A few weeks ago, Susan Reigler, former president of the Bourbon Women and goddess of all things Bourbon, invited me to create a cocktail for her BARDS group. I hadn’t heard of BARDS, but it stands for Bourbon and Rye Drinkers Society – a group of 12 like-minded whiskey lovers who get together once a month at one another’s houses to drink whiskey and enjoy whisky cocktails.
The theme for the gathering was a take on the name of the group – the Bard – Shakespeare himself. Susan suggested a floral-themed cocktail since flowers figure so prominently in the Bard’s works. I’m not usually driven to floral-themed cocktails so I was excited by the challenge. I immediately thought of the paraphrase of Shakespeare “Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet?”
We’ll start with the actual quote. Juliet’s on her balcony, lamenting the fact that her new love, Romeo is a Montague while, she, a Capulet, belongs to a rival family. Romeo listens below. Eavesdropping, stalking, take your pick. While Juliet monologues, she’s says: “What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.” Would she love Romeo as much if he hadn’t been so forbidden to her? We’ll never know, but the lovers don’t end up in the end.
I wanted to come up with a cocktail that had floral elements but wasn’t overly sweet. While the young love in Romeo and Juliet was romantic and overwhelming, Shakespeare talks about more than puppy love in his works. His stories include familial love, unrequited love, and unfaithful love as well as the idealized love we find in some of his works. So I was looking for a cocktail that wasn’t just sweet. I wanted a touch of bitterness to balance it out.
We all know that love includes that bitterness, those moments of imbalance or unhappiness, so the cocktail needs to be less about the sweetness of love and more about the balance of love. After many infusions and experiments, I found a cocktail recipe that was lightly floral, but not overly sweet. I infused dry vermouth with rose petals for a day and a half and used that with Rittenhouse rye, some Aperol for a little bitterness and citrus notes and a touch of Chambord to sweeten up the cocktail. The Aperol, Chambord, and infused vermouth all give the drink a beautiful rose hue.
By Any Other Name
1 oz Rittenhouse Rye
3/4 oz rose-infused dry vermouth*
3/4 oz Aperol
1/2 oz Chambord
3 to 5 drops Rose water
Garnish: Fresh raspberry
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass, add ice and stir until chilled. Strain into a chilled coupe glass and garnish with a raspberry.
*Rose-infused vermouth: Combine 1 cup dry vermouth with 1.5 tablespoons food-grade rose petals. Let infuse for 1 to 2 days, depending on how much rose flavor you want in the vermouth.
Yes, Virginia, you can make a cocktail without bourbon. Just in case you need a little pre-Valentine cocktail that hints of that romantic favorite chocolate-covered strawberries and champagne, I've got you covered.
I've kept the chocolate taste in this light, not heavy, since creme de cacao is so sweet. Even Venus would fall for a few a these. If you prefer a less sweet drink, choose a dry champagne to counter the syrup and cacao.
1 oz strawberry simple syrup
1/2 oz creme de cacao
4 - 6 oz Champagne
Garnish - fresh strawberry
Combine the strawberry simple syrup and creme de cacao in a mixing glass. Add ice, and stir until well-chilled. Strain into a champagne flute and top with champagne. Garnish with fresh strawberry.
We're closing in on Valentine's Day, a holiday you either love or hate. Or love to hate. In my mind, any Valentine cocktail needs to include chocolate, but since we're talking about love, I think it should also include a little bitterness.
Love's great, but often in order to find THE ONE (if you go for that sort of thing) you have to go through a few NOT THE ONES. Which can leave you a little bitter, a little broken, but a little wiser, too. Not all of us have found the love of our life, but most of us have learned a lot on the way.
Think of it this way, without the bitterness, the sweet doesn't seem as sweet, and without any bitterness, the sweetness can overwhelm. Even chocolate's base ingredient, cocoa, that most typical of Valentine's gifts, is bitter and rough without the addition of sugar.
Back to the cocktail. Since we're talking about bitterness, I wanted to include an amaro, a bitter Italian liqueur, and a tiramisu liqueur which had some bitter coffee and chocolate notes to it. Paired with Ballotin's chocolate liqueur and bourbon, they make a glorious chocolatey combination with just a hint of bitterness to round out the flavors.
Love's Bitter Truth
1 1/2 oz Rowan's Creek Bourbon
1/2 oz Amaro
1/2 oz Ballotin Chocolate liqueur
1/2 oz Tiramisu liqueur
5 drops Woodford Reserve's Sorghum and Sassafras bitters
10 drops Scrappy's Chocolate bitters
Garnish: orange twist
Combine all ingredients but the garnish in a mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir until well-chilled, 15-30 seconds. Strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with an orange twist and possibly a box of chocolate truffles. Meditate on love and the ways you get to who you're with.
Heather Wibbels is a cocktail enthusiast who spends her time thinking about cocktails, researching cocktails and making cocktails. Mostly whiskey cocktails, given her Kentucky location.