When DPaul asked me to tend bar at Sean‘s birthday cocktail party, I jumped at the chance. All the fun of planning and serving drinks to our friends, but none of the mess? Sign me up! In all honesty, it seemed a simple enough assignment. My only limitations: Neither Sean nor Paul is a fan of gin (something we’re planning on addressing next year), and Sean has a well-known horreur of orange.
I wanted to keep things interesting without going overboard — no complicated lists of ingredients to be purchased, schlepped, and mixed. I also wanted drinks that were flavorful but not too strong. Drinking Martinis and Manhattans all night leaves a dreadful impression the next morning, especially for folks who aren’t used to anything stronger than a glass of red wine.
Paging back through a year’s worth of Drinks of the Week, I was astonished by how many were gin based. (Well over half, can you believe it?) Most of those that remained were either seasonally inappropriate, or not suited to serving in quantity. The lone successful candidate was a variation on our own Rosemary Five, tweaked ever so slightly by substituting lemon juice for the original lime. The birthday boy’s a big fan of pears, and the other ingredients are common enough that none of the guests would be spooked.
I wanted another effervescent drink for a second option, but none of the bubbly drinks in our repertoire seemed like a good fit for the occasion. Flipping through cocktail books, I noticed a few mentions of a tipple called the Oh, Henry! — a blend of ginger ale, Benedictine, and Bourbon (or whiskey, in some Continental sources). Mixed in equal proportions as some books suggested, the drink was far too sweet and overpowered by the Benedictine’s spice. But dropping the ratios to 2:2:1 worked perfectly when using a saucy Bourbon and a fiesty ginger ale. (We paired Knob Creek and Blenheim for the party, although Fever-Tree works fine if you prefer a subtler variation.)
If I do say so myself, both drinks were well received. The Oh, Henry!’s bourbon base made it a tougher sell, but I spied a number of folks being converted by a sip of their neighbor’s drink, and coming back for the darker cocktail on their second round. Could this be a gateway drink for the bourbon-averse?
Not surprisingly, this simple mix has become a favorite in our house, too. It’s a perfect autumn-into-winter blend of sugar and spice, with just enough herbal undertones to keep everything grounded. The star anise garnish — stolen from the Falling Leaves — is our own touch, a complementary (and attractive) addition to the drink’s aromatic profile.
1-1/2 oz bourbon
1-1/2 oz ginger ale
3/4 oz Benedictine
Stir all ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass, and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a piece of star anise, if desired.