To say we’ve had a tumultuous history would be an understatement. Our relationship began as mere infatuation, lust even. You were elusive and foreign, the new kid in school that all the girls swoon over. I wanted to learn everything, to know you. But in my teenage stupor I exercised no restraint. I didn’t just drink you in. I inhaled you. We inhaled you, my friends and I, and we giggled like the school girls we were as the bright amber liquid warmed our throats and our bellies.
It started out innocently enough, really it did. But several gulps later and the pure joy of our first dance with drunkenness was replaced by sheer terror. We had been caught. My mom’s fury radiated from her pores, irate at our painfully obvious plot to indulge sans adult supervision as she drove us home from the party that night. Total silence filled the car, interrupted only by the occasional quick, sharp glare backwards towards us in the rearview mirror. She braked hard at stop signs and hugged the corners of her turns just a bit too tightly, trying, I’m certain now, to get us to expel you and all of your indecencies. And when her plan for payback worked, our relationship went sour. I swore you off forever.
But sometime in the last few years, after notes of fruit and oak meandered from my husband’s glass of Yamazaki to my nostrils one night, I knew I wanted you back. I was finally ready to forgive. After all, it wasn’t your fault what happened that night. Not really, anyway.
We started out timid, getting to know one another in a “sniffs only” kind of way first, like dogs at a park only with less tail. But soon our relationship progressed towards full-blown love and I went back to inhaling you, less foolhardy this time, and with more appreciation for your coy complexity. Sometimes you were fruity; and sometimes you were smoky. Sometimes you deserved to be poured, just two fingers, over one large cube of ice; and sometimes you needed to be shaken or stirred with others before you could come out to play.
And today, after all of these years, after the ups and the downs and the resisting and the yearning, I can honestly say I love you again, whiskey, for exactly who you are. This summer’s barbecues would be nothing without you.
This recipe comes from an event I attended several months ago at Ox, hosted by Dickel Whiskey, where I fell madly in love with a colorful magenta cocktail they were serving called “Ox Blood”. The whiskey I use here, a Dickel No. 12, is deep and rich with just a hint of vanilla, perfect for the earthy sweetness that comes from beets. It’s mixed with fresh beet simple syrup, which adds a light herbaceousness to the drink, and a squeeze of lemon for brightness, making it ideal for sipping next to a smoke-filled grill while eating fire-licked meats and relaxing under the late afternoon sun.
- 1 cup of fresh beet juice, about 10 ounces*
- ½ cup of granulated sugar
- 9 ounces of George Dickel No. 12
- 6 ounces of lemon juice, juice from about 3 lemons
- Tarragon, thyme, or other soft herb for garnish
- In a medium sized saucepan, heat the beet juice and granulated sugar over medium heat. Once the mixture is brought to boil and the sugar has dissolved, set aside to cool.
- Fill an old fashioned glass with ice. For each cocktail, fill a shaker with 1 ounce of (chilled or room temperature) beet syrup, 1.5 (or 2 if you’re feeling boozy) ounces of George Dickel No. 12, 1 ounce of lemon juice, and ice. Shake until the outside of the shaker is icy cold to the touch. Pour over rocks and garnish with soft herbs such as tarragon or thyme.
- Store leftover beet syrup in the refrigerator for later use, up to 2 weeks.