Last week’s Cocktail Challenge event at Salvage One—inspired by the Reader series of the same name—saw nearly 20 local bartenders creating cocktails around the theme “nostalgia.” Some looked back to childhood with drinks based on watermelon Sour Patch Kids or ginger peach lollipops, while others thought of a slightly different period of life: college. The Betty’s Melissa Pinkerton served a take on Jungle Juice and had a table set up for beer pong.
Dan Rook of South Water Kitchen made a drink modeled on his Grandma Mary’s zucchini bread (and served with zucchini bread), William Duncan of Money Gun expressed his nostalgia for baseball games through a Crackerjack rum old-fashioned served with peanuts and a beer chaser, and Bob Begandy of Punch House recalled going to the movies with a cocktail that involved Coke syrup and smoked popcorn.
Autumn was a popular theme; Brett Lichnerowicz of Luxbar made a s’mores cocktail with Cutty Sark Prohibition Era Whiskey infused with graham cracker and cocoa, served with a roasted juniper marshmallow. Jennifer Knot of 312 Chicago won the audience vote for best cocktail with Mama I’m Coming Home, a warm apple cider spiced with cinnamon and cloves and spiked with Cutty Sark Prohibition, infused with roasted pecans and Fonseca Bin 27 Port, garnished with a soft caramel candy you could stir into the drink.
The panel of judges—Dejorn Huffman, a spirits portfolio manager at Tenzing Wine; Al Klopper, a bartender at Slippery Slope; and me—had the task of determining the winners of the critic’s choice award and the best cocktail made with whiskey from event sponsor Cutty Sark. Since our favorite cocktail, a take on milk punch from Jessica Lambert of Boleo, involved Cutty, it took both prizes. Called Rosy Retrospection, the drink was based on sweet potato pie and involved brandy, rum, sweet potato reduction, and black tea, topped with cranberry marshmallow cream and garnished with a sage leaf.
The recipes for both are below. If you want to make the Rosy Retrospection, all I can say is good luck, and I hope you have a lot of spare time: it has 22 ingredients and nearly as many steps. Also, if you’re not planning to serve several hundred people you may want to scale the recipe down a bit.
Mama I’m Coming Home (312 Chicago)
2 cups apple cider
1 ½ cups pecan-infused Cutty Sark Blended Scotch Whiskey (or regular whiskey)
¾ cup Fonseca Bin 27 Port
¾ cup honey syrup
2 cinnamon sticks
Place all ingredients in a pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and let mull for an hour. Double strain the cinnamon sticks and cloves from the hot cider. Pour into an Irish coffee mug and garnish with a soft caramel candy. Makes ten four-ounce portions.
Rosy Retrospection ‘A Milk Punch’ (Boleo)
4 gallons of milk
Cold steep overnight with:
3 tablespoons ground ginger
2 tablespoons nutmeg
7 cinnamon sticks, toasted and broken
1 tablespoon cloves
Sweet potato water:
7 sweet potatoes
Roast whole in oven until soft and caramelized, then remove skin.
Cover sweet potatoes with four liters of water in a large pot. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Refrigerate overnight. Strain off sweet potato. Set seasoned water aside.
Brew a strong tea of:
50 grams hojicha tea
25 grams caramel pu-erh tea
6 liters hot water
Brew for ten minutes. Strain off tea.
Combine tea water with sweet potato water. Add one liter of honey. Stir to combine.
2250 grams lemon juice
1125 grams orange juice
225 grams lactic acid
2250 g Smith + Cross Jamaican Rum
2250 g Lustau Brandy de Jerez
2000 g Cutty Sark Pro
1125 g Neisson Rhum Agricole
Batching and clarifying the punch:
It is important to follow the order of steps to ensure that the milk fats shatter and begin to curdle. It is imperative for clarification.
In a large container combine while whisking slowly:
1. Seasoned milk
2. Lactic acid
3. Lemon juice
4. Orange juice
5. Tea and sweet potato water
Slowly add whiskey to incorporate.
Let sit for one hour to fully shatter and for the whey proteins to separate. Strain through a fine strainer. Strain a second time through a coffee filter.
Cranberry marshmallow cream
4 quarts heavy whipping cream
1 (10 oz) bag frozen cranberries
1 (10 oz) bag marshmallows
119 grams granulated sugar
20 g gelatin starter, melted
In a container, add three quarts heavy cream and cranberries. Let steep overnight. In a separate container, add marshmallows and one quart of heavy cream. Let steep overnight. Strain off solids.
In a stand mixer:
Combine infused creams, granulated sugar, and gelatin starter. Whip until thickened. Add to pastry bag, and set aside.
Serve punch over ice, top with cranberry marshmallow cream, garnish with a piece of fresh sage.