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.

Breakfast in a Glass

IMG_20150709_094305Eggs in a cocktail? Raw? Preposterous! Well, no. It would be preposterous if the eggs were cooked perhaps, but there is a long history of eggs in cocktails. Lots of drinks, like whiskey sours, combine egg white with citrus to provide a frothy, creamy texture. When you use the whole egg, it’s called a “flip,” variations of which go back to the 16th century. Flips are mentioned in some of the works of Dickens. Jerry Thomas, in 1887, said that a flip “gives strength to delicate people.” Well, I was feeling a little delicate earlier this morning, and now I’m feeling as strong as a race horse. Of course, there is always some risk in consuming raw eggs. That’s our disclaimer. However, if you know where your eggs come from, that’s half the battle. We get farm fresh, free-range, hormone-free eggs every week from our CSA, and I try to pull out the smallest ones for cocktails.

One variety of flip that is still popular around the holidays is eggnog. A lot of people dont’ realize you can make eggnog by the glass with milk, an egg, sugar, and (optionally) the spirit of your choice (we like ours with brandy). But a flip can be enjoyed any time of year, particularly when you are hung over. Fortified wines are great in flips. These include sherry, port, madeira, marsala, and vermouth. Our favorite flip, is made with a combination of gin and sherry, and we make it thusly:

IMG_20150709_095020Solera Gin Flip

  • 1 oz London dry gin
  • 1 oz solera sherry
  • 1/2 oz simple syrup
  • 1 small farm-fresh egg

Put all the ingredients in a shaker and shake for 30 seconds with NO ICE. This will make it fluffy. Add ice and shake again. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with fresh-grated nutmeg.

A note on sherry: There are many varieties of sherry and also great disparity in quality. We picked solera sherry for this drink because it has a sweet, but not too sweet, nutty flavor that we enjoy.

Meditations on the Martini

IMG_20150609_172925The Classic Martini is the godfather of cocktails. Although other drinks, including its cousin the Manhattan, predate it, the Martini is a yardstick by which we measure virtually all other drinks. It is likely that no other cocktail has been so misunderstood by history and bastardized by misguided trends. And yet no other cocktail shines with such simple elegance. I will first tell you how to make a proper martini, and then I will discuss the merits and demerits of its many variations.

First, a recipe:

  • 2 ounces of Plymouth gin
  • ½ ounce of Dolin Blanc vermouth
  • 1 dash of Regan’s orange bitters

Pour all ingredients into a mixing glass. Fill with ice and stir about fifty times, until at least 1/3 of the ice has melted. Strain into a coupe glass or small martini glass.

Cut a generous slice of peel (careful to avoid pith) from a fresh lemon, and rub the outside of it over the edge of the glass. Then squeeze the lemon over the glass so that a few drops of lemon oil float on top of the drink. Discard the peel, or twist it into a spiral to use as a garnish.

This is a proper Classic Martini. Note that it uses gin, not vodka. Note that it uses lemon peel, not an olive or an onion. Note that it uses a brand of vermouth that costs more than six dollars. Note that it uses bitters. These are all necessary to provide the crisp, clean, complex, refreshing beacon of light that the Classic Martini represents. When we want to enjoy a classic cocktail, it is like stepping into a time machine. The ingredients above are the best modern representations of the ingredients that would have been used when the martini was at the pinnacle of its fame, in the years just before Prohibition.

If you prefer a martini on the rocks rather than straight up, that’s your business. It isn’t our preference, but it’s acceptable in polite society.

Perhaps the most common variation is the “dirty” martini, which uses olives as a garnish and a splash of olive juice to give the drink a briny flavor. Unlike the erstwhile fictional detective Stone Coldwater in our serialized novel, this is not an abomination to us. It has its time and place. We are tempted to say that the time and place is in the 1970s at a golf resort or yacht club. Though not entirely offensive, it is rare that we are in the mood for a dirty martini these days, especially at a bar, where the state of the olives and olive brine may be questionable. Even at home, we have strayed away from this variation of late, although we used to enjoy them from time to time in the early days of our cocktail explorations. That being said, done well, a dirty martini can be reminiscent of a beautiful day at the beach, the salty scent and soothing roar of the waves, the clean air, the sand between your toes. Gaze through the haze of olive brine at the refracting light of your bar-side lamp, and you can imagine the sun setting gently behind the ocean.

Another variant is the Gibson, which uses a small pickled onion instead of an olive. We have never had any use whatsoever for this drink.

