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Rye and Maple Thanksgiving Cocktail: Poor Sap

Rye and Maple Thanksgiving Cocktail: Poor Sap

My job takes me all over the country. I travel about 100 days a year and make a complete circuit of the lower 48 every two and a half years. As you might imagine, I go to some pretty neat places as well as some not so neat, but who really wants to hear about that? One of the perks, as you might also imagine, is that I sometimes stumble upon some unique spirits that I wouldn’t normally see on the shelves of my local shop. I’m learning, albeit gradually, that although some of these intriguing bottles don’t always deliver, the disappointment of letting one slip away far outweighs the disappointment of a less than thrilling taste. Case in point: I’m still kicking myself for not picking up a bottle of Montana Rye just last month. Live and learn.

One of the bottles I am glad I didn’t pass up was Sapling Vermont Maple Liqueur, which I happened upon a year ago while staying in Burlington, Vermont. Though it languished unopened on my shelf for nearly a year, I finally decided to try it out in an autumn-inspired cocktail. What I ended up with is a bit of a riff on the Manhattan, with the maple liqueur taking the place of the sweet vermouth. Contrary to what you might think, Sapling doesn’t have a completely overwhelming sweetness, especially when set against the rye, but I found that a touch of Fernet Branca balanced the drink out quite nicely. A bit of house made grenadine fills out the profile of this mildly boozy drink that’s perfect served as a crisp autumn evening warm-up or a post-Thanksgiving cocktail.

Poor Sap

2 oz. Pikesville Rye
1 oz. Sapling Vermont Maple Liqueur
1/4 oz. Fernet Branca
1/4 oz. House made grenadine
House made cocktail cherry for garnish

Combine the rye, maple liqueur, fernet, and grenadine in a mixing glass. Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cocktail cherry.

In the Russet Gold of This Vain Hour


For this cocktail, I had a fairly clear idea of what I was after. I was looking to create a drink that would round out the darker end of Wonderland Kitchen’s fall offerings—something slightly complex and rich, but not cloying. I sometimes regard drinks with a multitude of ingredients a little suspiciously, as though their creators were attempting to flex some sort of mixological muscles. But having now imagined my own hooch hydra, I may start to reconsider that position.

It all comes down to balance and if a cocktail tastes like a bunch of things thrown together and swirled around for the heck of it, well, that may just be the case. I would have pulled the plug on this particular project if I detected any of that going on, but thankfully what emerged was something I considered to be intriguing, exactly in line with my original intent, and pretty darn tasty to boot. The cocktail gets its name from the title track of an album by the late-1990s alternative rock group The Autumns.

In the Russet Gold of This Vain Hour

1 1/2 oz. Pierre Ferrand Ambre Cognac
1/2 oz. Smith & Cross Naval Strength Rum
1/2 oz. Amaro Montenegro
1 oz. Punt e Mes
1 tsp. St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram
1 tsp. Demerara Syrup
Flamed orange peel for garnish

Combine the cognac, rum, amaro, Punt e Mes, allspice dram, and demerara syrup in a mixing glass. Stir with ice and strain into a chilled coupe. Flame an orange peel over the top of the drink and drop it in for garnish.

Fall Tequila Cocktail: The French Intervention


Crafting original cocktails—for me, at least—is a process that calls for one part imagination and at least five parts experimentation. While Version 1.0 of any given recipe rarely passes muster, it opens doors to any number of paths leading to the final destination. Sometimes the solution is simple, though most often it requires a good bit of refinement. Around here, recently, it’s been more of the latter. In order to dial in the spec for The Cylburn, we hosted a tasting party that featured sundry variations on the theme; while in the case of my Suze-infused White Negroni I almost scrubbed the whole project after exhaustive attempts to tweak it to perfection didn’t seem to get me any closer to my desired result. However, every so often lightning strikes and a first draft is deemed of superior quality, being instantly advanced to final draft status without having to undergo any editing or further scrutinization. Call it the product of accrued mixological experience or call it a fluke, but such was the case with The French Intervention, a cocktail whose name even came easily.

