Our local distilling comrades at Philadelphia’s Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction know a thing or two about throwing their organic, botanical spirits into fine-tuned cocktails. Just in time for Valentine’s Day, they’re letting us in on some of their creations’ secrets—all of which are appropriately pouring in vibrant shades of ruby reds and pastel pinks.
Below, drink up their recipes for three easy-as-pie cocktails. They’ve even rallied their good friends of the moonshine-spiked wine, Spodee, to share a sippable how-to as well. We promise you, after one round of concocting and taste-testing, your Valentine will be spouting “I love you.”
It must be unsettling to wake up one morning and realize you’re an unpatriotic weirdo, whose childhood must have lacked the requisite Happy Days moments, and therefore now finds themselves completely without the wholesome as apple pie gene; all because you despise root beer (and its equally annoying sibling, the root beer float), diners, jukeboxes, and drive-in movies. Well, that just about sums up the deepest, darkest, fears about myself from dreamland last night. Now that that’s off my chest…
The popularity of root beer seems to have eluded me for my first few decades on this planet. With no idea of the American nostalgia tied up in the product, imagine my surprise when I discovered a liqueur called Root. Kin to the Root Tea of yesteryear (of which root beer is the non-alcoholic version), Root is a certified organic, 80 proof spirit that includes some strangely named substances such as birch bark, smoked black tea, and sassafras.
But, I believe in the old adage, “Don’t knock it till you try it”; so I tried Root straight, over ice, and in a couple of cocktails proudly displayed on the Art in the Age website. No dice. Suffice it to say that after all that, I still hate root beer ~ its annoying sibling, the root beer float ~ and it’s not looking so good for my new friend named Root. So, that’s where I need your help.
I pride myself on being able to drink almost anything, and liking it too! So, if you’ve stumbled upon any Root cocktails that you love, send them on over my way? Have you personally created any Root-tails that will absolutely blow my mind? If so, drop them into the comments section below. What, if anything, does Root go well with (e.g., other spirits, herbs, foods, etc.)? Hope to hear from you soon, I’ve got a lot of Root left in the bottle.
Here’s to my very own Root Challenge.
It’s just your usual event at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education (SCEE) on Jan 16. Informative, informal and lots of fun with a Drunken Botanist to keep everyone amused. Readings from Amy Stewart’s book of the same name were coupled with drink offerings from the event’s co-sponsor, Art In The Age of Mechanical Reproduction, an artisan distiller located in Old City.
“We won’t be focusing on plants in drinks but other in drinks but other interesting ones as well,” said Mike Weilbacher, executive of the SCEE and the evening’s host.
One plant, which was not in the drink, was the tulip. It caused two economic booms. The first in the mid-1600s in The Netherlands, where the tulip bulbs almost became more precious than gold; then again during the height of Ottoman Empire, there was the Tulip Age when it became fashionable in Ottoman Court society to grown the plant, causing the government to intervene in the economy.
Another plant mentioned that was not sampled that evening was the grape; also the apple, about which Weilbacher read excerpts from “The Drunken Botanist”. According to the book, many apple varieties are clones from the original strain and the folklore of Johnny Appleseed was that he was propagating the plants to make hard cider. According to Weilbacher, Apples is one of the longer chapters of “The Drunken Botantist.”
“And the beauty is that you can mix all four for the same hangover,” said Carb.
With “Root” as with much of the product line, Carb explained, is inspired by the country’s history. Carb told event attendees that in the 1700’s, it was called “Root Tea.” An herbal remedy made with sassafras, sarsaparilla, birch bark and other wild roots and herbs. Native Americans taught the recipe to colonial settlers. As it was passed it down from generation to generation, it grew in potency and complexity; particularly in the Pennsylvania hinterlands, where the ingredients naturally grow in abundance.
At the close of the 19th century, as the Temperance movement conspired to take the fun out of everything, a Philadelphia pharmacist removed the alcohol from Root Tea and rechristened it (ironically) “Root Beer”, and introduced to the world at the legendary 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia.
“Since back then, everything was organic” said Carb.
Also on offer was “Rhubarb”, the plant has links to “Founding Father” Benjamin Franklin, who brought the first rhubarb seeds from Europe to America as a gift for to his friend botanist John Bartram in 1771. Rhubarb originally came from China, where it was used as an herbal tonic. The way it was enjoyed changed when cane sugar became more affordable. Art In The Art were inspired by the legend that Bartram was so enthused with rhubarb, he concocted a lovely garden tea showcasing his new botanical prize.
Another product offered was ‘Snap’ which is reminiscent of a Ginger Snap, it’s Pennsylvania German inspiration. In many local bars, patrons have added a shot of this to their pumpkin beers during the autumn months. And finally, the final product was ‘Sage’, a very Gin-like product definitely suited for Summer. According to Carb, Art In The Age was inspired by Thomas Jefferson, the Lewis and Clark Expedition and the “Flora Americae”, a catalogue of plants found on that trip.
During the event, attendees discussed other plants that are often overlooked as weeds or generally unsightly. Dandelion was one example. It is one of the more reviled plants but can be used a very helpful tonic or tasty homemade wine.
“It’s a great book by Ray Bradbury,” said Weilbacher.
SCEE was founded in 1965 as the nation’s first urban environmental education organization. Its 365-acre sanctuary serves as a living laboratory to foster appreciation, deepen understanding, and encourage stewardship of the environment. SCEE reaches over 15,000 Philadelphia-area residents each year with an array of educational programs, including standards-based programs for schoolchildren, continuing education for teachers, and a full calendar of events for the public. The environmental art department sparks awareness of the natural environment with exhibitions of the highest quality that attract, educate and inspire the public.
“It’s a very interesting event,” said Aaron Kase. “I am always glad to learn about things in the backyard that can be used for useful purposes.”
Art in the Age generously provided the spirits. Their Sage liquor was pretty much a revelation.