Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Thanksgiving Garden-to-Glass Cocktails using Homegrown, Seasonal Ingredients

This holiday the emphasis is on great food and drink. While the food often gets the spotlight - don’t get sidetracked by all the stuffing and gravy and miss out on creating a special, holiday-themed cocktail menu.

Here are a few of my favorites, with the emphasis on using lots of seasonal ingredients.

The Beverage Testing Institute awarded Strongbow the Best Tasting Common Cider about this time last year. I was fortunate enough to attend a tasting and dinner curated and prepared by oh-so-creative James Beard Foundation award-winning Chef Wylie Dufresne. Loved the lamb with barley, hibiscus-date and the Bay Leaf Ice Cream with brownie and Yuzu Fluff!

Strongbow has four cider flavors and each took home an award:
  • Gold Apple: gold medal, 92 points
  • Honey: gold medal, 92 points
  • Red Berries: silver medal, 88 points
  • Ginger: silver medal, 87 points

Hard Cider owns a very prominent place in American history - so what better way to celebrate Thanksgiving - this most American of holidays? And surely a drink that harkens to our colonists’ roots is needed to nurse our souls in this post-election sense of anxiety.

Gingerbread Sacrifice

1.3/4 oz Vodka
.33 oz Lemon Juice
3.1/2 oz Apple Cider
1.3/4 oz Orange Liqueur
A little Agave syrup
Gingerbread crumbs

Rim a martini cocktail glass with agave syrup then roll in gingerbread biscuit crumbs. Pour 11/2 oz of lemon juice, 1 ¾ ozs of orange liqueur and vodka into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well and strain into the cocktail glass. Add 3.5 ozs of apple cider and stir.

More American roots cocktails

Here is another cocktail with a decidedly patriotic American history. I’m serving it as part of our Thanksgiving cocktails - not only because of its antecedent or pedigree, but also because the distillery is located near our Garden State home - and maybe most important :) I was inspired to create a cocktail and garnish for my soon-to-be-published book - Finishing Touches: The Art of Garnishing the Cocktail  (you can get in pre-sale!)  

Here is an excerpt I created and wrote for the cocktail and garnish book, along with suggested food pairing. 

For more than 300 years, the Laird family has produced AppleJack in Freehold, Monmouth County New Jersey - the Garden State since 1698. It is the holder of America's first commercial distillery with License #1. According to the company, Robert Laird - a descendent of founder Alexander - was a Revolutionary War soldier serving under George Washington, and the Laird family supplied the troops with Applejack. Historical records show that, prior to 1760, George Washington wrote to the Laird family requesting their recipe for producing Applejack, which the Laird family gladly supplied. Entries appear in Washington’s diary in the 1760s regarding his production of "cyder spirits."

I Cannot Tell A Lie

2 jiggers Lairds AppleJack brandy
1 jigger caramel simple syrup
4 jiggers crisp apple sparkling water
4 shakes Fee Brothers Aztec Chocolate Bitters 

Mix all ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Pour over rocks in tall highball glass. Garnish with apple slice and cinnamon stick.

Food Pairing and Cocktail Composition
Serve with Quaker Rice Crisps Caramel Corn cups filled with fresh, homegrown apple butter. Add Godiva salted caramel chocolates (or other high-quality chocolates), sliced apples (rubbed with lemon to prevent yellowing), and sprinkled with cinnamon. The tasty treats echo the apple, caramel, and chocolate flavors swizzling in the drink.

Highlight the cocktail’s rustic, Americana roots. Feature the snacks on a wooden cutting board, sprinkle Cracker Jacks caramel coated popcorn and peanuts around the presentation; add apples - in various colors: red, greens - and various sizes, including those adorable Lady Apples. Some apples can be used as candle holders for an “honest” glow.

Toss in a Jacks & Balls (game) for a whimsical tablescape decor touch. Provide festive red and white straws to help spark an “honest” cocktail conversation!

While not American, this hard cider is undoubtedly delicious. And with all “honesty” our colonist ancestors had to learn their cider crafting somewhere - bringing over skills from their homelands and their ancestors.
Rekorderlig is a premium hard cider brand born and brewed in Sweden. I was fortunate to attend a few  taste-testing opportunity recently.  The cider is delicious served over ice with fresh fruit garnishes or mixed into cocktails, Rekorderlig is available in five flavors:
  • Pear 
  • Strawberry-Lime 
  • Wild Berries 
  • Passionfruit 
  • Spiced Apple.
Rekorderlig Spiced Apple Hard Cider is $4.99 for 16.9 ounce bottle. The company claims it is the only cider on the market that can be enjoyed either hot or cold; the product is a beautiful blend of fresh, effervescent apple cider infused with vanilla and warming cinnamon.

Hot Swede

1 oz spiced rum
1 tbs honey - local is best
¼ lemon (squeezed) 
1 cinnamon stick
Half a bottle of hot Spiced Apple Hard Cider

Mix the rum, honey, and lemon together; Add hot Rekordlig and stir. Serve with a cinnamon stick and an orange wheel.

