Monday, January 3, 2011

Port-based cocktails

There's a hierarchy of crappiness to those last-minute gifts you're likely to get this year. Socks, toiletries and Cosby-style Christmas sweaters are all at the bottom of the list, as is a donation in your name to, say, the Human Fund. But booze -- now, that's always a welcome afterthought.

Port wines
, for some reason, tend to be a typical booze-gift around the holidays, even if no one really knows what to do with them. To most guys, drinking port seems like an old-man affectation or something your girlfriend does with chocolate desserts.

It shouldn't. The deep fruitiness and earthy complexity of these fortified wines (true port comes from the Douro Valley in
Portugal), buoyed by the addition of grape spirits which make port higher in alcohol content than table wines, provide a depth of body and flavor profile that makes for hearty cold-weather sipping. But even if it's not to your taste on its own, you might take a cue from the many bartenders who have begun working ports into their cocktail repertoires. And since the younger ports tend to come relatively cheap, you won't break the bank experimenting with a few of them at home.

Tawny Manhattan

Of the four options here, this is definitely the simplest to begin with. While the Manhattan is probably the most perfect cocktail in existence, it doesn't hurt to experiment with a beloved recipe from time to time, just in case it turns out you can improve upon perfection. If you've got a bottle of tawny port that's been gathering dust on your shelf, consider using it to replace the sweet vermouth in a standard Manhattan. If you're used to treacly vermouths, the difference here will be striking due to the comparatively mature smoothness of the port.

2 oz rye
1 oz Sandeman Tawny Port
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Combine all ingredients and stir over ice. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with an amarena cherry.


Clubland Cocktail

Although the original version of this recipe (in the 1937 Cafe Royal Cocktail Book) calls for white port, Jay Hepburn of the cocktail blog Oh Gosh! suggests substituting a tawny, which you're more likely to have on hand anyway. Tawny ports, like Dow's 10 Year, are cask-aged from anywhere between two years all the way up to a few decades. The older ones are known as vintage ports, which you wouldn't want to waste in a cocktail. Here, the comparatively youthful tawny adds nutty, vanilla and slight citrus notes to the flavorless but boozy punch of the vodka.


1.5 oz Dow's 10 Year Tawny Port
1.5 oz vodka
1 dash Angostura bitters


Stir all ingredients with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon zest twist.

Erbaluce Port Cocktail

Made from white grapes, white ports range from dry to very sweet, are lower in alcohol than tawny ports and are usually enjoyed cold. This makes them the best bet for mixing. The white port here has soft, fruity and floral flavors that emerge with the addition of the spicy cinnamon and clove bitters. This recipe, derived from a cocktail at the restaurant Erbaluce in Boston, uses anise hyssop grown in the chef's garden and dried at the restaurant, bringing an herbaceous quality to this aperitif cocktail.

1.5 oz Ferreira White Port
.75 oz anise hyssop extraction
.75 oz dry vermouth
Dash Regan's No. 6 Orange bitters

Method: Combine ingredients in a mixing glass, add ice and stir. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with half of a fresh Muscat grape.


Broken Spur Cocktail

While you'll find varying recipes for this cocktail under the same name, including one made with sweet vermouth, orange liqueur and tawny ports, this version is a better option for cocktails you'll be serving at home over the holidays. The port itself is dry, with stone-fruit notes like apricot and peaches that meld nicely with the botanicals of the gin, both of which are eased into a frothy smoothness with the egg white and a seasonally flavorful pop from the nutmeg.

1 Egg Yolk
1 oz Quinta do Infantado White Port
1 oz gin
1 dash anise liqueur

Method: Dry shake all ingredients thoroughly to emulsify, then shake again over ice before straining into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a dusting of nutmeg or cinnamon.

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