Winters in SoCal
Shake with ice and strain into a chilled coupe.
Garnish with grapefruit twist and sage leaf.
Nothing makes me pine for LA like a winter storm warning. Maybe it’s the the screenshots my sister-in-law texts with a gigantic sun and, “66°.” It’s hard to tell if I’m laughing or if it’s just my teeth chattering. What’s certain is that it’s too cold for me to take a finger out of my mitten to respond, “B-b-b-b-bite me.”
I live on the East Coast, and this joint is lousy with West Coast haters. “Californians are flaky,” they say. “Everyone’s so full of themselves.” “They’re always master-cleansing.”
I call bullshit.
I’m guessing good, old-fashioned jealousy is at the root of it. I spent Christmas of 2014 in LA and walked by a house that had enough pomegranates, grapefruits, and oranges hanging over the public sidewalk to hook me up for a month. The place is paradise!
So, while I wear two layers inside my 68° house and stare out at the snow gathering around the sage in my front yard, I decide to mix up a taste of Southern California. Grapefruit immediately leaps to mind, as does Mezcal, which has a smoky flavor that leans more winter than tequila.
I make a sage-infused honey simple syrup by mixing 1/2 cup honey and 1/2 cup water in a saucepan and bringing it to a boil with 1/4 ounce fresh sage leaves. I then cut the heat and let the sage steep as the syrup cools. Once cooled, I strain out the leaves.
Next, I juice half a ruby red grapefruit and take my first run at the cocktail. Two ounces of Pelotón de la Muerte Mezcal, 1/2 ounce of sage syrup, 3/4 ounce of grapefruit juice and a couple drops of grapefruit bitters go into a shaker. I don’t know how a drink with two ounces of mezcal can taste watery, but it does.
For take two, I add 1/4 ounce more of both the syrup and the grapefruit juice, but it still lacks body and could benefit from a touch of lime.
I scan my bar and lock eyes with a bottle of Campari. Perfect. For take three, I ditch the grapefruit bitters and add 1/2 ounce of Campari and 1/2 teaspoon of lime juice to 2 ounces mezcal, 1 ounce grapefruit juice and 3/4 ounce of the syrup. I shake it, strain it into a chilled coupe, and make a garnish by poking a small hole in a grapefruit twist with the tip of a wine corkscrew and threading the stem of a sage leaf through it.
The result isn’t as good as wearing a hoodie and some shades while gazing up at a palm tree, but it’s close. I just texted the picture to my sister-in-law.
Sage-infused honey simple syrup recipe
1/2 cup honey
1/4 oz fresh sage leaves
Mix equal parts honey and water in a small saucepan, then add sage leaves. Bring to a boil, then cut the heat and let the sage steep. Once the syrup cools, strain it into a container and store in the refrigerator for up to three weeks.