Spiked Pear Cider

img_1799Proposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

Thanks to this cocktail blog, our history with good and bad holiday drinks is well-chronicled. I won’t return to Tom and Jerrys—ever—and the French 75—though it remains my favorite champagne drink. The time has come to move on, say goodbye to 2016, thankfully, and try something new.

As I mentioned last time, a Google search for “Unconventional Holiday Cocktails” turns up choices like Peppermint Martini, Spiced Coconut Hot White Chocolate, and other drinks rejected for being too sweet, too thick, too complicated, too unnatural, and/or too Seussian. Mostly they were too frou-frou. Though I’m not Fezziwig or the most uproarious holiday party guest, I’m no Scrooge. I try to keep my bah-humbugs to a minimum and keep the season well, but, sometimes, when I look at a Yummly page quilted with coupes of technicolor libations on elaborate tablescapes created for this time of year, I cry a little inside. Does it have to be such a big deal, really?

Plus, while I’m showing off my decision tree, let me confess that I try to consider friendly fire in choosing cocktails—the people around my brother and me, mostly our wives, who will have to share these drinks with us. During this season or any other, I’ve learned to reject the purely alcoholic combinations and know that the most welcome ingredients may be juice and some prominent liqueur we already have. That’s why I thought of Spiked Pear Cider. Its central ingredient is juice, not alcohol—it’s not at all boozy—and it’s both warm and a little fizzy.

  •  4 c. sparkling pear or apple cider
  • 3 c. pear juice
  • ½ vanilla bean
  • 5 whole cloves
  • ½ c. brandy
  • 3 tbsp. orange liqueur (such as Grand Marnier)
  • 1 Seckel pear

The preparation may seem a little complicated, but it isn’t. Just bring 3 cups of the sparkling cider, the spices, vanilla bean (I used a few drops of extract), and the 3 cups of pear juice (I recommend Jumex in a can. Bring that to a boil, turn down the heat, and simmer it for 7 minutes. Stir in the brandy and orange liqueur after that. The recipe says to strain the liquid into a pitcher, but we skipped that part. We also halved the recipe. Top it with more sparkling pear cider and garnish.

Though we’re currently suffering a polar vortex here in Chicago, this winter has otherwise been warm, and I don’t think the hot part of this cocktail is all that essential. In fact, I could see returning to this recipe in June, maybe with a little iced tea added. My inner Thoreau wants to urge simplicity, simplicity, simplicity and doing what seems easiest and most comfortable during this harried time. Just enjoy yourself and each other, no extra assembly required.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

daisyOh those hazy, crazy, lazy days of late Autumn. First, we had the drink as a punch on Thanksgiving Day and now it will soon be Christmas and I am just writing the review. Hazy memory. I wish I could blame that on important things going on but it is really just a jumble of work, events, then some utility construction that has destroyed swaths of our yard and sent me to customer service purgatory on numerous occasions. The next time I call Time Warner will be the official edge of crazy. Finally, the picture that is included is my best illustration of lazy. As in, hey-dummy-you-forgot-to-take-a-picture-of-the-drink lazy.

This is the type of proposal that I love. David came up with a cocktail that could be made in advance (mostly), added a wonderful fragrance to the kitchen and served a group. It was the perfect accompaniment to Thanksgiving so that is how it was served.

There were a few small changes that I made to the recipe. The most important was that I served it cold. That allowed us to make the base, with another slight change by using bourbon soaked vanilla bean pods, in advance and then top with chilled sparkling cider with each serving. The final change was that I used an apple/pear brandy that I had left from a Calvados drink we made earlier.

This punch is a mix of subtleties. The base has a background taste that just hints at the vanilla and cloves. In the same way, the pear and apple meld with neither being dominant. And unlike the many cocktails we have enjoyed with bubbly, the effervescence of the sparkling cider is muted by adding most of it during the mulling process. It could be my predilection for champagne drinks but I think it would be worth trying this with all the sparkling cider added to the base and then substituting sparkling wine for the topper. Especially if you drink this cold.

Jonathan’s Take: This is a Fall drink – subtle, quiet and simple like a day of drifting leaves.

David’s Take: If we do ever have a holiday party, I’ll serve this.

