In Search of New England's Classic Cocktail
Bodine says he mostly drinks his spirits neat, but Constance likes a cocktail and stays up on trends. So she started tinkering with bitters a few years back, using blueberry wine as a base and infusing it with blueberries, plus other ingredients, like gentian root, dried citrus peels, cardamom, and allspice. Eventually she came up with something she liked. She makes a cranberry version, too.
I splashed a few drops of both bitters on the back of my hand and tasted. Both are delightfully pungent and concentrated, with the cranberry capturing the tartness of those berries and then some. With a bottle of each, I headed home.
There was one last thing to do: see whether these varied ingredients could be coaxed to sing the same song. That’s also part of the New England gestalt: This region honors the do-it-yourself culture. So instead of trekking to another dozen bars–yawn–I settled into my kitchen with a slew of local products before me, plus a mixing glass, a jigger, and a bowl of ice, and I set to work.
I tried some of this and some of that. I went too heavy on the maple syrup in many variations (it’s a bully of an ingredient, but I love it) and played with both the pear and the apple brandy. I even dipped back into the 18th century and made my own blueberry shrub–a mix of cider vinegar, sugar, and macerated blueberries. But it didn’t seem to play well with others.
A classic cocktail should be as crisp as an October apple and as solidly built as a barn. None of my cocktail experiments achieved those standards. They mostly seemed muddy and ill-focused; some just kept rambling on and on, like a doddering uncle in his cups, long after I’d put down the glass. I did love the pear in the pear brandy, but it tangled with the maple for sweetness supremacy.
None of my drinks found greatness–but none was horrible. (I poured only two down the kitchen sink.) And after a couple of weeks of near-misses–I got close with a blueberry shrub, rum, and apple brandy–it occurred to me that the looking was more important than the finding. It’s like what people said about the Red Sox: The anticipation of winning the World Series was more enjoyable than actually winning. (And look what happened afterwards.)
So I’ll keep mixing and stirring, adding this and subtracting that. With any luck, I’ll fit all of New England into a glass. Or better yet, I won’t–which will keep my quest alive.