• The Viveka Cocktail And Homemade Limoncello

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    The Viveka Cocktail.

    Many months ago we asked for our readers to guess the location of a photo we took in Kauai. The winner would get a cocktail named after them. The winner was our friend Viveka from My Guilty Pleasures, a blog about life with all it’s humor, delights, food and travel. It is also a blog about friendship. Viveka seems to collect friends, both in the physical and virtual world, at a very steady clip. She has a big, warm, generous heart.

    viv4viv5viv6Viveka is also patient. Because once she won our little contest, we knew we had to use a special homemade ingredient in her cocktail; limoncello. The only problem was that limoncello, while easy to make, takes a while. Like a few months. But we warned Viveka of the impending wait. And then we waited. And waited. But finally the wait is over.

    viv7Limoncello is basically a liqueur of lemon zest (with as little white pith as possible) soaked in grain alcohol (or strong vodka), strained and then sweetened with sugar syrup. You get a sweet, lemony liqueur without any sour notes. It’s good stuff. While you can make limoncello in just a few days, an infusion of 30-45 days is generally considered the best method. The you need to strain and filter the zest from the very-strong booze and add some simple syrup to get to about 60 proof and age it again for another 45 days (most people shorten this step). But since we are making cocktails, we took a slightly different path.

    viv3viv2Our one issue with limoncello in cocktails is that it is a bit sweet and not strong enough to lead a cocktail. It is good as an accent, but we thought it could fully replace gin or vodka if our limoncello was stronger and dryer. So rather than use a mix of 50% or more simple syrup, we went with about 35-40% syrup. And since we were using 135 proof Everclear as our base, we ended up at about 90-100 proof. The limoncello is a bit strong on its own, but has the juice to carry a cocktail and gives a slight warming feel as you drink it. Not too hot or boozy, but you know it’s there.

    viv8And that was exactly what we wanted for our special cocktail. Our friend Viveka is not a fan of dark booze like rum or whiskey, so we wanted to use a “clear” booze. We do enough gin drinks around here, so that was out. And since Viveka is from Scandinavia, we figured she knows her vodka. Boozy limoncello seemed liked a good fit. And we even had a recipe in mind.

    viv9The Viveka combines, boozy limoncello, Cointreau, lemon juice and muddled raspberries (or raspberry syrup, if you must). The drink is a riff on the 1934 Cosmopolitan (an older,  lesser-known- but IMHO better- version of the Cosmo), with the boozy limoncello replacing gin and fresh raspberries rather than syrup. (If using lower-proof limoncello, just add 1/2 oz. good vodka and a touch more lemon juice). What you get is a bright lemon sip that isn’t particularly sour, mixed with sweet orange and raspberry notes that almost seem to dance around. On the finish you get a nice warm kick from the limoncello. This drink has a warm heart, just like Viveka…..Here you go Wivi!

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  • Weekly Cocktail #56: The Sun Crest Peach Smash

    The Sun Crest Peach Smash.

    The Sun Crest Peach Smash.

    Every gardener has his/her “White Whale”. And just like Captain Ahab, we chase this object around with a strong, strange, usually sometimes silly, and always often boring (to others) obsession. For us, the Sun Crest peach is our White Whale (more pink, but whatever…). Ever since we tried the “perfect peach”, we just had to grow our own. Sun Crests are big, blush, beautiful and incredibly juicy with sweet/tart flavor that just never gets old. A true delight and something worthy of obsession.

    smashsmash2Sun Crest peaches are also a serious pain in the fanny to grow, the trees are finicky and the fruit bruises if you look at them the wrong way.  (The Masumoto family has some great writing on the subject of obsession on Sun Crest peaches….sadly, we get it). This year we got a real crop. At last, we are satisfied (temporarily).

    smash1So what to do with the Sun Crests? (Or any great local peach?) Well….eat it! Now. Seriously, eat it right now. But, beyond that, it is good to have a few options. And while we are all for cobblers (and pies, slumps, grunts, crisps, etc.), the best peaches don’t need to be cooked. Raw is best. Sliced peaches with vanilla ice cream or yogurt? Good call. But in a cocktail? Oh, yes. Yes indeed.

    smash3As for the cocktail to mix, this is the easy part. Ripe stone fruits call for a smash. Smashes are one of the great old-time cocktails from way back in the Jerry Thomas era (like 1880). Originally, a mixture of whiskey, lemon, mint and sugar, the basic recipe is easily extended to seasonal fruit, with peaches and nectarines being a particularly good fit. Smashes fell out of fashion a few generations ago, but cocktail historians like David Wondrich helped to bring them back. And not too soon afterwards, expert mixologists like Dale Degroff came up with variations like the Peach Smash, a smash with bourbon, peaches, lemon, mint and a special honey syrup. A good foundation to work from.

    smash10But the Sun Crest isn’t just any peach, we wanted its flavor lead the drink. So we use less-sweet/ more-spicy rye whiskey and basic simple syrup to let the peach shine through. (If you have a good, but not great peach, use bourbon and honey syrup). We also forego double-straining the cocktail. Why? Frankly, we spent all this time and effort growing this damn delightful peach, and we don’t want to waste one ounce of it. Think of it as a Sun Crest peach, lemon and whiskey smoothie. But if you want something a little more traditional, double-strain your smash.

    smash5Either way, you get spicy, sweet and tart flavors with a refreshing backbone of lemon and mint. Hard to beat….really hard to beat. So we suggest you find your best local peaches, treat them well, eat them out of hand and then mix this cocktail. It will make for a very good day. Continue reading