Well, it’s December. A lovely month in many ways, indeed. But also one where, here in the northernly hemisphere, at least, the mornings can get dark and chilly, and then darker and chillier, making them not always the coziest, especially when one has to take the dog out for their walk first thing after the alarm bells ring. Even if you aren’t lucky enough to have a dog, and even if you have a fire blazing, I’m guessing you have a few chilly dark mornings where you want to call morning out for not being more charming. This drink is a tasty way to do that, and to wake up (it also provides a spark to brunches when the cold air has caused a slowing of movement and conversations). Partially, the base of absinthe and its kick combined with spice. Partially, the nutty maraschino (mornings are nutty), whose sweet side helps round the absinthe’s sharper corners. Partially, the hearty helping of lemon juice, whose tang is sure to get the brainpan rocking (sidenote: that much lemon might be too much for some modern tastes. If that’s you, feel free to pull back a bit on it). Combined, these three are a trumpeting cocktail sure to balance even a morning that’s mostly bereft of good cheer. In short: this’ll wake you up and then some.
March is a celebratory month (as is every month, I would hazard to hypothesize), and celebratory months deserve punches, as you can celebrate by your lonesome, but it’s not really the same as celebrating with a passel of pals or a flock of family. Is it? I don’t feel it is. Those sole celebrators, don’t get up in it. You can have your own stance. Anywho, following along the celebratory-and-punches track, here’s one to consider: Bombay Punch. I have to admit, I’m not sure why it’s called “Bombay,” as it doesn’t contain to my eye any ingredients from the Bombay region – though there are I believe some good brandies made in India, so you could go that route! Brandy being the base here, onto which grape-derived goodness is added nutty maraschino, orange-y Cointreau, apricot-y apricot liqueur, some tangy oj, and some bubbly bubbles. It’s a fruity, bumping, sparkling treat, one ideal for any celebration – though if it is a solo one (as we chatted about above), don’t drink this all at once by yourself.
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.
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!
Hey kids, you like laughs right? Well, recently (if you think about the grand breadth of time that us ridiculous humans have been on earth, super recently) I got to go down to new-ish Seattle hotel bar Ben Paris and have a Last Laugh cocktail made by Abigail Gullo. Now that’s a laugh worth savoring – and you can savor, too, cause I then wrote about it for Seattle magazine, and they printed what I wrote, and all that. For reals! Go check it out now, why dontcha.
It may, at first glance, not seem for much of the world to be the season for walking outside, no matter how nice your greenery is. However, I find a brisk walk on a chilly-but-sunny day to be invigorating, especially if you do it while sipping this cocktail, and then end it with some nice, hearty, slightly sweet, baked goods. How does that all go together? Well, really, it’s thanks to Everett’s (that’s up here in the W-A for those who don’t know) Bluewater Organic Distilling, who just released their Wintersun aquavit. An organic spirit (like all of theirs), it’s a shout out to distiller John Lundin’s Swedish heritage, and with that has an essence much like the traditional aquavits you might have encountered (though there are tons), but with a distinctive balanced aroma and flavor bringing together caraway, anise, and orange.
I (don’t be jealous – it’s the holiday season) recently got a bottle in the mail and after trying it out solo (which you should too, as it’s worthy all alone), had to try it in a cocktail, too. Because that’s what I do! After playing around with a little of this and a little of that, I found some swell in-the-shaker dancing partners, starting with another Northwest hit, broVo spirits’ (from up here in Woodinville) delicious award-winning cherry liqueur Boomerang. It has a lush cherry-ness combined with a little vanilla, walnut, cinnamon, apricot, and citrus. You can – until you try it – dream about how this would combine perfectly with the Wintersun, and why the baked goods are a good idea. However! That wasn’t it. After much liquid hemming-and-hawing, I felt a little bit more of this and that was needed. And the this was old pal maraschino liqueur, and the that was Scrappy’s legendary Cardamom bitters. They rounded that spice and fruit level out to eleven. The shrubbery will feel overjoyed to have you walking through it with this mix – and you’ll be pretty happy about it, too.
As September rolls into October, it feels we should have one Last Word for it – hahaha! Really, sometimes I just feel like a classic, and this is one of my classic classics, brought back to the world, after nearly slipping into the mists of history, thanks to legendary Seattle bartender Murray Stenson, who launched it into modern bar culture. It was, legends say, originally created by Frank Fogarty way back in the Prohibition era, though he wasn’t a shaker and stirrer. Instead, he was known as “the Dublin Mistral,” and was one of the leading vaudevillian monologists of his time. Give a toast to both, and to September, when having this.
The Last Word
3/4 ounce gin
3/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
3/4 ounce Green Chartreuse
3/4 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
1. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway full with ice cubes. Add the gin, maraschino, Chartreuse, and lime juice. Shake well.
2. Strain through a fine strainer into a cocktail glass and don’t forget your toasts.
This sounds so sticky in a way, and sorta yucky, and other “y” ending words that don’t imply springtime (okay, maybe spring is a little sticky sometimes – your mileage may vary on this intro sentence). But this is actually a fairly bright little number, with the rum base a precursor to summertime’s funtimes, and the juices being juicy, and a little sweet and that hint of maraschino that is another dream entirely. But I’m all over the map of descriptions now, and the seasons, and probably every line that denotes what’s proper in a drink introduction. But this is called Stockholm Tar! Whatdya expect? Just sip, laugh, sip, laugh.
1-1/2 ounces dark rum
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 ounce cranberry juice cocktail
1/2 ounce Simple Syrup
1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
Lime slice for garnish
1. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway full with ice cubes. Add the rum, lime juice, cranberry juice, simple syrup, and maraschino liqueur. Shake well (you want to ensure it doesn’t get a tar-like appearance).
2. Strain the mix into a cocktail glass. Garnish with the lime slice.
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