There has been a large rise in “do-it-yourself” projects during “these unprecedented times.” We are no different from the rest of the country, we have redone the back yard, trimmed trees and bushes, made repairs around our house and grandma’s house and our outbuildings and the barn. We have started making our own pastas and breads, drying fruits and vegetables, making candleholders and coasters from old whiskey barrels. It’s funny how making things helps to fill the time. You could make a pretty convincing argument that this whole “Cocktails From Quarantine” series has been a big DIY project. We can’t go to the bars where we would normally enjoy our drinks, so we took matters into our own hands. The point is, there are a lot of folks out there who are doing what they can to make their corner of the world a better place and they are doing it on their own. That is mostly a good thing, so let’s make a drink today that honors the do-it-yourselfers out there, the folks steady crafting their way through 2020. Won’t you, please, join me now, as we stand and make, The Bitter Clipper.
Let’s talk about ingredients for a minute, because they matter. When you are making drinks for yourself or others consistency is always an issue. The drink should be good, or bad, every time. While there is an element of craft in every cocktail, when you get to the mixing stage it is mostly science and one of the most important things about science is that it yields reproducible results. If I give you a recipe, you should be able to make something very similar in your kitchen and we can have this pseudo-shared experience. For this to work though, we have to use the same ingredients, or at least something pretty close. That’s why I always let you know what brands I am using, when it comes to the alcohol, bitters and mixers.
For example, there are hundreds of gins out there with as many flavor profiles. Even on my limited bar, I currently stock eight different gins, all with different characteristics. Sometimes, I play with making the same drink with different gins all yielding very different results. It gets complicated and expensive, but having lots of different ingredients to play with is part of the learning curve. Generally the stuff in the bottles is easy to match, the real variable comes in the fresh ingredients. My cara cara oranges are going to be sweeter than your navel, allegedly. My fresh squeezed lime juice will likely be brighter than the stuff you squeezed yesterday and that stuff from the grocery in the plastic lime…that’s not even in the running. Today’s drink has four elements that are easy to replicate and three where we are going to see some variation. Let’s make it and talk about our collective issues after the break.
Grab a highball or collins glass and pop in 4-5 stabs of orange bitters, I used Regan’s because they were handy. Swirl it around a bit to coat the inside of the glass and set to the side. Now, take your mixing tins and toss in 1 ounce of dark rum, I used El Dorado 5 year; 3/4 of an ounce of John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum, 6-7 mint leaves, 1 ounce of fresh squeezed lime juice and 1 ounce of moonshine, we will talk about this more later. Add some ice and shake hard to the tune of Gillian Welch’s “Tear My Stillhouse Down” in honor of “do-it-yourselfers” everywhere. When your tins are good and cold, strain into your pre-bittered glass over some crushed ice and top with 3 stabs of Angostura bitters. Add one of those cool glass straws from Surfside Sips and garnish with some pre-slapped mint sprigs.
Well, that is tasty. Nice and refreshing, but with a kick. That moonshine definitely lays down the base for this drink, the mint and lime give a nice balance, some of that may be from the falernum. It is nice, the moonshine dominates, but I think that has to do with having a particularly nice corn whiskey as an ingredient. A less flavorful whiskey might get lost in this one. This is going to take a little more experimentation, maybe bump the falernum up or ad a 1/4 ounce of demerara to take some of the edge off. Play with it, have fun.
That is part of the fun, playing with the ingredients. Like I said before, three of these ingredients were going to have some inconsistencies. I use persian limes mostly, but there are still some seasonal variations. My mint comes from my front garden and it can vary wildly in intensity, mostly due to how much rain we have had lately and whether I pick older growth or fresh offshoots. I usually roll a leaf between my fingers to release the oils and based on that aroma, I decide how much I am going to use. The moonshine is trickier, or at lest it is for me.
I don’t know a lot about corn whiskey. I’ve enjoyed the Hudson and Balcoñes stuff and I always keep a bottle of Mellow Corn handy, but I don’t have much experience with the unaged pure “white lightning”. It’s easier to get than it used to be. In the past you had to know a guy or have a cousin with a spring and a penchant for engineering, but with the recent explosion of microdistilleries there are lots of options out there. Do your research and find a good local producer, someone who understands the science as well as the craft of distilling. In this case, good also means safe. As much romance as there is in the idea of a couple of fellas running a still up in the hills, making alcohol is no joke and best left to the folks who know what they are doing. There are real dangers involved and you don’t want any part of the heads or tails of a run. So, you may not want to use the stuff your buddy who ordered a still off Etsy after watching a couple of videos is making in his apartment. I am lucky, since middle Tennessee has a number of great producers. I am fond of that wonderful medicine prescribed by the local witch doctor to cure what ails you, but if your needs are more basic, Corsair makes a nice pumpkin spice moonshine. For this recipe, I used just what the doctor ordered, some medicinal spirits from an unlabeled mason jar, I found under a pine tree. The point is, alcohols vary widely and your mileage may vary, so be prepared to adjust the recipe to account for this and don’t skimp or take chances on your moonshine. Whether you hit your local distilleries, support your local value added agricultural producers, or just wander the woods looking under pine trees, be sure to stay safe, stay hydrated and stay sane, my friends.