Chances are that if you’ve seen the word “port” on a menu, it’s because you’ve made it all the way to the after-dinner drinks category and are in need of a sweet send-off. While the fortified wine has long been enjoyed on its own due to its unique flavor, which is a result of distilled grape spirits such as aguardiente, bartenders like The Up and Up’s Matt Piacentini are turning to port to create cocktails.
“Port works really well when you have a wine ingredient calling for a little more than an ounce,” Piacentini explains. The bartender, who was inspired to create a modern version of a classic cocktail called the Bishop (port, orange, and cloves; served warm), was enamored by recipes of the 1800’s and sought to find ways to revive drinks which had been lost over generations. “The idea was to find something that was cold, but really warming. It’s the illusion of warmth,” Piacentini says. He compares the sensation to the experience of drinking a cool tequila only to find your body tingling with heat.
Selecting a robust Croft tawny port, from one of the more storied producers, was the beginning of Piacentini’s quest in transforming a recipe he discovered in the 1958 edition of Trader Vic’s Book of Food and Drink. But in the process, one critical element came into play, when the recipe wound up incorporating another favorite after-dinner drink — coffee.
Much like the bishop, a cafe brulot was a popular coffee-and-brandy concoction in the 19th century that differed in composition depending on what bar you found yourself in. Seeking a bitter quality, Piacentini initially experimented with grapefruit juice, only to find that it didn’t harmonize with the remaining ingredients as well as he anticipated. A bartender suggested using the famed chicory coffee from New Orleans, Cafe Du Monde, and the resulting alchemy put the drink on the menu.
“The combination of coffee and port flavors are rich, spicy, citrusy and almost chocolatey,” notes Piacentini, who also recommends the drink for fans of low-alcohol cocktails and lovers of espresso martinis. Give it a try:
By The Fireside by Matt Piacentini
2 ounces Croft 10-year tawny port
3/4 ounce chicory coffee syrup*
1/2 ounce lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon blended ground nutmeg and cinnamon (7:3 ratio)
Shake and strain into double old fashioned glass and fill with crushed ice. Garnish with a lemon wheel.
*To make the coffee syrup, make a strong chicory coffee using a brand such as Cafe du Monde. Make sure you are using a 3 to 2 ratio of coffee grounds to water. (12 scoops = 8 cups). Add and dissolve white sugar equal to one half volume of coffee. Add 2 ounces vodka per quart of syrup to stabilize.