I write this column wearing the first sweater of the season and while sipping an ounce (or two) of Fireball cinnamon whiskey. At last – a bit of cool (well, on this day, downright cold) weather. With Thanksgiving on the horizon, I was happy to see a turn in the weather to something a bit more seasonal.
So much to report since the annual beach cocktail party that designates GA/FLA weekend. My wife and I absconded to Savannah, not to escape the invading throngs but to celebrate her All Saints Day birthday. She was intent on visiting a few favorite shops and ending the day with cocktails at a rooftop bar called (not so cleverly) Top Side. We also chanced upon a delightful, albeit it a trifle frilly for male tastes, establishment called Shuga Girl. It reminded me of those quaint shops in Europe where you can get food, coffee, desserts, and cocktails – all under one roof!
I had a terrific concoction called Butterfly Kiss (I told you it was a frilly place – and yes, the saccharine 1997 song by Bob Carlisle kept running through my mind) that was an inspired mix of ingredients that went down exceptionally well. This is my approximation of the recipe.
1 oz. gin (try a floral type – like Bloom or The Botanist)
½ oz. St-Germaine
In a shaker muddle 3-4 mint leaves with the gin. Add the St-Germaine and shake with ice until chilled. Strain into a champagne flute and top with chilled rosé. Stir gently to mix and garnish with a mint sprig.
The place in Savannah used a garnish of pea flowers. I didn’t have those (surprise!) and frankly didn’t miss them in my version.
Later that weekend, on a sunny Sunday with the island crowds diminished, we ventured into the Village to find seats at the bar at Half Shell. Our faithful bartender, Ashley, had concocted a drink special she dubbed Island Bee Sting. It involves spiced rum, agave nectar, honey and red pepper flakes.
I am still working on a home version, but to be honest it is much simpler to visit Half Shell and let Ashley do the work. As I said, this was a special so may not be available when you visit. Just ask, and then return. By the by, they’ve been serving some outstanding oysters on the half shell lately.
Speaking of spicy, I tried a new offering from George Dickel – the venerable distiller in Tullahoma, Tenn. This libation packs quite a kick as the whisky is finished by a period of aging in Tabasco barrels! If you happen to be feeling a chill – or just want to jolt your taste buds a bit – I recommend a sip or so. Purely for health and comfort reasons, of course.
I had the pleasure of visiting the Dickel distillery once many years ago when, as a marketing rep I often travelled far and wide and (on occasion and by happy coincidence) sometimes managed to pass by places of interest that were not remotely business-related. The Dickel distillery, one of the oldest in Tennessee, started operation in 1878 (though not at the current location). As at the Jack Daniels establishment, not too distant from Tullahoma, the location of the distillery was dictated by the proximity of a pure water source. If you’re ever in the area drop by for a folksy tour. The aroma alone is worth a stop.
If you have a bottle of Dickel (or Jack for that matter) you can whip up a delicious and unique cocktail with which to greet your Thanksgiving guests.
3/4 oz. George Dickel No. 1 Whisky
1/2 tbsp. bitter Italian aperitif (I used Campari)
2 1/4 tsp. lemon juice
2 1/4 tsp. honey syrup (equal parts honey and hot water)
2 dashes orange bitters
1 1/2 oz. dry sparkling wine
Combine all but sparkling wine in cocktail shaker.
Shake and strain over ice into your nicest holiday glass.
Top with sparkling wine. Garnish with an orange twist.
An excellent accompaniment would be a small cheese tray scattered with a few almonds (you want appetites intact for the feast to follow – but a nibble with a cocktail is so civilized). I love Sartori – especially the Balsamic Bellavitano I find at Harris Teeter — and a creamy delicacy called Humboldt Fog I get at Winn-Dixie. Pair those with the pricey, but incredibly flavorful, new gourmet rosemary-and-sea salt almonds from Blue Diamond and you will have started your gathering in style.
And, now that you’ve welcomed your Thanksgiving guests, we are ready to address the issue of which wine to serve. Coming from a Baptist background, my Thanksgiving beverage, like my every other day beverage, was never stronger than sweet iced tea. These days I like a dry rosé. It’ll go with just about anything and is a great sipper on its own. It’s never inappropriate to serve a nice sparkling wine instead of, or in addition to, the rosé. Why not – something else to be thankful for! Amongst many other blessings I am thankful for my loyal readers. I raise a Thanksgiving toast to all!