Amongst a large volume of stuff of all varieties that my grandmother left behind when she died—dishes, pig figurines, family photos, old sweatshirts with puffy paint Christmas motifs, clam shell ‘ashtrays’, yahtzee paraphernalia, family heirlooms, fake flowers, antiques—there is also an awful lot of liquor.
As I have mentioned before, she enjoyed a good drink, usually at least once a day. She came from the old cocktails-and-cigarettes-from-5PM-onward school of relaxation, so throughout her many birthdays and Christmases it was a natural choice for her friends to send her a special bottle of something.
Her ‘interest’ in all things pig-related attracted a bottle of hard cider with a pig’s face on the label. Her location in and love for the state of Maine inspired an old friend to send along some blueberry liqueur. Someone else gave her a drink called ‘Maple Mist’.
And now it’s all just sitting here, gathering dust, the physical ghosts of good times past. I look at the little dish cabinet at the end of the hall, filled with this odd bar, and can see Grandma dropping ice into a tumbler on Christmas Eve, and hear the ash crackling as she draws on her cigarette.
It’s a shame to let her drinks go to waste.
So let’s get the cocktail party going again: every now and then I’ll choose a bottle from the cabinet, figure out what the heck it is, and think of a few good ways to use it. Cigarettes, leopard-print, and Graduate-style antics are optional.
Up first: Ginger Brandy
This is the inaugural spirit of choice, because ginger was Grandma’s thing. I always think of her when I see it candied, or in ice cream. Whoever sent her this must have hit the nail on the head, because ginger + alcoholic beverage = one happy Grandma.
Brandy, for those of you who don’t know, is made by distilling wine. Its origins date back to the beginning of distillation itself in the 12th century, when beverages were preserved by concentration. The process removed water from the drink, so it could be stored in oak casks and more easily transported, then reconstituted at its destination by adding water back in. After a while, people started noticing that the oak containers infused a rather pleasing taste and so started storing brandies in wood casks for deliberate results.
Many brandies are made from fermented grapes, including Cognac and Armagnac (which come from specific regions of France). However, any type of fermented fruit can be used—these are usually referred to as ‘fruit brandies’ to distinguish them from the grape wine varieties. We can talk more about fruit brandies when we get into the schnapps and applejack and calvados (all types of brandy!), but for now, let’s stick to the gingery task at hand.
What to do with ginger brandy? I’ve already been mixing it into whipped cream, and think it would be a great choice for any dessert recipe calling for regular brandy. But this is a cocktail party, right? So let’s try the Chatham Cocktail, which sounds sufficiently bee-hive-and-high-heels for this little soiree.
4 oz. Gin
1 oz. Ginger Brandy
1 oz. lemon juice
1 t superfine sugar
Candied ginger for garnish
Pop it all in a shaker with some ice, shake, and strain into the lovely cocktail glass of your choice. Garnish with candied ginger, and strike a pose.