In the Spirit

Kettle to the Coil

Wine and heavy metal

By Tony Cross

Six years ago, I was approached by a committee from our local community college asking if I would be interested in creating a cocktail for an event. Bestselling author Tom Wolfe was coming to town, and they wanted a cocktail that had orange(s) in it. Why? One of Wolfe’s more popular books, The Right Stuff, is about astronauts, so I guess the committee thought, “Tang!”

I agreed, but warned them that the orange mix astronauts used to drink (Do they still?) would probably not make the cut.

I remember my thought process being a bit backward when visualizing what I wanted to do. Yes, I was incorporating oranges, but that’s not what I had my eye on. It was September, and the temperature was starting to drop, and I had been toying around with the idea of putting a cocktail on the list with a red wine syrup. I found a recipe I wanted to tinker with, and that’s what I wanted to do with the “orange drink.” So, maybe a wine syrup and oranges? No. How about infusing the wine with oranges? Possible. But no. What about an orange-infused spirit? I believe that’s how it started.

I had an idea in my head of what I wanted my cocktail to taste like, but it rarely happens as planned. At the time I hadn’t worked with Scotch very much when it came to mixing it with other ingredients. So, where the idea for an orangey Scotch came from, well, I just don’t know. But why the hell not? I needed to get the syrup right first, and then work around that. I chose a light and fruity pinot noir for my wine. I figured that since I was going to add fall spices to it, I didn’t want anything too complex. I added quite a bit to the wine: apples, anise, cloves, on and on, and . . . wait for it, oranges! Well, the peels anyway.

The syrup came out pretty yum, so now it was on to the orange-infused Scotch. I chose The Famous Grouse, a blended whisky. It’s not over the top pricewise, and it does a decent job when blending with other ingredients in a shaken cocktail. I had never infused just oranges in a dark liquor before, and my first attempt wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good either. Basically, I had cut out the flesh of the oranges (avoiding pith), and let it sit in a glass jar of Scotch for five days to a week. The result was kind of cloudy and lackluster.

My next go round, I decided to cut the amount of fruit in half and replace the other half with orange peels. I was pleasantly surprised after three to five days of infusing. Oh, and I cut my jar amount in half, too. I took two Mason jars and split the bottle of Scotch up with the flesh and peels. That’s what I should have called the cocktail, “Flesh and Peels.” Instead — and I was notorious for this — I named it after a song. A metal song, “From the Kettle onto the Coil.” Why? Because I was never good at naming a drink, unless it was after a lady or a song. What could go wrong?

The drink turned out great, and the folks that ran the event loved it. However, I don’t recall seeing Mr. Wolfe or his trademark white suit. Oh, well.

Below is the recipe for the wine syrup and cocktail. Feel free to use this syrup in an old-fashioned with Scotch, bourbon or rye whisk(e)y, or however you feel inspired.

Pinot Noir Syrup

750 milliliters pinot noir

3 cups granulated sugar

1 tablespoon whole cloves

1 tablespoon star anise pods

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg

1/2 tablespoon cardamom pods (crushed)

3 cinnamon sticks

1/2 apple (sliced)

Zest of 6 oranges

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to just under a boil. Reduce heat to low and let simmer for 20 minutes or until reduced by half.

Kettle to the Coil

1 1/4 ounces orange-infused Scotch

1/2 ounce Drambuie

1/2 ounce pinot noir syrup

3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice

Add all ingredients to shaker with ice. Shake hard for 10 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail coupe. Express the oils of an orange peel over the cocktail and discard into glass.

Orange-infused Scotch

Take two 16-ounce Mason jars and put into each of them:

Flesh and peel of one medium-large orange. Half a bottle of The Famous Grouse (or other blended Scotch). Tighten jar, and let sit in a cool, dark room for 3-5 days, each day slightly agitating jars. Pour through strainer when ready, and then filter again through coffee filter. The infusion should last for a few weeks, though every bottle I made rarely survived longer than a day or two.  PS

Tony Cross is a bartender (well, ex-bartender) who runs cocktail catering company Reverie Cocktails in Southern Pines.

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