Strawberry Basil Gimlet
Every year I wait for the arrival of the first batch of plump, sweet strawberries like a kid waiting for Santa to pay a visit down the chimney. Nothing signals the start of the spring/summer (what season is it when it’s 90 degrees in June, anyway?) growing season for me like strawberries. And I’d argue I get a better deal than a child on Christmas – the produce season in PA keeps on giving, week after week, month after month. I love Pennsylvania in any season, but from June through October – when each month brings a gift of a new selection of produce – I feel particularly lucky.
Sara Bozich, central PA celebrity and friend of the blog, asked me to suggest a summer drink and book “pairing.” I had my first pint of local strawberries sitting in my kitchen begging to be used, and an idea for a drink putzing around the back of my brain, so I figured this was the perfect opportunity to craft a cocktail that tasted like summer in PA.
Bright, fresh flavors from fresh ingredients
This strawberry basil gimlet beckons you out to the patio, suggests you pull up a chair in a bit of breezy shade, then convinces you to spend a few hours with it keeping company with a good read. (Not that I’d recommend TOO many hours with it…each drink does have 2 ounces of booze.)
To pair with the sweetness of spring strawberries and the refreshing tartness of a gimlet (gin and sweetened lime juice), I wanted something to balance the drink out. Basil is one of my favorite herbs to grow and use fresh, and just a few leaves add a nice herbal note that plays nicely with the strawberries. A few grinds of fresh black pepper finish everything off with just a little tickle in the back of the throat.
My strawberries came from Piney Mountain Orchard, my produce CSA. I’ve mentioned here before – I’m a big fan of the idea of Community Supported Agriculture, and Megan from Piney Mountain has been supplying my produce for the past few years. Piney Mountain is a small, family-run farm using sustainable growing practices to supply mostly veggies, some fruit, plus herbs and eggs to local consumers and markets. Each week I receive a new batch of fresh, locally grown produce. I can’t recommend Megan and the Piney Mountain CSA enough. You could probably still get in on this season if you wanted, and if not – she does do a winter CSA you could sign up for this fall.
Take this one out to the patio
My book pairing suggestion for Sara Bozich was The View from the Cheap Seats, a collection of short works of non-fiction from Neil Gaiman. Gaiman is one of my favorite writers. He usually works in the fantasy realm, and does a lot of graphic novels and children’s fiction. The View from the Cheap Seats is his first published collection of non-fiction, and I think it will be perfect to pick through this summer, consuming it in little bites. I was introduced to Gaiman as a team through his series of graphic novels The Sandman. (In particular, I was obsessed with the character Death, as I was myself a wanna-be goth freaky chick.) I’ve since read any number of his graphic novels as well as his fiction for both children and adults.
In addition to The View from the Cheap Seats, some standouts I’d recommend from Gaiman:
Pick up any one of those to read, shake up a strawberry basil gimlet, and try to tell me you don’t feel like a kid on a holiday.
Strawberry Basil Gimlet Recipe
5-6 fresh small strawberries, or 3 large
2 big basil leaves
3/4 oz. fresh lime juice
1/2 oz. simple syrup
A few turns fresh black pepper
2 oz. dry gin (I used Bluecoat)
Muddle the strawberries, basil, lime juice, simple syrup and black pepper in a cocktail shaker. Don’t be shy — you want the strawberries totally broken down and the basil well bruised.
Add the gin.
Fill the shaker at least half full with ice and give it a good shake.
Strain into a cocktail glass.
Garnish with another basil leaf, if you want to be fancy.
The Luxembourg: a kumquat rosemary smash
Peak citrus season is coming to an end. And, unfortunately, I’ve marked citrus season with more spoiled citrus than citrus I’ve taken advantage of. I celebrated citrus season with: one spoiled bag of blood oranges, two ruined bags of Meyer lemons, and more penicillin produced by bad limes than I need to fight a year’s worth of infections.
One thing I didn’t waste though – some of the season’s last kumquats.
