Why Aren't Strawberry Cocktails a Thing?
Maybe we should change that this spring?
I write this from Germany, where I have been for a week. I will tell you more about the wines in a few weeks, once I process my visits and tastings, including a few days at the VDP.Weinbörse in Mainz, tasting the new releases.
But for now, I want to talk about a dinner I attended at the home of a Rheingau winemaker, along with a few other journalists from Sweden, Denmark, and Belgium. It was the sort of nice-but-awkward social event that happens around wine festivals. The food and drink were lovely, as was our host, who made paella to pair with his wonderful aged rieslings. But the conversation was of the sort that happens when you throw together a bunch of tired professional adults, none of whom know each other and most of whom are speaking their second language, for obligatory conviviality.
That changed when we were served a simple but amazing dessert of fresh strawberries and cream. These strawberries had been picked at perfect spring ripeness — seemingly the platonic ideal of a strawberry. The buzz at the table over these strawberries changed the vibe of the evening. “Is this a Baron Solemacher?” someone wanted to know, naming a specific German berry variety. There were reminiscences of wild Nordic berries of childhood and of the delicious tiny strawberries you find in Italy. The wine writers may have simply reached a point where they wanted to talk about anything except wine. But I want to believe it was something else, something elemental and human about our love of the red berry.
Since that dinner, I’ve been thinking a lot about strawberries. During this thinking about strawberries, I happened to read a piece in Glug magazine, by Jeanette Hurt, about how to make Erdbeerbowle, which is sort of like a German sangria with strawberries soaked in wine, which sounds delicious.
It suddenly occurred to me that strawberries — even though people love them — rarely show up in the world of spirits and cocktails, unlike so many other fruits. There’s no iconic cocktail involving strawberry. Unless your definition of “iconic” includes a strawberry daiquiri. (I could be wrong, and if I am tell me in the comments).
There are only two quality strawberry spirits I can even think of, and they are super super obscure. One would be a strawberry liqueur made by A. van Wees, distiller of De Ooievaar genever, and old craft distillery within Amsterdam’s city limits. A.v. Wees Aardbeien Likeur, at 24% abv, is very subtle, made with strawberries drenched in brandy. The result is, according to the distiller, “Literally the spirit of the strawberries…pronounced strawberry, WITHOUT the pungent fake candy taste that characterizes most fruit liqueurs.” I agree with that assessment, and I use Aardbeien Likeur less as a fruity accompaniment, and more as a mixer with gin (I substitute it for vermouth in a martini variation), the strawberry mingling with the gin’s botanicals.
The only other strawberry spirit I know to recommend is an aperitif I mentioned in Boozehound, called Chambéryzette, which is made by Dolin, the vermouth producer. Chambéryzette is a blend of Dolin’s blanc vermouth and a strawberry liqueur “made with strawberries from the Alps.” It’s a historic brand in France, and had its heyday in the early 20th century Parisian cafés “and, some even whisper, in the secrecy of the brothels,” according to Dolin company lore.
Chambéryzette is really just a pre-mixed version of the Chambery Fraise cocktail that was popular in Paris at the turn of 20th century, a mix of vermouth and strawberries. (Chambery is the Alpine town where Dolin is made). Since I don’t know how you will track down Chambéryzette, I’ve included my own recipe for Chambery Fraise below, which is also delicious.
The only other strawberry-infused cocktail that I have in my repertoire is a Jamaican rum punch, which is one of my go-to cocktails to bring to a spring party. Seriously, if you show up at a event with this punch, you will be the star of the evening. I’ve loved this recipe ever since I first saw it in Dan Searing’s excellent cocktail book, The Punch Bowl, which has always been a favorite of mine.
This recipe dates from the 17th century and is beautifully pink. The strawberry syrup and the allspice add a layer of complexity to what is a refreshing summer quaff. Be sure to use a white, unaged rum. Note: Make the strawberry syrup ahead of time because it must be cooled completely. It can be made up to a week in advance. Recipe adapted from The Punch Bowl, by Dan Searing.
Freshly squeezed juice from 8 or 9 limes (1 cup)
2 cups strawberry syrup (see recipe below)
3 cups white rum
3 to 4 cups water
2 to 3 pinches ground allspice
Combine the lime juice and strawberry syrup in a punch bowl or pitcher until well blended. Slowly add the rum, stirring constantly. Add the water 1 cup at a time, tasting as you go. Stop at 3 cups of water if you prefer a stronger punch. Season with the allspice to taste. Refrigerate until well chilled. Serve in punch cups or rocks glasses filled with ice. Garnish with strawberry slices.
To make strawberry syrup: Combine 2 cups of water, 2 cups of sugar and 6 to 8 sliced and hulled medium strawberries in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 5 minutes, then remove from the heat and cool completely. Strain out and discard the strawberry slices before using. Cover tightly and refrigerate for several weeks or more.
A strawberry-vermouth concoction is a traditional apertif around the French Alpine town of Chambery. This version calls for fresh berries rather than the traditional strawberry syrup. Dolin vermouth is the local favorite, but other dry vermouths also work well.
3 medium strawberries, hulled
1/2 ounce simple syrup
3 ounces dry vermouth
Muddle the strawberries and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker. Add enough ice cubes to fill the shaker two-thirds full, then add the vermouth. Shake vigorously, then strain into the highball glass filled with ice cubes.. Garnish with mint sprig.