A Grand Entrance

Thanksgiving is almost upon us, meaning it's time to marginally freak out about hosting or contributing to the greatest feast of the year. After years of helping my family with cooking and taking my first shot at hosting both families with my husband, I've learned to seek that perfect balance between dishes that are impressive yet reasonably simple to prepare. This is one of the few occasions you can depend on for meaningful interaction with all your family or friends. You want to spend that time engaging with them and experiencing the meal for yourself, not running around madly until you collapse on the nearest couch.

I'm here to help you achieve just that on the cocktail front with three inventive autumnal beverages. Either prepare all three as you progress through the evening or select your favorite to share with the lucky guests. As always, I'll provide the inspiration and you'll choose your own adventure. 

The first cocktail of the series is inspired by my FAVORITE relish recipe and is the ideal libation for welcoming your guests. A sweet-tart syrup of cranberry, raspberry and orange shapes the main flavor profile while ginger liqueur adds a a hint of spice, lime maintains balance and club soda bubbles keep it festive. I chose to feature vodka in this cocktail for flavor neutrality but you could experiment with bourbon or rye whiskey if you or your guests prefer it to vodka. As an added bonus, this cocktail can be prepared individually or as a punch, just scale up the recipe if needed. 

A Grand Entrance

  • 2 oz vodka
  • 0.5 oz ginger liqueur (I recommend Domaine de Canton)
  • 1.5 oz cranberry raspberry orange syrup*
  • Juice of half a lime
  • Club soda to top
  • 3 cranberries for garnish

To make individual drinks. mix first four ingredients in a shaker with ice, shake until chilled and strain into a stemmed glass. Top with a splash of club soda and garnish with fresh cranberries on a cocktail spear. To make the drink in bulk, scale up the recipe for your desired quantity and add first four ingredients (ideally chilled) to a punch bowl. Top with club soda (no more than 1 oz per drink) right before serving and add some floating cranberries, raspberries and/or orange slices for decoration. Enjoy while welcoming your loved ones to gather around the Thanksgiving table.

*To make syrup, add 6 oz cranberries, 6 oz raspberries, 3 strips of orange peel (try to avoid the white pith as it adds bitterness), 2 cups water and 0.5 cup sugar to a small saucepan. Simmer for approximately 30 minutes, or until berries start to fall apart. Strain through a fine mesh strainer, using a spoon to press out all the liquid. Allow to cool and store excess in the fridge for up to 3 weeks. Note that this recipe makes about 16 oz of syrup (or enough for roughly 10 drinks) so scale it up if you're planning for more.

Thanks to Belen Aquino for the stunning cocktail photography and to Gather Vintage Tablescapes for the lovely glasses, dishware and other table adornments.

 

Black Barrel

Fun personal fact (which you may have also gathered from the general health-minded nature of this blog) – I’m not a typical dessert eater. People can be chowing down chocolate, doughnuts or ice cream sundaes right next to me while I feel no temptation. It’s a trait I’m hugely thankful for. One of my favorite treats to follow up dinner is actually a few walnuts. The rich buttery texture and nutty flavor is more than enough to leave me satisfied.
 
You may not share my dessert sentiments, but perhaps you’ll be hooked on this autumnal alcoholic ode to walnuts. 

If you haven't yet tried any Fee Brothers Bitters, I highly recommend picking up a few. I've enjoyed all the flavors I've tried thus far but the black walnut is hands down my favorite. In case you're new to bitters, be sure to use them sparingly. Bitters tend to be extremely concentrated so more than a few drops can offset your cocktail's flavor profile. On the other hand, I love how bitters can add focused complexity without watering a drink down (as well as their cost effectiveness). 

I chose to pair the black walnut bitters with spiced apple cider as the combination expresses everything I love about fall - apple picking in Southeastern Wisconsin, enjoying a fire in the fireplace and getting cozy with spiced treats. I initially thought of rye to further play up the spice element but then wondered if barrel finished gin could accomplish a similar effect. If you tend to stay away from gin and favor whiskey instead, I suggest you give barrel finished gin a chance. The varieties I've sampled tend to have less of the sharpness of vodka and more of the smooth oak profile of whiskey, but with added herbal complexity. Finn's Gin by Chicago Distilling Company is one of my favorites (plus, it's local).

To round out the cocktail and give it some decadence, I added a touch of lemon and egg white foam. The result is smooth, nutty, lightly sweet and thoughtfully complex.

The Black Barrel

  • 1.5 oz barrel finished gin
  • 1.5 oz spiced apple cider
  • 1/4 large lemon
  • 1 egg white
  • 3 drops black walnut bitters

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 touch of fall spice (star anise, cinnamon or fresh nutmeg). Enjoy while skipping through a sea of multicolored leaves in your favorite fall sweater.

