continues to both expand and get smaller, though I realize that sounds fairly impossible. But in a way, it’s true, as our options expand thanks to the availability of more delicious products from around the globe, connecting us to different choices, which in a way has made the globe smaller, as these connections continue. Make any sense? Maybe! A long intro for telling you that I’m happy that we have more port available in the U.S.? Definitely! I’ve always had a fondness for port, probably due to reading so much Anthony Trollope and wishing we had an after-dinner port ritual like the English did once (though glad we’ve dropped other things from that time), but more-so because port’s yummy. I don’t claim to have a deep port knowledge however, which is why you can’t shame me too deeply for not knowing much about Kopke ports – it is, as I recently found out, the oldest port wine house in the world! Founded in the Douro region way way back in 1638 (!), you can imagine how otherworldly their stock of port stocks must be. They make Tawny and White ports, using a single harvest, and aging for as long as possible, which equals the fact that they release wines not only very delicious, but very singular, and very old.
And (don’t hate me for it), I was recently lucky enough to receive some Kopke ports for sampling. They were, to put in bluntly, amazing! As mentioned above, not a port expert, but I can say that sipping these exquisite ports was a treat I’d wish all my friends to experience. Kopke’s lush, layered ports are things to savor. Naturally, when dealing when rare artifacts like these, you’d want to mostly sip them solo, letting every drop spend time alone on the tongue. But, you know, me being me, I had to try one of these ports in a cocktail with others. Great ingredients make great cocktails, after all! I ended up using the Kopke Tawny Port 2012. Tasty but not as dear (we are mixing with it) as some others, it boasts rich flavors, deep fruit notes (plum, fig, a little cherry, whispers of roast orange), with hints of oaky nuttiness and vanilla, and a full body that’s a pleasure to savor. A base to have shine in a cocktail, accenting it with only small amounts of a few other ingredients. For those others, I wanted to play off some of the notes in the port. I started with Sidetrack Nocino (made right here in WA state, and a fine example of the nocino form), whose own rich nuttiness played perfectly, and then wanted more fruit notes. After trying this and that, ended with Clement Creole Shrubb, made on a base of white and aged rhums, bitter orange peels, and spices, whose layered flavors blended in nicely. But even with those fine liquid friends, the drink needed some undertones, still, and so our final ingredient: Scrappy’s Orange bitters, which delivers deep herbally-citrus tones. Altogether, a swell cocktail memorable in taste, and one I think does justice to the legendary Kopke name. Or I hope it does!
Here’s a hit for all the fall lovers in the house, those who like nothing better than sweater weather, who dream of hay-rack rides, fresh apples, and crisp days and nights. Why, you ask? Well, because it features an applicious produce: cider! Or, here, cidre, specifically Louis Raison’s Rouge Delice cidre, made from bittersweet and Rouge Delice apples in France, by the Raison family (who’ve been making it since 1923). You could sub in another cider, or cidre, from France or here (here for me being WA), or other spots, but if you do, get one that has a hint of sweetness, but isn’t overly sweet (yucky). This one here has a swell floral, apple, essence which goes so well (surprisingly well? You be the judge!) with the smoky, rich, vegetal-ness of mezcal, specifically Montelobos Mezcal Jovan. Especially when it’s spiced up a bit (it is getting colder, and a little heat is always nice when that happens) via dandy and delicious ancho chile liqueur Ancho Reyes. Add a dash of The Bitter Housewife Aromatic bitters (bitters make life better pals, and this one delivers a cherry, ginger, spice, bitterness) and a smooch of lime and bam, you’re set for fall frolicking.
The world of spirits, liqueurs, and the cocktails one makes with them has undergone a wonderful internationalizing over the last, oh, 15 years (that number is not scientific, but more a musing digit that might approximate an impossible-to-actually-measure figure). By that I mean, so many products from around the globe once only consumed in their particular region or country are now being accessed by thankful drinkers in other spots. Make some sense? And this internationalizing is still rolling out, with more products showing in more spots. Again – thankful drinkers, including me! One type of produce that we’re finally seeing more of in WA (where I’m at) and the US in general is Shochu, the distilled tipple popular in Japan and made from a number of things: rice, sweet potatoes, buckwheat, and more. I’ll fully and readily admit I’m not a Shochu expert, but what I’ve had, I’ve enjoyed for its earthy, rich flavors (varying depending on the base product distilled) and friendly drinkability.
