Now there’s a provocative question. When it’s posed with a twinkle and a grin and answered in the affirmative, we know we’re in for some fun. Just the word “cocktail” makes me giggle.
The holiday season is the perfect time of year to try your hand at concocting a few. Gather the ingredients—enticing bottles of spirits, bitters, cream, fresh and preserved fruits, some chocolate, even—and set them out. Invite over the people you love, roll up your sleeves and get down to business. This is the time to break out the panache, add a little flash and do something special. In other words, show off! Live it up!
We set the mixing stage at Santa Fe Spirits downtown tasting room. (A special thanks goes to owner Colin Keegan and crew for having us.) We’ve gathered our three local distillers together to share some fun and sassy cocktail recipes, each with a twist of New Mexico. There is a jovial vibe in the air. Even at first glance these recipes are imaginative, classy, sexy, elegant. Whatever your mood, mix any one of these drinks and you can’t help but find yourself in the mood to have a party. While the cocktails are mixed, photos are taken, and I keep a close eye on the proceedings.
With each drink, the anticipation builds, and then I get to taste. This, you understand, is part of my job. (The lengths I will go to get the story; it’s pure dedication.) But right after this, I need to drive to Albuquerque, and I that find restraint and cocktails don’t exactly go together. It turns out limiting myself to one sip is torture. Important note: When cocktails are being offered, keep your post-drinking calendar clear to fully enjoy.
John Cox of Los Luceros Destilaría describes himself as a “student of mixology,” yet he demonstrates a practiced hand mixing the Enchanted Manhattan. “This drink was designed for us by Natalie Bovis of The Liquid Muse [a beverage consultant],” he says. It’s a fresh interpretation of a classic, made not only with New Mexico spirits, but also the bitters. John points out Bitter End is a Santa Fe company. He continues, John points out that Bitter End is also a Santa Fe company and says, “This drink features our five-year-old rye whiskey,” which is spicy, as are bitters. “The holidays are full of spice. This is an excellent accompaniment to a lot of the foods we’ll be having,” he adds. As John creates this cocktail, he is careful to point out that it is to be stirred, not shaken. He stirs it gently with a long silver spoon. The result of his efforts is glistening deep ruby red, with rich and complex overtones of fruit and mellow, dark nuances of spice. A very special cocktail.
The Enchanted Manhattan
¾ ounce ruby port
5 drops Bitter End Mexican Mole bitters
2 ounces Taos Lightning Single Barrel Straight Rye Whiskey
garnish: drunken cherry
Stir whiskey, port and bitters in a mixing glass with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a drunken cherry.
Olha Dolin, co-owner of Don Quixote Distillery and Winery, was raised in a family of distillers and is passionate about spirits. “We’re expanding the business into making fine chocolates,” she says, and it’s clear her passion spills over to this addition. Olha is all smiles as she makes the Chocolate Martini; the ingredients positively drip with decadence as she pours them into the shaker. “Our Blue Corn Vodka has nutty overtones and balances nicely with the chocolate flavors,” says Olha, and it’s worth noting this spirit is made from blue corn organically grown in New Mexico… the real deal. When she’s finished, photographer Gaelen Casey and I find ourselves in a tight skirmish for the first taste. I don’t remember who wins, but when Gaelen takes a sip his face lights up. “It’s like a chocolate mousse!” he comments. Indeed, this cocktail is as sensuous and luxurious as any mousse, but served in a glass with a spirited finish.
The Chocolate Martini
2 ounces heavy cream
2 ounces coconut milk
1 ½ ounces chocolate syrup
2 ounces Don Quixote Blue Corn Vodka
garnish: shaved dark, milk and white chocolate
Combine heavy cream, coconut milk, chocolate syrup and vodka on ice in shaker and shake. Strain into martini glass. Garnish with a sprinkling of shaved chocolate.
Santa Fe Spirits
Drew Lenihan of Santa Fe Spirits insists he’s not a mixologist, but his creation known as the Stormy Orchard belies his status as mere bartender, the more humble moniker he prefers. The orchard referred to in the Stormy Orchard is Colin Keegan’s in Tesuque. Years back, wondering what to do with all the apples was Keegan’s inspiration for making Apple Brandy. Today, apples from neighboring orchards are also used, but the source and the flavor are still close to home.
Drew is very particular about the presentation of the drinks he prepares, saying, “I’m all about creating different visual layers, so you know what you’re getting. You’re the one ultimately mixing the drink.” He garnishes the drink just so; the cocktail shimmers like gold in the glass, with the distinct layers he’s looking for. “It’s invigorating and full of flavor. You can find notes of apple and vanilla from the brandy,” he comments, and I take a sip. I am met with a piquant hit of ginger, then the lime. It’s refreshing—bright, tart and sweet with a rich apple finish. Delicious!
The Stormy Orchard
1 ½ ounces Santa Fe Spirits Apple Brandy
4 ounces ginger beer, Fentimans or Fever-Tree preferred
splash lime juice
garnish: lime slice, apple slice
In a Collins glass, pour brandy; add ice, lime juice and ginger beer. Leave unstirred for layered effect. Garnish with a slice of lime and a slice of apple.
Whether a classic, a sensuous or a bold interpretation of the cocktail, each of these recipes showcases the unique character of locally made spirits and the personal touch of their makers. And kudos to them for the special ability to successfully blend flavors, textures, colors and aromas from such a wide range of ingredients. Whatever we want to call the process that creates them—mixology, alchemy or careful bartending—each of these three cocktails is a delight, and this is coming from a (mostly) beer guy. Be it a holiday or simply a dark and stormy night, this is the time of year to stay close to the home fires with those near and dear. It’s also the time of year to bring the fun indoors and liven things up with the pomp and circumstance of mixing and enjoying a cocktail or two.
Best wishes to you for the holidays, and happy mixing!
Story by Gordon Bunker
Photos by Gaelen Casey