If you’ve never tried a kumquat – try to get your hands on some before the season runs it’s course! As someone described them to me recently, they are like the Sour Patch Kids of the fruit world. Tart and sweet, all in the same bite.
Kumquats. Just like Sour Patch Kids.
I’d been pondering a cocktail made with kumquats and Bluecoat Gin (produced in Philly!) since a trip to Luxembourg City over the holidays. I hadn’t expected Luxembourg to be a gin mecca, but I was pleasantly surprised.
Over the Christmas and New Year’s holiday, the husband and I planned a tour through Germany, France, and Belgium. We were excited to spend our time in Paris sampling all the champagne we could, our time in Brussels seeking out obscure sour beers (no, we were not afraid of terrorist attacks), and our time in Weisbaden bonding with friends. Mapping that trip out, we realized it was obvious we had to stop in Luxembourg, if for nothing else than another check mark on our country tour. But when we arrived, we found that Luxembourg City was going through a gin & tonic phase that was inspiring!
At every trendy bar we hit in Luxembourg City (and there aren’t all that many – the city is on the small side), we were impressed by not just the varieties of gin, but also the variety of artisan tonics and fancy garnishes being served. One bar had easily 40 different gins, each with a unique garnish on display at the bar.
The cobalt bottle of the Philadelphia Distilling’s Bluecoat gin caught my eye. Since they came on the market a few years back, I’ve kept a bottle of Bluecoat in regular rotation on my gin shelf. During a chat with a Luxembourgish bartender, I found out that they serve the Bluecoat with a kumquat garnish.
A few simple ingredients yields a tasty cocktail.
That came back to me this weekend, as I was thinking about celebrating what friends informed me was “national gin & tonic day.” I knew I had some Bluecoat on the shelf, and figured if I could find some kumquats it might be one of the last times this season I’d be able to make a drink involving both kumquats and Bluecoat (I was right – I got the last bunch of kumquats I could find at Wegmans.).
Inspired by a drink I’d had earlier in the weekend at Volt Restaurant, I decided I wanted to make a “smash.” Partly I thought it’d be pretty (it is), partly because I figured it would taste pretty good (right again).
The generally accepted definition of a “smash,” when it comes to cocktails, is a drink that involves:
- a spirit
- seasonal fruit
- an herb
- a sweetener
- served over shaved or crushed ice.
I had the spirit (Bluecoat gin), and the seasonal fruit (kumquats). When it came to the herb, I thought that Aperol might complement the citrus notes of the kumquat, and realized I had a rosemary-infused Aperol sitting on the shelf (as one does). I had my herb. I knew I needed to muddle my kumquats with sugar to extract their juices and oils, thus I had my sweetener.
(As an aside, I think “my kumquat” needs to be my new all purpose pet name. “Let’s go get coffee, my kumquat!” “Thanks for taking care of that, my kumquat!” “You look adorable in that sweater, my kumquat!” Okay…I admit at some point – it gets weird…)
There’s nothing terribly complicated about this recipe, though some elements may sound intimidating. My recipe calls for rosemary-infused Aperol, yes. To be clear, if you use un-doctored Aperol, it will still be delicious. But if you want the infusion, it is no more complicated than taking a few springs of rosemary and sticking them in a bottle of Aperol for a few hours, up to overnight. You are going for a rosemary scent, not for a spirit tasting of wood.
To make the Luxembourg, you start by combining thickly sliced kumquats, the leaves from a sprig of rosemary, and sugar in your shaker. Muddle them until you have some juice filling the bottom of your shaker. If you don’t have juicy kumquats, you might want to add more to your muddle, until you can see at least a bit of juice moving around the bottom of your shaker.
After you are done muddling (when the kumquats have gone smooshy and you aren’t going to get any more juice out of them), add the Aperol, gin and some ice cubes, and give it a good shake. Strain into a tumbler full of shaved or crushed ice (I don’t know where people get shaved ice, but I can get crushed ice from my fridge). Throw in one last sprig of rosemary, for some scent, and there you go. A kumquat rosemary smash. The Luxembourg.
