Libations of Legend
The smooth taste of concession-stand Coke over crushed ice with more than a subtle hint of mellow brown water as you cheer your team to victory… The sweet sensation of holding the perfect julep at the other end of a seersucker sleeve, index finger extended beyond the mint sprig garnish to point out the fact that your horse is in the money…A solo shot of single malt to honor the passing of a friend, to embrace the inevitable, to celebrate the journey…
Like a liquid metronome, spirits mark the passage of timeless moments in our lives. Maybe that’s why we call them “spirits.” Probably not, but it sounds good. So does a bourbon after a glorious day afield with happy dogs and smiling buddies. Then again, so does a long, tall Tito’s with a cranberry chaser, or orange juice, or maybe just a teasing hint of vermouth.
Like everything else in the upland lifestyle, endless variety is the spice of what might otherwise be judged as a rather confined endeavor. The constituent parts remain the same for us all. There are birds, dogs, guns, shells, and a smattering of orange to keep everyone honest. Then there are the exotic dog breeds, custom and vintage shotguns with handmade shells, and an almost inexhaustible bevy of costume choices, from woolens and tweeds to pink camouflage and feathered headgear. How we approach the hunt and the idiosyncrasies we bring to our common cause speak to the joy we find in the pursuit.
The expression of that joy extends quite naturally to the post-hunt libations, where the potential for variety is as broad as the imagination, and the drinks themselves melt into the context of larger and inescapable memories. The taste of a smooth bourbon is one, for example, from a quiet perch on the tailgate of an old truck as the sun sets through a menagerie of bottles and bird feathers atop dog boxes filled with the day’s blissful warriors. The stories we tell from that tailgate, fueled to hyperbole as the lubricant settles in, are the stories that light our way in this world, that connect us to each other in ritual celebration of our pursuits afield. The truth is the same whether expressed by the firepit or in the grateful toasting of the day’s harvest at the table. The spice is the spirit we choose and the stories it evokes. What are yours? —Miles DeMott
Backyard NOLA Swinger
After a long, rewarding day outside, there’s no better way to cool down than with a “Backyard NOLA Swinger,” made with honey, freshly squeezed grapefruit juice, bourbon, rosemary, and jalapeño peppers. The drink was inspired by my friend Lolis Eric Elie, who knows just about all there is to know about New Orleans and its rich history and culture. In his cookbook, Treme: Stories and Recipes from the Heart of New Orleans, Elie includes a recipe with a grapefruit-and-honey base called the N’awlins Nectar. I used this base idea and jazzed it up a bit with fresh rosemary and jalapeños to give that added NOLA spice.
—Chef David Guas
Yields 8 servings
2 cups wildflower honey
3/4 cup water
2 quarts grapefruit juice
Eight 16-ounce Mason jars
One 750-milliliter bottle Bourbon
8 rosemary sprigs
1 medium jalapeño pepper, thinly sliced
Stir together honey and ¾ cup water in a large container. Add grapefruit juice and stir well; cover and chill about 1 hour.
For each serving, place ice in a Mason jar, filling full. Add ¼ cup bourbon, and fill jar with grapefruit juice mixture. Pour drink into a shaker, and add 1 sprig rosemary and 1 slice of jalapeño pepper; cover and shake 10 seconds. Pour mixed drink back into jar; add more ice, if desired.
Doc’s Whiskey Beaker
I feel compelled to add a disclaimer to this: I do not consume any alcohol when hunting or before driving home. On the other hand, once the hunt is done and the dogs are fed and the game and the guns are cared for, and after I have enjoyed a warm shower and a hot meal, and after I have touched a match to the fatwood under the logs, I will definitely tip the beaker. My recipe is simple, like me. Whiskey, a dash of Sprite, and in the summertime, if I am fortunate enough to have some mint growing near the backdoor faucet, I’ll pinch a few small tips for aroma.
On very special occasions, when an old buddy is visiting, I will break out the Basil Hayden’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 80 proof. I will reduce or omit the Sprite from the recipe, which is otherwise the same. Salud! —Doc Blythe, writer
4 ounces Old Forester 86-proof Bourbon
Dash of Sprite
Fresh mint, for garnish
Fill a 20-ounce, stainless-steel tumbler with ice. Pour 4 ounces, more or less (depending on one’s demeanor and political leaning), bourbon, and splash in a small aliquot of Sprite. Garnish with mint, if desired.
“Bog Sucker” is another name for an American woodcock. Years ago, my good friend Ben introduced me to woodcock hunting in Northern Minnesota. After a few years, we decided to follow the full woodcock migration from north to south. We found Frank Harris’ lodge in Lake Charles, Louisiana, where we hunted mornings, cleaned birds in the afternoon, and enjoyed beverages and grilled woodcock by the fire at night.
