A few years ago, Dan and I started “Cocktail of the Month”: we never seemed to have the ingredients for a cocktail picked out of a book on a whim, so we thought this would be a fun way to learn how to make different cocktails, try new ones and always have ingredients for one good cocktail on hand. Old-Fashioneds, Sidecars, Collinses (Collinsi?), Torontos, Brown Derbys … I learned a lot about making drinks.
We slowly built our bar this way for a year and a half, and eventually we had a bar well-stocked enough to make a cocktail picked out of a book on a whim, and Cocktail of the Month slowly petered out.
But we recently decided to start working on our cocktail recipe skills (I have pretty close to zero). So now, Cocktail of the Month begins with 1 ingredient, and each of us tries to come up with a cocktail using that ingredient. April is our inaugural month, and we chose elderberry jelly as our ingredient.
My cocktail involved rum, elderberry syrup, peaches and allspice dram. It’s OK, but pretty forgettable. I chose Dan’s as the better of the two. So did he. So did our neighbor in a blind taste test.
So I asked Dan to write a guest post about his cocktail creation for this week’s Thirsty Thursday. I’m a sarcastic control-freak so I’ve added commentary in parentheses. And shortened it because he is kind of a wordy fella. And I’m a control-freak.
… Once upon a time my dad happened across an elderberry bush, thought it should be made into something, and brought it home. With the job done, he handed it over to my mom to actually think of something to do with it. Thus, the tradition of my mom making massive amounts of elderberry jelly is born. (this habit of doing something on a whim and leaving the mess for someone else to clean up unfortunately did not skip a generation)
So. The thing about elderberry – if you were to happen upon a bush like my father did, and threw [an elderberry] into your mouth, I’m sure you would recoil in horror as there is *no* sugar in these berries. You’d think this was some horrible joke pulled on you by mother nature. (maybe it is?) I’ve done this – the last time was probably about 30 years ago and I still remember the awful, muddy, but berry-ish taste. If you can imagine a blackberry that tastes awful and bitter… that’s an elderberry.
Turns out, if you add tons of sugar to this thing – it actually tastes not just good…. but interesting. Elderberry has an earthier, plum-ier, darker, denser sort of taste.
My mom has made many, many jars of elderberry jelly. Supply has outstripped demand and she has handed this out to myself and others. (I found 3 jars in our cabinets.) Making a *lot* of something is about the same amount of work as making a little bit and sharing is the way to show love. I accept this love. However, it’s not frequently that I toast up some bread and smear jelly on it – of any kind. It’s just not something that’s become a habit… and it’s a shame, because my mom’s elderberry jelly is top-notch. (Truth.)
To me, elderberry jelly is basically love itself. It comes directly from my mother… it has shamefully sat on a shelf for months (years actually; one jar is labeled 2011 … it’s stared accusingly at me every time I opened the cabinet for 3 years), but is delicious, unique, and amazing. So, the first step is to turn elderberry jelly into something that can be poured for a cocktail. (I didn’t make a great cocktail, but I did make the syrup)
- 1 c. elderberry jelly
- 1 c. water
- 1 c. frozen peach slices (or fresh would be better probably, but they’re not in season here)
- 2 bay leaves
- a few allspice berries and/or peppercornsSimmer together until the jelly melts. Mash the peach slices a little. Cover & let it steep as it cools for an hour. Strain into a clean bottle & store in the fridge for a week or two.
With elderberry syrup in hand… I decided I needed to balance the sweetness. Since I had been making Gristmills (using a recipe Amy got from a bartender at the Whistler), I had become rather enamored with Amaro Montenegro (Dan has certain things that if you put them in cocktails he will order it, no matter what else is in it; Amaro Montenegro & allspice dram are at the top of the list).
I tried this drink with bourbon… maybe rye.. I dunno – I was probably drunk.
I do know that if you take 2 parts bourbon, 1 part Amaro Montenegro, and 1 part elderberry syrup… you’ll get my first attempt at an elderberry drink that just tastes like mud. There was a lot going on, but it just didn’t taste good. It was sweet enough, it was bitter enough… but the flavors were just… muddy. It didn’t taste like there was any joy going on here.A spicy rye was just not what was going to make this drink work. The elderberry has enough going on all by itself and just need something to bring out the sweetness. So, brandy it is.
Then – it needed to be brightened up… a nice acid punch to make it salute on the tip of your tongue. Turned into a winner.
Then a name. Elder reminds me of my Grandfather. So Grand replaces Elder, and so I’ve dubbed this the “Grandberry”. All of the flavors just work to accentuate the elderberry. It’s bright, unique, and the special ingredient really shines. It makes me happy.
It will make you happy.
for 2 drinks:
- 3 oz. brandy
- 1.5 oz. Amaro Montenegro
- 1.5 oz. elderberry syrup
- .75 oz. lemon juiceshake/strain/boom.
(Dan also serves these in the sherbet glasses he inherited from his grandparents.)