It’s inching ever so closer, the most romantic day of the year. I’m speaking of Valentine’s Day, of course, the day you shower your sweetie in gifts of chocolate, flowers, and if you’re like me, some delicious and love-inspired cocktails! I’ve spent the last several weeks scouring the metro for the best romantic cocktail creations, and I’ve compiled a prolific list-one sure to coax the romance out of even the most ardent of Valentine’s Day skeptics. So, strap in, give your liver a break in advance, and call an Uber because these cocktails are sure to go down easily.
What better way to impress that significant other than treat him or her to a cocktail class. That’s what you’ll get at “Valentine’s with Restless Spirits Distilling” on Thursday, Feb 13, Mixologist and Brand Ambassador, Jake Barnett, will lead the class, creating cocktails paired with local chocolate, cheese, and other treats. Barnett recently sampled me on two of his cocktail inspirations to be featured in the class and in the Restless Spirits tasting room-the Dundalk Honeymoon, which uses Sons of Erin Irish Whiskey, strawberry milk, honey syrup, and Campari, and the Forget-Me-Not, which starts with Builder’s Gin, then adds Blue Curacao, lemon juice, and rich simple syrup. They are appropriately colored, pink and blue, and contain just the right level of sweetness. I asked Barnett to share his cocktail creation methodology. “I’ll usually just think of a theme and then I’ll work it backwards from there; I like taking classic cocktails and putting a spin on them,” Barnett told me. For these two drinks, Barnett is riffing on a classic sour for the Forget-Me-Not and a brandy punch for the Dundalk Honeymoon. If you’d like to witness and taste Barnett’s creativity in person, you can pick up tickets to the class in the tasting room and on Restless Spirits’ website at www.restlessspirits.com.
They always have a few specially crafted, Valentine’s-themed cocktails at Affare, Katrin and Martin Heuser’s modern German-inspired restaurant, which I think showcases one of the most romantic dining rooms in town. I dropped in to taste the Hats & Glasses, a mix of single malt Irish whiskey, Luxardo bitter bianco, blanc vermouth, and citrus bitters. Hats and Glasses, referencing two items that make kissing more difficult, is perfectly balanced. It’s bittersweet, just like love, according to mixologist and creator, Chase Ihde. “I wanted something a little lighter. It’s February 14, and you’ve been drinking mulled wine, cider, whiskey, and other dark spirits all winter. I think this drink has the right weight for the time of the year and the occasion,” Ihde shared.
For more Valentine’s Day cocktail insights, I headed around the corner and up the street from Affare to Novel for a visit with Bar Manager Johnathan Bush. Bush is always up for a special drink or two, so it was no surprise he had a couple of Valentine’s Day cocktails ready to go. First was The Lover Club, which features white chocolate syrup black raspberry jam, lemon, gin and egg white. Second, was Smoke A Rose, which combines cinnamon smoked applejack, rye whiskey, lemon, and pomegranate. Just like Ihde’s Hats & Glasses, Bush’s cocktails captured all the elements-taste, texture, and color. Bush says he enjoys the challenge of crafting the perfect drink, and he says Valentine’s Day is special. “Sometimes it’s the name of the drink that gets me first. Like The Lover Club is actually called the Clover Club, so it already had “lover” in the name. I just had to drop a letter,” Bush told me. Valentine’s Day patrons will have plenty from which to choose at Novel the week of February 14 as Bush promises to have all the regular cocktails available along with a half dozen or so he’s inventing just for the occasion.
At J. Rieger & Company Distilling, which was just named a top ten attraction in the country by USA Today newspaper, Andrew Olsen is emphasizing chocolate for his Valentine’s Day creations. I tried two: a Give and Take, with Rieger whiskey and Café Amaro along with sweet vermouth and crème de cacao, and the Brand New Boom, which boasts Rieger gin, crème de cacao, and passion fruit syrup, prosecco, and bitters. Chocolate and Valentine’s Day are a natural fit for Olsen. “That’s usually the route I go. Chocolate doesn’t show its face very often in cocktails, so Valentine’s Day is a great time to use it,” Olsen stated.
My final cocktail creation for Valentine’s Day is from Drew Holmes at Freshwater. Holmes served me a C & C Fiz. A play on a gin fiz, the C & C features gin, a cranberry shrub, egg white, and a little cinnamon sprinkled on top. “It’s just pretty and red and tasty. I like the color, but it was also made with flavor, depth, and texture in mind,” Holmes stated. Holmes says he might change the name for the big day. I sure hope he doesn’t change anything else because it’s perfect as it is.
So, there you have it-eight Valentine’s Day cocktails sure to put a smile on the face of that someone special. Happy Valentine’s Day! Here’s a few recipes to get you started.
- 1 oz Sons of Erin Irish Whiskey
- 1½ oz Strawberry Milk*
- ½ oz Honey Syrup*
- ¼ oz Campari
Shake ingredients and strain into chilled coupe. Garnish with bouquet of fresh mint.
*Strawberry Milk: Shatto Farms makes an excellent Strawberry Milk, or you can make this simple recipe at home:
Macerate 2 cups sliced strawberries in ½ cup white sugar. Blend with 1 quart of whole milk and strain.
*Honey Syrup: Mix equal parts honey and hot water.
- 2 oz Builders Gin
- ½ oz Chamomile Blue Curacao*
- ¾ oz lemon juice
- 1 tsp Rich Simple Syrup*
Shake ingredients and strain into chilled coupe.
*Chamomile Blue Curacao: Steep 3 chamomile tea bags in 750ml of blue curacao for 1 hour.
*Rich Simple Syrup: Simmer 1 cup of water and 2 cups of white sugar until sugar is fully dissolved.
Brand New Boom
- 3/4 oz – Rieger’s Gin
- 1/2 oz – Passion Fruit Syrup
- 1/4 oz – Creme de Cacao
- 3 oz – Sparkling Wine
- Topped with Peychaud’s Bitter Float
Combine all ingredients (except sparkling wine and peychauds) in a cocktail shaker. Strain into a coupe and top with sparkling wine. Lightly dash bitters on top of the cocktail until a thin layer has formed.
Give and Take
- 1 oz – Rieger’s KC Whiskey
- 1 oz – Dolin Rouge Vermouth
- 1/2 oz – Creme de Cacao
- 1/2 oz – Rieger’s Caffè Amaro
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass and stir with ice. Strain into a rocks glass with new ice and garnish with an orange twist.