Next Time (Proposed by Jonathan):

We’ve gone so long between entries that another holiday is upon us. It is that time when we enjoy more confections, and food in general, than we do throughout the rest of the year. It is also the time for odd foods such as fruitcake which is rendered edible only through a thorough soaking in booze. We’re going to take a slight break from cocktails and try some foods that are enhanced or dominated by spirits. That can include candies, sides and main dishes as long as there is a liquor component.

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Hot Cider Nog

ACNogJMProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

One could posit that the proposed drink is more a posset than an eggnog. That assumes, of course, that one knows the difference between a posset and a nog or even what a posset is.

The history of eggnog can be traced back to England and a hot drink that sometimes doubled as a dessert. Possets date back to at least the 15th century based on their appearance in historic documents. Samuel Pepys wrote of eating a sack posset in his diary and was referring to a warm milk drink that was curdled with sack (like a sherry), sweetened and spiced. The classic version included milk or cream, sugar, spices, an ale or wine for curdling, and some kind of thickening agent. Special pots, much like a fat separator for gravy only much fancier, were used to pour out the lighter liquid to drink while leaving the thicker part to eat like a custard (a syllabub if you want to be technical). Later versions added eggs although both eggs and dairy were available mostly to the upper class.

Shakespeare referenced possets in a number of plays. David is the Shakespeare scholar in our family so I am sure he immediately thought of Lady Macbeth in reading that word. She used a drugged posset to render Duncan’s guards immobile so that Macbeth could steal in and assassinate the king. It appears she even enjoyed a spirited version of the drink to fortify herself:

That which hath made them drunk hath made me bold
What hath quenched them hath given me fire

This beverage tradition of possets traveled to the colonies. Milk, cream and eggs were of much wider availability which could have led to greater popularity. The sack or sherry was replaced with the more common spirit, rum, in the colonial version. Speculation on the name relates to both the addition of rum and the type of cup in which the drink was traditionally served. Rum, or grog in common parlance, led to a drink called egg and grog. It was served in a small rounded wooden cup called a noggin (yes that is where the slang reference to the head probably started) and became egg and grog in a noggin. Finally, nog is slang for ale, which was of course one of the original ingredients in the posset.

Whatever the origin, what we call eggnog makes its regular appearance as the holidays approach and the weather, in theory, turns colder. The version that I proposed came from Southern Living and included an unusual addition unless you consider the evolution of the drink. This Hot Cider Nog adds apple cider which harkens back to the cider, ale or wine used in a posset:

2 cups half and half
1 cup milk
1 cup apple cider
2 large eggs
½ cup cider
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon salt
Whipped cream and cinnamon sticks for garnish

Mix the first 8 ingredients in a large saucepan and gradually warm while stirring occasionally. The recipe recommends cooking until the thickened liquid coats the back of a spoon. I whisked the liquid almost constantly until it reached a temperature of 160 degrees to ensure those pesky eggs were safe but the milk and cream not overly scalded. The bourbon goes in last and I did bump the amount up to ¾’s cup.

There are recipes that suggest the final product should be cooled and even aged in the refrigerator for periods up to or even beyond six months. Our eggnog did get cooled but it had little time to age in a house full of family and guests. The odd addition, cider, was really not distinctive in the drink and fortunately did not curdle the milk. It did make for a lighter eggnog that was much better than the usual store-bought versions.

Here’s David’s Review:

NogDMIt occurred to me (ever so briefly) that I might save myself all sorts of time and trouble by just buying eggnog at the grocery. Making eggnog yourself is a delicate process—too hot and you have bits of scrambled egg in your drink and too cool and you might as well be Rocky before a morning run. Plus, the commercial stuff is readily available, and as a child, I loved it. I always looked forward to the holiday season when that carton hung around in the back of the refrigerator. I wouldn’t think of adulterating it with alcohol.

But now I know how caloric commercial eggnog is. Its preternatural viscosity probably derives from the sap of a South American tree, and the only eggs that go near it must start as powder. I’m a grown-up now. Making my own eggnog can’t be that daunting.

Well, okay, it was. Jonathan suggested a thermometer to assure the mixture didn’t reach 180°, and I’m glad he did. It seemed to keep the curdling down to a minimum and the cocktail from being too viscous. The apple cider also made the nog a little thinner than usual, which fooled me into thinking it might not be thickening as it should be. I worried more than I should (not surprising news for anyone in my family) but the whole concoction came together suddenly… accompanied by a sigh of relief.

