We're exploring twelve seasonally-inspired cocktail recipes this year alongside our candle subscription with writer, historian, and cocktail creative Al Culliton.
When I was (literally) burning through Keap’s 2022 scents and looking at their upcoming monthly rituals, I couldn’t help but see a parallel to a concept from the premodern world: the Labors of the Month. The throughline between the act of taking note of the rhythms of the year through how we work, how we celebrate, and how we relax. Often found in the illuminated manuscripts and relief sculpture of medieval Europe, the Labors of the Month depicted the seasonal cycles of the year, the ebb and flow of both work and pleasure.
Queens' College Labors of the Months; Source: William Morris Tile
January, as you’ll see, typically features a scene of feasting and merriment; after all, there isn’t all that much to do in winter when you live in an agrarian society. It follows that spring sees the figures preparing the land for the growing season, while summer sees long days in the fields, transitioning into autumn’s harvest. Winter is a time for feasting and long evenings by the fire. It strikes me that in a time when we were ruled by the earth’s cycles, there must have been a true comfort in knowing what had to be done.
These days we aren’t so restricted by the seasons. We can travel to tropical climes to escape the winter, we can eat strawberries all year round, and we don’t have to chop wood to heat our homes. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t make our own rituals and rhythms to ground us and connect us with the season. Making cocktails at home for yourself or loved ones is an act of care. Cocktails are a year-round delight, though their style and contents tends to change with the season. In winter, though, they’re especially important to my ritual of entertaining friends by candlelight—dinner parties that start with cocktails and snacks and stretch on past midnight, ending in dessert, coffee and amaro.
In feasting, we celebrate life’s luxuries. For people long ago, this would have meant saving precious spices, nuts, and dried fruits (often from far-away places) for the Christmas season, which went well into January at the time and marked the arrival of the new year. Combine this with the luxurious modern traditions of enjoying Champagne, fine sipping spirits and digestifs at New Year’s, and citrus season—so beautifully expressed in this month’s Grapefruit + Yuzu scent—and we have the makings of a great cocktail.
If you’re pressed for time, you can certainly opt to make an ever-elegant Champagne Cocktail, fortified with French brandy and flavored with the baking spice of Angostura bitters. But I hope you’ll join us in our reimagining of the Labors of the Month and indulge in a more complex version of the classic. Janus is an ode to the preprandial cocktail as well as after-dinner coffee and digestif. Cognac, Italian amaro, and homemade walnut orgeat are stirred and strained, topped with Champagne, and garnished with a shaved coffee bean. So, choose a recipe you want to cook, pick up a few bottles of wine, and get some of our Janus cocktails ready. You’ve got company coming.
- 1½ oz. Cognac
- ½ oz. Braulio Amaro or other (see list below for good substitutes you may already possess)
- ½ oz. walnut orgeat
- 1 dash Angostura bitters
- Tiny pinch of Kosher salt (not coarse)
- 2 oz. Champagne or other dry sparkling wine, to top
- Coffee bean, for garnish
Combine the Cognac, amaro, orgeat, bitters, and salt in a mixing glass. Fill it three-quarters of the way up with ice and stir rapidly for 20 seconds. Strain into a coupe or stemmed cocktail glass (preferably chilled) and top with 2 oz. Champagne. Using a microplane, (very!) carefully shave coffee bean on top.
We'll be revisiting the bottles from this month in future months, so set up a nice little bar area for yourselves--we'll be mixing up drinks all year long!
A NOTE ON AMARO
Amaro is one of the best ways of traveling overseas from the comfort of our own home or, maybe, your favorite bar. It’s one of my absolute favorite things to serve after a meal and it’s the toughest thing for me to keep in stock at my house because I love drinking it so much. This cocktail was designed using Braulio Amaro, a beautiful digestivo from the alps that features notes of conifer, white flowers, and gentian root. But there are plenty of amari that would work in this cocktail, and they can take you all over Italy via your tastebuds. Averna will take you to Sicily, Meletti to the Adriatic coast, and Ramazzotti will bring you to the piazzas of Milan. This cocktail is also great with: Sfumato Rabarbaro, Zucca, Cynar, or Varnelli’s Amaro Sibilla.
A selection of Amaros; Source: Bon Appetit.
Toast 1 cup walnuts at 350°F for 5-7 minutes, shifting the pan every couple of minutes. Watch very closely after the 5 minute mark. Once toasted, transfer nuts to a nonreactive bowl. If using walnut halves (instead of pieces), crush them up with your hands, add 1 cup water, cover, and let sit for 12 hours. Strain through a coffee filter or cheesecloth. Combine however much liquid you have from the soaking step (should be just under a cup) with an equal amount of sugar. Heat in a saucepan on medium, stirring frequently until just dissolved. Take off heat. Using a vegetable peeler, take two 3”x1” pieces of orange peel. Express the oils from the peel into the orgeat. Add 1 oz. Cognac. Once cool, refrigerate in a jar with a tight fitting lid until ready to use. Will keep 6-8 weeks.
BATCHING THE JANUS FOR A FEAST OR PARTY
In a large pitcher or similar, combine:
- 18 oz. Cognac
- 6 oz. Braulio
- 6 oz. orgeat
- 12 dashes Angostura
- Big pinch of Kosher salt
- 6 oz. water
Stir, cover, and chill for at least 4 hours until ready to serve. (Make sure your Champange is chilling, too.) If you want to be extra cool, you can chill your coupes in the freezer while your mixture is chilling. When it’s cocktail hour, pour 3 oz of pre-batched mixture into each of the coupes. Top each with 2 oz. Champagne. Grate coffee bean atop each and serve immediately.
This month’s simpler recipe
Looking for a simpler twist or a non-alcoholic (dry Jan.) option?
- Champagne Cocktail: drop a sugar cube into a coupe or champagne flute and soak with 3 dashes of Angostura bitters. Pour in 1 oz. Cognac (preferably chilled) and top with 3 oz. Champagne or other dry sparkling wine.
- For a non-alcoholic version of the Champagne Cocktail, skip the Cognac entirely and try this recipe with an excellent kombucha instead of champagne.