New Drinking Toys

Before the holiday rush, treat yourself to a spirited gift or two


By Tony Cross

Itís official: Black Friday approaches. Everything on the airwaves and Interweb will be screaming Christmas, and your pockets will bleed out all of your money for your family and loved ones. Even though the commercials start earlier each year, Black Friday truly marks the first day of the month for insanity. Recently, I’ve acquired some new spirits, mixers and toys; I’d like to share some of them with you. Buy these for yourselves before you run out of money spending it on others.

Wintersmiths Ice Chest

When I first got into cocktailing, I read a lot. I mean, a lot. I had no other bartenders to guide me through the basics, so the internet, GQ articles from David Wondrich, and a book from the head barmen at Employee’s Only in New York City were my mentors. In the latter, one of the first topics in the Speakeasy book was devoted to ice. On first read, I thought, “This is a bunch of pretentious garbage.” The authors described how important ice is . . . as in it’s the most important ingredient in your cocktail. After rolling my eyes, I finished the chapter, and decided that I wouldn’t knock it until I tried it.

Of course, they were right. Having terrible ice will make a great cocktail just OK, or not good at all. Case in point: I have a friend who lived in a home in Whispering Pines. It was a lovely house, but every time I’d come over and bring my goody bag to make drinks, I’d always bring my own ice. The water in her house reeked of sulfur. I felt terrible for her dogs’ drinking water; it was that bad. If I used the ice from her fridge, for even a simple Moscow Mule, the water would dilute into the Mule mix, and it would make me spit out my drink. Guaranteed.

Other (big) reasons ice is important is shape and size. Crushed ice is ideal for juleps and tiki-style drinks, but you wouldn’t want it in your whiskey on the rocks. By now, I’m sure most of you have seen spherical ice served in rocks glasses for cocktails and whiskey. I’ve got the molds to make them; they’re pretty much everywhere, and you can definitely grab some online. I’ve made them plenty, but more important, I’ve tried to make them come out crystal clear. Why? When they’re cloudy, it’s because gas is trapped inside the ice. That causes your ice to melt faster, and gives it a higher chance of breaking inside your glass. I’ve tried different methods of achieving clear ice. I’ve boiled water to freeze, double-boiled water to freeze, used high-quality water, and stacked my molds covering up the soon-to-be cubes but I never perfected one single see-through piece of ice, cubed or sphere. Until now. Thanks to Instagram, I saw a comment from a lady who makes fantastic cocktails (and has gorgeous pictures of them to boot). She was marveling about her spherical icemaker. Wintersmiths Ice Chest is a total do-it-yourself ice maker that gives your cocktails the elegance you’d otherwise get from a craft cocktail lounge. Just fill up the container with water (distilled preferably, but not necessarily), put in the top piece, and put it in your freezer. Twenty-four hours later, you’ll have crystal clear spheres.

B.G. Reynolds Passion Fruit Tropical Syrup

I am a big fan of making everything from scratch when it comes to syrups for drinks. Making these by hand usually means it will taste better. Grenadine, orgeat, tonic — these are a few of the many that I’d rather make myself than spend at the store or online. Once you’ve figured out a good recipe, it’s hard to find a bottle of syrup on the shelf that can top your own. There are some exceptions, and this is one of them. I was recently asked to create a Hurricane cocktail to carbonate and put on draft for the new Longleaf Country Club. I was excited to add my own grenadine to the mix with a blend of rums (including Fair Game Beverage Co.’s Amber Rum). I wasn’t, however, too stoked on doing passion fruit syrup. Time was of the essence, and I knew that I might not have enough time to perfect a syrup that I’ve never tinkered with. Luckily for me, I remembered seeing a Hurricane recipe from NOLA bartender Chris Hannah. In it, he uses someone else’s passion fruit syrup. I ordered it immediately to give it a try, and was happy when it arrived in the mail. I hope you’ll be as pleased as we are. At home, you can use this sweet and tangy syrup for bartender Jim Meehan’s Mezcal Mule recipe:
3 cucumber slices

3/4 ounce lime juice

1 1/2 ounces Vida Mezcal

1/2 ounce agave syrup

3/4 ounce passion fruit syrup

3 ounces ginger beer

Muddle cucumber slices and lime juice in a copper mug or rocks glass. Add mezcal and syrups. Add ice, and top with ginger beer.

Pikesville Straight Rye Whiskey

I picked up this big boy from the ABC store in Chapel Hill (the one formerly in front of Whole Foods, but now located around the corner at the Food Lion plaza). One of the gentlemen who works there recommended this whiskey out of the two that I picked up (clearly unfamiliar with both). He told me it was phenomenal, and he was right. This is almost the way mezcal is the older brother to tequila. It has a ton of wood and spice. If you’re new to rye whiskey, I’d suggest starting with either Old Overholt (very soft, and smooth for a rye), or Rittenhouse (a great bang for your buck rye, with an appropriate amount of spice). Try the Pikesville Rye in this 1890s’ version of a Manhattan.


(credit to The Only William’s 1892 book, cited by David Wondrich in 2007)

2 ounces Pikesville Straight Rye Whiskey

1 ounce Carpano Antica

1 barspoon Luxardo Maraschino liqueur

1 barspoon absinthe

2 dashes Angostura Bitters

Combine all ingredients in a chilled mixing vessel. Stir for 50 revolutions (or at least, I do), and then strain into a chilled cocktail coupe. You can garnish with real Luxardo cherries, but I prefer a swath of a lemon peel. Santé! OH

Tony Cross is a bartender who runs cocktail catering company Reverie Cocktails in Southern Pines.

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