Small Batch Tonic from Jack Rudy Cocktail Co., Charleston

I love a gin and tonic. There are few cocktails whose spirit and mixer come together so seamlessly to produce a greater sum. Most places use good ole Canada Dry as the “T” in the G&T. Not bad. At home, I most often use Fever-Tree, which suits me to a T. Roughly, Fever-Tree is to Canada Dry as Plymouth Gin is to Beefeater Gin. Elevated, refined, both intense and balanced at once.  But now, though, there’s a Southern artisan tonic that will be pushing aside the Fever-Tree in my cabinet. Jack Rudy Cocktail Co., out of Charleston, South Carolina, has introduced a small batch concentrated tonic syrup that merits inclusion in any bar, north or south. It’s not easy to find – in Atlanta, Star Provisions got some in recently – but you can order directly from the Jack Rudy website.

What you’ll notice is that the Jack Rudy tonic is not carbonated – it is a syrup built from cane sugar, orange peel, lemongrass and quinine. You get to control its strength by the amount of club soda you add in to your cocktail, which is a delightful freedom for cocktail tinkerers everywhere. I recently received a bottle of the Jack Rudy tonic and have been playing with gin and tonics, as well as drinking it simply mixed with club soda to better gauge the flavor profile. Compared to Fever-Tree, the Jack Rudy mixed with club soda has more body, more of a grassy herbal quality, and an almost gingery depth. Fever-Tree is more bracing, a bit more clean, though with a quinine bite that is assertive. For drinking by itself (why oh why would one do this when gin is close at hand?), I actually prefer the Fever-Tree; but once gin enters the equation….

In a Plymouth gin and tonic, the Jack Rudy really comes alive. Gin and tonic do go together so nicely, and Jack Rudy’s flavor profile and body simply works wonders in this combination. Somehow, the Jack Rudy produces a cleaner G&T than the Fever-Tree, a more exotic layering of citrus and herbs and sweetness. And what does “clean” mean? That’s a tough one… to me it represents a middle ground between sharp and smooth, a clarity of flavor. With the Fever-Tree G&T, the citrus notes, both lemon and lime, come prominently to the forefront, and there is both a definitive sweetness AND a more pronounced quinine bite than in the Jack Rudy G&T. Great drinks both, and fascinating to contrast them, but the Jack Rudy takes the lead.

Oh, and here’s the recipe for a “proper gin and Rudy” if you were wondering:

Enjoy, and check out some other recipes that make great use of this artisan cocktail tonic.

Sangria in the Summer

A big party with lots of friends from the neighborhood is the perfect time to break out some sangria. Not too stuffy or serious. Enough fruit to keep the white zin crowd (and the vegans) happy. And visual appeal out the wazzoo. Don’t believe me? Check it:

This is a batch of white sangria jazzed up with vanilla seeds, some white cranberry/peach juice from the fine folks at Ocean Spray, and a secret ingredient – Dolin Blanc vermouth – which adds some really nice depth under the fruity sweetness. This was a bit improvised, but the idea for the the vanilla and white cranberry/peach combo came from an old Bon Apetit recipe. Here’s the Thirsty South version, perfect for peach season in the South:

White Sangria with Vanilla and Peach

1 bottle Riesling, preferably on the dry side
1 1/2 cups Ocean Spray white cranberry and peach
1/2 cup Dolin Blanc vermouth
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2 fresh Georgia peaches, cut into wedges
1 lemon, sliced into rounds
1 orange, cut in half and sliced into rounds
a bunch of raspberries

Mix first 4 ingredients in a large pitcher. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean; add bean and stir to blend. Add in peach and citrus. Cover and chill overnight. Add raspberries before serving, pour over ice.

Now, this batch of sangria went way too quickly, but there was plenty of sangria-infused fruit left in the pitcher. We happened to have a few bottles of Savida Sangria sitting around, and poured them into the pitcher to keep the party going. Savida is actually based in Atlanta, and they are among the best options out there if you’re looking for a ready-made sangria. They use good quality California wine and real fruit juice, and work well when you’re in a pinch for something quick. Salud!

