Fall Cocktails

Fall Harvest

In response to Joey Schmidt’s recent post about Pumpkin Spice tiki drinks (and the general pumpkin spice craze that seems to hit everywhere around this time of year), we are re-posting this story from last fall that includes our Pumpkin Spice Sour.

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While seeking inspiration for the Fall Cocktails seminar we taught last week, we thought of three things we definitely wanted to use: Applejack, homemade Old Tom gin, and pumpkin.

We’ve said before that we really enjoy using Applejack in our cocktails in the fall. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Applejack is technically a brandy made from apples, though it drinks more like a whiskey than a brandy. Before prohibition, Applejack and strong cider were the the primary products for which apples were grown. Applejack has been making a gradual comeback in recent years.

The Laird’s company of New Jersey is the oldest and most prominent distiller of this product. Their 80-proof blended Applejack is the only variety available in here in Alabama. Out of state, you can get several others including our favorite, the Laird’s Bottled-in-Bond Straight Apple Brandy. There are also a few other companies that make similar products. In France, they make an apple brandy called Calvados, which is quite different in character from Applejack, but it is interesting to switch them out in recipes to see how they play with others.

We paired the Applejack with an equal amount of our Old Tom, which you can find the recipe for here. We’ll spare you the “History of Gin” lecture here since you’ll get most of it if you follow that link. Our Old Tom is heavy with baking spices, especially cardamom and clove, with a hint of orange peel, making it an exquisite partner for the Applejack. We added Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur, a little cranberry juice, and bitters to round out the drink, which we decided to call Autumn Spice.

Autumn Spice

  • 1 ounce Old Tom Gin
  • 1 ounce Applejack
  • ½ ounce Domaine de Canton
  • ½ ounce cranberry juice
  • 3 dashes aromatic bitters

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass filled ¾ with ice. Stir to desired dilution. Strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a lemon peel.

We knew we wanted to make a pumpkin spice syrup. Everybody’s crazy about pumpkin spice these days, it seems. But unlike whatever is in your corporate cappuccino, we wanted to use actual pumpkin. We used a sugar pie pumpkin, baked the meat, and then pureed it in the blender. You can also use canned pumpkin puree, but where’s the fun in that?

Pumpkin SourPumpkin Spice Syrup (adapted from themessybaker.com)

  • ¾ cups water
  • ½ cup granular sugar
  • ¼ cup light brown sugar
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • ½ tsp ground nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon ground clove
  • ¼ tsp ground ginger
  • 1/8 cup pumpkin puree

Add water and sugar to a small saucepan. Set over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally until the sugar has dissolved. Add pumpkin puree and spices. Whisk to combine. Reduce heat to medium low for five minutes, whisking frequently. Remove from heat and let sit to cool. Pour the mixture through a fine mesh strainer or cheese cloth. Bottle and store in the refrigerator.

We tried this syrup in a variety of drinks, but our favorite was a variation on a classic whiskey sour.

Pumpkin Whiskey Sour

  • 2 ounces bourbon
  • 1 ounce pumpkin syrup
  • ½ ounce lemon juice
  • ½ ounce egg white

Pour all ingredients into a shaker. Shake without ice until you feel pressure building in the shaker. Add ice and shake again. Strain into a rocks glass filled with fresh ice.

For more Fall cocktails, see here, here, and here.

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The Nitty Gritty Magic City Cocktails for August

IMG_20150812_093253In case you didn’t get the word on Facebook, we are taking a week or two off from our serialized detective novel to catch up on some writing and get ready for school to start. Munford Coldwater and the gang will be back before the end of the month.

Earlier this summer, we mentioned that we regular do cocktails for the Nitty Gritty Magic City reading series, which takes place the second Thursday or every month at Desert Island Supply Company and features local writers as well as travelling talent from across the country. We featured the series in chapter six of the novel, and then they promptly went on hiatus for the next two months. Well, it is back, and we are back, with two seasonal cocktails that we think you will like.

