Suddenly Thanksgiving is upon us! It seems like it snuck up on everyone this year, not just me. This time last year, I had just made my move to Lyons official by recruiting my ever-patient father and his now-fiancée Jennie to haul me, my stuff and my sweet babydog Oscar across the country. We celebrated this, my favorite holiday, around the kitchen table with our dear friend Butter.
Unlike last year, this year we’re not doing any of the cooking! Our friends Mat and Elise have graciously invited us to their home for the feast. I’ve seen the menu plans and oh boy, am I ever excited! When they extended the invite, we asked what we could bring. Christian is making chicken stock, and I’m sticking to what I know— cocktails.
I figured I’d just give a run-down of what I have steeping and then explain how I arrived at those ingredients.
On the left, you have Fireside Colorado Whiskey from Mile High Spirits, with bruléed figs. In the middle, Spring 44 Vodka with satsuma leaves and peel. On the right, Rob’s Mountain Gin No. 44 [which, I *just* learned, was recently acquired by Spring 44!] with pomegranate and satsuma.
I don’t think mixing or making cocktails has to be a difficult task. It also doesn’t have to be expensive. There’s not much point in buying a high-end spirit if you’re going to muddle it up with fruit! All of the above bottles were in the $25 range. How do you decide what to put in it? Just think about what goes into a cocktail that you already enjoy, and how to riff from there. For instance, gin & tonics. One of my favorite cocktails— simple, refreshing, not too strong, but lots of crisp flavor. What is it about that cocktail that is so good? First, find a gin you like. And whatever you do, don’t forget the lime!
So then… my brain runs through ingredients. Limes are tart, sour, acidic, bright, slightly sweet. Pomegranates share some qualities with limes. So, too, do certain varieties of grapes, apples, other citrus, cranberries… Then think of other combinations you enjoy. In a cosmopolitan, cranberry juice is married with triple sec [orange] and lime juice. So there’s something to that bright citrusy lime flavor and tart-yet-sweet red fruits, eh? And you say satsumas are in season? Fine then, pomegranate and satsuma it is!
If you’re hesitant to commit a whole bottle [or even half] to making some sort of infusion, start with one cocktail. Take note of your ratios. If you like it, make more! If not, try to figure out what went wrong. Is it too sour? Too sweet? Too strong, weak, muddied, bland, spicy… Does it need a salted rim? Often these problems can be corrected, but every now and then I make something that is truly blah. Live and learn!
And don’t ever be afraid to look up fruits to find out more about their characteristics. I’ve never seen satsuma mandarins for sale before, but they looked too pretty to pass up. A quick Google search told me what I was getting myself into. Easy!
When Christian and I were shopping, I noticed some gorgeous figs that just couldn’t be passed up. Figure out what to do with them later, right? Once we moved to the liquor store, and beelined it for the section of bourbon and whiskey, it seemed like the right thing to do to brulée the figs under a broiler with some sugar and simply toss them into bourbon while they were still crackling-hot. Figs have a rich, almost creamy texture to them, and sweet honeyed nutty fruit. I’ve heard them described as tasting like “a cross between a peach and a strawberry” or “a cross between an apple and a pear” but, really, they still taste to me like I remember Fig Newtons. They’re fig-y. Bourbon is that wonderful elixir of the American gods of distilling… sweet, slightly smokey, caramel, wood… Bourbon is a great pair with rich flavors. Or anything. Figs seemed like a good fit. If it is good, really good, I’m keeping it for myself! I’d like to make Fig Manhattans out of it tomorrow.
As for the Spring 44 vodka… when I got done peeling the satsumas, I couldn’t bear to toss their aromatic skins. I’m very curious to try the resulting infusion. I imagine it will be bitter from the pith, but doctoring that will be easy enough and I think the flavor is going to be great. A little like arancello, the Italian digestivo made with orange peels [sans pith]. We’ll know soon enough! Honey, the juice of a sweet fruit, or even tonic should suffice to tone down any bitterness.
Cheers! I hope you’ll share any cocktails you’re making, because I’d love to try them at home too.