October 1, 2021
It was, say two months ago, basil season (I take it to be late August, though your basil-ing may vary), which is a fragrant green season indeed. Usually, one thinks: basil, an herb, used in cooking, see pesto, etc. However, I (and maybe others, too) also think: basil, an herb, used in making liqueurs and other drinkables, see Basil Grappa, etc. I first made Basil Grappa way back in the halcyon days of writing a book called Luscious Liqueurs (I originally saw the idea in a small Italian language pamphlet of liqueurs, and then tweaked it up a tiny bit), and it’s featured in said book, and I’ve been making it fairly regularly ever since – including this very year! It’s a straightforward recipe, just basil, grappa, simple syrup, and a little lemon juice for balance, and one that’s a little less sweet than some liqueurs. Why? Cause while I love the basil, I still wanted to let the grappa shine through, and not have its grappa-ness (that lovely grape-ness, vineyard-ness, and wine’s-older-brother-ness) completely smoothed away. This liqueur is, for those grappa neophytes, an easy path into the world of grappa by the way, grappa being a spirit that is mostly misunderstood here in the US, but one also that has many varieties (as many as wine itself, I suppose). While not always super available here (if you are US-based, that is), I’m finding more grappas around, but if you can’t track down a bottle, hound your local liquor store until they bring some in!
Basil Grappa Liqueur
1-1/2 cups fresh basil
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
3 cups grappa
1/2 cup simple syrup
1. Add the basil and lemon juice to a large glass container. Using a muddler or wooden spoon, muddle them together cozily.
2. Add the grappa to the container, and stir well. Put it in a cool dry place, and let everything get acquainted for two weeks, swirling occasionally.
3. Add the simple syrup to the container, stir, and put back in that cool, dry place, once again, swirling.
4. Strain the Basil Grappa. I’d suggest once through a fine mesh strainer, then through cheesecloth – into a glass bottle, or a number of small bottles if you’d like to share (sharing is nice)!
October 5, 2018
Usually, I try not to have favorites in booze categories. Meaning, I wouldn’t say I have a favorite gin (I like too many, too well), or amaro, or vermouth. Or white wine. However, I might say I have a favorite red wine (other red wines, please turn away now). Or, at least a favorite red wine grape, that being Sagrantino. Growing only around Montefalco, in Umbria (lovely town, by the way, the Falcon’s Mount, also referred to the balcony of Umbria, and worth a visit – great churches, great museum, a few mummies, and more, and the wine, naturally), real Sagrantino di Montefalco uses 100 percent Sagrantino grapes, is aged 37 months at the shortest, and has a deep, rich, color (dark purple) and taste of dark stone fruits. Memorable stuff!
But here’s something I recently found out (thanks to a bottle coming my way). There’s also a Montefalco Rosso wine. It’s a bit like Sagrantino’s more playful younger sibling. Aged just 18 months and blended with 60-80% Sangiovese. The specific bottle I tasted was Tenuta Alzatura Montefalco Rosso, which is 70% Sangiovese, 15% Sangrantino, and 15% Merlot. It’s a beautiful wine, with a light ruby coloring, and also a lighter nature than Sagrantino, probably more approachable for a larger percentage of people, with a fruity nature (red fruit, juicy ones), and hints of spice on the nose and taste, but with a softer finish than its sibling. A nice red wine for a late-summer or fall day. And also, a nice one for making into a wine cocktail.
Of course, as you know, I have a hard time not experimenting with any ingredient I have at hand, and while a glass of this Montefalco Rosso by itself is dreamy, it plays well with others, too. Here, I brought in some Italian favorites, starting with light, slightly citrus, aperitif, Aperol. To match up with that and to balance some of the wine’s fruits, a few dashes of Fee Brothers Orange bitters added to the party – not Italian, but we do have another Italian fav, too. See, I wanted some strong undercurrents, too (sometimes in fall there’s a chill in the air), and wanted to stay Italian-style, and so brought in an underutilized cocktail ingredient: grappa. Specifically: Marolo Grappa di Amarone, which is aged in oak, and which has cherry notes, along with an adaptable nuttiness, that go with the wine perfectly. Altogether, this is a cocktail that’ll have you fantasizing of Italy – and savoring every sip.
