12.16.11 High Spirits

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photos by george billard
We came. We cocktailed. We conquered. I feel hungover this morning, but not from drinking. Last night's event was both energizing and exhausting, and I think we can say it was an unqualified success. More than 200 people turned up at Warby Parker's Holiday Spectacle Bazaar to visit Best Made Company's pop-up shop and sip Glutton for Life cocktails made with foraged ingredients and Stranahan's Colorado whiskey. Although I think of myself as a bit of a grumpy misanthrope at times, I was deeply happy interacting with all the lovely people (old friends and new) that stopped by my little makeshift bar to sample the evening's three specialties: The Nutty Professor, Pining for You and Drunken Indian Lemonade. The mood was very festive and everyone really seemed to be having a good time, especially after a cup of the Johnny Appleseed Punch.
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truly spectacular
All hail, Warby Parker, for conceiving this ongoing holiday extravaganza, along with their co-horts, Partners and Spade. Not only do they make excellent, affordably priced and very stylish eyeglasses, but they are a company with a social conscience. And I would be remiss here if I failed to mention the three lovely muses, Kaki Read, Isabel Seely and Jamie Arendt. They went to heroic extremes to make sure last night's event was a success and looked beautiful doing it.
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a man on a mission
Kudos, too, to the always game and very debonair Peter Buchanan-Smith (above left), for inviting me to participate in such a great event. He is a true glutton for life, with an admirable approach to squeezing the most out of every moment. And he makes a mean axe.
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axe me no questions
People were drooling over the gorgeous Best Made axes, on view and for sale through the weekend at the first yurt inside the Warby Parker Bazaar at 45 Grand Street. Every Williamsburger worth his whiskers should own one of these.
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we are family
Things would have gone south very quickly for me behind that bar were it not for the support of my beloved sister-in-law (visible here for the first time). A recent graduate of ICE and currently spending time in the kitchen at Stone Barns (oh, the burning envy), she handled the chaos like a pro.
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smart cookie
Other highlights included the truly scrumptious savory cocktail biscuits I ordered from CookiebarNYC, a new collaboration between the legendary Dorie Greenspan and her adorable son Josh. The two of them recently went on Martha Stewart's show to talk about their new creations. I first learned about these adult cookies in November's Food & Wine and meant to attempt to whip up some in my own kitchen. Casting about for something "brand-right" (can't believe I just wrote that) to go with my cocktails, I found that you can now order these in quantity. We had 4 flavors, each one better than the next: cocoa-cayenne, cranberry 5-spice, sesame-sea salt and rosemary-parmesan.
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wild things
I brought evidence of the foraged ingredients that went into my cocktails: white pine, black walnuts and red staghorn sumac. People were quite fascinated by all this nature stuff.
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take a bough
White pine is loaded with vitamin C and was consumed by American Indians during the winter months to ward off the scurvy that plagued the pioneers. You can brew the needles for tea, or eat the tender inner parts of the bark. I made a simple syrup with honey and steeped the needles and thin branches in it. The flavor is very similar to the smell, though a bit more subtle: green, bracing, slightly sharp. I paired this syrup with lemon juice, the whiskey and a spritz of absinthe to finish which gave it an even greener, more herbal note. (If you can't or won't find fresh white pine, I recommend this as a substitute.)
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nuts to you
The black walnuts were foraged from my friend Julia's property and were something of an ordeal to extract. G said "never again." Their shells are hard as a rock and the inner-workings so furled and gnarly that they require endless hours of excavating with small picks and nail files. The kind of obsessive work I actually enjoy, when I have unlimited time on hand, which is never. It was fun to give people a taste of the actual black walnuts, which are quite different from the usual kind. They have a strong umami element, an almost cheesy, winey, fermented flavor that is very rich and complex. I made a syrup with demerara sugar and steeped the walnuts in it overnight. This I combined with the whiskey and a bit of heavy cream for a truly delicious drink with a very unique flavor.
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so sumac me
The American Indians also made a kind of tea with the velvety red cones of the staghorn sumac. Tart and beautifully scarlet, it earned the name Indian lemonade. If you can't collect your own sumac, it's easily found in the spice section because it's a popular ingredient in Middle Eastern cuisine. Brew it as you would tea, and strain before using. It's nice hot, with honey, or chilled and served over ice. I combined this "tea" with the whiskey and maple syrup for a riff on our house cocktail, The Eldred.
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just saying
To those of you who stopped by, many thanks for sharing the moment. To all those who couldn't make it, you were there in spirit. And now, you can head to the liquor cabinet and recreate these cocktails at home. Cheers!(Note: I know I promised to post my holiday musical recommendations, but I'm afraid you'll have to wait until Monday for that. I beg your pardon, dear readers...)

