I hope you don’t mind a brief interlude to discuss cocktail hour as it relates to wine drinking (the important role played by gin and tonics in winemaking to be investigated at a later date).
Robert and I spent the weekend with friends in Shenandoah to enjoy the fall leaves and starry skies before a presumably terrible winter
descends upon us, probably any minute. A few weeks ago, we all exchanged logistical notes and divvied-up assignments for meals and beverages, with Robert and I taking the assignment for Saturday evening’s cocktail, wine selection, and dinner.
Cocktails are an important part of any successful wood cabin dinner party. A cocktail sets the tone for the entire meal, including the wine. We knew from the get-go that we were making a steakhouse menu (steak, creamed spinach, and mashed potatoes – a long-time family favorite) and starting with a Babcock Rita’s Earth Pinot Noir before moving to a Cabernet Sauvignon/Petit Syrah/Syrah blend (The Sum)*.
We weren’t sure what direction to go with the cocktail. Luckily, we had the pleasure of dining with our close friend and his husband at Central Michel Richard last Wednesday evening, where we found our inspiration in a tidy little drink featuring everyone’s new favorite – rye whiskey.
Rye whiskey can refer to American rye whiskey, which must (it’s a law!) be distilled from at least 51 percent rye, and Canadian whiskey, which is often labeled as rye whisky for historical reasons, although it may or may not actually include any rye. I know, right? Typical Canadians!**
Rye whiskey is experiencing a renaissance, but it has always been the prevalent whiskey of the northeastern states, especially Maryland. It was no surprise to us that Maryland was at the forefront of a major liquor trend, being the greatest state in America.
Because we love our freedom, we chose an American rye whiskey, Catoctin Creek Roundstone Rye, from Loudoun County, Virginia. The recipe makes enough for 4 large drinks. We like large drinks.
2 cups rye whiskey
2/3 cup Yellow Chartreuse
3/4 cup honey syrup
Fresh juice of one lemon
In a cocktail shaker, combine the whiskey, chartreuse, honey syrup, and lemon juice. Add ice and shake well. Strain into cocktail glasses over ice. Note: Yellow Chartreuse has a milder flavor and aroma than its green counterpart. I don’t recommend substitution in this case. If you can’t find Yellow Chartreuse, please let me recommend an alternative cocktail: nothing says fall like a Pumpkin Rumtini. You get a cocktail and a pint of pumpkin rum sorbet. You’re welcome.
This should have been the end of my story. Well…guess what? We couldn’t find Yellow Chartreuse. Nor did I take my own advice and bring back-up materials for a Pumpkin Rumtini. After failing at three Baltimore-area liquor stores, we thought, “we’ll just get it in Virginia”.
We would not just be getting it in Virginia. The Shenandoah Valley is very beautiful, and the town we stayed in, Luray, is quaint and friendly.
Quaint and friendly is very good, unless you are trying to find a specialty aromatic liqueur. At first, I was upset. Then, I remembered the words of American hero Angus “Mac” MacGyver:
“For the past seven years I have done nothing but travel around the world getting shot up, locked up, blown up… and all I have to show for it are a couple of empty rolls of duct tape.”
You’re right. That doesn’t really apply here. My point is, MacGyver, a laid-back, extremely resourceful ex-secret agent, specializes in the practical application of scientific knowledge and inventive use of common items. What would MacGyver do? MacGyver would get his butt down to the only game in town, Wal-Mart, and make stuff happen.
We had the bourbon, lemons, and materials to make the honey syrup. Now I needed to approximate the Yellow Chartreuse. Its herbaceous. Herbs from Wal-Mart probably weren’t going to work. I decided to go with spice. Spice complements bourbon. The lemon juice would keep it bright. I picked up whole cinnamon sticks and crystallized ginger. I felt MacGyver smiling down on me from syndication heaven.
Spiced Honey Syrup
1 cup honey
1 cup water
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tablespoon crystallized ginger
In a saucepan, mix equal parts honey and water, with cinnamon sticks and crystallized ginger,
until the mixture comes to a boil and the honey has dissolved. Keep the cinnamon sticks and ginger steeping in the liquid until it has
cooled and is ready to serve. It can be kept, steeping in the refrigerator, for up to two weeks.
Strain before using.
[MacGyver Goes to] Shenandoah
2 cups rye whiskey
1 cup spiced honey syrup
Fresh juice of one lemon
Realize that you left your cocktail shaker back in Baltimore. Roll your eyes up to the heavens and ask God why he has forsaken you. Find a Rubbermaid® plastic iced tea pitcher. Pour in the whiskey, honey syrup, and lemon juice. Add ice. When your husband tells you not to shake it, ignore him. Tell him it looks sealed to you. Immediately get the cocktail all over yourself.
Never acknowledge your spouse was correct. Dry off and try again, swirling carefully. Strain into cocktail glasses over ice.
The straining part was actually very easy, given that iced tea pitchers have that ice catcher. I wonder if Rubbermaid® knows how good its pitchers are for booze.
Accolades received include: “mmm…delicious”. Direct quote.
*A note regarding wine progression – here are some guidelines to follow: (#1) dry before sweet, (#2) light before full, (#3) white before red (unless it is a very sweet white, in which case you should follow rule #1). Rule #2 was applied here. A lighter Pinot Noir tastes better before a full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon blend than the reverse.
**We love you, Canada. Really, we do.