And the result was well worth it because the cider undercut the usual sweetness of eggnog with a pleasant acidity. The whip cream added too, as it melted almost immediately and made the drink creamier and richer. While the holidays offer no shortage of celebratory libations, this one seemed a particularly suitable nightcap.

Jonathan is more of a historian than I am—as he mentioned, I’ve taught Shakespeare for years, yet have always wondered what the heck a “posset” is—but I’m the sentimentalist. Tradition impresses me most. Eggnog hardly seems a 21st century drink, and I have a hard time believing millennials, with all their post-modern fixations, will keep it going. However, that groceries still stock eggnog, that Starbucks still makes it a prominent ingredient, that people still drink it (at least in all of those cheesy holiday movies), all that suggests some elements of the past are hard to erase. In this case, I’m glad.

Jonathan’s take: Homemade eggnogs really are better.

David’s take: My favorite version of eggnog yet… eradicates my Tom and Jerry nightmares, almost.

Next Time (Proposed By David):

My collection of cocktail books isn’t as extensive as my brother’s, but I have a few. I thought I’d pick one from a gift I received last Christmas called Shake: A New Perspective on Cocktails. The authors, Eric Prum and Josh William, are from Brooklyn, where my son lives (in Bushwick), and I’ve been particularly intrigued by one of their winter cocktails called The Bushwick Spice Trade. It uses Gin, sugar cubes, lemon juice, and—for spice—basil, pink peppercorns, and fresh ginger. The authors say, “We like to pair this intriguing cocktail with spicy Asian take-out when frigid temperatures call for a night in.” After so much celebration, that sounds good to me.

Hot Toddy

hottie tottieProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

The proposal last week included a link to the Our State magazine article about this drink that I hope blog readers took the chance to read. It had caught my attention for a few different reasons: I’ve been intrigued with the term “toddy”; our weather had been cold, icy and miserable; and the story provided with the recipe struck a note of nostalgia with me.

The meaning of toddy is not at all what I thought it would be. A hot toddy is basically hot water, sugar, spices and a spirit that is most often whiskey. Based on that my assumption was that “toddy” was an English term related to tea. It is, however, derived from a drink produced by fermenting the sap of palm trees in Southeast Asia. The Hindi term tadi referred to the type of wine palm that was tapped for its sap or the drink that was fermented from that sap.

No matter where the term came from, it is so associated with a hot drink to the point that “hot” seems redundant. We have experienced a period of weather in Charlotte that has been awful by our standards (even if David and his fellow Chicagoans would call it “Spring”). It has been wet and cold with every four days spiked by some form of wintry precipitation including ice, sleet, snow and that odd mix referred to as sneet. The idea of a hot soothing drink seemed appropriate especially after I had failed to collect enough snow to make snow cream with my leftover ginger liqueur. Of course, by the time we tried the cocktail (loosely used with this drink) it was sunny with highs in the 70’s.

The final point of interest was the reference to the toddy as a traditional cure for winter ailments. Our father was a physician, but that never stopped him from proposing home remedies. One of those was his cure for a cold, cough, sore throat, or any variety of upper respiratory ailment. I do not recall an exact recipe but do remember that it involved bourbon, lemon, honey and even the odd piece of onion on occasion. That prescription could be served straight up or mixed with hot water depending on Dad’s determination of the severity of our condition. I suspect that what he really knew, as most doctors do, was that the sick welcome a cure and are open to its benefits even if there is no true curative value. It was either that or he figured the bourbon would make us quiet and sleepy.

This particular toddy calls for all the classic ingredients with the spice supplied by tea. What follows is my adaptation of the published recipe:

One cup of herbal tea
1-2 ounce of whiskey (I used a Carolina apple brandy instead)
Lemon juice to taste
1 ounce of honey, or more if that is your taste
A garnish of lemon slice studded with cloves, and a segment of cinnamon stick

It seemed easiest to brew cups of tea and set the rest of the ingredients out for each person to fix to their liking which in turn proved to match the description of the early toddies experienced by British travelers in India. And our Dad’s mix and match cures too.

