Thursday, July 2, 2009

Proper Independence Day Cocktails

In my last post, I promised to suggest some proper cocktails for this upcoming July 4th holiday weekend. I got some great comments from visitors, and some cocktail suggestions too. Then I promptly got busy with a bunch of stuff and didn't post anything else. Before the holiday passes me by entirely, here are a few ideas.

Guiding Principle: Drink American
In these tough economic times, on this most patriotic of holidays, you should support American-owned and run companies with your Independence Day libations. Maybe that small craft distillery in your area, or that craft brewery or winery. If you don't have those, or don't want/like those, then stick with American-made, traditionally American spirits & beverages.

OPTION ONE: Rye Whiskey
A spirit similar to the rye whiskeys you find in liquor stores today was popular in the US early on in the colonies - immigrants came here and brought grain distilling traditions with them, which they applied to the grains they found here. Rye was common, so rye-based whiskey was common too. It was popular enough that when the government tried to tax it to pay off the national debt in the1790's, we had the Whiskey Rebellion.

Whiskey Smash
(Adapted from this one on the Rye Whiskey is for Patriots blog)
2 oz Rye (Rittenhouse 100)
1 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
1 oz Simple Syrup (1:1 ratio)
2 sprigs of mint
Add ingredients to shaker, including one sprig; shake well with ice. Strain into ice-filled old-fashioned glass, and garnish with additional sprig of mint.

As far as I know, this drink originated in the US, and derives from the julep - a faster version, really, without all the pomp & circumstance. Some recipes leave out the lemon juice (and have less sugar), but I like that bit of citrus to lighten it up a little for the summer.

Or Try Rock & Rye
This is another interesting rye whiskey-based option, that I must admit I've not yet tried. Rock & Rye was created in the US, and was one of the few US-made spirits poured at the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893 according to Eric Felten's recent article. It was originally a medicinal tonic, thought to help colds and other illnesses.

I've never bought a bottle of the pre-mixed product labeled "Rock & Rye" at the liquor store. I imagine, like so many things, it won't taste like what it's trying to be. So I'll be trying this recipe, by the legendary LeNell Smothers:

LeNell's Homemade Rock & Rye
1 750-ml bottle rye whiskey (I prefer Rittenhouse 100 proof)
1 6-inch string rock candy (add more according to your sweetness preference)
2 orange slices
2 lemon slices
2 fresh cherries pitted or perhaps brandied or whiskied cherries (not the fake red maraschino, please)
2 dried apricots
1 pineapple slice
Tea bag full of dried horehound (optional)

Put all ingredients in a large jar and cover. You can start enjoying after one day; however, the flavor will change as rock candy dissolves with time. As you deplete the supply, add more whiskey and candy as needed. If the fruit slices show signs of breaking down, replace. Always keep fruit covered with alcohol; this stores indefinitely as long as the fruit is submerged. Of course, like all alcohol it will oxidize after a really, really long time.

Note: Horehound adds an extra bitterness to balance the sweetness and also acts as a cough suppressant. If you do use horehound, only steep for a couple of hours, then remove to prevent overly bitter flavors.

While some drink Rock & Rye on it's own over ice, I would recommend trying LeNell's Rock and Rye Cooler, or perhaps some other concoction with it. I better start mine tonight so I can have it on the 4th, assuming I can find or make some rock candy!

Bourbon is another distinctly American creation, and there are many fine brands available. With bourbon, I am inclined to either try one of the recipes that Alex Smith suggested in the comments (in the spirit of the great melting pot, using a few accents from other places) or do something with the fresh berries coming out in the farmers markets near me, such as:

Blackberry Julep v3.0 (adapted from v2.0)
1 1/2 oz Bourbon
1/2 oz Blackberry Liqueur
1/2 oz Simple Syrup (1:1 ratio)
3/4 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
4 fresh blackberries
6 Mint Leaves
+ One Mint Sprig
Muddle the mint, blackberries and simple syrup in a mixing glass. Add the liqueur and bourbon. Strain into a highball (or julep) glass filled with crushed or shaved ice. Swirl with a bar spoon until the outside of the glass frosts up. Garnish with a sprig of mint and a fresh blackberry.

The whole concept of Tiki culture in restaurants/drinks is a distinctly American creation as well, and most of the drinks use rum, which was popular back in the 1700's. So there are lots of options - I'd recommend consulting one of the great tiki bloggers, or try this one from the legendary Kahiki restaurant:

Polynesian Spell
1½ oz Gin (we used Distiller’s Gin No. 6, are you shocked?)
1 oz Grape Juice
¼ oz Triple Sec
¼ oz Brandy
1 tsp Simple Syrup
¾ oz Fresh Lemon Juice
Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Whatever you drink this Independence Day, enjoy it and have fun with your friends & family!

Note: pictures in this post are from

1 comment:

Mike Ryan said...

sounds great, sonja! I really dig the idea of rock and rye; sounds like something to play with...