The Luxembourg: A Kumquat Rosemary Smash
- 4-5 kumquats, sliced
- leaves from 1 sprig of fresh rosemary
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 oz Bluecoat gin
- 1/2 oz rosemary-infused Aperol
- shaved or crushed ice
- splash of club soda
- 1 sprig of fresh rosemary to garnish
- Roughly slice 4-5 fresh kumquats.
- Muddle kumquat slices, rosemary leaves and sugar in a cocktail shaker.
- Add gin, Aperol and a handful of whole ice cubes to the shaker. Shake vigorously.
- Strain into a tumbler full of shaved or crushed ice.
- Top with a splash of club soda.
- Garnish with a rosemary sprig.
If you’re reading this, you more than likely know me personally (Hi, Mom!), and if you know me, I’m sure you know it’s Harrisburg Beer Week. I wanted to get in on all the local, craft beer fun, so I came up with a recipe for a “milkshake” using Zeroday Brewing Co.’s Dolce Vita, a chocolate hazelnut stout.
The recipe makes enough for one large shake. You wouldn’t want to share it anyway. Trust me.
Harrisburg Beer Week
Before I get into the Made From PA ingredients and the recipe, I’m just want to say that Harrisburg Beer Week has been amazing, and I’m proud of my friends from Stouts & Stilettos and SaraBozich.com for pulling it off. It has been so interesting to see just how active and large the craft beer community is in our area. There are more than 140 events associated with Beer Week, and every single one I’m aware of has been successful. Some of them were so successful they had to turn people away! All this in support of a good cause, the Harrisburg River Rescue. Kudos to Chelsie, Colleen, Sara and Tierney.
Shake from PA
Now. Let’s talk about this shake. Guys. This shake. SO. GOOD. I was inspired by my friends’ chocolate hazelnut stout, made a few guesses, and honestly — with very little tweaking this recipe makes one of the best milkshakes I’ve ever had. The fact that there isn’t any milk in it…well, we don’t need to worry about, now do we? Not when we have beer!
Made as I did it, this shake is truly Made From PA. I used beans from Little Amps, a local Harrisburg coffee roaster, and cream from Apple Valley Creamery in East Berlin, PA, to make the coffee ice cream. And instead of milk, my liquid ingredients are a Harrisburg-brewed chocolate hazelnut stout and a Philadelphia-made coffee rum. I’ll share the coffee ice cream recipe soon, so you can play along at home on that one. The coffee rum is available to order online. The only ingredient not from PA is the sea salt, and well, you’ll just have to forgive me for that one. Do NOT try this recipe without the salt. You’ll regret it.
But I hate to say, there’s currently no way for you to get the chocolate hazelnut stout at home. I cheated, and conned my brewery-owning friends into letting me take home some of their amazing Dolce Vita stout just so I could make this recipe.
Don’t worry, it would be easy enough to make this recipe with easier-to-find ingredients. It’s still going to be good. You can use any commercially available coffee ice cream. I’d recommend going with a premium one here, though. Häagen-Dazs would be a good choice. As I said, the coffee rum is available online, but if you needed to substitute you could try a coffee or espresso vodka, any other coffee liquor, or even substitute an Irish whiskey for a different but equally yummy flavor. Instead of the Dolce Vita chocolate hazelnut stout, you could go with any sweet stout that has some chocolate flavor to it. You could even vary that with a vanilla or coffee stout, but really…why leave out the chocolate?
A version with more standard ingredients is going to be good. But for your sake I hope ZeroDay starts selling their beers to go soon, because the Dolce….oooh, the Dolce. Really. It completes this shake.
Zeroday Brewing Company
The Dolce Vita chocolate hazelnut stout is my favorite of the flagship beers at the brand new Zeroday Brewing Co. in Harrisburg. Owned by friends-of-the-blog Brandalynn and Theo Armstrong, Zeroday just opened its doors April 8. It has already become one of my most frequent Midtown haunts. Yes, the brewery is just a few blocks from my home. Dangerous, I know.