Here’s David’s Review:

hottyDespite our father’s home remedies, I’ve always believed drinking to cure a cold or flu is wishful thinking, and now when I think about a hot toddy I picture some grandma and grandpa taking snoots in some dim hope medical science will someday justify their vices. Before you cry “foul” on behalf of your elders, I know that’s unfair, but there are plenty of good reasons to have a hot toddy that don’t involve a cure.

With the right tea and/or the right apple juice, this warm cocktail could do much to relieve a winter night. For the tea, I chose Tazo Passion. The label promises, “Tart rose hips and citrusy lemongrass woo the voluptuous blooms of hibiscus flowers,” to produce “an infusion that’s bursting with life and tinged with the color of true love to make sure you never have to live a day without passion.”

Okay. I’m not sure I could attest to all that, but the concatenation of flavors did give this cocktail a decidedly botanical taste. With the honey, lemon juice, and (on the second iteration) apple juice, this “cure” wasn’t hard to enjoy. Hell, having something hot is enough to make a Chicagoan weep with joy this time of year.

My only complaint was that it wasn’t strong enough. One ounce of bourbon gives the hot toddy a tiny kick, hardly enough to knock out anything or anyone. I’d think that, to have any sort of chance against a nasty cold, this drink needs to promise a wallop worthy of Nyquil.

But I guess I’m putting myself in the category of grandma and grandpa in saying so. My advice is to enjoy the hot toddy for what it is, an invitation to hibernation, a sweet and endearing cocktail worth coming home to after braving a polar vortex or a winter storm so major it needs a name.

David’s Take: Pleasant… though likely no medical miracle.

Jonathan’s Take: Before you make this drink, go ahead and put your jammies on.

Next Week (Proposed By David):

Jonathan and I are returning to a sojourn from cocktails that we tried last year, namely beer. Tomorrow I will be sending Jonathan four local beers, and, the week following, he’ll send me something. I won’t say too much now about the choices I’ve made, but there’s a couple of odd selections coming Jonathan’s way that are supremely local… and a little strange. Just so it’s fun.

Wassail

jmwassailProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

Let’s get this part over with:

Here we come a-wassailing among the leaves so green;

Here we come a-wandering so fair to be seen.

Love and joy come to you, and to you your wassail too.

And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year,

And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year.

There are more verses but that should be enough to get the song stuck in your brain. But if not, maybe you need a little wassail.

Some time ago, when we tasted the French 75 as a matter of fact, I discussed toasts as part of the drinking experience. I’m not sure how I missed wassail at that time because the name probably derives from a toast, and the use of the word “toast” itself may come from this drink. There are different spellings but the derivation of the name of this punch probably began with waes hael a cheer offered to wish either “good health” or that the receiver “be fortunate.” Since that cheer was offered in conjunction with the drinking of a wine or apple cocktail, the punch became wassail and the cheering/singing wassailing. The toast part is a little more contrived.

One use of the wassail punch was to celebrate the Twelfth Night of Christmas with a blessing of the orchard. A mulled apple punch was made, and revelers surrounded the oldest apple tree. Singing and dancing ensued to help bless the tree, the orchard and the harvest so that it would be bountiful. This ritual included soaking pieces of bread, toast, and then hanging that toast in the tree. Thus the wassailing, singing and wishing of good health was a toast. It’s stretch, but it makes as much sense as soaking toast in your punch.

The recipe I used for wassail put this drink well into the difficult category, and it may be hard to find a version that does not. It comes from another blog, The Nourished Kitchen, and can be summarized as follows:

Separate six eggs, mix the yolks until shiny and the beat the whites to a stiff peak. Fold those two together and then temper that mix with some of the mulling liquid. Finally, remove the sachet, combine the egg mixture with the mulled cider, and drop the baked apples and orange into the punch. Serve warm with an optional piece of toast floating in the drink.

I made the punch ahead on Christmas Eve and then refrigerated it while we went to a candlelight service. When it was first made the eggs formed a foamy meringue floating on top and did not combine well. Reheated, that foam combined but was a little clumpy so in retrospect, I would suggest making, mixing, and drinking. Either way, it was a pleasant punch and here’s hoping it brings good fortune and health.

Here’s David’s Review:

IMG_0538My favorite:

Wassail! wassail! All over the town,
Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown;
Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree;
With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee.

