It happens every once in a while. A mystery box arrives from a PR firm, usually introducing a new product or book. We've gotten coffee, coconut water, red wine vinegar, and cupcakes, to name a few. But even I was surprised when the UPS guy arrived recently with two mason jars filled with Ole Smoky Moonshine ($29.99 at Crown Wine & Spirits).
One jar was filled with a bright amber liquid, which was a 40-proof, apple pie-flavored moonshine. The other was filled with maraschino cherries soaked in 100-proof moonshine. I was intrigued, but had a bad experience once with moonshine, when I purchased some home brew from Virginia. That stuff was better suited to strip varnish than to drink, as I found out the hard way with a group of friends who thought I was trying to poison them.
So the jars sat in my kitchen unopened and sad (in my opinion, there's nothing sadder than an unopened bottle of booze) until I packed them up in my car and brought them over to the Broken Shaker.
Gabriel Orta was behind the bar and immediately opened the jars. He pronounced the apple pie delicious as we tasted. "This is my favorite dessert, by the way," he said. At 40-proof, it had some bite, but it certainly wasn't turpentine. "I taste nutmeg, and cinnamon," Orta explained. The soaked cherries packed a punch and reminded me of Starburst chews, only this time my mouth was greeted with a burst of booze instead of mouthwash and sugar.
I challenged Orta to do something with the libations and he immediately
got to work, pulling large bottles of spirits and tiny bottles of home
made elixirs off the shelves.
While Orta worked, I asked him the
basics for making up a cocktail. He explained that he uses the same
principles for cocktails that he does when cooking.
work with food, you take a key ingredient and you build on that flavor.
It's the same with a cocktail. Taste the spirit, which is the base for
your recipe. What notes do you pick up? Even vodka, a neutral spirit,
will reveal different notes if you take the time."
then suggested building on the first note you hit
"If you taste cinnamon, then you
could, for example make a cinnamon syrup to compliment it."
next step is to use fresh ingredients to build more flavors, tasting as
you go. Orta explained that a good cocktail should have a foundation, a
citrus note, and some sweetness -- a touch of agave, sugar, or honey.
this apple pie moonshine, for example. What's good with the sweet and
spicy notes of an apple pie? I would start with bourbon, then add
rosemary to balance the sweetness," Orta said.
presented me with his cocktail. This master mixologist had blended the
moonshine with bourbon, honey, apple cider, lemon juice, and rosemary.
Its name? The Pie-Oh-My, after Tony Soprano's race horse.
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and the moonshine cherries?
"I'm just going to eat them," Orta said,
as he passed out a round of the potent red fruit for everyone at the bar. Ask for one, while there's still some left in the jar.