Here’s something neat you should know about (hopefully you already do, but just in case), every year, the Woodinville Whiskey Co. from up here in Washington has a special Harvest Release. I wrote about the 2018 Harvest Release and how fans and whiskey devotees line up starting the night before in an article for Seattle magazine, if you want to get the flavor of the event surrounding the releases. The actual Harvest Releases, the whiskies, are only available at the distillery, giving you a perfect reason to visit that lovely space, and our lovely state, if you aren’t already here in W-A. However, this year, the Harvest Release stretches out-of-state, too, in a way! See, this year’s release is Woodinville’s Straight Bourbon Finished in Ginja Casks!
If you read “Ginja” and aren’t sure what it means, don’t feel silly – took me a minute of brain-wracking myself before I remembered that Ginja, or Ginjinha, is a brandy-based Portuguese liqueur made with ginja berries (those being a type of sour cherry, also called Morello cherries in some locales), as well as cinnamon and sugar – a liqueur like so many first made by a very thirsty and enterprising friar. Amazing! Woodinville Whiskey took their bourbon made with grain grown for them exclusively on the Omlin Farm in Quincy, WA, then distilled in Woodinville, and then aged over five-years in Central WA, and when it was good and ready let it spend some time in casks (or barrels, as you may say) that had been used for that very Ginjinha liqueur. I’m gonna say it again – amazing!
And not just an amazing process, but the taste of this Harvest Release – wheeeee! On the nose berry-y as you might expect, and jammy in the best way, with notes of same surfacing in the taste, which boasts a smooth approachable sweetness as well as swirling fresh and dried cherry, cardamon, and cinnamon. Very very drinkable. I heard Woodinville distiller Brett Carlile said that sipping this bourbon was almost like sipping a Manhattan, and I completely agree – the whiskey’s honey-cherry-ness echoes that famous drink. Dandy all on its own, or over a cube of ice, this is one harvest/Portuguese favorite not to be missed. So, I suggest you pick up a bottle (even if having to fly in. It’ll be worth it)!
The “and Tonic” family of drinks is a wide one, and getting wide as people happily realize the breadth of tasty choices. Though still utilized mainly in summer and the sunnier months (especially the grandmother and matriarch G and T), don’t get stuck into thinking that a tonic number isn’t going to treat you rightly during other times of year, too (though cold winter nights can be a tougher sell, you can go for a vocational vibe in those situations). In the current fall time, which bridges summer months and fall months, I find an Apricot Eau De Vie (or fruit brandy) and Tonic especially nice. If you have the right Apricot brandy naturally! I’m using Oomrang’s version, which is a delight thanks to being based on apricots handpicked at the peak of ripeness, with the absolute perfect ones de-pitted, for a robust flavor of apricots tree-ripened in the summer sun. One note: this delicious apricot fruit brandy is not to be confused with some “Apricot brandies” out there, which are actually liqueurs, and tend to be treacly ones. I used Q tonic for that side of the “and,” but others could work, and tonic syrup would be a treat. I was just out!
We’re in that time straddling summer and fall (though I fully realize fall doesn’t start specifically until the 22nd), which means days that can shade summery but then delve into a crisp fallness pointing to the colder days to come. To make the straddling smooth, it’s preferable that you have a drink that does the same, and if it’s a regal one, too, well, all the better! The Lord Charles fits that bill, with its full-bodied red-wine works-in-winter keep-you-warm Malbec base, mingling with simple syrup, citrus-y lemon juice, smooth dry sherry, and bubbly club soda, that which, with some ice, brings this drink into a level of refreshingness that summer (if you personify) would certainly appreciate. You’ll dig it, and it will dig you (if you think drinks dig people, which maybe they do, why not), and help you do that straddling we talked of. Enjoy!
Here’s a nice number that straddles somehow the summer, while still having a base that seems more fall-ish (rye, specifically Woodinville Whiskey Co. delicious rye. If you can get their rye finished with toasted applewood staves, do that. Do it now). Probably cause of the ice and soda and sorta tiki-ish St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram and the citrus from some fresh oj, and some local robust and fruity cherry brandy (the real stuff, not the sugary stuff that calls itself cherry brandy — I used Oomrang cherry brandy, which is yummy), but whateves. It’s a dandy treat, even here in August. I originally created it during the lockdown year of 2020, which you might remember, and which you might like to forget. The drink’s heft – while still staying light-ish on its feet mind you – might help with that! Even though that time was tough, there were I’m sure good things to come out of it, so maybe let’s not forget it completely. Like this drink, for example! Well worth remembering and having again.
I’m sure you understand this: some days, you, or one, just wakes up in the morning thinking, “Today, I wanna make a drink from Jacques Straub’s recipe collection classic called, simply enough, Drinks (oh, you can get a Drinks reprint if you don’t happen to have it or want to pony up for an original)! Then, all the day long you think about it, unless you decide to have a breakfast drink, or a lunch drink. If so, good for you, champ! Still waiting on the invite. But if not, by the time HH (happy hour, natch) comes around, you have that little book (perfectly sized for dress shirt pockets, making it easy for bartenders to carry) out, and are turning until you come to The Hancock Sour, and then boom! Drink-making time.