If you haven’t already, stop into Zeroday Brewing for a beer. Like the limited Saison 28!
I realize that as the owners are my friends, I’m a little biased, but I have to tell you how impressed I am with them from a business perspective. The careful planning and forethought the two of them have put into the launch of the brewery are sure to ensure its success. And I LOVE the mission and motivation that is driving their choices. Brandalynnn and Theo knew specifically that they wanted their brewery to be in an urban location within Harrisburg that was bikeable and walkable for their neighbors. They settled on Midtown Harrisburg, a neighborhood that is trying — and sometimes struggling — to improve itself. Many a restaurant or bar have opened in Midtown only to close shortly after they failed to draw the patrons they needed, so this choice wasn’t without risk for the Armstrongs. But Brandalynn and Theo have chosen to be a part of the revitalization that is happening in Midtown, and want their brewery to become part of the community here. They aren’t trying to become the largest craft brewer in PA, but they want to be a part of and add to this amazing neighborhood I live in.
What they’re doing with their beer fits right along with that mission. Their flagship beers are very approachable. Considering their location and goals, I think this is perfect. The Zeroday Cheap Date blonde ale is like a more flavorful version of a macrobrew lite beer. Even some of the styles of beer they brew that I don’t usually prefer I find very drinkable, like their IPA and dry stout. Opening a brewery in Midtown Harrisburg that sold completely exotic flavors and really challenging beers wouldn’t mesh with their desire to truly be a neighborhood brewery. And that decision has paid off. The Zeroday tasting room has been consistently crowded since it opened, and Brandalynn and Theo are already seeing the type of repeat, neighborhood business they had hoped for.
It really is as delicious as it looks.
Zeroday does plan on eventually selling their beers to go. So hopefully soon, you’ll be able to make the Dolce Vita shake yourself. Until then, give it a try with a beer like the Penn Brewery Chocolate Meltdown, the Yards Love Stout, or Lancaster Brewing Company’s Double Chocolate Milk Stout. If you do make a version with another beer, or a different liquor, let me know how it turns out!
- 1 pint premium coffee ice cream
- 1/2 cup Zeroday Brewing Co.'s Dolce Vita stout (or any sweet chocolate stout)
- 2 oz. La Colombe's Different Drum coffee-infused rum (or any coffee liquor)
- 2 pinches sea salt
- Combine ingredients in a blender.
The first time I tried genever, the forefather of traditional gin, I was in a candlelit bar in the back streets of New Orleans’ French Quarter. Bar Tonique is a small and subdued spot that focuses on original, adapted and classic craft cocktails. The drinks you get there are nothing like the shockingly colored, overly sweetened drinks they sling down on Bourbon Street. Ahem. Pat O’Brien, I’m looking at you.
At that point, I was only just starting to get into gin. This was many, many years ago, friends. In my earlier imbibing days, I hadn’t cared for the piney scent and taste of the gins I’d had to that point. There was no appeal to a gin and tonic. Then I discovered Hendricks, with its lovely cucumber flavor. A Hendricks cucumber gimlet soon became a regular order for me. I was a gin convert.
The blood orange juice makes for a lovely-colored drink.
At Bar Tonique, after a friendly chat with the bartenders about their craft, my husband and I were offered samples of a type of gin neither of us had heard before. The bartenders poured us out shots of genever to sip, and there went my perception of gin, again.
Genever, also spelled jenever or genièvre, doesn’t taste like most gins you know. It has a malty, spicy flavor to it you just won’t find in traditional gin. Some people describe it as tasting like a mix of gin and scotch. Not being a scotch drinker (I know, I know), I can’t offer an opinion. It is still made from juniper berries, so the piney flavor is still there, but there is a different complexity to genever.
Wigle’s Ginever has a bold, malty flavor.
Genever is also called Holland gin or Dutch gin, and is actually the Netherlands’ national spirit. Bols Genever is the most well known. I actually haven’t tried Bols, though I want to. Bols has been distilling genever since 1664, though they revamped their recipe in 1820. They’re still using that 1820 recipe now.
