Friday Cocktails with Warren Bobrow

TGIF: Warren Bobrow’s cocktail hour – Rhuby Friday Martini

Warren Bobrow, Mixology Guru extraordinaire,  tells us that he is on a serious Gin kick. Apparently, it’s got him working in all sorts of ways.  Yesterday he received a bottle  of a new and unique spirit from his friends at Art in the Age located in Philadelphia.  They are the inventors of USDA Certified Root-Snap-Hendrick’s Gin, Sailor Jerry Rum and now Rhuby.

 

What is Rhuby?  It is a unique USDA Certified Organic Liquor distributed by William Grant.  It’s a combination of neutral spirits with Rhubarb, beets, carrots, lemons, petigrain, cardamom, and pure cane sugar.  It’s 80 proof so it is no slouch when it comes to heat in the glass.

And this, good people, is Warren’s Friday cocktail using Hendrick’s Gin (available almost everywhere) and Rhuby.

Rhuby Friday Martini

First you will need to purchase a bottle of Rhuby.  If you live in Pennsylvania this is easy, just go to the high end State Store.  Outside of the northeast part of the country, you’ll need to point your Internet browser here. Trust me.  This is a gorgeous product. Drinking it is like stepping through a Colonial vegetable garden, completely twisted.

Ingredients:

  • 2 Shots Hendrick’s Gin or other good botanical gin
  • ½ Shot Rhuby (USDA Certified Organic Rhubarb “tea”)
  • 3 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 shakes Angostura Bitters
  • Dry Vermouth
  • Rhubarb stalk for garnish

Preparation:

  • Fill a plant misting tool with dry vermouth
  • Mist the inside of a pre-chilled Martini glass with the dry vermouth
  • Keep cool
  • Fill a cocktail mixing glass ½ with ice
  • Add the Hendrick’s Gin and Rhuby (USDA Certified Organic)
  • Add a few shakes of the Angostura Bitters
  • Add the lemon juice (fresh squeezed is essential!)
  • Stir, don’t shake!
  • Strain into your misted Martini glass and sip through to a successful conclusion to your week.  Stir with Rhubarb stalk.

We love Warren. Every truly stylish web site should have one!

The Bitter and the Sweet. (Originally posted on Williams-Sonoma’s Blender Blog)

Amaro & Vermouth: The Bitter and the Sweet

Originally Published Sep 9 1:56 pm by Warren Bobrow

 

My first experience with the romantic taste of Amaro came in Rome, when I was traveling in Italy with my parents. They would pull my sister and me out of school for a month or more at a time to see many of the European countries. My parents liked the best things that life had to offer — and rather than stick us on an impersonal tour bus, they would immerse us in local food, wine and museums.

I first noticed people enjoying Amaro in a street-side café. We were staying at the Hassler Hotel at the top of the Spanish Steps. Tourists find this staircase irresistible for photography and for pausing to enjoy a relaxing cocktail from the multitudes of street-side, stand-up table cocktail bars. There were several tall tables set up beside the steps, and young men in sharply cut suits were sipping tiny glasses of a caramel colored liquor with shots of espresso on the side.

I also remember that there was a tall, red tinged cocktail in almost everyone’s hands. I direct tweeted world famous “Cocktalian” Gaz Regan for his Negroni cocktail recipe and am including it here for good luck.

                      Negroni (recipe courtesy of Gaz Regan, via Twitter)

“I prefer 2 gin, 1 each campari & sweet vermouth. Gin: Traditional. Beefeater or Tanqueray fit the bill. Vermouth: Noilly Prat always.”

Little did I know at the time that what they were drinking would pave the way to my future desire to whisper about cocktails. I wanted to taste what these stylish people were drinking, because I was very sophisticated for a 12-year-old! At the end of my usual dinner bowl of Tortellini in Brodo, I remember sipping at my tiny glass hesitantly. It smelled faintly of citrus, and the texture of the liquor was soft on my inexperienced palate. The finish (as I remember) went on and on, seemingly for years.

