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When I first got into cocktails about ten years ago, I was all about the gin. Negronis. Last Words. Aviations. Lately, I’ve been on a mezcal kick. Its smokiness takes a lot of cocktails to the next level, including many that usually star gin or bourbon — like the Bee’s Knees (mezcal makes it an El Oro) and the Paper Plane (a La Comita with mezcal).
For the past month, as my husband, Dan and I have been driving around the mountain West on a much-delayed vacation, I’ve mostly been drinking mezcal cocktails. But then we found ourselves just up the road from High West Distillery, a whiskey-making concern nestled in the Uinta-Wasatch mountains 25 miles north of Park City, Utah.
When Jane and David Perkins founded High West in 2006, it was the first legal distillery opened in Utah since 1870. 1870! They opened the location we visited just five years ago, and it — along with their American Prairie Bourbon and Double Rye! (yes, the exclamation point is included) whiskey — is a hit.
Utah has some weird liquor laws. So the tasting room is actually an on-site restaurant, and we could only order one round without food. Dan chose the tasting flight, and I asked for the Smoke Signal, which is a mix of High West Double Rye!, Ron Zacapa rum, smoked syrup, burnt honey, and smoked ice.
And oh, my lord, it was glorious: A little bit sweet and a lot smoky, with neither element overwhelming the whiskey. I’ve had smoked syrup and burnt honey in cocktails before, but the smoked ice was new to me. After I finished my drink, I did some very inelegant slurping of the ice and found that the smokiness was integrated into the ice itself rather than layered on during the presentation (as with some other smoky drinks). Genius.
I had to know how to make it, so I donned my mask and sidled up to the bar.
The bartender was very kind, and while he mixed several other cocktails, he revealed his secret: put regular ice cubes in a deep tray in a smoker. (He uses a small Traeger). After the ice melts, pour the water into your favorite big rock trays and freeze again. It works like a dream.
As we move into late October and you start craving more autumnal cocktails, I highly recommend the Smoke Signal. 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥 out of five.
I see you, Otis. You put on more weight than any other bear in the Katmai National Park & Preserve in Alaska. So congratulations on winning Fat Bear Week 2021. I’ve put on a few pounds during Covid, too. I only wish I could just sleep it off like you.
This week the Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Abdulrazak Gurnah. The Tanzanian author, who moved to Britain as a refugee in the 1960s, has written 10 novels that deal with issues of colonialism and belonging. Here is how Gurnah describes his work:
I’ve never read Gurnah’s work, but his novels, which are in English, seem perfect for readers like us who are interested in questions of identity, place and belonging. You can believe I’ve already put several of his books on hold at the library.
In 1937, Charles Baxter published two volumes collecting his knowledge of eating and drinking around the world. I became aware of The Gentleman's Companion, as they are called, through St. John Frizell, cocktail maestro and the proprietor of Fort Defiance, my local bar when I lived in Red Hook, Brooklyn.
Fort Defiance was an homage to Baxter, and each New Year’s Eve, Frizell would offer a Baxter-themed dinner. But I’d never actually seen TGC until The Bestie™ gifted a vintage set to me for Christmas. I’ve thumbed through the pages on occasion, but mostly I've treated the volumes as decor — until the pandemic hit.
Stuck inside, Lovey and I decided to start reading the “exotic drinking book.” I can say, 1937 was a very curious time for drinks and books, though Baxter does offer some excellent advice, even if he can’t count. He issues an “Earnest Plea for Three Meticulous Observances in the Construction of any Mixed Drink,” but actually gives us four:
Measure accurately, and don’t be betrayed by that insidious temptation to pour with a “heavy jigger.”
Serve cold drinks arctic cold; serve hot drinks steaming hot.
If there are guests present who appreciate decent cocktails, let’s do the mixing ourself. The amateur will always take infinitely more pains than any houseboy or butler. (Editor's note: 🧐)
Don’t try to make decent cocktails out of cheap, briefly aged liquors. We can no more build a fine cocktail on dollar gin than Whistler could paint his mother’s portrait with barn paint.
Mom was in town last weekend, which was an excellent excuse to finally go and visit Ford House, the former estate of Edsel and Eleanor Ford. It's glorious and beautiful and 💯 worth the visit. (The pic above is no filter and shot with an iPhone.) Friends, I can tell you we were shook by this visit.
Did you know that Edsel Ford was not responsible for Edsel brand of cars, one of the most epic fails in the history of American business? Seriously. People hated the Edsel line up when the cars debuted in 1958.
I grew up thinking Edsel was all Edsel’s fault. But it wasn’t! He passed away in 1943. And, it turns out, he was responsible for some of Ford’s most iconic successes, such as the Lincoln Continental and hydraulic brakes.
I thought perhaps I just had a gap in my history because I didn’t grow up shaped by Detroit. But when I told friends and neighbors who grew up here what we learned, they didn’t know either. So consider this my PSA for Edsel Ford. He wasn’t the chump many of us thought.
1. Fat Bear Week is Over. High Country News has the scoop on how they weigh the bears to see who is the portliest.
Bonus: What everyone else on the Internet has been reading this week: Bad Art Friend. (Trust me; you don't want to miss this one.)
The 5x world champion Irish dancers do the BeeGees. You’re welcome. But also don’t forget that Sammy Davis Jr. is the once and future king.
The arrival of fall means it’s time to restock your bar. Lovey and I will be laying in some good bourbons and ryes for making Old Fashioneds and Manhattans. But don’t overlook your bitters stash. They’re critical for balancing and enhancing so many cocktails. Have some languishing in the back bar? Dump them; bitters, like spices, don’t go bad but they do lose their potency. At baseline, you need a bottle of Angostura Bitters, which you can buy in most any liquor or grocery store. These are the salt and pepper of cocktail creation. Basic. But you also want to invest in a bottle of orange bitters, which will serve you well for fall-flavored cocktails. The Bitter Housewife makes a great version.
If you want to show guests that you really understood the assignment, you can make your own orange bitters. That’s what Lovey and I did while everyone else was making sourdough bread. 😂 Charles Baxter taught us how.
Here’s what you need:
1 bag of oranges
2 cups “good” grain alcohol, such as Everclear
⅛ oz. caraway, cardamom and coriander seeds
2 tbsp. burnt sugar
Here’s what you do:
Peel the oranges and place skins on a cookie sheet
Roast the peels in an oven until they are dehydrated
Finely chop the peels; you should have about 1/4 lb (4 oz.); adjust recipe based on your outcome
Mix the peels and your seeds in a jar you can seal
Pour in grain alcohol
Let mixture stand for 15 days; agitate daily
After 15 days:
Strain seeds and peel through cheesecloth, reserving and resealing the alcohol in original jar
Put the seeds and peels in a saucepan and crush with a muddler
Cover with boiling water and simmer for 5 minutes
Put the mixture in a new covered jar and let sit for two days
After 2 days:
Strain the seeds and peels, reserving the liquid
Compost or throw out seeds and peels
Add liquid to the original jar of alcohol
Add in burnt sugar (here’s a good how-to make it. Do. Not. Touch. Burnt. Sugar. I speak from experience)
Filter this mixture through cheesecloth into a clean sealable jar. It will take awhile
Now you have bitters!
How to store:
We fill a small glass dropper bottle for immediate use; the reminder we store in a mason jar in the refrigerator. This recipe made enough for an entire winter of cocktail making.
In case you’re wondering how big Hank really is.
All right, friends, that’s it for this week. See you next Friday for Cocktail Hour.
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