The Pear Jam

1 oz Ford’s Gin
.75 oz lime

Muddle 1 Sprig Fresh Mint
Shake and strain into glass
Top with Rekorderlig Pear Cider
Garnish with Fresh Mint

Another spirit with lots of history that has recently experienced a resurgence is the small batch distilleries in New York, particilarly in the Hudson Valley. In fact, the number of craft distilleries increased by more than 25 percent in just one year (from 2014 to 2015) up to nearly 80. (Thanks, Governor Cuomo!)
I love Hudson Whiskey, the first legal pot-stilled whiskey distilled in New York state since prohibition, who sources 90% of its grains from within 40 miles of the distillery.

The distillery notes in a press release sent to me recently, “For the first time ever the Maple Cask Rye is available in 750ml bottles in addition to the well-known 375ml apothecary-style bottles. This Hudson Whiskey variant is the result of a partnership with Wood’s Syrup maple tappers who use Hudson Whiskey barrels to age their syrup then returns them to the distillery to finish off the Maple Cask Rye and impart a subtle maple sweetness into the classic whiskey. The Maple Cask Rye will have a recommended retail price of $54.99 and will join Hudson Whiskey’s signature Baby Bourbon, Manhattan Rye and New York Corn variants in larger size bottles, affirming the industry and consumer demand for Hudson Whiskey’s award-winning spirits.

“With Hudson, we set out to make great whiskey in New York again,” said Hudson Whiskey co-founder and craft distilling pioneer Ralph Erenzo. “With the investment from William Grant & Sons, we’ve been able to expand our production to support increased demand without ever cutting corners. BTW William Grant is the global brand that is genius at tapping into the crafted, hand-made spirits without losing its step as a major producer. Best of all worlds. Cheers to you.

Maple Old Fashioned

2 parts Hudson Maple Cask Rye
Teaspoon good maple syrup
3-4 dashes (to taste) aromatic bitters
Garnish: apple slice and cinnamon stick


To an Old Fashioned glass, add maple syrup, then bitters, then ice, followed by the Hudson Maple Cask Rye. Stir well to mix and chill. Add garnish and serve.

Fall Back


2 parts Hudson Maple Cask Rye
1⁄4 part fresh lemon juice
1⁄4 part maple syrup
2 parts apple cider
Cayenne pepper


To an Old Fashioned/rocks glass, add ice, then lemon juice, then maple syrup, then whiskey, then apple cider, and stir briefly to mix. Add dash cayenne pepper on top, and serve with straw.

Other Thanksgiving and fall cocktails to enjoy.

Delicious drinks made with one of my most favorite mixers: Q Drinks,

Dark, Stormy & Cidery


3 oz chilled Q Ginger Beer
2 oz dark rum,
½ oz fresh lime juice
1 oz chilled apple cider
1 apple slice
1 lime wedge


Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the rum and lime juice and shake well. Pour the Q Ginger Beer into an ice-filled collins glass and then top with apple cider and then the shaken rum. Garnish with an apple slide and a lime wedge. Try to balance the lime wedge on the apple slice like a sinking ship. It gets easier on the third drink.

Sailor Jerry Apple Ginger Punch

1 ½ parts Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum
2 parts sour mix
1 part apple juice
1 part ginger syrup
Pinch of ground cinnamon


Add ingredients into mixing glass, add ice, shake, strain over ice into a rocks glass and garnish with an apple slice and a sprinkle of ground cinnamon.

Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum is a Caribbean Rum blended with 100% natural spices and flavors.

Reyka Snap Mulled Cider

1 ½ parts Reyka Vodka
¾ part Snap Liqueur
3 parts Apple Cider


Combine all ingredients into a cocktail shaker. Shake, strain into wine glass or mug and garnish with candied ginger on a skewer.

Reyka Vodka is an Icelandic born vodka and provides a smooth and crisp base for both complex and simple cocktails.

Drambuie’s Prince Pum King


1 part Drambuie
1 ½ parts Pumpkin Puree
1/8 tsp Ground Cinnamon
1/8 tsp Ground Nutmeg
4 parts Steamed Whole Milk (Or choice milk-base)


Steam milk, pumpkin puree and spices together until hot. Double-strain into cup. Stir in Drambuie. Serve in Irish Coffee Mug
Garnish with steamed milk foam and freshly ground nutmeg dusted on top.

Apples & Honey


1 ¼ parts Drambuie
2 parts Kosher Pressed Apple Cider
¾ part Lime Juice
1 sm pinch Kosher Salt
1 dash Angostura Bitters
1 part Kosher Sparkling White Wine (For dryer Cocktail 2 parts Sparkling wine)


Combine liquid ingredients and salt minus wine into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake and stain over ice in a rocks glass. Top with Sparkling wine and garnish with thinly apple slices and mint.

Drambuie is made from a delightful combination of scotch whisky, heather honey, herbs and spices. This cocktail created by Drambuie Brand Ambassador Vance Henderson.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving - cheers to family, friends, good food and drink. And Finishing Touches!