 

Italian Vermouth in many ways is similar to Amaro, but a bit less bitter on the tongue.  Some uniquely flavorful ones from Italy are Punt e Mes and the esoteric, salubrious Carpano Antica.  The Carpano is a rum raisin-filled mouthful of sweet vanilla cake, laced with Asian spices and caramelized dark stone fruits. Punt e Mes is lighter and nuttier, with caramelized pecans and hand-ground grits in the finish.

I’m sure the alcohol is low — all these products (Amaro included) are low in alcohol, making them perfect in a cocktail. Amaro can be enjoyed as a digestif, it acts to settle the stomach after a large meal because of the herbal ingredients.

But what does Amaro taste like? The flavors vary from sweet to bittersweet to herbal, featuring orange blossoms, caramel and nuts. Some taste like artichoke, others like mint, and still others like a sweetened root tea. They may be enjoyed in a cup of hot tea as an elixir, or dropped into a small cup of espresso to “correct” the sweet, thick coffee.

 

You can drink Amaro straight or on the rocks, or even as an adjunct to other alcoholic and non-alcoholic ingredients. I love Ramazzotti Amaro, Averna, Branca Menta and its twin (without the mint), Fernet Branca. There are dozens that I’ve tasted around Europe and at home in New Jersey.

But why is Amaro so fundamental to the Italian style of living? Perhaps the explanation will be: with everything sweet, there must also be a bitter side?

I’m not sure, since I’ve read that Amaro is more than just a drink; it’s a way of life. Whatever the explanation is, the use of the bitter herbs, roots and spices are pleasing to drink and stimulate conversation. Because of the low alcohol level, the drink is uniquely designed to extend your meal into further conversation, not end it immediately with a cup of coffee.

A dash of bitter and a dash of the sweet make life go round and round.

Seabras in Newark, NJ. My work for NJ Monthly Magazine (originally published in NJ Monthly)

Seabra’s Marisqueira

In the Ironbound section of Newark, an ebullient, down-to-earth crowd rolls up its sleeves for heaps of the freshest fare of the sea, Portuguese style.

Reviewed by Warren M. Bobrow
Originally posted June 16, 2010

Chowing at the bar.

Chowing at the bar.
Photo by Ted Axelrod.
A plate of sautéed garlic shrimp.

A plate of sautéed garlic shrimp.
Photo by Ted Axelrod.
Waiters delivering epic orders.

Waiters delivering epic orders.
Photo by Ted Axelrod.
Chef Jack Fernandes cozies with a fearsome-looking, sweet-tasting bruiser of a halibut.

Chef Jack Fernandes cozies with a fearsome-looking, sweet-tasting bruiser of a halibut.
Photo by Ted Axelrod.

The bar area by the front door brims with displays of iced lobster, cockles, clams, whelks, snails, and bright pink prawns, their glaring black eyes and antennae intact. Freshly charred sardines and grilled white anchovies touched with sweet red peppers and olive oil come into view along with ceramic dishes of steamed clams dotted with fiery green sauce (garlic, puréed with olive oil, hot chilies, and parsley). The bar is clearly not just a great place to sip a lip-smacking caipirinha. It’s just as much about feasting on sparkling seafood.

Located in the Ironbound section of Newark, just off bustling Ferry Street, Seabra’s Marisqueira was founded in 1989 by the former owner of what is now the A&J Seabra Supermarket corporation of Fall River, Massachusetts. In 2000, three Newark businessmen—Jack Fernandes, Antonio Sousa, and Manuel Cerqueira—banded together to buy the popular restaurant. They work in the restaurant, too—Fernandes running the kitchen, Sousa and Cerqueira the front of the house. Their supportive attitude has fostered a strong esprit de corps.

“We are our own bosses now,” says manager Mario Martins, who, like most of the staff, has been at Seabra’s (See-AH-bra’s) since the start. “We wanted to control our own fate. We can decide the future of our passion.”

