The Friday Tipple: Smokey Sour

Smokey Sour

Fire up the grill, Boozers. It’s been too hot to cook indoors, so we’re livin’ large in the backyard, armed with charcoal, a pair of tongs, and a few toe-tapping R&B tunes. Of course, we see no reason to restrict our grilling glory to chunks of protein or marshmallows on a stick, so we decided to grill us up a cocktail. Welcome to the Smokey Sour.

Inspired by our own Whiskey Cherry Syrup, a jar of which now resides in the fridge from last Friday’s delectable Michigan Cherry Beer, we felt in the mood for riffing off a classic Whiskey Sour. A basic sour mix consists of fresh lemon juice and simple syrup, creating a lip-puckering base, but we mixed things up a little by throwing several different kinds of citrus straight onto the barbecue. Lightly charred, these lemons, limes, and oranges plump up with an intensified flavor that is fragrant with both smoke and sunshine. Should you be deprived of a backyard grill, don’t despair — an open flame of any kind will do the trick. Just crank up some Motown and get groovin’.

Smokey Sour

While this grilled sour base is a mix of citrus fruits, we prefer to keep it lemony with a hint of orange for sweetness, then we add our favorite local rye whiskey from Catoctin Creek to give it a peppery undertone — the result is a perfect combination of sweet, sour, spicy, and smoky.

6 large lemons, halved

3 limes, halved

1 orange, halved

Whiskey Cherry Syrup (click here to find the recipe)

2 ounces whiskey

a whisper of Grand Marnier (triple sec will work, too)

chilled lemon-lime soda (we love small-batch varieties like Maine Root)

slices of grilled lemon and orange for garnish (technically optional, but do it anyway)

Place citrus fruits flesh-side down onto a hot grill over a medium-high flame. Grill for a minute or two until the flesh just starts to blister and char, then place into a large heat-proof bowl. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and allow the fruit to cool. When cooled, juice the fruit, mix all the juices together, and discard the seeds. The juice may now be refrigerated for up to two weeks.

In a cocktail shaker, add 3 ounces of the juice, 2 teaspoons of the Whiskey Cherry Syrup, 2 ounces of whiskey, and the barest splash of Grand Marnier. Add several ice cubes, cover, and shake vigorously. Pour contents into a highball glass, add a few cherries from the Whiskey Cherry Syrup, and top with a generous splash of lemon-lime soda. Garnish with grilled citrus slices.

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The Friday Tipple: The Wild Card

We’re heading into the last week of September, loyal Boozers, and that means that the Hunt for Late October is on. In other words, a handful of baseball teams are vying to make it into the playoffs, and Red Sox fans can’t believe their team is now fighting to maintain Wild Card status. Damn Yankees.

Hence, our Friday Tipple: The Wild Card. Because we’re still in love with Catoctin Creek’s Rye Whiskey (they really made us believers) and because we may need a stiff drink to get through the last few games, we’ve opted to riff on the Whiskey Sour, with a classic fall twist. On the side, we’re adding a shot of beer (we’re going for Dogfish Head’s Punkin Ale) for every home run by our favorite team. But don’t worry — if you happen to be an Astros fan, you probably won’t even catch a buzz.

The Wild Card

This cocktail has a few fresh elements, but they are worth the effort and don’t take a lot of time.

2 ounces rye whiskey (we like Catoctin Creek)

Crackerjack Syrup

Fresh apple cider (we made ours fresh inspired by a recipe from Imbibe Magazine, but you can use commercial cider too)

Chilled club soda

Dash of bitters (we use our own house-made Indian Summer Bitters, but there are many excellent bitters on the market, including Bittermens and even the classic Angostura)

Put three or four ice cubes in a cocktail shaker and add rye whiskey, 1/4 cup of fresh cider, and a teaspoon of Crackerjack Syrup. Shake vigorously and pour into a glass (with or without ice, it’s up to you). Top with a splash of club soda and a dash of bitters. Enjoy!

To make fresh apple cider: cut an apple into chunks and process into a fine pulp in a food processor with a few teaspoons of water and a dash of cinnamon or apple pie spice. Let sit for half an hour then squeeze pulp through a cheesecloth. Yields about half a cup.

To make Crackerjack Syrup: Set one cup of raw turbinado sugar in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir constantly until sugar liquifies, being careful not to let it burn. Add 1 cup of water slowly and stir. Cut corn kernels off a cob, scraping the cob with the edge of the knife and put all kernels into the sugar syrup. Add a large pinch of salt and allow to simmer over low heat for 30 minutes. Strain and cool completely. Yields about a cup; can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three months.

The complex simple syrup

You’ll find a lot of cocktail recipes often call for a “simple syrup” — basically a 1:1 mix of sugar and water cooked on the stove to boiling, then allowed to cool for a variety of uses when you need a liquid sweetener as opposed to granulated sugar.

The beauty of a really good cocktail is the layering of flavors, just as in any well-composed entrée or dessert. A really interesting cocktail may have some kind of a fruit element, a sweetener (honey, agave nectar, simple syrup, etc.), an alcohol (or two, or three…), a textural element (this could be anything from carbonated water to slices of fruit to muddled herbs), and some kind of finishing contrast, like bitters.

A simple syrup, like a good bitters, can be complex, thereby adding more depth to your drink. They are quick to make and can be kept on hand indefinitely in a jar or squeeze bottle; experiment with different flavors — a fennel-infused simple syrup could offer an interesting contrast to a throat-burning grappa, or a caramelized grapefruit simple syrup could help deepen the flavor of a whiskey sour. All it takes is a little sugar and water and your imagination.

Blackberry Lavender Simple Syrup

This nod to summer’s bounty bears the addition of black peppercorns and a pinch of salt — a bit unusual, perhaps, but it helps to bring the flavors together and adds to the overall complexity of the syrup. You’ll also find this to be an important element in our next Friday’s Tipple!

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup water

1/2 cup blackberries

3 stems dried lavender

1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns

pinch of salt

Place sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir until sugar is dissolved and mixture is simmering briskly. Lower heat slightly, then add blackberries, smashing them gently with the back of a spoon to release the juices. Add lavender stems, peppercorns, and salt, and let simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely, then strain liquid and store in a jar for future use.