Our normal “camp” meal consisted of grilled woodcock stuffed with fresh herbs, tucked, tied, and grilled with the head still on. The best way to enjoy these birds is to break the head, pull the beak off, and extract the juice from the head. It is one of the finest flavors I’ve ever put in my mouth.
Frank always prepared a cocktail with our delicious woodcock dinner. The combination of gin and the spiciness from the olive gives a nice little kick, while still being refreshing. While Frank played old VMI choir recordings on his record player and our tired bird dogs lay under our feet, we would sip cocktails and swap stories about our days afield and relish the moments we knew would become lifelong memories.
Soon after opening my restaurant Hot and Hot Fish Club, I knew I wanted to make Frank’s cocktail a staple on the menu. To elevate the presentation of the drink—and to give gifts to people who would take me hunting—I would take time to collect hawthorns and tie woodcock feathers to the thorns. The Bog Sucker cocktail was born. Creativity comes from a proximity to unique things, places, and friendships, and I’ve been lucky enough to experience many. —Chef Chris Hastings
Yields 5 servings
3 cups gin, well chilled
1/2 cup dry sherry, well chilled
5 green olives, skewered with a hawthorn
Combine the gin and sherry in a martini shaker (or Mason Jar) filled halfway with ice. Shake until the mixture is well chilled. Strain into an Old-Fashioned glass filled with ice and garnish with the olive-skewered hawthorn. Serve immediately.
Hunting starts early in South Texas with the annual Labor Day opener of white wing dove season. Maybe it’s the border, the local tiny limes, and the rich Mexican coke, but the tailgate drink of choice that I recall is a Cuba Libre. I’ve watched my brother pick birds and clean his shotgun on the tailgate of his Aggie maroon pickup while sipping a “Cubie” as long as we could carry shotguns. It is a fond memory and tradition. The recipe is best “YETI-style,” straight from the tumbler, as it’s about 100 degrees and 100 percent humidity during the season. —Brian Grossenbacher, photographer
Tequila (suggest Avion Reposado)
Club soda (suggest Topo Chico)
Combine and pour over ice. Drink.
Cold and Lucky
I don’t have the opportunity to hunt and fish as much as I would like. When I do get a chance, it usually means extended hours in the cold and wet. I prefer cold weather. It doesn’t bother me, especially if I have a hunting dog along, roaming through the high grass or underneath Alabama pines. And no one who loves fly-fishing for trout like I do is going to be able to escape the cool rush of river water. So, we may as well fall in love with the crisp, breathtaking moment when one steps knee-deep into the current.
After a day afield, I sit before a raging fire. We cook a good meal, and I mix a cocktail to alleviate the bone-deep chill that a winter day brings. Usually, my instinct is brandy and bourbon. Drink in hand, I reflect on the day, what techniques I mastered, and others that need work. I think about how lucky I’ve been along the way. I hope you have many lucky days on the hunt, and I hope this cocktail brings the perfect end to those cold, cold days. —Chef Rob McDaniel
1 ounce Bourbon (I suggest Henry McKenna Single Barrel)
1 ounce B&B Brandy
1/4 ounce Olio2go Mugolio Pine Cone Bud Syrup
4 dashes Angostura Bitters
4 dashes Regan’s Orange Bitters
Gently stir all ingredients and strain into your favorite vintage glass. Garnish with pine straw and a cinnamon stick. If you desire, light the straw on fire.
Dark Rum Cuba Libre
Hunting starts early in South Texas with the annual Labor Day opener of white wing dove season. Maybe it’s the border, the local tiny limes, and the rich Mexican coke, but the tailgate drink of choice that I recall is a Cuba Libre. I’ve watched my brother pick birds and clean his shotgun on the tailgate of his Aggie maroon pickup while sipping a “Cubie” as long as we could carry shotguns. It is a fond memory and tradition. The recipe is best “YETI-style,” straight from the tumbler, as it’s about 100 degrees and 100 percent humidity during the season. —Chef Donnette Hansen
2 ounces Fleur de Cana Dark Rum
4 ounces Coca-Cola
Juice of half a lemon
Fill your favorite double-insulated tumbler with ice. Add rum, coke, and lemon juice. Give it a field stir (finger, knife, pen—whatever you have). Enjoy!
The first time I hunted with my father I was 8 years old. After five hours of chasing bobwhites in the dead of winter, I always remember my father and uncle warming up with one thing: our family’s homemade grappa. Now it wasn’t until I turned maybe 16 where I finally had the courage to take a swig when no one was watching. Fast forward 26 years later, and grappa is the first thing that we make and pack for our outings. Grappa is made with the leftover grape skins from the family wine we make, and it represents generations of our family gatherings, telling stories of missed shots or the infamous bird that, still to this day, my uncles are arguing over who actually bagged it. It is our “Italian Moonshine.”
