Happy Hour: Ginger Brandy

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.

Chatham Cocktail
(makes 2)
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.

Anne Bancroft


Sue said...

Hilarious! I can just imagine Grandma getting a great laugh out of this, too!
Love the photos... especially the liquor and china cabinet. Pretty! (The last line and the last photo also made me laugh out loud...)

Stephfret said...


Anonymous said...

Great post! I too have grandparent heritage that was based around cocktail o’clock. We would gather after a day at the beach (having been forced as kids to get washed & dress for dinner - booorrrriiinnng) at the bar area for pre-dinner drinks & nibbles. Grandma in her tweed skirt & twin set (cardigan worn on the shoulders), while Grandpa stood behind the bar, in blazer & cravat, making the ‘adults’ the tipple of their choice (although he used to slip me tasters of things, like campari soda – not for the faint hearted never mind a 7 year old!). I would play with the collection of swizzle sticks he’d collected from all over the world. He left me them when he died. My sister has the bar itself, and often wheels it out in conversation as if to say “Ha! I got the bar”. But I love my swizzle sticks. Happily, for my birthday last year I received a special one from across the pond – a bright pink one with the word Bermuda across it – that I believe was once part of Lois’ collection, and now lies with Grandpa’s. I think they would both approve! Christie x

Stephfret said...

Lois would be glad to know her swizzle sticks are appreciated! Next happy hour I'll have a campari and soda in your grandparents' honour, though I may skip the tweed and twinset...

erwicker said...

I love your pictures, great post.

liquor cabinet

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