But what bourbon? For me, this time, it’s Wood Family Spirits Columbia bourbon. Admittedly, a bottle recently came in the mail (don’t hate me! I do feel lucky about it), excitingly enough! If you don’t know, Wood Family Spirits is a distillery based in Hood River, Oregon. The family in the area traces back to pioneers in the middle 1800s, so they have lots of history in the PNW, and a desire to deliver well-made spirits here. In Columbia bourbon, they’re doing just that. Made in Tennessee using 80% corn, 10% barley, and 10% rye, it’s aged in brand new charred oak barrels (aging takes place in OR) and blended to “bottle in bond” strength. Which equals a robust 100 proof, that gives it a reassuring umph. It has a lovely aroma – caramel, spices (cinnamon, clove) – then a rich mouthfeel while you’re savoring the vanilla, caramel, sweetness mingling with the oakiness and highlighted by more of that cinnamon and clove and rye spicy goodness.
Wood Family Spirits Columbia bourbon’s full layered taste means it can be swigged solo happily, but also that it can stand up nicely in a drink like The Hancock Sour, one we’re bringing back from days of yore, and one that packs a decent amount of lime. In typical classic sour fashion, this might have had even more lime in the past (the recipe calls just for the juice of one lime), but 3/4s-of-an-ounce worked best for me. So, lime, sugar, bourbon, sounds like a regular sour, right? But there’s an intriguing twist – a hint of rum! That’s right, two spirits! The recipe doesn’t call out a specific rum, but I found a Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva dark rum was perfect. Its complexity and sweetness added just enough hints to elevate this treat to another realm (if you haven’t had it, this rum delivers caramel, nuts, orange peel, vanilla, nutmeg, and allspice in a lovely combo). The other slightly sideways add to our sour is a splash of soda, which, funnily, helped everything come together without thinning it out. The original recipe said to garnish with “fruits of the season,” so I went strawberry, but I could see orange, cherries, even blackberries being nice and working with the lime.
One final note: I have no idea who Hancock is, or was, or if this drink even refers to a person. And, though in a way I wish I did, it doesn’t change one iota the deliciousness this sour delivers. Try it, and then next time remember to invite me to breakfast drinks!
While I wouldn’t say our front yard in the north Seattle area is the prettiest – I tend to shade towards the scraggly when it comes to the grass, for one, cause over-watering is a problem, ya’ know – it is blessed with an abundance (or over-abundance as neighbors might say) of lovely, bee-utiful, lavender. When it flowers in summer, the air smells delish, the flowers hide the dead grass, and the bees are buzzing happily. But what, if anything, to do with it? I mean, pretty for pretty-ness’ sake is swell! All for it. Art for art’s sake, too. And making bees buzz jollily is a state of being we should aim for, cause bees rule. But, but, it’s also quite fun to utilize a little of that lavender in making lavender simple syrup (recipe below), which can then be mixed with gin and Prosecco into this very cocktail, the Lavanda (which sounds like a sultry dance, but isn’t. Not saying you can’t have a few of these and dance btw. Cause that, that you should do). The combo is classy in a summertime way, fragrant in a floral way, and makes an ideal accompaniment to a summer’s late afternoon or evening. Thinking more, what a crowning glory of a drink this would be at a summer wedding. You should get married! You can serve this – I have lots of lavender to spare.
1. Add the flowers from the top of one lavender sprig, gin, and lavender simple syrup to a cocktail shaker. Using a muddler or wooden spoon, muddle well.
2. Fill the cocktail shaker halfway full with ice cubes. Shake like dancer.
2. Strain into a flute. Top with chilled Prosecco, and garnish with the second lavender sprig.
First Note: To make lavender simple syrup, add 1/4 cup chopped fresh lavender, 2 cups sugar, and 1 1/2 cups water to a medium-sized saucepan. Heat over medium-high heat until it reaches a low boil, stirring regularly. Once it reaches that low boil, reduce the heat to medium- low and keep the syrup at a simmer, still stirring, for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool completely.
