January 12th, 2010

Spirits in the night

jessica-lange-francesIt’s 2:00 a.m. The bars have closed. The party has ended. But you’re not ready to call it a night. You want to commune with the pre-dawn hours and exercise the remains of your higher brain function while watching army ants devour a scorpion on Animal Planet. The question is, what are you drinking?

I’m talking nightcaps. And I’m not talking the civilized kind you mix before curling up in bed with a book before midnight. These usually involve brandy, eggs or hot liquid, and are as innocent as a lullaby.

No, I’m talking a down-and-dirty, half-in-the-bag nightcap — a usually half-assed but sometimes inspired improvisation mixed with a combination of laziness and brio.

One night I came home and dumped the following ingredients into a rocks glass over ice: Hendrick’s gin, Navan vanilla liqueur, Zirbenz stone pine liqueur, lemon juice and grapefruit bitters. I’m telling you, it was a hell of a cocktail. (Unfortunately, I have never been able to reenact the magical proportioning of ingredients that produced that drink.)

You’ve got to figure that a lot of weird-sounding but good-tasting cocktails are created the same way. How else would someone have come up with a Blood and Sand? ‘Hmm, what’ve I got in my cabinet here? Scotch … sweet vermouth … cherry brandy. Oh, and a splash of OJ. Yeah!’

In my less successful experiments, I usually end up with some muddy mess of a Hanky Panky or Red Hook wannabe, with the wrong kind of bitters and an ill-advised dash of absinthe or Old Monk rum. Often, I throw improvisation out the window and simply pour a Scotch neat or a Negroni on the rocks, the latter with orange bitters substituting for a twist from the desiccated citrus fruit disgracing my kitchen counter.

Lately, I’ve been thinking of other easy but surefire mixtures to add to my nightcap repertoire. Like a Pink Gin (gin and Angostura bitters — you don’t even need ice!), an Upside-Down Martini (mostly dry vermouth with a splash of gin — Julia Child liked these) or … hey, what about a Bentley (half applejack, half Dubonnet)? Wow, that’s a classy way to slip into unconsciousness. Go, army ants, go!

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20 Responses to “Spirits in the night”

  1. Bar Keep

    Tonights post funtime nightcap was a mix of absolute Boston, white grape juice and Ginger ale. Delicious!

  2. MC Slim JB

    I may have created something late at night and discovered that the cocktail napkin I scrawled it on is illegible, kind of like your college roommate who smacks a couple of b’s before bedtime and unlocks the secrets of the universe but forgets to write them down. I’m more likely to have a simple but equally ill-advised nightcap (usually one last unnecessary amaro) and combine it with a crazy new food concoction, like my peanut butter, sliced half-sour pickles and sriracha on white bread sandwich. That is better enough than it sounds that it is actually still delicious by the sober light of day (at least to me). I think my natural (or perhaps learned) tendency is to drink simpler later at night: whiskey, digestivi, maybe a beer. So, I got nothin’.

  3. Frederic

    If it’s that late, it’ll either be a beer or a rye Old Fashioned with the occasional latenight foray into Manhattan land. I’m more likely to be creative at the start of an evening than at the end.

  4. Jonathan

    On the infrequent occasions I make it that far, I usually succumb to bleary-eyed dreams of having the tolerance of a Viking on a late night bender and thus pull out the bottle of OP Anderson Akvavit I keep in my freezer. Skål!

  5. ljclark

    Ha! I love it, Jonathan. Slim, that sandwich sounds gnarlier than any of my liquid experiments. You’re a sensible man, Fred. Bar Keep, ginger ale as a preemptive strike on nausea is a good idea, though I can’t get on board with the Absolut Boston.

  6. Adam

    When it gets that late in the night (or early in the morning as is likely the case) I fall more into Fred’s camp. Not due to sensibility but likely due to lack of coordination and laziness.

    I end up sipping spirits neat or on ice. Although it’s usually spirits that have no business being sipped at that hour.

    Wray & Nephew Overproof rum comes to mind…. because, sure, that’s a good idea.