As even a single meal at the Marisquiera makes clear, that passion is for freshness and faithfulness to Portuguese culinary tradition. Pointing to a patron eating fish soup at the bar, Martins says, “Everything we serve is prepared fresh daily. We make fish soup from scratch. That is a bowl of our culinary history. ”
Cheerful, efficient waiters in black pants and crisp white shirts lead diners past the perennially packed bar and the bustling glassed-in kitchen to the blue-and-white tiled dining room. Seductive aromas of sautéed garlic shrimp accompany them on the journey. Hardly a word of English is heard among the patrons.

A good way to start is to order garlic shrimp and sop up the garlicky, saffron-laced, white wine sauce with the warm, locally baked, crusty bread. Don’t be put off by the need to peel the shells. It’s part of the fun of eating Portuguese. The aforementioned caipirinha (which is Brazilian, but never mind) goes well with fish and shellfish, thanks to its large hit of lime juice and its fuel of cachaça, which is Brazilian sugar cane rum.

Fresh North Atlantic sardines, charred and smoky from the charcoal grill, come with hunks of fresh lemon. If you’ve only had canned sardines, you’re in for a discovery. Eat them with your hands; they’re gone in two quick bites. Fresh grilled white anchovies also take you far from their oil-cured cousins. Served in a cazuela (ceramic bowl) with sweet onion and red vinegar, they are not at all salty and are in fact reminiscent of fresh brook trout. For a hearty and heady meal in a bowl, try sopa do mar, heaped with whole Jonah crab claws, whitefish, hake, and several head-on giant shrimp peering over the steaming surface of tomato-and-fish stock.

Most entrées come with thinly sliced, pan-fried, Portuguese-style crispy potatoes, another perfect soaker-up of broths and sauces. Sautéed green beans and sliced carrots in green garlic sauce complete the presentation of delicious charcoal-grilled grouper. Two split, grilled Nova Scotia lobsters come doused with a tasty butter sauce. Seabra’s staff honors requests for no sauce or sauce on the side not with rolling eyes, but with a warm reply: “Sure, no problem.” The waitstaff is also adept at finding the right Portuguese wine or sangria to complement the food. The best Portuguese wines, little known here, are great values—high in quality, low in price.

A fine entrée is pescada cozida com todos—white potatoes, hard-boiled egg slices, and sweet onion simmered with hake, a sweet, white-fleshed fish served in seaside towns along Portugal’s coast. Another entrée, bacalhau (dried, salted codfish) is served roasted with olive oil, garlic, green peppers, and onions, in a deep bowl. To extract most of the saltiness, Seabra’s soaks the crusty slabs of bacalhau for several days before cooking.

The kitchen staff turns out more-than-respectable meat dishes, like luscious, spit-roasted suckling pig with baby clams, and zesty pork tenderloin pounded into scallopini, pan-fried till crisp. Grilled short ribs smeared with a sweetly perfumed, caramelized garlic paste, make irresistible finger food. Same for baby lamb chops served with garlic flan.

For dessert, the dense, creamy, sweet house-made flan is even better with pulls of Seabra’s smoky, thick espresso. Caveat: The noise level can be high. Best defense: Bring a bunch of fun-loving friends and create a joyful noise of your own.

Carnival of Chaos Cocktail uses Tuthilltown White Whiskey!

Carnival of Chaos Cocktail

Recipe courtesy of our friend Warren Bobrow

2 oz. Tuthilltown White Whiskey (The White Dog)
1-2 oz. unfiltered Apple Juice (fresh, if you can get it)
2 droppers of Bittercube Blackstrap Bitters
Maraschino cherries

Muddle Maraschino cherries in a shaker glass.
Add Bittercube Blackstrap bitters, then White Whiskey and apple juice
Add fresh ice and shake. Serve on the rocks in a short glass with a few slices of apple.

Cracker Jack Snap Cocktail- uses SNAP (USDA Certified Organic Snap Liquor-80 Proof!)

