The local farmer’s market is finished for the season, so I assumed that the days of randomly available ingredient inspired drinks were over, but I was wrong. This morning walking home from grandma’s I noticed that the basil was still doing it’s thing in the side garden, being all hardy and such, and that put me in mind of a drink. So, please join me now as we stand and make the Buffala Negra.
This drink comes to us from “The Southern Foodways Alliance Guide to Cocktails”. If you aren’t familiar with the SFA and their works, educate thyself. Seriously, if you care about food, culture, civil rights and how it all goes together, you are going to fall in love with them. Read “The Potlikker Papers”, attend their symposiums, throw money at them to help with their work, if you are in to that sort of thing. Clearly, I am. The drink was created by famed restauranteur Jerry Slater in 2007, well before shrubs saw their resurgence on the cocktail scene. Speaking of shrubs, we need to make one before the drink, so mix equal parts, I did 1 ounce each, of balsamic vinegar, brown sugar and water. Heat and stir till the sugar dissolves and put aside to cool. You can bottle it and keep it in the fridge for about a month.
Ok, let’s make the drink. Grab your tins and pop in 4-5 big basil leaves, 1/2 a teaspoon of brown sugar and 1/2 an ounce of the balsamic syrup you made earlier. Muddle that till the sugar dissolves then add 1 1/2 ounces of bourbon, he calls for Buffalo Trace, but I didn’t have any at the house, so I went with Gentleman Jack. Add ice, I went with big cubes to help beat up the basil further, and shake to the beat of “Autumn Leaves” because it is one of my favorite songs and honestly, I only saw the basil today because I was having fun kicking up piles of beautiful red and gold leaves from the maple. Once the drink is well chilled, double strain over some artisanal ice cubes in a big rocks glass and top with 2 ounces of ginger beer, I used Cock & Bull, cause that’s what we had.
I love this. Anything with muddled basil sort of feels like a spring drink, but that balsamic base, it leans into fall just fine. This is a drink for campfires and conversation with friends, socially distanced, of course. It is a little sweet for me, I will probably drop the brown sugar from the muddle next time. It’s great for presentation and I get wanting something granular for the muddle, but I’m willing to take my chances. Still, it is so good. I’d agree on the Buffalo Trace being a better choice here, as well. The Gentleman was perhaps a little too laid back when it comes to flavor. Whatever you choose, that balsamic syrup is a thing and you should experiment with it, maybe on some chicken. Seriously.
There is something extra satisfying about making things using ingredients you grew yourself, even something as simple as herbs. We are fortunate to have enough space to grow pretty much anything we want, well, anything we are willing to work for. But, even if you only have a small patio or a window sill that gets good sunlight, plant yourself an herb garden. Basil, rosemary, mint, parsley, thyme, sage and oregano are all super easy to grow. Honesty, if you will give them soil and sunlight and the occasional watering they will do the rest and you will spend the entire season always with fresh ingredients just feet away. It’s worth doing, if only for that moment of pleasure when you harvest your own herbs and enjoy them in a drink or meal, maybe that balsamic glazed chicken. It’s the little things folks, and while this may not seem like much, it’s something. Stay safe, stay hydrated and stay sane, my friends.