It's natural, expected even, for we humans to swoon over autumn. Those crisp mornings followed by sweet, golden afternoons are bankable bliss. Likewise, the daffy days of springtime are an easy sell.
Loving nothing more and nothing less than the temperatures between 45 and 85 °F, we hairless apes are among the most delicate of creatures, and summer and winter — the seasons of extremes — are the times that try our good will. Temperature hardship tends to ensure we lose a bit of that stuff we refer to (with more than a little pride) as our humanity.
Whether packed into airless cubbies, tearing sweat-soaked clothes from rashy skin or cursing our clammy shoes and shivering from a malingering chill that stings noses, fingers and toes... the harsh months require boosts of external cheer. In short, we need cocktails.
Perhaps it's only me who believes that cocktails are bound to time and temperature. That said, I'm sincerely of a mind that the cocktail was invented to sustain us through winter colds, seasonal affective disorder and glum January just as it revives us from summertime bouts of immobility, irritability and heat-induced wilt.
I also firmly believe that cocktails belong within the realm of the home cook. After all, why should lovingly constructed drinks be the exclusive domain of the professionals?
With all that in mind, I'm going to dedicate a handful of upcoming posts to homespun summer cocktails. May they provide a sense of restorative ease — and perhaps even exoticism — to those cruelest of months.
When I whipped up home-brewed batches of bitters last December (and drank them with great glee the following month), I realized that there are three compelling reasons to make something yourself when you could more easily stroll down to the store and buy it.
1. You can make it cheaper.
2. You can make it better.
3. You teach yourself a bit about the world you inhabit.
I haven't actually done a cost breakdown on my homemade bitters vs. a readily available brand like Peychaud (I suspect the results wouldn't fly in favor of the homespun... the cost of materials probably throws this one off), but I can certainly put in a good word for reasons two and three.
An additional bonus: it's so much swankier to breeze into a backyard barbecue or a rooftop grillfest with a jar of one's own limited-edition bitters and a couple of classy cocktail recipes. And as an urbanite lacking outdoor space, repeat invitations from grateful hosts are precious, indeed.
So make up a few jars of bitters now. Set 'em on top of the fridge and let them steep for a week or two. Next time you have an invite, grab your jar and print out the cocktails below. Adoration is assured.
The Old Fashioned is perhaps the oldest cocktail on record, back in the days when the word cocktail actually implied the use of bitters. And the Sazerac, an old New Orleans special, isn't much more new fashioned than the Old Fashioned. So learn to whip up just these two and you can impress the Steampunk neighbors down the way with your old-school cocktail insights.
Easy: The Sazerac
3/4 oz simple syrup
1 dash bitters
3 oz rye whiskey
1 tsp absinthe
1 lemon twist (to garnish)
1. Chill a rocks glass.
2. Blend the syrup and bitters. Add the whiskey.
3. Swirl the inside of the rocks glass with the absinthe and discard any excess.
4. Fill the glass with crushed ice and pour the whiskey mixture over it.
5. Garnish with lemon twist.
Easier: The Old Fashioned
2 oz Bourbon or rye whiskey
1 splash of simple syrup
2 dashes bitters
1 orange twist
1. Place a handful of ice cubes in an old-fashioned glass (rocks glass)
2. Pour in syrup, bitters and whiskey. Mix well.
3. Garnish with the orange twist.
Easiest: Seltzer & Bitters
Fill a rocks glass with ice (shaved or cubed, as you prefer). Pour in a shot of bitters and finish the glass with seltzer.