Byrrh Rides Again: The Chevalier

•March 29, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I love apéritif wines. Byrrh, Lillet, Dubonnet, Cocchi, you name ‘em, I’ll drink ‘em. These complex, Continental concoctions are wonderful on their own — or with a wedge of citrus and some soda, a universal truth of drinking — but sipping a tall, cold glass of quinine-tinged wine on a lazy afternoon sometimes feels just a little too…simple. And when evening rolls around and the pre-dinner snacks pop their heads in the door for a visit, well, by then you’re feeling the need for something more complex and bracing to liven things up before the final meal of the day. Plus, that bottle of apéritif you opened that afternoon has entered the next phase of its life cycle — refrigeration — and you’ve got about two weeks before it starts going funky. The solution is relatively simple: mix that aperitif in a cocktail.

Still, there remains a tendency to default to the old standards — the Corpse Reviver (a lot of work) or the Tip Top for Lillet, the Dubonnet Cocktail, the Phoebe Snow, Byrrh Cocktails, or maybe modified Martinis. All wonderful, but if you’re making that one drink for a week or two, trying to use up that apéritif wine, things can get a bit dull.

My solution? Start experimenting. All apéritif wines seem to have a limited number of established cocktails, and I see too few of them put to use behind the bar, so why not try and come up with something new? Here’s one that I first whipped up a couple weeks ago; the initial results were pleasing enough to warrant further testing and refinement…

Chevalier (1 of 5)


  • 1-1/2 ounces Rye Whiskey*
  • 3/4 ounce Byrrh
  • 1/4 ounce Crème Yvette
  • 1 dash Bittercube Bolivar Bitters**

Stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry, if you like.

*High West Double Rye, 13th Colony Southern Rye, Russell’s Reserve 6-year, or Bulleit suggested

**Difficult to find a substitute; Bitter Truth Aromatic Bitters are probably closest, or perhaps Boker’s.

As with most cocktails, experimentation starts with substitution: swapping out one ingredient for a similar one that you’re bent on incorporating into a drink. In the case of aperitifs, I like to use Jamie Boudreau’s “Golden Ratio” — 1-1/2 ounces of spirit, 3/4 ounce of fortified wine, 1/4 ounce of sweetener or liqueur, and — perhaps — a dash or two of bitters. The formula results in something that’s more complex than your standard Manhattan/Martini formula (which usually omits a sweetener) and gives you a trio of ingredients whose flavors can play off one another.

Chevalier (4 of 5)

The Chevalier is a bit like a French Manhattan (my original name for it was the “Frenchman in New York”) — instead of hearty doses of wood, herbs, and spice, however, there is a round bouquet of fruit and smokey grain, with a bit of quinine and sharp spice to bring back a bit of the edge, followed by a subtle, floral finish. Let’s break it down by ingredient:

Rye Whiskey: This was the most difficult component to nail down — not the category itself, but the bottle. Some ryes I tested were too subtle or too mellow (Templeton, Sazerac), too strong (Rittenhouse), or too unique and uncooperative (Whistlepig, Catoctin Creek). In short, you want something with that distinctive rye spiciness, with a fair amount of wood and a middle-of-the-road approach to flavor that compliments the sometimes-subtle Byrrh and Yvette. High West Double Rye surprised me, in this respect — it’s not normally one of my favorites in spirit-forward drinks, but it’s somewhat brash, oaky, and young, and works very well here. It will certainly be easier to find across the country than 13th Colony Southern Rye, my other prime choice, whose distribution is largely limited to the South — it’s a lovely, deep hue with a deep, woodsy flavor, heavy on cinnamon.
Byrrh: I would like to see this in more cocktails. I suspect its disuse is due to its somewhat un-American flavor profile, which includes a sizable, but not overwhelming, dose of quinine and funky flavors of aged fruit. As I discussed in the intro, Byrrh was the primary motivation behind creating the Chevalier — I figured it would combine well with the fruity, grassy notes typical of rye whiskey. If Byrrh lacks one thing, it’s edge, or “cut,” as I call it — the whiskey and bitters restore some of that. Byrrh can be tricky to find — if you must, substitute the sweeter, less complex Dubonnet Rouge.
Crème Yvette: Another under-utilized ingredient with few established recipes, which is why I throw it into many of my experiments. The modern incarnation is anything but a substitute for Crème de Violette — it’s not nearly as floral (or “soapy”), it’s color is closer to fuchsia, and the flavor includes a fair dose of berries, citrus, and vanilla along with the violets. Sure, mix it into your Blue Moon or Aviation, but the result will be completely unlike the violette version. Again, in the Chevalier, it’s all about bringing the fruit to the forefront.
Bolivar Bitters: I tried out several aromatic bitters here, but they were all too potent, too heavy on angostura bark and spice, and they tended to take over the drink. Byrrh and Yvette are rather subtle, and I wasn’t going full-bore with a bottle of Rittenhouse Rye, so milder bitters were needed to give a bit of edge back to the cocktail and pull out some of the spice. Bolivar Bitters — by Bittercube, out of Milwaukee — fit the bill: the cassia fits with the rye, the dried fruit works wells with the rye and Byrrh, and the chamomile meshes nicely with the Yvette. Oh, I also tried out Lavender (too floral), New England Bitters (too tart), and cinnamon tincture (too simple).