    Fernet Branca, Zwack or Chartreuse usually makes an appearance as well.

  7. MC Slim JB

    If you’re a Zwack Unicum fan as I am (I find the Zwack Next, sold as plain old Zwack in the US, to be too sweet and Jager-like), you might want to start stockpiling. A retailer told me it will soon not be distributed to the USA.

  8. Amanda

    I want to find a Pepto cocktail! A quick Google seach suggests one part Pepto to 2 parts Creme deMenthe. Other ideas?

  9. Mattfish

    Man, the Blood and Sand is just a really pleasant drink. Whoever made that knew what the hell they were doing with that Scotch.

    My halfassed drink is usually gin and lemon juice in the typical sour proportions with whatever liqueur I pull down from the shelves blindfolded.

  10. Adam

    A shot or three of Fernet will sober you right up. But, I’m boring. If I’ve overconsumed to the point where I’m slurring I’ll usually start hitting the club soda. Although, if you’re in such a state and want to actually mix something, try 1 oz of orgeat, 7 ounces of club soda, 3 dashes each Ango, Fee Bros aromatic, and Ango Orange, and a lemon twist, stirred briefly on the rocks.

  11. ljclark

    Dang, Slim, can we be Unicum brand ambassadors or something? Amanda, I would say that if you want to induce vomiting, that would be the perfect cocktail. To settle your stomach, try Fernet Branca. Mattfish, sounds like a solid forumula. Adam, you’re just too darn sensible!

  12. David

    At home, my nightcaps tend to be a straight dark spirit, a beer, or the sloppily combined remnants of whatever the evening’s featured cocktail may have been, with questionable substitutions as needed.

    I also like Campari (or similar) and soda with a little gin on top. Requesting or serving a drink “with a gin floater” is usually good for a laugh, and always good for deliciousness, ease, and strength.

    Slightly off-topic but important: At those pivotal moments in the night when I want to push the bender forward when I should really just call it quits, nothing beats a Fernet Branca and Coca-Cola. What a great over-time drink.

  13. robmarais

    Oh Gawd, I’m so uncreative when it comes to nightcaps. Either I’ve come home with an overfull tum, or I’ve had my snootful and I’m anticipating a hangover the next day. In the former case, it’s occasionally Fernet or now more usually Cynar, sometimes straight and sometimes mixed with rye or gold rum in a short glass. Occasionally it will be port, solo. In the latter, lots of water and an ibuprofen, especially if it’s a school night…no use making a night’s buzz problematic later.

  14. Arnold

    Adam and MC: just to be a homer (or at least representing my ethnic heritage…), if you like Unicum get on the Melnais Balsams (or Riga Black Balzams) bandwagon.

    My nightcap tends to be either an Irish whiskey or a Manhattan. For some reason I always regret the Manhattan as nightcap the next day…

  15. Steven

    Ice cream and whatever I can find: Creme de Menthe, Fernet Branca’s not bad, whiskey, Guinness… At that point in the night, it’s probably better for me to be scooping my liquor up with a spoon anyway.

  16. Ryan

    Ouzo or sambuca with enough water to turn them cloudy, or if I can’t stomach the anise taste on a particular night, ginger ale with a few dashes of angostura bitters.

  17. MC Slim JB

    Wow, I’d never heard of, let alone seen, Rigas Black Balsam: looks like fierce Latvian bitters. Has anyone ever seen it retailed in MA?

  18. Arnold

    You can find it at both the Blanchard’s in Allston and the Sav-Mor Discount Liquors on McGrath Highway (where I bought a bottle of Strega for a good price–random selection at that store).

    Deep Ellum has it and Max will make a great Toronto variant using it instead of Fernet (which I like to call the Riga). I’ve heard No. 9 Park has it as well.

  19. Purg

    I second Ryan’s comment about Sambuca and water. A great nightcap!

  20. CJM

    When I get home from a shift I usually enjoy a High Life. However, the other night I was out of the old reliable, so I threw together some Pimm’s, Yellow Chartreuse, ginger, squeeze of lemon, and a dash of Fee’s bitters…it was delicious…a perfect nightcap.

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