Avoid the predictable bottle-of-wine gift this holiday season. Instead, tote a thoughtful house made ingredient for the home bar to raise the spirits of the cocktail lover in your life. Don’t forget to make extra for your own festive get-togethers. Merry mixing!
House-Soaked Infused Cherries
Adapted from a recipe by of Jason Lonigro, General Manager, Emeril’s Chophouse, Bethlehem, PA
The ideal garnish for your favorite cocktail, these cherries are miles above the ubiquitous, artificially flavored and colored Maraschino variety. You could also use the liqueur as a flavorful and complex replacement for Sweet Vermouth in drinks like the Manhattan. “Nothing says happy holidays like a basket with a bottle of Woodford Reserve Bourbon, Sweet Vermouth, and a Mason jar full of homemade-infused cherries,” says Lonigro. Indeed.
1 lb. dried cherries
Any combination of the following liquors: Amaretto, Brandy, Sweet Vermouth, Grand Marnier, Tuaca
Place cherries into a large jar with a tightly fitting lid. Pour in enough liquor to completely submerge the cherries, and stir to combine. Cap the jar, and infuse up to a week, shaking or stirring occasionally. Once infused, store cherries in glass Mason jars and refrigerate.
Courtesy of Duane Sylvestre, Head Bartender, Bourbon Steak, Washington, DC
True cocktailians wouldn’t be caught dead serving their guests sickening sweet, high-fructose corn syrup-filled tonic waters. Quality commercial versions are readily available these days, but why not surprise a Gin and Tonic lover with a bottle of housemade syrup? Wrap it all up with a few bottles of club soda, their favorite juniper-tinged spirit and a recipe card with the proportions for the perfect G&T. Sylvestre notes that while this is a citrus-forward syrup, you can tweak it to suit your own personal taste—try adding toasted anise or cardamom for a spicy variation.
4 cups water
3 cups sugar
2 stalks lemongrass, cut into ½-inch pieces
2 limes, zested and juiced
1 lemon, zested and juice
¼ orange, zested
¼ grapefruit, zested
3 tbsp quinine powder (available at health food stores or online)
6 tbsp citric acid (available in the baking aisle of supermarkets like Whole Foods. If you can’t find it, use more lemon zest and/or juice.)
Place lemongrass and water in a stockpot, and boil. When bubbles start rolling, reduce to a simmer and add sugar and citrus zest. Stir until sugar has completely dissolved. Add juices and citric acid and allow mixture to simmer for about five minutes. Stir in quinine powder, and simmer for about five additional minutes. Remove from heat, strain and allow to cool. Store in the refrigerator in tightly fitting bottles or jars for up to several weeks.
For a Gin and Tonic:
1½ oz. gin (Bourbon Steak uses Plymouth Gin because it allows the tonic’s citrus notes to shine through).
½ oz. tonic syrup
3-4 oz. club soda (to taste)
Add gin, tonic syrup and club soda to a rocks glass filled with ice. Stir to mix, and garnish with a lime wedge.
Kelly Magyarics is a wine and spirits writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, DC area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com.