Not a sickly sweet cordial.  Nor a candy flavored slurp.. This is serious stuff!

Cracker Jack Snap Cocktail

Wow!!! Another wonderful recipe from our friend Warren Bobrow.

2 ginger snap cookies, crushed
Luxardo Cherries
4 oz. (a real kick) Tuthilltown NY Corn Whiskey
2 oz. Snap (USDA Certified Organic Ginger Snap liquor)
A few scant shakes of Fee Brothers Grapefruit Bitters
Splash of ginger beer, then another.

Muddle cherries and a few ginger snap cookies to a paste.
Add whiskey and Snap.
Shake in a few splashes of Fee Brothers Grapefruit Bitters.
Hit it with the ginger beer.
Shake and strain into a tall glass with plenty of rock ice.

Zombie Root Carousel (Work done for Tuthilltown Spirits)

Zombie Root Carousel

Recipe courtesy of Warren M. Bobrow  Editor & Food Journalist/ Photojournalist from www.wildriverreview.com/wildtable

In a cocktail shaker, mash several maraschino cherries to a pulp
2 oz. of Tuthilltown Manhattan Rye Whiskey
1 oz. Root USDA Certified Organic Liquor
Finish with a shake or two of Fee Brothers Rhubarb Bitters and some freshly scraped ginger root.

Add ice, top with Q-Ginger ale. Shake, strain and pour over fresh ice in a tall glass.

 

The Mount Washington Slushy. Originally published on Williams-Sonoma’s Blender Blog

A New Cocktail for Cool Fall Nights

The sun is setting a bit earlier now, and close friends are gathering outside for the last eating and drinking events of the season. We still have some evenings left under the stars before fall fully sets in.

Instead of drinking lightly scented, crisp white wines with our dinners, our palates are beginning to reset towards darker, more aromatic flavors. Alcohol levels in our cocktails are also a bit higher now with the cooler weather, sometimes for flavor and other times for the body-warming aspects of a carefully mixed drink.

The Mount Washington Slushy Cocktail is a creative example of a handheld fall warmer. It combines the earthy aromatics of maple syrup frozen into ice cubes, along with the peppery, spicy flavors of rye whiskey. Then in a nod to the classic Sazerac cocktail, there is a touch of the mysterious liquor absinthe.

The Mount Washington Slushy

Grade A maple syrup as needed

Spring water as needed

Regular ice cubes as needed

6 drops Angostura bitters combined with finely chopped orange zest to make your own “orange bitters”

A few scant drops of absinthe

2 shots rye whiskey or Canadian whiskey

Freshly cut orange rind

Homemade brandied cherries (recipe below) and/or fresh mint for serving

Put about 1 Tbs. Grade A maple syrup into each compartment in an ice cube tray, cover with spring water and place in the freezer to create “maple ice.” Do this the morning before preparing your cocktails to give the ice a chance to solidify.

To a cocktail shaker, add a few drops of maple syrup and a few cubes of regular ice. Add the bitters and absinthe to the shaker. Add the whiskey, then shake until frost appears on the outside of the shaker.

Rub the rim of a short tumbler glass or mint julep cup with a freshly cut orange rind. Gently squeeze the rind over a flame, then place in the glass, if desired.

Strain the liquors into the glass, add a few cubes of the maple ice and garnish with a homemade brandied cherry and/or fresh mint. Serves 1.

Homemade Brandied Cherries: Wash and pit a few pints of dark red cherries. Place the cherries in a sterilized jar and cover with applejack or an inexpensive brandy. Let sit in the refrigerator for at least a week or more.

What you will have after a few weeks of steeping are high-quality cocktail cherries — and they make great hostess gifts, too!

Work done for OKRA, the online magazine of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum.

 

WARREN BOBROW grew up on a biodynamic farm in Morristown, New Jersey. He is a reluctant cocktail/wine writer who just completed an entry for the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America Ed., 2 on the topic of biodynamic and organic wine/spirits/food. He’s also a former trained chef/saucier.

