You know, 2020 hasn’t been overly-packed with good days. There have been some, I’m sure and I’m hoping, for everyone, some big-ish good days, and some small-ish good days, even within it all. I had one recently when some bubbly showed up here, which made the day more, well, bubbly. It was also bubby from Italy (you know I love Italy, right?), specifically Trentodoc sparkling wine – Trentodoc being from the Trentino region, which is in the far north of Italy, a mountain-alp-y region, one which also has some Mediterranean-ness on the lower slopes. I’ll admit that’s not the Italian area I know best, but after tasting the sparkling wine from there, I need to know more! Made in the Meted Classico, or classic method, Trentodoc sparklers are also made from picked-by-hands Trentino grapes. Sounds yummy, right? But the proof is in the bottle, as the saying goes, and the one I’m popping off now is Maso Martis Extra Brut Rose.
Starting with its pale pink-y coloring, and enticing effervescence, it’s a wine you’ll want to drink as you pour – which is what you want, right? The taste (pino nero grapes, if you’re interested) has a berry-centric-ness, raspberries, strawberries, and then some currants, with a few delicate herbal notes, too, and a creamy nature ideal for a sunny day, a date night around the appetizer course, or, really, almost anytime. It’s also a swell base for cocktails. Well, you wouldn’t think I wouldn’t try it in a cocktail, right? I do so love bubble mixes, and with a flavorsome rose like this, I had to see how it’d play with others. Starting with another delicious number (and by some crazy occurrence also showed on the porch), but from closer to US home: Clear Creek Pear brandy. Made with Bartlett pears grown in OR (where Clear Creek is), it has a phenomenal pear nature, from the small to the lingering pear echoes, while still maintaining a warming brandy undercurrent. Then, I traveled back to Italy (to help the wine feel at home), with bitter and beautiful classic Campari – which not only adds layers of taste, but a rich redness, which is further underlined by our last ingredient, homemade grenadine. Altogether, what a drink! Refreshing but bursting with delights, and one the showcases and perfectly utilizes the wine and brandy. Dive in.
Okay, obvious statement number one: you know what’s awesome? Pals are awesome. Perhaps moreso now than ever (now meaning the moment I’m typing, which is during a very bad year – future reader, I hope whatever time you’re reading this is more conducive to swell-ness), which is a somewhat interesting statement as it can be harder to see (and here I mean see for reals, not through a screen – not that that isn’t real per se, but not as real real, really) to see said pals. Make sense? Clear as brandy? How about, obvious statement number two: awesome pals who make tasty things and then drop them off for you are, well, awesome! Which is what happened for me recently, as pal Rebecca (genius pal, I might say) sent some homemade plum shrub and grenadine our way, and what a pandemic helper they have been! More of the latter later, but today, we’ve delving plum shrub style, as I used it to make a tasty (if I can say so without sounding like a lame-o) sipper which I’m calling Spirit and Substance.
It starts (duh!) with tangy, zingy, fruity plum shrub. I don’t know how it’s made, but can find out if you’re desperate. I matched with with a gin (gin and fruit = yum), specifically Sipsmith London Dry gin, which I adore due to its dry, citrus, fruit (dare I say marmalade), character. But I didn’t stop there! I thought about it (often we just see shrub+base spirit+ soda, but more felt appropriate), tried this and that, and ended up with more fruit in the way of Sidetrack Blackberry liqueur. Made outside of Kent, WA on the same farm the blackberries (and other delights) are grown, its rich berry body was the ideal addition. And then, soda, ice, lemon twist, and boom! A drink that’ll bring summer into fall, and pals into your heart, if not your home bar.
Well, tomorrow is once again Halloween, often one of the finest funtimes of the year, but in 2020, one of the lamest (not to mention tragic on many levels) years, Halloween like so many other things is different, let’s say. But what’s not different is your scrumptious duty to make a Warlock and turn into a zombie magician. Got it? Spooky good! If you’ve forgotten, the Warlock contains brandy, Strega, limoncello, orange juice, and Peychaud’s bitters, and is my favoritest Halloween special. As you can see below (and you can also learn how to make the Warlock, too)!