All week I’ve looked forward to finally tasting the drink I’ve sung about so often. Though I have no white maple tree bowl to drink it from, wassail seems the perfect complement to the traditions of Christmas, especially as, with guests, we gathered a group to drink it.

The recipe, I admit, was daunting. As Jonathan did, the one I chose calls for separated (and them separately whisked) eggs that you then fold back together and temper before adding them to the drink. Not to mention the baked apples and the clove studded orange, the slow heating of the liquid to approach but not achieve boiling, spices added and spices bobbing a cheesecloth bag. After a full Christmas Day in the kitchen, I grumbled, “This better be good.”

Was it?

Well, it was warm, which was welcome. After last week, I wanted to redeem hot cocktails, and I’ve decided they can be good—not something I might have said last week.

And wassail isn’t as syrupy as I feared. The cider adds some pleasant sweetness, and, as I substituted one bottle of not-too-hoppy brown ale for one bottle of hard cider, the wassail was spicy without tasting like one of those fruitcakes people always say are the best thing you’ve ever eaten (that end up looking and tasting like sugared fireplace logs).

The addition of eggs wasn’t so bad either. Wassail is hardly eggnog. The whipped eggs don’t incorporate much. The drink is still thin, just with a cloud of froth on top. For me the cloud didn’t add much, but perhaps it’s meant as a neutral element to balance against the spices. As long as I didn’t think of that front as raw eggs, I could enjoy it.

I’ve never been a fan of mulled wine, and I was grateful to discover that wassail isn’t mulled wine either, but a drink with its own character—mild and not so sour, flavorful and not so aromatic—that reminds me of bread more than fruit.

All in all, I enjoyed it. Would I make it again? Maybe if I were having a party, but it won’t make my list of favorite drinks, nor will I ever have the gumption to order it out. At least, however, I’ll have something to say if I ever sing about it. “I’ve tried that,” I can say, “it’s pretty good.”

David’s Take: I’m grateful to have tried wassail, even if it seems too laborious to consume more than once a year.

Jonathan’s take: I’ll never hear that song again and wonder what the heck wassail is, that’s for sure.

Next Week (Proposed by Circumstances):

Perhaps you’ve seen the Food Network Program, “Chopped.” At the beginning of each episode, the host Ted Allen tells the contestant, “Each course has its own basket of mystery ingredients, and you must use every ingredient in the basket in some way. Also available to you are pantry and fridge…our judges will critique your dishes on presentation, taste, and creativity.” In honor the new year, Jonathan and I thought it might be fun to stage a “Chopped” of our own, by creating four categories:

a.) basic spirits (rum, whiskeys, gin, vodka, tequila)

b.) liqueurs

c.) fortified wines and the like (cognac, port, sherry, brandy)

d.) other items we’ve purchased to make cocktails (bitters, simple syrups, spices, etc.).

We’ll write the name of each item we have in the four categories then draw one from each—four mystery ingredients in all—to create a cocktail in 30 minutes. Our “pantry and fridge” will be whatever else we have around—juice, soda, etc. Next week, we’ll reveal our recipes… and let you know if (according to whatever judges we get) you should try them.

Pear Bourbon Cider

Proposed by: JonathanPearCiderJM

Reviewed by: David

First order of business the drink. It is described more than named as Pear Bourbon Cider. The recipe is straightforward, simple and in proportions suitable for a holiday punch:

2 – 3 cups bourbon
3 cups pear cinnamon cider
1 liter bottle of sparkling apple cider
1 cup of club soda
Pear slices for mix and garnish

Mix all ingredients, pour into double old fashioned glasses with ice and garnish with pear.

I never realized it before trying to find some background for this drink, but the definition of cider specifies apples. That’s a pretty boring fact, even if I can now annoy someone by pointing out that “apple cider” is redundant. The truth is that the cinnamon pear cider, whether named correctly or not, is the star of this drink. It is so dominant in flavor that the bourbon gets lost. As a public service I want to make sure and emphasize that in case anyone takes my suggestion to use this as holiday punch. The recipe suggests 2 – 3 cups of bourbon but if grandma wants to try it, double the sparkling cider. You could use just 2 cups of bourbon, of course, but this isn’t a cider blog.

