Local Libations: The Grey Ghost
When I read Kat’s post about L’Erbe Pazzo, I was immediately reminded of my mother’s backyard. That’s where I first discovered herbs. Along the base of her house, the one she still lives in in suburban Colorado, the one in which she raised both my sister and I, a wild patch of mint grows. Whenever the weather finally warmed up enough to set the world flaming green, I would have the unpleasant task of mowing her lawn and, invariably, thinking it a weed, I cut a swath through the mint, blades churning and sending a fresh smell wafting across the yard to mingle with the spring scent of cut grass. It was the highlight of an otherwise unhappy hour. I still think about that patch of mint. It was my introduction to what some plants could do to excite our senses. I was young, barely strong enough to push the lawnmower around, and it left an impression.
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Recently, I’d learned from a barman who makes his own bitters that there was an apothecary near my house. He said those words, “There’s an apothecary near by.” Weird. Apothecary seems like the type of artisan profession that’s gone the way of taxidermy, ice-man, or gunsmith. Something from another time, best left to accidentally killing your lover not plopped right off Cortelyou Road in Brooklyn. My curiosity was piqued. My head was swimming with a picture of a hunchbacked old crone flanked by impossibly tall shelves jammed with bottles holding all kinds of mad things. One would hold wormwood. Another, eye of newt. Maybe there’d be one with a three-eyed monkey fetus encased in amber or preserved in formaldehyde.
Admittedly, I was mildly disappointed when the woman behind the counter turned out to be friendly, knowledgeable and helpful and, my greatest surprise, normal shaped. The shop was open and airy and there were no weird tinctures spirited around the simple walls. Just a nice arrangement of glass jars with dried plants and spices inside them smiling cheerfully down at me. I shrugged inwardly and soldiered on ending up with an ounce of dried lavender (which is a lot) and an ounce of dried hibiscus. I thought the “botanicals” of the gin I’d decided to use as my base might respond well to another ingredient. I took my two tiny bags and said goodbye to the normal woman behind the counter and headed home.
Using my standard recipe for simple syrup, I added the hibiscus and the lavender to separate pots. The hibiscus is tough enough that it can be allowed to come to a boil in the pot along with the water, but the lavender is so delicate that it ought to be allowed to steep afterward like tea. I finished them off and then left them in the fridge to sit overnight.
When I went to use them the next day, I found the lavender to be potent stuff. The hibiscus was more calm and didn’t blow me away at first, but I resolved to try them both.
For my liquor base I went with the good people at Berkshire Mountain Distillers whose booze I’d used in previous posts. One with their Ragged Mountain Rum and another with their Bourbon. Both solid, drinkable liquors that were not intimidatingly priced. Their Greylock Gin, besides having a cool name, was of the same caliber and I sipped a bit of it before I got to mixing. It was here that I ran into trouble. The Greylock is a pretty complex liquor. Most gin is. A lot of careful work and a lot of ingredients go into it. That’s why people drink gin with tonic. It’s simple. The lavender was an utter failure. Too much going on in the glass. It became confusing rather than complex. The simplicity of the hibiscus, on the other hand, worked as a smoothing agent and helped the gin along. I added a little Dolin Vermouth Blanc and a couple of dashes of Fee Bros. Lemon Bitters (my check’s in the mail) to liven it up and I had my drink. A refreshing spring cocktail I’m calling The Grey Ghost because it’s my drink and I wanted one thing to go the way I planned at least.
Prep time- 2 minutes
Mixing glass, small pot, ounce measure, spoon, measuring spoons, large strainer, Hawthorne strainer or something to strain ice from alcohol.
Hibiscus simple syrup
- Two cups sugar
- two cups water
- 3/4 tablespoon dried hibiscus
- 2 1/2 oz Greylock Gin
- 1/2 oz Dolin Vermouth Blanc
- 1/2 oz Hibiscus simple syrup
- 2-3 dashes Fee Bros. Lemon Bitters
Hibiscus Simple syrup
In a small pot-
- Combine 2 cups of water, two cups of sugar and 3/4 tablespoon of dried hibiscus.
- Bring to a boil.
- Let cool
- Strain to remove hibiscus
It doesn’t appear to matter too much how long you let the hibiscus sit in the syrup as the essential oils that give the flower its scent and flavor are released as the water boils. Experiment with the amounts to get the flavor you’re after.
The Grey Ghost
In a mixing glass-
- Pour 2 1/2 oz Greylock Gin
- Add 1/2 oz Dolin Vermouth Blanc
- Add 1/2 oz hibiscus simple syrup
- Add 2-3 dashes Fee Bros. Lemon Bitters
- Ad ice
- Strain into chilled cocktail glass