The Christmas trees have all shed their needles, but we’ll still be walking in a winter wonderland for several months to come. Behind the bar, mixologists inspired by these fragrant evergreens are crafting elixirs with pine liqueurs, spruce syrups and juniper branches. Go green this season with these bracingly fresh and intoxicatingly heady libations.
At The Eddy Bar, a neighborhood restaurant and bar offering coastal cuisine in New York’s East Village, the inspiration for Kelvin Uffre’s The Gandy Dancer was the exhilarating feeling of skiing down a slope. The sip combines rhum agricole, grapefruit juice, cream, Suze Gentian and Manzanilla Sherry with Zirbenz Stone Pine Liqueur. “It’s herbal as well as piney, with a slight bitterness which adds nice contrast to sweetness,” he touts of the Austrian evergreen elixir. He points out that pine engulfs the city of New York during wintertime—and the flavor brings with it a sense of familiar comfort. Uffre also likes to mix pine liqueur with gin and Mezcal, and truly finds it versatile with any base spirit. “I wouldn’t say stay away from a certain spirit, just watch your proportions.”
“I treat Zirbenz as a slightly sweeter Amaro—a little bit goes a long way,” notes Adam Bernbach, beverage director for concepts Proof, Estadio, Doi Moi and 2 Birds 1 Stone in Washington, D.C. He uses it along with Clear Creek Douglas Fir Eau de Vie from Oregon in his cocktail Adagio at wine-centric restaurant Proof, which mixes them with Grüner Veltliner, spice syrup and lime. “Both give the Adagio a refreshing wintry feel,” he says. “The pine quality balances it in a way that you can drink a cocktail like this in January or February, and it doesn’t feel out of place.” Like Uffre, Bernbach believes that pine-tinged liqueurs have an affinity for Mezcal, perhaps foiling its smoky notes with menthol-y refreshment.
According to Clear Creek Distillery representative Jody Guither, the company worked for ten years on developing the perfect Oregon version of a tree spirit. Made from an infusion of hand-picked springtime buds of Douglas fir and clear brandy, which is re-distilled and re-infused with more buds, it touts all natural green color and evergreen forest flavors. The liqueur lends itself to the juniper in gin, as well as to drinks with herbs like rosemary, or anise-flavored spirits including Absinthe.
Of course, a liqueur is just one way to impart evergreen notes to a libation. The smell of a freshly cut Christmas tree and winters spent outside were the impetus for New York Palace beverage director Justin Lorenz’s Winter Manhattan. “Enjoying the outdoors here in the Northeast during the winter months, when the air is cold and crisp, scents become very clear,” he notes. “With so much pine in the region, that particular scent always stands out for me.” He removes just the bottom branches from a Blue Spruce tree, and boils them to coax out the sap; the resulting syrup is minty and pine-like, with a distinct forest aroma. For the cocktail, Lorenz stirs the syrup with Woodford Reserve Bourbon, Fonseca Bin 27 Port and a dash of Angostura bitters, garnished with a Luxardo cherry. Though he’s never used it in any other drinks, Lorenz believes the syrup mingles especially well with other “warmer” spirits like Cognac; he also deems it a great alternative to maple syrup on pancakes.
The Gandy Dancer
Recipe courtesy of Head Bartender Kelvin Uffre, The Eddy, New York, NY
¾ oz. Zirbenz Stone Pine Liqueur
½ oz. Rhum Niesson Rhum Agricole
½ oz. grapefruit juice
½ oz. cream
¼ oz. Suze Gentian
¼ oz. Manzanilla Sherry
¼ oz. simple syrup
Rosemary sprig and shaved toasted hazelnut, for garnish
Add all ingredients except garnish to a large glass. Add crushed ice, and mix with a swizzle stick. Garnish with rosemary and shaved toasted hazelnut.
Recipe courtesy of Beverage Director Justin Lorenz, The New York Palace, New York, NY
2 ¼ oz. Woodford Reserve Bourbon
1 oz. Fonseca Bin 27 Port
1 tsp. Blue Spruce syrup (see Note)
Dash Angostura Bitters
Luxardo cherry, for garnish
Add all except garnish to a cocktail tin. Add ice, and stir until chilled. Strain into a chilled coupe glass, and garnish with a Luxardo cherry.
For the Blue Spruce syrup:
Take a large branch from the bottom of a Blue Spruce tree, cut it to fit the pan, and boil it along with one cup water and one cup sugar until the desired flavor is reached. Strain out the solids, and store the syrup in the refrigerator.
Recipe courtesy of Adam Bernbach, Beverage Director for Proof, Estadio, Doi Moi and 2 Birds 1 Stone, Washington, D.C.
2 oz. white wine (preferably Grüner Veltliner)
½ oz. spice syrup (see Note)
¼ oz. Zirbenz Stone Pine Liqueur
½ oz. Clear Creek Douglas Fir Eau de Vie
¼ oz. lime juice
Lime wheel, for garnish
Add all except garnish into a cocktail shaker. Add ice, and shake until chilled. Strain into a small chilled wine glass, and garnish with a lime wheel.
For the spice syrup:
Add equal parts sugar and water, and baking spices of your choice, to a small saucepan. Simmer until desired flavor is reached, and then strain out solids.