1.5 oz McClintock Distilling Company White Whiskey
1.5 oz ruby red grapefruit juice
0.5 oz Campari
0.5 oz kumquat & fennel seed simple syrup (recipe below)
1 tbs freshly-grated fennel stalk, juiced
A pinch of salt
Shake ingredients with ice and strain into chilled coupe.
Garnish with a kumquat and fennel frond.
Spring is almost here. Spring is almost here. Spring is almost here.
Hey, Spring! Get here, already!
I know I shouldn’t complain, given the fact that we’ve had an unseasonably warm winter. Still, March is when my patience with winter’s dreariness runs thin, and today, in particular, as I sit on my couch and listen to sleet pelting my windows, I’m ready to see it go.
Citrus fruits ease the pain of a season without a farmer’s market, and, when I have dinner at a friend’s house, she tells me about her favorite winter salad, which features a mix of citrus fruits and fennel. I remember the first time I had just such a salad at a little Italian restaurant in New Orleans many years ago and how obsessed I was with it.
“Let’s build a cocktail around it!” she enthuses.
This week’s cocktail is the result of that collaboration. We start with McClintock White Whiskey from Frederick, Maryland, which my friend insists I taste, saying it’s not like the other white whiskey’s she’s had. She’s right. It has a complexity that surprises me, likely due to the rye mash and the 24 hours it spends in an oak barrel. Somehow it reminds me of a pure agave tequila blanco.
After experimenting with blood orange juice and a fennel seed simple syrup, we both decide that ruby red grapefruit juice will work better, and I decide to punch the simple syrup up with macerated kumquats to give it the taste of two citrus fruits, which we both think crucial to the salads we’re celebrating.
After initially experimenting with grapefruit bitters, the switch to grapefruit juice leads to adding Campari as the bitter. Still, it lacks something. A pinch of salt, she suggests, and as soon as she says it, I know she’s right.
Finally, I want to add more of the salads’ fresh fennel flavor, so I grate a tablespoon of fresh fennel stalk with a fine microplane grater, wrap it in a small piece of cheesecloth and squeeze the juice into the shaker. It’s exactly what we’re after — a winter cocktail that feels like spring.
Kumquat & Fennel Seed Simple Syrup Recipe
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
6 kumquats, halved lengthwise, seeds removed
2 tbs fennel seeds
Macerate the kumquats and sugar in a small saucepan, then add water and stir until sugar is dissolved. Add fennel seeds, bring to a boil, then turn off burner and let steep as syrup cools (about 15 minutes). Strain into jar and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.