Chevalier (3 of 5)

So, there you have it: a Frenchified Manhattan variation that helps you take care of that bottle of Byrrh and puts your prized, yet pricey, bottle of Crème Yvette to use. Now, what would happen if I subbed some brandy or a nice, viscous rum? I don’t know…hmm, let’s see…

Photos & Text by Ian J. Lauer

PS: There already exists a drink named the Chevalier, which is basically a Sidecar with bitters…perhaps mine would be a Chevalier No. 2, but the two are completely unrelated. It’s too good a name to pass up, and who orders the Chevalier nowadays, anyway?

Chevalier (5 of 5)

PPS: Chevalier is basically French for “knight,” similar to cavalier, though with a more chivalrous and less roguish English connotation. It is rather cheekily used in the opening chapter of Rex Stout’s Champagne for One, one of many Nero Wolfe murder mysteries, all of which are set in New York…

“…I suppose you know about the dinner party she gives every year on the birthday date of my Uncle Albert, now resting in peace perhaps?”

“Sure. Who doesn’t?”

“Well that’s it. Today. Seven o’clock. And I’m to be one of the chevaliers, and listen to me, and I’ve got some fever. I can’t go. She’ll be sore as the devil if she has to scout around for a fill-in, and when I phone her I want to tell her she won’t have to, that I’ve already got one. Mr. Archie Goodwin. You’re a better chevalier than me any day…”

MxMo LXXXII: Monsieur Lauer at the Lapin Agile

•February 17, 2014 • 2 Comments


As you might well guess, the blog isn’t the only repository for my cocktail knowledge and experiments. Since the summer of 2010, I’ve kept a cocktail journal, of sorts: it started as a collection of recipes scribbled haphazardly into a Moleskine notebook, but has since evolved into a chronological account of the boozy side of my life. Every drink I have, every liquor I sip, every experiment I conduct, and every bar I visit is entered under its respective date. At least, as far as is possible — one’s memory is apt to be a little hazy after a few cocktails, and crowded bars aren’t exactly conducive to note-taking — there have been quite a few entries made a day or more after the actual imbibing.

LapinAgile (1 of 2)

Still, what has emerged is a surprisingly thorough body of knowledge, one that I delve back into every now and then for inspiration — to revisit old flavors and their associated memories. So, when I was craving something bright and refreshing to take my mind off the snow falling on Queens and to use up the oranges and lemons languishing in the fridge, I reached for the ol’ notebook. I was also looking for something to fit our latest Mixology Monday theme, Sours, which is being hosted by Andrea over at Ginhound. Andrea has stated the theme as such:

“Some of the most iconic cocktails are Sours…A perfectly balanced sour is a work of art. What has happened to the Margarita shows exactly what is at stake when mixes replace bartender skill.

For this month’s MxMo I suggest that we test the sour to the limit: Are there citrus besides lemon, lime and grapefruit that works in a Sour? Is citrus the only possible souring ingredient? Could vinegar or other tart fruits or vegetables be used? Let’s also include the Daisies and the Fizzes – that widens the playing field with eggs and whatever makes you fizz to play with.”

The following drink evolved over the span of a week back in August of 2012, when I was mixing up entries for the St. Germain 5th Annual Can-Can Cocktail Classic, and nicely fits the bill…

LapinAgile (1 of 1)

Lapin Agile

  • 1-1/2 ounces Boulard Calvados (Pays d’Auge VSOP)
  • 3/4 – 1 ounce (to taste) St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
  • 1/2 ounce Lemon Juice
  • 1/2 ounce Orange Juice
  • 1 dash Bittercube Lemon Tree Bitters
  • 1 dash Bittercube Orange Bitters

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled coupe or cocktail glass.

