Vinyl Hour

If you're a Chicago local, have ever visited our city, or simply follow the spirits industry, there's little chance that you haven't heard of The Violet Hour. Hidden behind a wall that regularly rotates between contributions from various artists, The Violet Hour is an intimate speakeasy lounge that focuses largely on pre-prohibition era cocktails. Their rotating cocktail menu is simultaneously creative and highly formulaic, and all of the drinks I've had the pleasure of trying are both complex and perfectly balanced. 

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Lucky for us, The Violet Hour has now made a taste of their signature flavors available for home bartender use. Managing Partner Eden Laurin crafted the first cocktail syrup, Batch No.1, with a natural blend of scorched demerara sugar, vanilla, orange, and bittering agents like wormwood, caccia bark, and licorice root. Her idea was to create a one-stop, approachable product that would efficiently offer sweetness and depth. My husband and I enjoyed the syrup in a Pimm's Cup and Sazerac while visiting the bar, but it's really so delicious that I could add it to just about anything or simply have a spoonful for dessert. One of the things that I found particularly meaningful is that Eden has used this product release as a means to help others. A portion of the proceeds goes to her nonprofit project, The Drinking Fountain, which aims to give back to communities who struggle with clean water access.

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The syrup was so packed with flavor that I didn't need to do much to make it shine. Eden's recommended recipe is to adapt the syrup into an Old Fashioned with 2 oz of your favorite spirit and a citrus peel. I ran with that inspiration but added several complimentary components. 

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I knew I wanted to pair the syrup with KOVAL bourbon given it's lovely vanilla sweetness but decided to pack in more fall flavor by infusing the bourbon with fresh black figs. Since figs aren't in season for long, infusing them into a spirit is a great way to make their flavor last. You could also try this with frozen figs (I've seen some at Trader Joe's) or even dried figs (though look for ones without any added sugar). The infusion took only 5 days and was so tasty that I would gladly just sip it on ice. I then chose to add fresh-squeezed navel orange juice for some citrus brightness that wouldn't distract from the drink's velvety sweetness. While lemon and lime are excellent in lots of applications, they tend to steal the show pretty quickly and can distract from the rich profile of whiskey

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I finished off the drink with flamed orange peel for a deeper, roasted citrus oil scent and flavor. For garnish, I added fresh figs but you could use the citrus twist if you're making this drink after fig season is over. The resulting drink was strong yet delightfully smooth with an uplifting scent, rounded sweetness, and lingering complexity.

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Vinyl Hour

  • 2 oz black fig-infused bourbon*
  • 0.5 oz fresh-squeezed orange juice
  • 1 barspoon Violet Hour Batch No. 1 Scorched Demerara Cocktail Concentrate
  • Strip of orange peel
  • Fresh fig, for garnish

Stir all ingredients other than orange peel and fig with ice until chilled, then strain into a rocks glass over a large ice cube. Run a flame along the orange peel and then express the orange oils onto the surface of the cocktail. Cut the fig in half lengthwise and slide both halves onto a cocktail spear. Enjoy while getting cozy under blankets and jamming out to your latest vinyl finds.

*To make fig-infused bourbon, place 4 sliced black figs into a 16 oz jar and fill with bourbon to the top. Put in a dark place and allow to infuse for 4-5 days, shaking and tasting occasionally. Strain with a fine mesh strainer when you're happy with the flavor. 

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

A Modern Bouquet

Let's face it, roses, teddy bears, and the standard Hallmark festivities have gotten a bit too routine. This Valentine's Day, I encourage you to challenge tradition and present your sweetheart, best bud or gal pals with an unforgettably delicious cocktail. I guarantee that they'll be pleasantly surprised by the complex flavors and thoughtful presentation. Who knows, maybe this show of affection will pave the way of celebratory signature cocktails as your new tradition!

The inspiration for this cocktail grew out of a collaboration with KOVAL and West Elm. In selecting the glassware and serving essentials, I was looking for items that channeled vintage vibes with a modern air. I wanted to re-imagine the Valentine's Day color palette to appeal to a broader audience. In other words, I believe that the color pink can be enjoyed by everyone if executed with taste (and paired with gin). 

From the perspective of the cocktail itself, I was aiming for a rose hue, an elaborate garnish, and a flavor profile to please whiskey and gin drinkers alike. KOVAL's Barreled Gin built the foundation with it's oaky depth and balanced herbal notes. I've always loved the combination of gin and grapefruit, so I added fresh squeezed red grapefruit juice and supplemented with fresh blueberries to accomplish the rose color I was looking for.

I used a homemade honey cardamom syrup for sweetness to play up the touch of spice in the barreled gin and finished the cocktail off with cherry bark vanilla bitters to impart an almost creamy lingering smoothness. For garnish, I peeled several strips of fresh grapefruit skin, cut one of the long sides of each peel, then wrapped them in a spiral that I pierced with a cocktail pick. Note that it's best to pierce the spirals closer to the top so they don't keep flipping upside down. 

The resulting cocktail is a sensory experience of stunning natural color and well-rounded yet subtly unique taste. 

A Modern Bouquet

  • 1.5 oz KOVAL Barreled Gin
  • 2 oz fresh red grapefruit juice
  • 0.5 oz honey cardamom syrup
  • 1 oz blueberries
  • 5 drops cherry bark vanilla bitters

To make syrup, heat 1 cup honey, 1 cup water and 2 tbsp cardamom seeds in a small saucepan on low heat. Stir until honey dissolves and mixture has taken on the cardamom flavor (about 15 minutes).

To make cocktail, muddle blueberries in a cocktail shaker, then add ice and other ingredients. Shake until chilled and double strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a grapefruit peel rose. 

Thanks to Belen Aquino for the stunning cocktail photography. You can find the West Elm items from this shoot, here, here, herehere and here