A confluence of two things sparked the idea for this drink. First, there was tequila. In an unfortunate case of guilt by association, tequila often gets a bad rap as a liquor to be consumed in one gulp, in mass quantities, and with a side of salt and lime. Yet, it seemed to me that its earthy flavor profile might make it an excellent, not to mention unexpected, candidate as the base spirit in a fall cocktail. And having just picked up a bottle of El Espolòn, I was eager to test my hypothesis. The second was something I happened upon while wandering the aisles of a local wine and spirits shop—a postcard advertising the Can-Can Classic Cocktail Competition, a challenge to create a new drink using the French St-Germain elderflower liqueur. I accepted the challenge, dreamt up the recipe you see below, and was surprised that my maiden voyage produced such an interesting and balanced result—a cocktail I truly believed coulda been a contender.

The French Intervention: Pour

Well, it turns out the drink actually couldn’t have been a contender, as close inspection of the fine print revealed that submitted cocktails need contain 1 oz. of St-Germain. My scant 1/2 oz. just wasn’t going to cut it. (Queue sad trombone sound.) But, to me, the drink was definitely a winner and rather than mess with success for a chance at a $10,000 cash prize—who needs that anyway, right?—I was content to simply add it to Wonderland Kitchen’s fall cocktail menu.

A word on the name. The French Intervention refers to Napoleon III of France’s invasion of Mexico in 1861—a campaign meant to give President Benito Juárez a collective piece of Britain, Spain, and France’s mind after the former decided to stop sending interest payments to the three nations, who so happened to be Mexico’s major creditors. But it wasn’t just a debt-collecting mission for Napoleon III—Britain and Spain actually backed out when they found out there was an actual invasion planned—there was also a little something about financing his empire with the Mexican silver that was just laying around waiting to be mined, as well as keeping the burgeoning power of the United States in check while it was somewhat preoccupied with its own Civil War. Sneaky guy.

As a coda, while double checking to see that The French Invention had not already been ascribed to an alcoholic concoction, I serendipitously discovered that the drink’s spec tips its hat to Harry Craddock’s Napoleon cocktail. Granted, not the same Napoleon, but close enough for jazz.

The French Intervention

2 oz. El Espolòn Tequila Blanco
1/2 oz. Cynar
1/2 oz. St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Wide lemon twist for garnish

Combine the tequila, Cynar, St-Germain, and bitters in a mixing glass. Stir with ice and strain into a chilled coupe. Twist the lemon peel over the drink to express the oils and garnish.

First Taste of Autumn: The Cylburn


People sometimes speak of seasons transitioning from one to the next, but for me it always seems to happen suddenly. One morning, I’m setting out in shorts and a t-shirt and the next I’m sporting long pants, a sweater, and possibly a wool coat. Not that I’m complaining. Fall is my favorite season and, for me, there’s nothing quite like the feel of autumn’s chilly morning air, the smell of a freshly raked leaf pile, or the sight of leaves changing color and trees with half bare branches. To celebrate autumn’s arrival, I came up with this crisp and herbaceous gin-based cocktail. The drink gets its name from the Cylburn Arboretum, a beautiful 207-acre arboretum and botanical garden in Baltimore, and a perfect place to peep the autumn leaves.

First Taste of Autumn: The Cylburn

The Cylburn

1 oz. Ransom Old Tom Gin
1/2 oz. Hayman’s Old Tom Gin
3/4 oz. Lustau Manzanilla Sherry
1/2 oz. Bénédictine
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Sprig of thyme for garnish

Combine the gin, sherry, Bénédictine, and bitters in a mixing glass. Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a sprig of thyme.

White Negroni: Anger That Forgot Where it Came From

White Negroni

I was originally planning to title this post “A White Negroni and the Trouble with Suze” as a way of venting the frustration I had accumulated while playing around with the bitter French aperitif to largely lackluster results. My struggle came not necessarily from the liqueur itself, but rather from how it seemingly refused to play well with others. I found that the very qualities that make Suze such a singular spirit when enjoyed on its own—a quick splash of sweetness followed by an intense and long, lingering bitterness—also make it somewhat difficult to tame in the context of a mixed drink. Definitely not an impossible task, but perhaps one of the reasons you don’t see a heck of a lot of cocktails with Suze in them.