Grappa is a very labor-intensive item to make, but you can always find a good quality brand at a local store. In the winter, it was served straight-up with a fresh sage leaf or rosemary sprig, while in the summer it was served with a little ice and a lemon peel or a few raspberries in the glass. —Chef Gianni Gallucci
Skip the avocado-infused mango pulp extract and powdered charcoal crisps scraped from a wood-planked grill. Ignore the pousse-café that layers woodcock “trail” with Ovaltine brandy. And leave home the tiny camo paper umbrella. Upland hunting distills mindfulness into the simplest of ingredients—dog, bird, brush—deserving the purest of celebratory drinks. Alcohol content is essential since no self-respecting bird dogs want to see their owners rehydrate without a little zing. Like the gut-gurgling satisfaction of lapping coppery-tasting water from a muddy bowl stored under the truck seat, a little cell-tingling buzz is necessary to salute the day.
Properly toasting the hunt with straight bourbon is not so straightforward. For starters, it must be done in the field with the right external ingredients (see below). Next, the bourbon must be served in a vessel that tells its own story. I’ve sipped from fine antique brass shot glasses lined up on a Minnesota tailgate tablecloth and from the sawed-off bottom of a disposable plastic water bottle resting against the wheel of a Georgia quail rig. In each case, the first sip announced the day’s end, while the second smoothed out its bumps. The third—and all the rest—took the adrenaline rush of a flush, the heart-melting beauty of a point, and the mental high-five of a perfect shot and warmed them down to the stomach…then up into our memory. —Nancy Anisfield, writer and photographer
2-3 fingers of bourbon, depending on the day’s success or angst (you decide which deserves the third finger)
1 glass or facsimile thereof flaunting preparedness or ingenuity
The last slanting angle of sun casting ridiculously long shadows
A creeping chill in the air
Some barely perceptible steam rising from warm dog fur
Take the cap off the bottle. Pour the bourbon into the glass. Inhale deeply. Go to your dogs. Raise your glass to them, pause, then sip.
Harvesting a pair of gamebirds with each barrel of a double gun is called a “double” for obvious reasons. When two birds fall from a single shot, that’s called a “Scotch double,” and though I’ve never accomplished such a feat of arms while afield ( … unless you count sporting clays), I’ve witnessed it, and it’s impressive. You either luck into that shot, or you’re a marvelous wingshooter who scores them with regularity.
If you or someone in your hunting party connects with a pair of birds on a lucky scotch double, the logical choice for memorializing this achievement post-hunt should involve Scotch whiskey. So, should you simply pour an extra dram on this occasion? Of course not. Where’s the novelty in that? Instead, serve up a “Scotch Double.” I don’t suppose shooting a Scotch double should be a requirement for having one—I certainly hope not … for my sake. —Oliver Hartner, writer
1/2 cup of water
1 Earl Grey tea bag
2 tablespoons of orange juice
1 tablespoon of honey
2 jiggers of blended scotch (preferably The Famous Grouse)
Heat water until steaming hot and steep tea bag for 3 minutes. Squeeze as much flavor as possible from the tea bag with a spoon before disposing of it. Add orange juice, honey, and Scotch. Stir vigorously and pour the mixture into a rocks glass over a whiskey cube or ice. Let it rest for a couple of minutes then serve.
For much of my life I was a Scotch drinker. A Dewar’s and soda was standard. A few years ago, however, when rye whiskey was experiencing a resurgence in popularity, a friend offered a Rye Manhattan. I’ve never been a bourbon drinker, but I liked the rye which wasn’t as sweet as bourbon and a pleasant change from the smoky taste of Scotch.
After experimenting with several brands of rye, I determined that Michter’s US 1 Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey was the best of the many options. My go-to cocktail after a day in the field is now a Rye Manhattan. A Luxardo cherry is the essential garnish. Sipping on this cocktail while sitting around a fire reviewing the day with my fellow hunters can’t be beat.
The leather-bound Covey Rise BAR2GO helps me make sure I won’t have to settle for an inferior drink. With 2 bottles of Michter’s, a bottle Dolin, and a bottle of bitters, I’m always prepared. Of course, I do try to carry along some Luxardo cherries, too.
I must add that after dinner, when we’re back at the fire, a Perdomo Maduro cigar and a glass of Angel’s Envy Finished Rye (neat) makes a perfect conclusion to a day hunting with friends. —Gil Morgan
2 ounces of Michter’s Rye
.75 ounce of Dolin (or Cocchi) sweet vermouth
2-3 dashes of orange bitters
Luxardo cherries, to garnish
Combine ingredients and enjoy.
