Yes, I was skeptical.
A woman named Courtney Sandora wrote to give me the welcome news that Old Forge Distillery, opened since summer 2014 in Pigeon Forge, has added bourbon, vodka, and rum to its moonshine offerings. And she included three “festive” cocktail recipes with the news.
She had no way of knowing my checkered past with cocktails meant to be sipped in December, presumably in the company of little black dresses at parties—but more likely with a big galoomph of a St. Bernard in a Santa hat while surrounded by piles of gifts you’ll soon wrap in kraft paper and twine.
But I have been drawn in more than once by a drink that, as I discovered, had mostly its jewel-toned green or red going for it.
Exhibit one: The Scarlet O’Hara of my college youth—I wince to share that its main ingredients were, ah, Southern Comfort and cranberry juice. I nearly got escorted out of the bar for ordering it in a Cincinnati working class bar that Christmas holiday, and far from learning from my mistake, got the same reception at a fancy downtown New York bar a few days later.
Yes, it was deep, deep red. And sort of sweet and icky. I can still conjure a headache after-effect if I think about it for too long. But did I mention it was pretty red?
Then there was the time I was editing some section of the website for HGTV’s Fine Living Network (no longer with us) or maybe the White House Christmas. Can’t remember, only that I curated a recipe for a Christmas cocktail: a deep, pretty Kelly green. Mercifully, HGTV and Google have drawn the Internet curtain on this particular concoction, but I faithfully tried to introduce it around with our groups of revelers throughout the holidays. I carried my oversize bottle of Midori melon liqueur, the key ingredient, to Christmas Eve in Island Home and onto post-Christmas fun in Chapel Hill, N.C. with my cousins.
It was sort of tropical, with a silky suggestion of fresh-sliced morning melon worked in there. Imagine my shock when only I enjoyed this melon hit. I probably still have most of that Midori somewhere.
Here’s the thing: I really do think it’s nice to have a signature holiday cocktail. But I’ve learned to be super picky about what I adopt. For example, homemade eggnog with a shot of dark rum is delectable—but only at my sister-in-law Kathy Hall’s house. Because she is willing to whip lots of heavy cream and such, and I am not.
I also make this really good mock duck punch that involves a glass punch bowl and cranberry and lemon and fizz. But it’s not the thing, either. Because when you spike it, it’s an afterthought, and results vary with what melting stage the ice chips were in, and so forth. A cocktail should be carefully tended so that the alcohol to mixer ratio is perfect, and the perfect temperature too. For me, that means proper muddling and peak chilling and a nice snort of alcohol, high quality, nothing too sweet in case you want more than one over the course of a convivial evening.
There is, of course, one of the many liqueur-champagne cocktails that seem all the rage in recent years. To which I have to say, “why not just drink champagne?”
And so. This Old Forge recipe for the Peppermint Martini. The one I really liked. It is neither red nor green, but does involve some peppermint candy. The combination of lime and peppermint candy seemed odd at first, but it yields kind of a vodka-mojito effect, even if, like me, you use candies accumulated from Sonic visits.
I’m going with it for 2015—though sorry Old Forge, I can’t promise only to use your vodka when I make it, particularly since it may not wend its way to South Knoxville for a few more weeks and we may go through more than this one bottle I bought at your place.
I did, however, find your new bourbon at Southland Spirits and Wine on Young High Pike.
Oh, how we mature. I only wondered for a few seconds how it would taste in a Scarlet O’Hara. υ
Old Forge Peppermint Martini
For each drink:
Fresh lime juice, crushed peppermint candy
2 oz Old Forge Vodka
.75 oz peppermint schnapps
Garnish: mint sprig, vanilla bean (optional)
Place juice of 1 lime and candy on separate small plates. Rim a stemmed cocktail glass with lime juice, then dip in candy. Combine Old Forge Vodka and peppermint schnapps in a cocktail shaker; add ice and shake to chill. Strain into rimmed glass. Garnish with mint sprig and vanilla bean, if using.
Old Forge White Christmas
For each drink:
1 oz Old Forge Chocolate Moonshine
1 oz Old Forge Vodka
.5 oz peppermint schnapps
(or 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract)
Vanilla bean pods scraped
from 1/2 vanilla bean
2 oz heavy cream
Combine Old Forge Chocolate Moonshine,
Old Forge Vodka, peppermint schnapps, and vanilla bean pods in a shaker; shake and pour over ice in a rocks glass. Pour in cream.
For each drink:
1.5 oz Old Forge Vodka
1.5 oz unsweetened cranberry juice
1 tsp sugar dissolved in 1 tsp very hot water
.5 oz amaretto
.5 oz fresh lime juice
Garnish: mint sprig, fresh cranberries
Combine Old Forge Vodka, cranberry juice, sugar water, amaretto, and lime juice in a cocktail shaker; add ice and shake to chill. Strain into stemmed cocktail glass; garnish with mint leaves and fresh cranberries.
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