According to the Mayan calendar, we have but a few weeks until the world as we know it screeches to a halt. The impending doomsday, portal or evolutionary leap forward — however you care to look at it — gives this holiday season particular poignancy. Perhaps even urgency. The Mayans’ prediction gives us an excuse to indulge in everything we love, at least temporarily.
What would you drink if it truly were the end of the world? While I didn’t pose that exact question to a cast of notable culinary-minded Vermonters, I did ask what each will be sipping over the next few weeks. Classic options seemed to be de rigueur.
In Burlington, Penny Cluse Café chef Maura O’Sullivan prefers a “perfect” Manhattan around Christmas, while St. Johnsbury-based musician Neko Case is enamored of Artesano mead. “It’s like a really dry white wine made from honey,” she explains. “We love it. I send a bunch out for Christmas, too.” Case’s answer is not wholly surprising; made in Groton, Artesano is in a roundabout way her Northeast Kingdom neighbor.
If you’re a red-blooded hunter such as Gov. Peter Shumlin, you might like to kick back with a good beer. In fact, the governor is succinct in specifying his choice of holiday libation: “Hill Farmstead Edward, very cold.”
Some chefs and mixologists I spoke with prefer a more layered approach. After all, they think about drinks as culinary creations on par with a pitch-perfect entrée. Below are some of the libations they’ll be sampling this season — from a sparkling cocktail with pear-infused pisco (Peruvian grape brandy) to a ruby-red mocktail for a mother-to-be. For yours truly, it’s all about whiskey.
See you on the other side.
Andrew Silva, co-owner, Mirabelles Café
By many accounts, Silva is a cocktail master, and one of his favorites is a drink that emerged at the Detroit Athletic Club during Prohibition in the 1920s — the Last Word. “It is kind of a Holy Grail for a bartender to make a drink that has equal amounts of all ingredients,” he says. “It’s also good with a white or a reposado tequila instead of the gin.”
Shake with plenty of ice and strain straight up.
A French sparkler and red Beaujolais
Jason Zuliani, co-owner, Dedalus Wine
This time of year, Zuliani gravitates toward Renardat-Fâche Vin du Bugey-Cerdon, a sparkling rosé from France’s Savoie region; and Morgon from Marcel Lapierre. “Two reasons: They’re both incredibly delicious wines that appeal to wine geeks and nongeeks alike, and they’re both vin de soif — juicy, high-acid, thirst-quenching wines,” he says. “Between cooking, eating and arguing, we tend to drain a case or more at our family gatherings.”
House Barrel-Aged Negroni
Chef Rogan Lechthaler, chef/owner, Downtown Grocery, Ludlow
The Negroni, a classic Italian aperitif, has always been a favorite of Rogan Lechthaler, the chef at Ludlow’s Downtown Grocery, “especially after a hot night in the kitchen,” writes his wife and restaurant co-owner, Abby. She explains that, for Rogan, the Negroni’s lack of overt sweetness counterbalances “the sugary and oversaturated holiday season.”
Bar manager Matthew Farkas offers his own spin on his boss’ preferred cocktail, using a charred oak barrel to age the Campari and sweet vermouth for about three months so that the drink takes on “a richer, more complex flavor that hits the spot at the end of a hectic December day,” Abby Lechthaler writes. It’s a fine excuse for northern Vermonters to hoof it down to Ludlow before December 21.
Add all ingredients to a glass filled with ice, and stir. Serve with orange twist or torched rosemary sprig to coax out the gin’s aromatics.
*In the absence of Farkas’ barrel-aged spirit, use equal parts Campari and vermouth. (A Negroni is classically one part each gin, Campari and sweet vermouth.)
Mocktail Red No. 1
With a baby on the way, Abby “has found a new appreciation for a proper mocktail,” she says. When she’s not craving chocolate milk, she’s nodding at Farkas to fix up her thirst-quenching favorite: Mocktail Red No. 1.
Combine first four ingredients in a shaker and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with candied cranberries.
Jason Willet, head bartender, Crop Bistro & Brewery
The imaginative cocktail menu at Stowe’s Crop Bistro & Brewery is filled with such ingredients as maple bitters, Earl Grey tea and hops-infused vodka. A counter behind the bar is lined with various macerating substances, such as hunks of pumpkin in a carboy of vodka. Somewhere back there, too, is the bottle of pear-infused pisco that bartender Jason Valentino taps for the Lucca V.
Pisco is a clear, bracing Peruvian grape brandy that dates to the 1500s. When Willet, whose wife is Peruvian, gets his hands on a bottle, he combines it in another vessel with roasted pears and a stick of cinnamon. For the Lucca V. — named after one of his two sons — he’ll pour pisco into an ice-cold martini glass and then top it with Prosecco and a splash of St-Germain, an elderflower liqueur. A sprinkle of cinnamon lends the cloudy, almost saketini-like drink a festive look. Despite pisco’s stateside obscurity, the Lucca V. is “our most popular drink,” Valentino says. It’s gained a rep via word of mouth.
You may be hard-pressed to make this drink at home, but if you find a bottle of pisco, give it a go.
Pour pisco into an ice-filled cocktail shaker and stir to chill. Strain into a chilled martini glass, then top with Prosecco, St-Germain and a dash of cinnamon.
Sticks & Stones
Whiskey, maple, bitters, citrus. This is what I feel like imbibing in December. A vein of cranberry makes this caramel-hued drink refreshing, but don’t let the frilly-sounding ingredients fool you; it packs a wallop. Sip it by the fire when you have nowhere else to go.
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice, then add the whiskey, maple liqueur, simple syrup and bitters. Swirl to blend and strain into a tumbler filled with more ice. Top with ginger beer and add lemon twist.
*To make cranberry simple syrup: In a saucepan over low-medium heat, combine 1/2 cup each of simple syrup and water with 3/4 cup of cranberries and simmer for about eight minutes. Remove from heat and strain into bowl; the syrup is ready to use once cool and can be jarred and kept in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.