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Photo Credit: travelingmcmahans; creative commons

My grandfather, a Yankee like myself, truly enjoyed Bottled in Bond, 100 Proof Bourbon Whiskey.  I didn’t know about his passion for Bourbon because he never drank it around me and he never ordered it in a restaurant. Usually he ordered an extra dry Dewers Rob Roy.  For many years I only thought he drank Scotch whisky. What I didn’t know at the time was that his true passion was Bourbon.

My grandfather owned his own company and one of the things that people would give him at Christmas time were some very special bottles of Bourbon.  These bottles remained hidden from me for many years.  After he died I learned from my grandmother that there were several nice looking (from a design perspective anyway) bottles of pre-1960 Bourbon in a hidden compartment of the bar.

She went on to tell me that she was going to pour out the contents (the historic Bourbon) and turn them into flower vases, because the bottles were so pretty.  I got over to her home as quickly as I could.  She showed me the hidden compartment in the bar.   Inside there were several bottles of Bourbon from the 1940’s to the late 1950s. These bottles of Bourbon had rested, in the dark, away from my youthful fingers since he placed them there and forgot about them.

These remaining bottles are a liquid history of the last of my grandfather’s Bourbon collection.

Photo: Warren Bobrow

Truth be told, as a “damned” Yankee, I know the true value of these ancient spirits.  Not as an investment in dollars, but as a flavor-driven window into my family’s past.  The bottles that I hold in my hand are a history of flavor.  This is a specific type of history that could never be duplicated today, primarily because the people who crafted the contents of these historic Bourbon bottles are now long gone.  The ingredients used today are similar, but the Whisky is different because each sip holds liquid ghosts belonging to the past.

Tasting notes:

Old Forester “Bottled in Bond” Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky.  100 proof. This bottle has been filled and stamped under the provisions of sections 5008 and 5243 of the Internal Revenue code.

Set into wood 1954. Bottled 1959.

A gentle, almost cedar nose gives way to candied orange peel, sweet jasmine flowers and caramelized pecan. The brooding heat burns the tongue.  With a texture almost as thick as maple syrup, the freshness and liveliness of this Bourbon hasn’t changed a bit since entering the bottle over fifty years ago.  Charred notes of Anson Mills stone ground grits stuck to the bottom of an ancient cast iron pan is the next thing tasted as I rolled a few precious drops around my mouth.  The soft, mineral finish goes on and on, revealing itself with another slow burn as if the bottom of the glass was aflame.  This Bourbon, when served with a bit of Kentucky Colonel mint from the garden, awakens ghosts from one’s grand-pappy’s generation.

Ancient Age.  Date uncertain due to the loss of the tax stamp, estimated somewhere between 1945-1950.  Space Age in design, this Mid-Century modern bottle is filled to just over a pint in liquid.  Marked straight Bourbon Whiskey.  The bottle reads: carefully distilled according to the finest old traditions. 86 proof.  Marked Full Six Years old. Distilled and bottled by Ancient Age Distillery Co., Frankfort Kentucky.

Warm aromas of sweetly delineated, hand-hewn oak- remind me immediately that Bourbon Whisky is not Scotch Whiskey or Tennessee sippin’ Whisky.  One reason for certain is the lack of smoke, peat and saline in the nose.  Normally, I find these flavors to be overpowering.  I suppose I just don’t understand Scotch.  The nose of this Bourbon Whisky resembles a liquid caramel candy.  A burst of fire from the nearly 90 proof alcohol makes itself known then a finish of fleur du sel and freshly cut herbs like thyme and tarragon.  This Bourbon, although “only” 86 proof, acts on the palate like one almost double the potency. In fact it resembles in many ways the potency and grip of some un-cut corn whiskies I’ve tasted recently.  Each slurp reveals sharply aromatic Asian spices with a razor sharp finish that exposes itself on the back of the tongue; with a nearly 2 minute long finish!  This Bourbon tastes nothing like the roughness of the neither 1952 Old Forester, nor does is resemble the overly oaked  “modern-style” of the 1955 Old Grand Dad. With a crumbled leaf of Kentucky Colonel spearmint this Bourbon really opens up, revealing its wood-driven flavors as a contender for a (very rare and expensive) mint julep.  This Bourbon has all the stuffing for a drink made with its primary ingredient over a half-century old!

