Spring doesn’t automatically mean it’s time to abandon brown spirits and gin it up all the time. Look, maybe you don’t like gin. Maybe that whole juniper-berry and bitter-orange thing gets on your nerves. Maybe you just love your whiskey and you don’t care if it’s New Year’s Eve, Bastille Day, or any of the days in between. Or maybe brandy isn’t something you believe must be reserved for casks affixed to the necks of Saint Bernards who rescue you from avalanches in the Alps. And you know what? You’re right.
If you like your booze to be brown regardless of how warm and sunny it is outside, we have a few suggestions for spring-ifying your cocktail hour.
First, Scotch. A term which here means “grain or malt whiskey from Scotland.” Scotch can be heavy, peaty, dark-weather stuff, to be sure, but there are also many spring whiskies that can take you into warm-weatherville in style. Look for lighter, fruitier whiskies such as Glenmorangie or The Balvennie as examples. Those are two, but there are scads of them.
A simple Scotch and soda is a great example of a spring-friendly Scotch cocktail-simple, refreshing, bubbly. Here are a couple of slightly more complex ideas that happen to feature Laphroaig. As always, if your home bar is stocked with a different Scotch, do not let this stop you from playing around.
Laphroaig Islay in Bloom
Created by Chicago mixologist Patrick Natola
2 parts Laphroaig Select
1/2 part Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaco
3/4 part fresh lemon juice
1/4 part simple syrup
Dash of ginger bitters
Directions: Shake all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Strain into a coupe glass.
Created by Brooklyn mixologist Ivy Mix
1 1/2 parts Laphroaig Select
3/4 part lemon juice
1/2 part orange juice
1/2 part vanilla syrup* (sub-recipe below)
3/4 part Cherry Heering Liqueur
1 Dash Angostura Bitters
Light lager beer
Lemon wheel (for garnish)
Directions: Combine all ingredients except lager in a cocktail shaker and strain into a Collins glass with fresh ice. Top with a light lager beer and garnish with a lemon wheel.
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean
Directions: Combine vanilla syrup ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil (1 cup water, 1 cup sugar, 1 vanilla bean split open). Let cool and strain. Vanilla beans are spendy, and if you want to try a good extract I won’t tell. Add a teaspoon or so after the syrup’s off the burner.
Now, Cognac. Cognac is a proud and ancient member of the Brandy family. It is French by definition and made double-distilled from mostly Ugni Blanc wines. World-famous and widely distributed brands include Hennessy, Courvoisier and Remy Martin, but there are an estimated 200 or so producers. Cognacs are nonetheless fairly diverse in flavor and style, but they do tend to have nut and spice notes and a vanilla-heavy finish thanks to oak barrel aging. Cognac labeled “VS” (Very Special) is a youngun’ that can be blended from various vintages, but the youngest element of the batch will have seen at least two years of oak-time. “VSOP” has a minimum of four; a “Napoleon” is aged a minimum of six years, and starting in April 2018, an “XO” will be aged a minimum of 10 years. Younger Cognac is probably your go-to for springy cocktails, as it will tend to express spring fruit notes like apricots and woodland florals. Also, it’s cheaper so you won’t feel bad mixing it.
Corpse Reviver? Cognac. Sidecar? Cognac. Brandy Alexander, Champagne Cocktail, French Connection? You got it. But there are easily 365 days worth of ways to enjoy this stuff, so let’s start with a couple on the springy side.
Antebellum Mint Julep
Photo by Jason Plummer (@BarrelAgedDad)
1/4 oz. Simple Syrup
1 tbsp. Water
6 Mint Leaves, plus 2 sprigs for garnish
2 oz. cognac (Martell VSOP was used here)
2-3 dashes Angostura Bitters (optional)
Directions: Add simple syrup and 1 tbsp. water in a highball glass or silver julep cup. Add mint leaves; gently crush with a spoon or muddler. Fill glass 3/4 full with cracked ice and pour in cognac; stir until chilled, about 15 seconds. Fill glass with more ice; garnish with mint sprigs and two straws. Add 2-3 dashes angostura bitters if using them.
Photo Credit: komich.com; Recipe by Kellie Thorn, Beverage Director, Empire State South, Atlanta
2 oz. Meukow Cognac (VS)
.25 oz. Barrows Ginger Liqueur
.25 oz. Strong Chamomile Tea
.25 oz. Pineapple Syrup
.5 oz. Lemon Juice
Dry Sparkling Wine (Your humble beverage curator recommends a dry Cava but it’s your choice!)
Simple Syrup, to taste
Directions: Shake all ingredients except sparkling wine with ice. Strain over ice in a chilled rocks glass. Top with sparkling wine. Garnish with flowers* and a lemon wheel.
*Note: Ophelia’s famous flower strewing before she took her final dip in the river involved rosemary, pansies, fennel, columbine, rue, daisies and violets. All of these flowers are technically edible (rue is dangerous if you’re knocked up, though of course so is drinking, and it’s toxic to anyone in large amounts). For this recipe, I’d skip the rosemary and daisies and probably the columbine as well. Violets, pansies or fennel flowers would complement the other flavors in this cocktail nicely though.
Photo and recipe by Stacie Grissom (@GardenCocktails)
1.5 oz. cognac (your preferred)
1 oz. Chilled Rooibos Tea
.75 oz. Rhubarb Simple Syrup
.75 oz. Fresh Lemon Juice
Edible flower and Rhubarb Ribbon for garnish
Directions: Add cognac, rooibos tea, rhubarb simple syrup, and lemon juice to an ice-filled shaker. Shake, strain, and serve in an ice-filled Collins glass. Garnish with a flower and a rhubarb ribbon. (Any vegetable peeler will obligingly produce ribbons of rhubarb. Please do not eat the leaves. Just the red stalk.)