Thanks to Belen Aquino for the stunning cocktail photography and to Gather Vintage Tablescapes for the lovely tray and gold-rimmed coupes.

Old Crow

One of the great things about being a cocktail enthusiast is that all your friends tend to pick up on your passion and share their cocktail discoveries with you. Seeing as how my friends have spread out all around the world, I'm lucky to catch glimpses into the local cocktail scene when I travel.

For our honeymoon this past May, Will and I chose to pay a visit to Zurich, Switzerland, and the surrounding mountain scenery. We settled on this specific stop to reconnect with our good friend Livia who we had the pleasure of meeting in Chicago while she studied abroad. She diligently planned out the top restaurants and cocktail bars to introduce us to, and one of the latter stood out as a huge source of mixology and hosting inspiration.

The Old Crow was everything a classic bar should be: tucked away on a winding cobbled street, full of cozy nooks and dim lighting, walls covered with bottles from around the world and a true gentleman of a bartender making sure you enjoyed the cocktail experience to the fullest. He patiently walked us through the extensive menu, making suggestions based on his preferences and offering helpful insight. This extra degree of service always enhances my cocktail experience by creating a personal connection and an environment of discovery. 

I settled upon the Lumberjack cocktail - featuring Calvados, red wine syrup, maple syrup, lemon and egg white. While I hadn't previously had much experience with aged apple brandy, I loved the dimension it gave to the drink. The strong wine flavor balanced with the creaminess of the egg white and the entire concoction served as the perfect tribute to fall. I knew I had to work these flavors into my own mixology experimentation, and I hope you enjoy the result just in time for the dancing leaves, crisp nights and stunning color arrays.

I made two adjustments for my own take on this cocktail - substituting overproof rye whiskey for apple brandy and incorporating Seasons Soda Maple Demi-Sec for both maple flavor and effervescence (sidenote: this is hands down the most delicious soda I've ever tried and I don't even like soda). Feel free to play with the flavors to your own liking depending on what you prefer - spice, sweetness or a hint of fruit. Customization is what makes mixology so enjoyable! 

The Old Crow

  • 1.5 oz rye whiskey (I used Rittenhouse Rye)
  • 4 oz Seasons Soda Maple Demi-Sec
  • Juice of 0.5 lemon
  • Egg white
  • 1 tbsp red wine syrup*
  • Ground nutmeg, for garnish

Combine all ingredients other than soda and nutmeg in a shaker. Dry shake (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 stemmed glass and top with maple soda. Dust with ground nutmeg and enjoy while adventuring into the depths of historically rich locales. 

*To make red wine syrup, heat 2 parts red table wine and 1 part sugar in a small sauce pan, stirring until sugar dissolves. Store in the fridge for 2-3 weeks.

Thanks to Belen Aquino for the stunning cocktail photography and to Gather Vintage Tablescapes for the inspiring glassware.

Apple Barrel

Once upon a time, Will and I visited a magical place of hope and wonder (and fantastic cocktails, food and music): New Orleans. While it was only a weekend trip, we had more than enough time to fall in love with the city's vibrant culture. One of the places that stood out the most in both our memories was The Apple Barrel - a tiny bar on Frenchmen Street. From the aging yet enthusiastic couple (I assume the owners) tending the bar to the wonderfully transportive blues tunes, this place was everything we had hoped for when we set out on the trip. The deliciously simple whiskey cocktails served by our hospitable bartenders just added to the evening's good vibes.

This cocktail gives us a way to kick back and reminisce about that perfect evening and I hope it inspires you to make a trip to New Orleans yourself! In this version of The Apple Barrel cocktail, I used Panther, an aged whiskey from Minnesota with a bit more bite than bourbon (a shout-out to our MN-dwelling friends Scott and Bre for such a great wedding gift). The apple cider and honey simple syrup rounds out the bite with some crisp sweetness while the lemon juice keeps the drink balanced (ie. keeps it from getting too sweet). Adding a touch of bitters can help highlight the spice profile of the whiskey, if you prefer to do so.

The Apple Barrel

  • 2 oz rye or aged whiskey
  • 4 oz apple cider
  • 1 oz honey simple syrup*
  • 1/2 oz lemon juice

Shake all ingredients with ice until chilled and strain into a mason jar. Serve on ice if you prefer a more refreshing drink or sans ice if you like your cocktails more boozy. Top with a dash of Angostura bitters to bring out a hint of spice.

* To make honey simple syrup, heat 1 part filtered water to 1 part honey in a pot on low heat, stirring frequently until honey is dissolved. Be sure to not let the mixture boil. When honey is dissolved, remove from heat and allow to cool. Unused simple syrup can be stored in the fridge for 1-2 weeks. I highly recommend making the simple syrup ahead of time if you plan to make this cocktail so you don't have to go through the agonizing impatience of waiting for the simple syrup to cool on the spot.