So, I was very excited recently to receive some Shochu in the mail (don’t be upset with me! I know I’m lucky), from Honkaku Spirits, which is one of the companies helping to spread the word and accessibility of Shochu, along with other Japanese spirits. They’ve been around since 2020, and are focused, amazingly enough, on working with family-run distilleries, which is awesome! One of their newly released imbibables is Jikuya White Sweet Potato Shochu, which is what I’m sipping today. Crafted at the Jikuya distillery (around since 1910! And specializing in sweet potato Shochu “completely sourced and produced in Kagoshima, among other specifications”!) by fourth generation Master Brewer-Distiller, Ms. Maiko Jikuya at the base of Mount Shibi, this Shochu clocks in at 25% ABV, and delivers a lovely flavor. Starting with a light-on-its-feet herbally, flowery (not heavy perfume flowers, but wildflowers) essence, it flows into notes of red berries and hints, just hints, of tea. Neat! Very approachable, very drinkable. And, delicious over ice, solo or with sparkling water (sidenote: there is also a Jikuya Black Sweet Potato Shochu, which is earthier, and well worth trying, too).
Shochu is often served neat, with ice, or with soda water (as well as with warm or room temp water), sometime with fruit juice added to the latter. It’s not as often utilized in cocktails. Not to say it isn’t! Just, from what I’ve seen, not as often. But while I enjoyed/enjoy it solo, I had to test it out with a few other ingredients, cocktail-style, because, well, that’s what I do! And after a little finagling, I came up with a combo that I think lets the Jikuya White Sweet Potato Shochu shine, but also lets it play nicely with others. This Shochu has such a delicate but memorable (hah! That’s a funny combo, but it works for me) nature, I wanted the cocktail to match, so it took a bit to find the right pairings. I landed on maraschino liqueur (I went with Luxardo Maraschino), whose somewhat lighter nuttiness was a swell fit, Dolin Blanc vermouth, due to the floral notes and bit of cuddle it always brings, and Scrappy’s singular Cardamon bitters, whose light spices and more florally goodness shone with the others. This foursome together sings a (if I can say this while being humble) liquid delight! It manages to be both layered in flavor, spice, floral, fruit, and maintain that delicate, brightness from the Shochu. You may want to have another the minute you finish the first. As you do, give a toast to the whole world, which – for thankful drinkers – has become a smaller place.
It’s the middle of September! Hard to believe my friends. Time, it flies by like a flock of Peregrine Falcons (meaning: fast)! Not only are we in the back half of 2022, but we are also nearing October, which for me means fall trips to Italy (I hope for you, too), and truffles, and pasta, and art, and well, you know. It also means Italian drinks, wines, limoncellos, grappas, Italian beers, and of course amari. It’s funny, in a time flying way, and in a “sometimes things do change for the better” way, how many more of the latter, the amari (and other digestif-y and aperitif-y Italian brothers and sisters, not the grappas, sadly), are available now in the US than when I first made this here drink, Good Luck in Pisticci, like 7 years ago. Amari explosion! And if you expand that time frame (short in the overall realm of time) to the first time I went to Italy when I had my first amaro (I believe it was Montenegro), like 25ish years ago, well, it’s a big bang style explosion! An herbal, bitter and bittersweet, and lovely explosion!
Without which, I couldn’t make this drink, itself herbally rich and flavorful, but also citrus-y, bubbly, and jolly, in a way! It leans heavily on a particular amaro, Amaro Lucano created in 1894 by cookie baker Pasquale Vena (an aside: amari and chocolate chip cookies are a pleasant pairing) using an herbs and spices. Eventually, it became the sipper of choice to ancient ruling family the House of Savoy, which is neat, and it’s swell to sip solo, but also swell here with a few WA ingredients, Kur gin (delicious – read more of me talking about it) and Scrappy’s Grapefruit bitters (if you aren’t aware of how awesome Scrappy’s bitters are, then you have a wonderful future finding out), and classic orange stalwart Grand Marnier, and soda, and mint. Good Luck indeed!
As a good reporter and editor (much like Rock Rockwell, the intrepid editor of The Record, and hero in this here mystery book from 1950), I’m going to start this Cocktail Talk by referring you to the reference point of the What Rhymes with Murder? Cocktail Talk Part I, where I dig into the idea of reporters/mystery heroes, and a little more about the book as a whole. Here, I wanna just dive into the Cocktail Talking, so the only background on the book I’m putting in this paragraph is the tagline from the back cover, cause it’s one the finest taglines ever: “When a lusty lothario sings his serenade, romance rhymes with death!” Oh, and in the below they talk about overly-bittered Old Fashioneds. Also, memorable. Read it!
A voice at my elbow said, “Cocktail, sir? Old-Fashioneds and dry Martinis.”
“Old-Fashioned,” I said, hardly noticing the neat figure in black and white who spoke.
“Okay, but there’s more bitters in them than whiskey.”
I started and looked around. From under a frilly cap, the face of Amy Race was peering at me impishly. “I’m sticking to straight whisky myself,” she said. “That’s the trend below stairs.”
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