I tend to geek out about things. I just can’t help it. I get to thinking about something and suddenly I want to know all of the things. It is not enough to get a good overview, I want to get bogged down in the minutiae of things. I have been that way about syrups and shrubs lately. Making things just to learn a new technique or to play with an ingredient. So I find myself in the kitchen dicing strawberries, pineapple and garlic, chasing some elusive taste through the culinary underbrush. Sometimes it works out, sometimes we get the benefit of having an experience, but either way it is always educational and as the Viscount once said, “education is never a waste.” So with that in mind, won’t you join me now as we stand and make the Rabbit Hole.
This strawberry and Fernet based cocktail was created in 2015 at Chicago’s famed The Violet Hour by Tyler Fry who describes it as “a drink so dry, quaffable, and bracing that you just want more and more.” I can attest to the “more-ish” quality of this unusual but totally accessible drink. The original recipe actually calls for a split base of Fernet Branca and Letherbee Fernet, but I actually prefer it with Mexican made Fernet Vallet, so I made the sub. I have had this one both ways and either is excellent with fairly subtle differences. Experiment with this one and let me now which you prefer.
The real key here is the Bitter Strawberry Syrup that you need to make beforehand. Like so many things in life and marketing this name is not quite accurate. It is not bitter at all, but what an evocative name for this bitters enhanced, super sweet and simple to make ingredient. Grab a quart jar or deli container and muddle 5-7 fresh strawberries with 1 cup of sugar. Add 2-3 dashes of Angostura Bitters, give it a quick stir and let sit for 15 minutes. Add 1 cup of water, pop the top on and shake until it is all combined. Force this mixture through a fine mesh strainer using a spoon to extract as much liquid as possible and you are ready to go. Of course, I suggest using that spoon to add the leftover strawberry mash to some ice cream or shortcake, because it is oh so good. The syrup should last about a month refrigerated, and the mash should be eaten right this moment.
We are going to swizzle this one so let’s start by building it in the glass. This is also an equal parts drink so grab a rocks glass and combine 3/4 of an ounce each of Fernet Vallet (though the original Letherbee Fernet is also lovely), Fernet Branca, fresh squeezed lemon juice and Bitter Strawberry Syrup. Fill the glass 2/3 of the way with crushed ice, grab your “le bois léle” and get to swizzling to the beat of Rhiannon Giddens version of “Don’t Let it Trouble Your Mind.” Not sure how or why to swizzle? That is ok, few are. Basically, you are mixing the drink by spinning a true “swizzle stick” between your palms while raising it up and down in the drink. It’s easy as and fun, once you get the hang of it. Check out my rambling on the Kaieteur Swizzle for a full history. When well mixed, fill with crushed ice and garnish with a lemon wheel and half a strawberry.
This is oh so good. As its creator said, “Strawberry and Fernet are absolutely stunning bedfellows.” Think of this as a super complex, herbal, strawberry lemonade. The bitter and herbal components provide a perfect balance to that sweet Bitter Strawberry Syrup with the brightness from the lemon juice bringing everything together. Tyler wasn’t kidding when he said you could really go down the Rabbit Hole with these, they have an incredibly more-ish taste and I found myself going back trying to get one more sip as the ice melted. A seriously tasty beverage to help us transition into fall like a last of the summer fling.
That’s a transition I am so ready for. It has been too hot for too long in too many places this Summer. I am ready for my Autumn. Bring on my pumpkin spice and sweaters and falling leaves and chilly nights sitting around the fire with friends. I am here for it. If you are not, well, cool. You do you. But, for me and my house, we’ve been prideful and now we are ready for the fall. Of course, your mileage may vary. If it does, just mix up another of these and follow your dreams of an endless summer down that Rabbit Hole. I might even join you for just one more. Till then, stay safe, stay hydrated and stay sane, my friends.