Cocktail recipe: East River Defense

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My article, Your Cocktail’s Been A-Saltedappears in the March/April 2013 issue of Arrive Magazine, which –for once!– I got to read in hard copy format as I trundled along from NY to Baltimore and back again last week on Amtrak.

Gotta love any publication that lets me get away with a pun like that in the headline!

I’ve been looking forward to showcasing the East River Defense cocktail in the photo above ever since I first went to Northern Spy, a sweet little locavore spot in the East Village about a year ago.  I was there to interview Co-owner and Beverage Director Chris Ronis for a Wine Enthusiast feature about Aperitif Cocktails, and although it wasn’t part of the article, this was the drink I walked away thinking about — it had the strangest sweet-salty-tart-refreshing combination.

Northern Spy doesn’t have a full liquor license — they can serve only wine and beer. Luckily, that includes fortified wines (like sherry) and aperitif wines, so the drinks list still is robust and interesting.  In part, it’s that way because Ronis brought in mixologist Erick Castro to create the drinks. (If Castro’s name sounds familiar, perhaps that’s because you’ve been reading about his buzz-y new bar in San Diego, Polite Provisions.)

Although Ronis told me that this is based on a classic Cobbler, I think it’s even closer to the Paloma, a tequila drink made with grapefruit soda. Either way, it’s a perfect cocktail to transition into early spring.

East River Defense

Created by Erick Castro for Northern Spy ((New York, NY).  Nubbly “sea-salted ice” plus briny Manzanilla sherry gives the drink a refreshing salt-air tang.

1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt

3 ounces Manzanilla sherry

1 ounce lemon juice

1 ounce simple syrup

3 dashes Scrappy’s grapefruit bitters

Soda water

Scoop ice into a Collins glass, and sprinkle with coarse sea salt. In a cocktail shaker, combine sherry, lemon juice, simple syrup and bitters. Shake well, and strain into glass over the sea-salted ice. Top with soda water. Garnish with a grapefruit wedge and serve with a straw.

Cocktail recipe: Suppressor #7

Lately, I’ve been obsessed with “aperitif” cocktails, often made with lower alcohol levels and showcasing lovely vermouths, fortified wines, and bitter spirits like Cynar. And the July issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine includes my article on Aperitif Cocktails.

One of the most entertaining stories in aperitif-land now is in public transportation-challenged Atlanta, GA, where the bartenders banded together to find the polar opposite of the super-boozy Corpse Reviver and its brethren.

“This is a driving town,” explained Greg Best, co-owner and bartender at Atlanta’s Holeman & Finch. “It can get dangerous.” So in a grand effort to suppress alcohol levels, Atlanta’s mixologists hosted a contest to build a better, and lower-octane, cockail canon. The end result:  a new cocktail category called Suppressors.

I’d love to see every bar and restaurant have a lower-alcohol aperitif section on their menu; some “aperitifs” can be pretty darn strong. In my article, I featured Suppressor #21 (Cynar, Barolo Chinato, sherry, created by Paul Calvert of Pura Vida Tapas), as well as recipes sourced from Northern Spy in NY and OAK at fourteenth in Boulder. But here’s a second Suppressor cocktail created by Best, which had to be cut from the article for space reasons. It’s delicious, and quickly disappeared as soon as I shot this photo.

Suppressor #7

by Greg Best, Holeman & Finch

Pommeau de Normandy is a French apple brandy that’s lightened with unfermented apple cider.

1 ounce Cynar

1 ounce Pommeau de Normandy

1 ounce crisp sparkling wine, such as Cava

1 lemon peel

In a mixing glass, stir together Cynar, Pommeau and ice. Strain into a sherry tulip or riesling tulip glass. Pour in sparkling wine, then express oils from lemon peel over the top and discard the peel.

5 Things I’ve Learned About…Aperitif Spirits

The February 2011 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine is out, and it includes (among other things) my review column on Aperitif Spirits.  You can pick up a copy at the newsstand, or view it in digital format on Zinio.  Here’s what I learned:

1.  For me, the single biggest takeaway was a schooling on what constitutes “aperitif.” When I first proposed this category, I hadn’t figured on including vermouths, which are fortified wines, rather than spirits. At one end of the spectrum, you have the strong and often bitter distilled spirits, which include amaros and all those monk-made herbal liqueurs; on the other, the gentle and sweet/dry aperitif wines. The latter category also spans vermouths, as well as French aperitif wines known as quinquinas and their Italian counterparts, chinati. Luckily, booze expert Paul Clarke has broken some ground writing about the latter category, so I can just direct you here for a primer.

2.  When it comes to vermouth, it’s either transcendently good, or woefully disappointing, reminiscent of wine gone bad. Not much middle ground. Carpano Antica and Punt e Mes are going to find permanent places in my personal bar.

3.  Bitter aperitifs – it’s all a matter of taste. Fernet is perhaps the most polarizing spirit of them all. Some people find it refreshing. I hate the murky brown stuff – for me, it inspires a visceral” ick!” reaction, like a little kid to mushy lima beans. I had to recognize that I could not objectively review it nor assign a rating. I will never acquire a taste for Fernet. I am okay with this.

4.  Herbal is big in the aperitif spirits category. Good luck actually picking out the specific herbs, though; most combine a mix of dozens of mysterious herbs and spices, and the recipe is deliberately vague.

5.  For whatever reason, Italy and France seem to have walloped the rest of the world in creating aperitif spirits. Where are the contributions from the rest of the world?

If you have a favorite aperitif spirit or wine, or aperitif cocktail, I’d love to hear more about it, please leave a comment! You can also use that space to bad-mouth (or defend) Fernet, if you so desire.