Summer seems to be lingering around with above average temperatures during the day and then retreating in the evenings as the air becomes chilled. How does one seasonally imbibe during this confusing cross over? Should one go straight to boozy and mix a Manhattan or remain in summer mode with light effervescent drinks such as a fizz? How about the best of both worlds with the Harvest Moon Buck featuring the mysterious Bohemian elixir Becherovka?
Becherovka is a complex herbal liqueur, which hails from the quaint burg of Karlov Vary (Carlsbad) in the Czech Republic. This high alcohol content (76 proof) “bitter” has been continually produced by the Jan Becher Company since 1807, nearly two generations before Campari. There are approximately 20 herbs present in Becherovka but like its’ monastically produced cousins Chartreuse and Bénédictine, the recipe for the elixir is a mystery. It is so secret that only two people are trusted with the recipe at any time. They produce the herb and spice mixture on a weekly basis, and then infuse it into the base alcohol. Once blended, the spirit is aged in oak barrels from Moravia, the Czech Republic’s wine growing region. The result is a spirit golden in color and has the distinct flavor of cinnamon, anise, cloves, and ginger.
I researched Becherovka cocktail recipes and all signs pointed to a drink called the Red Moon cocktail for my autumn feature. The ingredients are 1¼ oz Becherovka, 5 oz black currant juice, and 1½ oz of club soda. Seemed simple yet significant, so I made mixed one. Sadly, the Red Moon lacks the alcohol kick and worse, I barely tasted the star of the show, Becherovka. Not to mention, it is way too sweet for my palette. To make the drink bearable I dialed down the currant juice to 2 oz and likewise upped the Becherovka to 2 ounces. The drink was better with more elements of ginger and cinnamon showing through but still lacked the hearty kick, which the cooler season demands.
So I developed my own cocktail that builds on the Red Moon’s foundation but actually puts Becherovka in the driver’s seat. The libation is called the Harvest Moon Buck, which works well as a seasonal transition cocktail. In addition to Beckerovka, the other ingredients are Barrel Aged Bols Genever, black currant juice, fresh lemon juice, and ginger beer.
Lucas Bols released its barrel aged Genever this past summer to critical acclaim. They take an 1820 recipe for Genever or “Holland Gin” made from a medley of from rye, wheat, and corn; then triple distilled the spirit in a copper pot stills, and blended it with juniper and other spices. It is aged in French oak barrels for 18 months giving the final product a gold color with notes of wood and spice. Barrel Aged Bols Genever’s malt whiskey characteristics are the perfect compliment and take the role and the engine of the drink. The flavor profile has been compared to a young bourbon or whiskey with corn being prominent. Thus, the barrel aged Genever supplies a subtle addition to the flavor and more importantly increases the alcohol content.
Ripena® black currant juice is a British food stalwart and has the equivalent billing to pomegranate juice in the United States for it’s high Vitamin C plus anti-oxidant properties. Ripena takes its’ name from the Latin ribes nigrum – the scientific name for the black currant. Black currant juice gained popularity in England during the Second World War when Vitamin C rich juices like orange juice were in short supply or rationed due to the German U-boat blockade. Word to the wise, the Ripena is concentrated with sugar and it is recommended to dilute 1/3 oz with 4 parts water. For cocktails, I recommend treating it Ripena like a syrup so in the buck recipe I substituted it for simple syrup. Visually, it gives the drink a crimson color.
Finally, I used Reed’s Extra ginger beer to add effervescence, spiciness, and compliment Becherovka’s own bite. The Buck recipe usually employs ginger ale, however, I have found that Jamaican ginger beer adds the right amount of spice and distinct flavor to the formula. In the Harvest Moon Buck, it balances out the black currant juice’s potent sweetness and the sour of the lemon without detracting from the spirits.
HARVEST MOON BUCK
2 oz Beckerovka
1 oz Bols Genever Barrel Aged
1 oz black currant juice
¾ oz fresh lemon juice
3 oz ginger beer
Tools: mixing tins, Hawthorne strainer, jigger, pairing knife, highball glass
Method: Place ingredients into tin along with ice, add cracked ice, and shake vigorously. Strain over ice into a Highball glass and top with ginger beer. Garnish with lemon wedge.
Na zdravi (cheers)!!
*Photograph by Vanessa Bahmani
**Got a cocktail question? Reach Fredo on twitter @loungerati, email me at fredo(at)loungerati(dot)com, or simply drop me a comment below!
***Fredo Ceraso is the editor-at-large of the lounge lifestyle blog Loungerati.com. He is head cocktailian and a co-producer of The Salon parties. Fredo is a member of the USBG New York chapter and rolls drinks at many Lounge, Swing, Jazz Age, & Burlesque events in New York City.