Playing with the Pappy Old Fashioned

I’ve always been hesitant to use long aged (AKA $50+) whiskey in cocktails, thinking that a 6 year old rye or 10 year old bourbon offer a better balance of approachability and complexity from time in the barrel. A bottle such as Pappy Van Winkle 15 year old bourbon has always been reserved for neat drinking in my house, due to its amazing character and its cost, quite frankly, but also because it just seems a bit sacrilegious to mix anything beyond a few drops of good water into something so fine. Now, I’ve heard of Pappy cocktails being served at pairing dinners with Julian Van Winkle III himself at the table, but it wasn’t until I read John Kessler’s brief chat with Charleston chef Sean Brock that I had a strong desire to explore Pappy in a cocktail. Chef Brock shared an approach for making a Pappy Old Fashioned that Mr. Van Winkle himself had recently offered up – a slightly unorthodox approach that, I’m sure, plenty of thought and experimentation went into. So with the Van Winkle-endorsed recipe in hand, I joined a few Pappy-appreciating friends to tinker with the recipe and contrast it with the standalone bourbon. The fact that we were playing with the Old Fashioned eased my apprehensions as well, given that it’s one of the simplest of classic cocktails, one that focuses on the primary ingredient (here, bourbon), layered with the interplay of aromatic bitters and the sweetness of a bit of sugar.

The test was this:
Glass A – Pappy 15
Glass B – a conservative take on the Pappy 15 Old Fashioned, adding a cube of brown sugar doused in Angostura and orange bitters
Glass C – following Mr. Van Winkle’s lead, taking the above and adding a small wedge of orange to the mix
Glass D – blending the Glass C approach with another common Old Fashioned technique, the addition of a touch of club soda

So, we started with the bourbon itself and progressed step by step to cocktails that layered on extra dimensions. The results were fascinating to say the least…

Glass A – Pappy 15 – a genuinely great bourbon worthy of slow contemplation on its own. The first thing that hits you is the depth of the nose that the time in the barrel has provided, caramel, leather, cedar, on and on. There is the evident heat, it is 107 proof, but it’s kept in check amidst the layers of spice and toasty caramel. Close to perfection in a bourbon. How can you mess with this?!

Glass B – Pappy 15 Old Fashioned, with brown sugar and bitters – wow, the nose now is completely changed, gone are the deep aged notes, in are the bright aromatics of the bitters, which really take over. Bitter orange peel, cloves, sharp floral whiffs. Where’s the Pappy? But then you take a sip, and the Pappy emerges, now a bit sweeter indeed, a bit more rounded, present but definitively altered – a cocktail rather than a bourbon in the glass. Is it better? No, not really. Is it good? Yes, definitely. And as the drink sits in the glass, the cube of ice melts a bit, the bitters take more of a back seat and integrate into the bourbon more effectively.

Glass C – Pappy 15 Old Fashioned, with a wedge of orange in the mix – OK, now this is interesting. The orange muddled into the bourbon increases the orange notes (duh) that hit your nose up front, but the sweet acidity of the orange also somehow manages to make the drink “fuller,” smoother, rounder. Dare I say more interesting? This is an excellent cocktail, no doubt, with a LOT going on between the citrus, the bitters, the bourbon itself. It respects the bourbon, but adds a playful element of surprise to the Pappy experience.

Glass D – Pappy 15 Old Fashioned, now with a touch of club soda – a little bit of water can go a long way. Here, alas, the way it’s going is a dead end, a distraction, a verge off into too sweet and too mellow that basically diminishes the glory of the main ingredient. Fail. Well, maybe not a FAIL, but does not compare well to the other versions tested.

Conclusion: Pappy 15 is a glorious thing on its own. It’s hard to justify making a cocktail out of it, BUT… if you are hankering for a cocktail that respects a fine bourbon, there is an Old Fashioned that works delightfully well, that is interesting and engaging, that is OK to put Pappy 15 in! Julian Van Winkle III clearly knows his stuff, and the combination of the brown sugar, bitters and orange is a fine partner for Pappy.

