Among the least lamentable aspects of the craft movement in full swing within the hipster population of Brooklyn (and its desperate imitators across the country) is a reacquaintance with antiquated styles of consumption. Hearkening back to bygone decades, youngish people have applied their not-inconsiderable intelligence and drive to what some of the parents subsidizing their rediscoveries might describe as frivolous pursuits. To be sure, some of these hipsters expend themselves in futile opposition to the consumer culture, dressing in costume rags and dragging semi-portable phonographs with them to the local coffee shop (all the while documenting their clownish obeisance to the latest fad or meme through their iPhones).
While nihilism traipsing about dressed as nostalgia is indisputably a cancer enervating this society, there have been some triumphs born of looking back. This is especially true in the realm of cocktails and spirits. A renewed consideration for the taste of our alcohol has left us with some peculiar and interesting experiences plucked from obscurity. In keeping with this, and true to the name of their city, Philadelphia art collective Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction have restored a particular pleasure to us. That pleasure is Root.
The history of this drink stretches back to pre-Colonial days. Settlers learned the recipe for a root tea from natives, a brew of wild ingredients found in the area. Over time, especially in Pennsylvania, this potion took on more and more complexity. As women tired of losing their husbands to the saloon, the temperance movement spurred the invention of non-alcoholic root beer. And so it was that root tea faded mostly into memory before Prohibition ever took hold.
Until now. Leave aside their tedious prattling about organic ingredients, and focus instead on what really matters: Art in the Age have produced a fine spirit. They’ve reached back to a time before the founding of this country, and distilled the complex flavors of our native land into an 80-proof liquor that offers a unique and satisfying element to your next cocktail. Containing strong, smooth notes of birch bark, wintergreen, cinnamon, anise, and sugar cane, Root sips quite nicely on its own, but also mixes extraordinarily well.
John Wilkes Booth
The drink’s name is, the more I reflect upon it, somewhat offensive. Allow me to dispel any notions of neo-Confederate sympathy which may seem to be at play here. I didn’t name the drink, and so far as I can tell it’s simply an homage to a time when men sported assertive facial hair in non-ironical fashion.
Then again, perhaps it fits the man. Smooth, like the actor. Fiery, like the rebel. Deceptive, like the conspirator. Be warned: this drink, like the assassin, will sneak up on you.
Here’s what you’ll need to make one:
- 2 cinnamon sticks (or 3, if you dare)
- a spoonful of brown sugar
- A few orange slices
- 1 oz. Root
- 2 oz. rye whiskey (I prefer Rittenhouse BIB)
- fine strainer (very important)
Place the orange slices and brown sugar in the shaker. Add crushed cinnamon sticks. Muddle until the sugar dissolves. Add ice. Add Root and whiskey. Shake vigorously. Now – and this is important – double strain the drink over ice into a rocks glass. This will prevent bits of cinnamon stick from becoming lodged in your throat. Garnish with an orange twist.
The Root is a calming presence, a bit of complexity as a complement to the straightforward cinnamon and rye. You’ll pick up a lot of orange, a lot of spice, and be left with a pleasing heat on the tongue. As you sip you’ll be able to pick out the individual notes of the Root, especially the birch and wintergreen. This is one to savor.
A word about the whiskey choice: The recipes I’ve consulted did call for scotch or bourbon – specifically Bulleit. However, after thorough testing I am convinced that the added spice of rye is more in keeping with the brash character of this cocktail. The bourbon I used seemed to get lost in the mix. Rye holds its own with the cinnamon and orange.
You should, as always, feel free to experiment to suit your own tastes.