The Lapin Agile is based directly on the Applejack Rabbit, a little-known classic from David Embury’s Fine Art of Mixing Drinks that I first read about ages ago in the Cocktail Chronicles. While the Rabbit switches out simple syrup for maple syrup, and is excellent, I was searching for a use for St. Germain, and felt that its lovely floral flavor would work well with apples and citrus. Wouldn’t you know it, a simple swap in Embury’s drink didn’t turn out half bad. Still, the light flavor of the St. Germain and the acidity of the citrus dominated — it needed the zingy depth of citrus oils, or something similar, to act as a counterbalance, so in went the orange and lemon bitters (though an orange peel in the drink is a nice addition). The final task was settling on an apple brandy to use: I ultimately went with calvados (Boulard VSOP — nice and fruity), which contributed a uniqueness and complexity of its own that the stalwart-but-straightforward Laird’s was lacking. That’s not to say you can’t use Laird’s: their Bonded brandy works well here, but is very brusque, while the 7-1/2 year results in a sweeter, mellower version of the drink; I have a feeling the 12-year would work perfectly (though I’ve yet to acquire a bottle). The calvados is French, anyway — more in keeping with the St. G. contest (and their overly-French marketing identity), plus it reinforces the drink’s name.

Ah, the name! It translates to, “The Nimble Rabbit” — a perfect name for a bar, don’t you think? Steve Martin apparently thought as much — it’s the setting of his nifty little play, Picasso at the Lapin Agile, which details a fictional encounter between Picasso and Einstein in Paris, 1904 — a meeting of the artistic and scientific minds on the verge of breakthroughs that shaped the 20th Century. The two sidle up to the bar to schmooze and discuss Life, the Universe, and Everything, and the geniuses aren’t the only philosophical contributors: the bartender and his regulars weigh in, as does a mysterious time traveler with a pompadour haircut. I happened to see the play performed by DramaTech a number of years ago, and was hooked. I figured that adaptation of the name would be a nice little tribute to Mr. Martin’s play — and his fictional bar needed a house cocktail, anyway.

LapinAgile (2 of 2)

For further variations — some of which I’ve tested — I suggest swapping out the apple brandy for cognac, or switching to a batch of bitters that are similar to apple pie spices — think Jerry Thomas’s Own Decanter or Abbott’s, or a nice cinnamon tincture. Orgeat could make a nice sweetener, and Meyer lemons would be fun to play with…but that’s another post.


Photos by IJL.

PS: The Lapin Agile didn’t win any mention in the contest, though the Jacques-in-the-Green netted me a runner-up position and a St. Germain bicycle. Crazy, right?

PPS: While we’re on the topic of sours and citrus, I’ve been (not-very-methodically) searching for the Mythical White Grapefruit for the longest time — spotting them only once at a Whole Foods in Atlanta, sometime in early spring, I think. Any of you cocktailian bloggers know where and when to find them in NYC? The truly authentic Zombie awaits…

A Southerner Goes North

•January 25, 2014 • 2 Comments

As you may have noticed, dear reader, this blog has been idle since July of 2013. The reason for this, of course, is that I have relocated from the quiescent suburbs of Atlanta to bustling metropolis of New York City. As a result, my mixological endeavors have been placed on life’s back burner for six months. I’m sure that more than a few of you know what a task it is to relocate your place of existence, and how your priorities can change as a result.

All this is not to say that there haven’t been some remarkable developments in my cocktailian life — there were the first — and second, and third — visits to the Pegu Club, tastes of Amer Picon and authentic aged Peach Brandy, and the joys of Astor Wine & Spirits, to name a few – but there are still many stones left unturned. After all, this is New York — the Metropolis, the City That Never Sleeps, the Cocktail Capital of the United States, if not the World (sorry, London). It is the old haunt of Jerry Thomas, the probable birthplace of the Dry Martini, and the certain birthplace of the Manhattan. It is the headquarters of the “revolution” that has permanently transformed our understanding of the Cocktail as we know it — heady stuff for an amateur suburbanite bartender such as myself.

Along with the new experiences, however, comes a feeling that is familiar to every traveler, every expat, and every stranger in a strange land: the longing for a taste of home.

Enter “The Bitter Southerner.”

Based in Atlanta, The Bitter Southerner is a newsletter that, in the words of its writers, “seeks to explore…the duality of the Southern thing.” The musings and reports that issue forth from the site are, to me, a friendly reminder of home — it music, its politics, its history, its culture, its food…and its drinks.