Last week David pulled back the curtain to explain how he arrives at his drink suggestions and that it is not his favorite part of the process. To some extent, I am the opposite. I like to do the review more than I do the write up and as part of that I obsess about what to suggest next. We often correspond by e-mail making sure each of us are aware who has which week, possible issues with drink ingredients (who let David use up his Chartreuse!), and the timing of events and holidays that should be accompanied by an appropriate beverage.

Pay no attention to that bartender with the bulbous nose behind the curtain, ideas are all over. It should be no surprise, though, that the most common factor in what I suggest is the latest idea from my growing list of spirit literature. I also find ideas from other sources such as stealing them from cocktail menus and helpful suggestions from regular readers. It’s almost scary how often I get text messages accompanied by pictures of some wonderful looking cocktail. Now that we’re almost a year and half into this, David and I may need to sync up our Christmas lists to expand the ingredients, but there’s lots of places left to go.

Here’s David’s Review:

PearCiderDMThe only cocktail I invented for this blog was one I called The Pear Culture, and I couldn’t help thinking about it as I consumed Pear Bourbon Cider. The ingredients—the pear and bourbon combination—and the look of the two drinks—a golden and warm autumnal shade—were similar. The difference, however, was the Trader Joe’s connection. Where my cocktail called for puree, this recipe took a much lighter course with TJ’s Pear Cinnamon Cider (trademark). And where I included ginger (in the form of liqueur), this drink called for TJ’s Sparkling Apple Cider (trademark).

I admit, as I was making the drink, something said to me, “Where’s the ginger?” because I think ginger and pears go well together. For reasons I don’t understand—Former life? Propaganda by the ginger industry? Brain tumor?—having one ingredient makes me think of the other. I’m glad I resisted the temptation, though. The cinnamon in the cider provides some necessary spice, and the gravity of this drink, which was much lighter than my cocktail, made it more refreshing and quaffable.

All of which is to say, maybe this cocktail is the one I should have created.

I couldn’t resist a little experimentation though. The recipe I found online required adjusting the amounts because they were punch quantities, cups instead of ounces. For simplicity, I decided to convert cups to ounces, with the sparkling apple coming in around three cups, hence three ounces. However the instructions also contained varying proportions, offering “two to three cups bourbon (depending on your affinity for bourbon).” What a silly thing to say! It should be three, and, if it isn’t three, then look for another recipe.

And here’s another thing to try. If you look back at earlier posts, I think it’s safe to say Jonathan has an affinity for fruity cocktails—he’s certainly made me appreciate them more and seek them out at restaurants and bars—but, even with the effervescence of the club soda and cider and the touch of cinnamon, this drink could use a more prominent bitter element… not Campari or Malört or any amaro but maybe… well, bitters.

I’m under strict orders never to use the word “cloying” ever again so I won’t, but my recommendation would be to balance this drink’s sweet components with some exotic and mysterious counterpoint, something that will make your guest say, “Hmm. What’s that botanical I’m tasting?” As a great collector of bitters, I happen to have Bittercube Cherry Bark Vanilla and also Black Strap bitters (flavored with Molasses, Sarsaparilla, and Ceylon Cinnamon). I didn’t make two more drinks to try them out. “An affinity for bourbon” is one thing, but three drinks another. However, I did add a drop or two of The Black Strap before finishing the drink. It added a little something that’s missing, I think.

I may try the cocktail with Scrappy Chocolate Bitters next, which I also have on hand, naturally. Then there’s an idea I have for substituting Crabbie’s Ginger Beer for the sparkling apple cider and soda, and… well, you get the idea.

David’s Take: Perfectly pleasant and flavorful, but, with a little doctoring, it could be a more distinctive and memorable cocktail.

Jonathan’s Take: This punch needs a name and I think it should be Sneaky Cider. Where did that bourbon go?

Next Week (Proposed by David):

Picture a Venn Diagram. In the past, the set of beer drinkers and the set of cocktail drinkers rarely intersected. That is, their intersection was the empty set or the damn-near empty set. However, next week, Jonathan and I will follow one of the hip and trendy practices of bars all over the place and concoct (and of course imbibe) cocktails that incorporate beer. It’s a two-for-one week. I won’t dictate his choice nor he mine, but we will explore how beer might add or subtract from the mixed drink experience… and offer our usual largely uninformed but well-meaning commentary.

