In this drink, the flavors of each element are very important, and you might have fun experimenting and developing your own perfect match of ingredients. Choose liquors you’d enjoy drinking on their own over ice and feel tempted to try putting in other things, so it never feels like the bottles are taking up space more space than they deserve. (If any of them are nifty shapes, don’t forget to pass them onto the props department when they’re empty!)
Normally, we don’t specify spirit brands in our recipes if we can help it, but the Lagavulin (famously described by Avasarala as “a proper Scotch”) is the Writers Room’s special favorite. We used the classic Lagavulin 16 Year. Another Islay would work as well, or even a Japanese whisky with plenty of smoke. We think this drink might be a pleasant surprise for those who normally aren’t into smoke because of its many other flavors, but we also tried it with rye and Canadian whiskey just in case. It’s tasty that way too, though we’d recommend reducing the sugar a bit.
We were impressed and excited to learn about the variety of excellent coffee liqueurs made by small producers in Canada, and thought it would be sweet for one creative Canadian team to get to enjoy another’s work. So, we tried this drink with every coffee liqueur we had available. It’s great with any liqueur with a rum, vodka, or neutral spirit base, but we’d recommend avoiding the tequila-based ones and those with intense extra flavorings. Coffee liqueurs vary a lot in sweetness, so feel free to tinker with the sugar until you find the right balance. For us, one brown sugar cube was just right to go with a small-batch cold brew liqueur on the bitter side. If a more syrupy liqueur, like Kahlúa, is the one on your bar shelf, you might want to cut the sugar by half unless you’re in the mood for a sweet drink.
An intensely defining factor in this cocktail is the rum you choose. It’s the bright note in the mix, and can really wake up flavors like Sherry and dried fruits that can be easy to miss amid the smoky intensity. Pick one that tastes complex and fun, and makes you think of the tropics - our favorite was Hampden Estate’s Single Jamaican Rum, which is delicious just to sip over ice. Black rum is okay, though not as bright, and flavored, spiced rums (like Sailor Jerry’s) don’t work at all.
If you’re mixing this drink as a batch for a lucky group, making a quick brown sugar simple syrup is easy - microwave equal parts sugar and water until they boil, then stir until the sugar’s dissolved. Add it to the rest of the ingredients before dividing up the cocktail, or leave it out and let people sweeten their own drinks. This recipe uses sugar cubes, not simple syrup, because the act of muddling always feels a little ceremonial and exciting, and because simple syrup will mold after a couple of weeks at room temperature. If you’re feeling ridiculously Canadian, maple sugar cubes are an interesting variation and reminded us of our James Holden cocktail, which features fresh espresso and maple syrup. Don’t use white sugar, though, the rich caramel flavor of brown or Demerara sugar is important. And although we talk a lot about balancing sweetness in general, adding extra sugar makes for a luxurious dessert drink that you could sip on its own or pair with fruit and a flavorful cheese for a Guanshiyin-level experience.
We envision the writers sipping this cocktail slowly as they’re hard at work brainstorming story ideas, livetweeting with the Firehawks, or relaxing after a long day of writing. Always remember to flip and burn responsibly!
Cocktail: Muddle coffee liqueur with a brown sugar cube in the bottom of a tumbler. Add ice and the remaining ingredients and stir thoroughly to chill and slightly dilute it.
Customizations: Adjust the sugar to balance this drink for your taste and the sweetness of your coffee liqueur. For a lighter drink, finish with a splash of sparkling water. On a cold Canadian winter day or aboard the Rocinante, mix without ice and add to a cup of good hot coffee, sweetening to taste.