IN THE COCKTAIL world, the classics are classic for a reason: They are basic, time tested, and difficult to improve upon. Having a repertoire of ingredients in the home bar to mix a few classic cocktails, coupled with proper glassware and fresh garnishes, underpins one’s hosting abilities—serving a great drink goes a long way to making others feel welcome. November’s Entertaining piece featuring the martini—the most elegant cocktail—inspired last month’s contribution of my take on the classic daiquiri. But sometimes a little variation or riffing on a classic is a good way to mark a special occasion, especially when bellying up to bars staffed by professional mixologists is a rare occurrence in today’s world.
When Forest & Bluff extended an invitation to guest write for the Entertaining section again, I immediately thought of Will Witherow, friend, beverage manager, and head bartender at Live Oak in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia. Spending many hours at his bar, I have come to love his pragmatic approach to cocktails. One will never find a fancy drink name on his menu, though he certainly applies a culinary-like passion to everything he puts into a glass. Witherow will join me over the next few months, graciously sharing a few of his genius riffs that can be served to guests under the classic name—but will just taste better.
For this month’s St. Patrick’s Day holiday, we believe Irish Coffee to be a great start, as a shot of Jameson and a pint of Guinness easily stand on their own merits. The ingredients are simple: coffee, whiskey, simple syrup, and whipped cream. Fresh ingredients made from scratch whenever possible are key. Coffee should be black (not flavored), freshly ground and brewed using your favorite method. Use a respectable Irish whiskey—you can’t go wrong with Jameson, Tullamore, or Bushmills—or riff by substituting the whiskey base with Belle Isle Cold Brew
Moonshine. Finally, ditch the canned whipped cream and make it from scratch by beating heavy cream for a few minutes. Step up the flavor profile (and proof) of the whipped cream by adding a splash of Frangelico or Crème de menthe. A more creative approach to flavorful whipped cream is steeping Honey Nut Cheerios in the heavy cream before whipping—a nostalgic nod to those who drank the leftover cereal milk as a child.
• 1 1/2 ounces Irish whiskey
• 3/4 ounce simple syrup
• 4 ounces fresh black coffee
• Freshly whipped cream
• A sprinkle of nutmeg, for garnish
• Pour freshly brewed coffee into a glass mug or mug of your choice. Stir in
whiskey and simple syrup. Top with whipped cream and a sprinkle of nutmeg.
*To make Honey Nut Cheerios infused whipped cream, place 1 cup chilled heavy cream and ¾ cup Honey Nut Cheerios in a large jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake vigorously and let steep for 20 minutes in the refrigerator. Strain through a fine mesh sieve, pressing gently on the cereal to release the flavored cream. Pour the chilled, strained cream into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment or beat with a hand mixer. When cream begins to thicken, add the sugar and beat until firm.
Cheers to a warm cocktail to help get through winter’s final throes.
Michael Curcio is the co-owner and founder of Bo & Ivy Distillers in northeast Washington D.C. and Will Witherow is the beverage manager at Live Oak Del Ray in Alexandria, VA. For more information, visit @liveoakdelray on Instagram and boandivy.com.