Louro is Portuguese for laurel, specifically Laurus nobilis, or bay laurel—commonly used as dried leaves in cuisines worldwide. I tasted my first G&T Louro (LOO-ROO) at Vale Feitoso, a red-legged partridge estate in Portugal near Castelo Branco, snug on the Spanish border. It was served after a day chasing perdiz behind English pointers with my friends from Lisbon, Paulo de Brito and his father, and at hunt’s end, the Portuguese always celebrate with a feast—but cocktails come first. Our host, José António, a Purdey-shooting ex-bullfighter and live-trap pigeon competitor, made a standard gin and tonic, took a bay leaf and set it ablaze, then quickly dunked it, while burning, into the G&T. I was hooked at first sip: the smoky, slightly bitter taste of burnt bay cuts the sweetness of the tonic, while complementing the juniper and botanicals of the gin. When I fire up a G&T Louro at home today, it takes me to hilly red-leg country, great food, and better friends. —Vic Venters, writer
1 part American or London Dry gin (I like Philadelphia’s Bluecoat)
2 parts tonic water (or to taste)
Twist of lime or lemon
1 dried bay leaf, from Portugal or Spain
Use a juniper-forward dry gin—Bluecoat is a favorite. I like Fever-Tree Mediterranean Tonic, made with botanicals from the region. Spanish or Portuguese bay leaves are milder and less bitter than that domestically grown.
Ice, tonic, gin, bay, and burn it. Dunk. Enjoy. Repeat.
This drink is one of my top drinks of choice for evenings after a full day of hunting, tending to the birds, and preparing for a feast. I reflect on the darkest part of morning, settling into the blind, and the moon casts a serious light on the water and the brush around you. The brilliance of its glow is mesmerizing and provides a sense of calmness. The quiet chatter in the blind, as you patiently wait for the optimum moment to hear the sound of the waterfowl, is either about food or music. I tend to hum in my head the Van Morrison song “Moondance,” as it sets the tone for what’s to come. Perfectly summing it up, it has been said, “Morrison was inspired to write these lyrics having settled into a life of domestic bliss!” The integrity of his style resonates in this song, so I mirrored that thought in creating a drink to enjoy with an uncompromising adherence to nature. Honey is the purest form of something natural, so it was a perfect complement to have mead be the main ingredient for this cocktail. —Chef David Guas
1 cup cranberries, fresh or frozen
2 1/2 cups Burnt Honey-Ginger Syrup, recipe following
2 cups cranberry juice
40 ounces mead (suggest Redstone Meadery’s Nectar of the Hops)
Place a small cast-iron pan on high heat for 5 minutes, then add cranberries, allowing them to char for approximately 8 minutes—some should start to blacken. In a drink pitcher, stir together charred cranberries, Burnt Honey-Ginger Syrup, and cranberry juice.
Burnt Honey-Ginger Syrup
1/2 cup ginger root, peeled, minced or grated
1 cup wildflower honey
1 cup orange juice
In a 2-quart sauce pot over high heat, bring honey to a simmer. Once the honey starts to smell like it is caramelizing, keep cooking until it takes on a very dark amber and a small portion of it begins to smell like it is bitter. Turn the heat off and slowly add the orange juice, stirring constantly (be careful as the steam can burn your hand), then add ginger root. Let cool. In a blender, process the mixture on high speed until it has a smooth consistency. Strain through a fine mesh strainer and reserve.
Use a 10-ounce highball or rocks glass, filled halfway with ice. Fill the glass with 4 ounces cranberry mixture and 4 ounces mead. Stir and enjoy.
Sweet As My Heart
My earliest recollections of hunting come from weekends with my grandparents. My grandpa would hunt and bring dove or quail back for my grandma to cook. You couldn’t possibly enjoy a moment in Mammaw’s kitchen without the offer of tea so sweet that you could taste her love brewed right into it. To this day, I still have a love affair with sweet tea, especially that first sip—where the still-warm tea starts mingling with the ice, and it’s a magical combo of warm and cold. It’s a memory that I treasure. Even after years living all over the place, I still make a pitcher of sweet tea when I miss her and those warm summers.
This is a slightly more grown-up version: sweet and a touch boozy (although easily omitted). I love the switch to maple syrup for the added flavor, plus some antioxidants and minerals that are useful after a long day in the sun and wind. I love a medium-dark syrup for this. It has stronger maple flavor that is perfect against the bourbon. Light and refreshing, it reminds me of love, home, and the great outdoors that bind us all together no matter how far we wander. Cheers! —Chef Rachel Hogan
2 cups water, just shy of boiling
2 tea bags (I prefer black tea for this.)
1/4 cup medium-dark maple syrup
2 ounces bourbon (can be omitted)
4 orange peel twists
Brew the tea for 5 minutes. Remove the tea bags, and add maple syrup. While the tea is still warm, add bourbon and orange peel twists. Pour over ice and enjoy.
Note: Use a veggie peeler to make easy work of harvesting that perfect strip of peel, sans pith.