Bourbon Cider

photo-48Proposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

This week’s drink was a Bourbon Cider intended to showcase fall flavors. Going back to brown liquors, Bourbon to be precise, the drink pairs the spirit with apple cider and spices associated with Fall. The recipe comes from Saveur magazine and starts with a simple syrup made in the standard manner with the addition of cinnamon sticks, fresh ginger, and cloves. That syrup is used in the following recipe:

1.5 ounce bourbon

3 ounces apple cider

.75 ounce ginger syrup

1 tsp fresh lemon juice

Shake these ingredients with ice, pour into a coupe or martini glass and garnish with dried apple (I used fresh apple slices since that is what I had).

The proposal last week introduced the drink with a nod to North Carolina’s apple production. In that vein I thought it was important to find a local source of cider and used one produced in the NC mountains. There has been a great deal of emphasis nationally on using local ingredients, and we have tried to do more of that with everything we consume.

That said, the Bourbon was anything but local. A spirit that is called Bourbon must be at least 51% corn mash, made in the US, and aged in charred oak barrels. The amount of time in those barrels determines whether it is a straight whiskey. The traditional Bourbon is a Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey, but I followed a recommendation and used an American Straight Bourbon whiskey produced in Hillsboro, Oregon and aged in Indiana – Big Bottom. The recommendation came from the staff of store just south of us in South Carolina. One of things I have learned through our cocktail adventures is that a good liquor store includes having someone who can offer guidance to the novice. Since the NC stores are run by the state and limited in their advice and guidance, that means making the short trip across the state line.

This would be good time to beg forgiveness. On both my side of the family and my wife’s, we have relatives from Kentucky who would consider a Bourbon from somewhere other than the bluegrass state to be a sacrilege. There are Bourbon producers throughout the US though and, as I found this week, exceptional versions made in those distilleries. Maybe the next time one of them visits, I can curry their favor by offering a taste of Big Bottom or another American Bourbon.

This cocktail will vary with every version of cider used and, with so many varieties of apples, the possibilities are endless. The syrup offers subtle background notes and changing the spices would make it easy to personalize. The final way to change it up is to use different Bourbons.

Here’s David’s review:drink

Well, Illinois has no apple production to speak of, but we found plenty of ciders available to us.

On tasting this cocktail, my wife said, “This is the adult version of the post-hayride drink.” I don’t have much more to say beyond that. We tried it just after returning home from visiting our daughter at college—so perhaps that added to the homebody comfort embodied in this cocktail—but we were happy to come back to something so simultaneously welcoming and unfamiliar. Only the temperature of the drink seemed different. The apple cider, cloves, and other spices in this drink fit the fall and seem particularly appropriate to today’s added hour. Our version of the syrup could have used more ginger, I think, as I’ve learned to appreciate the combination of bourbon and ginger before, but that hardly diminished the effect of the spices, especially the cloves. Though it seemed a little odd to be drinking something so fall-spicy from martini glasses, otherwise my wife and I enjoyed this drink immensely.

If you try this cocktail yourself, here’s one piece of advice—be careful to strain the syrup carefully. The drink is dense enough without the granularity of the syrup. Alternately, you might try drinking this cocktail hot instead of cold. The mulled feel of the drink might lend itself well to mugs instead of glasses. I can see it as a ski-drink, sipped beside a fire after a day on the slopes. Of course, you should take that advice for what it’s worth. Having grown up in Texas and having never spent any time in a chalet of any sort, I may be fantasizing some other person’s life. Perhaps apre-snow shoveling would work here in Chicago.

Jonathan’s take: I have to credit my wife and neighbors for this: if there is a drink for every season, this is the one for Fall. Apples, bourbon and fall spices – perfect.

David’s take: A perfect drink for fall, all the flavors evocative of the season in combination, a homecoming appropriate to this time of year.

Next week (proposed by David):

My brother may hate me for this, but my proposal for next week is an Aviation, a drink that appeared in an episode of Blacklist (a television series I enjoy) and in a number of other places I’m interpreting as signs. It uses an odd liqueur called Creme de Violette and gin. It’s one of the classics, I’m told, and, looking at the pictures online, it seems particularly beautiful. I know it means another bottle in the cabinet—and one that may be challenging to use again—but I’m hoping it will be worth it. We’ll see. We’re experimenting, right?