One of the casualties of my move west was my fairly extensive home bar. There’s only so much that can fit into my car and all those bottles, alas, didn’t make the cut. They’re all either given to friends who helped me move or put into storage. So if you can find my storage locker in Virginia and break the lock, you can have a hell of a party on me.
Because of this I was a little worried about the upcoming Mixology Monday. I have almost nothing on me and the only nearby liquor store in my present location of Upper Peninsula Michigan doesn’t offer much besides bad gin, Canadian whiskey, and a tiny selection of other basic spirits. Luckily, this month’s MxMo happens to be perfectly tailored to my situation. Kevin at Save the Drinkers chose the theme of “local flavor” to guide our mixing:
Option 1: Gather ingredients that are representative of the culture/geography/tackiness of your respective cities and make a drink with a truly place-based style. For example, huckleberries are native to the geographical area where I live, as are elderflowers, potatoes, and extremely conservative, closet-case politicians. (I’m just saying!)
Option 2: Dig up an old drink that came from your city and revive it! If you can find the original bar, that would be even more interesting.
I don’t know of any cocktails created in Cederville or Hessel, so option 1 it is. The first step was to find the starting spirit, and this is one case in which the local liquor store came through for me: True North vodka from the new Grand Traverse Distillery. It’s not quite Upper Peninsula, but Traverse City is close enough, and with each batch pot distilled from locally-grown rye I couldn’t say no. While I’m not a vodka enthusiast, this one retains enough of its character that I’d happily drink it straight on the rocks. A good find.
This being cherry country, True North also makes a vodka flavored with “cherry essence and a hint of chocolate,” so I picked up a bottle of that too. It tastes a bit too medicinal for me on its own, but the flavors are well-balanced.
So now we’re up to two Northern Michigan ingredients, but I wanted to make this even more local. The next step was to wander around our cottage plucking leaves off of trees, taking in their aromas, and figuring out what would go best in a cocktail. Spruce narrowly beat out balsam for the strongest and most enticing scent, so I cut off a few of sprigs and brought them inside for an infusion. I trimmed the needles into a bowl, poured in a sample amount of vodka, and let it sit over night.
The result? Very strong, true spruce flavor and aroma. Enough so that I repeated the process and sacrificed half the bottle of True North to another batch and after several experiments landed on the following Yoopertini. (As much as I hate the trend of tacking “-tini” onto whatever foul concoction pops into a bartender’s head, since this drink is actually derived from a classic martini I’m making an exception.) Here’s how it goes:
1.5 oz True North spruce-infused vodka
3/4 oz True North cherry vodka
3/4 oz dry vermouth
2 dashes orange bitters
Stir over ice and strain into a martini glass. No, the Cedarville liquor store doesn’t carry orange bitters. Those were one of the few things I packed. Vermouth and orange bitters aren’t locally made, but with the vodkas and the spruce we have three purely local ingredients. It’s not, perhaps, the best drink I could make with spruce vodka and a full bar to work with, but it’s still pretty good and it aptly captures the taste of Northern Michigan in the summer.
Added bonus: After drinking several variations on this, I realized it would probably be a good idea to make sure that there’s nothing toxic about spruce trees. Turns out that the shoots of many spruces are a source of vitamin C and that Captain Cook used spruce beer to protect his crew against scurvy. So between this drink and homemade tonic water, I’m warding off all kinds of diseases that I have virtually no chance of catching anyway. To health!