A variation that took hold in the late 20th century is the vodka martini. Vodka lacks the depth that gin gives the drink. The herbal and floral notes of gin play well with the herbal and floral notes of the vermouth, and the bitters tie it all together in a nice, clean package. The key word here is clean. We don’t mean to denigrate vodka, generally, but we respectfully don’t think it belongs in a martini. We especially don’t agree with the idea of an “extra extra dry vodka martini” which is really just chilled vodka in a glass. If there is no vermouth and no bitters, it isn’t a cocktail, and if it isn’t a cocktail, it isn’t a martini.

We will not speak of “fun”-tinis. Those really are an abomination, and we have already said too much about them by even mentioning them by name.

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 Nitty Gritty Cocktail for May

HerbGardenGimletSince the beginning of this year, the Whiskey Thief has served as the official bartender for the Nitty Gritty Magic City Reading Series, which features a variety of writers both local and from elsewhere on the second Thursday of each month. At each reading, we feature a signature craft cocktail. We’ve been woefully neglectful about pimping both the reading series and the cocktails we’ve been creating for it, but we’re going to correct that now.

This month, we’re doing something a little different. We’re putting together a springy herbal mixture of 2 parts lime juice to 1 part each of Green Chartreuse and St. Germaine. Call it a spring sour mix.

For the cocktail, patrons can choose a base liquor to pair with the mix:

  • Gin for a gimlet
  • Vodka for a bastardized gimlet
  • Honeysuckle Vodka for a sweeter bastardized gimlet
  • Tequila for a margarita
  • Rum for a daiquiri

We’re pulling fresh herbs from the whiskey garden to use as a garnish.

The NGMC readers featured this month are all from Nashville:

TJ Jarrett is a writer and software developer in Nashville, Tennessee. Her recent work has been published or is forthcoming in Poetry, African American Review, Boston Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Callaloo, DIAGRAM, Third Coast, VQR, West Branch and others.

Christina Stoddard is the author of HIVE, which won the 2015 Brittingham Prize in Poetry (University of Wisconsin Press). Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Christina earned her MFA from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where she was the Fred Chappell Fellow. She is an Associate Editor at Tupelo Quarterly and a Contributing Editor at Cave Wall. Christina currently lives in Nashville, TN where she is the Managing Editor of a scholarly journal in economics and decision theory. Visit her online at http://www.christinastoddard.com and on Twitter at @belles_lettres.

Edgar Kunz lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where he teaches at Vanderbilt University. His work appears or is forthcoming in AGNI, The Missouri Review, Indiana Review, Gulf Coast, Forklift Ohio, Devil’s Lake, and other places. He’s moving to San Francisco in the fall to begin a Wallace Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University.

A Rose for Emily

Photos courtesy of the 2014 Eat Drink Read Write Festival, Birmingham, AL

EDRW_4“A Rose for Emily” is a 1930 short story by the American author William Faulkner. In the story, Miss Emily is a reclusive old Southern lady, a symbol of the antebellum years, now faded and marred by history. She never married, though she did once have a suitor who had told his friends he was “not the marrying kind” and disappeared before marrying her.  Miss Emily has now died, and the ladies of the town are eager to see into the house that has been closed up for many years, often emanating distasteful odors. Behind a barred door, they find the decaying corpse of Emily’s old suitor lying in a bed, covered in dust. She had apparently poisoned him. An indention in the pillow next to him contains a grey hair, indicating that Miss Emily had, at least for some time, been sleeping in the bed next to the body.

This story inspired me toward perfume and flowers of the type one might associate with a lady like Miss Emily. The combination of Bristow Gin and Cathead Honeysuckle Vodka would create a perfect base. I added a wash of rosewater at the beginning and lavender bitters at the end to complete the floral notes. The drink needed something to mute its high proof, so I added Lillet Rosé, making this essentially a variation on a classic martini, but with a pretty serious floral twist.

EDRW_2A drink in tribute to Faulkner really needs some bourbon in it somewhere, and the wood notes of the bourbon help to balance the botanical elements. I chose Four Roses bourbon because the name fit the bill, and it’s a tasty, mild, mid-priced bourbon that plays well with others. Naturally, I garnished with actual roses.

A Rose for Emily

In a mixing glass, combine:

  • 1.5 ounces Bristow Gin
  • .5 ounces Cathead Honeysuckle vodka
  • .5 ounces Four Roses bourbon
  • .5 ounces Lillet Rosé

Fill with ice and stir to desired dilution.

Spray the inside of a coupe glass thoroughly with rosewater. Strain the cocktail ingredients into the glass. Add 2-3 drops of lavender bitters to finish. Garnish with a large rose petal or small rose bud.