Friday, November 11, 2011

Weekend cooking project: The Christmas spirits

Here's a thought that will drive you to drink: You have 44 days until Christmas. Which is just enough time to start a batch of 44 Cordial, a tasty winter liqueur that's great for giving to consenting adults on your Christmas list.

And since I ran the 44 Cordial a couple of years ago, I have a second libation you can start this weekend, too. When I was in Charleston last month for the Association of Journalists conference, mixologist John Aquino of Coast Bar & Grill was serving a dandy twist on an old-fashioned, made from Firefly Sweet Tea Bourbon.

He was kind enough to share the recipe, which I immediately put to good use. It only takes 5 days to make a batch, and it makes a tasty libation to have on hand for entertaining season. It's a little richer and spicier that a regular Old-Fashioned, making it a good winter cocktail.

Two tricks: Aquino uses Fee Brothers Orange Bitters, which I happened to have on hand. If you don't, good ol' Angostura works fine. And tart-cherry extract can be a bit tricky to find. I found cherry extract in the juice aisle at the Cotswold Harris Teeter. Unfortunately, it's $15 a bottle, but it is a concentrate, so you just need a drizzle. You might be able to find it cheaper at a health-focused supermarket such as Earth Fare, now that tart cherry juice is so popular as a treatment for joint pain.

OK, both recipes:

44 Cordial
Saveur magazine ran a short item on this West Indies liqueur in 2008. It's become a regular winter project at my house and a favorite with some of my friends. You need a jar with a tight lid and a mouth wide enough for the orange.

1 large orange, such as a navel
44 coffee beans
44 teaspoons sugar (1 scant cup)
1 liter white run (about 1 quart)
Poke 44 (1-inch) slits all over the orange with the tip of a paring knife. Stuff a coffee bean into each slit. (I usually work one row at a time so the slits don't close up or the orange doesn't lose too much juice.)
Put the orange, sugar and rum in a wide-mouthed jar with a tight lid. Place in a cool, dark spot, swirling the jar occasionally, for 44 days.
Remove the discard the orange. Strain the liqueur through a cheesecloth-lined strainer into a clean bottle. Refrigerate or freeze. Serve neat or over ice.

Bourbon Ice Tea Old Fashioned
From John Aquino, Coast Bar and Grill, Charleston.
1 (750ml) bottle Firefly Sweet Tea Bourbon
Zest of 1 orange, peeled in strips
About 1/2 tablespoon tart cherry concentrate
Bitters (such as Angostura, or Fee Brothers Orange or Old-Fashioned Bitters)
Sparkling water

Place sweet tea bourbon in a jar with a tight lid. Add orange zest strips. Let stand 5 days, swirling bottle occasionally. Drain back into the bottle, then add tart cherry concentrate. (If you have tart cherries and want to use them, add them for the final two days.)

To use, place about 2 ounces in a rocks glass and add a dash of bitters. Add ice and top with sparkling water, such as plain seltzer or club soda.

Photo: Liquor Digest