Sometimes it’s good to go back to the basics. This here (or, below here) is my recipe for Champagne Punch, the one I picked up from family holiday gatherings when I was a wee one, the one I was making for parties long before even this blog started (so, dinosaurs were walking the earth), and long before I put the recipe in Good Spirits (and probably others books and articles), and long before I started typing this sentence (which is itself rather long now, though not as long as some by, say, Henry James). It’s a basic ol’ bubbly fruity rummy punchy number, not all la-de-da, but very solid, very tasty, and very much a sparkling treat that’s wonderful around the holiday season – which, low and behold, we are now in, or nearly in if you don’t want to jump the gun. A stance I understand, but good to be prepared pals! So, have the basic recipe below in your back pocket – it’s sure to be a hit at your holiday gatherings, which I’m sure will be anything but basic.
Ice (in block form if possible; if not, large chunks)
6 ounces freshly squeezed orange juice
4 ounces simple syrup
2 ounces freshly squeezed lime juice
2 ounces freshly squeezed lemon juice
6 ounces white rum
6 ounces dark rum
Once 750-milliliter bottle chilled Champagne
Orange, lime, and lemon slices, for garnish
1. Add the ice to a large punch bowl. If using chunks (as opposed to a large block of ice), fill the bowl just under halfway.
2. Add the orange juice, simple syrup, lime juice, and lemon juice. With a large spoon or ladle, stir 10 times.
3. Add the white and dark rums. Stir 10 more times.
4. Add Champagne, but not too quickly. Enjoy the moment. Add a goodly amount of orange, lime, and lemon slices. Stir, but only once.
5. Ladle into punch glasses or festive goblets. Try to ensure that every guest gets a slice of fruit and a smile.
It is, as you probably know being up on your dates and all that, here in the U.S. the day after Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving being one of my favorite holidays as it’s focused on eating delicious things (and for many like me drinking them too) with family and/or friends. The day after Thanksgiving is a sort-of holiday, too, I call it Gizmo Day. Gizmo being this drink, the ideal way to use up leftover cranberry sauce! A simple mix, exactly what’s needed after the over-eating (who doesn’t?) and such from Thanksgiving, today is the perfect day to shake this one up. And now you have back-to-back holidays, instead of just one.
2-1/2 ounces gin
1 ounce homemade cranberry sauce
1/2 ounce simple syrup (optional)
1. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway full with ice cubes. Add the gin and cranberry sauce, and syrup if using. Shake exceptionally well.
2. Strain into a cocktail glass. Drink up, Thanksgiving-style.
I sometimes feel a tiny bit of a Washington Tourist Board shill, as much as I talk about our awesomely awesome local distillers (and bartenders, and bars, and such). Which would be weird, if, well, they all weren’t so awesome! But they are, and so I’m happy to tout their lovely boozy products, and try to woo drinkers into trying them, sipping them, loving them like I do – and coming here to check the distillers out in person when possible. Really, we are spoiled with all the tipsy options being made this-a-way. This single drink is an example, and a good way to try multiple ones at once, as it features Skip Rock Distillery’s Belle Rose Light rum, a swell cocktail rum, aged in white wine barrels, soft, vanilla-y, oak-y, Brovo Spirits Jammy sweet vermouth, which is a merlot-based vermouth that’s rich with cherry and chocolate notes (very jammy indeed), and Sidetrack Distillery’s legendary Blackberry liqueur, which is lush and boasting deep berry flavors (which comes from growing the best blackberries in the world and then turning them into a liqueur on the same farm they grew on). Altogether, this cocktail shows off the delights from up here in a layered, lush, mixtures that’ll have you singing the WA distiller’s praises as much as me. And then we can both get a kickback from the tourist board!
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!
We, spooky friends, are very very very close to Halloween (a few paltry days)! While it falls on a Monday this year (which nearly seems unfair, though I feel that you can make any day of the week eerily jolly), it doesn’t mean that it’s not your scary duty to unleash a Warlock cocktail and while enjoying the delicious sips, transform into a zombie magician. Which is what everyone wants on Halloween. Spooky good! So whip up this brandy, Strega, limoncello, orange juice, and Peychaud’s bitters treat, my favoritest Halloween special, utilizing the handy, helpful, horrific video below!
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.
Listen, I’ve (like many) had my share of what some call bad luck, or days that seem as if the fates (or whatever witches around a cauldron you like to mention) have it in for me. No doubt. But, but, but, on the flip side, I’ve had a few days where it feels I’m balancing it out with some good luck (the friendlier fates). Hopefully the same holds true, at least on the latter for you. There are days of big good luck (I’d mention specifics, but don’t want to call down curses by being too boasty), and days of small good luck, by the by. One of the small ones was of course the day I came up with this fine tipple. Mixing Armagnac (that dreamy drink), sherry (dreamy drink # 2 – perhaps slightly different dreams), and Green Chartreuse (dreamy #3 – again, perhaps a different dream. Someone should match dreams with spirits and liqueurs, like a bartending Sigmund Freud), the Lucky Duck has three big ingredients, that, lucky, when you work a bit on ratios and such, come together so, so nicely (with a kiss of simple, dontcha know). It just feels lucky, somehow.
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.
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