You see, the folks at B.S. have asked their favorite Southern bartenders to mix up a series of simply named, simply numbered cocktails that are emblematic of our region’s attitude toward drinking – one of proud traditions infused with strong regional flavor and hospitality, augmented with a dash of innovation and collaboration. Its an attitude that stands in contrast to New York’s competitive, cosmopolitan bar scene, with its infinite supply of infinite variety. Sure, you can grab a good drink and decent conversation at any corner bar up here, and quality cocktail programs abound, but the corner bar and urban speakeasy are not Southern concepts — they’re all about urban drinking, which, by nature, is quick, potent, universally practiced and available, and often done standing up. It ain’t back-porch sippin’.

In response to these conditions, this Southerner, in search of some relief and respite, will occasionally turn to a new-but-comfortingly-familiar cocktail, such as the following…

BitterSouthernerNo1 (1 of 6)

Bitter Southerner No. 1

  • 2 ounces Booker’s Bourbon
  • 3/4 ounce Sorghum Mix*
  • 1/2 [or 1/4, to taste] ounce Fernet-Branca
  • 2 dashes Fee Bros. Barrel-Aged Bitters

Stir with ice and strain into a coupe or cocktail glass. Garnish with a flamed orange twist.

Created by Jerry Slater, of H. Harper Station, Atlanta, for “The Bitter Southerner”

* Sorghum Mix: Equal parts sorghum syrup and water, heated and stirred until evenly dissolved.

The formula is strictly traditional: Spirit + Sugar + Bitters + Water. (The best cocktails, in my opinion, are the simplest.) The fact that bourbon forms the backbone of this Southern drink needs no explanation. Here, Booker’s packs sublime, barrel-proof wallop while remaining smoothly, paradoxically sippable –a wonderful example of the South’s defining spirit. The heady flavor hits with the power of an artillery barrage — it’s the Lemon Hart 151 of the bourbon world.

BitterSouthernerNo1 (6 of 6)

The heavy blow of the bourbon is softened by a sweet cushion of sorghum syrup. A crop originally imported from Africa, sorghum was once a major staple that has now been relegated to roadside country markets, farm-to-table eateries, and the memories of a diminishing population of native Southerners. In fact, I bet most Atlantans have never even tasted it — I certainly hadn’t until about half a year ago, and my first taste only came after a fairly substantial hunt around the Georgia Piedmont (internet and mail order be damned).

When we say sorghum, we typically mean sorghum syrup, a thick substance that is like molasses, cane syrup, and maple syrup all rolled into one — yet it is completely different from any of its cousins. Sorghum is earthy, grassy, and thick, redolent of the land from which its harvested. To use sorghum in cocktails, treat it as you would treat honey and create a sorghum mix — one part sorghum syrup and one part water, heated until evenly dissolved and blended (also very nice in a cup of coffee). You won’t find it on any Yankee back bars, I can guarantee that (your turn, New Yorkers — here’s where you prove me wrong).

BitterSouthernerNo1 (3 of 6)

Paired with the strong and sweet is, of course, the bitter. Here, Fernet-Branca contributes a heady dose of mint and saffron — flavors that are pulled to the forefront by the earthy qualities of the sorghum. The barrel-aged bitters — long a favorite of mine — bind all the ingredients together with an undertone of woody, blackened spice, while the orange twist provides just the right amount of citrusy zip to all that booze and sugar.

In short, the Bitter Southerner No. 1 is a compact wallop of a drink — like a mint julep (trust me) squeezed into bullet form, and a refreshing take on the basic cocktail formula. It’s a taste of home — a true Atlanta original that warms the bones chilled by New York City winters and one that leaves this Southerner feeling anything but Bitter.

Cheers, y’all.

NYC (29 of 43)

Photos by IJL.

MxMo LXXV: Flip Flop — The Sheik

•July 22, 2013 • 3 Comments


How are new cocktails created? Well, one fairly simple way is to take an existing drink and swap some or all of the ingredients for new ones. It’s best to exchange one ingredient for another of the same “type,” however — you can swap one base spirit for another, one liqueur for another, one citrus for another, etc. Following this method, a Negroni — itself a variation of the Americano — can become a Boulevardier, or a White Negroni, or an Agavoni. A Manhattan can become a Rob Roy, a Red Hook, or a Little Italy. It’s an extremely versatile formula of creation.

Given all that, Frederic — at Cocktail Virgin — has asked us to tap into this creative process and declared the next Mixology Monday theme to be Flip Flop, wherein we…

Find a recipe, either new or old, and switch around at least two of the ingredients to sister or cousin ingredients but holding the proportions and some of the ingredients the same. The new recipe should be recognizable as a morph of the old one when viewed side by side.