So, here it is, a slightly modified take on Van Winkle’s Pappy Old Fashioned:

1.5 oz Pappy Van Winkle 15 year old Kentucky Straight Bourbon
1 brown sugar cube (roughly 1 tsp brown sugar pressed into a cube)
Angostura Bitters
Orange bitters
Orange wedge, peeled, fruit only (Satsuma or similar is a good choice)

Place sugar cube over a paper towel on top of an Old Fashioned (AKA rocks) glass. Add 6 drops of Angostura bitters and 6 drops of orange bitters to the sugar cube, then let it settle through the sugar – a good portion of the bitters will absorb into the paper towel. Drop the sugar cube into the glass, and add 1/4 oz Pappy and a small wedge of orange. Muddle well. Add one large ice cube and 1 oz Pappy, then stir well. Once stirred, add a final 1/4 oz Pappy. And enjoy!

Chef Brock uses a touch of sorghum over a regular white sugar cube instead of brown sugar. Mr. Van Winkle commented below to be sure to peel the orange and use the fruit only, so that the bitterness of the pith is taken out of play.

H. Harper Station: A Scenic Ride

We previously mentioned the opening of H. Harper Station in Atlanta, a “modern watering stop” with an impressive spirits selection and what looks to be an excellent cocktail program led by Jerry Slater. Barely a week old now, the bar and restaurant in a converted old train station is attracting a quick following, especially for their whiskey-based cocktails. One such cocktail is the “Daisy Buchanan” – inspired by the traditional “Great Gatsby.” Here, the cocktail’s name changes to that of the leading lady in the F. Scott Fitzgerald book that inspired the “Great Gatsby” cocktail (got that?), and the cocktail itself changes from vodka/gin/vermouth to bourbon/Chartreuse/grenadine, with the bright acidity of the lemon juice being the primary constant. (Literary side note: The Great Gatsby involves a train ride and is set during Prohibition, how apropos!). Slater chose to use Basil Hayden’s 8yo Bourbon in this drink for its “feminine” qualities, and the Basil Hayden does indeed work nicely with the Chartreuse and lemon juice, an egg white thrown in for a lush and frothy texture. See the cocktail recipe at the end of this post, and enjoy this little video to give you a better feel for H. Harper Station and their “Daisy Buchanan:”

H. Harper Station: A Scenic Ride from Thirsty South on Vimeo.

Of course, there’s much more to the bar menu at H. Harper Station. The cocktail list is grouped by primary ingredient, from Champagne, to beer and cider, to brandy to rye. There’s another section dedicated to punch bowls, including the “Buford Highway Artillery Punch” (with white whiskey, sochu, green tea, lychees, ginger syrup and mint), which are served in beautiful vintage crystal bowls and can keep a group of four happy for the evening. And, of course, the bar can serve up any classic cocktail as well. If you’ve ever enjoyed a Vieux Carre cocktail in New Orleans (or better yet, if you NEVER have), you should seek out Tiffany behind the bar. She hails from Lafayette, Louisiana, and is a master of this hallowed drink, made with Sazerac Rye, Benedictine, Cognac, vermouth and bitters.  The bar staff is already clicking one week in, and they are gearing up to do even more in-house, from their house-made pickled eggs and infused syrups, to ginger beer, cream soda, and tonic. Beer and wine selections are well chosen if not overly numerous (the wine list includes Brewer-Clifton pinot noir, La Spinetta barbaresco, and Domaine Weinbach riesling; and the sixteen beers on tap include Wild Heaven Invocation, Corsendonk Abbey Brown Ale and Hitachino White). Climb aboard for a scenic ride at H. Harper Station (and be sure to stay for the cocktail recipe at the end of this post…)

The “Daisy Buchanan” Cocktail Recipe

1.5 oz Basil Hayden’s 8yo Bourbon (or similar)
.5oz Chartreuse
.5oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
.25oz grenadine, preferably homemade
1 egg white

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake vigorously. Strain into glass.

Enjoy! And thanks to Jerry Slater and team at H. Harper Station.