We recently here in the wondrous Seattle, W-A went through (as did CA and OR) some awful, deadly, smoky air (as if everything else in 2020 wasn’t enough of a shitestorm), leaving most stuck in inside, as walking outside was anything but safe. At least at my house we were stocked up on booze and streaming TV and books and peanut butter, which I can’t do without. And during that timeframe, I utilized the first in that list to make this here drink, which aligned in a way with the smoke – I think I felt if I could drink the smoke a bit, perhaps it would lessen it in the sky; perhaps I felt since my nose and throat were getting smoked out, I might as well go with it. Either way, it ended up being a pretty neat sipper, if I can be so bold. And I was going to name it after the smoked-out skies in some way, but then I didn’t want to give the smoke the honor of being attached to this drink. During this trying smoky time, while being stuck inside, we also needed some wiring and such fixed up, so called in a friendly electrician, and so I decided instead that this dandy cocktail should be named after them.
So, how to build a drink for such a smokocalypse? Well, I didn’t want it to solely smoky, because the earth is still growing and all that, which led me to leaning fruity, too, but how to balance, and what fruit? Pomegranate seemed the ticket after a little picking and grinning (or testing) so I went with Pama, a tangy pomegranate liqueur, combined with a smoky, savory duo: mezcal, and Chase Smoked vodka (which you can read more about in the A Kindred Spirit cocktail recipe). But that wasn’t it (though I do like a good three-bottle drink). Because it was a bitter time, I decided some bitter notes were needed, coming via Breckenridge Bitter (which isn’t a “bitters” as you might think of, but a bitter herbs and rootsy aperitif) and old charmer Peychaud’s bitters (which is a “bitters” in exactly the way you know). To curve the edges of the various ingredients, a drop or three of simple syrup. In hindsight, maybe those drops made it a stitch sweet, but, hmm, on the other side, maybe not. You decide!
You know I like to make drinks, and I know you know, and you know I know you know, ad infinitum. However, I have to say – I also like drinks made for me. This is perhaps obvious for those who followed my past escapades writing about Seattle bars (the finest bars in the cosmos), but here I’m not talking about professional slingers and shakers and strainers making me drinks; instead, I’m talking about home-bartending pals. Now, due to our circumstances (sucky, circumstances, that is, so do your part to help) it’s not as easy as hopping off a whiskey barrel to have fine drinks made by said pals. However (part II), I was just lucky enough to have a nice socially-distanced evening in the lovely back yard of two pals. Julie and Leroy, and during said evening Leroy made me an absolutely tasty Aviation. I hadn’t flown the friendly Aviation skies for far too long, so it was a treat on multiple levels. It’s such a swell cocktail, the gin base botanicals mingling with the lemon tang, maraschino nuttiness, and crème de violette’s bouquet. Pretty, too, though my pic does it no justice. Forgive me, but I was more interested in distanced-chatting that in picture taking! Now, I didn’t watch up close how Leroy made his high-flying Aviation, so for the ol’ Spiked Punch blog, I’m going to use the recipe from Ginger Bliss and the Violet Fizz. It might not soar to the same heights, but it’ll get you there!
As the air chills and winter phantoms start to haunt the hills (rhyme!) our (mine! yours! everybodies!) tastes begin to turn away from lighter things to alight onto more serious matters. In this case, to take away the high-flaunting language, I’m try to say that brown cocktail season is upon us, or nearly so (though, admittedly, I’m all for hanging on to sunlit days a little longer, and, really, I’m happy to drink whiskey or brandy or other darker-spirited cocktails anytime, but let me go with this). Which means dust off the Scotch, bourbon, Irish, Indian, Japanese, Washington, and other whiskeys – it’s time to warm up from the inside out. Starting with one of my favorite tipples in this vein, the Scotch-y/single-malt-y Rob Roy. It’s absolutely ideal for when the temperature gauge begins to plummet, with a hearty dollop of the base spirit (Scotch, that is) combined with the herbally loveliness that is sweet/red/Italian vermouth, Angostura bitters, and a waft of lemon. Ah, what a treat, not only in my mind. The creatures see of flood and field / And those that travel on the wind (thanks Wordsworth)! For the Scotch here, I’m going with Auchentoshan 12-year-old Scotch, partially cause I had a bottle on the front of my shelves, but moreso cause its smoothness and vanilla/citrus/nutty notes go so well with our other ingredients, especially to me with Carpano Antica, which I’m using for the vermouth and which I love due to its rich, lush, herbal goodness. Dive on in! Oh, wait, before you don your face paint and start drinking, here’s one fun idea: switch Angostura bitters for Scrappy’s Orange bitters, and sip a Highland Cocktail. Or have both!