[Check out the Roundup Post to see everyone's MxMo entry]

Coincidentally, I had shaken up a new drink a month or so ago that was a variation on the Blood & Sand. I was unsure of what to name it at the time, and the recipe was shelved for further tasting. Since it fits our MxMo theme so nicely, I figured I’d give it another try, balance it out, and name it after another one of Rudolph Valentino’s movies. Presenting…

TheSheik (1 of 2)

The Sheik

  • 3/4 ounce Pig’s Nose Blended Scotch
  • 3/4 ounce Martini Bianco Vermouth
  • 3/4 ounce Kronan Swedish Punsch
  • 3/4 ounce Orange Juice

Shake with ice and fine strain into a chilled coupe.

An original drink, adapted from the Blood & Sand.

For The Sheik, I’ve switched out the sweet vermouth for white / bianco — Martini’s is distinctly sweet and savory, with notes of oregano, vanilla, and citrus — and the Cherry Heering for another Scandinavian liqueur, Swedish Punsch. The resulting cocktail is highly complex and exceedingly easy to drink, with a decidedly old-school, Punch-like quality about it. I was pleasantly surprised by the combination of scotch and punsch, which is something I’ll have to play around with more often — the funky hogo of the arrack is perfect against the fruity malt of the whisky. The orange here is nice and laid back, its citrus qualities emphasized by the punsch and vermouth; lime could work well, but lemon would be a bit too sour and zippy, I think.

Amazing how a couple simple swaps can generate and entirely new blend of flavors. Can’t wait to see what the rest of the MxMo crew mixes up!


TheSheik (2 of 2)

Photos by IJL

A Short Flight to Paper Plane

•June 23, 2013 • 3 Comments

This past weekend, friend Jack and I made our way to downtown Decatur to seek out one of Atlanta’s newest cocktail-centric bars, Paper Plane. The cozy, retro-infused spot is the latest project by local bar wizard Paul Calvert (of Pura Vida and Sound Table fame).  As the AJC has said, it’s not a speakeasy — it just happens to have a couple discreet entrances tucked behind the newly-opened Decatur branch of Victory Sandwich Bar. And unlike faux-speakeasies, it’s clearly marked…

PaperPlane (8 of 8)

Making your way down the alley that ties into shop-lined Church Street, you’ll pass guests who line the path at tables of twos or fours and who fill in the spaces between the ferns and flowers of the rear patio. A constant stream of thirsty patrons spill through the large, open doorway and into the bar, finding their seats in the plush, black, leather-lined booths and stools of the Midcentury-modernesque interior (dig the globe lights, patterned veneer, and retro stereo receiver).

PaperPlane (10 of 8)

The drinks? Well, as a newly-made acquaintance from that night put it: “I walked in, saw that everyone at the bar was holding a cocktail and not a beer, and said, ‘Hey, this looks like a cool place.’”

PaperPlane (3 of 8)

Paper Plane’s back-bar is carefully stocked, and the drinks veer (slightly) away from the classic standards and into the Microdistilled Spirit + European Aperitif + Fruit + Bitters motif that is now commonplace in the city (I’m lookin’ at you, Holeman & Finch). Not that I’m complaining, mind you: the combinations are always unique ( I certainly wouldn’t have thought to try most of them), and they often make use of newer spirits that I’ve yet to taste or haven’t stocked at home. Kelly, our bartender, mentioned that while Calvert heads the bar, each bartender is encouraged to experiment and develop a drink or two for the ever-changing menu. The cocktails are regularly moved in and out of rotation, which keeps the choices fresh and maintains a certain level of creativity behind the stick. Here’s a sampling of what we had that night…

PaperPlane (5 of 8)

Foreign Affairs

  • Alma Reposado Tequila
  • Rare Wine Co. “New York” Madeira
  • Amaro Montenegro
  • Cherry Heering

Stirred, served up in a chilled rocks glass.

Very nice! Wine-like and fruity, with a strong agave backbone and a good dose of fig and jam flavors. There’s a bit of warm spice and wood floating around in here, too — probably the combination of amaro and reposado. The drink is not especially sweet, and reminds me of a chilled mulled wine, but without the sharper, wintry spices. A good after-dinner drink, maybe paired with roast meat.

PaperPlane (4 of 8)

Screen Door

  • St. George Terroir Gin
  • Aperol
  • Peach
  • Lemon
  • Fennel
  • Honey
  • Vino Verde

Shaken, poured over ice in a Collins glass, lemon wedge garnish.

Jack’s first drink for the evening wasn’t as fruity or as sweet as he expected — it, too, came out rather wine-like in body and texture (heck, wine’s an ingredient). The light fruit flavors are balanced with tonic-like bitterness and cut through with herbs and citrus. Rather nice.

