One of the beautiful things about mixology is that all of our palettes are both different and dynamic. I can easily remember a time when I didn't drink beer, approached wine with caution, and avoided all dark and bitter spirits. What a limiting existence! Through adventurous experimentation, I have pushed my flavor preferences into new territory. This evolution has given me a sense of challenge and growth as I continue to mix with new ingredients and build my mental booze database.
Aquavit is an excellent example of a spirit that would have terrified me 5 years back but is now one of my go-to cocktail bases. Originating in Scandanavia, Aquavit literally means "water of life" and plays a large role in the area's culture and gastronomy. The easiest way to describe it is an earthier version of gin. Aquavit starts as a neutral grain or potato spirit and is then infused with caraway and other spices such as dill, fennel, and coriander. Conveniently, it's currently gaining traction with US craft distillers, such as the local CH Distillery.
I wanted to approach aquavit from a bitter angle to embrace its earthiness, so I chose to pair it with Breckenridge Bitter. You've probably heard of Breckenridge Distillery's whiskey or spiced rum, but their bitter liqueur is just starting to spread through the US. I was lucky to pick up a bottle when visiting the distillery over a ski trip and tasting their gamut of offerings. Composed of alpine herbs, bitter roots and spicy dried fruit, Breckenridge Bitter is strong in flavor yet approachable. It starts sweet on the palette and builds to a bold herbaceous bitterness as you enjoy it. Breckenridge Bitter is not as citrus or mint forward as some the other bitter spirits I have featured, so it's a great option for adding depth without introducing an overly dominant flavor. That being said, I recommend starting out with small quantities of this liqueur in your cocktails (especially if you're just starting to explore bitter flavors).
My next step was giving this cocktail a spring feel and softening the flavor profile for broader enjoyment. I decided to try incorporating muddled green grapes as I find them to have a wonderful, lightly tart and floral character. To further enhance the floral quality, I mixed up a chamomile simple syrup. The flavors blended beautifully as the grapes gave the cocktail freshness while the chamomile seemed a natural extension of the Breckenridge Bitter liqueur. I garnished the drink with fresh green grapes, sliced in half the long way for more visual interest and juicy color. The resulting cocktail can be likened to the feel of an earthy, aromatic spring day just after a heavy rainfall.
- 1.5 oz Aquavit
- 0.5 oz Breckenridge Bitter
- 0.5 oz chamomile syrup*
- 10 green grapes
Muddle green grapes in a cocktail shaker, then add all other ingredients and shake with ice until chilled. Double strain into a rocks glass over a large ice cube (using a fine mesh strainer helps remove the grape pulp for better cocktail consistency). Garnish with fresh grapes and enjoy while taking a deep breath of fresh spring air.
* To make chamomile syrup, add 1 cup water and 1/4 cup sugar to a small saucepan on medium heat. Stir until sugar dissolves, then add 1 tbsp dried chamomile flowers (or 2 packets of chamomile tea). Allow to simmer for 5 minutes, then strain and allow to cool. Store excess in fridge for up to 3 weeks.