In the Spirit
Three drinks, three ingredients
By Tony Cross
I asked a close friend the other day what I should write about in my next column. She replied, “Like, how to make a drink.” She’s obviously not one of my 12 readers; 10 if you don’t count my parents. Instead of just walking away, I asked her to enlighten me. Her response, “Something good. But, like, easy to make.” That I can do. So, for those of you who want a few go-to cocktails that only involve a few steps, here are three suggestions. And, even if you don’t mind making a mess out of your kitchen, I think you’ll enjoy these.
The first time I tried a Negroni cocktail, I was in disbelief about how terrible it was (forget the fact that I made it). My palate was as sophisticated as a 4-year-old; obviously, my taste buds had some growing up to do. Months later, Campari and I became well-acquainted, and soon best pals. So, the first time I tried the Boulevardier cocktail, I was smitten. Spicy rye whiskey paired with bitter Campari and rounded out with sweet vermouth was love at first sip. In fact, I loved this drink so much that I made one (maybe it was more?) for myself every single evening last summer when I returned home. For the whiskey, my standards are either Wild Turkey Rye or Rittenhouse. Both pack a punch and are moderately priced. The sweet vermouth, however, has changed during the course of the 100 that I’ve prepared. I used to use Carpano Antica, which is a lovely sweet vermouth that has beautiful notes of vanilla and orange, but now I like a more bitter-forward style. Cocchi Dopo Teatro is a ridiculously good vermouth that infuses quassia wood, rhubarb and cinchona. The base wine is blended with Barolo Chinato. The result: a vermouth that’s perfect for sipping on its own but I love it in a Boulevardier. You be the judge.
1 1/4 ounces rye whiskey
3/4 ounce Campari
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
Combine all ingredients in mixing vessel (or build it in your rocks glass). Add ice, stir for 50 revolutions, and strain into a rocks glass over ice. Garnish with orange slice or orange peel.
It’s still warm enough to have one more month of summer drinking, even if fall is a few weeks away. One of my absolute favorite poolside cocktails is the Caipirinha. Made with cachaça, a rum distilled from sugar cane indigenous to Brazil, this cocktail is so good, it’s hard to just have one. If you have cachaça, a lime and sugar, you’re good to go. Please note that Bacardi, or any other clear rum, is not a substitute. Cachaça’s grassy flavor comes from its lower sugar content that’s produced when it’s juiced. A lot of rum is made with juice that comes from molasses. If your lime is small, use the whole thing; if it’s rather large, 3/4 of it will do. Start by cutting the lime in half lengthwise (think of the top and bottom of the lime as the north and south poles). Take each half and cut the ends off each pole. Then, take each half and cut down the center from the poles. You’ll have four pieces of lime now. Cut off and discard any slithers of white pith that remain. The pith will add a bitterness that’s not needed for this drink. Once that’s done, cut each of the four pieces down the middle widthwise. You should have eight little pieces of lime. Place those into a sturdy rocks glass. I say sturdy because you will be building and muddling into this glass. If it’s a brittle glass, it might break and you could cut yourself. Blood would be a fourth, and totally unnecessary, ingredient. Add two teaspoons of white sugar, and muddle. When muddling, try not to annihilate the limes; you’ll want to gently muddle while twisting the muddler to extract not only the lime’s juice, but the oils as well. Add 2 ounces of cachaça, and crushed ice (yes, the type of ice makes a difference — crushed ice for the win.) Now, with a bar spoon (or regular spoon, if you don’t have one), gently stir everything in the rocks glass for about 10 seconds. Top off with more crushed ice. This will be just a touch spirit-forward, especially if your sugar sinks to the bottom of the glass. Another option would be using 1/2 ounce of simple syrup (two parts sugar, one part water). If this gets good to you, try adding a couple slices of pineapple or strawberries when muddling.
2 ounces cachaça
2 teaspoons sugar
3/4 to 1 whole lime
This last drink takes some time — three weeks, to be exact, but don’t let that deter you from having this amazing cocktail. I totally stole the base of this recipe from bartender Jeffrey Morganthaler’s Bar Book that came out four summers ago. In it, Morganthaler gives us the specs for a recipe he found in a book printed in 1939 from Charles H. Baker using his strawberry-infused tequila. All you’ll need is one quart of strawberries and 16 ounces of a good reposado tequila. Dice the strawberries, add them to a Mason jar, and fill with tequila. Seal the jar, and leave in a cool, dark place for three weeks. Shake the jar for about 15 seconds a few times each week. When the time is up, voila! Strain through cheesecloth, and you’ve got yourself a winner. It’s delicious by itself, but when I decided to put this on my drink menu, I didn’t want to sell this neat or over ice. I was afraid that it would be gone just like that. So I decided to make a cocktail with it. I made a syrup from lavender buds and added lime juice — essentially a riff on a margarita. It was delicious, but it still sold out quickly and, in turn, I learned that when making three-week liquor infusions, it’s best to make more than less.
Bit by a Squirrel
2 ounces strawberry-infused reposado
1/2 ounce lime juice
1/4 ounce lavender syrup
Put all ingredients in cocktail shaker and add ice. Shake it like it’s hot, and then strain into a chilled cocktail coupe. Garnish with a few lavender buds.
Lavender Syrup: take 1/4 cup of water and 1/2 cup of baker’s sugar, and place in a small pot over medium heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Add 1/4 ounce of dried lavender buds. Once the syrup has cooled, strain out lavender. OH
Tony Cross is a bartender who runs cocktail catering company Reverie Cocktails in Southern Pines.