I've wanted to make this for the longest time, a cocktail inspired by Robert Frost's poem "My November Guest."
MY Sorrow, when she’s here with me,
Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
She walks the sodden pasture lane.
I always thought of November as a time for calmness in between October's post-summer exuberance and December's holiday chaos. It's a chance to pause and reflect, and this year, more than ever, November is a time to slow down and contemplate next steps. As shocked and angry as we are after last week, we're hopeful that cooler heads will prevail, and cooler drinks might be a very small step in that direction.
Frost's "My November Guest" is about finding beauty in over-looked places, and it praises November's gentle darkness and the joy of rediscovering this unique time of the year. The poem does an excellent job of constructing a particular place, one in which the reader can practically smell wood smoke drifting across country meadows and see bits of frost clinging to yellow grass.
Initially I was stumped on how to create the woodsy taste: Pine bitters? Baska snapps, a Swedish liquor that's near impossible to find in the U.S.? Woodsy scotches and whiskeys came to mind, but they were a little too obvious and familiar. A drink (and poem) celebrating unexpected joys needed something different.
After a visit to Liquor Park in Chicago, I discovered Sfumato (Cappelletti Amaro Sfumato Rabarbaro, to be specific). Sfumato is an amaro, a bitter Italian digestif based on rhubarb. It's known for earthy, smoky flavors, and this one has a little brightness to it, with a base that includes notes of flint and herbs. Perfect.
While sfumato on its own was good but I wanted a proper cocktail with even more nuance. Smoky scotch added additional flavors, like peat, sherry, and sea salt. Now, the scotch and sfuamto together yielded a VERY strong drink, and lemon juice was quickly deployed to cut down the booze. Maple syrup balanced out the bitterness without losing it altogether. What we're left with is smoke and earth with a touch of chilly sweetness.
Not only did I want My November Guest to taste like its namesake month, I wanted it to "look" like it too: shaken with ice, a silver foam laces the drink's mahogany color, and the lemon peel reminds me of the last specks of color glistening on October's fallen leaves.
My November Guest
(makes 1 drink)
1 ounce Sfumato Amaro
1 ounce lightly "peated" Scotch
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/4-1/2 teaspoon maple syrup
Small slice of lemon peel
In a cocktail shaker add the Sfumato, Scotch, lemon juice, maple syrup, and ice. Shake together for about 30-45 seconds. Taste and adjust the liquors and lemon juice as needed. Pour mixture and ice into a small cocktail glass and add the lemon peel.