The acquaintance quoted above, by the way, was James, a caterer-turned-farmer-and-poultry/hog-purveyor from Asheville, North Carolina. After swapping tales of travel, molecular gastronomy, farming, cocktails, and the crazy boom in the Atlanta food scene — from which he’d been away for some time — James requested the classically fantastic Hanky Panky. No, not on the menu, but bartender Kelly whipped one up, no problem: she went with Beefeater, Carpano Antica (or was it Cocchi?), and a good dose of Fernet. James was kind enough to let me sample the result — I would’ve upped the vermouth and lessened the Fernet, but you can never really go wrong with a Hanky Panky. Every bartender prepares a classic cocktail to their own taste, so while it may not be an new, innovative combination of spirits, the imbiber gets to sample a little bit of that bartender’s personality (along with their drink, of course).

Seeking a nightcap after a cheese platter (just a snack; dinner was earlier, at Yeah! Burger), I had a glass of Amaro Montenegro, while Jack sought further refreshment with the…

No Vacancy

  • Caña Brava Rum
  • Lime
  • Celery
  • Domain de Canton Ginger Liqueur
  • Sparkling White Wine

Shaken, served up in a cocktail glass, and topped with the bubbly.

Probably our favorite drink of the night: this was the zippy pick-me-up that Jack had been looking for. The No Vacancy sports a perfect amount of fizz and citrus combined with an herbal woodiness provided by the celery (I’m guessing it was muddled — or maybe a syrup?). A perfect drink for a warm summer evening in a comfy, retro cocktail bar.

After bidding adieu to James and Kelly, we headed back out on to the street, past the always-busy Leon’s and toward the town parking deck. With a reportedly-excellent small plates menu and a dozen drinks left to sample, I’ll certainly book a  return flight to Paper Plane. See you there!

PaperPlane (9 of 8)

Photos by IJL

(Apologies for the photo quality, by the way — the Nikon was at home, resting, and the iPhone had to step in.)

MxMo LXXIV: Cherries & Cheerwine Cocktails

•June 12, 2013 • Leave a Comment


Time, once again, for Mixology Monday! It seems that us cocktail bloggers have been bitten by the fresh produce bug — after vegetables and herbs, we’ve naturally moved on to fruit. Andrea, at Gin Hound, is acting as this month’s host, and she has a particular fruit in mind: cherries. As Andrea mentions in her announcement post, there are all sorts of ways to incorporate cherries into cocktails: muddled fresh cherries, infusions, cherry liqueurs, and cherry eau de vie, not to mention brandied and maraschino cherries. [Update: Check out here round-up post, Part 1 and Part 2] Wanting to keep things simple and take a different tack, I’ve decided to mix up a couple of drinks involving cherry soda. And not just any cherry soda — it’s that gentle, dark red Southern specialty called Cheerwine.

For those unfamiliar with Cheerwine, it’s a cherry-flavored soda native to North Carolina that’s been produced since 1917, when it joined the ranks of other regional sodas like Nehi, Dr. Enuf, RC Cola, Big Red, Ale-8-1, and Blenheim. As bottler Mark Ritchie explains to the Lee Brothers in their Southern Cookbook, the name is modeled on other turn-of-the-century soft drinks like ginger “ale” and root “beer” — the drinks contain no alcohol, but their color, fizz, and nomenclature suggest fermentation and adult beverages. The soda has a cult following in its home state, its proponents frequently going out of their way to obtain a bottle of the bubbly, brick-red liquid. Folks love it so much that they’ve even stuffed Krispy Kreme doughnuts with it — how awesome is that?

Anyway, enough talk — time for a drink…

CheerwineCocktails (1 of 3)

Cheerwine Cocktail No. 1

  • 1 ounce Gin [1-1/2 ounces London Dry Gin]
  • Juice from Half of a Lime, lime shell or wedges reserved for drink [3/4 ounce Lime Juice]
  • 6 ounces Cheerwine
  • 1-1/2 ounces soda water [you may omit this if you like]

Fill a tall, 14-ounce glass 2/3 full with ice cubes. Add the gin to the glass, squeeze the lime juice in, toss the spent lime shell or wedges into the drink, then add the Cheerwine. Top with the soda water and stir.

Adapted from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook, by Matt & Ted Lee.

This is not my first encounter with this particular cocktail — I mixed it up a couple years ago after reading an article in Imbibe on Southern sodas (“Pop Culture,” written by our hometown food critic, John Kessler). I’d been a fan of Cheerwine for several years running at that point — my college roommate and I would go through cases of the stuff (I’ve since cut back) — though I hadn’t tried any mixological experiments involving the soda. I found the Cheerwine Cocktail No. 1 to be a basic, serviceable drink, light on the booze and refreshing, but it fell out of my regular rotation. After rediscovering the cocktail in my recently-acquired Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook, I figured it was time to give it another go.

