We Won't Go Until We Get Some (a spiced fig and orange tiki-inspired non-alcoholic cocktail)
This one's short and sweet, cause I've got presents to open and food to eat.
Happy Christmas Eve, readers!
First of all, let me end the suspense from last week’s newsletter and say that I did manage to get a proper PCR test, and I do not have COVID! I do still have some kind of opportunistic winter virus.
So this one is going to be short, because I’m feeling a lot better, though still not quite 100%, and I have been working on building out the 5PM Eternal dry bar in my living room (to be revealed soon!) all day, and I have some truffle paté to eat, Acid League Fruitcake Wine Proxy to drink, and A Very Murray Christmas to watch on Netflix.
Speaking of fruitcake, the inspiration for this week’s drink was, initially, Jamaican black cake, a very dense fruit cake made from three or more pounds of raisins, figs, dates, and currants ground into a paste that is spiced with allspice, nutmeg, ginger, and cinnamon, and studded with cherries, almonds, and orange peel, and then soaked for months in Jamaican rum before it’s served at Christmas. I’ve never tasted it, because I first heard of it when I was already sober, but I have held one, and let me tell you, English fruitcake has nothing on black cake’s density.
Rather than go the obvious December-y route with a warm drink, or a wintry riff on an old-fashioned, I decided to set myself the challenge of making my first tiki-style drink. There’s been a lot of discussion in the last several years about the politics of tiki, and the cultural appropriation of Polynesian cultural iconography by white American men, but almost universally, those justified critics agree that the actual drinks and the specific techniques of tiki cocktail making are worth preserving (just divorced from the cartoonish racism). For a much more comprehensive read on this, I suggest reading this piece about Chockie Tom, an indigenous American bartender now based in London, “Indigenous Advocacy, Doom Metal, and Fundraging: How Chockie Tom Is Shaking up the Cocktail Industry”.
There are some specific differences to how one builds this style of tropical cocktail that differ from the standard craft cocktail, which is ideally a balance of sweet, sour, bitter, and spirit, as well as techniques that are acceptable— and even preferred!— that would horrify your average cocktail lounge bartender (more on that later). According to Martin Cate, founder of the very famous Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco, tiki cocktails are about balancing sweet and sour with spiced, strong (the spirit), and weak (fruit juices, other mixers, and ice). Given the recipes that I’ve read for inspiration, weak is extremely important in an alcoholic tiki cocktail, because they have an absolutely absurd amount of alcohol per drink (sometimes as much as 4 or 5 ounces for a single drink!). Luckily, in a non-alcoholic cocktail, we don’t have the same problem, but now we have a new one— how do we best balance the flavors when we don’t have to balance massive amounts of booze?
This was the issue I found in making this drink, as I kept adding new flavors of syrup: fig and cherry and blood orange and ginger and almond. Quite the opposite of the way they perform in fruitcake, Christmas pudding, or panettone, where each is still quite distinguishable, blending all of these syrups together resulted in a muddy blur that was sweet, but not even recognizable as spiced or fruity. Kind of like the nebulously sweet, “red” flavor of generic fruit punch. NOT what I was trying to achieve at all.
So I went back to studying, and read Don the Beachcomber, and Trader Vic, and Beachbum Berry, and discovered that despite the greenhouse’s worth of garnish in most of tiki drinks, there is a comparative restraint in the number of flavors in each one— it’s rare that there are more than two fruit flavors other than lemon, lime, or orange, which are typically used for their balancing acid, rather than their fruity flavor. I stripped out the cherry, blood orange, and ginger syrups, using only Liber & Co.’s Orgeat (an almond and orange blossom syrup that’s best known as a necessity in the Mai Tai and tastes like liquid marzipan) and Caramelized Fig Syrup (hence the name of the cocktail, since it’s now the dominant fruit), both of which I had to restrain myself from just pouring on some ice cream… or drinking straight out of the bottle, because they are delicious. I replaced the orange syrup with fresh squeezed orange juice to add to semi-crushed and blended ice as my “weak.” For the spice, since I didn’t have any Falernum syrup (an allspice based, non-alcoholic version of the allspice liqueur of the same name), and probably would have had the same problem with the syrup’s sweetness muddying the flavor of the drink, anyway. Instead, I just threw the actual spices directly into the blender.
Speaking of, this drink requires a blender, but you’re not going to make a slushy. Just blitz everything with ice for 5-10 seconds, until you get a tasty drink that’s perfectly diluted, not too sweet, not too sour, and with just enough cozy, Christmas-y, but also decidedly Caribbean spice. If you have a drink mixer (the thing you see used at diners and retro soda shops to make milkshakes), it’s actually a better option than a blender, but you should still blend for only 5-10 seconds. You want some ice cubes among the froth. You’ll pour the whole thing into a glass, and not over new ice cubes, which craft cocktail makers will shudder at doing (after all, it’s literally called a “dirty dump” in bartender parlance!), but trust me, this is the correct way for this style of drink.
While we’re talking correct ways, you absolutely, positively cannot use anything but fresh squeezed orange juice and lemon juice in this drink. Just don’t. You’ll probably only need one orange and half a lemon, so it’s not like you will spend an hour juicing, and make sure to strain the juice of seeds and pulp (you can use a fine mesh strainer for this if you don’t have one of those two level citrus juicers). But really, don’t make this if you can’t make the juice from scratch, as it will be dreadful. And while I’m making declarations about freshness, please, please use good spices that haven’t been sitting in the kitchen cabinet for five years (or more).
The two different non-alcoholic spirits are a somewhat unusual blend of zero-proof rum and whiskey. Ritual Zero Proof Rum Alternative acts as the deep, rich, caramel and vanilla alternative to a barrel aged rum, while the Spiritless Kentucky 74 adds some more oak and vanilla while pulling back on the sweet caramel flavor, a trick I picked up from Beachbum Berry Remixed. Berry suggests using bourbon as a substitute for okolehao, an Hawaiian spirit I’ve never tasted and have absolutely no idea if he’s right in making the comparison, but that suggestion is why I tried a bourbon alternative in a tropical drink in the first place. It is critical to balance this drink and make it taste like a non-alcoholic cocktail instead of the type of sweet and fruity drink you get when you order a virgin drink at a beach-side resort, and they just serve you straight margarita or daiquiri mix with a straw.
And though this is definitely a warmly spiced drink you can sip the rest of the winter, it’s refreshing enough for hot weather, too!
RECIPE: We Won’t Go Until We Get Some
½ ounce Liber & Co. Orgeat
4 ounces fresh squeezed OJ
½ ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 ounce of Spiritless Kentucky 74
2 whole cloves
Dash of ground allspice
Ice (about a cup, or 6-8 cubes)
Pour the syrups, juices, and non-alcoholic spirits into the pitcher of a blender.
Add 2 cloves and ground allspice.
Top with about a cup of ice cubes. (Tip: Don’t skimp on the ice! Without it, your drink will be overly concentrated and taste way too sweet and sour.)
Blitz for 5-10 seconds on high, until drink is frothy but there are still large ice chunks left.
Pour into highball and serve with a straw, or if you have a super festive goblet, go for that.
I’m not going to go too in depth on this one, since, again, I’ve got to watch the lesser known Bill Murray Christmas movie here in a second, but you really should check out The Killers’ collection of all of their Christmas EPs they’ve put out for years, Don’t Waste Your Wishes. My favorite is “Don’t Shoot Me Santa.”
Enjoy, Merry Christmas, and until next week, may your days be merry and bright, and all your 5:00s eternal!