Remember when going to the store felt like taking one’s life into one’s washed-until-chapped hands, way back this time last year? There we were, alone with the limitations of our pandemic liquor cabinets as severe stir-craziness set in — Americans drank a lot more over the last year, and given good ol’ American ingenuity, things were bound to get weird. It was a time to make do, and make drinks, with what we had. Things remain uncertain, interminably, still … so, cheers!?
The following four cocktails — while most definitely not any kind of masterworks of mixology — came of COVID-19 invention for me, and they all will come along into the After Times (knock frantically on wood) as some little liquid silver linings. As for now, it seems that we could all still use a drink.
The Grape Ape
Does grape juice belong in a cocktail? Turns out, yes (thanks, pandemic!?). This one’s modular, with the vodka-tonic version representing the possibly too-easy-drinking end of the spectrum, while the gin option offers more complexity as the botanicals take on a strangely sylvan flavor (call it The Grape Sasquatch).
- 1 part grape juice
- 1 part tonic or bubbly water
- Glug of vodka or gin (your choice, volumewise)
- Lime wedge
Combine in a tall glass with lots of ice and give it a stir, then squeeze the lime over the top and drop it in. If you’re going the gin route, want to be fancy and have rosemary, stick a sprig in; if you’ve less fancily ordered grape-flavored Red Vines off Amazon because you got curious, you’ll find they’re not as grapelicious as you’d hoped, but that if you bite off both ends, they make a swell straw for a Grape Ape. Also, Kedem is the best brand of grape juice known to humankind (in Seattle supermarkets, look for it near the matzo).
Deep in the winter of our pandemic discontent, splurging on a very pricey bottle of sweet vermouth for use in Manhattans seemed like the right thing to do. This backfired when the sweet vermouth tasted like ye olde scented candle shoppe. But, pandemic — one couldn’t just go wantonly to the store to replace sweet vermouth too good for one’s sweet-vermouth palate with much worse sweet vermouth. This was the hack for that.
- 2 parts bourbon or rye
- 1 part high-end/highly botanical sweet vermouth
- 1 drizzle maple syrup (just a little, unless you like it quite sweet)
- Dash of orange bitters (or aromatic, if that’s what you’ve got, or none, if not)
Combine in shaker or mixing glass, then stir vigorously to incorporate maple syrup; add ice, stir less vigorously, and strain into a pretty vintage coupe glass (or a random mug … whatever). Garnish with an orange twist — citrus plays nicely here — or a cherry, if you’d rather. Also, one splurge no one will ever regret: the magic that is Woodinville Whiskey’s barrel-aged maple syrup, vastly embettering any pandemic one pancake at a time.
The Penultimate Word
It snowed! It snowed a bunch that pandemic winter, which was so, so wonderful. Then marvelous people on Facebook guided me to the greatness that is hot cocoa with green chartreuse (RECOMMENDED). Given leftover chartreuse and no more snow, why not make The Last Word? But due to a run on The Grape Sasquatch, there was no gin. Vodka, then. And no maraschino liqueur. How about juice from a fancy jar of cherries? This came out a very pretty color and also really good.
- 2 parts vodka
- 1 part green chartreuse
- 1 part lime juice
- 1 part juice from a fancy jar of cherries
Combine in shaker or mixing glass with ice, then shake or stir until nicely chilled. Strain into drinking vessel of choice and garnish with a cherry and/or a thin wheel of lime. And yes, chartreuse is expensive! Recommended replacement from an actual professional bartender via Facebook: Dolin Génépy.
The COVID-19 Spritzer
My friend Moira and I kept our Dinner at a Movie film-plus-food-criticism series going during the pandemic by getting takeout and watching movies remotely together, and the obvious beverage takeout-accompaniment kept seeming to be sparkling wine. Bubbles go with “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” with the miracle of movie theater popcorn at home, with any/every rom-com and with all things French. And bubbles go with nearly any/every other drink, too.
- Last inch or two of pretty much any cocktail
- Sparkling wine
Pour the latter into the former and enjoy! This one’s especially good with a Manhattan, Montreal or another strong-drink base. (And who knows where it originated, but one method of supposedly keeping an opened bottle of sparkling wine bubbly overnight in the fridge is to dangle a teaspoon, handle down, in its mouth. Do not Google this — it’s fun, and we need all the fun we can get from here on out!)