Story by Joel Levin
New Jersey Newspaper Group
Photos of bottles and some cocktails courtesy of the producers.
Photos of some cocktails Joel Levin.

That Drinkin' Time of Year

Autumn is one of my four favorite seasons for experimenting with spirits. With skies darkening earlier and chill turning into cold, I naturally think of heavier meals and libations to match. Nonetheless, you're an adult, so drink what you want when you want it. A couple of my drinking friends with educated palates have Tanqueray gin-and-tonics for brunch all year around. Cheers to them!

To spur your imagination and salivation, herewith our October LuxuryWeb offerings of cocktails and such:


Cloudy Eve

1 oz Black Fig Vodka
1 oz Laguille Armagnac
1 large or 2 regular ice cubes

Swirl until mixed to an even shade and you have an instant elixir suitable for the gods. If desired, garnish with a slice of fresh fig or half a dried fig which has been previously microwaved with a few drops of water to soften.

Cloudy Eve is another of those ultra-simple, highly-rewarding two-ingredient cocktails, this one consisting of equal parts Black Fig Vodka, the pride of Bend, Oregon (the best, richest, and most authentic) and Laguille Armagnac (We used the rare and dear 20-year-old, but Cloudy Eve will be good with any well-crafted Armagnac or Cognac) yields an absolutely sublime concoction. Trust me -- you'll find this swoonworthy. Marrying these two precious -- Black Fig for its taste and Laguille for its cost -- warm-hued fluids is a heavenly gift welcome throughout the cold months.

Black Fig artisanal vodka -- they also make Apricot Vodka -- is hands-down my new favorite flavored vodka. The raisin and walnut notes are sharply defined, backed by the basso profundo of concentrated fig aromas and flavors. After distilling and filtering, the corn-based vodka is infused with locally-sourced dried figs with figgy essences and sweetness already concentrated by the drying process. It's a good thing my bar is outfitted with small tasting glasses because I can hardly walk by without pouring a booster shot. Plain terrific!


Rainy Day Friday

One part Corgi Barrel-Rested Gin
Two parts Black Fig Vodka

Consume on the rocks in a tumbler or shaken, strained, and decanted into a coupe glass.

Garnish with an orange or tangerine twist and/or crushed vanilla beans.
Add cocoa and cream in small amounts until it's to your liking. For an attractive touch, slowly pour cream to float on top.

At Levin Liquid Libation Labs, we intend to conduct further experiments with Black Fig. Based on hunches, our chemistry set will include stout, gin, rum, and coffee. For lighter drinks, we'll try cachaca, pisco, lemon, lime, and pineapple permutations for starters. Gilding the lily? Maybe, but we'll keep a second bottle handy for sipping straight.

Pallini Limoncello

The Fall of Rome

3 oz 70 proof Pallini Limoncello
3/4 oz rye of your choice
1/2 can or 1/2 bottle Sierra Nevada Torpedo IPA

Chill all ingredients in advance, but in a pinch, ice cubes are permitted; they will not substantially dilute the 7.2 ABV ale and other ingredients. Pour a finger-height of ale into a 12-oz glass, then all the rye and limoncello and gently swish. Next, tilt the glass and pour the remaining ale down the inside wall of the glass. The carbonation aided by the turbulence of the pour -- no stir/no-shake -- will give you a self-mixing cocktail. Adjust the amount of Limoncello for your sweetness preference. We favor the Pallini brand because it doesn't taste like a lemon lollipop or citronella (faults found in some brands); it tastes like sweet lemon pulp and zest with a kick and it blends easily.


Two wine cocktails made with Bird Dog Chocolate Whiskey.

1. Two-Way Street

Start with equal amounts of a highly-extracted wine and Bird Dog and then try mixing more of the bourbon and likewise more of the wine. Scale up and make note of your favorite proportion.

First, a tip of the hat and a pat on the back to the Bird Dog breeders for the genius of combining two of our favorite food groups, chocolate and alcohol, in one bottle.

