(Ed. note: From cocktailian and friend of the blog Susan Harlan.)
Bittermilk is a small company based in Charleston, SC and run by the team of Joe and MariElena Raya. They make three cocktail mixers: the Smoked Honey Whiskey Sour (the label describes it as “Strong and smoky with notes of honey and citrus”), the Tom Collins with Elderflowers & Hops (“Bright and refreshing with vibrant lychee notes and a clean bitter finish”), and the Bourbon Barrel Aged Old Fashioned (“Strong and bittersweet packed with old fashioned spices”). And they were kind enough to send me their fine wares. They are each numbered – Nos. 3, 2, and 1 – which lends a certain order to life. I read about the company recently in Garden and Gun, a Southern lifestyle magazine that also happens to have a hilarious name. In truth, the magazine is much more garden than gun. It runs countless articles about barbecue joints and old country stores – that sort of thing. But the piece inspired me to check out these little concoctions, particularly as the whiskey sour and the Old-Fashioned are two of my all-time favorite drinks, along with the Manhattan. If the ancient Egyptians had really been on top of things, they would have buried the pharaohs with Manhattans to ease their journeys to the afterlife.
So here are my thoughts…
Smoked Honey Whiskey Sour:
I shook equal parts of the mixer with whiskey and ice (as the label suggested) and then strained it into a coupe glass. A whiskey sour is generally served on the rocks, but I like the drink this way, too; it looks quite pretty, which a drink should be, if it possibly can. I garnished mine with a Luxardo cherry, those devilishly expensive little delights that ruin you for all other cherries and then disappear all too quickly. As I raised my glass, I smelled honey and a bit of citrus. The drink was positively summery and made me wish that I were languishing on a porch swing, possibly with a parasol. In fact, I enjoyed my whiskey sour on a cold winter night – well, cold for the South – whilst thinking of my friends in New York, who were hunkered down for a much colder one. If you don’t like honey, you won’t like this cocktail, but if you don’t like honey, there’s probably something terribly wrong with you. And if you do like honey, you will take to it as to your hive. Bzzzzzzz.
Tom Collins with Elderflowers & Hops:
I combined one part cocktail mixer, one part sparkling water, and one part gin for this one (as instructed by the trusty label). You can also use vodka, but I’m not a vodka lady – chalk it up to too many nights at the Russian Vodka Room in New York when I was younger and more robust. A Tom Collins strikes me as the ultimate genteel drink; I picture white-haired men in seersucker suits, swatting flies with newspapers. Possibly some polo horses running around in the background. The drink is really a boozy lemonade: or lemonade “laced with lemonade,” as the very urban Max says in The Sound of Music. Elderflower is positively Scandinavian – well, not the Bergman version or the Wallander version, but something a bit sunnier – and I’m generally a sucker for it. But this drink was a bit too sweet for my taste. The smell reminded me of Smarties, which resulted in some mildly disturbing childhood Halloween flashbacks. To be fair, it certainly doesn’t taste like Smarties, but I couldn’t shake the association. This is one for the sweeter set.
Bourbon Barrel Aged Old Fashioned:
I’m a big fan of the Old-Fashioned and of all old-fashioned things generally. This spicy Old-Fashioned would be a great cocktail for the holidays, so it’s too bad the holidays are over. Drat! Ideally, this cocktail should be consumed whilst one is wrapped in a hefty wool blanket and situated by a fire. (Don’t forget the reindeer sweater, and if you can get your hands on a bear rug – well, great.) But I thoroughly enjoyed this drink despite February’s woeful lack of holiday cheer. The mixer makes a very nice Old-Fashioned: a dark, rich drink reminiscent of the low lights of 1930s cocktail bars and cigarette smoke before it was gross. And you don’t need much of the mixer; it goes a long way. The key word here is spicy. I could see this as an après-ski cocktail after you have spent the day contemplating the simultaneously terrifying and beautiful sublimity of the Alps and eating large quantities of Raclette: both activities that I mean to do more often. This Old-Fashioned would definitely warm you up and make you feel, well, downright old-fashioned.
Susan Harlan is a professor of English literature and an avid cocktailian. She also enjoys drinking on the move, as she chronicles in her travel blog Born on a Train.