Traditional genever is distilled from corn, rye and malted barley. Wigle makes their Ginever from a mix of wheat, rye and malted barley. My assumption about the funky spelling is that Wigle technically can’t call their spirit genever, as it’s a protected name. Europe has some fancy shmancy laws that genever can only come from the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany or France, similar to the restrictions around the use of the label “Champagne.”
Wigle uses the expected juniper, but also adds their own mix of herbs and spices to the mash for their Ginever. Like all of their spirits, the Ginever is made from all organic ingredients, and the grains and botanicals they use are grown locally. Wigle actually opened a Whiskey Garden in their North Side Pittsburgh Barrelhouse location last year and have started growing their own plants and herbs to flavor their spirits.
Blood oranges are a fun change from naval oranges while they’re in season.
I haven’t had Genever very much, so I can’t really compare the Wigle Ginever to a standard. But it does have the nice complexity and bold flavor that sets it apart from your standard gin. I’m not one to drink my spirits straight, but if you are this is definitely sippable.
To make a cocktail with the Ginever, I knew I wanted something that could stand up to the big malty flavor, but without overwhelming the flavor of the spirit. I decided to go for a bitter yet sweet mix, so tried out mixing the Ginever with blood orange juice. Also, blood oranges are only around for so long, and really – if you have an opportunity to make a drink that is naturally that color, you should. I used a Campari swirl in the glass as well as a finisher of orange bitters to add to the bitter profile, and some triple sec to add to the sweet orange profile. I did find in the end that the drink needed just a little something to add a teeny kick, so in went a splash of fresh lime juice. In the end, the drink is a really nice balance of the bitter and sweet sides of orange.
The sweet blood orange goes nicely with Wigle Ginever.
Run out and grab the last blood oranges of the season, hit the liquor store for some Wigle Ginever, and give this cocktail a try before you have to wait until next year!
- Add a splash of Campari to a cocktail glass such as a coupe or martini glass. Swirl to coat the sides of the glass.
- Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add Ginever, blood orange juice, triple sec and lime juice. Shake vigorously.
- Strain into the prepared cocktail glass.
- Finish with a few dashes of Regan's bitters.
The last couple years have been pretty exciting for Pennsylvania-based spirit lovers. There’s been a rash of new craft distilleries popping up all over the state, making everything from traditional Appalachian moonshine to vodka to absinthe. And I mean rash in the best possible way. If…there was actually such thing as a good rash…which I’m not sure about…and am not about to Google.
The reason for this sudden spread of spirit makers is a change in the PA liquor code in 2011 to allow “limited distillery” licenses. These licenses are cheaper and easier to get then the old distillery licenses, and allow small distilleries to make and sell their own spirits direct to the public. Before this change, Pennsylvania had only a handful of distilleries. Now there are already 20 new businesses selling their spirits, with a number more holding licenses. Good news for the craft alcohol scene. Good news for the growing PA cocktail scene. Good news for me!
The creme de violette makes this cocktail a lovely purple color
The first of these craft distilleries I’ve decided to feature is Wigle Whiskey, based in Pittsburgh. We’re going to look at a cocktail made from their Ginever, crafted by a bartender from Social at Bakery Square.
Wigle Whiskey is a family distillery, owned and operated by the Meyer family. Mark and Mary Ellen head the family, and have been running the distillery with their children since 2012. My husband, who works in the PA legislature, met the Meyers when PA was in the process of passing the limited distillery law. We’ve had the opportunity to share a few cocktails with them since and have visited with the family at their distillery and tasting room in Pittsburgh’s Strip District.
The Wigle facility is fantastic. Its location in the Strip is perfect – industrial and functional but also trendy and popular. I can vouch that they have no trouble tempting visitors to stop by and sample their spirits. “Bustling” would be a pretty apt description of their tasting room each time I’ve stopped in. You can try a cocktail or straight spirits in the tasting room, and they also do tours of the distillery to show how the magic happens. If you are going to stop by, I highly recommend you get tickets in advance, as they do sell out.
