2 oz Barrel aged gin [Grand Ten]
1/2 oz Kina l’Aero d’Or
1/2 Etrog Liqueur [Sukkah Hill Spirits]
Few dashes orange bitters [Regan’s]
Stir with ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon twist.
You guys, my love of Manhattans knows no bounds, and not just because it was my gateway cocktail. I really love the whole universe of Manhattans – your Little Italys, your Bensonhursts, your Brooklyns. My introduction into the the neighborhood variation was the Red Hook, and still remains one of my favorites.
Then the other day an idea popped into my head. I just bought a bottle of Kina l’Aero D’Or, which is a bitter fortified wine. Guess what else is a bitter, fortified wine…Punt e Mes! The analogy that came to me was Punt e Mes: Sweet Vermouth as Kina: dry vermouth. Many Manhattan variants play around with the vermouth element, in the Red Hook’s case, sweet vermouth is swapped out entirely for Punt e Mes. That whole drink can basically be broken down into whiskey/bitter fortified wine/fruit liqueur. So what if I built a variation around Kina?
From there, I actually focused on the fruit liqueur part. In a Red Hook, Maraschino liqueur not only brings in some mild fruity sweetness, but also distinct funkiness. I wanted my new drink to capture this, which is where Etrog Liqueur comes in. This spirit, made from the OG citrus, has plenty of lemony botanical notes. In addition, there is a unique quality that keeps it from just being a lemon liqueur or limoncello type thing – not as funky as Maraschino but definitely something that makes you stop and think a bit.
Lastly came the base spirit. This should be easy, and since basically I’m headed down the path of a “lighter” Red Hook, I thought white whiskey would be a no brainer. Spoiler alert: it didn’t work. Just didn’t have enough punch to stand up the Kina and Etrog. So let’s try some gin, then. Aaand…nope. All the botanicals ended up fighting with each other, and the result was too muddled. Finally, I decided to split the difference with a barrel aged gin. Stronger flavors overall then white whiskey, but the barrel aging tempered the floral components a bit, while also drawing a trend line back to the original whiskey in a Red Hook.
The nose of the drink was very all flower and lemons, along with some bitterness from the kina. The sip has some more citrus notes, but the barks and spices of the Kina start to shine through. They meld nicely with the barrel tones from the gin, which also combines with some of the low notes of the kina to give the drink some depth. Meanwhile, that etrog “funk” dances around everything. It finishes with a faint sweentess, followed by a clean, slightly bitter swallow.
The other thing I love about Manhattan variations is how they are mostly named after various neighborhoods in that borough (or Brooklyn, or Queens…). I kept that tradition here, using the barrel aged gin as inspiration. Grand Ten Distilling is in South Boston, a short walk from a section called Telegraph Hill. That’s got cocktail name written all over it.
Building off the template of your favorite drink is a great way to create something new and exciting. Distill it down to its core elements and look around your bar to see what fits. You may be pleasantly surprised by the result.