The fig tree in our back yard didn’t produce much this year, but our rosemary bush is doing just fine. We got some lovely figs at Whole Foods and made a fig and rosemary syrup. We used it to add some seasonal pizzazz to a simple (eggless) whiskey sour using Bulleit rye. A spear of rosemary for garnish brings out the rosemary in the syrup. We call it:

The Morris Avenue

  • 1.5 oz rye
  • 1/2 oz fig rosemary syrup
  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • Rosemary garnish

We recommend shaking it and then straining it over fresh ice, as seen in the picture.

Next, we are doing a punch that uses local honey, house-made grenadine, and gin. A little Campari adds complexity to the flavor and keeps the sweeter ingredients from being too cloying. Soda on top makes it refreshing.

Downtown Punch

  • 1.5 oz gin
  • 1/2 oz Campari
  • 1/2 oz honey syrup (1/2 honey, 1/2 water)
  • 1/2 oz grenadine (we use Joey Schmidt’s recipe to make ours)
  • Fill will soda

Build in a tall glass full of ice and give it a stir. Garnish with something fun from your garden, or your neighbor’s garden.

The next Nitty Gritty Magic City is Thursday, 8/13 at Desert Island Supply Co. at 7:30 PM. This month’s readers are Kristi Houk, Jason Slatton, and Lynnel Edwards.

Independence Punch

Independence PunchFor your Fourth of July party, you might want to serve up a punch. The word punch comes from the Hindi word for “five,” and traditionally, punches have five ingredients. The five we decided to work with are bourbon, lemon, mint syrup, Pimm’s No. 1, and club soda. This is an extremely light and refreshing punch that’s not too strong. We wanted to use bourbon because it is the quintessential American spirit, and we are after all celebrating America’s independence day. However, we gave a little nod to our former overlords also by including the Pimm’s.

To make the mint syrup, cook up a normal simple syrup with equal parts sugar and water but add about 8 mint leaves, torn to release the oils. When the syrup starts to boil and sugar is dissolved, take it off the heat. After it cools, strain out the mint leaves and store in a jar. Whatever is leftover after you make the punch can be used in mint juleps.

Protip: As long as we are squeezing all these lemons, we went ahead and peeled them so we could use the zest to make limoncello.

Independence Punch (by the glass)

  • 2 ounces bourbon (we used Four Roses Yellow Label)
  • 1 ounce lemon juice
  • 1 ounce Pimm’s No. 1
  • 1 ounce of club soda
  • 1/2 ounce mint syrup

Combine all the ingredients except the club soda in a shaker filled two thirds with ice. Shake and pour into a Collins glass (the ice as well). Fill with club soda. Garnish with a couple of mint leaves shoved up around the straw so you get a good whiff of it with every sip.

Independence Punch (in bulk – multiply as needed)

  • 16 ounces bourbon
  • 8 ounces lemon juice
  • 8 ounces Pimm’s No 1
  • 8 ounce of club soda
  • 4 ounces mint syrup

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and stir to blend. Garnish with sprigs of mint and slices of fresh citrus.

 

The Whiskey Thief: A Serialized Novel, Part 2

Read Part 1 Here


Uniformed police and EMTs pushed their way through the crowd gathered in the smoking area just outside the Collins Bar. At the epicenter of the excitement was the body of the professor—most people who knew him called him by his last name, Hornbuckle. Within seconds, the rumors starting flying around like sparrows—whispers that Professor Hornbuckle was stabbed, that it was that blonde girl, Ashley Rose, who had been sitting at Josh’s station all week and now mysteriously wasn’t. All Stone could think about was how he was going to insert himself into the case to work alongside the police. Screw waiting for a client.

Back in the late ’80s, Stone had been a punk teenager with a foot-high green mohawk, hanging out with the other freaks of the day by the fountain in Five Points. His friends from back then often didn’t recognize him in the grey or black suits he wore today. The professor had been one of those teenagers also. They’d known each other from a respectable distance for two and a half decades. That Hornbuckle had become an English professor was no surprise. Because of his habit of reading enormous tomes and dressing in second-hand tweed jackets, they had called him the Professor as a nickname long before he became an actual professor. More of a shock was that Stone had become a detective, though it was sort of the family business.