Someone gave me a bottle of Zin-phomania, a waste of old vine Mendocino zinfandel, too juicy and viscous for my taste. The heavy wine, however, has an affinity for rich, dark, unembellished chocolate... and drinking is easier than eating, so we looked over the inventory at Levin Labs and found... Chocolate Bourbon from Bird Dog. My snobbish justification for drinking flavored bourbon is that Bird Dog is based on a real Kentucky whiskey and the combo forms a starting point for many cocktails.

Case in point is the Two-Way Street winetail, a two-ingredient drink that doesn't require accuracy in mixing. Our panel did not declare a favorite among a number of different ratios.

2. Alexander's Revenge

In an an easy update of a 100-year-old classic Alexander cocktail which called for gin, crème de cacao, and cream, grab that Bird Dog and squeeze out 2 oz., toss in 1 oz. of very fresh cream or half-and-half and unearth the nine-buck gin and splash in an ounce... and shake vigorously with ice. There are two ways to go with garnish. Either shave nutmeg or dark chocolate to float atop the drink, or go fruity and drop in a small slice or dice of ripe peaches, apricots, black cherries, or -- our fave -- raspberries. Eat that marinated garnish!

Bénédictine DOM

Ocean Crossing

2 oz rich Caribbean rum (we used Bones)
2 oz Chianti Classico
2 oz Benedictine liqueur

Add the booze components over rocks in a highball glass. Top with Chianti and gently stir. The slight tartness of the Chianti cuts the sweetness of the rum and liqueur and makes it work with cheeses and salty bar snacks. For an option, drop in an orange wedge garnish. And don't be a prude; eat the orange. If you want it sweeter, add warm honey to reinforce Benedictine's floral honey notes. With six ounces of liquid components, this is a hefty Ocean Crossing. Two straws might be the prudent way to make this voyage. Nightcapping? Pair with gorgonzola dolce and unsalted tortilla chips or pretzel logs.


Alexander’s Divorce

2 oz Waterloo aged gin
2/3 oz Kahlua
1-1/2 oz cream
only 1/2 oz coffee

This one hits the spot for a cozy late night in front of the fire or TV. It's unsophisticated and luscious. Be sure to use gin aged in wood and shake all components and ice hard in a real or improvised shaker. The barrel-finished Waterloo adds oakiness and vanilla.

Golden Mean

Scotch and gin together? Sacrilege? Nope. Try.

2 parts Arran10 single malt
1 part Driftless Glen gin

Add cream to taste. This works hot or cold. Try stirring it. If the liquids don't play well together, do the extra work and use a shaker.


Here and There

Since the vodka revolution of the past 15 years, we've been exposed to everything from marshmallow to tutti-frutti flavors. Many of these are obviously kid stuff, but in addition to our featured Black Fig Vodka, there are other serious iterations of flavored vodka for mature drinkers. 

One notable maker is Chase from the U.K. with its Smoke flavor and its Marmalade varietal. While many flavored vodkas are designed to appeal to first-time drinkers, others are nice and thoughtful. Restrained serious drinks.

Hanson Sonoma Vodka

Another favorite is Hanson Mandarin from Sonoma because it tastes like... tangerines! Light, dry, and sprightly earns Hanson the top personal spot in our citrus vodka category.

Who would have thought that cocoa and quinine would go well together? Not I, but Peter Panton had the idea and bottled Beverage No. 4 Chocolate Superior Tonic. It's tasty on its own, with a clarity belying its chocolatiness. I found it better with a creamy vodka than with gin, although it's more than OK with a classic-type gin. Think gin Alexander minus the cream. Don't forget to slot an orange or lime wheel or a thin slice of chocolate on the rim. 


PWB Mezcal is 100 proof and drinks like 80. The brand is owned by a lawyer who saw the light and allied himself with a 100-year-old family producer -- and retained the family, field workers, and distiller. Now that's authenticity!

Exclusive… Expressive… Expensive… Worth it! PWB possesses two qualities rarely found in mezcals: richness and cleanliness. As of now, it's available only in 200 ml tapered bottles, but you can buy it in gift form, in three-packs. (Gift me with one of those and I'll be your friend for a long time).

For more cocktails by Joel Levin see Cocktails and other fun spirits




© October 2020 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.


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