Both of us grew up celebrating Christmas. We still do. One year we visit one family in Connecticut, with hopes of freshly fallen snow blanketing the New England landscape; the next year, we escape the cold Brooklyn for the dry, saguaro-spiked desert called Arizona. Truth be told, we’ve never spent Yuletide in NYC, but we vow to spend Christmas in New York in the near future. That would make our job of making creative Holiday-themed cocktails a little easier, since we have over 150 bottles of booze on the shelves, and in the fridges (one regular-sized and two mini), with spillover in the sideboard.
With all those bottles, experimenting becomes a chore insofar as we have to decide among six ryes, eight gins, seven bourbons, four orange liqueurs—you get the idea. It’s a chore of which we never grow weary. What we imagine being a full-time taster for Häagen-Dazs or Ben & Jerry’s might be like.
But being part-time cocktail tasters is just as fun. Indulgence has its limits (same as with ice cream), so you kind of have to know ahead of time what you want your cocktails to taste like; thus, what spirits, juices, and other ingredients you’re going to be working with. So, when your booze arsenal is vast and varied, you tend to use items you normally would keep hidden at the back of the shelf. It’s good to bring these spirits to the fore to challenge your creativity.
Over the years, we’ve been playing with the flavor of pine. Yes, pine, as in fir tree. The conifer you bring indoors and decorate year after year, just so you can get high on the piny smell of Christmastime. So we offer you two drinks that find their roots in pine and we bestow them names that befit their essence, O Tannenbaum and Scots Pine.
Paul came up with the Scots Pine a few years back, unbeknownst to Steve, who was away visiting family. Scotch whisky was primed to the be the main ingredient since Steve isn’t the biggest fan of the spirit. And Paul was itching to mix with a recently acquired bottle of Zirbenz stone pine liqueur. This liqueur smells like someone baking blondies in the middle of a coniferous forest. The taste is mildly sweet and resinous. It is definitely one of those things that make you go hmm, then mmm. Paul felt he was onto something when he mixed it with a blended scotch, but when he added some sweet vermouth (particularly Carpano Antica), he knew he was onto something. Here was a scotch cocktail that got some zing from the Zirbenz, but then a little taming and smoothing over the rough edges from the vermouth. Alas, a scotch cocktail that Steve would like. An orange peel expressed over and dropped into the glass was the one last touch needed to elevate this lovely drink to even lovelier.
The Scots Pine is the perfect cocktail to share with friends over an intimate Holiday gathering. A few sips will open the palate and pair nicely with an array of cheeses and little nibbles, like spiced nuts, preparing the way for dinner.
(created by Cocktail Buzz)
1 1/2 ounces blended scotch
1/2 ounce Zirbenz stone pine liqueur
1/2 ounce Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
orange peel, as garnish
Stir in ice for 30 seconds. Strain into chilled cocktail glass or coupe. With a vegetable peeler, peel a 3/4 × 2-inch swatch of orange, but careful not to get any pith. Express peel over drink and toss in.
After dinner, you might want to gather round the dessert buffet with a simple drink we call O Tannenbaum. We came up with it one night when trying to come up with a cocktail for a NYC theatre company’s holiday party. It’s an odd bird really, using an old timey liqueur called crème de noyaux (pronounced nwah-YO), a primary ingredient in a pink squirrel (a great name that makes sense since crème de noyaux is almond-flavored and, in most instances, bright red). Mixing almond flavors with the juniper flavors in a London dry gin creates a piny explosion. The half and half unites these flavors with its mellowing caress of dairy, giving the drink a bright deep pink hue. Perfect for nibbling cookies by the fire while lovingly gazing at the tree.
(created by Cocktail Buzz)
2 ounces London dry gin
1 ounce half and half
3/4 ounce crème de noyaux
nutmeg, as garnish (optional)
Shake in ice for 15 seconds. Strain into chilled punch or small cocktail glasses. Garnish with nutmeg, if so desired, for an extra spicy kick.
Serves 2 (or 1, if you’re terribly thirsty).
Further Explorations in Pine
If you love the taste of pine, you must try Clear Creek Distillery’s Douglas Fir eau de vie. The aroma is slightly redolent of pears, with a hint of pine, but when drunk with a little water to soften its alcohol content (47.73%), the roles reverse. You taste the resinous pine, mellowed by a hint of pear. Exquisite.
Zirbenz photo courtesy Haus Alpenz