Stone’s grandfather had started as an investigative reporter for the paper in Tupelo, which had led him into a second career as a gumshoe. His pop had started his own agency in Birmingham, but he’d vanished without explanation right about the time Stone was sporting that green mohawk. There had been some press back then about the old man’s disappearance—speculation that it might have been related to a case he was on or it might have been a dame, or both. He’d resisted the call to the order of shamus until he was in his thirties, when, after failing at being an artist and a lothario, he finally found that he wasn’t qualified to do anything else.

Meanwhile, the rumor that Hornbuckle had been stabbed was confirmed. The rumor that it had been Ashley who stabbed him was not, but she would most certainly be a person of interest. There were varying stories about why she did it and where she went afterward, and Stone didn’t believe any of them. It just didn’t seem to hold together. It was like somebody whisked her out just before it happened. In short order, the police kicked everybody out of the bar other than a few people who had claimed to be witnesses, so Stone stumbled down Second Avenue North with the rest of the crowd, thinking about having a martini for a nightcap.

He was very particular about his martinis. A martini had to be made with gin for one thing. Just how a vodka martini had come to be a thing, he wasn’t sure. It had to be stirred, not shaken, and the garnish should be a nice thick slab of lemon peel, not an olive, and for godsake not a pickled onion. The vermouth was important too. It couldn’t be one of the cheap brands that you can buy in any grocery store, and there should be enough vermouth in the martini that you could taste it. Because you shouldn’t put anything in a martini that you wouldn’t be willing to drink on its own, and if you go to the trouble and expense to use good vermouth, it should damn well be noticeable in the drink. Plus it keeps you from getting malaria, and in Alabama in the humid heat of a summer night, one feels the need for that kind of protection from nature. The thought of a “dirty” martini made his skin crawl. Above all, a martini should be clean, refreshing, like a dip in a cool swimming pool on a scorching day.

He ended up at Carrigan’s Pub. The pub sat in an old masonry warehouse down on Morris Avenue, the brick-lined street by the old railroad tracks that marked the center of town. It was cloudy, so nobody was sitting at the tables outside where globe lights were strung like a canopy. Stone was lucky to find Eric Bennett behind the bar and asked for a classic martini with Plymouth gin, Dolin blanc vermouth, and orange bitters. Eric happily indulged him.

“You hear what happened at Collins earlier?” Eric asked. His dark almond skin contrasted with the bright white shirt he was wearing. His square jaw was outlined by a square black goatee that gave him a sinister air.

“I was there, but I didn’t see much of anything. Cops made everybody leave.” Stone took a sip of his martini. It was as advertised.

Eric said, “That Ashley Rose, she’s been making the rounds. Kind of a bartender groupie. It was just a couple of weeks ago, she was doing the same routine with Hamrick over at Saturn, and before that, it was me. It started with Angel, of course.”

Most Birmingham bar stories did start with Angel Negrin. He had been instrumental in starting cocktail programs at several places in town and worked at Collins on the weekends. Since it was Wednesday, Angel would be working at Lou’s Pub in Lakeview. It was too late and too far of a walk for Stone to go down there tonight, but he’d try to catch up with Angel later. Angel was the kind of fellow who noticed things, and he might have noticed more about this girl than most of the others.

“Do you have an angle on this thing?”

“No,” Stone replied. “I’m just curious. It’s really not my business.”

He was still looking for a reason to make it his business. Stone found it interesting that Eric had already heard so much about the incident. Some of the crowd that had been at Collins evidently walked—and talked—faster than he did. He heard Pat Floyd and Will Batson with a group of unknowns at a table behind him snickering like mischievous elves. Either of them would have gladly brought the gossip down the block. He was pretty sure they had been at Collins also.

