Tuesday, January 20, 2009

In The Inventing Room

What if Willy-Wonka was a bar man? Fizzy lifting drinks on the rocks. Chocolate martinis and gold-ticket-schlager. In a city where you can get a brioche infused liquor with raisins, and rum mixed with pumpkin puree, the whir of starry New York night traffic almost hints that Slugworth has taken up as a cabbie.

There is some magic in mixing drinks. Grapes turn from summer snack to vintage treasure. Grain changes to amber. Green fairies spring from wet sugar cubes on silver spoons and champagne explodes a foamy geyser in a bottle. I look at a bar and see intriguing, shiny bottles...but in truth I'm a bit like Charlie. Cautious because I don't know how it all works. And yet, still wanting to take a sip.

Enter Russ, the Wonka of whiskey. With so many of you loving last season's fall harvest whiskey, the snowy days of January in Brooklyn have just shy of required that we venture into a new project. There is no need to check your chocolate bars folks, no shiny tickets required to see the latest creation from our inventing room: the Brooklyn Winter Rye.

The Three-Course Dinner Chewing Gum of rye whiskey. Substitute tomato soup with dried figs. Roast beef and baked potato with clove and ground allspice. Blueberry pie with wide, thin strips of orange zest. A jar is the gum wrapper...toss it in, seal it up and let the flavors infuse.

Ok so its not a meal exactly, but think of all that's going on inside one little jar! And there again, some magic; the rye is changing, improving, and all the time zest and spices and figs simply float, still, unassuming and delicious. Spiced fruit petrified inside that rye grain turned amber.

That amber will turn chocolate. The chocolate will turn licorice. It amazed me how dark and mysterious the whiskey looked by day three. Full of fig and spice that you could smell but not see.

So full of fig, so dark...well, as Violet turned violet from that blueberry pie, I was afraid a sip of the winter rye straight may have shriveled me up into a little dry fig. So I turned to my Wonka with eyes for a cocktail...

Gumball-red cranberries, powder-white fine sugar and a crust of sugar in the raw shortly yielded a rosey, whimsical little cocktail following in the tradition of "smash" drinks (traditionally a muddling of sugar and mint, in this case with berries instead). Roll out the red carpet! Do a somersault! The sweet and spicey and slightly tart drink is just the thing to lift you out of the snow and up off your feet.

From book pages where we read about cows that give chocolate milk and fizzy lemonade swimming pools, to our world with fanciful infusions, berry smashes and sugar crusted Wonka whiskey, cheers to you, bottoms up my friends!

Brooklyn Winter Rye

750 mL Rye whiskey (of your choice)
1 1/2 C dried black mission figs, chopped
1 T whole cloves
1 t ground allspice
1/3 of a large orange, zested (in large strips...easily done with a peeler!)

1. Add figs, cloves, allspice and orange zest to a large jar.
2. Pour rye into jar and seal.
3. On second day, remove orange zest. Reseal jar and gently turn over once to stir up contents.
4. Let rye sit for two more days.
5. On the fourth day, strain contents through a cheesecloth. Pour rye into clean container. Sip straight, add to cider, tea or substitute in your favorite whiskey drink! Or try something new, like say...

Winter Rye Smash
a cocktail

6-8 fresh cranberries
2 t superfine sugar
3 oz winter rye
Sugar in the raw for garnish

1. In the bottom of a shaker, muddle the cranberries and superfine sugar until berries are pulpy and have released their juice.
2. Add the winter rye and fill the shaker with ice. Shake vigorously.
3. Wet the rim of a serving glass with lime or lemon juice (water would work but something sticky is a little better!) and roll the rim in raw sugar to encrust.
4. Pour the contents of the shaker into the glass and say cheers to a warm-you-up winter smash.

1 drink

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