Here’s a fine kettle of various ingredients mixed with booze. I had the mad/smart/odd/random/bored/inventive/normal idea not more than a couple weeks ago that I should make up a wine-based liqueur or aperitivo if you like (I like, so I’m gonna call it that), and that it should have basil in it (cause my basil plants were doing so well then, if, admittedly, not as well now as summer has dwindled), and maybe orange (cause I had an orange), and a roasted peach (which also was around and needed to be used, sans pit, but the roasting felt important), and some spices but not too many, and a hint of bitterness cause the best aperitivos (or many of them) tend to have that, and it should be pretty as that hour on a sunny late-summer day when night is nearly there, but not quite there, the hour you realize once again that summer and all things are transient, ephemeral, lovely. Whew, seems like a lot to ask of something made in a big glass jar!
But, you know, it worked out quite well. Not sure I reached the full heights I wanted, but came close-ish, to my taste, which might be different than yours. The basil is the strangest part of the equation, as it lost some of its, well, basil-ness if that makes sense. There’s not overriding basil smell or taste, or any, or very little; instead, it adds a slightly vegetal minty-ness. Interesting! The orange notes come through strong, with a little other citrus (thanks to lemon) and a dream of toasty peach, and the spice notes (tiny bits of ginger, star anise) are more inferred than active, if that makes sense. Oh, I should have started with: the wine I used as the base was an Orvieto Classico white wine, which I love, and which is dry-ish, but fruit-y-ish (more peach notes here), and grape-ish enough to bring a lot of flavor. I also added some vodka, as the wine solo didn’t seem to have enough umph for the end-of-summer delicate sadness I wanted. Sure, I’m weird! Gentian, the bittering agent of choice for so many things, underlines that thought, as well as balancing the sweetness. Really, all joshing and flighty language aside, Caducitivo (caduco in Italian meaning transient or ephemeral) was an awfully fun, and tasty, experiment, a fine pre-dinner, sipper, with a layered, light, orange-citrus-herb flavor containing a friendly bitter back end. Heck, I think I’ll make it again next year! And, with the below recipe, you can try it, too. I like sipping it at room temp, but think it’s best over ice, or chilled a bit. While I haven’t tried it yet, my guess is it’d be great with Prosecco, and also as a cocktail ingredient.
2 cups basil
1 roasted peach (see Note)
1 whole star anise
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
3 wide orange twists
2 wide lemon twists
2-1/2 cups Orvieto Classico (I used Ruffino, which is nice, solid, and not overly pricey)
1. Add the basil, peach, star anise, ginger, and citrus twists to a large glass container with a good lid. Muddle nicely. Add the wine and vodka, stir, and put that lid on it. Store in a cool dark place away from the sun. Let sit two weeks, swirling occasionally.
2. Open it back up, add the simple syrup and gentian (see Second Note), and stir well. Place it back in the cool dark place, and let sit two more weeks, swirling occasionally.
3. Strain – I went once through a decent fine strainer to get the fruit out, and then through cheesecloth to add more clarity. You might need a third straining, too.
A Note: For the peach, I just baked it at 425 F until it was slightly roasted, not charred. Also, I didn’t use the pit, just the peach itself.
A Second Note: You could add this in Step 1, but I had unexpectedly ran out, so couldn’t. And there’s something (probably nothing) in adding that bittering agent later, letting the other ingredients meet up first.
You know (I know you know) that I’m not what one might refer to as “summerific.” While I do love warm-weather drinking, and sitting on the porch on a mild summer’s eve, and don’t have constant AC or some such, also, I mean, I’ve been known to get sweaty easily, complain about temperatures over 80 (but living in Seattle, I swear one’s temperature gauge changes), burn like a baby, and truth be told no-one wants me in a swimsuit. With that said, however, I’m missing summer already, even though according to calendars fall doesn’t yet start for a few days. But that summer, school’s out, sun’s out, relax-why-dontcha, feeling feels to have faded like old paint, with the colder days ahead looming largely. Which is why, today, I’m having a Dark and Stormy. Cause it’s a classic refresher, bubbly, beautiful, tangy, booze-y, spice-y, summer-y – and yet, the name points to the clouds, the nighttime-in-daytime hours, the rain, the wind. It straddles the seasons, in a way, a way which makes it the ideal drink for today. Have one, see if I’m right!
The Dark and Stormy
2 ounces dark rum
Chilled ginger beer (I’m using Rachel’s Ginger Beer cause it’s awesome and support you locals for gosh sakes)
Lime wedge, for garnish
1. Fill a highball or comparable glass three-quarters full with ice cubes. Add the rum.
2. Fill the glass with ginger beer, smoothly and regularly.
3. Squeeze the lime wedge over the drink, and then drop it like the hand of an hourglass. Stir, but gently, as all things, us, time, are fragile.
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