Pining For You

serves 1
  • — 2 ounces whiskey, single-malt or bourbon probably work best
  • — 1 ounce fresh lemon juice
  • — 1 ounce white pine syrup
  • Absinthe, decanted into a small spray bottle
  • lemon twist

Shake whiskey, lemon juice and syrup with ice. Strain into an iced rocks glass and spritz with absinthe. Garnish with a twist.

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The Nutty Professor

serves 1
  • — 1 ounce black walnut syrup
  • — 1.5 ounces whiskey, single-malt or bourbon probably work best
  • — 1/2 ounce heavy cream

Stir together briskly and serve on the rocks.

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Drunken Indian Lemonade

serves 1
  • — 2 ounces whiskey, single-malt or bourbon probably work best
  • — 2 ounces sumac tea
  • — 1 ounce maple syrup
  • maple syrup & sumac powder
  • fresh orange sliver

Dip rocks glass rim in maple syrup, then sumac powder. Fill glass with ice. Stir remaining ingredients together briskly and pour into glass. Garnish with a sliver of orange

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Johhny Appleseed Punch

serves 1; multiply accordingly to serve a crowd and chill with an ice ring into which you have frozen orange slices
  • — 2 ounces Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey, or other malty Scotch or bourbon
  • — 2 ounces brewed Earl Grey tea
  • — 1.5 ounces maple-cider syrup (recipe follows)
  • — 1 ounce fresh lemon juice
  • — dash Fee Brothers orange bitters
  • — splash club soda
  • orange zest

Shake whiskey, syrup, tea, lemon juice and bitters with ice. Pour into iced rocks glass and ttir in club soda. Zest a tiny bit of orange peel on top.

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Best Made Cider Syrup

makes about 1 cup
  • — 2 cups apple cider, organic & local is best
  • — 1 tablespoon Best Made maple syrup
  • — 1 tablespoon dark muscovado
  • — 3-4 whole star anise

Stir ingredients together in heavy pot and bring to a strong simmer until reduced by half. Strain and cool before using.

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So sorry I missed the event! Looks like a ton of fun. And the cocktails sound great!
Margot on December 17, 2011 at 7:04 am —
Looks amazing--delicious and fun--my kind of event! Must make that cider syrup. Every year, I see all the walnuts fall and think: I should do it! But then something gets a hold of me (common sense?) and I think: that will be dreadful. Thankfully, I have a nearby store that sells ones that someone else slaves over. They are incredible!
Julia on December 18, 2011 at 9:02 am —
So lucky that you have a source to buy local black walnuts! They are so delicious, but soooo much work!
laura on December 18, 2011 at 10:15 am —
I just found both white birch and yellow birch syrup at the market today. Woo-hoo! I have wintergreen oil coming in the mail. My question is *where* do you find black walnut syrup and white pine syrup?
rob on January 4, 2012 at 1:35 pm —
Rob! I want to know about those birch syrups! What do they taste like? And wintergreen? That seems very intense. As for black walnut and white pine, why you have to make those yourself! I did it simply by infusing simple syrups. A honey syrup with white pine needles, and a demerara syrup with black walnuts. Let me know if you need more details...
laura on January 4, 2012 at 2:15 pm —