On the Road to Montefalco
2 ounces Tenuta Alzatura Montefalco Rosso
1 ounce Aperol
1/2 ounce Marolo Grappa di Amarone
2 dashes Fee Brothers Orange bitters
1. Fill a cocktail shaker or mixing glass halfway full with cracked ice. Add everything. Stir well.
2. Strain into a cocktail glass. Bella, bella.
July 14, 2017
There are times, when the Mercury’s rising and that big ol’ ball of heat in the sky is high overhead, when you want a classy drink, but one that isn’t too tough. A drink that has all kinds of flavor, but without involving any sweat (or little sweat) to make. A drink you could sip after a long day of work while the sun starts its long slow trip down westward, as well as during a family brunch on Sunday when you’re waking up slowly.
Well, this is that drink friend! It covers all those bases, though admittedly it might be best during the Italian aperitif hours, those beautiful moments before dinner (let’s say 5 to 7, though they can arrive a stitch earlier or later) when you want to have something a little effervescent and light, but still with character and taste. All those characteristics come together here with just two ingredients – and a lemon twist – starting with Mionetto Prosecco, specifically the DOC Treviso brut version (though all the Mionetto Proseccos, made since 1887, are worth tracking down). The Treviso brut is nice and dry and crisp, with apple and peach and flowers lingering on the tongue, along with a hint of honey.
Here, it’s mixed with another Italian number, the newest sibling of renowned Galliano (the L’Autentico golden liqueur in the memorable bottle), Galliano L’Aperitivo, just recently becoming available stateside. An amaro, or bitter, it boasts over 50 ingredients, including a bouquet of citrus – orange, bergamot, tangerine, grapefruit, others – and a mix of herbs and spices like cardamom. The flavor’s rich, with all those orange-y citrus notes, herbaliciousness, and a hint of bitter.
Together, these two Italian stalwarts come together beautifully – with lots of fruit flavor, but with a dryness that is swell in summer, when you want to keep the cloying nature of some drinks far away. The color is also rather amazing, adding another welcome touch.
3/4 ounce Galliano L’Aperitivo
4 ounces chilled Mionetto Prosecco DOC Treviso brut
Lemon twist, for garnish
Ice cube, if wanted
1. Add the L’Aperitivo to a flute or comparable glass. Top with the prosecco.
2. Carefully stir in a manner that brings everything together without being wacky. If your prosecco isn’t really chilled, or if it’s extra hot out, add an ice cube.
3. Garnish with the twist. Give a toast to the sun, and to Italy.
July 22, 2011
If you’re a regular reader of the Spiked Punch blog (and if you aren’t, why, may I ask, aren’t you? Cause I like you lots. Lots. So much that I want you here, reading, all the time. As long as that doesn’t sound creepy), you know that I was lucky enough to visit the Branca distillery, cause I distilled the visit in Branca Tour 1 and Branca Tour 2. What I may not have hit on enough in either of those articles is how that visit spurred on my love of Branca Menta (my love of Fernet Branca and the vermouths mentioned in those posts was pretty high already). Especially in these summer months, I actually drink more of the more-recent Branca, the Menta. Why, you might ask? Well, I detail the why, as well as give a recipe for the Menta Highball, and talk more Branca and Milan (where it’s made) in this article for the Good Life Report, called Make It a Milan Menta Summer. So get your-own summer-drink luvin’ self over there and start reading.
July 19, 2011
Spent an afternoon on pal Jeremy Holt’s (he’s the co-author of Double Take, the finest book ever about serving vegetarians and meat-eaters together, as you may or may not know, and a virtuoso chef and cocktail- and booze-maker) back deck recently, reveling in one of the few sunshine-y summer days we’ve had so far here in Seattle. And naturally, as it was summer, he brought out some of his homemade limeoncello for us to sip. See, I think of limeoncello as the sun-god of liqueurs, and think some chilled limeoncello when there’s sun out is wonderful thing. Jeremy’s recent batch was perfect, lemon-y with a kick and a smidge of sweetness. I don’t think it was exactly as the recipe in Luscious Liqueurs, but if you want to make your own, the recipe in that book will get you there. The limeoncello we had went down easy and was a good combo with a few cold PBRs:
and was fantastic with a few fresh blueberries:
Here’s hoping we get at least a few more worthy summer days—and that Jeremy doesn’t run out of limeoncello.
