It’s time to give the humbly obscure kumquat its mixological due
The alcohol-industrial complex has concocted a bewildering number of horatory days, weeks, and months. There’s National Martini Day [June 19], National Bourbon Heritage Month [September], and National Liqueur Day [October 16]. Inevitably, this gets weird. In an act of collaborative mercy, Harvey Wallbanger Day and National Shot Day both happen on November 8. Because there is no god, there is now a National Rhubarb Vodka Day. And so on.
Which provides me all the justification I need to take the following action:
I hereby declare, with the authority invested in me by absolutely nobody whatsoever, National Kumquat Cocktail Fortnight™. Hereafter it shall be observed annually from February 25 through March 11 (March 10 on leap years).
Kumquat season, you say?
Kumquats — small ovals of citrus the size of an olive, sweet of skin and sour of belly, believed to be native of China — have a limited season, from January through March. This makes a fixed celebration during this period actually defensible. [I’m not sure the creators of National Rhubarb Vodka Day can make the same claim.]
This compressed availability issue may explain why, against all reason, the kumquat has failed to become a stable behind craft cocktail bars everywhere. It should.
Kumquats are pretty little things, easy to muddle, and fairly versatile for an exotic.
The miniature orange orbs are sharp and punchy, a frisky variation on – and easy collaborator with – the more familiar citrus flavors we know too well.
They have a funny name that invites a lowbrow leer.
You can probably find them from January through March at Whole Foods and similar high-fallutin’ food barns.
Like the very best people I know, kumquats are sweet, tart, and just slightly bitter.
In which I try to create an “Italian Manhattan” but wind up blindly reinventing…one of my favorite classics
I’d say I “invented” this one, but I’m fast learning that claims of beverage authorship rank among amateur drinksters’ most dangerous lies, along with “I’ve only had two” and “I picked up the check last time.”
More about this below.
But here’s the story: I began playing around with an “Italian Manhattan” over a year ago, when I discovered the lovely Italian apertif Cocchi Americano, collected a few Italian amari, and fell into mixocological rumination.
The right amaro, I reasoned, could plausibly stand in for red vermouth, the Cocchi for white, yielding a kind of Manhattan Perfetto. [A “Perfect Manhattan” is a version of the classic whose vermouth dose is equally split between dry and sweet. A more complex version, an acquired taste.]
This turned out to be harder than I hoped — even to my palate, weakened by years of actually drinking my failed experiments instead of dumping them in a shoe like a proper gentleman.
The Cocchi comes across like a herbal, slightly citrus-y vermouth with a surprising bitter finish that to me “dries” it out.
This led me to seek balance with what turned out to be either too much amaro, the wrong amaro, or both. I tried Averna, Cynar, Ramazzotti, and the unpalatable [I don’t care what “they” say] Fernet-Branca. The vermouth stand-ins swamped, overwhelmed, or disrespected the rye, all without bringing much sweetness to the effort. The whole thing was just a lot of bickering in a glass.
So I got out of the Italian Manhattan business entirely for about six months. [Into the creative vacuum rushed among other things the Hillbilly Martini, which I’m not sure was a productive diversion.]