|Pottery Barn, in case you were wondering.|
1 1/2 oz Dad's Hat rye whiskey
1 oz Lillet Rose
1/2 oz walnut liqueur (Nux Alpina or other nocino)
1 barspoon hazelnut orgeat with rose water
1 dash Urban Moonshine original bitters
3 hazelnuts - garnish
Stir all ingredients on ice.
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and float three roasted hazelnuts.
(in an ideal time- and budget-friendly world, this glass would be the best serving vessel, albeit perhaps wood instead of pewter)
Greeted with roast hazelnut on the nose, the rye first meets your tongue, which fades to Lillet's satin ribbons drawing you down into the combined dark depth of walnut liqueur and subtle rich and warming sweetness of the orgeat, the faintest hint of herbal bitter from liqueur and bitters dusting your tongue at the end. At other times, the rye and amaro-like nocino take up on an adventure, leaving the rose-hinted ladies lounging on pillows back at the ranch.
A girl with an innocent, reedy sweetness and a rough and tumble divinity.
Such is the fortuity of circumstance, I bought Dad's Hat around the time I also stocked Lillet Rose, and after an unsuccessful Manhattan I was searching for a better pairing than sweet vermouth. A drifting What If? flavor association passed through my mind: the rye's tangy wood note was very similar in quality to Lillet Rose. And when put together: what a match! Lillet extends that note and folds it into her bosom, velvetly masking what otherwise might have jutted out, while the rye's overall wood/orchard quality remains.
Now, this was a good start: a partial cocktail somewhere along the lines of a Manhattan with whiskey and aromatized wine. Extensions to that model typically add bitters or splashes of amari or liqueur. I played around with some bitters and some Tia Maria: both the rye and Lillet floated a bit and needed something to bring depth. The Tia Maria wasn't bad, if a bit sweet, maybe a touch too dark, which blunted some of the drink's nuance. Galliano Ristretto (the espresso liqueur) might be a better option if going in a coffee direction - I don't know for sure, PA doesn't carry it, but everything I've read suggests it's drier/bitterer. But something in a general coffee/nut direction made sense.
At this point I pulled back to see if the ingredients could tell me where exactly to go. The woodiness of Dad's Hat and the essential femininity of Lillet Rose were what dominated my mind, and that pulled me to my catch-all source of inspiration: Greek mythology. Specifically, dryads or hamadryads, nymphs that were the spirits of trees. Even more specifically, Karya, hamadryad of walnut/hazelnut trees (the only noted dryad of nut trees at all), sharing the same root as Karyatid.
Worked for me. I had wanted to get a bottle of nocino in for some time: walnut liqueur - how offbeat and undercelebrated an ingredient that could be! Even better: upon further researching its character, reviews indicated a rich, dark, port-like or coffee-like flavor with herbals. Perfect. I was already in that neighborhood and the complexity would be the right addition. (I had also considered Pisa at this juncture, but rejected it because it included pistachio, which, considering the time frame of the mythology, was squarely a Persian and not Greek nut - blasphemy!)
After a wee bit of drama and catching the PLCB on a good day when I could special-order a single bottle (not 5 or 6), the Nux Alpina came in and proved a good choice. The drink was still on the thin side, however, and perhaps needed a touch of sweetness. Frangelico proved too one-note and over-sweet - again with the flavor-blunting. I must've seen a mention of it on Twitter, but hazelnut orgeat (with a touch of rose water that would befriend Lillet Rose) ended up being the last major building block. The hazelnut and walnut merged into one great uber-nut accent while not overwhelming the base flavors - I'd like to think it gets at the point of Karya herself, as the Greeks didn't distinguish between walnuts and hazelnuts.
With the addition of the orgeat, the cocktail took on a rich, robust body, which, with its new sweetness, was a touch much. ...there's a relevant undercurrent to my thought-process here, but it's a little difficult to thoroughly elaborate without turning this post into (more of) an e-book. I had initially wanted to finish this recipe for the month of Virgo: there's an early-autumnal quality to the Dad's Hat with its orchard notes and I associate nuts, particularly the beige hazelnut, with Virgo - beige in general is Virgoan and appropriate to earliest fall when the nuts fall but things have not yet begun darkening. Lillet's mildness also fits well here (you could argue the recipe is best for the cusp between Virgo and Venus-ruled Libra, even). In order to manage the orgeat's richness, I followed that undercurrent and opted for bitters best suited to health-minded Virgo, namely Urban Moonshine. The bitters' no-nonsense astringency dialed back the richness just right, and their flavor fits the Dad's Hat well. Where I've seen Urban Moonshine bitters pop up in cocktail recipes thus far, it's been their maple bitters (a great unique - and autumnal - flavor); I opted for the original because I didn't want to muddle the wood notes already present.
Have I mentioned yet that Virgo is an especially cerebral and exacting zodiac sign? (not my sun sign, although..)