IMG_20150609_174446He’d already finished his martini and found himself ordering one of Eric’s originals, the Wisp of Judgment. It had a bourbon foundation, enhanced by the bittersweet pungency of Chartreuse, Byrrh, and Aperol. The eponymous wisp came from a smoky hint of mezcal that gave his nose a suspicious glare with each sip. Christ in a Chrysler, it was powerful, and perhaps Stone was beginning to personify the ingredients a little too much. Maybe it was the mezcal, but he was feeling a little paranoid. He realized there was something he hadn’t asked Eric.

“Did you know Hornbuckle? The poor sap that was stabbed?”

“Forty-ish English professor? Brown and stir?” Stone nodded affirmation. “He came around here sometimes, mainly early or on slow nights. He didn’t seem to like crowds. But we never talked that much. I don’t know what Ashley Rose could have had against him. Maybe she was a student of his.”

Like everyone else, Eric seemed to take for granted that Ashley Rose was the guilty party. However, Stone knew she was not in police custody, and there were at least a dozen other possible suspects. Any of the staff at Collins could have had opportunity, if not motive. But if the motive was to frame Ashley Rose, there could be some bartender jealousy at work. It was curious. Stone downed the remains of his drink and paid his tab. He said goodnight to Eric and the vaguely familiar faces who were lingering until closing time.


Read Part 3

The Triborough Bridge

TriboroughHaving spent a good decade of my life in Manhattan, I decided to use Woodford Reserve’s “Manhattan Project” as an opportunity to pay tribute not only to the granddaddy of all classic cocktails but to the many facets of the island that has meant so much to me over the years. New York City is the epitome of the American melting pot, and bourbon is the quintessential American whiskey, so the marriage of ideas seems fated in the stars.

My brainstorming began with the idea that we should recognize the “melting pot” aspect of Manhattan by using ingredients from many different places. However, the last thing we’d want to do would be to weigh down a classic like the Manhattan with clashing flavors. That’s when I hit upon the three whiskeys idea. Like the bridge that connects Manhattan to the Bronx and Brooklyn, the use of Woodford bourbon, Bushmill’s Irish whiskey, and Laiphroaig Scotch create a bridge that brings all the ingredients to create a unified whole.  Compared to other bourbons in its class, Woodford is noticeably sweet with distinct notes of caramel, vanilla, and butter. The dryness of the Bushmill’s balances the sweetness and is a perfect match because, like Woodford, Bushmill’s is triple distilled in a pot still. Just a few drops of Laiphroaig are added at the end to provide an aroma and light taste of smoke. One can imagine the atmosphere of a West Village poetry reading in a smoky coffee house.

A Manhattan also needs vermouth and bitters to round it out. We chose Punt e Mes because its slight bitterness and chocolate notes would play well with the whiskeys. We added a small amount of Benedictine to provide a bass note and appeal to the entire palate. In my opinion, a Manhattan is a serious drink and therefore does not need a flashy garnish. However, a little citrus oil really helps to brighten the brooding nature that the Punt e Mes and Benedictine bring to the table, and the flavor of orange plays well with the chocolate notes in the Punt e Mes.

Ingredients

  • 1 ounce of Woodford Reserve bourbon
  • 1 ounce of Bushmill’s Irish whiskey
  • .5 ounces of Punt e Mes
  • .25 ounces of Benedictine
  • 3 drops of Laiphroaig
  • Orange peel expressed, twisted, and dropped in the glass

Stir and strain into a classic coupe

Black Peppercorn Cocktails

We made a large vat of black peppercorn syrup for our Bengal Tiger a couple of weeks ago, and we still have leftovers. A quick reminder on how to make the syrup:

Mix 1 cup of sugar, 1 cup of water, and 1 tablespoon of black peppercorns in a saucepan. Stir over medium heat until all the sugar dissolves. Turn the heat to low and let it simmer another 5-10 minutes, and then take it off the heat. When the mixture cools, strain out the peppercorns using cheesecloth or a mesh strainer and then bottle.

This syrup makes a wonderful spicy addition to almost any cocktail that would normally include regular simple syrup. We started with the most basic cocktail of them all, the Old Fashioned.

