Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Doe's Path

This is her day of peace.  Late afternoon, the sun sending the colors of autumn into her room by way of fluttering brown-speckled butter-colored leaves.  Off into the neighbor's backyard, amidst the heavy shade of the woods is her soul: two streaks of gold kneeling upon a bed of mottled leaves - truth - leading to her paradise.

The Doe's Path
1 oz Dad's Hat rye whiskey
1 oz Vya extra dry vermouth
3/4 oz Cynar
1/4 oz Benedictine
rosemary sprig

Stir with ice. 
Strain into a chilled coupe. 
Roll a sprig of rosemary between your fingers to wake it up and float it or balance it on the coupe's rim.

This is an extraordinarily oddball recipe for me. And by that I mean it fits in with any of the other relatively new renaissance cocktails you've seen buzzing around on the web for the last few years. Honestly, I've tried to stay away from those kinds of recipes because the simple (almost incestuous) combinatorics of a proscribed list of spirits do not favor n00bs coming up with something that hasn't been done before. [Hair-splitting cases in point for this recipe: Teenage Riot, Bensonhurst, A Dry Symphony, Philabuster, Little Italy, Arts District.] It's a lot easier to not step on anyone's else's toes and hard work if you're pulling in little-used ingredients like seville oranges, pear eau-de-vie, Meyer lemons, and Umeshu, or making your own homemade stuff, or toying with techniques like shots with multiple ingredients per layer or flavored & filled ice balls.

Still, despite that complaint, it feels like I am pulling in a unique new ingredient with this one, 'cause I kinda am: Dad's Hat rye whiskey. My initial impression, which we'll swing back around to naturally: "gives me a mental taste-image of a doe in the wild amongst birch trees." It's unlike any other rye I've had thus far (Bulleit, Old Overholt - or even rye-heavy bourbons) for the dominant medium-wood notes of maple and birch. I honestly get more rye grain flavor before I get rye spice (and I worry slightly that my bottle might be a one-off because it's so far off model for what I understand to be rye at this point), though I do detect orchard fruit - more pear than apple - as suggested by this review. All the same, I like different and off model.

The idea for this recipe came when I was trying the rye out in a Manhattan....and, well, it disappointed me there. The Manhattan is my favorite cocktail - there's something magical about it where the whiskey (be it rye or bourbon), vermouth and bitters combine into a new, independent flavor that consistently emerges regardless of spirits. Sure, you get the taste of the individual ingredients around the edges, but something immortal happens in that glass. In the case of the Dad's Hat, those maple and birch notes just weren't playing nice with the Carpano Antica Formula, with the whole idea of red fruit it seems. Well, ok, I thought - bet those woody qualities would dance much more nicely with dry vermouth.

Vya's orris root bitterness successfully reins in the rye's woody tangy sweetness, and its petrichor atmosphere creates a structured road for the doe to run. But the doe must have something on which to run, something earthy, with a canopy of vegetal herbs: Cynar. Altogether this would make for a fine, softer, Cynar-variant Old Pal, but shouldn't the doe have a direction in which to run?

The one word that keeps popping up for me at this juncture is Grace[, a place of]. And no spirit offers that eternal light of grace in taste and meaning better than Benedictine. You never need much of it, but that simple barspoon in a Vieux Carre for instance, it's like a priest made the sign of the cross over your glass. Here, it elevates The Doe's Path with a solemn-yet-joyful glow - perfect for a calm contemplative autumn Sunday.

Finally, the rosemary accentuates the herbaceous qualities in the spirits, gives them a proper sylvan setting, and contrasts with Benedictine's orange and light.

Overall I'm very happy with how this recipe turned out. Dad's Hat clearly has a different rye song to sing and I'm curious to play around with where this doe wants to travel next.