Old Forester 1952. Bottled in Bond in 1957. Freshly baked charred- corn “hoe” cakes are smeared with melted, sweet strawberry butter. The first flavors take a bit to get used to.  Sweet is usually a flavor more akin to Canadian Whisky or Irish Whisky.  Freshly brewed sweet iced tea reveals itself- then flavors of caramel corn and cinnamon laced red-hot candy folded into a mug of boiling hot water, Asian spices and sugar cane lurk in the background.  The backbone of alcohol is a sudden wake up call to the throat.  It BURNS!  A glass of this Bourbon has amazing heat for spirit almost sixty years old!   The 1952 taste as lively a drink in the glass as a 2002 bottle of Knob Creek Bourbon!  It’s just amazing how little the alcoholic power has diminished over the past half century!

Old Grand Dad “Head of the Bourbon Family” 1955. Set into bottle 1959.  Part of a more modern and new style of Bourbon Whiskey, this is a roughly hewn, heavily oaked version of the classic drink.  It’s just amazing to me how much Bourbon has evolved during the late 1950’s.  The soft almost billowy quality of the Bourbon is ever-present, yet the finish is much sharper, but it lingers on the tongue for several minutes.  The 1959 bottling is more akin in many ways to Four Roses or Pappy Van Winkle with an almost lemon oil, citrus tinged mouth-feel.  The oils from the cask rise to the surface creating an illusion of a rainbow.  Each sip is laced with banana, vanilla bean, toasted corn bread, the char from well- seasoned cast iron pan and brook trout cooked in that pan with a handful of toasted hazelnuts thrown in at the finish.   An Amaretto-liqueur nose predominates.  The finish is like the first day of golden sunshine, streaming into the windows after a spring thunderstorm.  This is serious stuff and it deserves a drop or two of branch water to release its secrets.  The next flavors are like authentically seasoned Thai food served Thai spicy.  Flavor before heat is the mantra of this Bourbon.  A few sips signal the essential drink to take the edge off the afternoon or evening like none of your neighbors have ever imagined or enjoyed.

These bottles are a bit less than ½ full … As much as I want to share them with well- meaning friends, I know that once they’re gone, they can never be replaced.

I’ll be drinking small glasses from these bottles without any mixers from now on.  Well, maybe with a few drops of some sweet, local branch water flicked over the surface to connect these liquid history lessons with the flavor driven memories of the past.

Bourbon, Branch and a Splash of Southern Lore

WILD TABLE – Billy Reid:

Bourbon, Branch and a Splash of Southern Lore

by Warren Bobrow

Back in the eighties I bartended a bit, drank a fair amount of good bourbon in carefully learned, hand-crafted mint juleps, and cooked the line in a fine, white tablecloth restaurant near the historic waterfront area known as Ansonborough in Charleston, South Carolina.

That restaurant was named the Primerose House. Here at this very early proponent of locavore cooking I was introduced to the culture and mystique of the oft mentioned, never tasted branch water. After Hurricane Hugo set us all asunder in 1989, Charleston changed, but her charm, as a graceful Southern city has never faded.

Many moved on to other places and culinary careers, myself included. But the manners that I was taught in Charleston have stayed with me. I especially cite Martha Lou’s Kitchen for teaching me the value of listening under pressure in her non-air-conditioned kitchen. In the Soul Food restaurant she owns in Charleston, Martha Lou let me watch her cook. Once she trusted me after several months of my begging, she let me cook alongside her for a few lunches. Martha Lou also gave me another gift, the palate for all things hog, Southern culture and a glass of Bourbon Whiskey.