Black Pepper Old FashionedBlack Pepper Old Fashioned

  • 2 ounces of your favorite bourbon or rye
  • 1/2 ounce black peppercorn syrup
  • 2 dashes of Angostura bitters

Build in a rocks glass and fill with ice.

This syrup is especially delicious  if there is also citrus involved. Some things we tried:

Black Pepper Daiquiri

  • 2 ounces white rum
  • 1 ounce fresh pressed lime juice
  • 1/2 ounce black peppercorn syrup

Shake and strain into a cocktail glass.

Black Pepper Gimlet

  • 2 ounces dry gin
  • 1 ounce fresh pressed lime juice
  • 1/2 ounce black peppercorn syrup

Shake and strain into a cocktail glass.

Black Pepper Margarita

  • 2 ounces blue agave tequila
  • 1 ounce fresh pressed lime juice
  • 1/2 ounce Grand Marnier
  • 1/2 ounce black peppercorn syrup

Shake and strain into a cocktail glass.

You can see how versatile this is. Try subbing lemon or lime in any of these drinks. Throw in a splash of fresh grapefruit or orange juice if you have it handy.

Secrets of EveFor our final black pepper trick, may we introduce “Secrets of Eve.” Whiskey Girl and I happen to have a fig tree in our back yard, so it’s a virtual fig-topia around here. We’ve made a lot of cool things with the figs, including entrees, desserts, and drinks. But the majority of the stock has gone into fig preserves, which we make with sugar, lemon, and fresh ginger.

We were snacking on our first jar of fig preserves and quickly came to the end, but there was still a lot of delicious reserve liquid remaining in the jar. What do you suppose we did with that?

Secrets of Eve

  • 2 ounces dry gin
  • 1 ounce fig preserve juice
  • 1/2 ounce black peppercorn syrup

Shake with ice and pour into a large rocks glass. Garnish with a fresh sprig of rosemary.

 

Ginger Bitters Part 2: The Cocktails

Last time, we were telling you about the amazing ginger bitters and bitter ginger liqueur we made. Now it’s time to put these ingredients to work in some interesting cocktails. First of all, the ginger bitters work great in simple drinks like an old fashioned or champagne cocktail. But we made time to try some more complex ideas and came up with a few winners.

Ginger is associated with the Caribbean, and we just knew our bitters would be great in virtually any rum drink. Most rum drinks involve citrus (usually lime juice), and many are sugar bombs. We wanted to get away from those patterns and create something in a little more of a classic, pre-prohibition style.

Ginger Pirate 1The Ginger Pirate

  • 2 ounces of a good aged rum (we used Flor de Caña 12-year. We recommend you use something aged at least 8 years)
  • 1/2 ounce Luxardo maraschino liqueur
  • 1/2 teaspoon absinthe
  • 5-6 strong dashes of the ginger bitters

Add ingredients to a mixing glass filled 3/4 with ice. Stir and then strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime twist, because rum and lime really are inseparable.

We also just knew these bitters would go well with bourbon. We chose Maker’s Mark because its sweet, wheat-heavy flavor would counter the ginger spice better than a bourbon that uses rye, which is already spicy itself. We used Sandeman tawny port with this, which is pretty good stuff. We can’t guarantee the same results with a cheaper port like Warre’s, but there’s only a small amount, and it really serves to bind the other flavors together. Just make sure it’s a tawny port and not ruby.

Spring Step 2The Spring in Your Step

  • 2 ounces of Maker’s Mark bourbon
  • 1/4 ounce St. Germain elderflower liqueur
  • 1/4 ounce tawny port
  • 3-4 strong dashes of ginger bitters

Add ingredients to a mixing glass filled 3/4 with ice. Stir and then strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Just to shake things up a little bit (that’s some bartender humor for you there), here’s a variation on the classic martini that uses my bitter ginger liqueur.

The Ginger Avenger

  • 2 ounces London dry gin – we used regular Bombay
  • 1/2 ounce bitter ginger liqueur
  • 1/2 ounce Cocchi Americano
  • splash lemon juice

Shake and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a sliver of ginger root.