Courtesy of Barrelhouse Flat.
In a recent piece detailing the simple pleasures of sweet and rich after-dinner wines, F&W’s Ray Isle wrote that port is “arguably the world’s greatest sweet wine.” It’s also one of the greatest classic cocktail ingredients, especially for winter drinks, to which the fortified wine adds a luxurious texture and intense dark fruit flavors. “The tradition of port in cocktails is as old as mixing drinks,” says Greg Buttera, the creative director of Barrelhouse Flat in Chicago. Buttera’s menu features two historical port cocktails: the Coffee Cocktail and the Elk’s Own.
“The Elk’s Own first shows up in The Savoy Cocktail Book, published in 1930,” says Buttera. “The drink evolved a little bit but the original was called the Elk’s Fizz—it was the 1901 Police Gazette cocktail of the year.” Buttera begins with Rittenhouse Rye Bottled in Bond, an intense 100-proof whiskey that provides a strong backbone for the drink. “It’s not a whiskey you would slowly sip while you pour over a leather-bound volume of Melville,” Buttera warns. He mixes the whiskey with ruby port, fresh lemon juice, Angostura bitters, simple syrup and an egg white for volume and a velvety consistency. The cocktail is shaken vigorously and served in a rocks glass. “It’s a nice cold weather cocktail,” Buttera says. “But it has much brighter fruit and more acidity than a lot of whiskey drinks.”
The Coffee Cocktail, which neither contains nor tastes like coffee but does somewhat resemble a frothy café au lait when mixed properly, dates to 1887 when it appeared in the third edition of Jerry Thomas’s The Bar-tender’s Guide. For his version, Buttera mixes equal parts of light, fruity Maison Surrenne Petite Champagne Cognac and ruby port with a touch of simple syrup and a whole egg. Buttera gives the mix a quick dry shake before adding ice and shakes again, just enough to chill the drink. He strains the creamy result into a brandy snifter and tops it with nutmeg. “The port has a silky texture inherently,” Buttera says. “Then the fat from the egg yolk integrates and creates a nice mouthfeel. It goes down very easy.” Here, more bars serving terrific port cocktails.
Teardrop Cocktail Lounge, Portland, Oregon
Among the bar’s exquisitely crafted early-19th-century cocktails is the Chicago Fizz, which dates to 1930. Bartenders use an ounce of house-blended rum as the base: a mix of polished, tropical Plantation Grande Reserve 5-year, appley Flor de Caña and vegetal Novo Fogo Cachaça. To that, they add ruby port, lemon juice, rich demerara syrup and egg white. The rosy shaken cocktail is strained into a glass filled with a couple of ounces of club soda for a lightly fizzy, creamy drink. teardroplounge.com
Sylvain, New Orleans
Even though winter in New Orleans isn’t the chilliest, bartender Darrin Ylisto thought the seasonal menu at Sylvain could use a cozy, robust port cocktail. For the Dead Man’s Wallet, Ylisto mixes Rittenhouse rye with lemon juice, cinnamon syrup, ruby port and Angostura bitters. Ylisto shakes the spiced, fruity cocktail and serves it on the rocks in an old-fashioned glass. sylvainnola.com
A massive former garage, Ace now houses an Asian restaurant, a ping-pong hall and a bar, which features both original creations inspired by the cult movie Big Trouble in Little China—like the Girl with the Green Eyes, named for Kim Cattrall’s character—and new takes on classic cocktails like the Ship Song, a fruity twist on an old-fashioned. To make the Ship Song, bartenders muddle orange peel with sugar and Angostura bitters, add Guatemalan rum and ruby port, and stir it until it’s chilled. The dark, baking-spice-inflected cocktail is strained over one large ice cube and garnished with an orange peel. acedenver.com
South Water Kitchen, Chicago
Head bartender Sarah Mengoni just updated the cocktail menu at this recently redesigned restaurant. One of the new seasonal drinks is the Boardwalk Braggadocio: vodka, Laird’s Bonded Applejack, nutty tawny port, fresh lime juice, simple syrup and Angostura bitters, shaken, strained into a coupe and garnished with a mint leaf. “It’s almost like a fruitcake,” Mengoni says. “Fresh—not the one that has been passed around your family for the past 10 years.” southwaterkitchen.com