I was reading a food article in the New York Times by the noted Southern cultural raconteur named John T. Edge. He wrote a piece on All-American, Mexican Hot Dogs. His web presence begins with these words: “Eater, Writer, Educator.” As one of the founders of the Southern Foodways Alliance and a contributing columnist of the Oxford American Magazine, John T. Edge has a passion for bbq, clothing and fine Bourbon whiskey. I admire his pen and have learned much from his unforced, open ended- writing style. He has championed the work of Billy Reid, the 2001 CFDA Award winning clothing designer in his unique style of prose and Billy Reid in turn has created a carefully constructed shirt in honor of his friend John T. It sits amongst other bits and pieces of Southern vernacular clothing, not shouting, but gently calling out…put me on.  Wear me home.  This shirt is simply known as the John T.  The shirt has a nice muted check, is narrow in length and is made, like many of the pieces of Billy Reid’s clothing designs, in Italy. This is clothing is meant to complement an afternoon of tasting ancient bottles of Bourbon or working in the corporate canyons of NYC. Billy Reid is known to most Southerners as their native son-their home-spun answer to Ralph Lauren.

While reading John T. Edge’s writing on his web page, I noticed that it immediately references bacon, one of my passions. This piqued my interest in Edge and his alliance with his clothing designer friend, Billy Reid, both modern day cultural icons of the New South.

Reid’s clothing store in NYC is sandwiched between renovated former industrial buildings on a rag-tag cobblestone street in Lower Manhattan. Here in the basement of a former manufacturing space, the gracious interior elegant as a fine gentleman’s bar room and open to the street through large sun filled windows, was the perfect venue in which to taste a series of three, half-century old bottles of Kentucky Bourbon whiskey. I sat with some of the friendly and eager staff and we discussed at length the concept, unknown to most Yankees (of which I am one) of branch water. Branch water, I learned is a direct connection to the cultural and culinary definition of Southern drinking heritage. Webster’s Dictionary defines branch water as: “Pure natural water from a stream or brook; often distinguished from soda water.”

I’ve found from my very short time living in Charleston South Carolina, somewhere out there in the steamy ancient forests-thick with blood-sucking ticks, leeches and poisonous snakes, (they wear those thick leather leg chaps when walking in the woods for a reason)–lays a Valhalla or holy-grail in “Bourbon-speak.” A pristine spring bubbles up sweet water, pure as the dew that lights up in sunlight shining on the elegantly dripping strands of Spanish moss. Vanilla-tea-colored water rises from the depths-situated directly in front of the roots of the almost mythical in proportion, ancient Southern Live-Oak tree. The sweet water found here is known as branch. It is one of the defining elements of Bourbon understanding, the physical act of discovering for the first time…spring of water bursting from the ground, the essence of purity and grace, danced simply over a glass of the brown liquid. The next act in appreciation of the past is by making a perfect drink with that branch. This physical interaction of adding branch to Bourbon binds hundreds of years of Southern culture and drinking lore.

I offered to bring the employees at Billy Reid, a bottle of locally sourced branch.

Near where I live is the Morristown National Historical Park. There is an ancient artisanal well somewhere out there in the deep woods. (Historically, it was used by George Washington’s troops during the Revolutionary War.) This source of branch, sweet and alive with minerals, is from the pure spring located at the foot of a long forgotten rotted oak. The sweet water bubbling up from the depths remains to this very day. Its secret location is just up in the woods from me apiece.

I know they’ll smile at Billy Reid because finding a previously undiscovered source of real branch water is a rare experience. It is my desire to put the bottle of this geographically specific Yankee Branch water into the hands of Billy Reid himself drawing a modern connection to his upbringing as a Son of the NEW South.

Some may say that they rue the day that a Southern cocktail would even allow the introduction of Yankee Branch water and call it a nip. I say create your own history by using what is available and that branch should speak clearly of the earth from which it arose.

