We're exploring twelve seasonally-inspired cocktail recipes this year alongside our candle subscription with writer, historian, and cocktail creative Al Culliton.
Jump to the Pomum Recipe: Here Simple & Non-alcoholic Versions: Here New to cocktail making? Read our Drinks101 post first.
As we continue our journey through the medieval Labors of the Month, September brings us scenes of harvesting grapes and making wine. No offense to the high summer months that saw the harvesting and threshing of wheat, but this month’s labor feels a bit more romantic. Not to say that it isn’t a huge undertaking hauling grapes in from the fields and crushing them without the aid of machinery. There’s just something about winemaking that feels idyllic.
Wine was integral in medieval European life as a part of religious rites, a celebratory tipple, and as an everyday beverage (for some, at least). The grape harvest was, therefore, a major annual event. Almost every depiction of September in calendars from the period shows the harvesting, carrying, and crushing of grapes, or the transfer of wine into vessels.
Winemaking and grape harvest, Fécamp Psalter, 1180, Normandy, France (Koninklijke Bibliotheek)
Apples were incredibly important in medieval culture, too, and many manuscripts depict apple picking and apple harvesting at scale, i.e., where the branches are hit with long poles to shake the ripe fruit out. Though there are some fantastic wines coming out of the northeastern U.S., our analogous product as far as scale and roots in tradition is hard cider. (Did you know that before Prohibition, “cider” always referred to hard cider? It’s only after that period that we see the word “hard” applied to denote that it contains alcohol.) Both medieval Europeans and early Americans were busy each September making wine and/or cider to be used throughout the coming year.
For most Americans, September is about getting back into the swing of things. Calendars fill up and summer is but a memory. But recent years have made me see September as more of a downshift than getting into high gear. I find it’s an opportunity to celebrate everything I love about summer — swimming, grilling, gathering outside — but without the crowds and with a little less fanfare.
Apple picker, Ruralia commoda, Pietro Crescenzi, early 14th century, Bologna, Italy
Our Keap themes this month seem tailored to my concept of September, with “solitude,” “peace,” and “quietude” being our guiding words. Last year, I had an experience in September that embodied these ideals. I spent a few days on the Cape with my spouse the week after Labor Day. We gravitated toward the tranquil ponds of Wellfleet, which were formed when massive glaciers melted 15,000 years ago. There were still vacationers around, and locals, of course, but it was far more peaceful than the frenetic energy of “the season.” Though there certainly wasn’t an absence of sound, there was a feeling of quietude that I can still feel when I close my eyes and think about those hours spent swimming in prehistoric ponds.
This transitional month, part summer and part fall, gives us an opportunity to mix the sensibilities of both seasons. One day, you could be enjoying this month’s drink, Pomum, at the swimming hole, and another day you might be drinking it while warming yourself by the fire pit on a chilly evening. The Pomum embraces the concept of harvest in the form of a classic spritz, with an American twist. The traditional Italian spritz typically consists of 2 parts bitter aperitivo liqueur, such as Campari, Select, or Aperol; 1 part soda; and 3 parts prosecco.
Our Pomum follows the classic template closely, but with a few notable changes. Instead of aperitivo liqueur, we’re reaching for amaro, which grounds the drink and gives it a deeper, darker flavor. Depending on which amaro you’re using, you might add notes of baking spice, pine, or kola nut. In place of soda, we’re using fall-friendly ginger beer. Playing the role of prosecco is dry hard cider, which adds both fizz and tannins that balance the drink perfectly. To the base, we’re also adding a small measure of gin, which imparts a juniper flavor that goes beautifully with the apple notes in the cider. The whole thing is served in a wine glass with cracked ice and the classic garnish of an orange wheel and olive. To me, this spritz variation can adapt to all the many moods that beautiful September holds.
A spritz with amaro, a little bit of gin, dry (hard) cider, and spicy ginger beer; ideal for the summer-to-fall transitional aperitivo hour.
1½ oz. amaro½ oz. gin
1 oz. ginger beer
3 oz. dry cider
Into a wine glass, combine the amaro and gin. Set aside. Prepare your garnish: Take an orange wheel and lay an olive in the middle; fold the orange wheel up the sides of the olive, and skewer with a cocktail pick. Add cracked (not crushed) ice or small cubes to the mixture in the wine glass. Top with dry cider and add garnish.
ON THE SPRITZ
Spritzes are a product of aperitivo culture, the Italian version of happy hour. Aperitivo means “open,” as in opening one’s appetite before an evening meal. To this end, bittersweet liqueurs like Campari and Aperol are used in making aperitivo drinks, as bitter flavors get the digestive system going in preparation for a meal. Spritzes emerged in the early twentieth century, about 50 years after Campari and the like became popular in Italy. Traditionally built from a bitter liqueur, soda, and prosecco, the modern spritz can include amaro, spirits, and other ingredients, as well as alternatives to prosecco for giving the drink its signature fizziness. Olives are often used as garnish, as are oranges and lemons.
THIS MONTH'S SIMPLER RECIPE
Looking for a simpler twist or a non-alcoholic option?
Simple recipe: In a shaker, combine 1½ oz. gin, ¾ oz. apple cider, and ½ oz. lemon juice. Add ice and shake for 15 seconds. Strain into a Keap tumbler and top with ginger beer.
Non-alcoholic version: In a shaker, combine 2 oz. apple cider and ½ oz. lemon juice. Add ice and shake for 15 seconds. Strain into a Keap tumbler and top with ginger beer.