Build-A-Bar: Averell Damson Gin Liqueur
Photo by Nicholas L. Hall
A few weeks ago, on one of our now sadly rare evenings at Anvil, I turned to bartender Matt Tanner for some suggestions. I'd been searching for a new tipple for this column, and recent trips to Spec's hadn't really turned up much that really jumped out at me. Without hesitation, Matt grabbed a bottle of Averell Damson Gin Liqueur from the back bar, and held it out for inspection. "This," he said, unceremoniously. With such simple certainty on display, I knew I'd be buying a bottle.
I seem to have been on a liqueur kick, lately, and that's just fine with me. Liqueurs, with their punchy flavor and significant dose of sweetness, are a great ingredient for teaching balance. A heavy hand will result in a drink more akin to your grandmother's perfume mixed with cotton candy than to a classic in the making, with either the flavor or the sweetness, or both, dominating the drink. With its sweetness complemented by considerable tartness, this one's fun to play with.
From what I can gather, Damson Gin is somewhat popular in Great Britain, where ripe damson plums are left to macerate with gin, in a very similar process to sloe gin, whose sloe berries are related to the plum family. Averell does things a bit differently, combining gin with the freshly pressed juice of the plums, directly. I can't speak to the difference this makes in comparison to other damson gins, but I can tell you that this liqueur has a ringingly clear plum flavor, tart and bright.
Combined with traditional gin botanicals, the aroma and flavor immediately reminded me of my own batch of infused gin, made from foraged American Beautyberries. I made a lot of fizzes with that home-infused gin (along with the occasional Aviation). Coupled with the fact that the Fizz is likely the most prominent placement for Damson Gin's cousin, Sloe Gin, it seemed like a good jumping off point. It was.
Similarly, you can safely assume that Damson Gin will ably replace gin in most recipes, as long as you take into consideration the added dose of sugar, and avoid clashes with the tart, fruity profile. I experimented with this theory with a simple Martini. A straight substitution proved to sweet, but 50/50 with a more traditional gin works just fine, lending a tart twist to this timeless classic. Damn, Son! Martini
Combine all ingredients in mixing glass over ice. Stir until well chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a twist of lemon peel.
The fresh, bright flavor of this liqueur also seems to call out for spicy and herbal flavors, the latter being something with which I'm still experimenting. I've got my eye on sage as a lovely complement, its dusky flavors and aromas playing off of the sprightliness of the spirit. For the time being, I've kept myself busy with playing with fire.
My wife is a Sriracha addict, frequently choosing meals based on how they will work with the red stuff. She's been bugging me, and every other cocktail slinger we know, for some Sriracha cocktails, and I've finally obliged her. She says, and I'd have to agree, that this is one of my most successful creations to date. Shoo, Old Rooster!
1.5 oz. Averell Damson Gin Liqueur
- .5 oz. White Whiskey
- .5 oz. Lemon Juice
- 2 dashes Grapefruit Bitters
- 4-5 drops Sriracha Sauce (more or less, to taste)
Combine all ingredients in mixing glass over ice. Shake and double-strain into a cocktail glass, garnish with a wide strip of lemon peel.
This is a great example of liqueurs and the exercise of balance. I'd been dabbling with this recipe for a couple of days, and nothing was working right. The acid was bracing and harsh, the fruity elements oddly disjointed, the grain flavors from the whiskey dusty and unpleasant. Tasting, thinking, and tinkering, I figured out that the big culprit was Allspice Dram.
I had originally included it in an attempt to tone down some of the bright fruit flavors with a dose of earthier spice, which seems reasonable even now, on paper. Unfortunately, the dram was bringing in a hefty dose of astringency and throwing everything out of whack. Once I removed it, things got closer to center.
I readjusted again, increasing the Damson Gin while decreasing the whiskey in equal measure. Suddenly, everything came into crisp focus. The drink was cracklingly tart, but balanced by the ever so slight bitterness and spicy kick of the grapefruit bitters, which I hadn't even picked up, previously. The whiskey added just the barest hint of rich earthiness, its clean-grained flavor helping stand up to the other elements instead of trampling them. The spicy kick of the Sriracha helped cut the sweetness and the acid in equal measure, and brought in a sneaky savoriness that made the drink immediately arresting.
Honest to God, I'm craving one now, just writing about it. Make one yourself, and tell me what you think.
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