Philosopher's Path

In spring of 2011, I finally realized one of my dreams – visiting Japan. My curiosity with Japanese culture was spiked by the book Shōgun and Miyazaki movies (extra Valcohol points if you’ve seen Totoro). I went on to take an elective Japanese history course at college and one of the themes that stood out to me most was celebrating the beauty of the fleeting moment. So many aspects of the culture center on this concept and teach the indispensable patience it takes to appreciate that beauty.

I was lucky to have a friend teaching English in Fukuoka so I started my voyage there and then continued on to Kyoto and Osaka. One of the most ephemeral yet timeless spots on our journey was the blooming Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto. Walking along the cobbled pathways by the side of a babbling canal and surrounded by flowering trees and ancient temples, I truly lost myself to the breathtaking beauty of the moment. While the cultural site has so much history behind it, the state of the path is always changing as nature works it course. 

I wanted this cocktail to evoke the transience of nature and the richness of Japanese culture, so I chose to craft it with matcha tea and a likeness to cherry blossoms. Matcha tea is a powdered form of green tea leaves traditionally used for the Japanese tea ceremony. Similar to other Japanese green teas, matcha is bold, grassy and vibrant in flavor. Because the leaves are actually consumed in the powdered form, matcha is especially high in antioxidant and vitamin content. Matcha can range considerably in price depending on its intended use. I recommend selecting a less expensive, culinary grade variety for a cocktail application. 

Natural cherry blossom flavoring is surprisingly difficult to find outside of Japan, so I had to get creative with my substitutions. I knew I needed a floral element, a hint of cherry and a sweet aroma. The combination of rose water and Bittercube's Cherry Bark Vanilla Bitters was the perfect solution. Note that there's no need to overpay for rose water since it's a common component of Middle Eastern cooking and therefore available in much more cost effective form than what you would find at a gourmet grocery store. 

To emphasize the grassy and floral notes of the cocktail, I used a base of Death's Door Gin. Simple and always delivering in quality, Death's Door has been one of my favorite gins since I first started exploring the spirit. Of course, I especially love that it hails from Wisconsin. 

I finished the cocktail with egg white and fresh lemon to smooth the boldness of the matcha and the strength of the floral flavor. Lemon balanced the sweetness of the matcha syrup and gave the drink a pleasant, lingering tartness. The resulting cocktail is truly one of my personal favorites with its lovely marriage of grassy tea, bright botanicals, aromatic blooms and creamy finish. 

The Philosopher's Path

  • 1.5 oz Death's Door Gin
  • 0.75 oz matcha syrup*
  • 1 barspoon rose water
  • 6 drops Cherry Bark Vanilla Bitters
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 egg white

Dry shake all ingredients (without ice) for 10-15 seconds, popping the cap occasionally to release the pressure from the egg white. Add ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a coupe glass and garnish with a fresh blossom. Enjoy while losing yourself in the transient beauty of spring.

* To make matcha syrup, heat 1 cup water and 1/2 cup sugar in a small saucepan until sugar dissolves. Add 1/2 tbsp matcha powder and whisk until dissolved. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Excess can be stored in the fridge for several weeks but should be shaken before use as some settling may occur. Try adding the leftover syrup to some almond milk for a matcha latte or using it in baking if you're feeling adventurous!

Thanks to Belen Aquino for the stunning cocktail photography and to Gather Vintage Tablescapes for the tray, spoon and lovely vintage coupes.

 

 

Rye Blossom

I admit it, when it comes to whiskey, I tend to gravitate to bourbon. The sweet smoothness just blends so well in just about anything I can think to whip up. Every now and then, however, smoothness isn't the goal at hand. Rather, I'm looking for a cocktail with depth, spice and complexity. Rye whiskey is the natural choice in this case. I got inspired to try out a particular bottle when a waiter at The Aviary suggested I seek out Rittenhouse Bottled-in-Bond Rye.

Seeing as how I trust the opinion of anyone working at The Aviary, I hurried over to Binny's to seek out said rye and a few other new ingredients for inspired experimentation. Surprisingly, the bottle was under $30 for 100 proof strength and a delectably described flavor profile. Some quick research helped me to understand that the concept of Bottled-in-Bond dates back to an effort to regulate the quality production of whiskey in the late 1800s.

Bottled-in-Bond whiskeys must be:

  • created in one distillation season,
  • made by one distiller and at one distillery,
  • aged for a minimum of four years under government supervision, and
  • bottled at 100 proof.

While small craft whiskeys have been taking over the market, Bottled-in-Bond options are dependably sourced, quality alternatives with a punch. Rittenhouse Rye is considered one of the best of this winning category and I'm so glad to have it in my arsenal. 

This cocktail was my second Rittenhouse Rye adventure. How, you ask, did the idea materialize? Will was in the mood for cherry flavor and a boozy composition, and a vibrant rye seemed like the perfect complement. I have quite a few jars of cherries hanging out in my fridge for cocktail purposes, but Morello cherries are one of my favorites. I love the tart, authentic cherry flavor that I can get from both the syrup and the cherry, and this version from TJs is both affordable and not overly sweet. As a finishing touch, I added a bit of lemon juice to highlight the tartness of the cherry and Quince and Apple Rhubarb Hops for a bit of lingering, almost pie-like sweetness.

Lastly, if you're like me and enjoy getting fancy with your garnishes, investing in these cocktail spears is the best idea for winning presentation

Rye Blossom

  • 2 oz rye whiskey
  • 1 oz Morello cherry syrup
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp rhubarb hops
  • 3 Morello cherries

Shake the first four ingredients with ice until shaker is frosted. Strain into a coupe glass. For an extra special touch, garnish by threading 3 Morello cherries on a cocktail spear and setting on the rim of the glass. Enjoy while celebrating National Cocktail Day and the coming of spring.

Clementine Old Fashioned

You know what's delicious? The timeless combination of the oh-so-complementary flavors of orange, cherry and bourbon or brandy (who says you have to choose). You know what's not delicious? Drinking syrup. All too often, I find bars serving Old Fashioneds that taste sweet and processed beyond belief. So how do we give this classic cocktail the respect it deserves? We use a decent bourbon or brandy, fresh ingredients and low sugar options. This post is about one of my favorite spins on the timeless Old Fashioned cocktail but I encourage you to try your own!

Why did I get so inspired to make a cocktail on a Sunday afternoon while catching up on work in pajamas? Because I found Amarena cherries at Eataly and was overly excited about finally hunting them down. I came across this amazing alternative to Maraschino cherries at a cocktail class with Eat, Drink, Educate and have been trying to find them for sale in the US ever since. Amarena cherries are made from smaller, sour black cherries, are not saturated with corn syrup (yipee!) and actually have an authentic sour cherry flavor. Thank you, Italy. I have since then found out that the same cherries are available on Amazon if you want to give them a try for yourself.

The fresh squeezed clementine juice makes this cocktail wonderfully refreshing while the Izze soda and Amarena cherry syrup are sweet enough that you don't need to use any added sugar. The result is dangerously drinkable:

The Clementine Old Fashioned

  • 2 oz bourbon (or brandy)
  • Juice of 1 clementine
  • 1 Amarena cherry with 1 tbsp syrup
  • 3 dashes of Angustura bitters
  • 1/2 clementine Izze

Add bourbon, clementine juice, bitters and several ice cubes to shaker. Shake until frosted and strain into rocks glass with a couple of ice cubes. Add Amarena cherry/syrup and stir. Top with clementine Izze and enjoy while partaking in your favorite mustachey activities.