Second Note: For gin here, you could go traditional London style (like, Broker’s gin, which wouldn’t be a bad choice), as the juniper plays with lavender well. But you could also go something less traditional,
Just a week ago, I had a drink, The Ciliegia (a sort-of cherry-Negroni-influenced sipper, if you missed it), which featured Oomrang Cherry eau di vie, or fruit brandy, which is delicious, and, today, I’m following it up with another drink featuring another delicious Oomrang fruit brandy, this time their Blueberry Geist – featuring it in this drink, The Blueberry Cobbler. Whew, that was quite a sentence! And the Oomrang brandies are quite good brandies! About this time last year, I was lucky enough to be able to write an article about Oomrang (there are two umlauts by the way, in the name, so imagine them there) for the sparklicious Sip magazine. I don’t think it’s online as it was for subscribers only, perhaps, but research it up, see what you can find. Abbreviated version: Oomrang is a distillery and winery outside of Stanwood WA, and is a remarkable place, where they make lovely wine utilizing lesser-known German grapes: Mueller-Thurgau, Siegerrebe, Kerner, and Sylvaner. They also make fruit brandies – the real stuff, not the sickly sweet things sometimes marketed under that name. They have two kinds, the more traditional eaux de vies (when I say “more traditional” I mean in like Europe, as we aren’t as used to them yet in the U.S. – sadly) and geists. Because I don’t want to rewrite the whole article here, I’ll just quickly say that in eaux de vie the fruit is fermented, distilled, and bottled quickly, whereas with geists first you macerate the fruit in alcohol for a fair amount of time – Oomrang uses an alcohol made from grapes, and macerates a month – then distill and bottle it. Both brandy versions are strong spirits that taste yummy. I find the geists a wee bit more fragrant featuring an orchard-late-in-season vibe and fruit scrumptiousness. Which – we’ve finally gotten around to it – goes swell in this here drink.
A drink which is part of the Cobbler family, a family tracing its liquid lineage back to the early 1800s, when the Sherry Cobbler kicked off and kicked into gear, and then it and the Cobbler famile gained international name recognition when ol’ Chucky Dickens (as I called him, you may be more formal and all him Charles Dickens) included the drink in one of my favs, The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit, in 1842. At one point, in 1888, bartender and writer Harry Johnson wrote “This drink is without doubt the most popular beverage in this country, with ladies as well as with gentlemen,” and though its popularity waned, the Cobbler is picking back up as more and more discover how swell it is for summer. Which leads us to the blueberry-rific Blueberry Cobbler, featuring Oomrang’s lush Blueberry Geist, a little simple, a little lemon (I feel Cobblers need both sweet and tang), a splash of soda (taking us off perhaps the super traditional Cobbler path, but it needed it, too, to me, especially when the sun’s high in the sky), and lots of crushed ice. It’s a summer hit, even if to get there you’ve now read a small novel.
1. Add the 10 blueberries, lemon juice, and simple to a cocktail shaker. Muddle well.
2. Add ice cubes to about the halfway full point, then the Blueberry Geist. Shake.
3. Fill a wine glass (or goblet) up with crushed or cracked ice. Strain the mix through a fine strainer into the glass. Top with the soda, stir briefly. Add more ice if needed. Garnish with blueberries and mint.
Earlier this year (this year as I type being 2023, in case you’re reading this from the far future or something), I was lucky enough to get to write an article on the whole ready-to-drink explosion happening currently – if the RTD phrasing hasn’t hit your ears yet, I’m talking canned and bottled and whatevered premade cocktails (hard seltzer fits in, too, though I only touched on it briefly in said article, as I’m, and it was, more cocktail). Oh, I wrote said article for the scrumptious Sip magazine (visit Sip and look for the 2023 Annual Collector’s Edition, if you want to read it). Anyway, weirdly enough, having nothing to do with that particular article, I received some cans of Casatera in the mail recently. All of which has been rambled through so I could say: coincidence is neat and the universe does interesting things, which have led to me being about to enjoy a cold Casatera on this summertime Friday.
Specifically, Casatera Coconut! I didn’t know much about this tequila-based seltzer-y bubbly canned brand until this summer, and thinking you might not either, let me give you a little background. Casatera has zero sugar, carbs, gluten and artificial flavors or sweeteners, uses actual tequila from an actual real award-winning Mexican distillery, and boasts a robust 7% ABV. There’s a whole host of flavors now available, including the original trio of Lime, Grapefruit, and Strawberry, and the new sibs Mango, Pineapple, Passionfruit, and Coconut.
I have to step in for honesty’s sake (if one can’t be honest, even with booze, well, what’s the world coming to?), and admit to not having fallen in overall love with the hard seltzer movement. Not that I haven’t tasted some decent ones. But many just don’t have the flavor umph I’m looking for. Casatera, for me, definitely rises up to the upper regions of those I’ve tasted. For one, that 7% kick of real tequila is smoochy. You get a nice tequila essence and ripple, along with an overall crisp clean lightness that’s ideal on a hot day. And, that chemical echo many of the lesser RTDs come accompanied by isn’t in evidence. Would a little more Coconut or Passionfruit (my favorites) or whatever punch be good for me? Sure! But I understand that many want to keep it lighter and stripped back. When the Mercury’s risen, who can blame them? I did find I dug the Casatera best with a smidge of fresh citrus, but that’s personal preference. And have enjoyed – and will continue such – both over ice and right from the can. You be you, and stay cool!
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