June 29, 2011
I love this bubbly-and-bitter-belle-of-the-ball. First, it’s a variation on the Negroni (which is, of course, a fav) that subs in Prosecco for gin. Second, I originally had it and heard about it when staying in Florence at a spot called the Hotel Casci (not far from the Duomo, don’t you know), and pal Jeremy was there as well (we were drinking and playing Quiddler after a day of touristing). Third, it means “wrong” due to its Negroni-less-ness, if that makes sense, and I think having a drink called “wrong” is genius. Fourth, well, it tastes great–can’t go wrong with Campari, sweet vermouth, and Prosecco. Fifth, it (like La Rana D’Oro below) was a featured drink at a recent charity event that I slung drinks at (for my ma, if you didn’t know). Sixth, it’s also featured in my book Champagne Cocktails (which, if you don’t have, please buy, cause I need to be able to buy more sparkling wine). And seventh, well, seventh just adds up all the earlier six reasons to expand my love of this drink to epic–epic–proportions.
3 ounces sweet vermouth
3 ounces Campari
2 orange twists, for garnish
1. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway full with ice cubes. Add the vermouth and Campari. Shake well.
2. Strain the mixture equally into two flute glasses. Top with Prosecco and garnish with the orange twists.
A Variation: You could use the Italian sparkling wine Moscato d’Asti or Asti Spumante here and be happy about it.
A Second Note: I could see the rationale behind serving this in a cocktail glass in the Negroni’s honor. I could also see the rationale behind calling this a sparkling Americano. But it doesn’t mean I’m going to do either of them.
June 27, 2011
I recently was slinging cocktails for an Italian-themed charity event (it was for my mom’s HeartWork, if you’re interested), and the drinks were so popular (I say, humbly) that I wanted to post a couple. And, I had a few myself, so I thought they’d fit right into the What’s I’m Drinking group. But here, in this picture, it wasn’t me drinking, but Kent, one of the fantastic piano players who were tickling the ivies for the event. And what he was drinking was the La Rana d’Oro. Sounds continentally intriguing, yes? Really, though, between us, it was just an older drink called the Golden Frog, which I’d Italian-ized (in name, anyway). The drink is packed with Italian punch no matter what language the name is in, however, boasting both Galliano and Strega, two golden and delicious Italian liqueurs. It has a bit of a kick, but hey, what would you expect from a frog? Kent sure seemed to like it:
1-1/2 ounces vodka
1-1/2 ounces Galliano
1/2 ounce Strega
1/4 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
1. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway up with ice cubes. Add the vodka, Galliano, Strega, and lemon juice. Shake well.
2. Strain into a cocktail glass. Serve stylishly.
April 18, 2011
Living in Italy (as I am of this writing, at least), I’ve picked up a small addiction–to mirtillo juice (mirtillo=blueberries), which I like to have in the morning with my croissant. It’s a health kick (or seems to be) and has a great taste and color. Recently, however, thanks to my pals/landlords Andrew and Marianne (proprietors of the wondrous Amici Villas), I’ve discovered the grown-up sibling of my beloved mirtillo juice, the fantastic mirtillo liqueur. See, Andrew and Marianne picked up a bottle for me not too long ago, and it’s delicious, not too sweet and bursting with flavor, and I’ve been digging it solo and mixed. It’s especially good in the below drink, named after Andrew and Marianne’s lovable pup, Oscar, who is frizzante, just like this slightly sparkling sparkler. To round out the somewhat Italian experience (or, Italian-British, much like the above-mentioned Andrew and Marianne, cause gin’s involved, too), and to bring the frizzante, I combined the mirtillo with Donini wineries (read more about Donini here) Brigante (a bianco frizzante):
1 ounce gin
3/4 ounce mirtillo liqueur
1/4 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 ounces Brigante (or other frizzante white wine)
1. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway full with ice cubes. Add the gin, mirtillo, and lemon juice. Shake well.
2. Strain into a Champagne flute, add the Brigante, and stir briefly. Sip and enjoy.