As the Lee brothers mention in their book, the No. 1 is basically a Gin Rickey finished with a hearty dose of cherry soda instead of soda water. Since Cheerwine is rather sweet (it is a soft drink, after all) and has atypical, finer-grain carbonation, the brothers thin out the drink and add a bit more fizz with a dose of soda water — not really necessary, and I think it dilutes the drink too much, but give it a try and see what you think. Definitely go with hearty dry gin like Tanqueray or Beefeater for this one — you’ll need a good dose of juniper to match the volume of soda. Cheerwine itself has a nice caramel-spice-herbal flavor component in addition to the cherry, so it combines nicely with the gin and lime (though a dash of bitters would not be out of place here).

Next up we have a southern variation on the Americano, “a tribute,” the Lees say, “to Spoleto, Charleston’s Italian sister city…”

CheerwineCocktails (2 of 3)

Cheerwine Cocktail No. 2

  • 2 ounces Campari
  • 2 ounces Sweet Vermouth
  • 6 ounces Cheerwine
  • Orange slice or orange peel, to garnish

Fill a tall, 14-0unce glass 2/3 full with ice cubes. Add the Campari, vermouth, and Cheerwine, stir briefly, and garnish with the orange slice and/or peel.

Adapted from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook, by Matt & Ted Lee.

I rather enjoy this drink — the bitterness is slight, and the vermouth and soda do a good job of mollifying the Campari while allowing its herbal notes to shine through. Cocchi vermouth, with its abundant notes of cinnamon, performs nicely, though the powerful Carpano, vegetal Martini, or fruity Dolin would all work well. I recommend halving the drink’s proportions to cut it down to a more manageable, everyday size (unless, of course, you’re in need of the extra refreshment). A little bit of gin (or maybe a dash of orange bitters) might cut down on the sweetness and up the herbal flavor, but I’ll save that experiment for another day.

As far as drinks go, the No.1 and No. 2 are simple and voluminous, perfect for backyard soirées — I can easily imagine gulping them down on a hot summer day prior to eating some smoky barbecue pork. Maybe we’ll try them out at future cocktail parties…hmm…

CheerwineCocktails (3 of 3)

Though Cheerwine has been famously difficult to locate in the past, it’s increasingly available across the U.S. and maintains a solid presence in Southeastern grocery stores. Cans and plastic 2-liters are relatively easy to find, but try and hunt down some “Retro” Cheerwine in the nifty glass bottles: it’s made with cane sugar, the fizz is more subtle, and the texture isn’t quite as sticky. If you can’t find Cheerwine, feel free to substitute other black cherry sodas in the Lee Brothers’ cocktails (Cherry Dr. Pepper is a pretty close match). Cherry Heering or homemade cherry syrup mixed with soda water would also do the trick.

Cheers (and Cheerwine)!

PS: If you’re looking for more cherry-fied drinks, I’ve done a number of them in the past, including the Cherry-Basil Collins, the Cherry Blossom, Byrrh Cocktail No. 1, and the Wilde Heart.

Photos by IJL.

MxMo LXXIII: Bay Laurel from the Witches’ Garden

•May 19, 2013 • 6 Comments


Once again, it’s time for Mixology Monday! Mr. Mark Holmes, of Cardiff Cocktails, is hosting, and he’s looking for a batch of herbal cocktails. Roots, spices, and beans can be used as ingredients as well…

[Update: Check out Mark's Roundup for MxMo LXXIII]

As far back as we can look, the use of fresh herbs have been prevalent in the world of mixed drinks…So lets take influence from the bartenders that once ruled the world of mixology, raid your herb garden that too often gets neglected, and start mixing.

I wouldn’t call our herb garden “neglected” as  it’s used often and well, though I admit it’s usually overgrown and full of weeds. Despite that fact, it provides a steady supply of rosemary, thyme, oregano, mint, tarragon, and sage (not to mention catnip). There’s also a bunch of invasive garlic chives (they can’t be stopped!).

BayHoneySyrup (4 of 6)

The pride and joy of the herb garden, though, is our bay laurel tree — a bit of an anomaly here in middle Georgia, as it usually gets just cold enough to kill off any freestanding bays. Ours, however, faces west-southwest and is protected by two banks of evergreens, a retaining wall, and the house. As a result, the bay tree stays nice and toasty, flourishing in a micro-climate that is not far from that of Tuscany. And it’s begging to be used in cocktails…

Destination Rome

Destination Rome

  • 1-1/2 ounces Ivy Mountain Georgia Peach Brandy
  • 3/4 ounce Bay-Honey Syrup
  • 3/4 ounce Lemon Juice
  • 8 drops (1 dash) Bittercube Blackstrap Bitters

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled coupe or cocktail glass.

