Co-author of the blog and all-around great guy Tony Hightower got married last weekend (to frequent Guest Star and all-around great gal Joanna Scutts), and the happy couple requested yours truly to come up with some drinks for the reception.
We put our heads and palates together, did some brainstorming, some tasting, some trial and error, and came up with three different drinks, all in different styles. To wit:
The couple loooooves Negronis -- the bride named it as her favorite drink -- and they have sophisticated friends who aren't afraid of things like Campari. Something from the boozy & bitter kingdom was a definite must, and after some tasting, we settled on the Boulevardier. It's kind of a cross between a Manhattan and a Negroni, but more to the point, it's a fantastic, classic, and potent cocktail; first described. as far as I can tell, in Harry McElhone's Barflies and Cocktails, a wonderfully breezy and fun volume published in 1927 by the Harry of Harry's New York Bar in Paris. It's an obvious variation on the Old Pal -- described by the same Harry in a separate book five years earlier -- except that it switches rye to bourbon and dry vermouth to sweet. McElhone describes the recipe as originating with one Erskine Gwynne, though, a playboy, prankster, and Vanderbilt scion who edited a Parisian literary magazine called The Boulevardier. As Toby Cecchini notes in the Times, Richard Knapp of Mother's Ruin cuts the Campari by half and adds some homemade pecan orgeat, which makes it a wonderfully voluptuous, drink with some sweet smoothness. Similarly, Locale in Astoria, Queens, which hosted the rehearsal dinner, has a "Writer's Block" on the menu, which is essentially a Boulevardier with a brandy brown-sugar butter reduction added...and it's delicious, if a little sweet and heavy on the Christmas spices.
For the wedding, though, we went with a straight Boulevardier, easily batched for serving lots of thirsty guests. The only changes we made were to double the bourbon, as Cecchini recommended, making it a much more balanced drink, and to rename it to reflect the wedding party's origins:
The Queen Elizabeth Way (né Boulevardier)
- 2 oz. bourbon
- 1 oz. Campari
- 1 oz. sweet vermouth
Stir with ice and strain into a chilled glass. (I like to garnish these with an orange twist, preferably flamed. But we didn't bother for the reception.)
We also wanted to come up with an original cocktail, and since the QEW was boozy and bitter, decided to go for a crisper sour to offer guests another option. I'd been thinking about tea-infused simple syrup ever since having the #1, a great tea-based cocktail at Whitehall. (Dave Arnold also serves up a similar tea-infused vodka sour at Booker & Dax, though he uses a milk-punch technique to detanninize the vodka and a centrifuge operating at 4,000rpm to remove the milk solids.)
My approach was simpler: infuse hot simple syrup with Earl Grey tea, as I'm a bergamot nut and thought it'd go well with gin's botanicals. A gin sour made with the syrup was good, but didn't have enough tea oomphiness, so I thought about infusing the gin as well, and that worked out well. Tony suggested the name for this as a good marriage of England and Canada: the gin is English, and the Grey Cup is awarded to the CFL championship team. (And just to complete the circle, the Grey Cup was donated by Albert Grey, Governor-General of Canada and 4th Earl Grey, whose great-uncle Charles Grey gave his name to the tea.)
Earl Grey Cup
- 2 oz. tea-infused gin*
- 1/2 oz. tea syrup**
- 1/2 oz. lemon juice
- Brut Champagne or other bubbly
Shake the tea-infused gin and the tea syrup together with the lemon juice. Strain into a chilled glass and top with bubbly (2 oz. or so.)
*Tea-infused Gin: Infuse several teabags of Earl Grey tea (I used both the Stash Double Bergamot and Barry's) into gin (preferably Beefeater) for 10 minutes or so, or until the gin has a strong tea flavor but isn't overly tannic.
**Tea Syrup: Make rich simple syrup at a 2:1 sugar:water ratio, and add Earl Grey teabags to the hot simple syrup for 5-7 minutes, or until the syrup has a strong tea flavor.
(I'd earlier tried to come up with a good drink involving ingredients from Canada and England, but wasn't successful: I've had good maple liqueurs from Canada, but they would be hard to source without costing an arm and a leg. And while I love English gin, I don't tend to like Canadian whisky, with its neutral-spirit content. And the idea of a Pimm's-screech hybrid is better left untried, we thought.)
Our third drink offered at the reception was a punch, and just about my favorite punch at that. It's simple and very quick to put together, and you can batch the shrub ahead of time to make service easier. David Wondrich, the scribe of punch and the recipe's creator, notes that it's a crowd pleaser that "people consume in shocking amounts." (True; we prepared four batches for the wedding and they went pretty quickly)
Royal Hibernian Punch
(adapted from Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl)
Peel 3 lemons, trying not to get any of the white pith, and muddle the peels with ¾ cup demerara or other raw sugar.
Let sit for an hour or two, then add 3/4 cup strained lemon juice and stir till the sugar has dissolved. Add 1 1/2 cups Sandeman Rainwater Madeira and stir. This is your “shrub.”
Pour the shrub into a clean 750 ml bottle. Fill the rest of the bottle with water, seal, and refrigerate.
To serve, pour the shrub into a punch bowl, add another 750 ml bottle of cold water and a bottle of Irish whiskey (preferably pot-stilled, but good ol' Jameson will do), add a 1 1/2 quart block of ice, and grate nutmeg over the top. Serves 20.
The three drinks seemed to work their magic and get the guests -- not least your humble author -- completely splifficated. (Why do you think it took me several days to write this?) And, of course, all of the Cocktailians wish Tony & Jo the very best. Thanks to Kristina Kaufman for the photos.