It only takes a few drops of branch to liven a brown elixir in your great- grandfather’s unwashed crystal tumbler. An antique bottle of branch water may last a lifetime. Branch is not used casually; but the simple act of using the branch is a specific connection to Southern lore and Bourbon cocktails.

Branch water, when used correctly, is metered out in small portions, only use a small amount! Just what fits between your bare fingers. It was described to me on an ancient plantation somewhere east of the Cooper River, as gently snapping your branch water-moistened fingers together over the glass. There is a specific sound, one that was made by moving one’s fingers together. I would imagine snapping my fingers underwater to approximate the feeling. This pure liquid entering the glass, scattering over the top of the glistening- 55 year old Bourbon was in my experience, a physical bond to a bygone age.

This specific act of making a Bourbon and branch cocktail hasn’t changed much in several hundred years.

As we sipped our whiskey in the former basement industrial space-its original inhabitants long gone-standing over hand-hewn barn-wood floors, surrounded by the casual, unforced elegance of bespoke Southern gentility clothing we tasted our way through 3 unique bottles of Kentucky Bourbon dating from 1952 to 1959. The flavors unleashed from the long sealed bottles linger on in my mind.

The Historic Bourbon:

Old Forester 100 Proof/Bottled in Bond
Set into oak: Spring 1952-bottled fall 1957.
Warm treacle tinged molasses. Sun-dried walnut butter, melted then smeared on crunchy, fire-toasted cornmeal Hoecakes.
Exceptionally long finish with exotic Jungle Curry undertones. This liquor tastes as fresh as the day it was bottled. Bottle looks like a sputnik. Space Age stuff!

Old Forester 100 Proof/Bottled in Bond
Set into oak: Fall 1954-bottled fall 1959
Sweet tobacco cream and freshly dug peat. Caramelized yams in the mid-palate. Dry, country ham finish with a whiff of pit-roasted Hog Cracklins’ at the end. Bottle is modern in design and interesting looking, with the real surprise contained within, a history lesson of the way Bourbon used to taste before modern innovations changed the way Bourbon is made.      Crafted by artisans long gone.

Old Grand Dad 100 Proof/Bottled in Bond
Set into oak: Fall 1954-bottled fall 1958

Creamy, sweet vanilla fire gives way to a pecan brittle mid-palate. Long mouth filling finish with sharp hints of Southern blackberries and brown butter coated and roasted-hazelnuts dipped in crushed dark bittersweet chocolate pastilles.  Hints of those slushy mint juleps enjoyed in Charleston, South Carolina*with Booker’s Bourbon* under the piazza at the Primerose House.  This bottle looked like a Baccarat Crystal decanter.

All whiskeys served without ice in a unwashed glass with the sweet soulful drones of Greg Spradlin tearing it up on the stereo, serving as background music for our tasting and deeper conversations.

Root (USDA Certified Organic) and… Hot Chocolate.

ROOT Hot Chocolate from Wild River Review

 

Our new friends at the Wild River Review have recently discovered ROOT and have been experimenting with ROOT. This one’s perfect for the cold days that will soon be upon us.  Drink up and enjoy.


Hot Chocolate for a cold day

2 Ounces of Single Origin Hot Chocolate from Askinosie (or your choice)

2 shots Root-The USDA Certified Organic Neutral Spirits with North American Herbs and Pure Cane Sugar

1 shot Branca Menta Amaro (super intense mint liquor from Milano, Italy

freshly whipped cream

(there REALLY is no substitute for the real thing, throw out those cans of chemical fluff they call whipped cream)

Prepare a mug with boiling water to heat through and through.

Pour out the water, the mug should be really hot.

Add Branca Menta, then the Root liquor, then top with Hot Chocolate-finish with a large spoonful of freshly whipped cream.. scrape some fresh nutmeg over the top and reflect on your fine manners by offering your friend a cup.

….. sip and enjoy!