When it’s combined with the musky mellowness of a homemade bay-infused honey syrup, the peach brandy becomes even more peachy, tasting older than it actually is. The bitters provide a nice caramel/molasses/cinnamon accent that rounds out the drink and brings it closer to our honey-thyme glazed grilled peaches that inspired the drink in the first place. As it warms, the drink becomes sweeter, so feel free to cut the syrup back to 1/2 oz. Should you wish to experiment further, try evenly splitting the sweet components between a peach liqueur (like Leopold Bros. Peach-Flavored Whiskey) and bay-honey syrup. Thyme-sage-honey syrup also works well, but results in a more woody, piney drink.

Oh, the name? That would be Rome, Georgia — not Rome, Italy. The phrase comes from a Gregg Allman song, “Multicolored Lady.” Given the bay laurel’s association with Rome — think laurel wreaths and Caesar — and the Allman Brothers’ association with Georgia — think Macon, Capricorn Records, and “Eat A Peach” — I figured the name was a natural fit.

BayHoneySyrup (2 of 6)

Oh, and yes, a peach brandy! From Georgia! Finally! It’s a great product from Ivy Mountain Distillery in Mt. Airy, up in the North Georgia mountains, and, not being aged for long, it’s much like a peach eau de vie…a few more years in the barrel, and they’ll have a wonderful peach brandy. I’ve been playing around with it quite a bit lately, and I’m betting that it will make a mighty fine Georgia Mint Julep.

Seeking out another use for my bay-honey syrup, I turned to another one of our dinner dishes for inspiration, which combines chopped, roasted apples and sweet potatoes with bay leaves. Mmm, apples — honey pairs well with them, too, so I went with an apple brandy base for the next drink…

BayHoneySyrup (5 of 6)

All Glory is Fleeting

  • 1-1/2 ounces Calvados [Busnel Vielle Reserve VSOP]
  • 1/2 ounce Rothman & Winter Orchard Apricot Liqueur
  • 1/2 ounce Bay-Honey Syrup
  • 3/4 ounce Lemon Juice
  • 8 drops Cinnamon Tincture

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled coupe or cocktail glass.

Tastes remarkably like a sweetened apple cider! Here the apricot liqueur lends an additional dose of fruitiness and melds the calvados, syrup, and lemon together — I often employ it as a kind of “binder” for flavors that almost, but not quite, fit together. You can use American apple brandy in the drink, but it’s a bit more straightforward, lacking that complex Calvados muskiness that works so well with the bay laurel.

I suppose you’d like recipes for those specialty ingredients: the bay-honey syrup and cinnamon tincture. Both are relatively simple to make, so no worries…

BayHoneySyrup (6 of 6)

Bay-Honey Syrup

  • 1/2 cup Honey
  • 1/2 Cup Water
  • 6-8 Fresh Bay Laurel Leaves [use the darker, older leaves closer to the base of the stems at the bottom of the tree, as they have more flavor than the newer, greener leaves]

Make several small tears along each bay leaf and clap it between your hands — this will release more of the oils and flavor. Combine the honey, water, and bay in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. As soon as the mixture boils, turn off the heat, cover the pan, and allow it to cool to room temperature. Strain, bottle, and refrigerate.

Cinnamon Tincture

  • 4 ounces (by weight) of Cinnamon Sticks [preferably Ceylon cinnamon or "true" cinnamon, not cassia]
  • 16 ounces (by Volume) of Vodka [or High-Proof (100+) Vodka, or Grain Alcohol]

Crush or break up the cinnamon sticks and combine with the grain alcohol in an airtight glass jar. Let the mixture infuse for one week, then strain out the solids and bottle.

Adapted from Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s Recipe.

If you’re unfamiliar with or curious about bay leaves, they have a subtle, piney, resin-like scent and taste. They’re sweeter and mellower than, say, rosemary, and not as funky as sage, with a hint of lemon peel. Though bay leaves can be dried and stored for a long time, fresh leaves have a livelier flavor, and I always prefer them to the dried variety.

Regarding the cinnamon tincture, you’re essentially making cinnamon vodka or a single-ingredient batch of bitters. I made up my jar of tincture before serving the Autumn Leaves (by Jeffrey Morgenthaler) at our Fall cocktail party, and it works remarkably well in any drink involving apples or apple brandy.


Photos by IJL.


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