The Meyers are devoted Pittsburghers. They invite the community into the distillery in any number of ways, from bottling parties to classes to their Neighborhood Series, which is all about Pittsburgh neighborhoods. Last year they opened a new tasting room in an often overlooked neighborhood on Pittsburgh’s North Side, Spring Garden.
The new location, which the Meyers call the Whiskey Garden and Barrelhouse, serves as another site for patrons to imbibe Wigle spirits. The new place holds Wigle’s “innovation lab,” as well as a garden where they plan to grow the plants and botanicals used in their spirits. That is definitely Made From PA! Actually, Wigle’s already makes all of their products from scratch from local products. They’re one of the few distilleries that can make that claim.
Wigle’s started with their white (meaning un-aged) rye whiskey. I thought their decision to sell mini barrel kits for the white whiskey, since they hadn’t had time to age it yet, was ingenious. Also, super cute. I realize I’m essentially doing the distillery’s job for them when I use one, but I can’t help but feel special. Look at me! I’m aging whiskey! How hip am I?!
After the whiskey, they started making ginever and rum. They’re now selling the white as well as aged whiskey (both rye and wheat), ginever (white and barrel rested), and rum (white and spiced). They also make and sell their own bitters, in the traditional aromatic as well as a few unique flavors like their lovely rosemary lavender.
Since most of the Pennsylvania distilleries are new and I’m not necessarily familiar with the unique flavors of their spirits, I’ve decided to have my cocktail posts follow a pattern: first I’ll try a recipe that comes from the distillery to see how the distillery prefers to treat the liquor. Then I’ll follow up with a second post where I try my hand at mixing up a new cocktail with their spirit.
Probably more appropriate for my first cocktail made from a Wigle spirit would be to use their whiskey. It was their first product. It is part of their NAME. Rye whiskey represents Pennsylvania, and particularly western PA’s contribution to America’s whiskey history.
But nope, we’re going with the Ginever. Because I’m wild! Unpredictable! I defy expectations! Also…I like gin more than whiskey. I’m working on the whiskey thing, I swear. I had a cocktail with rye whiskey in it just yesterday, and it was delicious.
Anyway. Ginever is what I had on hand. Moving on.
Wigle’s lists recipes for most of their spirits on their website. I took a look through the Ginever recipes and was tempted by the “Avigation.” The Aviation is a classic cocktail I’m rather fond of, so I was curious what twist this version would put on the drink. The recipe comes from Chris Kuhn, a bartender at Social at Bakery Square. Social is one of many bars in Pittsburgh that is part of the cocktail revival happening all over the country.
Fresh juices are essential for good cocktails. I keep extra around always.
A classic Aviation combines dry gin, maraschino liquor (no, not the red stuff from the cherries), lemon juice and crème de violette, which gives it a lovely light purple color. The Avigation keeps the crème de violette and lemon juice, but swaps the Wigle’s Ginever for standard gin, and triple sec for the maraschino. It also adds a little lime juice, and finishes the drink with Wigle’s rosemary lavender bitters.
With those switches, I expected a few changes to the drink I was used to. There would be a little more citrus tang from the lime and triple sec. I hadn’t had the Ginever before, but know that genevers are generally more malty and less piney than standard gin. The Avigation would have a heavier flavor with the Ginever than the bright flavor imparted from a dry gin.
I was mostly right. The Avigation is a nice, well balanced cocktail that has enough to pleasantly remind me of my old favorite but quite a different finish due to the Ginever, as well as the bitters. The rosemary lavender bitters add a really nice complexity – they bring yet another layer of flavor to the sweet, tangy and malty. A success overall, and a drink I’ll be making again.
This recipe comes from Chris Kuhn of Social at Bakery Square. Not a Made From PA original! Chris does a nice riff on a classic Aviation cocktail. The malty Ginever and rosemary lavender bitters make for a complex but drinkable cocktail. And its still the lovely purple color you expect from an Aviation!
- Combine in shaker filled with ice.
- Shake briskly.
- Strain into cocktail glass.