(Note: this post was originally published on December 12, 2019. The date above reflects migration to the new platform.)
Faced with short days, cold temperatures, and gray skies, I think we all might be in need of a cocktail with some punch. This Cherry-Chai Manhattan is it. It's boozy, seductive, complexly flavored, and subtly earthy; perfect for unwinding on a cold, dark winter evening.
Of all the cocktails I've created for this blog so far, this one is definitely the most interesting. Its flavor profile is just so darn unique and complex. The bourbon brings notes of vanilla, oak, and even fruit (my recommendation: choose a bourbon with some pronounced vanilla and subtle cherry notes!). Chai bitters add incredible depth of flavor and subtle spiciness, while cinnamon syrup adds warming notes and a bit of sweetness. Finally, Luxardo (an Italian cherry liquor) adds unbelievable richness.
Luxardo is my newest cocktail obsession, and I want to thank our friends Erin and Chris for introducing us to it and helping to taste test this cocktail. Cherry liquor sounds like it should be sweet and cough syrupy, and I totally admit to being skeptical initially. But this stuff is the exact opposite. It's hardly sweet at all, and tastes sort of like a cherry rolled around in some really fertile soil (sorry, I mean that in the best way possible!). It acts just like bitters, contributing an indescribable complexity and earthiness.
For the sake of science, Dave and I have been testing a lot of Luxardo cocktails. One of our favorite bars, The Front Porch in Ogunquit Maine, makes a riff on an Old Fashioned (which they call an "In Fashion"); it's basically bourbon, Luxardo, and a cherry shrub (i.e. a vinegar-based infusion). It's excellent and easy to make- I recommend it highly. We've also experimented with Luxardo in margaritas, which is delicious and so unexpected.
Also, please please splurge and get the Luxardo cherries. Yes, they're very expensive. Yes, they're totally worth it.
For this drink, I wanted to go with something multi-dimensional and seasonal, hence the addition of the chai spices. Chai tea is so warming and comforting, but also has a very subtle kick, so it seemed like the perfect pairing for the rich Luxardo and deeply-flavored bourbon.
I'm usually able to find chai bitters at artisan foodie or cocktail stores. Keep your eyes out! Bitters last a long time (sort of indefinitely?) and are a super flavor powerhouse. If you like to make cocktails at home, I highly suggest getting yourself a few different kinds of bitters and experimenting with them.
But never fear, this drink can certainly still work without the chai bitters! If possible, use something with wintry spices like cinnamon bitters. Otherwise, whatever you have on-hand is fine. Or, if you don't have chai bitters, make a chai simple syrup (instead of cinnamon; see below) using loose-leaf chai tea and using the exact same method.
This cocktail relies upon a simple syrup to get all that wonderful, cozy cinnamon flavor into a drinkable form. If you've never made a simple syrup before, don't let the fancy name intimidate you! It's actually really easy to do at home, and a simple syrup keeps great in the fridge for weeks.
A simple syrup is just a 1:1 mixture of sugar and water, cooked down until it becomes thick and syrupy. It's a great way for capturing flavors that are difficult to get into a liquid form otherwise... for example, cinnamon! Because cinnamon is a solid, you can't readily add it to a cocktail; it won't dissolve (and just awkwardly floats on top, yuck). That's why the simple syrup is a very powerful tool in mixology!
The recipe below will walk you through making a cinnamon simple syrup, using whole cinnamon sticks. But this concept will work for just about anything you can dream up, so don't be afraid to experiment! Herbs, other warming spices, and edible flowers all yield wonderful simple syrups. If you can't find chai bitters, just make a chai simple syrup using chai tea!
Here's what you'll need for this recipe, as well as some thoughts, tips, and possible substitutions. If you make any substitutions, I'd love to hear about it in the comments section below.
Isn't this such a special, decadent pairing of flavors? Something about the sweet and earthy cherry, cozy boubron, and warming chai spices just feels so luxurious. And luxury is absolutely what you deserve on a chilly winter Friday evening after a long week!
We've totally fallen in love with this cocktail and have made it again and again over the past couple months. I hope you'll enjoy it as much as we have! There's nothing better than sipping one of these in front of the fireplace on a dark evening, when you need a little warming from both the inside and the outside.
It makes me so happy to hear from you and see your creations! Please leave a comment below and let me know what you think about this recipe. If you post a photo on Instagram, hashtag #TheRogueBrusselSprout and tag me (@TheRogueBrusselSprout) in the post text so that I'm sure to see it.
A seductive winter sip, this boozy Manhattan unites bourbon with sweet cherry and cozy chai spices. It's a favorite in our house for date night!
Have a look around at some of my favorite recipes! I can't wait to see what you create.