You know how things are fun, how you look forward to them, but one day those same things just become daunting and you dread having to actually do them? No? Huh? Just me, then. Ok. Well, I am glad you aren’t afflicted with this crippling fear, but I hope you can expand your imagination enough to relate. You ever have one of those days where you start a conversation, you can’t even finish it? I mean, you’re talking a lot, but you’re not even saying anything. This is one of those days for me. I am tense and nervous and I can’t relax because it is my buddy Jenn’s birthday. That means I need to find a drink that encapsulates what she means to me and then write nice-ish things about her. I have done it for other folks, and it feels like a thing I do now. It just sort of happened organically the first couple times, but now that it is a thing, I get worried about it. Weird, huh? So, it is only natural, that I should extend this courtesy to Jenn, it is the polite thing to do and I hate people when they are not polite. So join me now, as we stand and make a drink that just screams Jenn, the Psycho Killer.
What can I say, this one is a challenge, like Jenn. Should I try to recreate any one of the amazing cocktails we have shared in swanky speakeasies and grubby dive bars all across the country? If I go that route, how would I even choose? The Campfire from William & Graham in Denver? Red Door Atlanta’s Paloma? Lolita’s amazing Spicy Cucumber Margarita? The Copper Grouse from our beloved Taconic? King Solomon’s Tea from Carrie Nation? The Blue Moon of Kentucky from Portland’s 555? That crazy peach old-fashioned from Cincinnati or the weird rum coffee from Atlantic City? Some Azorean Angelica street hooch and Chestnuts? A Saturn from Dallas’ Four Kahunas? And those are just things right off the top of my head, not even trying. We drink together, a lot. I would totally make a Bananakin Skywalker, if I could find the recipe. I know I cannot do Caffe en Flambé, because that is not even a thing for us, no matter how hard we try. It’s complicated, see?
I thought to myself, what would encapsulate my friendship with this little sister I never asked for or wanted. The one who probably thinks she’s the big sister just because she is sooo much older than I am. Cause, let’s face it, we are complicated. We have laughed and cried together across most of the states and a couple of continents. We forgive true trespasses easily and fight too hard over nothings. We try to keep about a thousand miles between each other on most days but meet a few times a year wherever the flights are cheap for good hearted shenanigans. We have spent Thanksgiving weekend together for the last several years, terrorizing the good people of the northeast corridor, being generally snarky, judging tour guides and docents, exploring hidden gems and making new friends wherever we go, while carefully avoiding the shore, which is closed for the season. I love her and she tolerates me, unless it is one of those trips where it is the other way around, we never know which of us is going to show up. No matter who we are and where we meet, we are good for about 3-4 days, maximum. After that our awesomeness quotient gets into the red and we have to have a break. We have found that by adding more people to the mix we can extend our shelf life, but it can be hard on the other folks. Laura, Jenn and I had a great week in the Azores, but we had tons of space in our togetherness. We can usually do a week or so at GeoWoodstock, but we have literally thousands of people to share the burden, so it works out. It has been a strange year and instead of texting everyday making plans for dinner and drinks in British Columbia next week and then jetting off to meet Laura and I in Hawaii the following week, she’s hiking in New England and we are stuck in our kitchen, with no plans on the horizon and the sneaking suspicion that 2020 may be the year without a Jennsgiving. If that doesn’t make you want to drink I don’t know what will. Anyway, I ran through lots of options before settling on this one and I have my reasons, which I will reveal after the break and a message from our sponsors.
This drink comes to us courtesy of The Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog in beautiful New York City. The last time Jenn and I got together was last Thanksgiving. That wasn’t the last time we planned to get together, but they have this pandemic on, so we have had to adapt. Anyway, I stopped in the Dead Rabbit on my way to meet up with her in Connecticut and had an Irish Coffee and one of these, so there is a connection there. Grab your mixing pitcher and pop in 2 ounces of Redbreast 12 Year Old Irish Whiskey, which I happened to have and I totally did not get from the Boy Scouts of America; 3/4 of an ounce of cacao nib infused Campari, 1/2 an ounce of Creme de Cacao, a bar spoon of vanilla syrup, 1/2 an ounce of banana liqueur, I went with Lucky Lady Laura’s and 2 dashes of absinthe, I opted for Corsair. Add a couple of big ice cubes and stir languidly, always keeping the back of your bar spoon to the side of the pitcher, as one does. Stir to the gentle sounds of “Psycho Killer” because you keep forgetting how much you miss the Talking Heads anyway, so many words… Some of them in French. Qu’est-ce que c’est? When you feel this is well and truly chilled, as cold as a snowy night in Maine with free bluegrass, grab that julep strainer and use it to to keep all the ice out of your chilled coupe. Garnish with not a fucking thing and serve on a donut I.O.U. with some cacao nibs.
You may think that the Campari is going to overpower this drink, like it so often does. Actually, it adds a depth and complexity to the cocoa flavor and brings balance to the banana liqueur. Many people don’t realize, that I actually like this drink, a lot. Did you know that I often dread drinks with Campari elements, but this time it works. Sweet, deeply flavored, texturally interesting and smooth, a fucking delight for the senses. I’m reminded of the words of Mark Twain, or as we call him, Mr. Clemens, who said, “If you hold a cat by the tail, you learn things you cannot learn any other way”. Wise words from a man who had so many, but used them to great effect.
So, why this drink? She’s not a huge fan of any of these ingredients. We have never had a single drink together in Manhattan. She’s not a Psycho Killer…well, I don’t know that, but I don’t think she is. That said, she will totally cut you, so look out! Why this one? Well, it’s complicated. No, seriously, it is a complicated drink. You have to start days before if you want to make it. Sure I had the right whiskey, through no fault of any Boy Scouts at all. But, cacao nib infused Campari? Yeah, that took sourcing nibs and two days of infusing, not forgetting to mix occasionally. Then there was the straining; that took a minute. The actual recipe calls for a specific type of white cacao liqueur that isn’t even available in my region, so there was research into its flavor profile and consulting with experts in the field to find the right mix of creme de cacao and vanilla syrup to get it close. Did I mention that I had to make my own vanilla syrup to accomplish this, because I did. It should be easy from there, right? Well, as it turns out we have had trouble with banana liqueurs having too much of a chemical aftertaste, so Laura, in her infinite patience, indulged us by making homemade banana liqueur. That only took a week and half or so, timed perfectly to be ready for this drink to be made on this most auspicious of days. So, yeah, it’s complicated.
That’s the thing about friendship, isn’t it. You laugh together, you cry together, you help each other through rough spots, you ignore each other sometimes, but you are always there if they need you and you know you can count on them when the chips are down. We feed each other’s egos when we need it, we knock each other down a peg when we need it and help each other to stay grounded, all while making folks jealous of just how much fun we are having. Yeah, this drink is complicated, it’s a lot of trouble, and I had to have Laura’s help, but it’s totally worth it, probably. Just like my dear Jenn, who quit reading half an hour ago. So many words, good words, but so damn many just to say, “I know.” Stay safe, stay hydrated and stay sane, my friend, I hate you, too.