White Negroni

Now, I like my bitter aperitifs as much as the next guy, but when it comes to cocktails I prefer balance. And that proved to be the main challenge in constructing this drink since despite many efforts to reign in Suze’s persistent bitterness in various ways, it continually bullied its way to the front of the palate. Eventually, thankfully, finally, and much to my pleasure, lest I feel as though I’d wasted a few weeks time not to mention half a bottle of a perfectly wonderful bitter liqueur, I arrived at a combination of gin, Suze, and vermouth that, to me, felt balanced. (And that, coming from a Libra, should carry some weight.) However, the perfectionist in me wasn’t quite content.

After tasting a version mixed with Old Tom and another with a London Dry—each lending their own unique and interesting flavor profiles—I decided to split the difference and go with equal parts Hayman’s Old Tom and Plymouth, which makes for a nice combination and also appeases the Negroni purist in me by keeping the drink in equal parts. The coup de grâce is a trio of lemon peels twisted over the drink. Of course, as always, you are free to play with the gins to satisfy your own taste, but the following is how the drink is served at our house.

Anger That Forgot Where it Came From

3/4 oz. Plymouth Gin
3/4 oz. Hayman’s Old Tom Gin
3/4 oz. Suze
3/4 oz. Dolin Blanc Vermouth
3 wide lemon twists

Combine the gin, Suze, and vermouth in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir until well chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, twist the three lemon peels over the drink, and drop one in for garnish.

A Cocktail for the Giro d’Italia: Maglia Rosa


There aren’t many places you will find some of the world’s toughest dudes battling for the honor to wear a pink shirt, but that’s exactly what happens for three weeks in May each year at the Giro d’Italia, one of professional cycling’s three Grand Tours. Known for its legendary champions, mythical feats of heroism, epic climbs, and frenzied fans, the Giro exhibits a distinctive flavor of unpredictability and passion with many riders fueling themselves and their efforts with raw emotion, in stark contrast to the calculated tactics that have come to typify the Tour de France over the past decade or so. Cyclists like Fausto Coppi, Mario Cippolini, and Marco Pantani run the gamut from legendary to flamboyant to tragic, each of their stories lending more color to an already colorful event. And, of course, the color that every rider in the Giro d’Italia dreams of is pink, the color of the race leader’s jersey, the Maglia Rosa.

If we were to talk about the inspiration for the Maglia Rosa cocktail in terms of the chicken and the egg–the chicken being the Giro d’Italia and the egg being the color pink–the egg unquestionably came first. After cooking up a batch of housemade raspberry syrup, I started searching for recipes that would allow me to make use of my new ingredient. As usual, when working with something new, I settled on a classic: the Clover Club. Having never mixed one before, I was struck, as I’m sure many are, by its vivid pinkish hue. But rather than disregard it as something for the girls, as Esquire once did, I thought, “Hey, that’s the same color as the Giro d’Italia leader’s jersey. I wonder if it’s possible to give it more Italian flavor.” I figured I had a 50/50 chance: it could either be tasty, or it could end up down the drain. Pretty good odds, in my opinion, and worth giving it a shot.

The goal, of course, was to retain the color, and after considering my options with regard to which Italian spirits I could substitute for the gin, I decided on grappa. Tweaking the spec slightly, but remaining somewhat close to the Clover Club, yielded an interesting but, by and large, unmemorable variation. The key, as it turned out, was to rinse the glass with sambuca. Doing so added a delicate nose to the ungarnished cocktail with the anise providing just the right amount of subtle complexity to the drink’s taste. Prelibato.

Maglia Rosa

1 1/2 oz. Lorenza Inga Grappa di Moscato
1/2 oz. Dolin Dry Vermouth
1/2 oz. lemon juice
1/2 oz. Housemade Raspberry Syrup
1/4 oz. Romana Sambuca
1 egg white

Combine the grappa, vermouth, lemon juice, raspberry syrup, and egg white in a mixing glass. Dry shake for 7-10 seconds to allow the egg white to emulsify. Add ice, shake well, and fine strain into a chilled coupe rinsed with sambuca.

Thanks to Twenty20 Cycling Co. for letting us turn their workbench into a bar.